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Matt Maier on Inner Fire Podcast with Jimmy Lee

You can check out the original here

This isn’t an exact transcript, it’s more like a paraphrase.

We talk about: be the cause, finite & infinite games, thinking too long, eat stupid food, “food” products, Undoctored, hunger & fatigue, healing from SAD, training effect, gym as habit, how to handle problems well, how to build habits, prep & perform, do it

Jimmy: None of us can begin any journey unless we’re motivated to take that first step along the path. What is a motivational quote that gets you fired up?

Matt: Where I’m at right now is “be the cause.” It’s a test. At any given moment, am I the cause of what’s happening, or the effect of what’s happening? It’s brutal.

Jimmy: That’s the second time we’ve heard “be the change”. The first person was Anna Vichino. I love hearing that again. That is brutal. I bet you can take it too far.

Matt: Definitely; you can be struggling to get above worthless. But I tend to think of it as a litmus test. You can choose to act or not but at least the choice is clear. I feel it can be interpreted more broadly than the hustle-grind culture.

Anything that happens is either a “finite game” or an “infinite game”. In a finite game, the rules are designed to bring the rules to a conclusion. Soccer is a good example. If anything ambiguous happens, the rules will be extended or clarified to force the game to a clear conclusion. An infinite game is the opposite, where you manipulate the rules so the game never ends. Sportsmanship is an infinite game. You can play soccer to win this game, but if you don’t play it with sportsmanship nobody will invite you to play soccer again.

Some people will hustle and destroy their health like “I can sleep when I die”. That works, but only for a little while. You’re winning the finite game but losing the infinite game. So playing in a way that allows you to keep playing balances out the brutal “be the cause” standard.

Jimmy: You mentioned “I gotta get up and do something”. At what point are you driven to action?

Matt: That’s really individual. My default is sitting around thinking about stuff. I plan, research, etc. But if one sits around like a rock for too long one gathers moss. This standard reminds me to go do something, mix it up, talk to people, etc.

Sometimes you need to chill out, but the “be the cause” litmus test still works. Are you doing it deliberately, like recovering? If so then you’re causing it. If you have a plan like “today is a recovery day” then it’s being he cause, but having no reason, such as “I don’t feel like working out” is lazy.

Jimmy: That makes total sense. Is there any special may of eating you follow for your health?

Matt: Yeah, I’ve been really focusing on that for the last few years. What I’ve got today is, to abuse a phrase, “whole food, mostly animals, not too often”. I think that fasting is an important nutrient. There’s activity in your body that happens only when you’re not digesting. Today we’re in the weird habit of eating all the time.

I focus on whole foods, mostly animals because they concentrate nutrients. I’m not hard core keto or carnivore. I tried them to see how they work. You have to experiment to find out what works for you, but if it’s going to work for the rest of your life it has to have relatively simple and adaptable rules. The best rule I have at the moment is single-ingredient whole foods. Like a piece of meat is one ingredient. (I don’t mean eating meals of only one ingredient)

Bacon wouldn’t quite qualify, but it’s still mostly whole food. Oreos are totally off plan.

Jimmy: People forget how much flavor is in whole food because they’re always covering it up with sauce or whatever. It’s only when they go off SAD that their taste buds reset.

Matt: I’ve been trying to come up with one rule that will keep people healthy. It’s tough. The closest I’ve come so far is “avoid smart food and eat stupid food”. What I mean is if it takes engineering, like a college degree, to make the food, don’t eat it. If it’s something you can pick up in the wild then it’s okay to eat.

Olive oil is stupid food. You just squeeze an olive until oil comes out and then eat the oil. That’s dumb. But vegetable oils have like 18 step industrial processes and one is to use hexane as a solvent. Then they have to precipitate the oil out and bubble hydrogen through it and add artifical colors. You need a college degree to understand how to make it.

Jimmy: The craziest thing is there are no actual vegetables used to make vegetable oil. It’s just the seeds. Nobody would buy it if they called it “industrial waste seed oil”.

Matt: Yeah, they’re doing that with cotton now. They can turn the actual cotton fibers into protein. [edit: after some research it looks like I had the facts wrong. Researchers figured out how to grow cotton that doesn’t have glossypol in the seeds so the seeds can be eaten. Or something like that.]

Matt: A big part of my journey was Soylent, a Silicon Valley startup. The product was a powder that has 100% of your daily nutrition in it. They mixed powders together. All the other coders loved it so he started a startup around it. I thought it was brilliant because, being made out of commodity ingredients, it would be super cheap nutrition. You could provide if for free to everyone so nobody would go hungry or suffer nutrient deficiencies. I was one of the original backers. I got my family and friends to try it. I was hard core into it and what I found was that it didn’t work.

After about a year I realized I would pack my Soylent lunch and I would never drink it. Every day I would go get a chicken sandwich instead; like clockwork. If it was working I would be happy with it but I kept putting it off. So that got in my head. I was like, this just straight up is not working, at least for me. It should have worked because it’s science. Everybody applied all of our smarts to solve this problem. That’s what got me started on this journey of relearning everything.

The smart stuff is good for some things, like medicine. If you’re sick you need something smart to deal with it. But we have no idea what will keep us healthy. We have 1% understanding of how to provide baseline health from scratch.

The best I can figure it is that we want to survive at a minimum, and hopefully thrive. But our body is way too complicated to understand. We don’t know what chemicals to put into it in what proportion at what time to keep it healthy. Every time we try to manually control it we screw it up. There’s always some hole in the plan somewhere.

The closest we can get to knowing what chemicals to put in our body to keep it alive is looking at something else that’s alive and just taking all of its chemicals. Whatever it’s doing must work, because it’s alive.

There’s all this smart food that’s hard core dead. It’s not alive, it never had to stay alive. We think we can out smart it by isolating it, putting it on the shelf, adding stabilizers to keep it from going bad. Then we can mix and match and turn it into a formula to solve the problem. Except we’re working with 1% of the information we need. Our solutions never work properly.

Jimmy: We’ve never been able to out smart nature. Never say never; you never know. But how can you beat whole foods? It’s like we can’t predict the weather. Not to pick on the vegan community, but you see all these vegan products and when you find a healthy vegan you find out they don’t touch those products with a 10 foot pole. The only healthy vegans I’ve ever met avoid seed oils, wheat, grains, etc; it’s mostly vegetables and fruit whole foods. It works. If you’re going for the snack bars, shakes, powders, and pills you’re going to find the unhealthy version. You can eat Spam and Velvetta and call it keto but you’re going to get sick.

Matt: Comparing it to the weather is perfect. We can predict the weather pretty well for a week. We pretty mucWhen everything piles up, if you’ve already experienced the feelingh know if it’s going to rain tomorrow, which is useful, so we all use that. But we have no idea what the weather is going to be like in a year.

We can make foods that keep you healthy for a while, like a week out. But we can’t predict what will keep you healthy over a year. It’s just too complicated. So when people try to overcontrol their diet, they know it’s too complicated, so they try to turn to an expert who’s supposed to understand it. The expert is working with 10x the knowledge you have but it’s still 1/100th the knowledge they actually need. So their suggestions are better than yours, because at least they’re not totally guessing, but they aren’t good enough.

The thing is they have to sell you a product. The point of the product is to 1) make money and 2) not get them sued. It’s not supposed to keep you healthy. It’s supposed to keep you not sick enough that you could point to their product as the thing that made you sick. That’s all it needs to do.

But when you eat whole food, the food’s goal was to stay alive. It had a totally different goal than the engineered product. So go after the whole food because at least that’s a thing that has a goal aligned with yours.

Jimmy: Earlier you mentioned rest and recovery days. Do you have a fitness routine?

Matt: My routine at the moment isn’t real specific. If I have any kind of goal it’s trying to get healthy. I think I got this out of Undoctored (which everyone should read). It might take 3-5 years to heal whatever can be healed from a SAD diet. You might have permanent damage, say to your pancreas. Your body has to finish a backlog of healing, but it doesn’t have a health meter you can see go up to 100%.

I think an important angle on it is hunger & fatigue. If you’re carrying around a bunch of extra fat that you don’t need, your body is probably holding on to that for a reason. Your body is homeostatic, it regulates itself. So it makes sense if your body is worried about the future for it to hold on to extra resources. That’s what most decision making systems would do.

I started my journey a few years ago. I was carrying more weight than I needed. Every time I tried to drop that down I would bounce off of about 190lbs. I would get really hungry, eat a bunch, and get heavier again. My working theory is that I was eating SAD or mostly SAD up until about 30. Changing to whole food probably started the process of healing but there’s probably stuff that takes a while. I probably won’t have any insight into that; I’ll just need to let it finish.

So my goal with fitness is to keep enough of a training effect that my body puts any excess into muscle or bone. Keep my cardiovascular up, my heart rate down. Keep eating clean and see what happens.

Jimmy: Do you have any specific exercises? Any time limits?

Matt: I try to make it generic and intuitive. I enjoy deadlifts. I’m trying to enjoy squats. I try to do squats & deadlifts once or twice a week because they’re the heaviest exercise I can do. Then I try to add push-pull pairings. If I do heavy deadlifts I might do chest because it blows out my grip, so I’d do pullups a different day.

I workout in the morning. I use it as a way to get up, get moving, and then take a shower. So it fits into my schedule pretty well. I make sure I sweat and breath hard. I try to push something hard enough that my body tingles. I feel like that’s the training effect. If you do something, and it’s whatever, then you’re not training.

Right now I’m working on ankle mobility. My squat plateaued out and I think I lean forwards too far because my knees don’t go far enough forward. So I looked up ankle mobility exercises.

The whole point of it is to keep the habit of fitness. It’s a foundation. People will have this image of themselves as a bodybuilder, or Brad Pitt in Fight Club, or running ultramarathons. It’s unobtainable, or it’s years away. They’ll go in and think this is why I’m doing it but that excitement doesn’t last. Eventually you aren’t excited anymore. By that point you either have established a habit or you have not.

If you have not established a habit you’re gonna stop. But if you can establish the habit you can reinforce it later. Later, when I get a fitness goal, going to the gym every morning is something I can assume. I know I do that because I’ve been doing it for years.

Jimmy: Very true. Before I move on, I did notice when I was using Track-well for the carnivore experiment there are all sorts of challenges people can do. Seems like that could really help people establish new habits. Folks, you’ll be listening to this in late November. Any time is a good time to start a fitness habit. You don’t have to wait for January. Go check out Track-well and enroll yourself into a pushup challenge, squat challenge, etc. Moving on, without peace of mind, health and fitness falls apart. How do you find peace of mind?

Matt: That’s a really good question. That messes people up a lot. When things go wrong, how you respond to it determines what happens. I’ve seen a lot of people have something go wrong and then they made it worse.

I was in the military and training is pretty rigorous. I’ve actually been through three basic training programs. I think that’s all the Air Force has (enlisted basic, prep school basic, USAFA basic). By the 3rd basic training program you could not touch me. I didn’t care at all. I was critiquing how they trained me like “I’ve seen it done better”.

You can start with simple stuff like having someone scream in your face. You know you aren’t in any danger, but having that much emotional energy thrown at you triggers your emotions. You have to deal with that. It helps you learn to step back, allow it to happen, without being controlled by it. That’s really good training for later when the car breaks down, and it’s raining, and the kids are screaming.

I think where a lot of people go wrong is they don’t let it happen. They say it isn’t happening, or it doesn’t matter, but if you don’t let it happen you can’t deal with it. So military training is a big help with that. You go from “I’m okay” to “I feel really terrible” to “I’m okay” and you learn how to manage that transition. The people who have a hard time in the military are the ones who don’t let the training take effect.

I also don’t try to seek out trouble, but I try not to avoid all the aggravation in the world. A simple example is I’m on Twitter and I follow people I disagree with or find annoying specifically so they get injected into my feed every now and then and I have to deal with that. Every time it triggers me I get a chance to notice and deal with it. That keeps me on my toes for when something happens that I don’t control.

Jimmy: That also avoids the echo chambers that build up on social media. That is outstanding. If you let things happen you can deal with them. Kids do that to you if you focus on the negatives. We wouldn’t know what’s good if we didn’t go through what’s bad. How do you adapt to and overcome challenges and obstacles?

Matt: This will be mostly an individual thing. The way I personally handle challenges is I try to leverage my strengths. I’m very stable. I rely on myself to keep my cool, stay rational. I’m confident once I experience it I don’t have to worry about myself having a fight or flight response. I’m reasonably confident I won’t make it worse with an inappropriate reaction.

There are a couple failure modes for me, but they’re longer term and take a while to manifest. I try to make sure bad stuff doesn’t happen. I’m big on feedback. In the military we would call it a hotwash or debrief. When things are done you take a minute to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. What caused it, what’s likely to cause it again. Try to be honest.

For example, if I’m in a hotel, or really anywhere I have keys, I don’t pass through the portal without physically looking at the key that will get me back in. Like I’ll physically stop in the middle of the door, and take the key out, and look at it. I’ll usually test it in the door to make sure the key still works (hotel card keys sometimes stop working).

I had to build that habit. When I started I’d go “Oh, I know the key is in my wallet. I just saw it there. I don’t have to check it.” But that’s the cusp. I know from previous experience I have forgotten keys. So I set the rule that you don’t leave the room without physically checking the key. Check the door, check the key, together. I know I can build those habits. I know I can make myself remember 100 times until it becomes muscle memory. 99 of those times it’s a little bit of an argument. But I can rely on myself to do it those 99 times. That helps prevent a lot of problems. That’s the way I prefer to do it.

Jimmy: Prior proper planning prevents piss poor performance.

Matt: But it’s tedious. It’s not heroic. It’s not like something went wrong and I’m going to fix it. I’m going to do 99 tedious little things that no one’s ever going to care about.

My bachelor’s is in systems engineering management. I love SEM. It’s a special management discipline which proved if you have big complicated projects, and you do a lot of work up front, the project finishes on time and on budget. But if you just start, and throw money and people at it instead of prepping it correctly, it may finish eventually over budget and schedule. So SEM is the discipline of what do you need to do ahead of time to ensure the plan finished as planned.

Across the board, everyone hates SEM. The only people who like it are systems engineers. Everybody wants to just get started. Doing the tedious work to set it up for success feels useless or wasted. If it works, nothing goes wrong, and then people ask “what did we do all that work for?”

It’s like security. If nobody breaks in the question is “what are we paying this guard for” and if someone breaks in the question is “what are we paying this guard for”.

Jimmy: If you do your job right no one is going to know you did anything at all. It doesn’t even have to be a huge project. I’ve personally watched many restaurants fail because they had no planning. They did exactly what you said. They threw money and people at it and figured “this is gonna work”. But their internal system completely broke down for a million different reasons. Let this be a lesson to anyone out there: if you want to start a business, do a little bit of planning. If you don’t plan you’re doomed to stumble and probably fail.

Matt: Since this is focused on health, that’s what everybody is talking about. Heroic interventions don’t make you healthy. If you get a broken arm you need an heroic intervention. But for the other 99% of your life you just need tedious, boring work.

No one cares about that. You’re the only one who cares enough. No one else is going to show up every hour and go “are we doing what we need to do”. Doctors aren’t going to do that for you.

Jimmy: Exactly. You gotta do it yourself. At a certain point there ain’t nothing to do but get it done. Before we wrap up I want to talk about Track-well a little bit.

Matt: It was a free app I’ve been running for a bout a year. Dr. Shawn Baker put out a call to his followers to see who wanted to try eating only meat and water for 90 days and hundreds of people responded. So I made an app. It’s still free.

I’m experimenting with how we can make something that’s self-sustaining and can help tons of people. Today there have been about 3,000 users and maybe 100 have fully finished a long plan like 90 days of carnivore.

Track-well is based on the idea that you can’t account for luck. Luck is always a factor, but you can’t control it. You probably don’t get lucky, so you need to focus on what you can control. What gets measured gets managed. You don’t even know if you’re moving in the right direction unless you’re measuring something.

Setting a goal, and measuring progress against that goal, is tracking. You have to track something. That’s the core of getting to the goal. The goal with the app is to have people set a goal like “only eat meat for 90 days and I think my weight will go down”. You figure out the hypothesis. Then you do it and see if that happens. That’s the core of the scientific method.

I think the Track-well database has the largest data set on pure carnivores in history. I’m not aware of anybody else that’s ever gotten that much information about people who only eat a carnivore diet. There’s a chance a big app like MyFitnessPal accidentally got it if people happened to eat carnivore.

We managed to do some analysis on the data. The most interesting thing is nobody got scurvy, or constipation. A lot of people were worried about bad things happening if you ate meat for 90 days, but none of it happened.

By implementing it, and talking to people, and upgrading the app, I learned a lot. The #1 thing I learned is that getting healthier is just a lot of work.

Track-well had about a 70% drop out rate. So I asked “why do people drop out?” The answer seemed to be that other things interfered. They don’t have the time or energy. I realized it really is just the amount of work that’s getting in the way

If I had a genie that could magically make all the work of getting healthy disappear, so it’s there just for the asking, everybody would be healthy. Nobody wants to be sick. The only reason they’re not healthy is it’s too much work. Some people can be super healthy. It’s not a matter of lack of knowledge. [edit: after some research the thing I said about the Boston Marathon qualifying times isn’t accurate. Looks like it’s always been 3-5 hours. The part about sprinting is accurate. The original men’s 100m dash was 12.2s and the current high school women’s 100m dash record is 10.9s]

So we have all of the nutrition and knowledge available. We have logistical networks. The fast food companies have regular ground beef on tap all over the world. If you just avoid the sugar you can get fresh meat.

Jimmy: Most places. Some use fillers. They’re hearing what customers want and they’re giving it to you. McDonalds switched to all beef hamburgers because people demanded it.

Matt: It’s like oops we gave you something healthy.

The only reason people aren’t getting healthy is it’s too much work. That’s the main thing I learned from this. What I’m trying to do with Track-well going forwards is remove as much of that work from people as possible.

An example is everyone wants to track things and try to correlate something. Like, if I drink coffee does that affect my sleep? It’s a really simple idea and it’s really hard to do. I wrote an app to do it and I couldn’t wrap my head around correlation analysis. I have to get somebody to do it for me. It’s just hard.

You have all these people who try to track things and at best they have a lot of data they can’t do much with. They can look at it, and if the line goes up they can see that, if they know how to graph it themselves, but a lot of people have trouble even doing that. A lot have trouble finding the right app, or converting information, and getting info back out, or cross referencing information in different apps. Or you’ll see a video and be like “I wonder if soap really does cause farting” and you have to research that.

It’s just a ton of work. You have to learn a bunch, you have to do a lot of research, you have to keep hitting it. The list of work just goes on and on. So I’m trying to take as much of that work as possible off of people. The key thing is making something cheap enough it can stay with them for 5 years.

I’m really fascinated by functional medicine doctors or direct primary care (DPC). They’re really trying to switch over to a preventative approach where the service is available often enough somebody can change their lifestyle and not get sick. The whole point is you should not need a doctor. Doctors are acute care, dramatic interventions. They’re not the right people to help you with long term stuff. They’re too expensive.

Even the medical weight loss clinics or functional medicine clinics can only see you every now and then, or they can give you a program for maybe three months. It’s too much attention from expensive people to last longer.

So what I would like to see is something people can use for 5 years. Something that sticks with them long enough to change their health permanently. If you want to get healthy, you will improve, but you won’t get healthy right away.

A lot of stuff will happen in 5 years. If you don’t have a family, you might have a family in 5 years. If you are working in a job you probably won’t be working that same job in 5 years. If you live in one country you might live in a different country. That’s a long time and a lot of changes. So whatever you’re doing has to be robust enough you stick with it through all those changes.

So I’m trying to make Track-well a service for people that lowers the amount of work they have to do. To the point they can keep getting healthy even as their life shifts and turns around them so they don’t drop it.

Life gets complicated and you don’t have enough spare energy available to keep doing this health stuff. Then they blame themselves and they don’t get back to it.

The famous quote from Rocky is that it’s not about how hard you get hit or if you get knocked down, it’s about whether you get back up.

If I could tell people one thing it would be that. It doesn’t matter if you eat some cake, or gain some weight, or regress a little bit. The point is: do you keep trying? Do you get back up?

You aren’t a fighter because you don’t get knocked down, you’re a fighter because you get back up.

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