Welcome to Be Better Now Health.

The value of good health can’t be overestimated. It is much, much more difficult to be happy when you don’t have your health.

If you are new to Be Better Now Health, I recommend you start off reading about the importance of Health and Fitness.

Health and fitness is an extremely broad topic. To make things worse, it seems like our understanding of health is always changing. The media feeds us diet and workout fads that sound great in theory. Unfortunately, theory is where it ends for most people. Below you’ll find articles that help put that theory into practice.

Related Subtopics:  > Weight Loss > Diet > Exercise

Every now and again I see a bumper sticker that says, "Eat More Kale" (probably thanks to this guy). I'd like to say that I like kale as much as the next guy, but I don't. I don't like it at all. Come to think of it, that might be about as much as "the next guy." Maybe that's why someone needs to make shirts about it.

Horse eating carrots.

I'm a spinach man. Raw. I'd prefer to squeeze it from can into a perfect parabolic flight straight into my mouth, but Bluto is big enemy and Olive Oyl needs to put on some weight. I'm kidding, of course, but I replace the lettuce in my salad with spinach for an extra kick of vitamins.

I can't see being Popeye, but Bugs Bunny is a different story. I can chew on a carrot. I think we could all learn a little more from Bugs and incorporate more carrots in our diet.

Why Carrots?

I shouldn't have write about why it is good to eat vegetables. That's common sense right?

So why single out carrots? Three reasons:

Beta Carotene

That's what gives carrots its orange coloring. Besides carrots it is found mostly in pumpkins and sweet potatoes. It seems like a nutrient that most people probably don't get a lot of... simply because it is hard to find.

Low Glycemic Load

What's glycemic load? You wouldn't have to ask this question if I had published my article on the glycemic index and glycemic loads. However, I haven't gotten it ready to publish yet. Carrots have an extremely low glycemic load... even for vegetables in general. I'm not a doctor, but I've read that insulin levels are tied to glycemic loads of foods and probably linked to diabetes. If you are going on low-carb diet and I'm not saying you should, it may be the best carb to cheat with. (See how carefully I tread the water here.)

Cheap and Long Lasting

Carrots are extremely cheap. I can find 5 pounds of them for around $2 at my local store. At that price, your other options are typically limited to potatoes or rice. (Actually beans can be found cheaply and they are great, but that's a different article.)

The key to cheap carrots is to skip the baby carrots. Yes, baby carrots are ready to eat right away. However, they are usually quite a bit more money, maybe setting you back $6-7 for 5 pounds.

I know the baby carrots are tempting. They tempt me too. Hey go for them if you want. It's better than not eating carrots at all.

For those of you who aren't so lazy, did you know that you can peel 10 pounds of carrots in less than 2 minutes? Don't believe me? Watch this guy do it in a little more than a minute:

If you only have 5 pounds of carrots, you can do it in half the time. (Yes, I was a mathematics major for a couple of years in college.)

You may still want to chop the carrots into smaller pieces, but I bet you'll get real good at that as well. Or you can leave them unchopped. Just because baby carrots come chopped doesn't mean you have to eat them way. Plus if you don't chop them, you can act out your inner Bugs Bunny.

Tasty and Easy to Eat

I don't usually like to say one food is better tasting than another, but you could statistically measure which foods people report taste better. If you did, I bet you'd find that carrots rank better than most vegetables. A very unscientific study of my two sons show that they do indeed taste better than most healthy foods.

They are also very easy to eat. You don't need to cook them. They don't leave your fingers orange like Cheetos.

While most people refrigerate carrots so that they last longer, if you are going to eat them in a few days, there's really no need to.

The Secret to Eating More Carrots

It's easy for me to write, "Eat more carrots", but I already know you aren't going to do it. You are going to close this browser window and go back to watching cat videos.

You may go through the charade of buying carrots. However, you'll then put them in the drawer of death in the refrigerator... the one you never open until they are a big soggy mess.

Instead, I want you make a Sunday night checklist. For me that checklist has stocking the kids diapers in the changing table, making sure they are shower and bathed, have clothes picked out for the week, etc. I've added "Prepare Carrots" to the list. Yes it is one more thing to do, but it doesn't take long and pays dividends all week.

Once you make it a habit, it will become second nature. You are setting healthy eating on autopilot.

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Summary: Doing something as simple as keeping a food journal may not only help your diet succeed, but it change your life. (Tweet this!)
food journal

Amazing things can start with a food journal

On walks with my dog I'm currently listening to the audiobook, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. After all that snow, it's great to get some fresh Spring air, a little exercise, while learning some truly amazing stuff.

I hope to review the book, err tape, err audio file... at some point in the near future. Today, I'd like to write about one very brief study mentioned in the book. I'm not even going to look up the study source, because it makes common sense if you think about it.

The book mentioned that the study asked some people who diet to simply keep track of what they ate once a week in a food journal. They weren't asked to change their eating or exercise habits in any way. Just keeping a journal changed how they ate:

“It was hard at first [writing down everything one day per week]. The subjects forgot to carry their food journals, or would snack and not note it…Eventually, it became a habit. Then something unexpected happened. The participant started looking at their entries and finding patterns they didn’t know existed. Some noticed they always seemed to snack at about 10 a.m., so they began keeping an apple or banana on their desks for mid-morning munchies. Others started using their journals to plan future menus, and when dinner rolled around, they ate the healthy meal they had written down, rather than junk food from the fridge.”

What they found is that the people who kept a food journal lost weight. Those who recorded their food more lost more weight.

I've noticed a similar thing in personal finance. Those who track their net-worth tend to have higher net-worths.

The act of tracking forces you to be mindful about the activity. If you are on a diet, you aren't going to want to write down that you ate triple burger with super fries and a thick shake. You not only have that mindfulness, but as the book mentions, you can go back and optimize your weaknesses. In addition you have a level of accountability.

What's even more exciting is that they found that the healthy habit spread into other areas of their lives. Those who ate healthier tended to exercise more. They smoke less. They were in better control of their spending.

A professor explained it as good habits "spill over." I like to say that they snowball.

This snowball effect is a central idea behind this website. If you are having trouble with one aspect of your life, perhaps improving another area will spill over and make the difference. If you start exercising, you'll feel better and have more energy. That will make you more productive. Being more productive makes you more money. Exercising improves your health, which may save you costly medical bills in the future.

One small habit can snowball into many positive changes in your life. Imagine what can happen if you just start with a simple food journal today.

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Summary: Sleep is one of the most important things in our lives. Here's how to be a little better at it. (Tweet This!)

If there's one topic of Be Better Now that I don't know how to categorize it is sleep. It naturally seems to fit in health. However, one could make a strong case it fits in the mind section. It has a large impact on productivity and hence money.

Most sleep experts seem to recommend that we get 8 hours of sleep each night. The simple math tells us that 1/3rd of our lives is spent sleeping. If you live to 75 years old, approximately 25 years could be spent sleeping.

Any way you slice it sleep is a Big Deal.

My dog sleeps like this.

With anything as big as that any kind of optimization multiplies itself substantially. If you be effective in 7 hours of sleep you'll get more than three years of your life back.

I shouldn't need to convince you any more, so here are a few ways to get better sleep:

  • Take a Nap - I am a huge fan of naps. I have them planned into my day. With the nap, I can get be productive until 11PM or later. Without the nap, I start to wind down right after dinner.

    My wife isn't a nap person. Sometimes she gives it a try and just wakes up more tired than she was before. Do what works for you.

  • Time Your Nap Right - Almost Bohemian tells of Salvador Dali sleeping with a key. You sit in a chair to fall asleep holding a key. When you fall asleep, the key falls and the sound of it on the floor wakes you up rested. It's timed so that you get to your most relaxed point. The best part is that you don't oversleep.
  • Fight Back - Try to stay awake. Your body wants to sleep and you may be anxiously trying to get to sleep. If you try to stay awake you won't be anxious and hence fall asleep. It even has a long name and scientific research: paradoxical intention. You can read more about it here
  • Enlist some Technology - There are apps for your smart phones and devices like the Fitbit Flex that will track your sleep. I'm most excited about the Luna Smartbed, which is just a cover over your mattress that delivers a lot of data without having to wear any uncomfortable gadgets.

Further Reading:

The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night's Sleep has only 18 reviews on Amazon with is typically too small for me to recommend. However, reviewers collective rate it at 4.3 stars... and there's the Harvard Medical School aspect going for it.

Looking for something with better (and more) reviews? Sleep Smarter: 21 Proven Tips to Sleep Your Way To a Better Body, Better Health and Bigger Success has 88 Amazon reviews and an incredible 4.7 stars. The Kindle price is currently a penny under a fiver which seems like a very good deal.

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Summary: Living chemical free is not a realistic goal, but some easy substitutions go a long way (Tweet This!)

Live Chemical Free

When my wife was pregnant with our two children she took health to a new level. She did everything possible to avoid chemicals. Artificial sweeteners were replaced with organic agave such as this. Full calorie soda was kicked to the curb due to high-fructose corn syrup. There was an occasional splurge on Mexican Coke, which is made with cane sugar.

Imagine making those changes with everything you eat. That's what she did for two, long 9-month stretches.

Finding something to drink at a restaurant turned into a very difficult process. Ever notice how alcohol and soda dominate a restaurant? Even if you find some kind of juice, it is mostly going to be high-fructose corn syrup and water... not particularly healthy.

All of this brings me to the question?

Can You Live Chemical Free?

Nope. No way, no how. You can't. It's like trying to pitch a perfect game and striking out all 27 batters on 3 pitches.

Chemicals are everywhere.

It's not just my opinion, but also the doctor's in this article.

There's a lot of talk about being "chemical-free" which is why I prominently put it in the title. I think it's a poor term that focuses on extremism rather than useful. As the saying goes, perfect is the enemy of good.

Don't go in with a goal of pitching that extreme perfect game, just do you best with what's in-front at the time and you'll be fine.

Chemicals Aren't Necessarily Bad...

Before we go too far, I want to make the point that chemicals aren't necessarily bad. Science has done a lot of tremendous stuff for us, including creating the technology to allow you to read this. It doesn't feel right to say, "Hey this branch of science is really good and useful and this other branch is always harmful."

Even in the most controversial cases, it seems like it is the public that is confused about the science. For example, this from Pew Research:

"A majority of the general public (57%) says that genetically modified (GM) foods are generally unsafe to eat, while 37% says such foods are safe; by contrast, 88% of AAAS scientists say GM foods are generally safe. The gap between citizens and scientists in seeing GM foods as safe is 51 percentage points. This is the largest opinion difference between the public and scientists."

It looks like it's a case where the public doesn't understand health studies, is caught up in misinformation from a few bad eggs trying to get in the spotlight, or simply is fearful of something they don't understand.

I feel like chemicals are often painted with the same broad brush.

Final Thoughts...

My philosophy on this is that it's good to eliminate most chemicals when we can, but don't go overboard. Many people are living healthy long lives and most all of them are not checking their food for chemicals.

I suggest you look to make changes when you can. For example, I don't buy tomato sauce in a jar any more. I make it with diced tomatoes, tomato sauce (in a can), and tomato paste. I buy them all organic as it is only a few cents more. I've eliminated high-fructose corn syrup from my diet.

Another thing to look out for is BBQ sauce. Most brands have high-fructose corn syrup, but a few don't. For example, Bulls-eye BBQ uses real sugar.

Finally, my friends at DIY Natural have more advice than I can ever give you. Not only do they cover food, but they cover toiletries and other items. Their DIY Natural Household Cleaners book is highly recommended with an average of 4.3 stars over 125 reviews.

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Summary: These tips will help you lose weight by tricking you into eating less (Tweet This!)

Most people would agree that one of the keys to losing weight is simply eatting less food. If you weren't reading carefully, you may have missed I slipped a word in there... simply. For most people, there's really nothing simple to weight loss. This is one of the cases where knowing what to do is only 20% of the battle. It's extremely tough to stay on the wagon.

With that in mind here are some tips to help you eat less to lose weight:

  • Volumetrics - I used to dismiss this phenomenon as another diet fad. However, one day I looked in my cupboard and saw some microwave popcorn next to a can of peanuts. I realized that I could either a bag of popcorn, a little less than the size of my head, and only consume 100 calories in 15 minutes... or I could go through the 2 ounces of peanuts in about 25 seconds and consume 330 calories. That's not to saw that the peanuts are a bad food choice. Instead, there is something to be said for opting to choose a bigger food that takes longer to eat, while still being fewer calories.
  • Drink Water - Like the volumetrics above, water takes up space in the stomach. I try to have a big glass of water before I even start a meal. This way I've already occupied some stomach space with zero calories.
  • Eat Slower - Studies show that it cons the brain 10 minutes to register that it is getting full. By eating slower, you give more time for these signals to be sent. In fact, there are even smart forks, designed to help you eat slowly. Going back to the bag of popcorn verses the already shelled peanuts, the popcorn takes longer to eat and thus makes me fuller.
  • Imagine Eating More - If you just think you are eating more, you may trick your body... at least according to this study.
  • Smaller Plates I - With smaller plates you aren't going to be able to physically pack as much food on them.
  • Smaller Plates II - Deja vu? Yep. Follow me for a minute on this one. Which one of the orange dots is bigger?

    mond vergleich illusion

    You may be familiar with the optical illusion and answered that they are both the same size. If so, score yourself a point. Now think of the gray circles as the size of the plate. See... same amount orange dot food. On a larger plate you think you're not getting enough, but on a smaller plate your mind believes it's getting more to eat than it is.

  • Meal Measure Portion Control Tool - This plastic mold fits to your plates (unless you are using small ones as recommended above) to help you measure your portions.

If you combine a few of the tips above, you might find that losing weight is a little bit easier.

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Health may be the most difficult subject there is to research. You might not think it is true with all the information in the news. There are dozens of new health studies written every day. It's been that way for years, and yet, it seems that our overall progress with health seems glacially slow.

For example, I've been reading about promising cancer cures for more than 20 years. What is going on?

Health Studies

It turns out that there are a lot of reasons why there is so much confusion about nutrition and fitness as the doctors writing for Lifehacker put it. (I've made it so that link opens up in a new tab, because we will be referring to it quite a bit).

As that article indicates, keeping consumers confused is big business. It makes it clear that the "Dr. Oz"s of the world "need a steady stream of things to endorse." Further, we respond very well to actionable warnings ("salt is bad") or promises ("antioxidants are great"). Think of many billions people spend to buy books, DVD, supplements, packaged foods, etc.

As registered dietician, Andy Bellatti puts it:

"To make matters more confusing, these [food and beverage company] institutes have doctors, cardiologists, and dietitians on their payroll — as well as key media contacts — resulting in a health professional talking to media about, say, how soda is 'unfairly vilified.' Most times, the general public isn't aware that this isn't an objective health professional choosing to say that."

It's hard not to quote the whole Lifehacker article. However, it is partcularly important to cite that individual "experts" are out to confuse us for their own profit as well:

"Skwarecki's article, Why It's So Easy to Believe Our Food is Toxic, is an exceptional case study in this. She explains how 'experts' take good premises—like the need to take your health in your own hands and be critical of the things you eat and buy—and go off the rails when the sales pitch gets involved. She calls out nutrition gurus and health 'experts' you've likely seen reposted on Facebook, like Vani Hari (aka The Food Babe,) and Joseph Mercola, among others, who thrive on obfuscating nutrition so much that the only clear thing they do suggest is that you should buy their books, sponsored foods, and DVDs."

It gets worse. Lobbyists for the food industry is involved in the government guidelines. It's big business for the food pyramid/MyPlate recommendations. Kamal Patel in that Lifehacker article states:

"Government policy favors packaged foods that can display health claims (e.g. Granola bars, Lunchables) rather than natural foods that come loose or in clear plastic (e.g. strawberries, chicken thighs). Grains were originally 2-3 servings per day until food companies complained and they more than doubled the recommendation. Fruit and veggie manufacturers make very little money compared to General Mills and Unilever, so it took the National Cancer Institute to step in and tell the first-draft writers for the food pyramid that they really need to bump up the fruit and veggie intake."

And then there's the fundamental problem with research itself:

"Research results are notoriously unpredictable, since only some of the total number of studies get published. Studies have a higher chance of getting published if they show positive results, and food and supplement manufacturers can keep funding trials until one gets published."

And sometimes that research is just bad and poorly reported by the media.

So What Does this Mean?

It sounds like you should be wearing a tin foil hat as you read any health article.

However, there is a reason why Congress grills Dr. Oz for promoting bad products and saying, "I don't get why you need to say this stuff when you know it's not true." There's a reason why there are approximately 74,000 different fad diets. What's mentioned about the Coca Cola Beverage Institute makes sense. What's written about the lobbying of special interest groups in government food pyramid guidelines has been extensively covered in numerous places.

When you add it up, it's easy to see why things get really complicated.

And just when you think you can believe scientific studies, you learn that many of the initial reports we hear turn out to be false. Not only that, but "what medical researchers conclude in their studies is misleading, exaggerated, or flat-out wrong."

I'm not trying to be a Debbie Downer here. There are some great tips at the end of the Lifehacker article to help you understand what you can do to protect yourself as a consumer.

My own advice is to stick with what stands the test of time.

That weird root that you read about? Let's see if there are dozens of clinical trials covering a few hundred thousand people before we jump on it. That way we know there's not just one of two doctors working for the company promoting it. We know that it isn't one or two studies that could have had design issues or other bias.

On the other hand, there's things like "lean protein, blueberries, and fiber." I haven't met a doctor who has been against them. I haven't seen too many studies show anything really bad about them. This gives me greater confidence in them.

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Summary: Want to lose weight? Is it really as simple as diet and exercise? Let's find out (Tweet This!)

A few days ago, I covered the golden rule of money. In case you missed it, it is Spend Less Than You Earn. Today's golden rule of weight loss is similar... but different:

Diet & Exercise

[Note: I'm always hesitant to use the word diet when I mean "eat less" as they are very different. After all, I could go on a Super Size Me diet. Alas, society tends to use "diet" as being synonymous with eating less. ]

Most health professionals know that a pound of body weight is 3,500 calories. Want to lose a pound? Simply eat 500 fewer calories every day for a week. Since most of the food in the United States comes with a calorie counter, this should be easy, right? Unfortunately, it is wrong. I don't know how many times that I've read that Americans could drop 15 pounds if they just switched from drinking one can of full calorie soda a day to diet soda. I know a number of people who gave up full calorie sodas and they didn't look like they lost any weight.

Eat Less, Exercise More

If only bathroom scales were this blunt with you.

Yesterday's lesson of spend less than you earn didn't seem to have this problem. I don't want to go all Paul McCartney on you, longing for yesterday, but money was such an easier game to play. The problem is the human body is pretty efficient. If you stop eating, your body will conserve calories making it more difficult to exercise. Exercising without eating can be physically dangerous.

Even if our bodies weren't against us, most of us would still have problems losing weight. We don't prioritize exercise. Everyone I know is going to spend tomorrow working (including commuting) for 9-10 hours. What happens to the rest of the day? Much of that is spent getting ready for work in the morning, making dinner at night, spending time and with the spouse and kids. Exercise is often the lowest priority.

Finally, the money's golden rule of "spending less than you earn" often fights against the goal of losing weight. Unless you are one of the few people who has never been to a McDonalds, you know that McDouble is a lot cheaper than a salad. Gym memberships and personal trainers are expensive. (Though I'll cover a lot of ways to lose weight on a budget.) These conflicting goals can make things difficult.

How You Can Eat Less

There are a lot of ways to trick yourself into eating less. You can use psychological tricks to make it look like you are eating more. You can drink more water to slow you down from overeating. You can make wise choices of foods that fill your stomach on fewer calories. (By "eating less", I mean calories, not volume of food.)

When you combine these together it gets easier. I won't sugarcoat it and say it's "easy" by any means.

The Key to Exercising More

I know a lot of people who don't like exercise. They find elliptical trainers boring. If you are one of those people, I'm with you. However, a lot of those people like activity sports like tennis. Even some of the newer video games can be fun and trick you into exercising more. Finally, there are motivational tricks such as setting SMART goals . I'll cover a lot more of these in greater detail over time.

You shouldn't give up losing weight just because it may be more difficult than saving money. If you think it's impossible, just watch The Biggest Loser. People on the show have a 100% success rate at losing weight over time (though they sometimes put some of it back on).

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Summary: There is a lot of confusion about what's healthy, here's what we know works. (Tweet This)

In case you didn't notice all the articles this week have very general, broad titles. The idea wasn't to present complete solutions, but to come up with a straw man proposal that can evolve over time.

The articles will take their cue from this website: improving a little bit with many tiny steps. Keep doing it long enough, and you won't even recognize what the start looked like.

The Problem with Health

Health is probably the most difficult subject we'll cover at Be Better Now. That's because it is almost impossible to validate health studies.

I'm simply trying to explain how difficult it is going to be write about health and fitness in general. It's as if the deck is stacked against me. There is a haystack of information, and maybe only a needle or two of truth in all of it. I can guarantee that I'll make mistakes and cite some information as being valid when it isn't.

An Attempt at a Guide to Good Health

For all the reasons above, I'm going to try to be a little conservative. I'll stick to ideas that most experts seem to agree on... or ones that just seem to follow clear, obvious logic.

It's almost going to sound too general to be helpful. Over the next few weeks, months, and even years, we'll get a lot more specific. The guide will improve as our research grows.


Skinny Boxer

"That's pure muscle"

There's no better place to start the clear, obvious logic than with exercise. I've never heard an expert say, "Exercise is bad. Stay away from that."

There are different types of exercise. Some are more appropriate for people than others. I don't think my mother is at an age where taking up running is expected. However, there are health benefits for something as simple as walking. I'm not going to teach my 2 year-old son how to do deadlifts, he'll get his exercise from playing.

If it's appropriate for you, I suggest picking up a sport that you love. I'm absolutely terrible at basketball, but I enjoy it. I'm much better at badminton, but I have difficulty finding a partner.

Eat Less Food

This doesn't apply to everyone, but most experts believe that there is an obesity problem in America. Some of that is due to getting less exercise. Some of that has to do with the types of food we eat. Much of it has to do with the quantity of food we eat.

Eat Quality Food

Dinosaur Broccoli Tree

Grrr... Broccoli Tree... Good!

Most experts agree there's a huge difference between eating Ramen Noodles and an apple. It's not exactly rocket science to say that the apple is better. We'll dig into which foods are better choices.

We'll also cover kind of diets are actually scientifically shown to work.

Get Motivated

We'll cover some areas that might be more appropriately put in our Mind section. The key to change in your exercise routine or your diet lies between your ears.

Fire-up that Rocky soundtrack and pound those stairs.

Set (and Accomplish) Your Goals

If you aren't where you want to be with health, it's a good idea to create a plan. Your health journey needs a map. We'll look into how we can learn to set and successfully accomplish our goals.

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Summary: Health plays a huge factor in our happiness. Bad health steals our money, productivity and much more (Tweet This)

As I mentioned in our Welcome post, each Thursday I'll be covering topics relating to health and fitness.

Jillian Michaels knows a thing or two about health and fitness

Why dedicate a day of the week of Be Better Now towards health and fitness?

I worked as a pharmacy technician in a hospital for five years. I can tell you it was extremely rare to see a happy person laid up in hospital bed. It is very difficult to be productive when you aren't feeling well. And when you are healthy you avoid the hospital bills which can decimate your money and financial freedom.

What articles can you expect to see on Thursdays? Here are some topics we'll cover:

  • Exercise - Between aerobic and anaerobic exercise, there's a lot to cover here.
  • Nutrition - How can eating smarter get us the body we've always dreamed of? How can we feel just as good on the inside?
  • Longevity - What steps can we take to live longer? Living longer doesn't mean much without a high quality of life and being healthy is part of that.
  • Tools - What can we use to help us succeed in our health goals? There's a ton of technology out there... so much more than we had even ten years ago. Let's see what works and what doesn't.

I'll be the first to admit that this is one area of Be Better Now where I'm furthest from being an expert. I'm going to lean on you, the readers, the most. I'm not a doctor. I'm not in the field of medicine. I have a lot of exposure to the industry. In many ways health care was the family business from when I was born to today.

I'm playing both sides of the ball here. I think I've got a lot of information that can be helpful and may make sense to you. At the same time, please go see your doctor and other specialists like physical trainers and dieticians before embarking on a new workout or diet.

Strap yourself in, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

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