#179 – Determining your healthy baseline of food through elimination diets | Michael Keller & Ben Grynol

Episode introduction

Show Notes

Understanding your body’s unique nutritional needs through elimination dieting can help you determine a solid nutritional baseline. Michael Keller discusses his nutritional philosophy in this episode with Ben Grynol, where he discusses the lifestyle choices he made and the food that he experimented with to optimize his health. Look for multiple new shows per week on A Whole New Level, where we have in-depth conversations about metabolic health and how the Levels startup team builds a wellness movement from the ground up in the health and wellness tech industry.

Episode Transcript

Michael Keller (00:06):

So my philosophy is get the baseline to be really solid. I don’t break 110 during my baseline food. And then it’s like if you really nail that, the occasional cheat day or cheat meal is probably in the scheme of things, not so bad. You have, what, a hundred meals a month or something like that. It’s fine if you’ve got three or four that are a bit more spiky. There’s some things I just still don’t do, but my philosophy’s to get the baseline really good and then worry a little bit less about what happens sort of at the edges.

Ben Grynol (00:46):

I’m Ben Grynol, part of the early startup team here at Levels. We’re building tech that helps people to understand their metabolic health. And this is your front row seat to everything we do. This is a whole new level.

Ben Grynol (01:08):

You could call him an early adopter. He might call himself a self-proclaimed data nerd. That’s Michael Keller. Michael is one of our most tenured members. He’s been a member of levels for more than two years and his journey with CGM started early on. Initially he had gotten a prescription for a Dexcom device through his practitioner. His doctor prescribed him a device and said, “Cool, go in, monitor your glucose levels in real time.” Michael was very much interested in learning more about metabolic health and as an engineer who’s based out of New York at this time, he thought he was going to start building a product, something that had a bit of an interface for him to understand insights behind his metabolic health. Fast forward a few years later, he had heard about CGMs and glucose monitoring through Peter Attia, someone he follows closely. He came across Levels and he thought, “Hey, this is the product that I wanted to build, but it’s already here.”

Ben Grynol (02:07):

And so he became a Levels member pretty quickly and he’s been a member ever since. He continues to monitor his glucose and he’s always trying to find micro optimizations a lot of times by subtraction, taking things out and doing tests, seeing what he pair with different lifestyle choices he makes, especially when it comes to things like diet, adding fat, adding fiber, adding protein. Seeing how his body reacts with different things like introducing apple cider vinegar. Anyway, Michael does all of these different tests in continuing to optimize his help and he’s really focused on the idea of longevity. Michael’s living in San Francisco and he is an engineer out there. He works with Meta on their Oculus product. It’s a really cool conversation to learn more about Michael and his experience as a member. Anyway, no need to wait. Here’s where we kick things off.

Ben Grynol (03:01):

So why don’t we get into your background. We know you’re based in San Francisco and you are one of our longest, most tenured Levels members. You’ve been a member for almost two years now. So let’s get into your background of San Francisco. So are you born and raised in the Bay Area?

Michael Keller (03:18):

No, I am not. So I moved out here 2016, so I guess six years now. Initially got recruited by Google to come out here, was in New York before and was at Google for a while and then I’ve since switched to Meta working on the Oculus Hardware.

Ben Grynol (03:35):

Very cool. So you’re immersed in the world of VR. So you discovered Levels. You’ve been a member for two years and I know it was Attia that led you down the path of…

Michael Keller (03:47):

Yeah, I think it was, it’s a little hard to remember at first. So I’ve been listening to Attia for a while now. I become aware of him for a few years ago and he often talks about the CGMs, benefits of that and actually before I was aware of Levels, basically, I went to my doctor, basically got a prescription for the Dexcom and was going through there. And soon realized that hey, it’s a little hard to just be monitoring this on my watch. So it actually started the process of building my own app, just for internal use, to do the tracking and then become aware of Levels and I’m like, Oh my God, they’re doing exactly what I need. I don’t need to do this in my spare time. So signed up for the wait list on that. And just by chance, this was maybe a month after I had got my first sensor.

Ben Grynol (04:40):

So what was it that led you down the path initially when you got the prescription from the doctor? Because it’s still, when we talk about CGM, we’re still in such an early phase of bringing awareness about it. You’re very much on the forefront of it.

Michael Keller (04:53):

Yeah, I mean I was definitely one that asked. Luckily my doctor’s very responsive and we talked through it a bit and just happy to prescribe. But it was definitely something that I had brought up. I think it was a couple of things. I mean I’ll step back and first and say like, look, I’m an engineer. I’m totally nerdy now on data. I think it’s just in my nature.

Michael Keller (05:16):

A couple things prompted me. One, I had the tendency to just get on a sugar, on a spike and then crash and just get cranky and so forth. It’s just something I’ve kind of always been in my nature and it’s like I could probably actually do a better job of tracking this just so I’m made a better state overall. And then just finding out, listening to Peter, the pretty serious implications of metabolic health and how it matters and how it’s not obvious what your response is to things. I think that was definitely a surprise to me that people are just so different. I’m pretty health conscious, so that was another big factor of just saying, “Hey, can I do something that’s going to sort of meaningfully impact my health 10, 20, 30 years down the road.”

Ben Grynol (06:02):

When was it that you got into health and wellness? When you were growing up as a kid? Was it so always on your mind or was it something that you sort of had that tipping point?

Michael Keller (06:12):

Yeah, no, I think it was more of a tipping point. So I’d say in my 20s I ate at Wendy’s and fast food and ate pizza and all that kind of stuff. So certainly it wasn’t something I thought about when I was younger. It was probably about 30 when I first moved out to New York, I just started feeling maybe coming into being adult and just being aware. My extended family hasn’t had a history of really taking care of themselves and just starting to see as they got into their 50s and 60s just what the health repercussions of not being careful are just focused me in a little bit on that. But yeah, I would not say an abrupt change. But it was a fairly quick change that I made of my 30s where I really tried to clean up my diet, step up the exercise and so forth.

Ben Grynol (06:59):

Was there a single moment? Sometimes you think back and you’re like, man, that thing. I think about it all the time because even sometimes there’ll be a specific podcast let’s say with Huberman or Attia and you listen and you’re just like, never again, I won’t do that one thing. Or you start to think of, hey, I should really think more, whether it’s, even Matthew Walker, great example of, okay, anecdotally we know we should sleep more, but the info is put in front of you and you’re like I have to make changes. So did you ever have one or two moments that were really your big change for health and wellness?

Michael Keller (07:35):

So I think part of it for me was just some of the health problems that some of my family were running into, especially at the ages that they were at. I just sort looked back and, hey, if you want your outcome to be different you need to take different actions. And I think that kind of prodded me in the right direction. And then from there it just sort builds on itself. You start eating better, you start feeling better, you go to the gym, you start feeling better.

Michael Keller (08:05):

Yes, the CGMs wasn’t till much later, but somebody like Peter Attia’s obviously super interesting for me. I follow them very closely and some of his advice. So when I heard about the CGMs and hearing that, I think its kind of two things. One is it’s meaningful. So it’s not a number just for the sake of numbers, which I think you can get a lot of in the health world, but it’s actually a meaningful number and it’s something that you can make changes on. So it is something that matters and it’s something that’s going to have a long term impact and in 30 years, my 30 years self will be happy that I made these changes now. And I don’t view it as sacrificing or compromising, but to me it’s just like it’s a different path and I’m happy to go down it and I’ll feel better now and I’ll feel better in the future.

Ben Grynol (08:54):

So it’s absolutely the long game. When you’re starting to explore some of this though, what does your support system… We heard a little bit about family stuff, but your friends, when exploring these new paths, sometimes it can be a person’s on an island and they’re sort of looking around and everyone’s like, “What are you doing?” What did it look as far as you’re exploring this? Was it easy because you got friends or a support system around you that’s like, “Yeah, we’re into this too” and it makes it a journey that you go through together? Or have you been a lone wolf wandering down the highway and people like, “What are you doing?”

Michael Keller (09:33):

Yeah, so it’s maybe a lot of stuff just sort of happened at a similar time. So I grew up in Iowa, so I went to school, moved out to New York and there was definitely a marked change. My friends in New York compared to earlier friends, health and fitness was just a much more integral part of your life. Just something that you, a force that you do. So in that way I didn’t feel like I was standing out in any way. I just felt like I was in some ways doing the mainstream thing. So I never really felt like I was an outsider in that case.

Michael Keller (10:10):

When I started this CGM, so many fewer people are kind of familiar with the topic of a CGM. It’s like why would you do this if you’re not diabetic and so forth. So fewer people, although I’ve convinced other people to do this, so I’m not a super outlier in that regard. I mean I probably have a slightly nerdier and slightly healthier than typical friend group, so it’s not super usual for me.

Ben Grynol (10:39):

How much do you think geography plays into it where being from the Midwest we know whether it’s west coast or east coast, just in general, the outlook on fitness, nutrition might be different. And it’s not to say in generalized and say anyone outside of the coast isn’t into this. It’s more a matter of the people you surround yourself with and that support system. It is without a doubt there’s a larger support system of people who are into those sorts of things on the coast. But how much do you think geography has to play into it when you connect with people you would’ve grown up with or maybe go back home. Does it feel different? What do you think in that regard?

Michael Keller (11:23):

Yeah, I mean first, just like you were saying, there’s obviously variance. There’s super healthy people everywhere. There’s people who don’t try as much, so obviously there’s a lot of variance. I do notice going back to visit my family, there’s just the default is for things like to be fried and for things to be with a more fast food heavy and so forth. So I think in some ways it’s actually gotten better over the last 10 or 20 years. I think there is a healthier streak now, but I think just the default of if you just go out, what the default that you would have does tend to be on average less healthy. Although there are increasingly lots of healthy options as well. And yeah, I think there’s something about that just if all of your peer group is expecting to eat maybe a certain way or exercise in a certain way, I think in some ways it just makes it easier and just makes it part of your normal habits.

Ben Grynol (12:19):

If you go back home, how do you spread the information? You’ve got a foundation of knowledge that is based on experience but also I’ll make the assumption that you consume Levels content because you’ve got a blog post. You’ve read more than one blog post, that’s an assumption. But in general, you’ve started to understand metabolic health and you’re into Attia and all these other thought leaders. How do you start to spread that information to your family or to anyone back home in the Midwest when you go back or anyone you’re still connected with without sort of pontificating where they’re like, “Okay Michael, we know enough.” Because sometimes you can sound like if you’re trying, the intent is positive for change but people are like, “Okay, get off your pedestal.” And you’re like, “I’m trying to help us be healthier. I want us all to live longer.”

Michael Keller (13:11):

Yeah, I mean for the way that it manifests for me often is trying to maybe nudge, while I’m there trying to nudge towards better options. Like, oh, you’re going to go to restaurant A, oh hey, how about we try out this other place that you haven’t been before? So trying to nudge a little bit. Definitely trying to encourage just activity, exercise and so forth. Luckily my parents are pretty good about this now of trying to get some activity in their life. But trying to encourage that and it’s much more along the lines of nudge a little bit and try to lead by example much more so than pontificating, like you say.

Ben Grynol (13:52):

The hard thing is it all starts with education. Essentially you can get as many insights as you want, especially you being a self-proclaimed data nerd. But you can get all the data you want but you’ll have a different understanding because you’re looking at it. You can connect the dots but the foundation is read this blog post. The foundation for sleep, let’s say, is read Matthew Walker’s book. That’s your starting point. And so it is important to make these micro changes so that behaviorally people can say, “Should I think about this versus that?” But it really is the data is the part that closes the loop and connects the dots for a lot of people.

Ben Grynol (14:32):

It’s like, oh, I didn’t realize my… You’re ripping code and five years ago, let’s say, your ripping code and every afternoon you’re doing the head nod to the keyboard and you’re like, what is this? I’m not sure. Now you know. You’re just like I’m 100% sure what this is. It’s the Jimmy Johns I ate for lunch. But it’s hard to tell people. I mean I try to tell my dad, I’m like, man. And my dad’s super, super healthy, exercises. He’s 70 years old, exercises every day eats healthy. But I’m like man, your oatmeal in the morning is causing you to do that thing. Just stop.

Michael Keller (15:08):

That is actually one of the tricky ones of foods that people they think they’re being healthy with that aren’t necessarily so. I mean oatmeal is probably a really classic example of that of people think they’re making a really good choice but it may not necessarily actually be as healthy as you think.

Ben Grynol (15:23):

Exactly. And when you start to realize on a personal level, you start to personalize your diet to what works for you. If you realize physically how crummy you feel, you really feel bad when you eat food that just doesn’t work well for your system or you can adapt your schedule. So it’s like if I’m going to have that thing, we sort of have the average examples, we use sweet potato or things like that where it’s not avoid it altogether, it’s make sure you understand what’ll happen. But people will say, “I’m going to pair that with fat, fiber, protein. Maybe I’ll go for a 20 minute walk after.” You do these things and then you don’t feel that same sluggishness.

Michael Keller (16:04):

Exactly, yeah. Yeah. And it’s good to know and everybody’s a little bit different on what those specific foods are and so forth. Certainly getting up and doing some brisk walking afterwards can make a big difference. And Levels did the coke challenge there that was interesting to quantify the results from that. Processed foods another one I try to nudge on just like whatever produce it is you like just try to include more of actual raw produce and stuff and try to, the extent you can, have not all of your food be processed. This is another one I kind of try to nudge my family as well.

Ben Grynol (16:45):

Yeah, it makes such a big difference. As soon as you start to realize eat real food, then it makes a big difference. There’s just so much, especially in processed food in general, there’s just so many hidden things. There are so many different derivatives of sugar or different types of sugar that get hidden in ingredient lists and all of a sudden you don’t realize and it’s like wow that’s not very good for you.

Michael Keller (17:12):

I mean it’s definitely much easier in a New York or California to acquire healthy foods that it might be in another place where you just have fewer options. Though, honestly, I make almost all of my food myself. I really don’t mind it and then you know exactly what’s in it. And it’s just sort of get lots of fresh ingredients, lots of veggies, I mean tons of veggies and a good protein. So I know my baseline food, know what I have and I found stuff that works pretty well for me and I kind of don’t have to think about it. My regular three meals a day, I just don’t have to think about it. I know it’s pretty optimal for me.

Ben Grynol (17:49):

Are there things that once you started wearing a CGM you discovered that were standard before that used to always eat and you’re like hey, I’m not doing that now. How have you adapted in that?

Michael Keller (17:58):

Yeah, so I mean some of the things, I actually struggle with a lot of the carbohydrates, although rice for me specifically is a pretty bad one. Even say a third of serving is enough to get me to go crazy. Which I now I feel like I can actually kind of sense glucose to some extent. Just having enough data going back and forth and you know what that crash is going to be like and you’re just going to feel like this queasy or irritable state. I think it’s been some of the reasons for me are even in tiny amounts are enough, which is something that’s commonly got to be in a dish if you go out somewhere. You get those that I even try to pick them all out one by one, but I’ll still end up missing some of them that it’ll be a spike.

Michael Keller (18:48):

Ketchup I guess is kind of one that you think it’s just not enough of it to matter. But I mostly don’t consume it anymore just because it gives me, it’s a bigger spike from the ketchup than the rest of the meal combined. I get a little bit with fruit as well. So I tend to really only eat the berries now. Blueberries, strawberries and so forth is by most of my fruit supply. Bananas and pineapple are pretty spiky that they’re pretty high in sugar, so that’s probably not a huge surprise. But yeah, I’ve kind of found cutting the carbs, not to the point of keto. I’m not a keto person but fairly low carb in general just tends to work much better for me because a lot of the carbohydrates, even the complex carbohydrates kind of bump me more than I’m comfortable with. Not that it’s terrible but I don’t want to be in the 130s ever. So it’s sort something, I’ve just half your carbs now and most of the carbs I have are from vegetables and so forth.

Ben Grynol (19:49):

You really notice that difference. As soon as you start to adjust and you figure out what your healthy baseline is and where you feel good, then you make those adaptations to what you eat. And even the timing, the window when you eat certain things, that’s a big thing to make that difference where you can associate. We’ve got this inaccurate mental model, I think we’ll say, as a society where it’s like I’m going to have the midnight snack but you have your before bed snack at whatever, 10:30 or 11:00 PM and you’re just fueling your body but you’re just at the cellular level, your body is going, metabolically it’s going, what are you doing to me right now? I’m trying to go into state of sleep. Melatonin’s going up, everything’s going up and now you’re just giving me fuel. What are you supposed to do?

Ben Grynol (20:42):

And then so people have poor quality sleep, their glucose levels are all over the map and assume even if it was a relatively, we’ll call it a relatively healthy snack as far as low glycemic value to the things you’re eating, almonds, whatever it is. Doesn’t matter what you’re eating but you’re putting fuel into your body and it is not wanting to use that fuel right now. So what do you think’s going to happen. You have a poor sleep, you wake up, you’re kind of groggy and then you get up and it just oscillates into the next day. You don’t realize that until you see the data behind it.

Michael Keller (21:15):

Yeah, I track with the ordering, I’ll track sleep. That’s another one that’s big for me is sleep. I’ve traditionally struggled a little bit with it, but I try to do my best and even, like you said, almonds half hour before bed, it’s impressive how much it can affect the quality of your sleep and show up on the actual numbers and so forth. Luckily I’ve never been a person who’s needed to snack midway through the night, but I do see even if I eat food getting close to bedtime, it will have a meaningful effect on the quality of my sleep. I mean it’s good to know, right?

Ben Grynol (21:52):

You become in charge of your own choices and your own health. You can decide. Anyone can at any time, but you can make very conscious and calculated decisions like, hey, I’m not going to eat after 6:00 PM. I’m not going to eat. And it’s not about saying that is the window for every single person. It’s that you know what your windows are and when to stop. And so you realize that it’s kind of like diminishing returns as far as any upside value you’re going to get set. Let’s say at 9:00 PM you were going to go eat something because you thought there’s sort of this weird mental model that we’ve got in society. Go eat that thing at 9:00 PM and you’re just like, I actually don’t need that thing right now. And then you start to feel better and your energy levels really do change where you go into the, and things can be stable because of that. So you have agency over your own choices in health once you see the feedback and the more wearables you have, the more little insights you get.

Michael Keller (23:00):

As I said before, I’m definitely on the nerdy side, I love the data. I do try to always step back and say, “Okay, is this actually useful data for me?” I mean for the CGM, like, yeah, 1000% it is, and then for the sleep tracking, too, those are ones that are really affect me, super useful. Yeah. And then the next step, like you said is like, hey, let’s make decisions that actually make you feel better and make you sleep better and make you feel better the next day.

Ben Grynol (23:26):

Let’s go into the experience behind Levels specifically, but wearables. It sounds like you’ve been into wearables for a while, so you knew by reaching out to your doctor what a CGM was. So you had bit of an idea but still this thing, you’ve heard about it or maybe you’ve seen it or you’ve researched it, all these things, this thing shows up your door, bring it back to Levels and you get this package.

Ben Grynol (23:55):

What were you thinking the first time you put on a CGM and walk through that experience? Because it can be a foreign one and the reason I ask is that some members are super excited and they can’t wait to put on a device. Others will wait for multiple reasons. One, because it’s foreign. That experience of applying a sensor and having film and inside of your skin, it’s like is it going to hurt? Or the other side is this going to take me four days to set up or four minutes? You don’t really know and so it’s easier to just be like I’ll deal with that later. What was your experience when you first got a CGM and walked through putting it on?

Michael Keller (24:37):

So I was very excited to get it. So I probably did it the first night that I had it. I was very excited for it. There is the apprehension of it. Seems like you’re firing the needle into your body. Oh is this going to be painful. Am I going to put it on in the right place, in the right way? I watched a decent number of YouTube videos before doing it and everybody’s like, “Yeah, it doesn’t actually really hurt at all.” But so I was very much excited to do it and then pretty anxious to start getting feedback from it. Because obviously now you’ve got it on, let it warm up and so forth. But I don’t really have any data yet. It’s going to take a couple of weeks before I can start actually meaningfully go through food and so forth. So I was definitely on the excited side, very much looking to get the data.

Michael Keller (25:26):

Like I said before, I was not yet a Levels customer so my first thought is, “Okay, how am I actually going to use this?” And it’s like I know I can just look at the rolling history but it’s kind of hard to keep all that in your head and keep where the peaks were and so forth. So I was like okay, the only way to do this is I’ve got to go through just so I build my own app to do it. Which is like, okay, I can do this, this is going to take some time. But so I started that building process and once I found out Levels was there, it was like okay, this is vastly easier, it’s it better than what I was going to build. But yeah, I was very excited first to see a baseline.

Michael Keller (26:02):

There’s sort of this sense of how good are you doing as a baseline? We just sort of want to see from the machine, does it think that you’re in an okay place now? I was pretty healthy so I thought the answer was I’d probably be fine. And then just the process of starting to eat the foods and so forth. Then to some extent you kind of want to try everything but you also don’t want to be doing everything and it takes weeks before you accept a hit, like all different food groups and so forth.

Michael Keller (26:32):

And for me it was a little hard seeing that even complex carbs were still spiking me, maybe not as much as rice would or something. But it was a little bit frustrating to see that because I guess what I went into kind of expecting is okay for everybody, there’s probably some stuff that’s pretty safe to eat, that you can of eat. For me, I didn’t really find that it ended up being like, hey, maybe lower carb is just better for you. But maybe that was one of the frustrations that I first hit going into is of expecting everybody’s different but there’s a food group for everybody and I just kind of felt like for myself that I just never really ended up founding the food. So I tried a lot of different things and chimole is probably one of the better ones for me, but I still do get a spike from it. And surprising even small amount of rice were enough to get my body to go crazy.

Ben Grynol (27:27):

How did you experiment with yourself as far as being able to narrow down things like raisins? Was it through reading, was it through? What did that look like? And the reason I ask is sometimes people eat, let’s just use a salad, where you think I’m eating a salad, there’s no possible way I’m going to get a spike. Let’s say it doesn’t have croutons, things that people would be like, “Oh, I get why,” but you get the salad that has the raisins on it and it has some dressing with sugar in it. And so you eat this and it feels defeating because you think you’re being healthy and it’s hard to understand as soon as you go, “Oh, it’s those dried pieces of fruit that actually have sugar added to them and there’s fiber stripped away and, and, and, all those things. How did you discover little things like raisins? Was it education or was it you nerding out?

Michael Keller (28:20):

So I was certainly aware that people had talked about it before. So raisins is something that I don’t just normally put in my dishes, it’s not in my pantry, but when you go to other places, it’s something that’s not uncommon to get. And yeah, it would come and it’s like I’ve had this dish before or I’m just looking at the ingredients. I’ve either had this dish, I’ve had something pretty analogous to this dish before and I had no response, but I see that I have raisins in there and then all of a sudden I’m at 180. So it was a big effect size and I would start to even, sometimes if you’re in a place where you kind of need to eat something, I’d even go through trying to pick them out. But I don’t know, I guess I just don’t get all of them or something like that. But anything that was born with raisins, for me ends up being a spike.

Ben Grynol (29:13):

It happens with things like ketchup too, like you said, or salad dressings where you have it. And especially if you were having ketchup without something like a fry where, of course… It’s easier to be like, oh, the reason that’s happening is because of this. But let’s say somebody has ketchup and they’re just like, they have a naked burger or something and they’re like, what is it? What could it possibly be? And you narrow it down, you’re like, “Really?” If you’re not used to reading labels or maybe you have one that says organic on it and it’s like marketing gone wrong because it’s still just same thing, it’s full of sugar.

Michael Keller (29:54):

So this is kind of been my journey, but part of the reason I’ve kind of used it somewhat long term is you get some of the effects pretty quick. They’re pretty easy to say, “Oh, I added this rice and there was the immediate effect.” There’s other ones that, honestly, it takes a while before you’ll kind of assess the impact. And honestly, ketchup was one where I just assumed it was like, “Oh, there’s like there’s onions in this too, so the onions are adding a little bit of carbs. But something that you selectively adjust over time and then you say, “Oh hey, it’s actually this is specific ingredient.”

Michael Keller (30:29):

I had something similar happen. So I do salads for lunch. And where it took me a while to isolate where I would get, not a huge spike, but more than I thought would be plausible. And it turns out was the balsamic vinegar I happened to be using just had more sugar than the typical balsamic. It was delicious but it just had more sugar than the typical balsamic. And that one took me a while where I was taking individual things out one at a time. And also, it just feels like it’s such a small amount, you just sort of drizzling a little bit on there, it’s mostly just acid. But that’s one over time you kind of end up seeing and I was like, okay, let’s switch to something that’s a little bit better.

Ben Grynol (31:08):

In some of those things, it can be so highly concentrated and especially you’re using that as an ingredient in isolation, but when it starts to get mixed into dishes, let’s say some balsamic chicken dish, and you’re like, there’s no possible way. But that ends up being the thing. And so it’s the process of elimination till you get down. Or there’s almost like two things you can do. It’s the process of elimination or you can do the process of building things up, introduction, so that you start with the base and let’s be hyperbolic about it. You start with the base of lettuce and nothing else and you’re like, okay, nothing. And then you add just plain chicken, nothing. And then you keep introducing little things and you’re like there’s the culprit because you’re able to figure it out. But one is not better than the other. I mean they’re both extreme in some senses, but I think the unpacking can be really, really hard sometimes.

Michael Keller (32:01):

What I ended up doing in that case was not doing the lettuce one at a time, but rather pulling, integrating out. This is over the course of a couple weeks and there’s also just a little bit of day to day variance in there so you kind of want to average out a little bit. But in the case of salad it’s just sort I pick something to not eat for a couple of days because lettuce wasn’t going to be enough to satisfy me, so I needed more than that. But that’s basically just process of elimination, sort of one by one, trying to find out happening.

Ben Grynol (32:33):

Yeah, it makes it a big difference just having those little swaps or understanding, again, everyone’s going to be different. For me personally, I don’t do super well with tomatoes and so it doesn’t mean that I don’t eat them at all. It’s just super conscious of whether or not I feel like putting it on a salad. Where if I want it, sure I’ll eat it or maybe I’ll add a little bit more protein or a little bit more fat and that’s fine. But sometimes it’s like, eh, take it or leave it. I’m not the biggest tomato fan in the world. And so it’s one of those things where I’ll just not have those on my salad because I’d rather have avocado anyway. It doesn’t mean going out to a restaurant, take them off. It’s just more a matter of when preparing food and so figuring out all these little things. And my wife is different where she can crush tomatoes and it’s relatively fine for her, so it’s great.

Michael Keller (33:26):

Another thing I find a little bit confounding is what you’re doing around the process. Because for me lunch was not sort this totally isolated incident. Sometimes I work out early in the morning, sometimes right before lunch, sometimes right after lunch and that it’s affecting, too. So it can take a little time to try to tease apart everything going on, seeing okay it was from this specifically, once I keep the other item constant for a few days.

Ben Grynol (33:54):

So if you’re thinking, being an engineer and the fact that you had the idea to build a product to begin with, what are some things that, as you think through, initially when you were trying to build, what did you hope to get out of a product that didn’t exist?

Michael Keller (34:10):

So what I was looking to get, so the things that my understanding is like, okay, what are the important outcomes here? And it was the peak of the glucose spike and sort total time above whatever threshold you want to say. So it was very much trying to assess those huge factors, which is obviously what Levels does, too. This wasn’t a unique understanding of my side, but that’s basically what I was trying to do and basically associate with food. So I mean again, I’m almost describing Levels here when I say basically I would mark when I got the food and then basically go through and just back project and see, okay, what was the peak there and how long was I above whatever threshold without all the fancy, take a picture of it and be able to see this course over days and compare it all that.

Michael Keller (34:57):

But what I was finding is just looking at my phone all the time, it was just too hard to aggregate it and then too hard to remember, okay, what was the actual value? Was it 120, was it 130? It’s just hard to keep all these things in your brain at once and it’s nice to be able to just go back and be able to review things that you see. Also find it helpful, it’s like you get this food that maybe you like and then you see you get this spike on there and there’s something about it where it’s like, okay, now that I know the number, I know this thing has a number associated with it. It’s not a question, okay, do you really want it right now or would you be fine not having it?

Michael Keller (35:38):

So there’s just this sense of once you’ve collected the data, it kind of presents it to you as a trade off that you can have. Opportunity cost, eat this now, it’s yummy, but you’re going to pay a little bit of a price for it. And honestly it definitely helps me to have that. And even just the ongoing tracking, I know when I’m about to eat something, for the next eight hours, it’s going to show up on that screen that I’ve got. So it’s sort of this way to trick myself into thinking, hey, the machine’s watching and it’s going to know if you took something that you probably shouldn’t took for some time. So I do find the just knowing that something’s watching to be helpful for me to make better choices.

Ben Grynol (36:28):

Have you changed the way that you, let’s say your lifestyle habits, lifestyle habits associated with metabolic health? You got a good foundation where you understand how sleep affects metabolic health, how food affects metabolic health, how exercise, all of these things, have you changed the way that you go about your week because of productivity?

Ben Grynol (36:54):

It’s interesting because it feels bad to feel bad for sure, but during the work week when you’re trying to be productive and you feel sluggish, that’s just not good. So have you thought about that as far as the way you want to feel during the week? If you are going to make a choice, let’s just say a cronut or some random thing that you’re like, “I’m going to the moon. I’m going to eat a Krispy Kreme.” Just something that you’re like, you know it’s not going to be a good thing for the glucose response you’re going to get, but you’re like, “I’ll save that for later. ” Because you brought it up where it’s like, oh, I’m going to see this for eight or more hours later. Have you thought about how work ties in or how your week ties in, how you structure your lifestyle choices because of that?

Michael Keller (37:43):

Yeah, no. So my philosophy is get your baseline really good. So I’ve got a baseline of food. Like I said, I make most of my food at home so I know exactly what it is and it’s like you’re rotating between and different ingredients. So my philosophy is get the baseline to be really solid. I don’t break 110 really during my baseline food. And then it’s sort of like, okay, if you really nail that, the occasional cheat day or cheat meal is probably in the scheme of things not so bad. You have, what, 100 meals a month or something like that? It’s fine if you’ve got three or four that are a bit more spiky. There’s some things I just still don’t do, but my philosophy’s definitely get the baseline really good and then worry a little bit less about what happens of at the edges.

Michael Keller (38:36):

And for me that always happens on the weekend. It’s pretty rare for it to happen during the week for me. But yeah, on a Saturday night sometimes I’ll do a dessert or something like that and just sort of enjoy it and I don’t feel super conflicted about that. I mean I think doing the right thing most of the time is where the value comes in versus if you’re sort pushing the limits on each meal that you’re having but you don’t ever splurge, I think you’re probably in no worse place for that, so that’s kind of the philosophy I’ve taken.

Ben Grynol (39:11):

Yeah, it makes such a big difference. And the important thing is having the flexibility of your, back to agency over your own choices, is you can make those choices and that is totally fine. It’s just a matter of shifting when you do. So if somebody said like, “Hey, should we go have…” I’s a Wednesday and somebody said, “Hey, do you want to have a piece of cheesecake at 1:00 PM?” You might be like, “Yeah, I’ll pass.” Whereas without the data you might be like, Ah, why not? My friend wants to have cheesecake, let’s do it.

Ben Grynol (39:41):

It’s just something silly like that where you just know because you’re like, eh, I’m not going to feel that good after and my afternoon’s going to suffer as far as the way that I feel and the way I’m trying to do work. So you’ve seen so many iterations on product. I mean you’ve seen literally every single iteration. We continue to evolve the product and the features that we’re offering. But what are some things that you think you’d like to see either from a product feature standpoint or even membership as we start to offer more options for members to be part of Levels in the community?

Michael Keller (40:17):

Yeah, so let me first say that I use Levels very differently than I did as a new person. And I know for vast majority of the customers, they’re going to be sort in this new exploratory phase. I feel like I’m in less of the exploratory phase, so the way I actually use Levels now is for what I call my normal meals, I don’t actually even track them anymore. What I will do is I’ll go back and check the day to see if there was anything abnormal, but because nothing’s usually abnormal because I do the same thing, it’s not usually. But I do use it for things which I’m eating which are new or sort of novel in some way. So I do having the data there and then I will snap the pictures for those and so forth. So where I was used to be track every single ingredient and track every meal just because I’ve been using for a while and I kind of have a baseline just not the way that I’m using it now. It’s more of here’s a novel situation that I’m not quite sure about how and go and track there.

Michael Keller (41:20):

One of the things, so clearly we’re very different metabolically in the way we process foods, in a way that I would not have guessed before. And people have huge different responses. That said, I still believe there’s underlying physiology. I don’t actually think that everybody’s a snowflake. I think there’s a lot of diversity, but I think there is actual underlying trends for whatever the metabolics that are happening. And as Levels grow, right, you’ve got this bigger collection of people to go across. I would love to start seeing basically start to bucket-ize people to let you get information. Even with a small amount of data collection, you can kind of learn, hey, I’m this subtype, here’s foods that are probably good for you. Here’s foods that are bad for you and so forth. So kind of taking that data to the next level. I think Levels are doing an awesome job right now of take the picture of the food, be able to view it, have your reports at the end of the day. I mean I think all that’s excellent. I think it’s great.

Michael Keller (42:23):

I’m also very interested in the addition of the new, where can get the blood test done. I thought that was really cool to have somebody go out to your house and not have to go in. So I thought that was super cool. I’d love to see that expanded. But yeah, I mean I think overall Levels is doing an amazing job. I mean I 100% recommended. I mean I’m a huge, huge fan. I think maybe if I was proposing a project there would be trying to use some of the big data to start to mine out and see if we can ascertain some actual effects that are happening.

Ben Grynol (43:00):

Are there other markers that you’re interested in personally, other analytics that you think if I could monitor this in real time?

Michael Keller (43:10):

So I do get regular blood testing, so the inflammation ones I think are super important to be on top of, making sure your inflammation’s good. I know that with the hsCRP was included there. I also watch just the heart stuff as well because most people are going to die of that eventually. There’s heart disease in my family and so forth. So I watch that really closely as well. I’d love to see the testing maybe expand just a little bit, maybe add some additional tests.

Michael Keller (43:40):

In terms of what could you add? I mean I think if I could make a medical device that measured cortisol, I think that would be amazing. Because I do notice it for myself where it could be stressful day in and that day out and so forth. And I think it’s similar to the glucose where you maybe don’t realize that you’re in it sometimes until something happens to make you aware of it. And I think it’s one of those things that actually does impact your overall health and wellbeing quite a bit. And insulin’s another one that I’ve heard that insulin’s next to impossible to do on small scales anytime soon, but glucose is certainly I think the most important one. But yeah, if I’ve had to pick cortisol I think would be another great one.

Ben Grynol (44:26):

Yeah, cortisol is very interesting because I’m sure you’ve seen it show up in your CGM data where if you feel stressed for some reason, you get the fight or flight response and you look, you’re like, you’re sitting in your chair, for whatever reason. And then you start to realize how deeply associated cortisol can be with a molecule like glucose. And you go, mm, there is a benefit in understanding so many different markers in our body and what they’re doing in real time. Because it really gets down to the point in time assessment where it’s the reason real time makes a difference versus getting your A1C checked once a year, let’s say, and your doctor says, “You’re doing great.” It could be way out from your baseline or it could be looking great and your baseline is actually not that great, so all super important to take into account.

Michael Keller (45:26):

Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I mean the standard deviation matters a lot. I know there’s just a lot of variability between people about how the A1C number actually works out. I mean, I think some people have faster, their protein cycle over faster and so forth. But yeah, the actual real time glucose is the real response. The A1C is just a crude approximation.