#12. Seamus Mullen, a renowned chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author known for his expertise in Spanish cuisine, discusses his journey from being a chef to becoming a health and wellness expert.
After being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and experiencing health issues, Seamus embarked on a mission to educate others about the impact of proper nutrition on overall health and autoimmune diseases like RA.
Seamus reflects on the importance of shifting mindsets and transitioning from perceiving oneself as a sick person to embracing self-compassion and recognizing struggles as opportunities for growth.
This episode explores a wide range of topics, including stress management, mental health, fasting, the strengths and weaknesses of Western medicine, and the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that bring happiness to chefs.
Where to find Seamus Mullen:
Where to find host Josh Sharkey:
In this episode, we cover:
(1:51) How Josh and Seamus first met
(4:45) Paella and Spanish cuisine
(8:20) Seamus’ background
(13:19) Living with rheumatoid arthritis
(15:44) Compassion and finding equilibrium in your body
(21:24) Are chefs spokespeople for how we eat?
(26:56) Fasting and gratitude
(29:34) Cortisol shouldn’t be vilified
(31:49) Why do we eat?
(33:57) Taking a holistic approach to diet and wellness
(36:37) Nutrition is personal
Josh Sharkey [00:00:00]:
Welcome to The meez Podcast. I'm your host, Josh Sharkey, the founder and CEO of meez, the culinary operating system for food professionals. On the show, I'll be interviewing world-class entrepreneurs in the food space that are shifting the paradigm of how we innovate and operate in our industry. Thanks for listening, and I hope you enjoy the show.
My guest today is the very talented chef, restaurateur, cookbook author, and now health and wellness expert, Chef Shamus Mullen. He's also really well known for his deep expertise and knowledge of Spanish cuisine, having opened several restaurant concepts, including Boqueria, Tertulia , which is one of my favorites, and El Colmado.
But after struggling with a number of health issues and being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, he began this new quest to help others learn how eating the right foods can have a profound effect on the ability to combat a myriad of health issues, obviously, including autoimmune diseases like RA.
Our conversation went pretty deep and wide. We talked about a number of issues like managing stress, managing mental health, fasting, what western medicine gets right and wrong, and why we as chefs decide we want to cook, the intrinsic and extrinsic things that make us happy, and so much more. It was really enjoyable and Shamus and I go back almost 20 years having worked together for Floyd Cardoz in the early two thousands, so it was just a good chance to catch up. And I ended up breaking the episode into two parts because there's just so much juice here that I didn't want to cut down any of it. So this is part one and I hope you enjoy it.
Welcome aboard. Welcome to the podcast
Seamus Mullen [00:01:56]:
Josh Sharkey, what's up?
Josh Sharkey [00:01:57]:
Good seeing you man. I don't know the last time I saw you in person, by the way.
Seamus Mullen [00:02:00]:
I do. It was pouring rain. It was on Broadway and 18th, probably about five years ago. And I bumped into you. You were, you were going north and I was going south.
Josh Sharkey [00:02:09]:
Seamus Mullen [00:02:10]:
You were walking and I was walking and I had an umbrella. And you didn't, we stood under my umbrella and caught up for hours.
Josh Sharkey [00:02:13]:
Oh yeah, that's right. And I think the time before that I was running on the West Side Highway. And you were biking the other way.
Seamus Mullen [00:02:16]:
Exactly. Yeah. We keep always going in opposite directions.
Josh Sharkey [00:02:23]:
Yeah, I know. Well, it's funny, I, I also was thinking about when we were planning to do this, the show, like when we met, which was, I believe I was at Tabla and you were at 11 Madison Park.
Seamus Mullen [00:02:33]:
No, I was at Tabla too.
Josh Sharkey [00:02:35]:
You were at Tabla too. You were, you were a server, right?
Seamus Mullen [00:02:35]:
I was a server first, and then I worked in the kitchen.I think I worked in the kitchen after you left.
Josh Sharkey [00:02:40]:
Oh, well, and I was racking my brain. You opened a spot after that in the lower East side.
Seamus Mullen [00:02:44]:
Yeah. Crudo. Do you remember that place?
Josh Sharkey [00:02:44]:
Crudo. I was trying to find the name of this place. I couldn't find it anywhere. I was searching and I was like, what is that name of that spot that he opened? Cause it was awesome. Yeah, it was a little short-lived I think.
For a year in a lot of ways. I think it was kind of ahead of its time, but I had this idea. Every restaurant in New York at the time was starting to do raw fish dishes as an appetizer. And anywhere I went and to this day, 20 some odd years later, I still always gravitate to having a raw fish dish because, you know, we love raw fish.
It's fish in its most elemental form. And I thought, what if you just create a restaurant that was the best raw fish dishes? So it was ceviches, tartares, and crudos. And I also did venison, carpaccio, like some other stuff that was not necessarily fish, but I didn't have any heat in the kitchen. It was a tiny little bar.
Josh Sharkey [00:03:33]:
Oh, it was all induction, right?
Seamus Mullen [00:03:35]:
Yeah, and I had an induction. And I have a hot pot of some sort. And then everything else was cold and I had a prep kitchen that I could have access to during the day, so I would make different kinds of chips and things to serve with the ceviches. But yeah, it was fun.
It was a really fun spot. I mean, I was a one man band. It was just me doing all of it. So it got pretty exhausting. And then the winter came and it was really, at the time, really tough to convince people that they had to eat raw fish.
Josh Sharkey [00:04:05]:
Now you can't get and find any without it. But you bounced back and forth a bit, which from like in the kitchen to doing a bit of front of house, then back in the kitchen. Which by the way, I dunno if you remember. I worked for your restaurant.
Seamus Mullen [00:04:15]:
You worked for me. Yeah, I know. I remember when I was, it was like 2007 maybe.
Josh Sharkey [00:04:17]:
Yeah. When I was trying to open Bark and I was serving at your restaurant.
Seamus Mullen [00:04:19]:
I remember because you wanted to learn more about front of house operations since you're getting ready to open Bark, you came to work for me and I remember. As always happens when you're running a kitchen, you're like in the shits and you, you're down. And I was like, well, maybe Josh will just, you know, may I get Sharkey to come in, pick up a shift. You're like, oh man, I'm not doing that.
Josh Sharkey [00:04:45]:
I remember I did help you once with, oh my god, that's the thing at Macy's, I always space the name, the Degustibus. And I always remember the rice you made. Yeah, you made this rice with dates and I think lamb, it was like lamb and dates. It was so fucking good. And you're using Bomba rice. I was like, wait, this isn't paella. I was like, oh, it's more than just lambs and rabbits.
Seamus Mullen [00:05:03]:
Oh yeah. When I lived in Spain, when I worked in Spain, one of the chefs I worked with in Catalonia, his name was Jorge Villa. He's an incredible guy. He did all these baked rice dishes that I didn't know there was. You know when you look at the east coast of Spain, Valencia where paella comes from, everything's pretty traditional and it's all kind of cooked the same way.
But as you go further north into Catalonia, they do a lot of baked rice dishes. Like, you know, woodfired hearth and all of that. And I fell in love with these because there were a lot of times it was a mixture of, of dried fruit and braised meat, whether it was like lamb shank or rabbit or game. That was something that I loved kind of bringing back to New York because nobody's really had those dishes before, so it's a very rare thing from Catalonia.
Josh Sharkey [00:05:50]:
Yeah. So I mean, paella is just when you're using the paella pan, right? Is that correct?
Seamus Mullen [00:05:53]:
Exactly. Paella comes from the latin word, padilla, which means pan in the same word, the patella of your knee.The shape of your knee is patella is shaped like a pan, and paella actually refers to the thing you cook at it, not to the dish itself.
Josh Sharkey [00:06:07]:
And we're all used to paella mariscos, which is with the clams and mussels and shrimp, whatever else. The classic one is rabbit, right? And artichokes maybe?
Seamus Mullen [00:06:20]:
Rabbit and Snails. So the history of it really was that in Valencia, you know, it's a big orange growing region. And guys would go and work in the orange orchards for like a week at a time, and they'd sleep and camp in the orange orchards. And they would prepare their own meals. They'd bring a pan and they'd bring a bag of rice, which would keep, and then they would set snares for rabbits and they'd go and collect snails and they'd pick wild onions and forage for mushrooms.
And that became sort of the basis of the original true traditional paella. So they would have it during the day. It's also a lunch dish, and generally speaking, if you're having it with another dish, it's not like the main dish that you have. But the very traditional way of doing it is you catch your wild rabbits and you forage for snails and you forage for mushrooms, and then you cook it over dried orange tree branches. And you do it without a shirt on, with a big belly hanging out, drinking a beer.
That makes sense with the orange trees. I never thought about that. And the socarrat is necessary for any version that they're making. Right?
Socarrat is the caramelization of the rice at the bottom and everybody fights over it. And almost any rice eating culture has some version of that, whether it's in what I forget what the Korean rice dish is, where you cook in the hot stone, the Persian rice dish. That's the wedding rice dish. And it's not easy to achieve. You have to really kind of slowly baby the rice and slowly caramelize it. You just leave it.
Josh Sharkey [00:07:49]:
Yeah. It's the best part though. Well, we’ll bounce around a bit cause I probably have a hundred questions about just Spanish food. Because I'm also curious how you ended up in Spain. But maybe we just do a little bit of background for those that don't know. I think most people probably do know about you.And how you got to where you are today and a little bit about the rheumatoid arthritis that you've been dealing with and your death experience. I think the context is helpful because you're a chef, but your world is so much different now.
Seamus Mullen [00:08:20]:
I grew up in Vermont on a small farm, so I was around good food my whole life, or at least my early life, and a really rural Vermont. Not a lot there. There wasn't a high school in my town, so when I was going into high school, I had the option of going to the nearest local high school, and the town would pay the tuition just like 25 miles away, or I could go anywhere.
And my brother went to boarding school and he loved it. So I ended up applying and going to boarding school in Massachusetts and I loved it. It was great. And my senior year I was really into Spanish. I had a couple of really good Spanish teachers and my senior year they had a program, an exchange program in Spain.
So I ended up going to Spain. I was always cooking, like, I loved cooking with my grandmother and cooking with my family. It was just like a chore that we did, like anything else, but, and so I knew how to cook, I knew how to, you know, do the basics of cooking as a kid. But when I went to Spain, my senior year in high school, my host family was really, really into food.
I lived in Burgos, which is in North central Spain, north of Castile. They had their own bodega. They made their own wine, so they had a little small plot in the country where they grew their own grapes, made their own wine. It was basically like this little stone house that had a wine cellar that went down two levels underground.
They aged all the wine, and we would go there on the weekends and have these like big barbecues where we'd get a whole baby lamb and we'd grill it over the coals wrapped in grape leagues. We'd make paella, even though it's not really the paella region, but my host mother loved making paella, so we would make paella outside of our wood fire.
I was just so amazed. It was just a totally different experience for me. It was so exotic, you know? The relationship with food was so deeply ingrained and romantic that I was only like 17, but I totally plugged into it. And when I came back to the States after that, I knew that I was going to return to Spain.
I ended up going back again for university. And I went to school in southern Spain for two and a half years in Cartaya near the Portuguese border, really remote. It's closer to where the daisa the most famous daisa were all the really good Iberico pig were raised. That again, further solidified my relationship with the country and with the language and food.
And then after we worked together at Tabla, I realized in fact it was Floyd that said, you gotta go to Europe. That's where you really need to go and train in Europe. If you're serious about this, this idea of being a chef. You really should go to Europe.
Josh Sharkey [00:10:59]:
Hold on, hold, hold on. Sorry. What's, how did you end up at Tabla? You were in Spain and then that seems like a big jump to have a few steps.
Seamus Mullen [00:11:07]:
I was just gonna say that I went, ended up going back to per Floyd's recommendation, so yeah, I came back from Spain and then I knew that I loved cooking, so I didn't go to culinary school. Actually, I'll tell you a story about Floyd and culinary school too in a second, but I moved to San Francisco, I worked at Zuni, and I worked at another place called Mecca and just started cooking. And then I was like, you know, I gotta move to New York. That's where everything is. And so I moved to New York in 2001 and I knew that I didn't have any New York cooking experience and for some reason I was super intimidated and I thought I'd be able to afford living in New York as a cook, but I could wait tables and I would make enough money.
You know, I wanted to work for Danny Meyer and I went to all the Danny Meyer restaurants and applied. Randy Garutti hired me at Tabla and I worked in front of the house. Floyd let me come into the kitchen and work like one or two days a week in the kitchen. And then eventually, like I think I gave up all the front of house shifts and I just worked in the kitchen. Yeah, so that, I mean, that's how I ended up in New York at Tabla.
Josh Sharkey [00:12:06]:
I vaguely remember you riding a motorcycle to work sometimes.
Seamus Mullen [00:12:06]:
Exactly. I rode a motorcycle. I had a really bad motorcycle accident, which was pretty rotten. And then at that time, that's when I was like, well, you know, I really need to go to culinary school because I didn't, I never went to culinary school.
I'd worked in restaurants for a couple of years and I cooked, and I knew how to cook. I wasn't like the best cook, but I knew, you know, I knew my way around the kitchen. And I enrolled in at the FCI and went to school for like a week and I was like, what am I doing?I actually know how to do all this stuff.
Like this is such a waste of money, waste of time, waste of money for me. That's what Floyd said. He is like, listen, it's work at a good restaurant, work here at Tabla, I'll pay you and then go to Europe. And I didn't speak French and France was kind of declining and everyone was interested in Spain. You know, I'd already lived in Spain for several years, so that's when I went back.
Josh Sharkey [00:12:56]:
Gotcha. That's cool. Yeah, Floyd really tends to have good advice like that.
Seamus Mullen [00:13:02]:
Yeah. Yeah. Miss that guy.
And you didn't really start having, I mean, you had some bad luck, you know, I think you got in a motorcycle accident. Yeah, I remember you limping a bit. And then, the next time we really interacted was when you were at Boqueria and I definitely wanna dig a nail with, but that's when this where RA started really popping up.
I was diagnosed eventually with rheumatoid arthritis, which is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease. I was getting all this inflammation in different joints and a lot of pain. I started to gain weight and just felt really, really sick all the time and I had no idea where it was coming from, what was driving it, but in hindsight, looking back eventually, I was able to see that the seeds of this autoimmune dysfunction started really, really early on, probably in early childhood.
Whether it was overuse of antibiotics that disrupted my gut microbiome or a series of infections. I got salmonella in high school, which is really bad, which can obviously really affect your microbiome. Microbiome is really what programs your immune system. So once you developed dysbiosis and leaky gut syndrome.
You can create an environment in which your immune system doesn't really know how to react. The conventional way of treating that, which is what I did, is to take immunosuppressant biologic drugs that literally suppress an aspect of your immune system so that you don't experience these acute moments of inflammation.
And those can be really helpful for slowing down symptoms. Ultimately, you're treating downstream results of an upstream problem. I mean, I went through many years of being really sick. Well, it wasn't until like 2011, 2012 when I realized through working with a doctor, functional medicine that the foods and my relationship with food and the way I was living my life was part of the environment or a big part of the environment that was creating a world in which I could get really sick. So by shifting that and shifting my relationship with food, shifting my understanding of what health meant enabled me to really turn my health.
Josh Sharkey [00:15:05]:
Well, it also, I think, has shaped a lot of what you do today.
Seamus Mullen [00:15:08]:
Yeah, a hundred percent.
Seamus Mullen [00:15:10]:
You were so maniacally focused, and I'm sure you, you still have this love of Spanish cuisine.
Josh Sharkey [00:15:15]:
We all knew you for educating us on Spanish food, but then you started doing so much more. I have to imagine that this was a terrible experience.
Seamus Mullen [00:15:20]:
Yes and no. I mean, like, it gave me tremendous direction and something that I'm very passionate about.
Josh Sharkey [00:15:24]:
Yeah, well I think that's what I was alluding to is that it was suffering and, you know, suffering also brings meaning and, you know, you had near death experiences and this got really bad before it started to get good. And I'd love to maybe hear like, yeah, how, how is it shaped the new Shamus, not just as a chef, but I'd love to hear as a chef, because it certainly has, and then just generally like I can change them.
Seamus Mullen [00:15:44]:
I mean, it's funny, it's a sort of philosophical question, but. I think that there is a moment when I realized that, and I talk about this a lot, like the shift in the mindset from thinking of myself as a sick person to having compassion for myself and realizing that I'm just somebody that's struggling.
And that was very different because I'd no longer define myself as a sick person. And if you think of yourself as being sick, that's where you're gonna go. It's like when you're driving a car. Or if you're riding a bike, you go where your eyes go. Whatever point on the horizon that you're looking at is where you're gonna go.
And I think the same goes with how we think of how we lead our lives. So if you think of yourself as a victim, you're gonna become a victim over and over again. If you think of yourself as a sick person, that's where your direction in your life is gonna go. And the only way that you can ever overcome any kind of massive obstacle is to trust and believe and surrender that you can't.
It was a big shift for me. It was a really hard thing for me to embody, but once I could, then I started to see that like there were so many things I could do, and I realized that for a really long time I understood the chemistry of food in the pan, but I didn't understand the chemistry of food in the body.
And that was something that was a radical shift. Starting to learn how we're made up of trillions of cells. And those cells are really, they're constantly turning over. I mean, our mitochondria is constantly turning over. We're in a constant state of evolution. The drivers that affect what those cells are shaped like are the inputs.
So essentially the idea that you are what you eat is very true. On a subcellular level, the foods we eat become the people we are. The human body is incredibly resilient and we can handle a lot of garbage. But once the scales are tipped too far in one direction, then every negative input has a compounded effect on the body.
And this idea of equilibrium within the body and within health, I think is really, really important. It's more than just the food we eat. I have a lot of people that'll often say to me, Oh, you know, I can't eat dairy and gluten, but then I went to Italy and I have no problem eating dairy. Uh, you know, I eat buffalo and mozzarella.
It's incredible. I have fresh pasta and I feel fine. It must be that they're not using GMO products or it's like it's totally different from what we have here in the us. My response is always, maybe, probably not. In reality, nearly all the wheat in Italy comes from the United States and Canada, where we don't have strict GMO labeling laws.
So it's unlikely that it's, it's the actual product. I think the more likely reason for that, and I think it's very real, is that people who struggle with digesting something here in the States then go to Italy and have no problem, is that they're in Italy. Their stress levels are lower. All of the negative inputs are lower because they're in a moment of celebration and exploration and something new.
And all of that helps you bring the body into equilibrium to where the body can handle. We all crave homeostasis. The body can handle some infractions that it might not be able to handle here in your daily life, but we don't think of nutrition in those terms. I truly do believe that if you are in a really bad mood and you're angry and you're eating, your ability to absorb nutrients is gonna go down.
Josh Sharkey [00:19:04]:
I agree a hundred percent. I have a real serious lactose intolerance that's grown over the years, as well as an inability to process live yeast about 12 years ago. I all of a sudden couldn't drink beer, wine, sake, and I was like a sherry, like a fanatic, like manzanilla. I could drink gallons and there's like, it's basically all live yeast.
I still have problems with that, but with the dairy, I definitely see the fluctuations when my stress levels are higher, the reaction in my body, my heart rate variability. I use the oura ring. Like whenever I know that my HRV has shot down a bunch, I know that I'm gonna have a higher reaction.
And it's incredible how much stress impacts so much of our health in so many ways, and we don't think about that when we're treating diseases or anything like that. There's no panacea. Most medicine only does something to sort of stifle some of the pain.
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I was listening to this podcast you did when I was stalking you. You said, so really cool that diseases are contagious, but health can also be contagious. And it seems like that's part of how you've kind of grown as a chef is not just about making delicious food, but helping to kind of like promulgate this vision, or this sort of mentality of how to create healthy, wholesome food and how to think about how it impacts your body. Do you feel like that's a responsibility of chefs as a whole to be learning more about that?
Seamus Mullen [00:21:24]:
Completely for guidance when it comes to nutrition, it's unfortunate too that we have to do that to a degree because, I mean, like a squirrel doesn't need a nutritionist to know how to eat. A squirrel just goes out and eats acorns.
It knows that that's what it's supposed to do. Our mind gets in the way. I have a friend who is very wise and he always says, thinking got you into this problem. Do you think thinking is gonna get you out of it? He's really big on like how do you feel? What is your feeling that you're having? And I think that that's true.
Like to a large degree, we have completely disconnected from our intuition, particularly when it comes to food. And it's because there's like so much bullshit and garbage and terrible inputs around us all the time telling us that you have to eat this and you have to eat that. And putting really bad products in front of us that are engineered to be much more powerful than our will.
That is really, really, really challenging. And as chefs, we have become these spokespeople for how to eat. We have a responsibility. We do, as I said, we have a bully pulpit, particularly chefs that have a really high profile are on television. Those chefs have a responsibility to, or maybe it's not a responsibility, but they have a tremendous amount of influence and power over how we as a culture, the relationship that we have with food.
And I do, I love the idea of, I love that you quoted that from that podcast. I love the idea of the contagion of health because there have been so many great books that have been written recently about the importance of surrounding yourself with people that inspire you and challenge you and the community that you curate and you cultivate will impact how you lead your life.
Being around people, like I'm sure you see this every day. You as a runner and somebody who's very health conscious, you see that that impacts the people around you. That other people see that what you're doing and what works for you is inspiring and they wanna do the same thing. And I know that, like for me, I love being around people that are motivated, but that also really have a lot of self-compassion and self-forgiveness and are aware of their own limitations.
And that I think is hugely important. Being able to impact the people around you through the way that you're leading your life, and also allow positive influences in your sphere of community to impact how you lead your life. There's a growth factor that happens with that. I mean, kind of like your yeast.
It grows and grows and grows if you keep beating it and if you bring more people into that community, you know, when I started beating this drum like 12 or 13 years ago, as I was turning my health around and realizing, holy crap, There's so much that we can do, like these meds that I'm taking are not changing the way that I feel.
But wait, I can start to do stuff on my own that literally has an impact on this disease. Like I can see it in the labs, I can see it in my biometrics, my inflammatory markers are going down. Not only do I anecdotally feel better, but I can look at the actual lab results in the same way that you eat dairy and you look at your HRV. It goes way down.
You know that there's an issue. It's a really interesting tool to be able to look at the data and see, okay, here's some feedback that I have. You know, I was able to see that. Even long before my doctor at the time when I asked him, I said, Hey, I'm really struggling. I'm on methotrexate. It's not doing it.
I'm on this biologic drug. It's not doing it. I'm still having flare ups. What do you think about addressing my diet? Is there anything I can do? And he was like, well, if you think it's gonna help you, I have no problem with it, but don't go thinking that going gluten free or not eating legumes is going or taking out nightshades is gonna get rid of your RA.
There's just no hard data to support that. And I had him when he said that I had this moment, I was like, you know what? I'm not gonna sit around and wait for science to validate what I'm already experiencing. And then what's interesting is that the science very quickly starts validating all of that.
I'm really happy to see now that 12 years later, at the time when, in 2007, 2008, 2009, When I was really thinking about this, and then by 2011 when I'd really started to turn my health around, people weren't talking about it. It was very, it was very kind of marginal and fringe to talk about the impact of, of nutrition and lifestyle on inflammatory disease.
It was talked about. It was very vague terms. Sort of obtuse terms, like you were just mentioning stress, and we talk about stress and you can go to your doctor and your doctor says, well, you know, your cortisol unlikely your doctor would be testing your cortisol. But let's say you have a really progressive doctor and they're testing your cortisol, and they'd say, okay, well it seems like your cortisol levels are kind of all over the plate, but then what do you do with that information?
Anyone will tell you that chronic stress is not good for you, but what does that mean? Like what are tools, what are actionable things that you can do to affect. Chronic stress, and even that in and of itself, like I'm working on a new book right now, which is all about stress because I actually think that stress can be our superpower.
It's about the kind of stress that we elect to bring into our life. We as a species, I think we are engineered. We have evolved to pursue comfort to our detriment. We've been able to architect a world in which comfort is the default operating mode, not the reward. And as a result, we have less and less resilience.
And we experience more and more chronic stress, which is very different from going on a hard run fasting for 36 hours crossing a cold river that's 36 degrees. These are all incredibly stressful things that on the other end of that stress, you have a tremendous amount of resilience reward that pays benefits over time.
Josh Sharkey [00:26:56]:
I was gonna ask something else, but I wanna dive, divert for a minute because I couldn't agree more. I don't think we as a culture embrace stress and suffering enough because that is the norm. The edge cases are all sort of like positive things that happen and you can't be grateful for those unless you have the stress and that the variability of it is important too. Cortisol spikes, like I do these five day water fasts, you know, at least twice a year and three days once a month.
Seamus Mullen [00:27:20]:
Oh, you do it for three days. That's incredible.
Josh Sharkey [00:27:23]:
So I started doing intermittent fasting about six years ago. I actually stopped recently because I'm trying to gain more. Like muscle as I get older. I do these five day water fests. They're incredible. I mean, I'm tracking my glucose and ketone levels, you know, throughout the day. And the first few times I did it, first of all, it's an incredible experience because you get so grateful for the afterwards, but you also, you get to this point where you sort of live in that, like, oh, that moment of I’m not eating.
I'm not eating. Sometimes I'm hungry, sometimes I'm not, but I'm okay. I can actually go 3, 4, 5 days without this. And you also start to really empathize with those that have trouble being able to find food. But I remember when I first started doing it, I didn't know enough and I would try to research as much as I could.
Peter Tia and Walter Blango and find resources. And it wasn't until a few times later when I learned that my blood sugar drops a lot and I would stop exercising during these long fasts. Cause I'm like, well, I shouldn't go hard. And then I learned after like the third five day fast I did, I was like, you know what?
I'm just gonna try a really hard workout. And my blood sugar was really low. It was dangerously low. Sometimes it was like 26, which is really dangerous. And it's incredibly low. Even though my ketones would be up to, you know, three, 3.4 or 5, and then I would do a hard workout and my blood sugar would jump up a bunch.
And it turns out that there's a correlation between cortisol and blood sugar and it makes sense. Basically your body is assuming, hey, you haven't gone with the food for a while. You're probably now about to catch some sort of prey that you're gonna go eat. So we're gonna spike your glucose so that you can go and you know, have the energy to do that.
And these fast help you understand so much of how your body, but the stress is. So important to just know if I get stuck in an elevator for a day, I can go without food. I don't think there's enough. You know? I think most people, if they miss a meal, they're like, I'm starving. Right? And there's something to that. So I couldn't agree more.
Seamus Mullen [00:29:15]:
So fascinating. I've noticed because I've worn a continuous glucose monitor before, and I've noticed when I do cold plunges, which is part of my daily routine, that my blood sugar spikes immediately following a cold plunge. And it's the same thing.
It's because you're experiencing eustress, or acute stress, on the body and the body's like, okay, but we're gonna go into survival mode. We need to gather resources, and your blood sugar will go up. The whole stress thing is interesting too, because we vilify cortisol, this idea of cortisol and it's a fundamental hormone.
It's incredibly important. It's important that we experience it at the right periods of the day, and it's important that we experience it at targeted moments. It's when we're operating in a world in which we're experiencing it at a low level throughout the course of our day or a week or life, that it starts to erode us.
And it really affects our ability to sleep at night because, you know, the inverse of cortisol is melatonin and our ability to produce melatonin in that amber light moment of sunset into evening is totally hands strung by high levels of cortisol throughout the day. And then we end up not having cortisol in the morning when, when we need it most because we've been up watching television late at night or for whatever reason, you know, we've been eating too much food late at night or we're eating a diet that's really high in carbohydrates and sugars and that's gonna affect your body's ability to naturally have this circadian rhythm, this beautiful kind of avid low.
But it's fascinating when you do start to like to learn about how fasting is an incredible way to learn about food. And also an incredible way to learn about how mindful we can easily become when it comes. Because if you said some rules, there's a researcher at Sanford named Anna Lemke who has a book that I love that came out last year called Dopamine Nation.
I dunno if you've read it really will be booked. You'd love it. I'm not sure if she's a sober alcoholic, but she's definitely like, has done a lot of work with AA and she talks about something called self binding, which I think is really interesting. It's like creating something that a lot of addicts will do if they'll create an environment in which they can.
They'll take any kind of addictive substance out of their house. But what I like about this concept is that when you create some rules, like you're doing a five day fast, you know what the rules are. So now that you don't even have to think about all the noise because you got the rules and you're following this self binding rule, and within that, it allows you to really reevaluate the relationship that you have with food or the role that food plays in your life.
And you start to realize that most people, I can't remember what it is, but there's like, I think there's like four or five reasons why that have been identified as to why we eat. And in the hierarchy of reasons, nutrition and hunger is actually at the bottom. It's not even like our main reason for eating.
We eat for social structure, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This is the way we're supposed to eat, whether we're hungry or not. We eat those meals. We eat for comfort. We eat for emotional reasons. We eat for celebration, societal pressure, and all these different reasons, but like actually eating, because you're nutritionally deficient, you need energy and you need nutrients is pretty low down on the the list.
And when you experience not having food, you develop a completely different appreciation and understanding of it, which I think is really interesting. As chefs like you and I are in the business of pedaling food, but I actually think I advocate for experiencing what it means to be hungry. It's an interesting word too, because you think about it like hunger.
If you're hungry, you're, you're driven. You know, you have a desire and a need. Whether it's to learn or grow or experience and explore, or ultimately to, to get food and get nutrients, it's a drive, which I think is really interesting. And when you eliminate that aspect of life by having nutrient deficient, calorically rich, highly processed foods at, you know, arms length at all times. You lose that sense of what hunger means and having a real drive, it becomes like, let's say handicap and handicaps your ability to be driven.
Josh Sharkey [00:33:30]:
Yeah. Couldn't agree more.I think most people don't think about the fact that a calorie is a measurement of energy or eating, especially if you are fasting or you're eating one meal a day. You're mindful of like, okay, I need energy. I only have X amount of calories that I can actually consume. How am I gonna actually like, you know, use those. Well, I also think this is why what you do is, as you've grown in your career, is so helpful and probably also bothersome to big pharma because you have a very holistic approach to what it means to be healthy.
And I always am trepidatious of when I hear. Only eat protein, only eat plants. Remove this from your diet. Just do this, eat this way. And I have something I'd say often: never take anybody's advice, but index everyone's and I apply the same thing to health. It's like anytime someone tells me, you know, you shouldn't eat dairy, you shouldn't eat meat.
I'm sure that there are reasons why you shouldn't do any of those things. But there's also reasons why a little of that is okay if you have a life that's balanced and you're happy and you're, you're thinking about all the other factors that go into your health, and I think that's a lot of what you're talking about in your books and also just the things that you're working on, especially now it sounds like your new book, which I'm excited to hear about, is that it's not just don't do this, don't do that, do it at this time. But, you know, just having a holistic approach.
Seamus Mullen [00:34:41]:
I was talking to a really good friend of mine. We were having a very similar conversation and he said, I remember my freshman year at Penn, I took a statistics class. And I had this aha moment where I realized that whatever your case is or whatever your point of view is or whatever it is that you're trying to argue, you can manipulate the data to support it.
And that's part of the issue with the world that we operate in now, which is that everybody has something to sell. Everybody has perspective and what they're selling might simply be a point of view. You can very easily, you can create the argument and validate the argument based on the data that exists.
And yeah, you're right. It wasn't saying anything. It was like one of those John Hughes movies where I think it may have been John Cusack’s character that said, I don't believe in isms. And I think, I mean, I could be misquoting it, but I seem to remember it. I love that because it's like, it's true.
You know, we love to categorize things and say that. Eat this, don't eat that. These are the rules. I figured it out. Do exactly what I do and we're all unique. Gary Tobbs has written some really good books on calories, some good calories, bad calories, and the case for keto and things like that.
One of the things that he talks about is that part of the problem in the world that we operate in right now around nutrition is that there are, people generally tend to fall into two categories. There are people that are insulin resistant and people that are insulin sensitive, and people that are insulin sensitive tend to be naturally very quite thin and have very fast metabolisms and.
Often become like the postcard for what we consider to be really healthy people. And so they're espousing, you gotta do what I do and this is why I look like I do and why I'm as healthy as I am in all this. And the reality is that we're taking advice or generally speaking, like the roadmap that's plotted out for us.
It's created by a subset of the population for whom that does actually work, but it doesn't work for everyone. And when we become didactic about, I'm guilty of it, like I am didactic as well. Like I truly do believe that humans should eat meat. I don't think they should exclusively eat meat, but I do think that the majority of our calories, the way that we have evolved from the development of our brain to the development of language and tools, can all be traced back to increased consumption of animal protein.
And you know, you can get all of the nutrients, all the micronutrients you need in animal protein, there are no plants that can provide you with that. You will be nutrient deficient without supplementation if you exclude all protein. Now, I also understand there's lots of really, really compelling arguments for ethical arguments for not eating meat.
There are many compelling environmental arguments, though I would actually say that a lot of those are, are skewed to fit the data. But generally speaking, like if we do live in a world now where you can engineer a diet that doesn't have animal products, it's close to being healthy. Certainly, it can be a survivable diet.
But I don't think it's optimal. But you're right, like the people that are in the campus say you just have to eat protein and only eat protein. You have to eat this amount of protein. And then the other people that are that, that are in the camp of carbohydrates shouldn't be vilified. And you, carbohydrates are really good for you and you need to be eating carbohydrates.
Also, understand that those people that are saying these sorts of things are probably speaking from a place that makes sense to them in their body. So it's not it’s necessarily false or uh, misleading, it's just that that might actually do what works for them. You know, for you, dairy and live yeast are real issues that may not be an issue for plenty of other people.
And if someone's telling you, you gotta eat dairy, you've gotta eat raw dairy because it's got all sorts of live enzymes that are really important for your microbiome and it's a great source of bioavailable nutrients and fat and protein, et cetera. And you're like, dude, It makes me sick.
Obviously when it comes to food allergies, we are a little bit more aware of that, but I love your point, The reality is to really index everything. That's interesting. I'm gonna think about that. I'm gonna go back to it.
Josh Sharkey [00:38:55]:
Thanks for tuning into The meez Podcast. The music from the show is a remix of the Song Art Mirror by an old friend, hip hop artist, Fresh Daily. For show notes and more, visit www.getmeez.com/podcast. That's G E T M E E Z dot com forward slash podcast. If you enjoyed the show, I'd love it if you can share it with your fellow entrepreneurs and culinary pros and give us a five star rating wherever you listen to your podcasts.
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