At twenty I reported to the USS Carl Vinson after two years of nuclear power training. The physician doing my medical check told me I was technically obese and had sky-high cholesterol and blood pressure. Over-eating to support my power lifting since high school had not served me well. The doctor suggested cardio and healthier eating. When I asked him for guidance on eating, his face crunched up into a question mark: “Maybe less fats? Find a good book on the subject.” The next time we pulled into port I went to a bookstore, spending a few hours looking at the various opposing viewpoints of what was on the shelf. I concluded that the opinions must be wrong since they outright conflict with each other. It took me a decade to realize they all reduced the rate of nutrient entry into the bloodstream and therefore only conflicted on the surface. I left the bookstore with frustration instead of a book, and used my common sense instead (oatmeal, salad, water, etc.), which dropped my cholesterol levels dramatically in weeks, and my blood pressure over several years. That moment in the bookstore was the beginning of my search for “truth” not only in nutrition, but health generally. My feeling was that scientific studies had more to offer than the conflicting opinions indicated.
After six years in the Navy, I headed off to Northern Arizona University to study chemistry. As a small school and department with great equipment for master’s degree projects, it was an ideal environment for me to do research (with Prof. Michael Eastman studying cyclodextrins i.e. how larger molecules can encapsulate and transport smaller molecules). This took me to Stanford three years later (for a Chemistry PhD with Prof. Richard Zare), studying single-molecule chemistry in the smallest “test tubes” at the time: liposomes (small balls of fat with watery interiors) as a model of biochemistry in sub-cellular compartments. I then headed to the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) for post-doctoral research, with Prof. Roger Cooke, on molecular aspects of muscle contraction. I have returned to the lab to help Roger study the super-relaxed state in muscle, which is likely mechanism suppressing metabolism in those who intensely exercise and diet to lose weight (reducing their results). It has been a blessing to be involved with all of this research for a quarter century, and in particular for it to land me on a project so close to my heart as metabolism, which is central to our health and the issues I was up against when I went to the bookstore as a kid in the Navy.
Within months of graduating from Stanford in 2002, I returned to help teach an undergraduate nutrition course in the Athletics Department (my lecture was on the molecular aspects of healthy eating). The next year I was the main instructor for the course and it expanded to include the molecular aspects of exercise (and with the founder of the Stanford Sleep Research Center, Dr. Dement’s help, the impact on health of proper sleep). A few years later this had expanded into three separate courses: introductory nutrition, sports nutrition, and human movement (theory of exercise). During this time (still doing my UCSF post-doc), I started teaching “Food Facts, Fads and Pharmacology” in the UCSF School of Medicine, and a few years later in Stanford’s School of Medicine, both courses running for ten years. The human movement course in Stanford Athletics has lead to my teaching Kinesiology in Stanford’s Department of Human Biology, a tremendously humbling honor for me. But decade of teaching in Stanford’s Continuing Studies Program, which are my only courses fully open to the public, are the only ones challenging me to design pragmatic homework assignments for my students, meaning advice on how what to do based on the research I am teaching. These public courses include three on nutrition (facts versus fads, sports nutrition, and weight loss nutrition), exercise and movement (making their benefits more efficient), and most recently on metabolism, bringing together the research on nutrition, movement, stress and sleep as they pertain to cell function. My metabolism course brings together the global research on what makes our body tick faster, brings pragmatic purpose to my current research at UCSF, brings me full circle to the original course I taught in Athletics (covering nutrition, exercise and sleep), and addresses my health concerns in the Navy.
Helping the Public Into the Future
I have been working with individuals, and the public generally, through a nonprofit in Palo Alto (the Sports Medicine Institute) for a dozen years, written two books (self published), and endeavor to provide enough free information through my web site for anyone to benefit at no cost to them. My goal is not to bring new information to what is already a confusing dialogue on how to get healthy, but instead help bring clarity to that confusion. Building a model that helps us integrate the opposing viewpoints of how we should eat, exercise, and strike a better stress/sleep balance will help us to understand how those viewpoints are, fundamentally, saying the same thing in spite of superficially looking at odds with each other. That clarity will enable us to adjust what we do as we go through our lives from day to day to best suit the specific circumstances we are in without losing course towards our health, and more specifically our metabolic, goals. It all comes down to living our lives the way we want to live them, while moving towards our personal goals using science as a tool for achieving the most efficient path towards those goals.