My books for men and women—Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger—include an entire section on the “mental game” of getting fit. I’ve also recently published an entire book on the topic called The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation.
The reason I’ve put a lot of time into discussing the “softer” side of fitness is just knowing what to isn’t enough. You also need a strong enough why—strong enough to help you persevere through the struggles and setbacks, pick yourself up when you fall, and ultimately see your goals through to completion.
Fortunately, you don’t need a psychology degree to accomplish this, either. It mostly boils down to understanding and applying a few powerful mental strategies that effectively combat many of the mental hobgoblins that can sabotage you.
If you can overcome these obstacles, you’ll probably get the body you really want, and if you can’t, you probably won’t. It’s really that simple.
All that is why I invited my friend and fellow fitness professional, Sal Di Stefano of Mind Pump Media, on the show. Sal’s a bit of a specialist on the inner game of getting fit because he spent the better part of a couple decades in the trenches helping normal, everyday people get into great shape and he knows what the real issues are and what really solves them and what doesn’t.
In this show, we talk about . . .
- The psychology of “food addiction”
- How you can prevent and fix intense cravings and binging
- How to resolve body image insecurities
- The benefits and drawbacks of prolonged fasts
- And more.
So . . . if you’re curious how you can conquer the mental demons that so often demoralize dieters, this episode is for you.
18:20 – What is the psychology behind food and why is it hard to break bad eating habits?
20:51 – What are some of your strategies to help break people’s attachment to food?
53:53 – How have you dealt with the high expectations of body standards?
58:34 – Do you still have body insecurities?
1:13:39 – Where can people find you and your work?
Mentioned on the Show:
Mike : [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to the Muscle for Life podcast. I am your host, Michael Matthews. And this time I interview my friend from Mind Pump Media, Sal DiStefano, to talk about the mental side of dieting. Now my books for men and women, Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger, respectively, include entire sections on the mental game of getting fit.
I’ve also recently published an entire book on the topic called The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation and the reason why I have put quite a bit of time and effort into discussing the softer side of fitness is this: just knowing what to do is not enough. Just knowing how to do it is not enough.
You also need to have a strong enough “why”. You need to have a “why” that is strong enough to help you persevere through the inevitable struggles and setbacks, to help pick you up when you fall, and ultimately to help you see your goals through to completion.
Mike : [00:01:11] Now, fortunately, you do not need a psychology degree or thousands of hours of counseling to accomplish this. It mostly boils down to understanding and applying a few powerful mental strategies that effectively combat many of the mental hobgoblins that can sabotage you.
And if you can do that, if you can overcome those obstacles, you will probably get the body you really want. It may take a bit longer than you had hoped, but you will probably get there. And if you cannot overcome these obstacles, you probably will not get there no matter how long you work at it or how hard you try. It really is that simple.
Mike : [00:01:54] Now, I invited Sal on the show because he is a bit of a specialist on the inner game of getting fit because he has spent the better part of a couple decades in the trenches working with people one on one. Normal, everyday people who just want to go from normal everyday to fit. And Sal really knows what the real issues people run into are and also what really solves them, and also what doesn’t.
Mike : [00:02:22] So in this interview, we talk about things like: the psychology of “food addiction”; how to help prevent and fix cravings and bingeing; how to resolve body image problems – insecurities, in particular; the benefits and the drawbacks of prolonged fasting; and more. So if you are curious how to conquer the mental demons that so often demoralize many dieters out there, this episode is for you.
Mike: [00:05:29] Oh, shit, Sal’s back.
Sal: [00:05:30] What’s up Mike, how you doin’?
Mike: [00:05:32] Good man. This is only our second time, I think you came in once to talk about the HPA axis, but, I think that was it, right, or is this number three?
Sal: [00:05:38] No, this is number two. I mean, we have so many conversations off air that I think it’s hard to – you know, late at night when our spouses and girlfriends are sleeping. But no, this is only the second episode you and I have been on together.
Mike: [00:05:49] Nice. The first one got a lot of good feedback. And you know, maybe one day we can have those private discussions publicly, but I don’t think today’s that day.
Sal: [00:05:57] I don’t think that’s a good idea. [Laughing] Let’s keep those private, please. I appreciate you coming on a little early. I know you had to get a haircut, but it’s okay, you can let it keep growing. It’s looking good long, the way it is.
Mike: [00:06:10] My strategy works, it’s just don’t care, basically, until it gets so annoying that I have to get a haircut.
Sal: [00:06:16] No, no, all joking aside, I’ve been enjoying watching your social media involvement, you’ve really ramped it up, haven’t you?
Mike: [00:06:24] Yeah, that was one of the little things that was just an obvious place to improve. Previously, I wasn’t active on social media, because I really don’t use it outside of work at all. And I don’t like it for all the reasons that you probably don’t like it either. But it’s a mistake to just not use it.
And especially when I’m already producing a lot of content, a lot of written content, a lot of recorded audio stuff, whatever. And I was like, “if I can repurpose a lot of the educational stuff and just get that out more.” And people have been wanting to see workouts for a long time so I can just post that.
There’s not much to see, my workouts are boring, and I’m not very strong, and there’s nothing special about that really at all, but I understand for people, who at least have the courage of my convictions. I train the way that I recommend and so it’s cool for people to see that, and that people pick up form tips and stuff. So, no, it’s been good. In the scheme of things, I don’t know, The numbers are vastly improved compared to, you know – I really started doing it since I think, yeah, beginning January. But in the scheme of things, I don’t know if my account is anything special, but hey, people are liking it.
Sal: [00:07:30] Well, I think it’s interesting. It’s important because, what we’re finding with media, with new media, is, and this has never happened before, people can feel like almost like a direct connection to the owner of a company that produces their product that they enjoy or of the celebrity or whatever.
So it provides a different kind of value and the thing that I appreciate about what you’re doing is you’re just like you said: you’re just kind of being real on it. And that brings a lot of value. I did a talk at a gym, nearby our studio here, and I talked to their staff of personal trainers, and the topic was: How to Use New Media to Build Your Business.
The big misconception is that you get just lots of followers, you know, like, okay, use Instagram, use Facebook, get as many people looking at you and following as possible, get as many likes as possible, and that’s actually false. That’s not the way to build business on social media, nor is it a way to use social media to augment your business.
Very, very few people can build a business off of having a lot of people follow them. It takes a lot of people to do that. You know, millions of people. It’s quite rare. The more realistic approach is to really make an impact on the few thousand people that do follow you. I mean, I own brick and mortar businesses before starting Mind Pump Media.
I mean, I would have done anything to have three to 5,000 customers that I could connect and influence and talk with and provide value to. You know, we forget that. We look at our social media like, “Oh, 5,000 followers, that’s nothing. I need to get tons, so I’m going to post all the stuff that gets lots of likes, like pictures of my butt or pictures of my shirt off or whatever”.
Mike: [00:09:05] Butt hole, that’s the key. The butt is boring. It’s got to be the butthole now.
Sal: [00:09:09] Yeah, butthole pictures.
Sal: [00:09:09] Exactly, butt hole models, I got that from you. But no, really it’s about providing real, actual value, and so, I see what you’re doing and I think that’s going to do that for your audience because, you know, I know you off air, you do everything that you talk about, so it’s good to see that.
Mike: [00:09:26] Yeah, it’s that – Fuck, who wrote it? Was it Paul Gram? No, it wasn’t Paul Gram. It’s the “1,000 True Fans” essay, have you come across – or article – kind of went all over the internet years and years ago.
Sal: [00:09:37] I didn’t read it, no, but I’ve actually heard that term: the 1,000 true fans or whatever.
Mike: [00:09:42] Yeah, if I remember, I think it was more in the context of writing, like if you could write – was it a book a year or something? And if you had the essence of a thousand people who like you enough to basically buy whatever you create, you can make a good living for yourself.
And again, I think it was in the context of writing, but it might just be remembering it because I was thinking myself in the context of writing books and selling books, but when you do the math of it, you know, you had just a thousand people who like you enough to buy whatever it is that you create and who continue to like whatever you create, to continue buying whatever you continue to create.
That alone, just as an individual, while it may not make for impressive “business”, but as an individual you can make a very good living that way. And if you could 10x that, now you’re looking at revenue numbers or sales numbers that start to come impressive, even just as a business, you know.
Sal: [00:10:34] Yeah, and you have to ask yourself what you’re doing. I mean, the whole reason why, you know, I’m doing Mind Pump Media and all this, is because deep down, I mean, the real purpose behind this: I really do want to help people in authentic ways, really help people change their own behavior so that they can become more healthy and more fit.
Sal: [00:12:35] I just turned 40, you know, last month, right? I’ve been in fitness, professionally, for 20 years. So, it’s only recently, that I’ve moved into this kind of space. Before that, I was training clients, or I was training trainers to train clients, and managing health clubs, and working with members.
In that realm of business, it’s not like you make tons of money doing it/ I did pretty well because I was good at what I did, but the reason why I did it is because I have a real passion for helping people. Like, you know, if you look around, you look at the health epidemic that we’re trying to tackle in modern societies, a lot of people don’t really appreciate just how big of a deal this is.
You know, we talk about it like, “oh, obesity and there’s a lot of overweight people and you see a lot of diabetes and this and that.” But really, if you take a step back and you really examine what’s going on, it actually threatens to bankrupt some of the wealthiest countries in the world. We cannot continue on the trajectory, it’s literally that bad.
Really, the fitness and health industry should be able to provide the answers to that. I don’t think it’s going to be the medical industry, I don’t think they do a good job of that. They’re great at handling symptoms, they’re great at acute type issues, but when it comes to behavioral changes for these chronic health issues, that’s what true fitness can do.
And so that’s what I’ve always tried to communicate, and so when we started Mind Pump, that was the goal, like, “okay, how can we really provide a real amount of genuine value to people?” It wasn’t, “let’s see how massive and big we can get.” And so the strategy was kind of the same strategies that I found to be successful when I had my brick and mortar business, which was – you know, when I first became a trainer, I thought like a lot of trainers do: you get a client, you get them all hyped up and motivated, and then you tell them everything they need to do.
So, like, “okay, Mrs. Johnson, you wanna lose 3 pounds, 30 pounds? Here’s your meal plan, here’s your workout, I want you to wake up at this time and do cardio, do your weights here. Here’s what you can eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner…” And you just give them all the answers and you’d be like, “Great, all they got to do is do what I say and they’re going to be awesome, it’s going to work for them.
And you quickly learn – this is like the first few years as a personal trainer – you learn that that’s a terrible strategy. Not because you’re not giving them necessarily the right answers, because a lot of the stuff that I would tell them – although some of it was wrong, a lot of it was right, definitely better than what they were doing – it didn’t work. It didn’t work because they didn’t do it.
It was too much all at once and I wasn’t helping them on really adjusting and changing fundamental behaviors in long term ways. It was just not successful. And so I learned through the process of training people for two decades, a couple different things. One was, if I can communicate one thing but do it effectively, that’s far more valuable than communicating 15 things in a non-effective manner.
The other thing was: to have a level of likability in the media space, it’s, you know, a level of entertainment. But, you know, personal training was likability because if clients enjoyed coming to the gym and training with me, not just because of my workouts, but because they like to see me, like to hang out with me, they like to have good conversation with me, the odds that they would keep coming and the odds that they would continue to work out, and the longer that they kept coming or working out with me, the better the odds that they would do this for the rest of life.
To translate that into what I do now, if you listen to my podcast, we do give great fitness advice, but we’re definitely not the most science heavy podcast. We give good advice, but we give the stuff that we think is real important. But what we try to do also is you try to entertain, because we know that if we’re entertaining, people will want to listen to us and we’re gonna reach those people that normally wouldn’t be reached by talking to – like acting like I’m talking to my peers, which you see so much in this space.
So it’s kind of the purpose behind what we do, and that’s the way we try to model our media, and that’s why I commented on, kind of what you’re doing with your media, because I think that authenticity that you’re providing, probably not going to get you, you know, millions of new fans and viewers, but the people who watch it and listen to what you have to say, they’ll find a lot more value and you’ll make much more of an impact on those people.
Mike: [00:16:33] Yeah, I totally agree. I mean, one, to get to millions, I think you got to have a vagina. I’m pretty sure that’s just a prerequisite. [Laughter] So, I’m already disqualified from reaching the…
Sal: [00:16:43] Yeah, you’re not hot enough.
Mike: [00:16:44] Yeah, it’s a fact. But yeah, I totally agree that my goal with social media – I mean it’s cool to see the subscribers go up, but I’m more interested in the quality of the interactions. And like you’re saying, I mean, I liken it to email marketing, for example, you would much rather have a smaller, highly responsive list than a much larger, essentially dead list where you’ll hear how – I won’t call him out – but there is a dude who released a book recently, and one of the things he just promotes is how big his email list is, right?
400,000 people, yeah, that’s because that email list has never been scrubbed cleaned once ever. If he were to maintain his list properly. It probably would be one half of that or maybe a third of that. So similarly, with social media, I figure that I don’t want to be someone I’m not on social media just to get followers because I’m just not interested in it.
Maybe that’s just a point of like – I just wouldn’t care enough to even want to do it. So, I’ll just be me and I’ll just do it in a way, again, where I can stick to what I enjoy, which is just creating and sharing educational information. And yeah, that’s not going to get me as many followers as many other people.
Like, I would say almost, in some cases, intentionally pandering to a certain type of person, which is kind of an archetype of millions of other people exactly like that who you can, sure, you play it right, you can get a lot these people to follow you, but ultimately, what are you really going for? Is it just have a big number, or get a lot of likes, or is it to actually make a difference in people’s lives?
Sal: [00:18:24] Right. No, especially in fitness, you see, I see a lot of people who will – these are some of the reasons why we came together and started the podcast – is we would see certain things being communicated from the industry to consumers and we knew that those weren’t the things that were really making the best impact. You know, you get a lot of the preying on insecurities, “you’re fat, here, take this pill, it’ll make you skinny. Crash diet, this is what can work for you, do this, you’ll lose weight.”
Mike: [00:18:48] Or, “look at me, look at my life, don’t you wish you were me?”
Sal: [00:18:51] Right, right. And it’s alluring, and it does get eyes, but it doesn’t really help anybody. Like a lot of the nutrition advice out there. A lot of the nutrition advice out there does not take into account the psychological component of food. You know, food is – gosh, there’s cultures created around food. Different events are characterized by different types of food.
Like you go to a birthday and there’s birthday foods, you go to the movies and there’s, you know, movie foods and there’s breakfast foods, and lunch foods, and there’s – we hardly ever eat because we’re hungry. That just doesn’t happen anymore. In modern societies. Most people have never even felt hunger. You know, everything that they think is hunger is cravings or emotion or context.
And so they forget all that stuff, so when they give out their nutrition advice, it’s all about, you know, “oh, you just gotta cut your calories, count your macros. Here’s your – these foods are good, these foods are bad.” And it’s like, okay, that’s all true. A lot of that stuff is true. Some of it isn’t, but a lot of it is true. But you’re completely not taking into account the psychology behind around food and why it’s so difficult. I’ll give you an example, Mike.
Mike: [00:19:56] Yeah, talk about that. That’s something that, you know, I get asked about a lot and I can speak about my experiences working with other people. I can speak about what I’ve read in the scientific literature. And I’ve been honest about this, I can’t honestly say for myself that I know exactly what it’s like.
It doesn’t mean I can’t be helpful and can’t give good advice, but that’s never been really a thing for me. Naturally, I have probably even a small-ish appetite, I don’t get hungry really, ever. I don’t really struggle with cravings for me, food, I can enjoy it or not, it just is not really a thing to me for whatever reason.
Sal: [00:20:34] Right. Well, you’re the very rare individual. Like if you were a client of mine, it would be super easy to work with someone like you. You’re very objective, very analytical. You probably look at food mostly as forms of energy, “this is good, this is not good, I’ll eat this, I’ll eat that.”
Mike: [00:20:49] And then nutrition. Like, yeah, I eat a lot of vegetables. Not because it’s necessary, the tastiest thing, but I’m like, “this is very good for my body. Here are my two servings of leafy greens today. And later I’m going to get my cruciferous and then I’m going to get my garlic and I’m going to get…” you know what I mean? But it’s not – sure I can learn to like broccoli as much as you can learn to like stir-fried broccoli, but it’s still stir-fry broccoli, you know.
Sal: [00:21:10] Exactly. And so, like I’ll give an example, like if you have any trainer’s listening right now, they know exactly what I’m talking about. Like, I had a lady that trained a while ago and through doing an elimination diet, we identified one of the reasons why she was getting certain skin rash issues. You know, she had gone to see a dermatologist, she had gone to see a doctor.
They couldn’t really figure out what’s going on so she had clearance to, you know, to work with a trainer and work on nutrition. And so we started trying to identify potential food intolerances. And for some people, certain foods can cause pretty interesting, kind of autoimmune-ish type issues, and for her, it was a skin rash. And we identified that it was wheat.
So anytime she would eat wheat, if she ate it more than two or three days in a row, she would start to get itchy skin and then eventually would turn into a rash. And so we identified this and it was the hardest thing in the world for her to cut out, because every morning for like the last 10 years, her breakfast consisted of a bagel. And it was so hard for her to break the chains off this food.
And it sounds so simple, like, you know, if someone like you, if you figured out that what you eat all the time is bothering you. I’m sure you’ll probably be like, “cool I’m not going to eat that anymore, move on to the next thing.” But for her, it was so difficult, and most people have these types of attachments or reactions to food because it becomes a part of our day to day behavior. And so, you have to learn how to break those chains and there are a couple strategies that I’ve used in the past that have been quite effective.
Mike: [00:22:35] Yeah. Such as?
Sal: [00:22:36] Yeah, I’ll give you some. So, increased awareness tends to help, and so increase the awareness around food involves: most of times when people eat, it’s a very, kind of, unaware, unconscious type of act like, “I’m hungry, I feel like eating this, I’ll eat that, I eat it, and I’m done.” And people don’t connect their food to – unless it’s an immediate reaction like, “oh, I eat that I threw up” – they don’t connect it to like maybe some chronic fatigue or bloating.
You know, I’ve had people tell me, “oh, I just get bloated” and, you know, I ask them, “but, what makes you bloated?” “Well, I don’t know, I just have a tendency to get bloated, and I’ve been like this for ten years.” It completely slips their mind that it could be their nutrition that’s causing some of these issues. And so awareness around food really, really helps. And so, what I’ll have people do is, I’ll have people journal.
And what I’ll have them do is, I’ll say, “Okay, before you eat, I want you to write down how you feel. While you’re eating, I want you to take a few notes about how you’re feeling while you’re eating, and then after you eat, take some more notes.” Now, this sounds tedious and it can be, but what it does is it starts to reveal things to people.
People start to notice things like, “oh, I notice that when I’m sad, that’s when I start to crave these types of food” or “I notice when I’m bored, that I want to eat more of these other kinds of foods” or “I notice when I eat this, I tend to be more fatigued about two or three hours later in the day.” So, that’s really important. And you also want to make positive connections too. So not just negative ones, but more positive ones.
Sal: [00:23:59] Initially, when you do this kind of journaling process, you’ll actually find a little bit more anxiety around foods. I do want to give people that caveat, because increased awareness will increase that at first, but then as you continue it starts to get better and better. So that’s one thing that you could do.
The second thing that you need to do – and I would say this probably is actually the most important thing, or the single thing that will make the biggest impact – is you want to be able to learn how to read your body’s signs and signals in regards to appetite and satiety. So, “am I hungry and am I full?” And, you know, “should I stop eating?”
Now in order to do that in my experience, it is very, very difficult to get to that point if you eat a diet that is very high in heavily processed foods. Very difficult to do. Now here’s why. It’s not because heavily processed foods are inherently unhealthy, although many of them are less healthy and less nutritious than whole natural foods. That’s not the real reason, because you can find processed foods that are decent macro profiles maybe made up of ingredients that are, you know, relatively healthy or whatever.
Mike: [00:25:10] Well, I mean, let’s face it, all the foods we eat are processed to some degree. If you eat oatmeal it was processed to some degree.
Sal: [00:25:16] Right. Right. I’m talking about the heavily processed ones that, long shelf life, they come in a package they’re usually flavored.
Mike: [00:25:23] Yeah, I just want to make that point of food processing, per se, is not bad. Food processing on the whole is actually great. I mean, we pasteurize our milk, it’s a good thing.
Sal: [00:25:32] Yeah. No, that’s absolutely right, I’m glad you said that. I’m using it to explain the heavily processed foods, I wish there was a different term I could use, but I’m glad you said that. But anyhow, heavily processed foods are engineered to be hyper palatable. Most of the money, the research, and development, and money that goes into heavily processed foods, goes into how palatable they can make them.
And palatability refers to the hedonistic pleasure that we receive from eating, you know, said food. And that includes the taste. It also includes the mouth feel, the crunch, the smell, the sound that the bag makes when you open it. The color of the food, the color of the bag, the placing on the shelf in the grocery store. The associations you’ve made with that food because of the commercials or because of the context, there’s so many things that go into it.
And there’s been so much research that goes into making processed foods or engineering processed foods to be hyper palatable. It’s absolutely insane. And when you eat these foods, because they’ve “hijacked” if you will, some of these signals of your body, it is very, very easy to overeat. It makes it very difficult for you to actually read the signals of your body in terms of satiety.
So like a good example is, you know, you’re having a big dinner with your family and you’re sitting at the edge of the table and you’re full. You’re just like, “my God, my stomach is full, I can’t eat another piece of steak. I’m really, really full” and then they bring out dessert. Now, you’re still feeling the feeling of being full and stuffed.
But something has happened in your brain where all of a sudden you have room for dessert. Changing the flavors like that, going from salty to sweet, for example, it kind of hijacks that stop signal that your brain will send you. Do you know that guy, what’s his name? Man VS. Food? Have you ever watched that show?
Mike: [00:27:19] I feel like I’ve heard of it, but I can’t say I’ve seen it.
Sal: [00:27:22] Okay, so this guy goes around to different restaurants and he does these food challenges. So, you ever go to these restaurants and they’re like, “if you can eat our 32 ounce steak in five minutes, you’ll win a free t-shirt” or whatever? So, he goes around the country and he does these food challenges and in one particular episode, the challenge was to eat a kitchen sink full of ice cream.
And so, he sits down, they set the timer, and he starts eating this ice cream. And he’s a professional eater, right? About two thirds of the way through, he starts to gag. You know, he gets that pallet fatigue that we’ve all felt when you eat the same food for too long or whatever. And so what does he do?
Because he knows exactly how to hack the system, is he orders a plate of extra salty and extra crispy French fries. He eats an entire plate of French fries and then goes back to eating the ice cream and is able to finish the entire kitchen sink of ice cream. Now, he was able to win the contest by eating more food. And that is a perfect example that highlights how processed foods kind of mess with these signals and symptoms.
Sal: [00:28:26] And so if you eat a diet that in most Americans, most people in Western societies, especially Americans, they eat a diet that is very high in heavily processed foods. If you look at somebody’s food throughout the day, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, oftentimes a majority of their foods and meals in calories comes from, and the snacks, of course, comes from these kind of heavily processed foods. So it’s no wonder that people tend to over consume. I mean, we do have a natural tendency to want to eat when food is in front of us.
But we do also have these natural signals that tell us when we need to stop eating. There’s actually a couple of studies that support this. There was one recent one where it was actually pretty, a well-controlled study. It was done – I forgot where it was done – but it was controlled to where the people were actually being given access to this food and they could be monitored.
And they divided the groups into two. One group had unlimited access to processed food, and the other group had unlimited access to just whole natural foods. And the group that consumed the processed foods ate a significant amount of calories over what the group who ate whole natural foods, just because that’s what they do.
And so if you can do that, if you can mostly avoid or eliminate heavily processed foods, what a lot of people find, and this is just through my own experience of training clients. What I find when I get people to do that, it’s crazy. It’s crazy, Mike. Like people start to lose weight, their body weight starts to go to a more healthy body weight. Now, you’re not going to get shredded doing just that.
You’re not going to become a physique competitor or maybe achieve all your fitness goals or lean goals or whatever. But what you’ll find is that you will naturally, your body weight will naturally start to go towards a more natural, healthy body weight. At the very least, it makes it much, much easier to monitor your food intake and to eat an appropriate amount.
If you inject those heavy processed foods in there, good luck, man, it’s hard. You know, I had Chris Kressler on our podcast a while ago and he really hammered this point home with the amazing example that I’ve recited quite a few times now on the podcast. If I put two thousand calories worth of plain white baked potato in front of you and I said, “okay, I want you to eat all these plain baked potatoes and I need you to eat them in less than 30 minutes.”
Do you think you’ll be able to do it? Most people wouldn’t be able to. Most people would gag. It’s too bland. It’s not tasty enough. Palate fatigue would kick in and we wouldn’t be able to finish it. On the flip side, if I had 2,000 calories worth of potato chips and said, “hey, can you eat this in 30 minutes?”
Mike: [00:31:00] That’s like a bag, right?
Sal: [00:31:01] Easy, easy. We would do that no problem. It wouldn’t be hard at all.
Mike: [00:31:05] A bag of Doritos is probably some – like a bigger, right? – is probably 1,500 calories, something?
Sal: [00:31:10] Yeah.
Mike: [00:31:10] I mean how easy is that? One of the guys that works me here, he’s really into chips and I know that [laughing] he’s watching football or something and says he’ll eat two bags of chips and not I even think about it. That’s easily over 2,000 calories of chips.
Sal: [00:31:23] Now, imagine if instead of that, he had just the whole natural foods in front of him. Now, of course, he’s watching a game, so it’s a little bit of a – there’s a little bit of a disconnection. He’s not aware, necessarily…
Mike: [00:31:33] He still wouldn’t be able to do it. No way. Potatoes? The game is not that riveting.
Sal: [00:31:40] Exactly. It just wouldn’t happen.
Mike: [00:31:42] I mean, just to that point, you have what food scientists call the bliss point, right? And, like you’ve been saying, a lot of work has been put into, and a lot of money has been spent on finding what the food scientists call the right bliss point for foods. And there’s a guy, a journalist named Michael Moss.
I had him on my podcast sometime ago, he wrote a book called Sugar, Salt, Fat, I think that’s the order, and like, those are the key components. Those are the key levers that they pull. So you’ll have food companies that will – I mean, they go through a tremendous amount of A/B testing really is what it comes down to, to get the exact amount of sugar, salt, and fat needed to go into their foods to make them maximally rewarding, but also to combat that palate fatigue that you talk about.
To make them maximally rewarding where you bite into the food and you’re chewing, you just feel good. And to make that last as long as possible, so as to encourage you to eat as much of the food as possible. And so, I mean this is hundreds of millions of dollars. It might even be in the billions by now just spent on research to make these highly processed foods as delicious and edible as possible.
Sal: [00:32:56] Oh, as pleasurable as possible. But it goes even further. It’s not even just about the taste. You know, they’ve done studies where they’ll take groups of people and they’ll have them eat ice cream, for example. So, okay, eat as much ice cream as you want. And one group of people, they’ll give them the ice cream in a bowl, and the other group of people, they’ll give them the ice cream in a brand new clean toilet.
Okay. And clearly, the people eating the ice cream out of the toilet will eat far less ice cream, simply because it’s inside of – even though it’s a brand new clean toilet. It’s that association. So that’s an extreme example. But they go through and they’ve now identified colors. You know, years ago, I think it was Heinz ketchup, came out – they thought it would be cool if they came out with a black ketchup.
Same taste. Everything else is exactly the same. The only difference was that it was black. It was a complete failure. Nobody wanted black ketchup. They didn’t like it. It just didn’t have the same palatability because the color was different. Even the crunch. They even will study the right crunch and sound that something makes when you bite into it.
Now, to be clear, humans, for as long as we’ve been preparing food, have aimed at increasing the pleasurability of our food experience. We’ve been doing this for a long time. I mean, every culture has recipes, right? We add spices and salt and things to food to increase its palatability. The difference is, it’s now gone to a level that we could never have done without modern science.
It’s gotten to a level now where we can combine flavors, textures, and chemicals to really create these Frankenstein-type foods that it’s almost not fair. And I don’t want to say it’s not fair because, I think all individuals, we all have the power to make choices for ourselves. But I think we need to truly appreciate the power that heavily processed foods have over us so that we can learn to abstain from them.
What’s his name? Rob Wolf. Rob Wolf, love that guy. He wrote a great book and he talked about this exact subject and he actually compared it to pornography in the internet age. And he talked about how because we have access to just unlimited supplies of pornography, you know, the human brain didn’t evolve having that much variety, and so now we’re finding is young men in their 20’s with erectile dysfunction, which didn’t even exist before.
Now, what you’re finding are movements of young men who are abstaining from pornography because they’re learning firsthand the power it has over the brain. That’s what’s happened with food and so I firmly believe, I know – I mean, if we examine the obesity epidemic – sure, we can look at it and say, “oh, we’re eating too much and we’re not moving enough.”
Well, yeah, no shit, Sherlock. Yeah, that’s what’s happening. But why? Like, why is it so hard for people to eat an appropriate amount in the face of obvious problems? I mean, you are looking in the mirror and you’re 50 pounds overweight. You obviously have an issue. You obviously – your health is not good. You’re looking around and there’s people all around us with…
Mike: [00:35:58] Are you, fat shaming, you bigot?
Sal: [00:36:00] [Laughing] Not at all. But it’s true that – it’s like, “how come we can’t stop this?” Well, it’s because, again, we’re dealing with, you know, heavily engineered foods, and if you avoid them, your odds of success are much higher. So I guess that was a long winded way of saying, like, one of the steps that I recommend people do if they want to really tackle this is to avoid the heavily processed foods, because I have yet to find somebody who can, except for, you know, neurotic people like you or I.
I have yet to find, you know, normal people who can do well with nutrition long term, who also eat a lot of heavily processed foods. The last thing, Mike, that I recommend, I don’t recommend everybody, if you’re listening and you have an eating disorder or you’ve suffered from an eating disorder in the past, especially, you know, bulimia and anorexia, definitely don’t recommend this.
But to everybody else, especially to the meat heads out there who do the opposite and force feed themselves. One of the most powerful single tools you can use to modify your behavior around food and really understand your true cravings and hunger is a fast. A prolonged fast. Fasting from food for 48, 72 hours really allows you to feel bored, feel stressed, feel happy, feel sad without having that food that you normally would put your mouth.
It also allows you to connect with what real hunger feels like. And then from a more physiological standpoint, not eating does seem to kind of reset all the receptors that perceive taste and smell and all those things from food. And so what you end up finding when you fast, is that when you consume a food like a strawberry, for example, afterwards – it tastes so much sweeter and it’s so much more palatable and you find it much more enjoyable.
And so for certain people, when I’m getting him down this path, I’ll have them start with a 48 hour fast and then we’ll start introducing foods, because for some people, it’s an easier approach. And you know, when it comes to fasting, I fast on average between once a month to once every other month for about 48 to 72 hours.
And I do it for those effects, the psychological or spiritual effects, if you will. And, you know, fasting has been – gosh, that’s been, that’s in every major religion and spiritual practice for a reason. I think, you know, the ancient spiritual leaders of mystics kind of identified that the power behind the abstaining from one of our most powerful pleasures, which is food.
Mike: [00:38:26] Yeah, I totally agree. I don’t fast other than like skipping breakfast on the weekends. But I could definitely see that benefiting greatly if I were to be having problems with just my relationship with food.
Sal: [00:38:43] Yeah. Now I did it for health benefits. The reason why I continued to do it was for those benefits. I find, when I come out of a fast, I just have a different and better relationship with food. It’s less about the hedonistic pleasure of eating and more about the appreciation of the food. I identify more clearly the difference between hunger, and for me, boredom. Boredom is the big reason why I’ll eat besides being hungry. I know other people, it’s, you know, other emotions.
Mike: [00:39:10] Yeah, I’ve experienced that. I mean, even if I don’t necessarily eat, I’ve definitely experienced that. Usually if I’m not occupied with something which of course then, that’s when boredom sets in, my mind will flit to the thought of eating something. It’s just, you know, that’s just part of being human.
Sal: [00:39:26] Yeah. Oh, here’s something interesting I did notice from fasting. It’s funny, I was on my friend’s Layne Norton’s page the other day because he wrote a post about fasting and how fasting doesn’t help you build muscle and this and that, he likes to dispel myths and is a bit of a contrarian.
But you know, something that I noticed from fasting that I commented underneath and actually had quite a few people respond – when I fast for 48 or 72 hours and then I start to refeed – and I noticed this the first couple of times and I thought, this is interesting, let me see if I keep noticing this, and I sure, in fact, I do every single time.
After about two or three days into the refeed, I get this boost in performance that feels pretty awesome. It kind of reminds me of – you know, you’ve gotten yourself pretty lean before, Mike. I’ve seen, you know, you share pictures of yourself all shredded and stuff on your Instagram.
Mike: [00:40:15] I got to get the likes somehow.
Sal: [00:40:17] Oh, yeah, especially those, the tighty whitey ones. Those are great. [Laughing]
Mike: [00:40:21] [Laughing] That’s just that’s just for you, you know.
Sal: [00:40:23] Oh yeah. Well everybody sees it. So, you know, when you’ve gotten that lean, when you diet down to that lean and then you go to refeed afterwards and say, “okay, I’m gonna eat a little bit in excess of calories,” you notice kind of this anabolic boost, right? It’s kind of like the best workouts you’ve ever had. I don’t know if, have you noticed that for yourself?
Mike: [00:40:41] I’m trying to think, because, you know, it’s actually funny speaking about that. So I’ve stayed fairly lean, let’s say around 10 percent body fat is hard to say, but where you don’t have much to, I don’t have much like fat to pinch anywhere for some time now, whereas previously I would maintain a bit higher and eat more food and have better workouts.
And the reason why I’m even saying this is I’ve had sleep issues on and off for the last couple of years now actually, and I think it’s first and foremost because of extra stresses, mostly work-related, which are now mostly over, which is nice. But I’ve also stayed fairly lean for quite some time now, for the last few years. Whereas, previously, I didn’t do that. So I’d diet down.
I would get as lean as I really could get without just really suffering, basically. I mean, I wasn’t trying to step on stage, so let’s say it’s down to 6 or 7 percent. That’s good enough for photoshoots and so forth, and a couple of times I tried to maintain that just because it looks cool and why not? But I found that I didn’t like how I felt.
At that time and didn’t interrupt my sleep per se, that I remember, but I do remember only being able to eat maybe 2,500/2,600 calories and I was lifting weights probably five hours a week and doing upward of like an hour and a half of HIIT cardio per week so I was burning a fair amount of – I was active, but to stay that lean, I couldn’t eat as much food as my body, as I just felt like my body wanted.
And if I was in a deficit, still, it must have been a slight deficit because nothing was really changing in terms of weight and body composition. And then I would go back into a slight surplus and yeah I would feel – I don’t know if it’s just because, you know, I had just gone through what might have been 8, 10, 12 weeks of dieting and then tried to maintain it, so I was already feeling not bad, but not as good as usual.
However, when I would start eating more, I would notice a definite resurgence in energy levels and sex drive and strength in the gym and motivation to train. I’ll probably cycle my calories, is what I’ll probably do, so I’m going to go on a surplus on my training days, that’s what I’m going to do now.
Because again, what I’ve done for years is – I kinda eat the same foods every day, every meal, I don’t really care, I still enjoy them, but I would say on the whole, okay, it’s been maintenance. My weight has not fluctuated beyond, you know, depending on random factors. It could be as low as 191 or as high as 198, usually right in the middle.
But, I’ve been probably in a deficit more often than not. When you look at it in the day to day and that I’ve been in a slight deficit probably many more days and then larger surpluses due to like going to restaurants or maybe there’s a vacation here or there or like a weekend thing.
So I’m going to – and just pet theory of mine, and I reached out to Eric Helms, and I’ve reached out also to Menno Henselmans, just out of curiosity, if they’ve run into any sort of issues with their sleep. And Eric already, I just reached out to them yesterday, Eric got back to me and he said that for him, he has run into similar issues. He said when he’s lean, he sleeps worse.
When he has more stress, he sleeps worse. And for me is the same kind of issue for him as well, where I don’t have any trouble falling asleep, it’s waking up. It’s waking up sometimes after each sleep cycle. So you know, you go into that stage one where you’re almost like, when you’re sleeping normally, you’re almost awake, but you’re not. I will wake up, right?
So maybe I’ll go through one, maybe two sleep cycles, come through a dream sequence, wake up, go back to sleep. Usually six months or so ago there were some nights where I’d have trouble going back to sleep, but that was definitely more stress related. Anyways, yeah, I agree with what you’re saying in terms of coming back into just eating more food and I’m going to do it again.
And it’s one of those things that I know that the research out there would suggest that being in a slight deficit, even if it’s extended over long periods of time, really shouldn’t stress the body out that much. Staying pretty lean really shouldn’t stress the body out that much. But it might be one of those things where there are just a number of factors.
Sal: [00:44:49] It’s cumulative. But yeah, it’s cumulative If you have a high stress life and then you throw stress on top of it. It depends on the life. You should try CBD, Mike, take some CBD before bed, help you sleep a little bit [laughing].
Mike: [00:45:08] [Laughing] We’re laughing because, if you want my thoughts on CBD, I actually recorded a podcast on it, I’m not a fan. I think it’s a fad.
Sal: [00:45:16] I must’ve gotten tagged about 100,000 times on your CBD stuff. You did a great job, though, I think you were very objective in the way you in the way you covered it. But what I was referring to before, you know, like bodybuilders and competitors will notice this is they’ll diet into a show and then they’ll, afterwards refeed and they’ll have the best workouts of their entire careers in that post, you know, show refeed.
Mike: [00:45:40] Really? Is that actually a thing among people who you would think are natural at least? Because when you have some pretty gruesome, some pretty grim case studies out there of natural bodybuilders whose hormones were all fucked up for, you know, upward of 12 months after shows.
Sal: [00:45:57] Oh, I think it depends how you – yeah, I’m talking about people who do this the right way and who are healthy. But you get kind of this, almost like this super compensation effect. You know, in endurance sports, cyclists and runners have, you know, they’ve carb depleted and carb loaded for a long time.
There seems to be this effect where if you don’t have carbohydrates for a while, for example, and then you introduce them again, your capacity to store glycogen increases because your body’s, kind of, overcompensating. Protein synthesis spikes a little higher when you go without protein for a certain part of time as well. It’s almost like it increases your sensitivity to protein.
And so when I do these fast and then I refeed afterwards, personally, this is my own anecdote, I get some of the best workouts ever in that week following that fast. I’m stronger, I build more muscle, I have more stamina. And then I have a couple other theories around that.
I know when you fast, you really amplify the program cell death, and the cells that tend to kill themselves are the older ones, and the young ones kind of hunker down and strengthen themselves. This is why fasting – they’re actually looking at fasting as an adjuvant therapy for cancer because it actually helps with that program cell death.
But the other thing it does is it while you’re fasting, stem cells get stimulated and then when you refeed those stem cells get turned into new cells. There was one cat study where they fasted the cats for 72 hours and then fed them again. Through their testing they found that the cats pretty much replaced their immune system cells. In other words, they cycled through them.
They killed the old ones and then built a bunch of new ones. So I don’t know if that’s what it is, but I do notice that after I do a 48 or 72 hour fast. It’s about two or three days after the refeed or I’ll hit PR’s, I’ll feel, like, crazy pump’s just incredible feelings in the gym. And there’s been a lot of anecdote around that.
I mean, I’ve talked about it and I’ve written about it, and I get lots of messages from people who are in the strength sports or people who are in fitness who say they noticed the same thing. And I commented under Layne’s page and quite a few people were like, “oh, shit I noticed that, too. Like, what do you think that is?” So, I don’t know if there’s any science supporting it 100 percent yet, but it is quite interesting, and it’s one of the reasons why, I guess, the cool side effects of a fasting.
Mike: [00:48:07] Yeah, I mean, it is interesting. If nothing else, it’s just like a psychological, I guess as a physiological payoff. Because at what point are you – I’m sure that if you’re going 48, 72 hours, there’s a point where it’s no longer enjoyable, right?
Sal: [00:48:23] Oh, no. Fasting isn’t enjoyable. [Laughing]
Mike: [00:48:26] I mean, I could probably go 24 hours and not run into too many issues, but I’m sure there’s a point where even, I don’t tend to get hungry easily or I’d be like, “this sucks.”
Sal: [00:48:35] Well, you know, food feels good, so you’re cutting that out. Your body, you know, when you’re not eating, it starts to tell you it wants it. For me, at least the strongest hunger I’ll get is around the 48 hour mark. And then it seems to go away, going into the 72 hour mark. I might get a little hypertensive. Blood pressure tends to drop. And so if I’m laying on the ground and I get up too fast, I might get a little dizzy. But that’s a normal side effect of a fasting. It’s nothing to be worried about. There’s no real dangers, I mean…
Mike: [00:49:01] You don’t train obviously on those days?
Sal: [00:49:03] No, I go – if I do anything, it’s like mobility work or just walking. But you know, Dom D’Agostino, he did a 10 day fast and then went and deadlifted 500 pounds like 10 times, or something like that. I don’t recommend that. I don’t feel great energy to workout when I’m fasting. And my goal I’m fasting isn’t to like, you know, send a signal to build muscle anyway.
It’s not enjoyable in the sense that I’m not eating, I don’t feel quite as great, but the enjoyable aspect is, you know, I know I’m doing work, right? I know it’s something that seems to be benefiting me at the moment. But no, it’s not a fun thing. I don’t see how fasting – unless you do it for, I guess, maybe spiritual purposes.
I know people who will do a week-long fast and they’ll meditate and do all that kind of stuff, but I’m not really into all that, you know, as far as that’s concerned. It’s funny you mentioned the psychological component of the fasting or the experience of it. We don’t talk enough about, you know, how you really can’t separate that from the physiological stuff that’s happening.
You can’t separate the “what’s happening in my body” from the “my experience of what’s happening my body”. That’s all kind of one, right? I was just reading this article on the placebo effect. I should send it to you. I was reading all these studies on the placebo effect and they actually did a study where they – people went in who needed a knee replacement and they took half the people and all they did was cut the knee open and saw it back up.
They didn’t even do the surgery. And they had the same relief of symptoms that the people who had the knee surgery had – the actual surgery. A fake surgery actually produced similar results.
Mike: [00:50:35] There are multiple examples of that kind of stuff in the literature. There was, I remember seeing one that it was, I forget the exact problem. So a guy had a problem with his heart and normally the surgery was going to be traumatic. I mean, splitting open the breastbone. And this study was done decades ago, probably wouldn’t pass an ethics board now.
So this would normally be a very invasive long recovery surgery. And the surgeon, the reason why he even got the idea to try this was: what he was doing in the person’s body and this surgery, didn’t make sense to him. It made no sense, like mechanistically, why would this do anything? Why would this help this guy’s heart problem? It just doesn’t make sense.
Even though it’s the “normal thing” that we do. And so it was the same concept. It was a sham surgery. He just made an incision and that’s it. And again, the guy thought that he had the heart surgery. And I guess it didn’t really occur to him, maybe he didn’t know exactly what was going to be done, because it didn’t occur to him that, wait a minute, he feels too good for having his breastbone split open. But the point is, he thought he got the surgery, the heart surgery that he needed to get. And his problem went away, but it was nothing. Nothing. Nothing was done.
Sal: [00:51:49] Yeah, they did another one where, people who get these genetic tests, like these 23andMe tests, and they’ll be told that, you know, “oh you have a predisposition for anxiety or stress or diabetes,” or whatever, and they did a bunch of them were they gave them fake results. And they actually find that the person’s physiology will start to meet their expectations of what they think the test said.
So like, if you tell me, you know, I have high insulin or, you know, high stress hormones, even though that’s not true, because I believe it to be true, my physiology actually starts to match that a little bit. So, trying to separate the experience from what’s happening, I mean, good luck.
And that’s why so much of successful, I guess training, or successful communication of how to get people to get more fit, more healthy – so much of it lies in how we communicate it and how we modify and alter these behaviors and not just the mechanistic, “here’s what happens when your protein, here’s what happens when, you know, when you eat fat, and here’s what you need to do to work out,” it’s never that easy.
Mike: [00:52:53] Yeah, managing expectations and managing beliefs is hugely important. Makes me think of social media. One of the reasons why I don’t like social media particularly, the fitness space, it sets so many unreal expectations. Aside from the weird beliefs people can pick up on social media.
But just the expectations alone, I’d say for both men and women, are so unobtainable for the average person and there’s so much more going on behind the scenes. You know, I think you listened to the podcast I did recently on steroid use, right? And so, there’s so much of that out there that people don’t talk about that changes everything, for both men and women. It’s more of a guy thing, but there’s a lot of drug use among fitness girls, too, it’s just different drugs.
Sal: [00:53:39] Oh, man. I mean, they are using low doses of anabolic testosterone analogs, Anavar and Winstrol. And they are using these beta agonists like Clenbuterol …
Mike: [00:53:50] Thyroid …
Sal: [00:53:50] Or Salbutamol. Yeah. You know, it’s funny when I talk to people in person, I’ve even communicated this on the podcast, the human brain and psyche evolved, for the most part, in kind of small communities. And it’s totally normal and natural and unconscious for your mind to kind of compare yourself to what it considers to be the norm.
Again, for most of human history, the norm was determined by your small community around you. Now that we have social media and we elevate the extreme examples that are extremely rare – like think about it this way, how many six-packs do you see in the real world? Turn off your social media.
Mike: [00:54:31] Yeah, just go to the beach, even. Go to the beach in the summer. Where you have people – where it already, kind of, preselects for people who might want to show off their bodies. You don’t even see it that much there.
Sal: [00:54:41] No, no, no. Here’s another example. Like, how many seven foot tall people have you ever seen in real life? I’ve never. The only time I’ve ever seen someone seven feet tall was when I went to a basketball game. Now, if all I ever did was watch basketball and look at basketball players on social media.
My brain will start to believe that to be the norm and I will start to feel inadequate. So this is what’s happening with social media, a lot of people are looking at these pictures of all these shredded photoshopped, fake, individuals. Some of them on anabolic steroids, some of them on other drugs, some of them genetic anomalies and many of them photoshopped.
And, you’re going to start feeling shitty about yourself. You’re going to start feeling very terrible about yourself because you don’t look like this 0.1 percent of the population and your brain starts to think that that’s normal, so…
Mike: [00:55:29] How have you personally dealt with that? Because I mean, speaking for me, I would say, by Instagram standards, I look okay. And although I can’t say I’ve ever felt necessarily like depressed about it, I don’t think it’s ever weighed down heavily on me, I’ve absolutely looked at dudes on Instagram and thought, “I’d be cool to look like that. That’s pretty cool.”
And knowing that I can never look like that unless I took a bunch of drugs, in some cases I never could look like that because I don’t have the muscle insertions, I just don’t have the genetics to look like that. End of story.
Sal: [00:55:58] Right. Well, I dealt with – what got me into lifting weights as a kid at the age of 14 was insecurities. I was a real skinny kid. And that’s kind of what drove me initially to workout. And I got a lot of positive things from working out. I mean, it taught me, you know, if I put in hard work today that I get this result later on.
It’s actually what helped develop my, partly what developed my work ethic and how I approach, you know, most things in life, where I have this internal locus of control where, okay I can change this thing if I focus on the things that I can control. But a lot of my motivation was the insecurities about my body. And it did drive me, Mike.
It drove me to do things that were not good for me. I force-fed myself. I took lots and lots of crazy supplements. I would blend tuna fish and chicken breasts and egg yolks and whole milk and I’d pound that, you know, before bed. Or I drink – I’d buy these mega mass 4,000 shakes that, you know, that was literally the size of a bucket, like a paint bucket.
And the serving size was so big that there were like six servings in that whole bucket because it was 5,000 calories. And I’d pound that thing. And I used to do that. And then I went in to – and then, of course, when designer steroids were a thing. When you were able to buy them over the counter. You know, there was a period of time, there was a bit of a gray market.
Mike: [00:57:14] I think I missed that. When was that?
Sal: [00:57:16] Oh, that was, I want to say early 2000s and maybe 2000 to like 2005, maybe even 2010, as late as then. Where, what these really smart supplement manufacturers, small companies, what they would do is, they would research pharmaceutical drugs that companies would come up with. They would try to get approved as anabolics. And these were discarded like, “oh, we think this is going to be a good chemical” and for whatever reason, they never pursued it. Oftentimes because the side effects were too strong.
Mike: [00:57:49] Yeah, I was going to say, it’s because it was like killing the mice or something. And they’re like, “alright well not that one.”
Sal: [00:57:54] Right. Or, because there was a better option or whatever, or because they didn’t see any market viability. Because these analogs or whatever, weren’t technically illegal. Because they weren’t – you know, the way the law worked is, that the molecule itself has to be made illegal. So it’s like testosterone has to be made illegal, dianabol has to be made illegal, anadrol has to be made illegal.
And so these weren’t on that list. And so what they did, and I don’t know who the first guys to do it were, but I know Gaspari did it with some of his stuff, and there was another company that made – Superdrol was another one, or Methyl Masterdrol was another one, One Testosterone was another one. They would take these, they’d make them, and then they’d sell them. These were, for all intensive purposes, oral steroids.
Mike: [00:58:35] And you could buy them, what? Just in the back, the secret behind the locked glass, supplement stash in like GNC? Or you bought them at …
Sal: [00:58:43] No, no, no. GNC never carried any of them. GNC, I think, at one point carried androstenedione, which was the precursor hormone to testosterone, which really didn’t do much for you. No, these were actual designer steroids, but if you went to like a local supplement stores or bodybuilding supplement stores, they would sell them. They were …
Mike: [00:59:01] Or gym.
Sal: [00:59:02] Yes, or online. That’s where I bought mine, I’d buy them online.
Mike: [00:59:05] I see.
Sal: [00:59:06] And they were designer steroids. Now they were sold as prohormones, like DHEA, for example. But no, these were actual – I mean, and you’d take these things and, for sure, you would build muscle. I remember the first time I bought – the first one I took was, I think it was superdrol, and I gained like ten pounds in like two and half weeks or something stupid like that.
Most of it water. And I was super strong, I was like “holy shit”. You know, and I messed with a lot of these things, I took a lot of these things. And, you know, I did quite a few cycles of them and did a lot of things to my health that weren’t great because it was driven by these insecurities. And at one point my health rebelled on me and I started to develop terrible gut issues.
I even thought I had Crohn’s disease at one point. And I had to kind of reexamine what I was doing. I took on a much more focused health and wellness approach and worked with some functional medicine practitioners and did some food testing, all that stuff. And that’s really what took me and turned me into who I am today. But a lot of it was driven by those insecurities. And so…
Mike: [01:00:02] Do you still deal with that at all now?
Sal: [01:00:03] No. You know, it’s funny, I am so far away from that now that even talking about it is kind of strange. I feel like I’m talking about a different person. I mean, I was your typical meathead driven by, “I got to get bigger, I just gotta get bigger, I gotta get stronger at all costs.” I’m so far away from – I mean, at one point, Mike, you know, when my health rebelled, I got terrible symptoms.
I couldn’t keep any food inside my body, basically like having Crohn’s disease or colitis. And I lost 15 pounds in a very short period of time. And, you know, keep in mind, I was an individual who at this point, had identified so strongly with his body, and I tried to create the shell of this muscular person. This was a terribly difficult time to go through.
And at the time, I owned a personal training and wellness studio. And in my studio, I was a personal trainer. And so I was, you know, I’d focus on the exercise aspect. But I had somebody who did food testing and hormone testing, and you know, I had a massage therapist, and there were all these kind of wellness people, who I considered to be a bit woo-woo and crunchy.
But I liked them and the clientele liked them, and I could see that they provided value to people. And so I loved having them on my team and we were all real cool. I mean, that’s one thing I will say about myself, pat myself on the back a little bit – I do have the ability to be able to enjoy relationships with people, even though I may disagree with them on a lot of things.
And so, we weren’t the same in terms of fitness, but I appreciated them, and so we were friends. And when this happened with my health, I got desperate and I turned to them and I said, you know, “I think I know everything about nutrition. I think I know everything about exercise. I’ve been to the doctors. I don’t know what the fuck’s going on,” like, “can you help me?”
And so they sat me down and I had to do a huge elimination diet. I had to completely change my workouts. I started to supplement with things like probiotics. I went through kind of a SIBO protocol, you know, like a leaky gut protocol. In order to deal with this process, Mike, I had to totally change the focus of my training and diet from performance and muscle, to, “I just want to get healthy.”
I just want to be healthy. I don’t care what I look like, I don’t care much muscle, I don’t care how lean I am. I just want to get healthy. And it was about a year long process. About a year into it, you know – and through that process was tough, by the way, I was so sensitive to food that even a hint of the wrong thing would set me off so I had to be very, very strict.
But, you know, about a year or so into the process, I was at a friends house for a pool party and, you know, I get out of the pool and I go into the bathroom and they had a couple mirrors in the bathroom and one of the mirrors reflected into the other one. And I glimpsed a reflection of myself, but it was from an angle that I’m not used to seeing. And so in a split second, I didn’t recognize what I was seeing.
It was a very, very short like split, split second. But I saw my reflection, didn’t recognize that it was myself, for a split second. And in that split second, I thought to myself, like “woah, that guy’s pretty muscular.” And then I kind of looked at myself, I saw that it was me. And I was like, “wait a minute, that’s really weird.” How was I able to identify that I looked a particular way?
And so then, for the first time ever, or for that year, I was able to look at my body from an aesthetic point of view, and I was shocked to find that my focus on health and wellness, had actually produced a physique that had looked better than almost anything else I had ever been able to produce while taking designer steroids or while doing crazy things with weight gainers and supplements and training and all this other shit when I was completely focused on aesthetics.
I actually looked better as a side effect of focusing on health. That really is kind of the catalyst for what – it kind of turned me into who I am today. And the voice that I have on Mind Pump, all came from that.
Mike: [01:03:49] That’s interesting. And so now, if you see – because you can always find people who look impressive on social media. I mean, for me, I would say for anybody who has dealt with any sort of maybe self-criticism, for me, I mean, I am happy with the way that my body looks. It doesn’t look as good as – there are many people in social media that look better.
But for what it’s worth, where I think worked well for me is: I have intentionally not identified myself and my value and my self esteem with just my physique. You gotta get there to some degree to do the line of work that I do and, you know, to get really lean and take – once you get super lean, any guy, you know, and I’d say any girl, that once you get super lean, there is that point where it’s like anything else just kind of feels fat.
And so there are the standard quirks that come with, I guess being, I would say, probably more into – this would be one of my criticisms of fitness space – one of the things I don’t like, I think is unhealthy, is: it puts too much attention on the body. Just being obsessed with the body and how your body looks.
And whereas, I think it’s much healthier to not just take care of your body more – what you’re saying: focus on health, feel good, and looking good. There’s nothing wrong with looking good, but not feeling like you’re a slave to your body. Where that’s all you do is you feed your body, you work out your body, you sleep your body, and you judge, your emotions are tied into how you look or feel on a day to day based on, you know: are you holding a little bit more water today?
Oh, well, it’s a bad day. And so I’ve been maybe consciously trying to stay away from that. But it reminds me of the food stuff we’re talking about or even porn. We’re all drawn to that stuff to one degree or another. Whether we indulge is something else. But we all have that dark side that says, “hey, wouldn’t you like to eat nine bags of Doritos? Wouldn’t you like to go on a …” I think that South Park, one of the characters, was on some porn binge and there’s cum everywhere.
Sal: [01:05:52] [Laughter]
Mike: [01:05:52] “Wouldn’t you like to do that?” [Laughter] But maybe just consciously for me, you know, saying, “yeah, I don’t look as good as some of these other guys. But I have other things that I’m proud of, so who cares?”
Sal: [01:06:10] Well, if you don’t learn to stop identifying with your appearance, that lesson will be taught to you one way or another. And the other is going to be a hard way because we all get old, and we all eventually don’t look good, and you don’t want to be like those Hollywood actors and actresses who identify so strongly with their look that they’re in their 60s and 70s and they’ve had so much plastic surgery that they can’t blink and they’re depressed and anxious over it.
Mike: [01:06:36] The lizards. The alien lizards.
Sal: [01:06:40] Here’s the deal, okay. At the end of the day, if you eat and exercise for aesthetics, you might get some aesthetics, but you won’t get good health. And at some point, your poor health will eliminate whatever aesthetics are achieved. On the flip side, if you eat and exercise for good health, you’ll get a great deal of health and a great deal of aesthetics.
So it’s actually the smart approach for ascetics is to focus on good health. It’s just the only way to do it. And the only way to do it long term is to focus on that, because the other way doesn’t work long term, it just doesn’t. If you keep pushing the aesthetics, at some point your health will rebel and you’ll lose both. The other side of it is the motivation behind why you work out.
If you’re only focused on aesthetics and that’s the main 90 percent reason why I work out and eat a particular way, much of that is driven by self-hate and self-criticism. I’m too fat. I’m too skinny. I don’t look good enough, so I need to change this and you change that. And when your motivation to train and eat is self-hate, it’s not going to direct you in an appropriate way.
You start to treat exercise like a punishment, “oh, God, I ate that burrito yesterday so I’m going to go beat the crap out of myself in the gym.” Or you start to restrict your food because you deserve to be restricted because you’re a bad person. Or then you start to binge because you give in, because you don’t want to tyrannize yourself anymore and you can’t handle the guy that’s, you know, forcing you to not eat and so now I’m going to eat again so you go this kind of binge restrict cycle, versus, training, eating because you love yourself, because you care about yourself.
I mean, think about that, like if you go to the gym because you’re trying to take care of yourself, the decisions you’re going to make are going to be the more appropriate ones. You’re more likely to train properly. You’re more likely to train intensely, when it’s the right time to train intensely. And you’re more likely to train in a way that’s recuperative, when that’s what you need.
You’re more likely to feed yourself appropriately when you’re taking care of yourself. Because, just like when you take care of your kid, you know, I have two kids and I love them to death. Does that mean I give them cookies all the time, because that’s what they want all the time? No. No, of course not. I’m going to give them stuff that’s good for them.
But every once in a while, I’m going to give him a cookie too because I care about them and I want them to enjoy that part of it as well. So you’ll find that if your motivation is health and your motivation is caring about yourself, the result of that is: what most people are chasing, which is an aesthetic, healthy-looking physique.
And at the end of the day – now in pictures, it may be different because you can photoshop them and you can change the tint and all that shit, but here’s the reality: in person, health is the most attractive thing. So people want to be attractive? I’ll tell you what, go to a bodybuilding show, go to a physique competition, go to a bikini competition with all these shredded athletes, go look at them in the face in person.
And you tell me how many of them look attractive. They don’t because they’re totally unhealthy at that moment. They’re super shredded, super depleted. Probably got gut issues. Real health is the most attractive thing in real life. And so the whole irony of it is: don’t chase that, chase the health and then you’ll get all that.
Mike: [01:09:38] Very well said. I think that’s just like a point of maturity, as far as, at least, the fitness goes, right? And I understand when I started lifting weights, it was just to look good for girls. [Laughing] I grew up playing sports, wasn’t playing sports anymore, and I was like, “I want to keep doing something with my body, girls like muscles, I like girls, there. I’ll start doing that.”
And then have gone through an aesthetics phase. I didn’t use any drugs that I know of. Looking back, there are probably a couple test booster supplements that honestly probably had something. Just because I remember there was one, I don’t remember the name of it, and this was a supplement you just buy in GNC and could just placebo effect, but I immediately started sleeping better.
I noticed more strength in the gym, and it went away, you know, within a few weeks, so it may or may not have had – it’s just now that I’ve been in the supplement industry for a few years I know what goes on behind the scenes. You can get anything you want from China and then you can get anything you want bottled and you can get anything you want on those labels if you just work with the right shady manufacturers, so who knows?
Sal: [01:10:45] Yeah, so now you have like, you know, “boosts your libido pills” and they actually contain real Viagra, you know. They found a ton of those, you know?
Mike: [01:10:52] Or some natural “test booster” that has just like tribulus and a few other useless ingredients, but also has a small amount, maybe of one of these testosterone analogs you’re talking about. It’s possible, I don’t know. But my point is I went through that ascetics phase where, “oh, it’s cool to get super lean and have ab veins and …”
Well, getting there naturally was actually straightforward, but trying to stay there, that’s where I realized this is not possible. It’s not possible unless I’m just gonna be miserable, have terrible workouts, no sex drive. Like eventually, like you were saying, my body’s going to rebel and it’s just – yeah, I’m going to be able to take some cool pictures, but be otherwise pretty useless.
Now I’m much more along the same lines as you, where, sure I want to look good, I want to have good workouts, it’s cool to lift heavy weights for whatever that’s worth, heavy for me. But first and foremost, I want to be healthy and I want to be healthy for the long term.
Sal: [01:11:48] Exactly. And you know, I love communicating from this direction on the podcast, and like I was saying earlier, changed how I train people. Like another example is how I communicate exercise. When you work out, people view working out as a way to sweat and get sore. So like, “okay, I’m gonna go to the gym and the whole goal is to hammer these muscles so that they get sore and I sweat.”
What I started telling people, which was way more effective, was to view exercise like a skill. So I’d tell people like, “instead of going to the gym and squatting because you want to hammer your quads, go to the gym and practice squatting, like you’re trying to learn how to be a really good squatter.” And the reason why I did that was because people – their technique and form is out the window.
When people are focused just on the workout aspect, they tend to push themselves past good form, they tend to do things that are inappropriate. But when people go to the gym and practice exercise and get good at it, they get great, great results. And so, you know, I’d get my clients to go to the gym and they’d be like, “I’m going to go to the gym and today I’m supposed to squat, and I’m supposed to bench press, and overhead press.
I’m supposed to row, and do pull ups. And so I’m going to go in there and practice them and just get really, really good at them,” And those are the clients who did the best year in and year out. Some of these clients are trained for 12 to 13 years and I haven’t trained them now for about four years. And they don’t have a trainer, they’re still consistent, they have not stopped working out because they have that kind of approach.
Mike: [01:13:11] That’s great. That reminds me of a little anecdote, I think it was a golf anecdote, reading a golf book. But it was a scorecard analogy, right? Applies to anything in life, like what kind of score card are you keeping? So in golf, for example, when I was golfing a lot in Florida.
Well, I guess it wasn’t that much, maybe four to six hours a week or so, but the score card was quite literally the scorecard. Like I was playing golf to get good at the game, not to go out and hang out and have a good time with people and if I wasn’t getting better, I was not satisfied. But other people, it’s a different scorecard.
For them it’s: how many jokes did they enjoy with their buddies or how many beers did they drink. And if they hit a couple good shots along the way, hey, that’s great. And so similarly, the scorecard can change positively and it is much more of a – it starts to turn into a neurosis, right? All the negative kind of body image obsession, that’s one type of score card that only – it’s a dead end, it really just is. Whereas everything else you’re talking about is just a totally different scorecard.
Sal: [01:14:16] Oh, yeah. I mean, imagine if people went to the gym to learn the skill of lifting weights, to learn the skill of deadlifting, to learn the skill of overhead pressing, and bench pressing, and rowing, and pull-ups, and rotational movements, and lunging, and – rather than going in to say, “I’m going to hammer my chest, I’m going to work out my back, and I want my butt to look better ’cause it’s fat,” or whatever.
Imagine if they went to the gym and treated them like any other skill. Like if you want to go learn how to play basketball, you’re not going there just to burn tons of calories, you want to learn how to dribble, you learn how to shoot, you want to learn the fundamentals. Imagine if people went to the gym and treated exercise like a skill. How much more fit, muscular, strong people, without injuries and pain we would have, versus what we have now. I mean, it’s like night and day.
Mike: [01:15:01] Very true. Very true. All right, man, well, I think that’s a great place to call it quits for this one. So obviously, everyone can find you over at MindPumpMedia.com, you also have Mind Pump, your podcast, is there anything else cool and exciting that you have going on that you want to tell people about?
Sal: [01:15:16] Yeah, we have a lot of free guides that we offer. So like I have a guide on how to get to increase the weight to your squat, or how to develop your legs, or your arms, or your midsection. And I even have a guide for personal trainers to help them become more successful as personal trainers. They’re all free, you can find those at MindPumpFree.com.
And then if people want to contact me personally, I have my own personal social media page on Instagram, that’s MindPumpSal. And that’s pretty much it man. You know, I really enjoy talking to you, Mike. You’re one of our absolutely – the first time we met you, we had you come down to the studio, and immediately we all knew that you were one of our people. You’re one of the few honest, you know, people with integrity in this space and it’s rare, but, you know, we’re glad we know you and I’m glad you’re doing what you’re doing, man.
Mike: [01:16:04] Thanks, man. Of course, I feel the same way, I consider us all friends, of course, not just peers. But I enjoy hanging out with you guys and I enjoy chats like this. I look forward to talking to Adam and Justin as well. Thanks again for taking the time.