#180 – Prioritizing prevention & improving daily habits | Member Story: Lauren & Ben Grynol
When I was working with Levels or using Levels, it really helped me understand that cycle because I didn’t even connect with sleep and stress how much that impacted my blood sugar because I might not have been feeling great. Then I ate more carbs than I normally do. I had more sweets, I wasn’t paying attention to my diet. Then when you go through that, your body responds by getting less sleep, getting worse sleep, getting more stressed. It took me a while to understand that cycle. And most physicians would say, “Okay, that’s normal. Those things happen. There’s nothing that’s reporting yet.” But it was eyeopening for me to realize I could impact the little changes. I could help myself sleep better. In return, you have more energy the next day, and then you feel better about the food choices that you’re making and your body feels better and just helps reset everything. It’s tough to communicate that or get awareness around it, but it certainly made a difference for me when I started focusing on that.
Ben Grynol (01:04):
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.
Earlier this year, Lauren, one of our members came across a post from our good friend Kelly Lebeck. Kelly had posted on Instagram about Levels and the way in which she works with her different clients to help them understand their glucose levels and optimize their energy levels. Lauren had a lens into family history with health and wellness. She started to think more about wanting to monitor her own glucose so she could learn about what was going on in real time. But the caveat was that she thought CGMs were reserved for the type one and type two community. She didn’t realize that it was possible to access such a device, a piece of hardware and some software, which would give her insight into what was going on inside her body.
Once she came across Levels, she started to explore things further, and that unfolded a new path into educating herself about all the different things pertaining to health and wellness. Through things like blood tests, through things like understanding different biomarkers, Lauren started to optimize her energy levels. We talked through all different things pertaining to the way that even how she feels during the workday, how different things like cortisol is tied into glucose, how she feels and what are some of the philosophies around what’s happening from a macroeconomic perspective. Why it can be hard to make certain choices, and how behavior change is essentially a really hard thing to undertake. Anyway, it was a great conversation. It’s always fun connecting with members. Here’s the conversation with Lauren.
The last time that you would’ve been involved in anything related to Levels like this would’ve been our Friday Forum special guest back in June. You’d come on and it was really neat to hear your perspective and your background as far as being a Levels member and being part of our crowdfunding, a community investor. So thought it would be good to dig into your background and your experience as a member and just walk through all different aspects of it.
Yeah, absolutely. I think I found Levels maybe late in 2020 or beginning of 2021. Found it through people I followed in the health and wellness industry on social media. What led me to sign up first as a member was I’ve had some family history of diabetes. I remember my grandmother struggling with it when I was growing up. Along the way I’ve had my blood work tested and one time I was almost borderline pre-diabetic, just a point or two away. That really flagged the issue for me about how important it was to do anything I could to prevent going down the path that my family member did. You get the basic advice on what to cut out, what to avoid, basic lifestyle recommendations. But I still wasn’t seeing a huge impact from those changes. It’s also very hard to cut so many things out and maintain that for a long time.
The turning point for me was I had also scheduled some routine health follow ups and I was trying to get a preventative screening for something that ran in my family, and they said I’m too young, can’t do that. I said, “Well, what would I need to do in order to get these screenings done?” They basically ran through the symptoms of the disease that I would have to have in order to get tested for it. I remember the conversation very clearly with the insurance company saying, “Basically, I have to have these diseases before you will test me to confirm that I have them,” and they said that, “Yes, unfortunately that’s the path that you have to go.”
Ben, I wasn’t happy with that. I didn’t want to wait until something was wrong with my health or past the point of being able to impact it. So I was excited when I found Levels, mainly because of the preventative piece that I wanted to do with my health history. But so much is tied into your blood sugar and diseases that it can lead to with metabolic disease,` whether it’s diabetes, heart health, blood pressure. I started using it and it made such a difference in how I viewed true preventative care. Instead of taking the approach of cutting all things out and trying to follow a cookie cutter approach to everybody, it really helped me figure out what worked for me, not just trying to figure out which plan or health guidelines out there that I wanted to follow that somebody else made up. That was my start of why Levels was on my radar and what I was concerned about family history-wise and why I chose to use that and start making some changes.
Ben Grynol (06:34):
What were you thinking when you got that feedback of, hey, I want insight about my personal data, I want to know. When you’re going for the screenings and getting that, we’ll call it the brick wall, the real blocker that’s like, “No, sorry, you can’t.” It feels a little feels off that it’s your personal data and everyone should be entitled to getting this type of information, this biometric data. But it almost feels like there’s sometimes this process of gatekeepers that you can’t get past. What were you feeling or thinking when that first happened and what were the next steps forward to say, “I’m not taking this as an answer.”
Yeah, Ben, I don’t even know if I can explain it besides there were so many emotions that I went through. It was frustration at the system that we have today with, like you said, the gatekeepers of we don’t test X, Y, and Z until there’s a reason to do it. It was a lot of anger at how can I change this? But it was also it lit a little bit of a fire underneath me to go, “I realize that where we’re at with healthcare, the typical healthcare that we have, it’s great if you have something that you can identify and you test for and you get treatment for that.” But there’s such a gray window between someone who’s very healthy and doesn’t have any concerns right up front, to how do I know what I might have and how I could correct that?
I took that frustration and channeled it into, okay, I’m going to have to do a lot of this on my own. I’m going to have to figure out where I’m at on a daily basis, what risks I may have and help sort through that. I was glad to be able to use the experience that I had with Levels to do that, but it was a pretty rocky rollercoaster ride as I learned that a lot of my preventative care is up to me. I’m thankful that I’m taking advantage of that today, but there’s so much of me that’s just like, “How can we get this out there so as many people as possible have access to it?” Because I don’t even think most people realize they need to do this.
Ben Grynol (09:05):
It’s so tough because there’s this blend of syndromes are compiled of signs and symptoms. Symptoms end up being subjective and signs end up being a little bit more objective. We rely on, we have these symptoms that we communicate to someone and say, “I’m feeling this certain way,” that being, let’s say health practitioner, I’m feeling a certain way. That becomes a subjective view of, well, what is feeling? Can you quantify feeling? We rely on these signs, actual signs being biometric data, but if that’s being blocked, then how can you be treated based on these symptoms? You try to communicate that and somebody says, “Well, we have to wait until there’s a clear sign,” and that doesn’t feel proactive. It feels so reactive in not really having preventative healthcare.
Especially because you mentioned the subjective and objective and even the reactive part just [inaudible 00:10:10] out there. We have guidelines today that we follow of here’s your [inaudible 00:10:17], it falls with the normal range. But there isn’t a lot that we do around conversations with how do you maintain that? Or okay, it might be in a normal range, but maybe that’s not normal for you or where your situation is. So let’s take how you feel and what your symptoms are and even though everything on paper seems okay, how do we get you feeling better? Because as you go through things, maybe it’s like you’re not sleeping well or you’re stressed and in turn you’re eating foods that you think make you feel better, but are making it worse in the long run. It’s putting that entire picture together and that’s something that when I was working with Levels or using Levels, it really helped me understand that cycle because especially Ben, I didn’t even connect with sleep and stress how much that impacted my blood sugar.
Because I might not have been feeling great, so then I ate more carbs than I normally do. I had more sweets, I wasn’t paying attention to my diet. Then when you go through that, your body responds by getting less sleep, getting worse sleep, getting more stressed. It took me a while to understand that cycle. And most physicians would say, “Okay, that’s normal. Those things happen. There’s nothing that’s reporting yet.” But it was eyeopening for me to realize I could impact the little changes. I could help myself sleep better. In return you have more energy the next day and then you feel better about the food choices that you’re making and your body feels better and just helps reset everything. It’s tough to communicate that or get awareness around it, but it certainly made a difference for me when I started focusing on that.
Ben Grynol (12:05):
Yeah, it’s weird being on the hedonic treadmill of a cycle or a pattern that isn’t easy to identify or break out of. Let’s make up the example, a person gets a low amount of sleep on any given night. That happens pretty regularly for most human beings, but whether or not it’s healthy is not up for debate. It is not great to not sleep a lot, we know that. But you don’t get great sleep and then you wake up and your glucose is oscillating a little bit more. It’s maybe sitting at a higher average level for the day, your cortisol, maybe it’s raised up because of lack of sleep, lack of exercise, other input, such as work could be leading to higher cortisol. So many factors.
Then you eat something that your decision making framework or your mindset is off because you’re tired and you’ve got more cortisol and you’ve got all these things so you eat worse and then your glucose spikes and it starts to oscillate and you get the peaks and the valleys of these spikes and crashes. Then the next night you don’t get great sleep again because you had such a poor day as far as oscillation goes. This just becomes that hedonic treadmill of not really understanding why a person might feel crummy. You’re like, “Wait a minute, it’s all so linked together.” It’s exactly what you said. It’s the decisions that we make are based on so many other inputs that if one gets thrown off, it can start to have this trickle down effect to all the other ones. Then your baseline of the way that you think you feel normally is actually not that normal, but we get so used to it.
Right, it’s that your normal is actually abnormal, but you don’t know any different until you start investigating the causes of it. I went through that for so long, just thinking, “Okay, I wasn’t able to handle stress or I didn’t have a lot of energy,” and people talk about your job and things that are going on and it’s like, “It’s common.” For a while I felt like I just couldn’t handle any of those things very well. Like, “Maybe I’m just very reactive to stress or I’m just tired in the afternoon.” Learning about how the glucose spikes affected me when I was tracking, I could see, I’d just be like, “I don’t feel great. This is horrible. I have the 3:00 p.m. slump that everybody talks about.” Then I would check my levels and be like, “Wait, that’s because of whatever I ate this morning or I didn’t have a great lunch.”
It helped with the validity for me that it wasn’t just me not having self-control or it wasn’t me and just who I was normally. It was okay, I could start to identify I had one bad night of sleep, I woke up and grabbed something on the go because I was late for work and then I felt not so great. I continued that for a couple meals and then two or three days later you pay the price for it. It was really eyeopening to go, “Okay, this is something that my body’s trying to tell me, I just don’t have to feel this way all the time. I can start to correct that.” I didn’t feel so bad about myself just not having self-control or awareness, but just really learned that there is a chemical imbalance that happens when your body goes haywire and all of those hormones and glucose and lack of sleep, everything gets thrown in there.
It’s good that I have that in my toolkit now because I can identify when that happens and work quicker to get myself back on track. The older that I get, the longer it takes. So I know I really have to go, “Okay, I’ve got to correct this. I can’t just wing it for the next couple days and hope I’ll be okay,” because I really do pay a price for that when I don’t.
Ben Grynol (16:09):
The thing that you brought up before, which was the comparing ourselves against the mean, we do that. We’re all on some bell curve and we’re all going to be at the mean in some way, shape or form. Whether it is a school test or whether we’re looking at things like our overall health and wellness. One of the challenges is around this idea of, let’s assume that we might be at the mean, but with things like metabolic health, what does it mean to be at the mean of an unhealthy population? Something that Rob Lustig talks about often. It’s like, “You can be at the mean and it’s actually not good to be average because the average is so skewed off of what should be a healthy baseline.”
It’s what you brought up where it’s like, “Well, does it really matter if somebody said, ‘Oh, you’re fine.’” Let’s just say for glucose levels, it’s like, “Oh Lauren, you’re fine. Don’t worry about it. It’s not that bad. That’s pretty average for people.” You’re like, “Wait, I want to focus on me. I want personalization here. I want to figure out what foods affect me. I want to figure out what lifestyle factors affect me and my glucose levels so that I’m,” or any biomarkers through blood tests or whatever means people get that data, but you want to be comparing yourself to yourself because that’s what we should be doing. But it’s just absurd that we try to baseline ourself against some average that doesn’t even make sense to begin with.
Especially when you look at any of the blood work or testing that you have done, sometimes I feel like the ranges are so wide, but it is meant to have more of the population be within that mean. I can’t remember who said this quote, but it’s one I love using when somebody talks about, well you’re within lines for everybody else, or a lot of people have this, they use it as reassurance. But the quote that I love is just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s normal. I think that’s a great way to have a conversation with somebody because it’s like, “All right, just because everyone has that 3:00 p.m. slump or as you get older, everyone has trouble sleeping, doesn’t mean that it’s normal for my body to have that, or it’s normal for everybody to have that.” That has really helped me separate when I have conversations or when I [inaudible 00:18:35] talking to friends and family or talking to your doctor and you really have to learn what’s right for you and what’s normal for your body.
Even if it’s normal, what you want to improve on and say, “Okay, I may be in X, Y, Z range, but I want to get better because I feel like this is going to help me with sleep, with stress.” It’s one of my passion points that just because everybody’s doing that, our society thinks it’s okay. But I’d rather be on the end of that spectrum and go, “You know what? I want to be part of the percentage that challenges myself to do better,” and that’s how I approach that. But it’s really frustrating to have that out there, Ben, because so many people get that feedback and it’s discouraging. They’re like, “Okay, I’m fine, I’m with everybody else.” But do you want to be with everybody else who’s not sleeping great, who stressed, who doesn’t have any energy? And in 10, 15 years you’re looking at metabolic diseases, you’re looking at anything worse. I just don’t want to be part of that group that goes, “All right, it’s the status quo, so I’ll see what happens.” I want to make those changes now.
Ben Grynol (19:49):
There’s this weird social construct that exists where it’s like we validate these irrational thoughts in each other. It’s like, “Yeah, it’s okay, well everyone does that.” That gets hard to be in the long tail of the people that are trying to take a different approach because you feel almost like you are in some far off group. Especially, there’s a point in being exploratory about something. Let’s assume that you are on the frontier right now. You’re in this small subset of the population that has this insight and is using a product or starting to understand different content to educate yourself and say, “Now I’m learning more.” It’s still when you’re in that frontier, in that long tail, it can seem almost isolating even to those around you. Let’s say best friends or people that you’ve been close with and other people might view that behavior as extreme.
It’s like, “What are you doing? That’s so odd.” You hear this all the time. Take it all the way back to when computers were made, people would be like, “Why would you ever want a computer in your house? That’s odd. What are you doing?” You have to almost accept this. You find the others, the people that understand the perspective and understand what you’re trying to learn because you are on this frontier. It’s almost like there’s a bunch of noise that’s created and there’s a tension between trying to educate others around you about what it is and why you care, why it matters to you. And also ignore some of the noise so that you don’t get discouraged with being on this different path.
Yeah. I mean, you said that very well, Ben and I have to look back and it’s like, “When did it become controversial to want to focus on your health and push the status quo for what health means?” That’s where we’re at and so many people, you do feel like an outsider. I’m very lucky that I live in LA and I have access to communities and [inaudible 00:22:04] where you buy your groceries, things that you do here. There’s so many like-minded people. But when I travel to different areas or go home, it’s that reminder that like, “I can’t look for the same products here,” or, “I can’t ask these same questions,” because it’s just not everybody is in that mentality and it’s more socially acceptable to say, “I have diabetes,” or, “I have heart disease,” or, “I’m working on X, Y, and Z,” because people are like, “Oh, I understand what that is.”
But to say, “I’m trying to make these improvements,” or even [inaudible 00:22:35] conversation saying, “I’m excluding these foods or these products or these even routines because I want to do better,” it’s really met with a lot of criticism and skepticism because it’s just so new. I don’t think people realize that they have as much control over their health as they can. I hope that we can start to turn that conversation around. But I’ve definitely had quite a few awkward moments with friends and family and coworkers talking about stuff because it’s like, “Ugh, all right, just go back and do your thing. I have no clue why you’re focusing on this.” I’m like, “Hey, I’m just going to continue to do what I need to because it’s so important to me.”
Ben Grynol (23:20):
I mean, I think about the irrationality of this. It’s fine if it’s objective. You say, “Hey, I’ve got an allergy to potatoes,” let’s just say, and it’s objective. People are like, “Yeah, of course avoid that.” But the second that it becomes some subjective lens of… I mean, shouldn’t even say that. It could still be objective where you’ve used this product and you’re like, “Oh, objectively I don’t metabolize potatoes well even if I pair it with fat, fiber protein, I just don’t do it.” Let’s assume that you don’t say that, but you choose not to have potatoes or something and people are like, “What are you doing?” Just because it’s not some objective allergy or something that people don’t understand and you’re making these lifestyle choices based on your own decision.
I mean, we hear all the time, there are quotes that float around alcohol and health consideration. Peter Attia talks about it, Andrew Huberman and Huberman recently did an episode on this. But the more research and the more science that comes out to back some of these considerations around the choices people can make if they choose to consume alcohol or not. I think the quote is something like, “It’s the only drug in the world where it’s if you don’t do it, people think you’re weird.”
I’ve seen that and that’s where we’re at. To your point with if you have a severe allergy or something that’s very objective, well known, people relate to it. But we’re still so many light years away from someone being able to say, “I don’t drink this or eat this or do this because it just doesn’t make me feel my best,” and people really question you for it. Even when you look at social media, there’s so many people who’ve started to step up and say, “I don’t eat X, Y, or Z because of this,” and people are like, “You’re promoting bad health, you shouldn’t give these recommendations.” Most of the people I follow are like, “Hey, I’m just saying what works for me and encouraging you to figure out what works for you as well.”
I was out having dinner with a friend a couple months ago and she was like, I don’t eat X, Y and Z. I just don’t feel great. It doesn’t digest well and I just don’t want to be sluggish at work all day tomorrow.” I was like, “That is so cool that someone’s not afraid to say, ‘I’m making this decision for me.’” I think part of that stigma is that there’s so much of that out there, Ben, with different opinions and different things. For somebody who doesn’t know how to figure out what works on their own, it’s probably very overwhelming to go, “All right, this person says I don’t eat this, I don’t eat this.” When you try to put all of that information together, it’s very overwhelming if you don’t know how to pick and choose the parts that can apply to you. But I do applaud anyone who’s able to say, “I’m comfortable making these decisions and I want to feel my best.” I think we should all get to that point.
Ben Grynol (26:37):
That’s exactly where personalization comes in too. As soon as people can actually see that data, then it becomes a lot easier to say because it’s back to that idea of the symptoms, if you want to call it that. The symptom being, let’s say I eat sushi and the next morning, I don’t feel great. I eat sushi at 9:00 p.m., assume somebody went to bed at 10:00 p.m. and they don’t feel great the next day. That’s the signal they get that said subjectively, something feels a little off. But as soon as you’ve got the data and you’re like, “Oh, this is what happened. My glucose oscillated all night and I had a poor quality sleep.”
Assume if somebody’s wearing another wearable of some kind and can monitor their sleep, they might see differences in things like HRV and all these other biometric data points that they can get insight about their own health. We’re still a long way away from all of these things coming together, but it’s so important that we have that insight because it really is a long learning process to get to a point where everyone has a similar lens on why we should be proactive about health and wellness.
Yeah, absolutely. I think what we can do, and you guys obviously are great with us, with the community, but I also wear something that I use to track my sleep. I think companies that make the tools really need to focus on giving insight and help around it because I feel like sometimes people are just like, “Oh, this wasn’t great, what do I do?” I think that follow up is like, “Well, how can you make better decisions, or how can you interpret that data?”
For me, one of my weaknesses, I love breakfast burritos. There is nothing better on a weekend than doing that. I know that I respond better where I have a strength training workout, I run a couple miles and then I go enjoy brunch, I’m going to be fine. I still feel great that day. I feel great the next day. But if I have that craving and to your point, I eat something like that at 9:00 or 10:00 at night, the next day everything is off. I’ve just learned that I can still enjoy what I need to, do the routines that I need to, but I’ve got to be careful with how I time that because I don’t want to wake up the next day and just be miserable. Especially when I have a big day in front of me and a lot that I need to focus on as well.
Ben Grynol (29:08):
What’s your learning process been like as far as… I mean, let’s rewind. You heard about Levels, I think it was through Kelly’s Instagram feed or something.
Yes, Be Well by Kelly.
Ben Grynol (29:21):
Yeah, heard about Levels, ended up getting a CGM. I remember on our Friday Forum, you mentioned that you didn’t think access to CGMs was possible for anyone that might not be part of the type one or type two community. As soon as you got this tool, it arrives at your door, what was that learning process like? I ask because it is back to this idea of frontier. It’s out there and you get this not really always knowing what to do with it, where to start. How did you go about the whole journey, the whole education journey, the whole starting to use the product? What did that look like for you?
Ben, to be completely honest with you, I had a hard time with it at first. I was very excited to receive the order from Levels and start tracking. I thought because I didn’t have prediabetes, I wasn’t anywhere near diabetic, I went through, I think it’s the first two weeks where it’s just do your routine, see what the impact was. I was shocked because there were things where I was like, “I’m going to be fine,” and then I’d have this huge spike. It was a little bit of denial because I didn’t realize that I was making decisions on a meal by meal or daily basis that weren’t the best for what I wanted to optimize with my health. It was a really big shock because the message I was getting from my healthcare providers and then what I had in my mind and then what I saw was like, “This is insane.”
I had no idea, I had so much room for improvement, I considered myself pretty healthy. But I remembered Kelly saying on, I don’t know if it was a podcast or just Instagram, a post that she made, where she said she works with her clients to help understand the impact of meals and decisions. She said, “Sometimes if you’re going to go out and grab a couple donuts as your fun meal for the week, you might be on the couch for a couple hours to ride through that.” When I was tracking some of the meals and how I felt afterwards, I had some of those moments. A weekend splurge and two days of just eating whatever, it didn’t balance out the next five days of trying to be on point. While I say it was frustrating, it was frustrating for me because I had an opinion of where I was at and my results did not dictate that or support that whatsoever.
But the next couple rounds that I did with that, and I still do that intermittently to check in, is just that I needed to take more control to be more consistent with my choices. But also understand that if I’m going to have a heavier meal, timing it right after exercise. Or if I’m going out to eat it makes a difference if I eat at 6:00 or 7:00, versus you get a late reservation at 9:00 or 10:00 that you go right to sleep afterwards. It takes my body a long time to respond to that, so it was really helpful for me. My key takeaways were when I eat food, how I combine the food and how that plays into the rest of my day with stress and sleep and hormones, that all impacts that whole cycle together for me. I was able to learn how to make changes with that and better balance it and I’m obviously in a much better place now and understanding.
But I would say it is quite the rollercoaster until you get to the point where you understand your body and you can work through it. I’m so glad that so many people can do that, but it’s also eyeopening going, “All right, I thought I was okay, I thought I was healthy, I thought I was making the right decisions. And if I just go wild for two days during the weekend, the next five days will balance it out.” That’s not the best for me or not the best mentality to have. Very thankful that I now know what I need to do to help keep myself balanced, or if I fall off the wagon a little bit, how to quickly recover before all of those symptoms start snowballing on that treadmill again.
Ben Grynol (33:43):
Once you figured out the feeling, once you knew not only the food but the feeling, especially of having either spikes or being hypoglycemic where your glucose is really low, did you have any moments where you connected it back to historical things? I ask because there are a lot of times where I remember viscerally feeling a certain way years and years ago. I mean, it could be 20 years ago, it can be 15 years ago, but you have these things that you remember in your mind of like, “Oh, I didn’t feel good after that one thing.” It was the weirdest thing for me personally where I connected all these dots. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, that’s what was happening.” Could be the head nod on the keyboard, it could be some dinner you went out for. But did you have any of those moments where you were able to connect the dots backwards and be like, “This is what’s been going on this whole time,” once you were able to see that data and understand what it actually meant?
Yeah, there’s two that I can go through. The first is just how I treated the weekends because I was in such the mindset of the 80/20 balance that everyone talks about following. Trying to be healthy, make better decisions 80% of the time and 20% of the time it’s your fun time, your balance in there. At work people said, “Hey, I focus on I do great during the week, and then I just let myself relax and go out to eat or do whatever on the weekend.” I thought it was normal to take naps in the afternoon on the weekend. I was just like, “Oh, it’s my body catching up on sleep and stress and work from the week.” Or to be sleeping in really late or have trouble falling asleep even and I was just like, “This is just what you do on the weekends. Then you get up and you reset again on Monday.” I didn’t realize it was because I had been giving zero effort to trying to have food or meal balance and keeping everything in track. I just was like, “Okay, I just feel this way,” and that was a big impact for me.
Then sleep and how I felt the next morning if I had a late meal or didn’t eat so great, I would have awful sleep. I just thought it was just purely I wasn’t sleeping well. The next morning I’d reach for that second or third cup of coffee or because you’re tired, I would sleep in and then just grab whatever on the way to work. I didn’t realize that I was causing that by how I was eating and it wasn’t just me having a bad night’s sleep that I needed sugar and coffee that next morning to break myself out of that. Those were two really big realizations for me.
Ben Grynol (36:31):
Yeah, you wake up groggy. You went out for a late dinner, you had the 9:00 p.m. reservation. Then you wake up and you’re groggy, assume it’s Monday morning. Then a person grabs a bagel on the way to work or some breakfast sandwich or the coffee and then it’s like, “Oh geez, I’m so tired still.” And you’re yawning and just not feeling productive or energized, work feels so much harder.
Versus once you get balanced energy, once you balance this and you understand what a good baseline feels like, you’re like, “Wait, I don’t feel crummy and I can just work in the morning and it’s not this struggle.” Not necessarily struggle of not enjoying. Let’s assume a person is very fulfilled by the work they’re doing. It’s that they’re lethargic, that lethargy is just making it so hard to hit every key on the keyboard. Geez, I’m going to go grab another coffee right now. It’s like, “There’s other factors that are making you feel this way. This has nothing to do with needing more caffeine. We got to strip things back and fix the foundation because there are fissures all over it. There are cracks in the foundation and we got to patch these up to start building up again.”
Yeah, absolutely. I just thought that I didn’t have any control over it and I could just fix it with whatever patch I had in the morning. Whether it was extra coffee and the bagels or donuts at the office or just grabbing whatever was convenient. There’s an emotional side to it too, when those chemicals are off balance. I mean there would be mornings where, and I still have it. You overindulge a little bit, you wake up the next morning, you’re like, “Man, I just want a donut,” and that’s not my body needing a donut. My blood sugar just wants the extra blood sugar right now because it got used to it last night. Then you do your workout in the morning, I’ll make a smoothie or eggs or something for breakfast and I know how to reset that.
But until you learn what that cycle looks like and how to, I don’t want to say break it, I want to say more so how to manage it so that you can control more how you feel instead of just responding to what your body’s telling you that it needs to remain on cycle is a key learning. But it’s something that took me a long time to realize. Longer than I’d like to admit, but it took me a while to get there.
Ben Grynol (39:02):
Now that you’ve got this foundation, how have you been spreading the insight that you have to others and educating them, to generate some awareness? Not just hey, here’s what I’ve been doing. But once a person realizes this, it’s like you actually want to help others that are assume perfect strangers, but others that are close to you because you care about them and you want them to be healthy too. But it feels Sisyphean to sometimes spread this awareness to other people that might not have any exposure to this long tail of health and wellness. What have you been doing to start people down that path?
Oh, that’s a great question. Something that has taken me a little bit of time to figure out how to [inaudible 00:39:58] communicate those conversations because there’s much out there that sometimes people just don’t want to hear another statistic or another do this or do that. That’s so much if you start searching for anything of how to improve, it can be very overwhelming. I’ve started taking the approach of working through how someone might feel or make some recommendations. I had a friend who was very carb heavy in all of her meals and it wasn’t until her doctor actually made the recommendation for the change. But she was like, “Hey, my doctor was talking to me about fiber and vegetables.” She’s like, “I know you’re very health focused. Can you help me with where to start with that?” Just being comfortable opening up the conversation and saying, “Hey, here’s what works.”
Sometimes I do step back until someone asks for help based off of examples that I’ve had because then that conversation’s a lot easier to have because they’re already invested and interested in the conversation and making those improvements. But I even look at my parents and a lot of the information that they have is just what the medical community shared or what their doctor shared. By me sending it might just be an article where sometimes when I go home I’ll honestly just start swapping things out in the pantry or the refrigerator. Maybe it’s not even swapping, I will just bring things home and say, “Hey, this is what I use in my coffee instead,” or, “This is what I’m eating,” and my parents will try it. My dad’s a little less reluctant. But just by bringing things in to my parents’ home and encouraging them to try things and maybe sharing some information why, that makes a big difference. I still feel like I have a long way to go with that, but I’m glad to have the conversation with anyone once it comes up.
Ben Grynol (41:52):
Yeah, it’s got to be incremental and where it’s so hard is if people generally have a lens on health and wellness, let’s say that. And you’re having this conversation with your “healthy” friend and you start talking about some of the insights that you’ve got saying, “Hey, I’ve been consuming things that are less processed.” If somebody chooses to eat meat, they might have meat and vegetables, just keeping it pretty simple. And somebody said, “Well, I’m healthy. I shop the organic section,” and you look in their cart and it’s just all these packaged goods. That’s one of the problems is that the intent of a lot of companies might not be to create unhealthy products, but people don’t understand without reading every ingredient on the label. I’m not suggesting that you can’t get packaged goods that aren’t healthy, there are going to be some.
Let’s take the one example, common staple in a lot of people’s fridge will be ketchup and I didn’t know there was sugar in ketchup. Well, there’s sugar in a lot of things and there’s sugar that is hidden in a ton of different forms and presented in many different ways. Unless somebody starts reading all of these labels, if you’re only buying processed goods, it’s hard to be focused on health and wellness. You got to start to change all of the inputs to go, “What am I eating and how does food affect my health personally?”
Again, I don’t want this to be about if something comes in a package, it’s not good. There are things that are great. There’s always going to be some amount of processing to anything when you strip it down, to give a hat tip to Rob Lustig. He talks about this often where it’s like, “If you pick an apple off a tree, technically it’s been processed.” It’s still an apple, but the more processed something gets, the further away from food it becomes and essentially it just becomes some substrate of caloric intake.
Exactly and to your point earlier, sometimes it’s just a focus on one small part of that. Of what’s the change for you can start today? That friend that I was talking about, vegetables, fiber going through there and after talking to her, a couple weeks later, she’s like, “This makes such a difference. I had no clue.” So when we go out to eat, we make sure of that. We order an appetizer that’s vegetables, we make sure we have something balanced in there and it’s just the smallest things. But if you can start with one small change and having that conversation. There’s times where if we’ve been out to eat and she’s like, “We didn’t order anything that would fit the vegetable category, we should go back and change that.” It seems so silly to talk about it, but just making those micro steps in helping people to be aware at least, I think is a good jumping off point. It’s manageable if you just break that down from the beginning.
Ben Grynol (45:01):
Oh, exactly. There’s such a difference if somebody’s eating out, there’s such a difference between ordering Brussels sprouts that are, let’s just say it’s salt pepper and olive oil versus artichoke and spinach dip. Those are not directly linked as far as being one in exchange for the other. You’re talking about two totally different things. That gets really hard because if you’re talking about they start eating whole food, real food, just because there’s a vegetable, you see this with roasted red pepper something. Like, “Oh, I’m having roasted red pepper crackers or something. There’s my vegetables.” It’s like, “Oh, goodness.”
You have to reframe the education of it because no one’s doing this with poor intent. People say, “Oh, I’m trying to be healthy,” and then you start to break down all of these things and it’s like, “Well, let’s look at food as being whole food. That is when you look at the food as unprocessed as possible. That is where you’re getting the most health benefits out of that single item.” The more it gets processed, the more things get stripped away and that’s where you start to get into these challenges around, you strip away the fiber, you strip away the nutrients, and that over time is going to compound and just not be very good for anybody as far as health and wellness goes.
Oh, absolutely. I won’t mention the brand, but there’s a famous posting on social media where there’s a sandwich cookie that’s vegan and everyone’s like, “Oh, it’s vegan, it’s great.” It’s like, “No, it’s not great. It’s not healthy just because it’s vegan.” When you look at the ingredients it’s not good for you at all. I don’t want to say good or bad, but it’s not the most beneficial ingredient list. But we’ve created a culture where there’s so many definitions of what healthy means and everyone’s interpretation is so different. The information gets muddied out there because everyone has that viewpoint of what healthy means to them and there’s just not a lot of great focus on how do we define that? How do we make that easier for people to interpret, because I think it gets pretty lost today.
Ben Grynol (47:27):
Exactly. I mean that’s all marketing gone wrong. You get the organic, gluten free, vegan. You get all these labels that get put onto these products. Let’s assume it was some QSR, some fast food hamburger and it says gluten free bun, organic meat. I mean, you go down the list and at the end of it you go, “Look at what it is. It’s not actually food. It’s just highly processed.” But people go, “Oh, that’s a healthy thing.” It’s like, “Not at all. That is not healthy at all. Don’t trick yourself into thinking that’s a healthy option.” It doesn’t mean you can’t eat that. You can definitely eat anything within reason if you understand what you’re eating, why you’re eating it, and it’s not some daily habit, it’s fine.
People have to have balance in the world. People have to make their own choices based on what they want to do. Gosh, this was ages ago when Subway was the healthy option. Everyone would talk about, “Oh, I’m eating Subway instead of McDonald’s.” The bread is full of sugar, you’re eating processed meats, you’re doing all these things and people would eat that every day. Not to dunk on Subway, it’s just like, “That’s fine, but you got to understand that’s not as beneficial as just eating some salad that you made at home or eating homemade sourdough bread.” They’re totally different things, totally different things. It’s like, “Eat the sandwich, but eat it with maybe chicken that you grilled on the barbecue.” Start to do it in a different way and understand that one is a healthier option, the other isn’t.
Right and it just goes back to what you classify as healthy. Is something healthy just because it’s vegan, but it could be extremely processed. It’s how do you define it and how do you help people define it so that if they’re looking at those labels, especially on boxes at the supermarket, they can filter through that and understand organic creamer for your coffee, which is one ingredient, is very different than an organic box of cereal that has 30 ingredients that’s processed on there. That both are organic but very different in the makeup.
Ben Grynol (49:55):
And the cereal industry is something in itself, that’s for sure.
Oh, I know. I was the cereal kid growing up. When you look back and you think through that, it’s just like, “Okay, so much has changed and how do we help get that awareness out there?”
Ben Grynol (50:13):
We got to go into one last thing here. You have a lens on brand, you work with Honest and very much a mission driven brand. When you think of what we’re doing, how do you think about what we can do forward to build that trust and to make sure that we’re maintaining a positive North star to make the change that we seek to make with the greater community?
I think when you look at the messaging, any brand can have messaging saying like, “This is what Levels does, this is how you use it,” but I think the backup piece, and we touched on this a little bit earlier, is the education around it. It’s not just Levels saying, “Use this product to identify,” but it’s like, “All right, as you’re going through the Levels journey and you’re getting your information, here’s what this means. Here’s how you can make better decisions.” Because I think there’s so much out there that brands share with data or use my product because of X, Y, and Z, but I think the piece that Levels does a nice job of, and I’d love to see you guys continue doing, is just, okay, now that you have this information, how do you become the best version of yourself that you can from a health standpoint?
The community engagement and the continuous education, whether it’s the podcast, social media, newsletters, just really sharing how to take that information and take it to the next level, I think is obviously next level with Levels. I think that’s just going to be so key because so many people want the data on their individual health, but it’s very difficult to take all of that data and figure out how to use it on your own. I mean, I certainly struggle with that as well. I think just having the team that can support it when people are ready to learn and make changes, to continue to support them along the way. So many companies can’t back it up or they give you something that’s a wearable or trackable or gives you data and you’re just like, “All right, what do I do with it?” But supporting people through their journey as they learn how to make changes and adapt, I think is just going to be huge.
Ben Grynol (52:40):
Yeah, the change has to be incremental because it’s overwhelming to go through some new experience. But you’re talking about something that’s very foreign to many people. Starting with, especially education is, assume it’s ungated content. It’s accessible to anyone to read. Whether it’s read, listen, watch, whatever form the content is in, but that way when people have access to this information, they can start to learn on their own terms, learn in their own way, on their own timeline and make these small changes. I mean, the goal is that if somebody is used to putting two spoonfuls of sugar in their coffee every morning and they read something about the impact of sugar in coffee on glucose levels and they go, “Now I’m going to make a change,” even without using the product, that’s a win.
It’s all of these incremental things so people can start to use their own foundation of knowledge that they gain to make these changes. It’s not just change everything you’re doing 180 from what you’re doing before and change your lifestyle completely. The reason being is sure, maybe that’s the perfect state, but that’s not a realistic state. That’s asking people to just flip flop and stop everything they’ve ever been doing. It’s like, “No, do things incrementally so that we can meet people where they are.”
Absolutely. I’ve been the person who’s tried the 180. It’s this huge list of here’s what you can do, here’s what you can’t do, here’s what you can eat, here’s what you can’t eat. It works so well until you hit the point where you just can’t maintain it. Then I would rebound and get even worse than where I was from when I started. When you tell people, “Avoid all of this stuff, don’t do this,” it’s not sustainable. To your point of if you start with two teaspoons of sugar in your coffee, if someone starts reduce it down to one and then adds some cream with it to help get a little bit of fat in there, you start to make those changes. I think it’s offering that feedback on how to make small changes over the course of time, because then those are the habits that are sustainable and that’s what helps your health in the long term.
Ben Grynol (55:12):
Behavior change takes time, that’s always the thing. It’s something that trickles down into so many other aspects of people’s lives.
Absolutely. We’re living in a world of instant gratification and it might be good for a week or two, but if you can’t sustain it long term, it’s not something that you’re going to be invested in. And health isn’t something that you can correct in two or three days. You need those small daily changes to add up and in 30, 40, 50 years, that’s where you reap the rewards for it.