The Key To Lasting Wellness and Fat Loss with Shawn Stevenson


Jonathan: Hey, everybody, Jonathan Bailor, back, with another SANE show. I am really excited about today’s show because we have a gentleman who I have had the pleasure of having many conversations with, and every single time I talk with him, you know, I am a geeky guy, I am a science guy, but this guy touches my heart every time I talk to him. I can tell his heart is in the right place, and everyone I talk to about him echoes that.

You can hear the passion in his voice, and I think that is awesome in an industry that is filled with so much snake oil and all that nonsense, so I am delighted to bring you the host of The Model Health Show, just an incredible speaker. He has spoken at the TED conference, and he is just helping people all around the world. He is all about wellness, and all about doing it the right way. Shawn Stevenson, welcome to the show, brother.

Shawn: Jonathan, thank you so much for having me on, man. This is awesome, thank you.

Jonathan: Shawn, it is absolutely my pleasure, and the first thing I wanted to cover on the show today is, I know everyone is going to go check out your stuff after the show, and what they are going to see when they go to your website is much different than what they are going to see right here on the camera. So, I want you to give them a little bit of a quick disclaimer and background on all that fun stuff.

Shawn: Awesome, for sure. When people check me out and they see my website, I have the whole shirt off, six-pack kind of thing, but that is not my persona. We talked about this, we are just very primitive creatures in many facets, and when we see somebody who is attractive and they have gotten the results that we want, we tend to perk up and see what they have to say. But when they click in they find out that it is much, much deeper than this whole attitude of, “Get ripped now!” It is really about how we can create a better human being. How can we create better gene function, the right expression of our genes? How can we fortify what is going on with our DNA? So really, I am talking about deep level stuff, but oftentimes you have to sneak the good guys in under the door.

Our stories are similar in this. I learned this at my university. When I was taking my very first nutrition class, pre-med, totally elective, I did not have to take this class. First day of class, I am sitting there, auditorium classroom. The professor walks in. His belly walked in first, I saw his belly come through the door first. He proceeded to tell us that in order to lose weight we needed to expend more energy than we took in, we needed to eat low fat, high fiber, 7-11 servings of grains every day. The thing was, I know he was a smart guy, it is just that he was taught the wrong thing. I often tell people if you teach a smart person the wrong thing, they become very good at teaching the wrong thing.

Jonathan: I love that.

Shawn: With that said, I was really disenchanted, because I just didn’t get it. Why is it that this man is telling me about nutrition who is not healthy himself? I proceeded to not show up for the class except to take the test. The only class in all my university experience that I got a C in. And the funny thing is, now I am considered one of the experts in the world in this stuff, and I got a C in college. But the good news is, I was taught a lot of wrong stuff, and I found that when we get our hands on the right information, it can be really paradigm-shifting for people, because it is so deeply ingrained in us. I was afraid to eat fat. I am really just sneaking this information in, when I go in and do talks for corporations, and universities, just very basic stuff, giving people the stuff that they want, like how can I perform better at work? How can I improve my brain health? How can I improve my memory? But all along I am just dropping little nuggets of wisdom in there. I learned that through my college experience of what not to do, and then getting into the right stuff to do.

Jonathan: Shawn, I think that is one of the reasons you have had such success in what seems like a short period of time. I know you have been at this for a while, but it is almost like a tip of the iceberg kind of thing. What inspired you? I know you have an interesting and very unique story dating back even to your childhood, and I think folks will feel that in your work; specifically, you coming from a very genuine place, you coming from a very visceral place. I think sometimes we can detect when people in this industry are coming from a money-making place. Not that making money is bad, it is very difficult to change the world if you have no money to do it with. But it is a question of what primarily motivates you, or what happens because you are doing good work. Tell us a little bit about what gave you all that passion from your past.

Shawn: Okay. The point that really kicked off for me is when I was 16 years old I was an aspiring athlete, scholar athlete, performing at a really high level, looking at going to state in track. I was doing the time trial in track practice, I was running the 200-meter sprint and I broke my hip. Crazy! This is supposed to happen to 90-year-old women, not to a 16-year-old guy. I broke my iliac crest; my hip just broke off. I continued to go to practice for a couple of days before I took my behind in and got a scan and they said, “Hey, wait, there is a piece of bone just hanging off in space. What happened?”

So, I did the traditional route, doing some physical therapy, ultrasound. They gave me a little Jacuzzi thing to put on my bathtub which was awesome. I got to get out of class early because I was on crutches, all that fun stuff. But nobody stopped to ask, “Why did this kid’s hip break? What is the underlying cause here?” Because it wasn’t a trauma. Nothing extreme happened for this to take place.

That was my first glimpse. I got a little bit better, continued to excel in my sport, but then when I was 20 years old I began to have trouble walking. I went in to see my physician, he takes an MRI, and I’m thinking, “Why would you take an MRI of my spine if it is my leg?” The determination was made that I had degenerative spine disease. My doctor proceeded to tell me that I had the spine of an 80-year-old at this point. That was pretty disheartening, but what was more disheartening was that I came to him to get better. I was tired of limping around and not being able to do the things I wanted to do, and he told me that there was nothing that we could do.

As a matter of fact, when I asked him, and Jonathan, to this day I do not know where the question came from. Was it my spirit animal? Was it my fairy godmother who told me to ask this? I asked him, “Does this have anything to do with what I am eating?” Should I change my diet, should I change my exercising?” At that point, I had no clue about nutrition and health. He looked me right in my eyes like I was crazy, and he said, “This has nothing to do with what you are eating. This is something you are going to have to manage, son. We are going to get you a back brace, we are going to get you some medication, and this is just something you are going to have to deal with.”

So, I listened to him and I proceeded to have two-and-a-half years go by, I saw four other physicians, progressively getting worse and worse, to the degree that I had to wear a back brace every day in my life, every waking moment, and I was heavily medicated. I had my little bottles of pills, like I was some old man, or old woman, and it just got worse and worse. To make a long story short, after two-and-a-half years, this breakthrough moment happened. It wasn’t like something external changed, it was internal. I was sitting on my bed about to take my medication, and it just hit me. “I have been asking people to help me for two-and-a-half years, and nobody has helped me.” I made a decision right then to get well. That was really the catalyst, and that is what I encourage everybody listening to do. If you really want to do something with your health you have to make the decision for that thing to happen.

Then I started becoming really fascinated with lexicons. The word decision is from the Latin root, de, meaning from, and caedere, which means to cut. I made a decision to cut away any other possibility except getting well. It isn’t like the clouds parted and unicorns came out, or a magic genie or something, but I put a plan into place, Jonathan. I changed the way I was eating. I started to do something interesting, which was move again, which all my doctors were telling me not to do, and also I developed a progressive strategy.

Six weeks later, long story short, this was kind of an epiphany, the end of the story, it was as if the pain had never been there. The pain was totally gone. I lost 30 pounds, which not typical, I had been gaining all this weight not doing anything. People saw the change at my university, I was still in school, and people started to ask me for help and that was the birthing of my career. I shifted my course of study to biology and to kinesiology and sports nutrition, and anything I could find out in school, which was a lot of wrong stuff, still.

But it changed my focus and I started to help people and thousands of people later, here in my clinic, I am honored to say, through my own struggle I have been able to help so many people, and it was through this “incurable disease” that I had. By the way, I got a scan done a few months later and my doctor said, “Whatever you are doing, keep doing it,” because he didn’t have any logical explanation.

By the way, one little quick caveat is that when it comes to regenerating tissues your body requires you to give it the raw materials that it needs. If you don’t give your body the raw materials it needs to do the processes, what do you think it is going to do? It is going to be like robbing Peter to pay Paul. The disks are nonvascular in your spine. My discs were degenerating. I was drinking maybe a glass of water a day. They are nonvascular, so that means that water and nutrition are not getting there directly, it is a process of remote diffusion, so you have to have so much water in your system because it gets there last. It is the last place to get water. So, I regenerated through that.

Also, what is it made of? The cartilage? The tissues? So, I began to consume a lot more foods with sulphur-bearing amino acids, vitamin C, collagen, all of these different things that create your tissues that I was radically deficient in because I was on a college diet, like Papa John’s and MacDonald’s. Your body already knows what to do, you just have to get out of the way. That is my story in a nutshell, and yes, it has been an amazing ride, for sure.

Jonathan: Shawn, I love that you focus on this inflection point you had. It was almost this breaking point you had. It was a point that caused you to say, I have to take control of this, I have to take ownership for this. There is nothing outside of me that is going to give me some magic pill, or magic secret Hollywood formula. I know you see people day in, and day out, and I can imagine that now you have the paradoxical experience that people are coming to you and asking you, Shawn, what the secret is. “You have to help me.” How do you, as an expert now, flip it around on people and get them to take ownership for themselves just like you took ownership for yourself?

Shawn: For me, it is really simple. Or brain really operates on questions. If you ask the right question, you really find that trigger. Oftentimes health professionals today are not listening to the patient. They are dictating. I often tell people every chance I get, when you listen to somebody, they will tell you the cause and cure of what is going on with them, because it is all internal, it is all in there. For example, yesterday I had a new patient come in and they were on different blood pressure medications, they were in their early 30s, and it was just like, “Come on.” But nobody ever stopped to actually explain to this woman what blood pressure is; what is controlling it. How did it get high in the first place? Not, let me give you a drug to suppress a symptom.

And the thing is, the body is actually telling you something is off when the blood pressure is high. I took her through the process of how your blood is built, what is actually controlling your blood pressure, and oftentimes we think it mainly has to do with your heart, but in actuality, it has a lot to do with your kidneys. In actuality, it has a lot to do with what is going on with your hypothalamus, the master gland controlling the fluid levels in your body. So, stress, dehydration, too many dissolved substances in your blood from eating crappy food and food with a lot of processed sodium. All these different things really equate to you having high blood pressure as a symptom of your body telling you, “Please don’t put this stuff in me. Please get some sleep. Please drink more water.”

So, that is what I do. I find that leverage point in their life, first of all. What do they want more than their excuse for having this illness? And I look to that thing and I leverage that in conversation and then getting to that place. But I use both. It’s like the carrot and stick. Some people are more motivated by reward, but more people are motivated by pain. That is usually the thing that gets them to me in the first place. And they are just sick and tired of being sick and tired. Also, I give them the opportunity, I give them the key to understand what the problem is, which most times, nobody has ever done for them before.

Jonathan: Speaking of pleasure and pain, the thing I have been struggling with, and maybe Shawn you can help me and I think this will help the viewers and listeners, as well, is that we talk about, and a lot of science supports, that pain is a stronger motivator than pleasure. There is quite a bit of behavioral economics that show that, for example, you will do more to avoid losing a hundred dollars than you will to gaining a hundred dollars. Loss hurts more than the equivalent amount of good makes us feel positive.

That said, let’s look at smoking versus eating inSANE processed food. If you smoke cigarettes it compromises your health, but society doesn’t really stigmatize you that much. Put it this way. You can get a date to prom pretty easily even if you smoke cigarettes. Someone is not going to skip out on prom with you because you smoke cigarettes. But as a culture, we put, you could argue, an unfair amount of pressure on people to look a certain way, so there is a huge amount of pain. And if you look at the open discrimination that obese people face, it is the one group in our culture that it is still perfectly fine to openly discriminate against. So, there is a huge amount of pain taking place. I would argue that it is one of the most painful things someone could ever experience. It seems like that pain would be enough to drive change, but there has to be something else going on, because it is a massive amount of pain that doesn’t always drive change.

Shawn: Jonathan, this is the real heart of the matter, right here, asking these tough questions. From my experience, I really think it is a multi-layered thing, obviously, but at the core… I actually did a show about this, talking about body image. First of all, when an individual is in a state where they are unhappy with their body, they have a lot of excess weight on their frame, they don’t feel good about themselves, when you are in that place, and then you seek help, you hop onto Weight Watchers or you hop onto some kind of a diet, whatever the diet might be, and you fail. Most of these diets fail, they inherently fail. Then we begin to create this psychological loop of trying and failing continuously, to the point where humans are all about patterns. We are designed to find patterns very quickly because we are about efficiency. You get to the point of efficiency that you just no longer do it in the end.

And it’s not their fault. Most people have really owned the fact that there is something wrong with them because other people are doing great with this fancy supplement regimen, and taking HCG or whatever it is. Look at all these pictures – what’s wrong with me? And they give up, or they don’t know that they give up, it’s a psychological negative feedback loop that gets created. They feel like, “It’s no point in me doing it because I am going to fail.” But what I have seen as a pattern, though, is that people will continue to try, but just tiny, tiny amounts. They do something for a week, maybe two weeks, and then it will just dissipate.

I think it really boils down to getting people honest information in the first place, and that is tough. Very tough. But this is why, man, I love you. I love the work that you do. I love our community that we are building. And we are really changing the game with this whole podcast community and making this information readily available, because people hear something different, and they feel something different in the texture and the quality of information that we are giving and they think, “You know what? I am going to give it a shot, because these guys seem legit. And it’s nothing weird. I don’t have to inject myself with horse urine, or whatever it is.” That is really at the heart of the matter, giving people honest information to go for in the first place to create a positive feedback loop. That is really what I feel.

And also, fear of success. We have this funny thing that if it is our paradigm, if we are used to being the heavy person, we will inherently reach a point where we are getting results and then we will start to self-sabotage. Part of that, and part of my equation that I shared in this episode of the show, is to practice acknowledging the external feedback. So, if somebody is starting to get fit and they are looking better and somebody gives then a compliment, they say, “Nah… No, that’s not me. I don’t look that good.” They will push it away and not take that environmental feedback, that encourages you to continue.

I really encourage people to practice being able to receive compliments. And it’s tough, especially for women. Very difficult. Guys are just like, “Yeah, you noticin’. You ‘mirin.” But that’s really difficult for a lot of women. It is a multi-layered thing and this is why this work is very tough. This is some tough work. But we are making it easier by having such a powerful community, because I feel that our relationships are the most powerful and influential factor in our health. Period, end of story. I hope that answers the question.

Jonathan: Shawn, actually, that was a profound truth in there. Just to really recap for the audience, because I think that was very, very valuable. There is another term for what you described, which is learned helplessness. This is an established psychological thing. What you described so accurately is that individuals will try this starvation dieting, and it will undoubtedly fail, as it have proven to fail. It is not that they are not in pain, it is just that much like these studies, and I don’t endorse them, but there were studies done in which they would take a dog and they would put it in a cage, and then they would shock the dog, which is terrible, but if the dog would get up and move to the other side of the room it would stop getting shocked. And then they would take dogs and they would have the dogs move to the other side of the room, and then that group of dogs, they would shock them no matter what.

So there was a group of dogs where if the dogs took an action they could make the pain stop, and there was a group of dogs where no matter what action they took, they could not make the pain stop. And eventually, despite the fact that these dogs were getting shocked with high-voltage electrical shocks, the group that, no matter what they did could not avoid the pain, just laid there and got shocked. It is a heart-breaking thing to have happen, but it seems like that is almost what we are experiencing after enough shocks and us taking effort to make changes and it just doesn’t work, it is not that we are not in pain, it is just that we have proven to ourselves that nothing we can do matters.

Shawn: Yes. Profound, man. So profound. That was a perfect thing to really accent what I said. That is exactly it, that learned helplessness. How do we get past that? That is really the question. It really boils down to empowerment and giving people the information to actually understand themselves and stop doing all this surface level crap, trying to modulate calories, and trying to go out and train for a marathon, or whatever the case may be that somebody is trying to do. But just for them to understand, “How does my body actually work?”

I feel that that is a pre-requisite for somebody that really wants to be the healthiest person they can possibly be. You need to learn about yourself. You live with yourself all the time. You should know how you operate. And this stuff is not complicated. The so-called experts out there who I learned from in school, they tried to make stuff sound super-complicated so they seem smart. It’s not about that. This stuff is so simple, it is not like it’s principles from Einstein. If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t know it well enough. And that is really why I appreciate you so much. And the work that I am doing is really just taking this complex material, making is super easy and accessible to everybody so that we can all get the results that we really deserve to have.

Jonathan: That’s beautiful, Shawn, and I know you are having great success with that, because you are doing it with the right information and with the right motivation. Where can we go to learn more about this? What are you up to next? And basically, how can we have the full Shawn Stevenson experience?

Shawn: The most passionate thing in my life right now is doing my show and we are both just crushing in on iTunes so people could check me out on iTunes. It is called The Model Health Show. And of course, [inaudible 23:15] and all those wonderful places. They can also access the show at my home on the Internet, theshawnstephensonmodel.com. I am always there posting new articles. We just got into doing some videos. I haven’t done videos in like four years. Tons of free resources that people can consume and share. The thing that I pride myself most in is people being able to take something actionable away from the conversation. Most of my shows end with “five tips to apply…whatever.”

We have shows ranging from reversing diabetes, to reversing heart disease, depression, body image stuff, anything that you can name, and I have the clinical data to back it up, and if anything, I am bringing the top person in the field to talk about it. Even natural cancer solutions. I have an episode in which I am showing breast cancer scans of one of my patients, one month of her having breast cancer metastasizing and spreading through her neck. People have actually got to go and check it out to see after a month what happened. But, they told her that it was a wrap, that she needed to make arrangements for her kids because she wasn’t going to be here long. And right now she is thriving. She is thriving.

Also, I am really excited about my new book. It has been out for a couple of months now, #1 on the Bestseller List on Amazon for four months straight. It is called Sleep Smarter, and you know, too, sleep is the deal. I literally wrote the book on it, and it is doing really well and helping a lot of people. Those are things I am really excited about, and I love for people to connect with me there. And again, Jonathan, thank you so much, man. I really do appreciate you.

Jonathan: My pleasure, brother. I so appreciate you coming on the show. And just to recap for the listeners, and please correct me if I miss anything here, but we have The Model Health Show, so be sure to check that out. We have theshawnstevensonmodel.com. Tell us the name of the book again.

Shawn: Sleep Smarter: 21 Proven Tips to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health, Bigger Success.

Jonathan: Beautiful. Thank you so much for joining us today, Shawn. This is fabulous.

Shawn: Thank you, Jonathan. Take care.

Jonathan: Viewers and listeners, I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did. Our brilliant guest today is the always inspiring, Shawn Stevenson. Be sure to check him out at theshawnstevensonmodel.com.