Toxic diet culture places value on being a certain size, weight, and shape over actually being healthy. Diet culture also promotes the false notion that health equals thinness when, in fact, this might not be true every time and for everyone.
Nowadays, especially on social media, we are constantly introduced to new popular diets that promise to lose weight in a miraculous way. Influencers have been promoting this idea that there are superior ways of eating, such as keto, low-carb, “clean,” Paleo, intermittent fasting, and so on.
While stopping unhealthy eating habits is a great thing, becoming obsessed with a restrictive diet can impact all areas of our lives in a negative way.
In today’s episode, our special guest, performance nutritionist and evidence-based educator Danny Lennon explains why it’s time to leave diet culture behind for good and focus on optimal health for a balanced life.
He will also talk about how the idea of “healthy eating” can be harmful, how diets became the new religion, and why a life purpose is essential for our overall health.
He will also reveal some of the benefits of maintaining a healthy body fat percentage and much more.
If you are tired of diet culture and want to learn more about focusing on optimal health and a balanced life, this episode is right for you. Listen now!
Danny Lennon is the founder of Sigma Nutrition, a company providing educational media content on nutritional and health science. He is hosting the top-ranked podcast Sigma Nutrition Radio.
Danny has a master’s degree (MSc.) in Nutritional Sciences from University College Cork and completed his research thesis directly under the world-renowned vitamin D researcher Professor Kevin Cashman.
Danny has worked as a nutrition practitioner with a wide variety of clients. He became well known for his role as a performance nutritionist to professional mixed martial artists & boxers.
He oversees the Sigma Nutrition online coaching service, in which a number of excellent coaches work one-on-one with a wide array of clients.
- How the idea of “healthy eating” can be harmful
- The benefits of focusing on maintaining a healthy body fat percentage
- Are diets the new religion?
- The pros and cons of interacting with online support groups
- Why life purpose is important
- When work stress yields depression it’s unbearable
- Health at every size (HAES) – What’s it all about?
- How your actions affect others
- And much more…
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Podcast Transcription: 467: How To Leave Toxic Diet Culture Behind And Focus On Optimal Health and a Balanced Life with Danny Lennon
Ted Ryce: I’m super excited to share with you this episode today, because it’s all about the other aspects of health that we tend to neglect. Yes, we focus on nutrition, on exercise, on sleep, but we tend not to talk about the things that affect our stress, like our depression, loneliness, social isolation. And we even know that these other aspects of health that are typically left out of the conversation when it comes to living a healthy life, that these things have been proven by science to increase inflammation.
So even if you’re exercising, even if you’re eating well and sleeping right, if you’ve got these other things going on, you’re never going to be as healthy as you could, you’re not going to live as long as you could. So that’s why I’m super excited to have my guest on today. His name is Danny Lennon. He’s the host of the best science based nutrition podcast on the planet. It’s called Sigma Nutrition Radio. You’ve got to check it out if you’ve never listened to Danny’s show before.
And other really cool thing is that I recorded this podcast in-person with Danny in Chiang Mai, Thailand. So we got to sit down. It has such a different energy when you sit down with someone, and just go back and forth and have a meaningful conversation. So I know you’re going to love this one.
By the way, if you resonate with this, please honor me by sharing this episode, because the more people who share, it’s the biggest compliment you can give me for putting out content like this, for getting guests like Danny on. So please share this episode. And if you’re new to the Legendary Life podcast, make sure you click that subscribe button.
And just to let you know what you’re getting into, this show is all about upgrading your mind and your body. So if you’re looking to make a breakthrough in your health and level up your life, you’re in the right place for all the new listeners.
So, without further ado, let’s get into this conversation with Danny Lennon. Danny Lennon, thanks so much for doing this, man!
Danny Lennon: Yeah, thanks for having me on the podcast.
Ted Ryce: Yes, absolutely. And for those of you listening, we are sitting down in Chiang Mai. We’ve known each other for several years, but we had the opportunity to meet in person and we sat down and decided to do this podcast.
Danny Lennon: Yeah, it’s been great. And I think as you probably know from other people you’ve met, it always adds something new when you get to meet someone in person and hang out and spend some time. And so yeah, it’s been awesome.
Ted Ryce: I’ve met some people in person, and I’ve been like, “Ah, you are very different in person than your online persona.” So it was really cool to meet you. And then, we had a great time, we went to, the National Park, the Doi Inthanon National Park, and went hiking and swim in waterfalls and had fresh roasted coffee from that local area. And it was just an amazing time and we got to hang out and have some great conversations, as well.
Danny Lennon: Yeah. And that’s the stuff that matters, so I’m glad that we’re able to connect and do that and hang out. It was awesome.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, amazing. Well, what I think would serve people the best today is to jump into some of what you’ve been talking about a lot, which you are this expert—at least to me— in nutrition. And what I really like about your approach is you have a very objective approach, but also a very open approach. And so many people say your contemporaries, right, the people who you end up speaking with, a lot of great people.
But I think also, they’re not—at least in my experience of them—as open minded as you. In fact, I learned quite a few things, speaking with you on our van ride back from the National Park the other day. So let’s get into a little bit about what you’re into about, like, let’s talk about nutrition, people’s focus on nutrition, and why maybe that isn’t the best focus if they’re wanting optimal health.
Because what I say is that, when you get your body fat handled, what else is there? There are some things, right? You can look at your blood biomarkers, various biomarkers, and make sure that what you’re doing is supporting what we know to be optimal, keeping those biomarkers in the optimal range. And there are some functional foods, right? Or whatever term you want to use, but there’s foods that can have specific effects, like spirulina on allergies, or citrulline on blood flow, right? But take it away?
Danny Lennon: Sure. So, a few things that I think of when this kind of topic comes up: I think one common flow that I think happens quite a bit is, when most of us get interested in nutrition in the first place, it’s for a specific other reason other than just learning about food, right?
It’s that we either want to improve our health, or other people may get into it, because they want to improve their athletic performance. Some people might want to change your body composition.
They’re the three kind of primary goals, but a lot of it is driven around being healthier, in the grandest sense of the word, right? And so it’s a kind of irony that the more and more we get into it, there is a potential pitfall where you can get so focused on the specifics of nutrition, then trying to dial it in even more and more and going super detailed on stuff, that perhaps you’re missing the bigger picture and doing things that are taking away from your overall health.
And again, I mean that in the biggest sense of the word, not just physical health, that health—and this is something I’ve talked about on a podcast recently—is such a broad term, that’s not just physical health, there’s also like, obviously, psychological health, but there’s all these other little factors that I would count as making someone a healthy human or not.
So for example, you can be in perfect physical health and you could, let’s say, feel that you’re doing okay, in most senses, but let’s say all the relationships around you are gone to shit, right? You’ve alienated yourself from y
our friends, your colleagues think you’re a piece of shit, you have fallen out with your family, and you’re not talking to anyone because of whatever.
If that’s the case, can you say this person is truly as healthy a person as they could be? No, right? There are ways to become healthier. And so this all goes to speak to if you’re doing certain things with your nutrition or your training or whatever goals you have, that, in isolation may look like a good thing, but are detracting from other areas where you can be healthy, that could be problematic, right?
So if you get so focused on what you eat and what you look like to the point where you can no longer go and share a meal with family and friends, or you can no longer eat at specific times where they’re most likely to be socializing, because of that.
Ted Ryce: #intermittent fasting.
Danny Lennon: There are those examples, right? So like, I’m actually quite fond of some of the like time restricted feeding literature and maybe partitioning more of our energy intake to earlier in the day, maybe not eating so big late at night, as a general rule.
However, there’s that kind of, again, that point where you can take that too far to say, “I can never eat after 5pm.” And well guess what, most social occasions where people are going to be hanging out around food or beer or just a general party is going to be happening at those times.
The same thing with your sleep, I’m super big on sleep, but there’s times where people are going to have stuff going on where maybe you’re going to have to stay up late. And there’s some other benefits to that that may acutely affect you think your health negatively, but in the long term or a bigger picture, and that there’s loads of examples we could get into.
But that kind of comes back to your original point of yes, nutrition is super important for health and it can be very beneficial if we get it right, but realize that there’s lots of things that influence your health. And if you’re doing a certain behavior that detracts from some of those, then the net benefit, or the net effect may not be a benefit and may become a negative.
Ted Ryce: Yeah. And I want to dive into that more, I would like to hear—like I said at the beginning, that the number one thing you can do is just maintain a healthy body fat percentage. What’s your view on nutrition with all your expertise? How do you look at what we can achieve with nutrition by focusing on it so intently?
Danny Lennon: Sure. So I guess in the Western world, at least, we’re not in a — the main problem with nutrition of like getting enough energy, right, so we’re not in a place where we can’t get access to enough calories. And similarly, it’s most nutrient deficiencies, like true deficiencies are not going to be a major problem because of the amount of food that we have access to.
And now, of course, many people may not be getting enough of certain micronutrients, because their diet is pretty poor quality, and so on, which is something we can circle back to. But in general, malnutrition is not as big a concern in the Western world, right? So then you think of, well, what are the potential downsides?
One, like you said, is body composition. We know, while it’s not a direct linear relationship between, say, adiposity and your health outcomes, because you can have someone of higher level of body fat that may end up with no chronic disease or metabolic dysfunction.
Similarly, you can have someone that has a low amount of body fat, but that can become very unhealthy and develop certain chronic diseases. So it’s not a linear relationship. But in general, if we look at a population of people, it’s quite clear that if you have a very high level of adiposity, you have an increased risk of certain chronic diseases, particularly metabolic diseases, like say, Type II diabetes.
And so having that within a, let’s say, a lower range may be beneficial for that. Beyond that, I think we can then look at micronutrient intake is kind of devoid is separate from just body composition. So you can have someone who’s a lean individual, but again, poor quality diet means they’re not getting enough micronutrients, you could look at…
Ted Ryce: You mean the people who are doing keto, who just eat bacon butter, and you know, a little bit of—some Iceberg lettuce.
Danny Lennon: Yes, pick any type of diet and there’s a way to do it terribly, right? Same thing, you could do a vegan diet, but only eat processed junk foods, but that doesn’t contain any animal products. Same thing with the keto example you just gave, same with any type of diet. The types of foods you include will impact, say micronutrients.
Similarly, it will impact how much fiber someone is getting, it could soluble fiber in their diet. So if you’re eating a diet that keeps you within good body composition, but you eat a lot of protein, but almost no fiber in your diet, that can be poor for like, digestive health, colon health, it can increase risk of things like colon cancer, potentially.
So there are other things that we have known are well established micronutrients, like the polyphenols and vegetables, fiber intake, all the stuff we kind of know about, that have very real health impacts beyond body composition. And then there’s probably another layer that we could get into is just, there’s aspects to eating and food that are separated from their nutritional content, right.
So the environment you eat your food in, the mind—like just a mindset you’re in. So by that, I mean, if you are eating and you are just grabbing a sandwich on the go, as you’re rushing down the street to go to a meeting, that’ll have a very different effect, potentially than having a meal where you’re sitting down with friends and family joking and you take your time over a meal, and there’s a social element to it.
And that’s one of the kind of confounding things with something like the Mediterranean diet; you’ve seen a lot of those populations, it’s not just about the food choices, right? It’s also about the social component. So the time they take over the meals, it’s a thing that brings people together. And there’s a sense of relaxation as they’re having those kinds of meals.
So there are those, and then there’s also another psychological factor of the enjoyment that we derive from food. So that can be like, good food is one of the like, the most pleasurable things that we can find, right? Proper, good food experiences. And I don’t just mean like, hyper palatable, like sugary foods. I mean, like, proper good food that we really enjoyed that meal. That’s one of the great things about life.
bTed Ryce: Like the Thai restaurant I took you to?
DannyLennon: Precisely, that’s one of the great things. It’s why people love travel so much. What’s one of the big things that people do when they travel? They want to see the local cuisine, cooked in a certain way that’s always been done, the certain types of flavors. And those experiences add something that is very hard to quantify. It’s impossible to quantify. But it’s an important part of life.
And so that’s one example of we can’t just dismiss all that, because we want to have a certain type of body composition. So there are lots of elements that we could explore. So nutrition and food can impact our health in many ways that are completely separate from body composition. And as an aside, this is perhaps why having a direct focus on body composition all the time or body weight can be problematic for people because if they aren’t making progress in the area, they feel, “Well, I’m failing. What’s the point in even trying to do this stuff?”
Instead of saying, “Well, even if I forget about my weight for a moment, it doesn’t matter if it’s changing or not, I can still choose to eat generally healthier foods, approach malnutrition in a healthier way that will still benefit my health, even before I’m able to lose weight, or even if I don’t lose weight.” And so that’s important for people to bear in mind, that there’s a lot more beyond body composition.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, no, that’s really important and a good message for me, too. Sometimes I harp on the body fat thing, without taking into consideration all these other things that you’re mentioning. Danny, I want to shift into kind of the dark side of nutrition philosophy, if you will.
So one of the things that you and I have talked about is just now, for example, the other parts of nutrition, spending time with people, and what we’re finding online, what I’m finding and getting attacked about just recently, just people seem to use nutrition as their religion, as their group that they belong to.
Danny Lennon: Right.
Ted Ryce: And so they’ll get some results with maybe becoming a vegetarian or vegan or Keto or doing intermittent fasting. And so that experience leads to success, probably creates some sort of thing in the brain, a chemical situation in the brain probably spikes dopamine, when they get a success.
Then they meet others, and it starts to become like, “Oh, yeah, you did intermittent fasting, you lost weight? Oh, I did in intermittent—Intermittent fasting is the way or keto is the way or vegetarianism or veganism or whatever, Atkins is the way.” Then they start to becoming, they start gathering in groups, they take on almost a life of their own right, were there...
I don’t know how much time these people are spending with each other outside of their Twitter accounts and Facebook accounts. But people are finding that group connection, that group belonging in nutrition. And I’d love to talk a little bit about that, and also how there’s also a positive side to that. But maybe we can be more intentional about how we go about it instead of being sucked up in the vortex of groupthink and toxic tribalism.
Danny Lennon: Sure, it’s a very understandable thing of why it happens. So I think when you think about human beings in the way we are kind of set up or programmed to think, we tend to be quite tribalistic, right, we tend to fall within certain tribes, for many different reasons that we could probably date back to evolutionary biology, that feeling belonging to a certain group or a certain tribe, can give us benefits, right?
There’s safety, there’s people that have similar views to us, we feel that here’s now people that get me, that have they’ve had similar life experiences, and in many cases, that can be quite beneficial. That’s the reason why, for example, support groups can benefit, right? People have gone through similar experiences you feel you can connect with them, and you feel like you belong here.
It’s why one of the good things about the, say, internet forums and groups is that you can have people that may be in like small rural communities that have this very niche interest, that in decades gone by, they would have had no one else interested in that would have felt like an outsider. Now they can be in these forums with other thousands of people from around the world that have this very specific thing they’re into.
So it can give people a sense of belonging. And the same thing is going to happen with nutrition because everyone eats and everyone is going to have some sort of dietary pattern and some people potentially are going to seek out more. The other aspect of why that also happens is thinking rationally and thinking scientifically are inherently non-human. They’re not how humans are set up to think that.
The whole idea of the scientific method and science is how can we objectively view the world and make decisions by taking the human element out of it as much as possible. It’s why when we try and control variables, we use blinded trials, all this type of randomization. Everything we can use is a way to take human judgment and error out of what we’re seeing.
Because when we observe something, we can think we know why that happens, but we could be lying to ourselves, subconsciously. So science tries to work out, well, what is really causing this thing to happen? What is the causal relationship between things? And so our mind isn’t set up that way. It’s not scientific and it’s more based at the same thing, rationality, it’s trying to say, everyone thinks they’re rational.
Ted Ryce: Sure.
Danny Lennon: And we can try and be more rational in our decision making. But even then, a lot of the time, it’s not necessarily 100%, complete rationality, a lot of times, it’s actually, we still make decisions for emotional reasons. And then afterwards, we just use rationality to explain why we did it, when it’s probably not really the case. And this happens, everyone, even if you’re aware of it happening.
I think a lot of Danny Kahneman stuff is kind of based on this as well. It’s a great book Thinking Fast and Slow, if people might want to read that. So inherently, how people think is more based in kind of emotion, then clear logic and rationality. And there are things that have to be learned. And the same with critical thinking and scientific thinking their skills have to be learned.
So it’s easy to see why people would emotionally connect with, they had a beneficial experience on a diet, it transformed their life. And of course, they’re going to have some sort of pull towards that. Now they’re going to seek out other people have done that.
And they get the same kind of backup of those ideas, that people reporting the same thing, so they feel great. And it almost creates this cycle of reinforcing those beliefs. And then the kind of third element is where it probably gets a bit more problematic, is when it becomes wrapped up in their identity.
Ted Ryce: Right.
Danny Lennon: And so as my friend Kieran puts it, he wrote a piece that’s actually on the site where he talked about the difference between people having a belief versus identifying themselves as a certain belief. And the same thing goes here with diet, rather than saying, “Yeah, generally, I eat a diet that is a ketogenic diet,” that’s one way to look at it.
If you now say, “I am keto,” and then you’re kind of within that group, that’s now kind of giving yourself an identity based on a certain type of dietary pattern, as opposed to I just eat these types of foods most often. And the same thing tends to happen. If you see any type of dietary group, I am paleo or vegan or carnivore, whatever it is. For certain people, that becomes a core part of their whole identity. And so it’s very difficult to rationally pick apart stuff that may be problematic with it, because that’s going into your identity.
Ted Ryce: Who you are, yeah.
Danny Lennon: Right, these people that have supported you, that have the same beliefs, and that’s why it gets very difficult. And so yeah, it’s all based on that kind of tribal environment, wrapping it within your identity, and to a certain point, then it becomes difficult to be able to see when critiques of that are valid, because instead, people take that personally, and I’m sure you’ve seen this online, right?
You might say, “Hey, that’s awesome that you’ve had this success in this diet. But the reason why this happened may not be down to you eliminating this specific type of food, it’s probably that this changed your behavior and your overall caloric intake changed.” Instead of them thinking through that rationally and saying, “Well, that’s a good kind of critique,” and realizing you’re not saying the diet is bad, or the diet doesn’t work.
You’re just saying here’s a mechanistic reason. They think what they’re hearing is, “Oh, you’re saying this diet is idiotic, it doesn’t work? Well, I know it works because I lost X amount of weight on it.”
Ted Ryce: You’re attacking my identity!
Danny Lennon: Right. And you’re really not saying that it doesn’t work, because I’ve seen this a lot of time. I know ketogenic diets work. I know low carb diets work. I know vegan diets can work. So that’s not really the question we’re getting at, it’s for certain person, why do they work? What are the underlying reasons? But it’s difficult if you feel you belong to this tribe, you feel like almost you have to defend it.
And that’s not everyone, that’s still a minority of people who are in those different communities, but they’re just a vocal minority. So that’s why probably it gets amplified online, right, but most people probably are going to be okay, but it’s easy to see how they slip into that.
Ted Ryce: Yeah. And I think there are obviously benefits, right? We talked about the community. Last time, when I was on your show, we talked about social isolation, loneliness, how it’s toxic on the cellular level increases inflammation, right decreases your immune system function. But I think the issues her— and it’s great to be part of a group, it’s just when it starts taking away your time and energy, right? We have limited time, in a day, for…There’s an opportunity cost to everything that we do.
So if we’re arguing online where people, or just spending time reading something getting triggered, maybe not even actively participating in it, but reading it back and forth or reading all the comments or reading articles, is taking away from things that we could be doing, right? If we choose to do something, that means we’re saying no to every other thing, while we’re doing that activity? And so is that the, are you getting a return on your investment, right?
Danny Lennon: Right?
Ted Ryce: Are you getting relaxation or something out of it? And what it seems to be of course, you know, it’s hard to quantify this, like you said, it’s the vocal minority. And we’re not sure exactly what’s happening with people. But it’s like, is that the best use of your time? And even if you want to belong to a group, are you meeting with people in person, right? Are you out there living your life and actually experiencing the benefits?
I’m not sure if any of the research has been done. But I’m guessing that having social groups online, while it’s probably like you mentioned better than being isolated in some part of town, where you never feel like you can connect with anyone, because you have over some interest, you have some hobby that you have, and now you can find it online. But what about, you know, does that really replace connecting with people? Like, one of the things that’s awesome, you and I, we met, and we both kind of pushed to make it happen. So we used the online medium, as a way to connect in real life.
Danny Lennon: Right.
Ted Ryce: Right?
Danny Lennon: Yeah.
Ted Ryce: And when in disconnected from the world and hiked out in the National Park, and what my point is, is that I want people to kind of be aware of like, just more aware of why they’re doing things, and, more importantly, the benefit that they’re getting from it.
Danny Lennon: Yeah, that’s interesting, and certainly not an expert in this area, and it will be interesting to see data on it, but it to me, I would hypothesize that, like you said, there can be a clear benefit if you go in the direction of, you have these maybe online groups, maybe that leads to maybe meeting some of those people in person.
Or even if you don’t meet those specific people, the things you learn online in certain groups and the things you get interested in, that may translate to you getting involved in local groups that are interested in the same topic. Or let’s say you start getting interest in fitness, you start learning about these online forums, and then you maybe go to some meetups or start in a certain gym and you start training some or whatever it is, that translate something into real life that can be really beneficial.
There’s obviously the opposite that can happen, which I think is what you’re kind of alluding to, of people who use these online forums that actually detract away from their everyday life of situations where they would otherwise have to be going out. And so, they’re actually actively avoiding social situations, because they want to spend more time online in these, like, created digital social situations.
And I’m not sure if it happens that people do that and then it creates problems, or if the reason why they do it is because it’s something deeper. And I would guess that’s the case of if you take someone who maybe is suffering with anxiety or depression, or socially insecure in some way, it would make sense that one of the things you would want to do is retreat away from those social situations.
And then you can surround yourself in an online world because you’re, to some degree, safe in it in your own room, right? And so what the internet now allows people to do is to do more of that, right, they can completely isolate themselves, but still be…
Ted Ryce: Social, right?
Danny Lennon: Right.
Ted Ryce: "Social."
Danny Lennon: Yeah. So I don’t know what way around happens, but it definitely would make sense that if there’s an option there that you can retreat back into. And, of course, people would do that anyway if there wasn’t internet. If someone is suffering with depression, of course, there’s going to be a likelihood that they’re going to be spending time alone and purposely isolating themselves from others. That’s kind of one of the key things that happens often
But that may be part of it, too, that just because you’re spending times in these groups, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s of the same quality. And that probably speaks to when you mentioned loneliness, and social isolation, they kind of get used a bit interchangeably, but they’re kind of slight nuance that makes a difference here, in that, loneliness is that kind of feeling of being alone.
Whereas, like social isolation is you can quantify the number of relationships in that person’s social network, and you can quantify the number of interactions they have, for example.
Ted Ryce: Sure. It’s an important distinction.
Danny Lennon: Yeah, because that means that someone can have social interactions, and so maybe not be socially isolated, but can still feel lonely. It’s why people can feel lonely in a city of millions of people, and they interact with people. But it’s the quality and depth of those relationships, make them feel lonely. And then vice versa, people may not feel lonely at all, but could be socially isolated.
And so it could be certain types of people just don’t mind spending time alone and find it easy to isolate themselves away from others, or maybe a situation forces that they’ve lost certain relationships around them. But maybe they don’t feel as alone as someone else. So that could be an example here that you could have people that are, yes, sure, they’re interacting with others in these groups, but if the depth and quality of those relationships is pretty poor, because it’s hard to do it online as it is in person, maybe they have greater feelings of loneliness, despite those number of online interactions.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, important point. And one thing that I’ve gotten more interested in, concerned about, passionate about is something that I realized kind of early in my career actually, as a personal trainer, now I just do online coaching work and some work in person with VIP situations. But I saw that there was a diminishing return on working out, on losing body fat. And you saw like people were struggling. I saw my clients were struggling.
And these were successful people. I worked in Miami Beach in the hottest gym in town at the time. And these people are really struggling with all types of issues, some relationships, some substance issues, some depression, some just a lack of purpose with what they were doing. I trained a criminal defense attorney who just had to be medicated, he got so depressed. I worked with, actually another attorney, just totally miserable dude, but he was taking cases that were 20 million and above, right?
And so one thing that I really enjoyed our conversation that we had coming back from the park, was that you were talking about purpose and how important purpose is. And it’s one of these things where if you’re a person listening and you’re not exercising, not stepping up with eating better, that’s really easy to start with those things, and sleep and get an improvement in the way you feel, in the way that you function.
But what happens when you’re already kind of doing well in that area and to exercise to optimize your program, if you’re not going to get a big return on that, you’re going to have to turn to something else.
Danny Lennon: Yeah.
Ted Ryce: And we talked about purpose and Johann Hari, could you talk a little bit about that? I thought it was fascinating.
Danny Lennon: Yeah, definitely. I’ll maybe take a step back and talk about in general, why that comes up, at least to me, is that...
Ted Ryce: Sure.
Danny Lennon: First, the idea that people who need to—maybe who are, let’s say, in poor health, or who are overweight, or living with obesity, that it’s just all about personal responsibility, right? It’s just like, “Oh, just start eating better and exercising and take care of yourself. “ Sometimes, maybe that’s something that some people need to hear. But oftentimes, that’s not necessarily the case.
Because a lot of times the reasons driving that is that there’s something deeper going on, that is preventing those types of behaviors. And it’s not a lack of knowledge of knowing what good food is. And as I think I mentioned to you and we were chatting before, if someone goes through that, say, a serious trauma or something major going on in their life, it’s kind of really difficult to even think or care about what type of food you’re eating, right?
So if that happens acutely, then if we think in a chronic sense if someone has, again, like those clients you mentioned, have depression, or have certain life circumstances that are really difficult, without addressing some of those, it’s going to be difficult to consistently think about, what do I need to do my training and nutrition to optimize that, right? It’s the reason why we see that obesity rates are vastly different between those in a low socio economics class than those are the higher one, right?
That’s just across the board pretty predictive that you see most the time in general. And again, that’s not down to we need to educate these people more on what good food is, that there’s other reasons on what their day to day life, and what the social situation they find themselves in, is going to trump their ability to be able to either get access to good food, or even to be making those decisions or even care about that, right, because there’s all this other stuff going on.
And so that’s the kind of first point I would say, that all these are things, whether that’s your environment around you, the situation you find yourself in life right now, whether it’s a trauma you’re dealing with, all these things that are going to supersede trying just to optimize nutrition, for example, right?
So, one of those, if we kind of drill down into different distinct class, one of those would be purpose, and that’s one way to determine. I’ve actually recently recorded a podcast where I kind of talked about my definition for health, and this kind of framework of different aspects that relate to what is health. And one of the subtopics in that was “purpose” and different people will use a different word or maybe define it a different way.
And to some degree, people might find it cliche, that it’s like, follow your passion and just do that. And that’s not really what I mean with purpose. And this gets to the example that you brought up of Johann Hari, who has written a couple of books, he wrote one on addiction and one on depression.
And in one of the podcast interviews, I think it was the one he did with Joe Rogan, he talked about work-related depression. And one of the points he made was that it’s often not driven by the specific job someone is. So when you try and look for patterns, you don’t see people that do this work, become depressed, and people who have this work don’t.
And so if someone could have objectively on paper, a high-paying job or a high-status job, maybe an attorney, like the example you give, that doesn’t mean they don’t become depressed. In fact, a lot of them can. And similarly, you can have someone who’s on a minimum wage job, that conventionally people might not look as high-status job, but they get certain things from that work, that doesn’t lead to this work-related depression.
And so one of the components that relates there was autonomy in the work that you do. So if you feel you have some control over either the type of work you’re doing, or the at least the way you get to go about it, or the way you organize your work day, or the things you’re trying to do, that’s going to be a lot better for you psychologically than feeling that every single thing that you do is lined out for you already and is controlled in a very specific way and you’re not really contributing anything to that process.
So one of the examples he gave was a guy he met, I can’t remember, I think it was a guy somewhere in Illinois, who worked in this place where his job, he wasn’t allowed to do anything apart from people—it was like a hardware store. But people would bring up a chart and show him the type of paint they wanted. And he wasn’t allowed, like, to give any advice or do any of the mixing.
And so it was like, he would take a certain paint thing, put it in a machine, it would mix around, give it back out, and he’d hand it to him. And he wasn’t given any other autonomy, and there were probably other things going on. But he ended up hating that kind of work he did, and led on to other things and this kind of work related-depression.
But autonomy is one piece, and the other that kind of relates to that is the control you feel from say your boss, if you feel like they’re controlling in a very, let’s say, condescending type of way, that they look down on you, don’t treat you right, that is obviously going to be very different than if you have someone who doesn’t, and that ties into autonomy in general.
And then obviously, the work environment, the people you work with. If there’s just hatred between the workers, that’s going to be very different than others. But where this ties in to purpose is some of the stuff around autonomy, not that you need this big purpose that you’re changing the world, but just that something that you’re doing is contributing in some particular way, so that type of work.
So again, the job becomes irrelevant. It could be any type of job if you can find a way to cultivate purpose of “This means something to be doing this.” And my contribution to, at least a team of workers that is in this particular office, or this room or this factory, my role means something and I’m contributing something. That is more powerful than not having that and feeling like you’re completely replaceable, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, no one really cares, people look down on you.
Ted Ryce: Cog in the machine.
Danny Lennon: Right. And so that’s one aspect of the kind of purpose at work. But when I think of purpose, I also think of it broader than just work, in that, people can find deep purpose in their life that’s unrelated to it. So they could find maybe work they’re not all that fond of, and maybe they don’t like their job. But let’s say they have found a new partner that they just have fallen in love with.
And now see, this is someone I want to be able to provide a certain type of life for, and I’m super happy. And they now see that job as a ways to get to get to that end purpose of this life they want to live. Or the same, you see a lot when people have start a family, for example, a kid might give them that purpose as well, right? That becomes their sole driver of the type of work they’re doing and why they want to work hard.
So now, the type of work doesn’t matter as much, because they see a point to it, and a purpose of what their life’s about. Beyond family, it could be hobbies that we get into. How many people get involved in a sport that rationally when you look is like, “I’m spending way too much time and effort on this particular thing, I’m not a professional athlete, I don’t get any money from it. In fact, it costs me money.”
But it gives people some degree of purpose to be involved in that type of sporting endeavor, or whatever hobby it is. So there’s all different ways for them to cultivate that purpose, from your work, from your relationships, from the activities and hobbies you get involved with. And so maybe you could pay attention to all of them or try and get something from somewhere, but a general feeling of—that you have something to work towards, right, you have something to try and get better at.
And so it can be any type of—whether it’s a relationship, that you’re trying to be a better partner, or whether it could be a certain type of skill, like you mentioned, I’m trying to get better at this thing, or I’m trying to build a specific type of business, it doesn’t matter then if it if it’s hard to do, and it difficult, because you see that you’re on this process of trying to get better at something. And that becomes the purpose, right?
It’s the old cliche of that “journey is more important than destination,” because it’s the same thing. It’s just trying to progressively get better at something. And it’s when you don’t have that. Like if you’re in that job where there is no progression, you don’t have to get better. It doesn’t matter if you do a good or a bad job, no one cares, and you don’t care.
Ted Ryce: Right.
Danny Lennon: And then if you don’t feel like that’s providing any value in other areas of your life, you’re not going to be happy doing that. And so it’s trying to find how can I—putting effort into something, why does it matter? So if you just find a reason that it matters to get better at something or to put effort into it, there’s some outcome, then that’s probably better.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, no, that’s brilliant, Danny, and so important. And as you were speaking, I was thinking about some of the—well, I was thinking about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, with the book, Flow, kind of coined the term. And it’s kind of been taken to where flow states are all about doing something dangerous and exciting and crazy and jumping out of airplanes, or doing helicopter skiing and that type of thing, or doing martial arts.
But one of the examples that a lot of people miss from his work is that there was a story about a woman who baked bread for her community, and I forget where it was, but she was a baker, but she felt a tremendous sense of purpose. She was so happy.
And to bring it even more to what you and I are experiencing day to day in Thailand, is a lot of people have their own businesses here. They don’t make that much money. The average income is $10 a day or 300 baht, right, in the local currency. But you see, of course, we’re not having deep conversations with these people.
But just the interaction with some people, they have a cart on the side of the road and they’ve spent so much time and energy in making their little intricate desserts and selling them for $1 USD and they’re so happy and so into it and take such great pride into it.
And contrast that with if you go to Miami where I was born and raised, and in a lot of the places I’ve traveled to in the US, people are just not feeling that way at all. It’s very hard to get the reaction from people that you get here. And obviously, there’s other aspects to it, cultural aspects, right?
This is a Buddhist majority country. Ninty-six or more percent of the population is into Buddhism, a lot of the men have become monks for a little while. But you see...That’s just something that stood out to me, how has that affected you? Since you’ve been here? You’ve been traveling around Asia as well.
Danny Lennon: Yeah, it’s interesting. And I think there are probably plenty of examples that different people give of how those things impact us and kind of, given some of the stuff that we’ve talked about before and even today, of what things are going on? A lot of time, it’s kind of small community-based stuff, a lot of it’s kind of family run, it’s, you look at particularly a lot of the food stalls that you mentioned, that’s where most people come out to eat, right, a lot of them don’t eat at home.
So it’s a very community of like, people are going to gather here and spend time. And I think it’s providing other things apart from just the kind of financial aspect to it. And like you say, if you can find purpose in no matter what you’re doing, trying to, you want to do it as best as you can, that in itself is kind of some degree of a purpose.
And I think another example was, I can’t remember where I heard it, and I forget which country it is. It’s one of the Asian countries, but I can’t remember if it’s Japan or Korea or— somewhere within Asia, where the example they gave was guys who collect the garbage or bin men, rubbish man, whatever country you’re in, you’ll have a different term for it.
But the guys that go out and collect garbage by the side of the road, in this particular culture, that was actually seen as that they were treated with great respect, because within the community, the culture had learned that these people are doing a really important service for this community, particularly when you think of how easy in certain places it is for like disease to spread in like hot countries if rubbish is uncollected.
But people are seeing that this is something that is a selfless service for this particular community, this is a big thing. And so they had like this great respect around them, so just this different way of viewing things, completely shapes the actual type of work that you’re doing.
Subjectively, the work is the same as if you were doing that in the States or in the UK or whatever. But the perception that you may feel, or certainly that other people around you give is different because of some of that cultural stuff. So yeah, definitely different cultures have a different way of viewing things. And there’s probably a lot to be learned.
Because, I mean, just even if you’re going on a broad observational kind of just associational level, that the countries that are the richest and wealthiest countries in the world, have the highest rates of depression, suicide, etc. And that says something is going on. That’s outside of just financially, what you’re making in a certain job, right?
Ted Ryce: Yeah, no, that’s so important. Yeah, especially with the states, I don’t know about stats elsewhere. But anxiety is the leading health issue, depression is on the rise, suicides on the rise. In 2017 more people died from drug overdoses in the US than any other year before it right. And it’s this stuff that the deeper stuff where it’s not maybe as fun is talking about, “Okay, Danny, so what’s the best supplement to take?”
But it’s the talks that need to happen. I’m curious, how do you view like the shifting of focus in the health and fitness industry? Where do you think we’re going to with all these other topics being brought up and popularized and how that’s going to affect how people like us in the health and fitness industry help people?
Danny Lennon: That’s interesting. I think it depends on—because to a certain degree, there are different pockets around the health and fitness industry that maybe not get exposed to each other, and so it depends where people end up looking. And I’m sure there’s a lot of stuff that’s going on that I’ve no clue about or is being the way it’s always been done.
But I think certainly areas that I’ve been trying to look into that are going to be maybe trying to bring more attention to through conversation or that I’m trying to learn more about that I’m starting to see seep a bit more into fitness. I’ll mention a couple. So one that’s particularly top of mind right now is there’s a whole area of literature based on non-dieting approaches.
And so under that umbrella would come things like Health at Every Size, which people may have heard its acronym, H.A.E.S or HAES. So they’re, essentially, that model being that people can be—we shouldn’t focus on body weight, and body composition, change in counseling people around health improvement, and instead focus on health-promoting behaviors.
And while some of that is at odds with some conclusions that I would have, and I would have some, quite some disagreement with some of it. So for example, they’re saying like never make a body way or at adiposity a target of the intervention you’re going to use with training and nutrition, for example. And the rationale behind this whole movement is one, that we have this kind of a weight stigma within society, right?
If you are overweight, or you have obesity, that is, there is a lot of stigma against people within—and you can look at different areas of just how they feel that people treat them, maybe how they feel they’re impacted by in job interviews, maybe how they are portrayed online, or on TV shows, or how people talk to them, the type of language they use them, a lot of ways that people can feel bad about themselves, based on body weight and body shape and size and all this negative body image stuff that comes with it.
And so it’s trying to acknowledge there is this potential weight stigma that can happen. And second to that, if you think of the typical advice that’s often been given, if someone is, let’s say, has obesity and goes to a doctor, it’s like, “Okay, you need to lose weight, you need to eat, let’s start doing some exercise, and let’s get your weight down, because that is important for your health.”
And when you look at, in general, when most people do that, they’re not successful long term, they will lose some weight and gain it back, or don’t do it at all.
Ted Ryce: And 75% of the time, or 80%, or some terrible…
Danny Lennon: Yes, so if you take that—again, because most people aren’t going to go and sign up with one trainer who really knows his stuff, he’s going to take care of all the lifestyle stuff, nutrition training, really helped them accountability through. Most people that kind of try and diet, like you say, probably 95%, will gain that weight back or more.
So knowing that we have such a high failure rate and knowing people are made to feel bad for being overweight, or have obesity, then it goes there kind of point is, well, now we’re just creating this cycle of people feeling like a failure because they haven’t lost weight. And then the only solution or being offered is you need to go and diet to lose weight, they try and diet and then they’re more likely going to fail.
And then this kind of circle begets itself, instead of their approach being well, instead of making that the whole focus or even any focus of what we’re trying to do. Instead of talking to people about dieting, or weight loss or restriction, we can talk these people have, even if you are in a larger body, you can still focus on these health promoting behaviors, you can still try and find some activity that you enjoy doing, you can still eat kind of healthy foods, you can try and get better quality sleep, you can follow health-promoting behaviors, but just don’t have weight or body appearance as kind of goal.
So the reason why I bring this up is like I said, there’s certain parts of that framework and approach that I would probably disagree with. But I think there’s also intrinsic value in some of those points, because they’re actually good points. And so what I’m trying to do is think of, well, what we can, coaches, practitioners, other people interested in improving people’s health, take on board some of this and maybe integrate that into what we’re doing.
Is there a case where certain types of people that you work with would be better being moved away from thinking about body weight? Almost certainly, particularly if people have body image issues or histories of eating disorders and so on.
Ted Ryce: I hate scale.
Danny Lennon: Right. There’s lots of value in moving away
Ted Ryce: The scale’s my enemy.
Danny Lennon: Right.
Ted Ryce: What I’ve heard mostly women say.
Danny Lennon: Yeah. And it certainly happens. So it’s trying to find, okay, here’s a new perspective on stuff that hasn’t been typically within health and fitness. And still very much so, and for probably good reason, you could say, people are still focused on trying to help people change their body composition, because that’s what people actually want, that’s what they come to them for.
And as we’ve mentioned earlier, your body composition does have clear associations with long term health risk. But there’s kind of this side that maybe now can start to be used more within those circles, where coaches can have an ability to use tools that are not focused on tracking food intake, not weighing yourself, not looking at fat loss as the only metric that someone is aiming for. And instead have this, I suppose, compassionate lens to view things through that may benefit certain people. And so that’s one example that I can think of. There are probably others but I’ll leave it there, I have been talking quite a while.
Ted Ryce: What about biohacking? Yeah, no, no, that’s a great... I really liked that a lot. And with my own clients, I’ve had to, if I give them what a lot of them sign up with me for which is okay, here’s this personalized nutrition, personalized exercise routine, but if they’re not able to follow it, and it’s like, it’s just not happening, we need to reevaluate the approach, because beating them over the head or telling them to woman up or man up, I hate that strategy, it’s just so, you know, besides the fact that it just doesn’t work, it’s just not getting the result, it’s not helping the person.
Danny Lennon: Right. It’s almost lazy to the degree of not looking at what’s causing them not to be able to do it?
Ted Ryce: Right, exactly.
Danny Lennon: So, instead of looking for that, I’ll just tell them, “You need to kind of try harder.”
Ted Ryce: And I’ve done my job, you do your job!
Danny Lennon: Right. So yeah, that’s certainly a thing. So the thing I take from some of this approach that rather than, “Oh, I’m not going to counsel people on weight loss anymore, or worry about that.” Most of our coaching still does, I should probably make that clear, that if people come to change their body composition, there are still coaching aimed at helping them do that, right.
And there’s different ways besides tracking their food that we can do that, or we don’t have to measure their body weight. For some people, we will, a lot of the time. And there’s different ways to do it. But still if someone’s coming with that goal, we don’t say no. Whereas the Health At Every Side approach would be against that completely. You don’t counsel to change weight.
So our coaching philosophy is very different to that and so I haven’t bought in completely to it. But some of the aspects that I think are useful is realizing that some people, number one, respond to that. But beyond that, is just being more aware of the language we use and how that can potentially affect others. And if it’s an easy change to make, then that should be quite straightforward.
So one of the things that come from medical literature, and that’s been something I’ve been trying to work on, because it doesn’t come naturally, because of how I’ve been trained, let’s say and educated is, for example, rather than using the term, obese person, you would say, person with obesity.
Ted Ryce: Person with obesity, okay.
Danny Lennon: And so it’s a subtle change. And again, it’s for me, because this is only something recent over the last year or so that has started to emerge as something within medical organizations like the NHS have tried to talk about, and I’ve been even aware of, is that most research that I read will still use the term “obese person,” right? Most medical textbooks and so on.
So it’s not anything purposely or with intent that people are saying this. But if I learned that some people will find that phrasing more difficult deal with, then sure, I can try and work on changing,g and I still don’t get it right all the time. And I’m sure on the…
Ted Ryce: Are you saying that medical literature is saying that using these terms affects people?
Danny Lennon: Yeah. So it can tie into…
Ted Ryce: Our language.
Danny Lennon: Yeah, the language used. And so that’s one kind of maybe a bit more abstract one that people think, well, how big of a deal is that? But then there’s even other ways of directly how we talk about food and body composition, when we’re around others who may be heavily influenced by that.
So if you think of, this is a big thing within eating disorder research, people with certain eating disorders, of how they counsel not only the person on how to talk to themselves in a more positive way and not to say negative things, but counseling their family and peer groups on language to use or avoid around them, how they talk about food and body composition.
As an example, being careful of... a typical thing people might think is a nice thing to say to a woman, if they haven’t seen them in a while, “Oh, you look great, have you lost weight?" right? Super innocuous, no intendment behind it, and it’s kind of, again, meant in good faith as a potential compliment. But again, that perpetuates this message that, oh, losing weight is good, and you look good because you lose weight, and otherwise, you don’t, right? It’s this kind of message.
So if you hear that over and over again, that becomes something that women feel they need, they need to be losing weight for people to give them compliment, right, as opposed to saying something that’s not based on their weight, or that their value or identity is based on a certain part of their appearance. And so subtle things like that can be, again, difficult for us to kind of relearn.
So it’s just about being certainly in the presence of some people being aware of how the language we use influences others. And there will be also our actions. And one example I can give that is, my friend, Jacob Schepis runs a strength facility in Melbourne, Australia. And he has paid a lot of attention to this area, because he deals with a lot of bodybuilders and trying to just be acutely aware of people who are primed to develop poor eating behaviors or even disordered eating through that process.
And one of the things, he was doing a contest prep, I think, last year or the year before, maybe two years ago. And he has two young daughters. And one of the things he was saying was that he was super cognizant of is that even though he was going to track his food and weight his food, he did it in secret in a certain place in his house, so that his daughters would never even once have the chance to see him weighing a piece of food, because of potentially seeing that behavior, what that would now do them, starting asking, why is daddy weighing his food? Or why is he engaging in certain behaviors? Why is he not eating this certain type of food? So he had to be really careful about how he acted around them because of what they might pick up, even without them purposely realizing it,
Ted Ryce: Right, because being a physique athlete or bodybuilder, it’s a very extreme, practice…
Danny Lennon: Sure.
Ted Ryce: …That involves things that you could learn from, but if you did that all the time, could lead to some problems, especially if you have young kids watching you who don’t have the understanding, the context, of that this is kind of an extreme sport, almost.
Danny Lennon: Yeah, so they just see, oh, there are certain foods not to eat, I have to weigh so I we don’t eat too much. Body fat is bad, like, all these types of messages.
Ted Ryce: The striations in my butt muscles to show this, right?
Danny Lennon: right, and those are pretty deep, because I actually recently did an interview with an intuitive eating counselor based in the UK, and she’s currently doing research in nutrition and psychology. And a kind of similar point that she mentioned is how a lot of young women who end up coming to work with her who have had, again, either eating disorders or negative body image, or are almost afraid to eat in certain ways, and you kind of dig into some of their early influences, how often they would have grown up in a household where their mother was constantly on different types of diets.
And again, not in, like, had obviously no purpose to try and influence their child, right? This something they have been sold, like how many countless women have been told, like different types of diets to try. And if you’re growing up and you’re seeing the woman you most idolize, and it’s just a normal thing to be on a diet all the time and restricting and trying to get slim and, “I don’t want to eat too much. I don’t want to gain weight.”
Ted Ryce: And then emotional issues that she’s experiencing and exhibiting as well, right?
Danny Lennon: So those things have an influence. So it’s just being kind of mindful of what messages we put out through how we speak and what we do. And it’s hard to keep thinking of that all the time. So it’s not going to happen, but just trying to be more aware of I think, is something maybe that could benefit in the fitness industry.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, absolutely. And we’re not talking about politically correct, as much as being aware of the effect that our language has and just looking at the effect and being like, is that the effect that I want?
Danny Lennon: Yeah. 100%, yeah, for anyone who knows me, I’m not into being overly politically correct. So that’s certainly not the issue. It’s more about just yeah, being aware of our language and behaviors, how that may influence people, and is there a certain way when we’re discussing concepts or ideas that may be more beneficial?
Ted Ryce: Yeah, no brilliant stuff. Danny, I feel like we could just keep going, but I want to be respectful of our listeners time here. I know, you know, working out for – they’re going to have to work out even longer. Yeah, we keep going. So really appreciate you, man, so glad that we had a chance to do this before I’m off to Bali.
And you know, it’s just such a pleasure. It’s such a great thing to communicate— to connect, rather, in person after communicating online for a while and just really a fan of yours, fan of your show fan of what you’re doing. And it’s just awesome to meet you in person and know I’ll be, you know, let’s make this happen again sometime.
Danny Lennon: Yeah, this is super cool. Yeah, it was awesome talking. I could talk about this stuff all day long. But yeah, it’s been great hanging out.
Ted Ryce: Awesome. And Danny, where should people go? Is it Sigma Nutrition?
Danny Lennon: Yep. So, everything is pretty much on www.sigmannutrition.com. If people are into podcasts, which presume they are, just Search Sigma Nutrition Radio on any podcast app. And then I’m pretty easy to find on social media. So if you’re on Instagram, find me Dannylennon_ sigma, or just type my name into Twitter or Facebook and you can find me there, too.
Ted Ryce: Excellent. And definitely do that. Danny is one of the people who has one foot in the science-based world and also the other foot in being open to things that a lot of people who are too into the scientism or verificationism aren’t going to be into. So I really appreciate you for that. I’ve learned a lot from you. And if you follow Danny online and listen to his show, you’re going to learn a lot as well. So thanks so much, man.
Danny Lennon: It’s been a pleasure.
Ted Ryce: That wraps up another episode of the Legendary Life podcast. And I hope you enjoy this conversation with Danny. I hope you felt that energy of us being together recording this in person for you. Because this is not just a job for guys like Danny and I, this is a passion. It’s what we live for. It’s not a career. It’s a privilege. It’s a passion. It’s just incredible. And I hope that comes through even more when you hear these live interviews.
So make sure if you haven’t listened to Danny’s show, go to Sigma Nutrition Radio and check out Danny’s show, especially if you are a nutrition geek, if you want to get deep into the science, Danny gets the guys on who are doing the research.
If you want to get super clear on the things that are proven to work in the area of nutrition, that show is where you want to go, of course, in addition to the Legendary Life podcast.
Now, the last thing I’ll say is, if you enjoyed this episode, please show me some love by sharing it. It’s the biggest compliment you can give to me; share it on Instagram or Facebook, share it with colleagues through email, whatever, wherever and however you share things, it would mean so much to me.
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All right, that wraps up this episode of the Legendary Life podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. I hope you’re taking away some actionable points and some things to implement into your life to take your health and experience of life to that next level.
Until next time, I wish you an amazing week, and I’ll speak to you soon!
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