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Shawn Stevenson shares his knowledge about fitness, nutrition and sleep

By April 12, 2017 August 12th, 2020 No Comments

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Shawn Stevenson“And I realized that I’d been giving my power away to my well-meaning physicians for all of these years. And they literally told me they can’t help me, so why am I still waiting for them?”–Shawn Stevenson

Shawn Stevenson (@ShawnModel) is a podcaster with his own story of recovery from a debilitating spinal cord disease that was supposed to be incurable. With his focus on diet especially, he was able to turn back the clock on what doctors had called his 80 year-old spine, and he is now a very successful fitness coach and podcaster. He and Commander Divine talk about the various parts of integrated training, and especially the often neglected aspect of sleep. Getting good sleep is central to fitness, and listen in as Shawn and Mark talk about ways that you can improve both.

The Neurohacker Collective have recently come out with Qualia, an extensively researched nootropic that combines natural ingredients with the best synthetic ingredients to maximize our capacity to think effectively.  When you purchase an ongoing subscription for Qualia at, enter the code “unbeatablemind15r” to get 15% off the price of a monthly subscription.

Love the Unbeatable Mind Podcast? Click here to subscribe on iTunes. We’d love your feedback, please leave a rating and review.

Other episodes of our podcast that you might be interested in are Mark’s interview with Dr. Kirk Parsley and his solo episode on recovery and integrated training.

Transcript & Shownotes

Hey folks. Mark Divine here with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Welcome back. Thanks so much for joining me again today. We do not take it for granted. I know your time is super-valuable. And you’re busy, and all that stuff, so awesome to have you here today and I’ve got an incredible show lined up with Shawn Stevenson. We’re gonna talk about sleep and recovery and hormonal balance and health. And all sorts of cool things which are critically important to all of us, so…

Before I do introduce him a little bit more formally, a couple of things: One, if you’ve rated the podcast, thank you so much for doing that. We have like 300 and some odd 5 star ratings. And that means a lot. It helps other people find it; it gives credibility so it’s super-cool. If you haven’t done it and you find yourself in front of a computer. Go to iTunes–or even on your phone you could probably do this–go to iTunes and drop in 5 star rating. That’d be killer. Thank you so much in advance.

And also, just want to let you know that Courage Foundation, which is our new 501(c) 3, just recently launched. And it’s been a long time dream of mine to be able to affect people who really don’t have any way to engage with SEALFIT or Unbeatable Mind or Kokoro yoga, or anything that I’m doing from a business standpoint. Because they either can’t afford it, or they’re suffering in some way and they’re just not in their sphere of awareness.

So the Courage Foundation–which can be found at–we just held an auction-fundraiser kind of to kick things off. I think it’ll probably be over by the time you’re hearing this, but you can check that out at And if you’re inspired and want to support us, that’s cool.

So our mission is to bring courage and resiliency and mental toughness to people who are suffering. And the 3 populations that we’re working with initially, 2017-2018, are the prisoners and their kids, and sufferers of PTSD who are at risk of suicide, which is near and dear to my heart. As well as abused women or women who are victims of abuse.

So we have partners already lined up in these areas. We’ve donated already several thousand books to the prisons, and we’re just getting warmed up. Okay. Enough about that.


So Shawn Stevenson. Author of “Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health and Bigger Success.” Creator of a really successful podcast called the “Model Health Show.” I just met Shawn, I’m totally stoked to get to know him, and we’re going to get to know him together. This is going to be really fun, all right? So I’m just going to bring Shawn on and we’re going to dig right in.

Shawn, thanks for making your time today and being part of our show.

Shawn Stevenson: Hey Mark. I’m totally pumped to be here. Very excited. Thanks for having me.

Mark: Yeah, me too. And we were just talking a little bit earlier about how fun it is with these podcasts to meet new people, and how I kind of resisted the podcast just because of the time commitment. And you said, for you, how it’s become kind of your main thing.

It’s so cool to be able to do this and to connect, and… you’re out in… where are you right now, actually? I thought I knew where you were.

Shawn: (laughing) I’m actually in St. Louis. I’m actually in the Midwest, the heart of the country, that whole deal. So I’m pretty lonely here sometimes as far as some of the people in our network. But it’s a great place to live and the weather’s unseasonably warm, so it’s all good.

Mark: Is it? Yeah, we’re getting a ton of rain out here and I heard it was super-warm back East. Kind of interesting things going on in the environment there.

So, yeah, I was gonna say St. Louis cause I saw that you went to the University of Missouri-St. Louis. How did you go from that, studying biology, kinesiology…? How did you get interested in this field of optimal health and the model lifestyle?

Shawn: Yeah, well I was definitely not intending on getting into the health and fitness space. When I went to college initially, I didn’t really know what I would do. And I took the kind of television route of, “Oh, you should be a doctor or a lawyer.” So I went pre-med even though I literally hated science. I hated it with a passion.

Even up until a few years ago I still had nightmares about biology class and not having my homework done. But the crazy thing is today it’s my life. It’s my deep, deep love and passion. Outside of my family.

But I’m very, very infatuated and in love with biology and kinesiology. With chemistry–biochemistry–and it’s because it actually related to my life. And that’s really the big problem with teaching. When you go to traditional university, it’s often left out how it applies to you. So many people that sit in a math class, “I will never use this ever in my life.” But if the teacher can find a way to make it connect to you viscerally. And make it apply to who you are as a person, it changes the games.

And so, how that happened for me was while I was kind of trucking along–and by the way, I hoped out of pre-med and I got into like business school or whatever, because I saw a movie. (laughing) I don’t know if people remember it was a movie called “Boomerang” with Eddie Murphy. He was like, a marketing guy. I was like, “Oh, that looks cool. I’ll do that.” So just not having any direction.

Degenerative Spinal Disease

And about 2 years into college I get this really strange pain that’s starting to radiate down my leg. And my leg is just kind of like a constant aching. And so it just wouldn’t go away and eventually I went in and got a scan done of my spine. And it was MRI. And I got diagnosed with this so-called “incurable” disease called Degenerative Spinal Disease, degenerative disk disease. And I also had a degenerative bone disease.

Mark: Really? Wow, that does not sound good.

Shawn: Essentially… no, it’s not. And my physician at the time told me–he looked me right in my eyes and he said… because I’m like, “Okay, how do we fix this? Let’s go, what do we need to do? Because I’m tired of not feeling like myself.” And he looked me right in my eyes and he told me that I had the spine of an 80 year old person. And there was nothing I could do about it. “This is just something you’re going to have to deal with.”
And it wasn’t a very compassionate answer, but it did point me in a direction of… prior to that moment I’d been very kind of self-sufficient, and had a level of courage to manage my own life. But at that time, I shifted over mentally, kind of pointed me in the direction of “other” management. Of others managing my life. And really kind of put my hands into the health-care system, into the conventional medicine system.

And just to get right to the point–long story short with that–2 and a half years go by, gained a bunch of weight–about 50 pounds. Now the pain goes from acute to chronic to I’m literally debilitated. I’m wearing a back brace. Afraid to go to class because it’s so embarrassing. And, you know, my whole life just turned upside down. And how it all changed–and this is a really simple but profound thing. (laughing) Spoiler alert, everything worked out okay.

Mark:(laughing) Yeah, obviously.

Shawn: So what happened was I was looking at my pill bottles, because I was basically like had this same pill set-up as like, my grandmother. Take these pills every day. And I had this cocktail of Tylenol PM and Celebrex that would help me to sleep at night. Prescription and over-the-counter. And it just all kind of came rushing in. My life was so in shambles and I was definitely in a state of depression and just kind of loss of purpose. Disconnected from any type of identity of who I used to be.

And I realized that I’d been giving my power away to my well-meaning physicians for all of these years. And they literally told me they can’t help me, so why am I still waiting for them? That’s a big symptom for a lot of us Mark, is we’re waiting around for Superman or Superwoman to swoop in and save you. And life doesn’t really work like that. And I really, truly feel that life truly helps you when you help yourself. And in that moment I just decided that I was going to get well. And that’s a big thing, because most people never do that. It’s more like wishy-washy, “I hope this works. I’ll try and see what happens.” I wish that something would change, but I made decision that it’s going to change, no matter what. And, you know, just sort of wrap this story up, I’m a very analytical person by nature, and so it wasn’t like a rainbow came out and I lived happily ever after.

I put a plan together that entailed 3 specific things and number 1 was nutrition, right? I was eating what I call the TUF diet. “Typical University Food.” And so I’m like… I’m not kidding man, I would go and get a dozen Krispy Kremes I would get 2 double cheese burgers, sometimes 3 double cheese burgers. Biggie everything. Extra-large. Super-size. You name it. And that’s how I’m subsiding. That’s how I’m living my life. And so I knew that my food was an issue, even though my physician…

Crazy enough, I asked him, and I don’t know to this day… it’s like one of those small miracles in your life when you realize, like, “there’s something else at play here.” But I asked him all those years ago, “Does this have anything to do with what I’m eating?” And he looked at me like I was from another planet. And this was back in 2000. And he said, “This has nothing to do with what you’re eating.”

And so what I came upon, and you know this as well… when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. All of these different research articles and books detailing how your bones literally require all these specific nutrients in order to regenerate. And I wasn’t getting any of that stuff with my double cheeseburgers, you know? So I started to flood my body with all these raw materials, so my body had the ability to rebuild itself.

That’s part 1, part 2 was movement and exercise. Came across a study that was done on racehorses, crazy enough. They gave the horses supplements to increase their bone density. Because that’s like a multi-, multi-million dollar business. So they want to make sure the horses aren’t breaking bones, stuff like that.

So they gave the horses supplements. They had a control group, who did nothing. They had a study group number 1, who they gave supplements to. And they did increase their bone density.

But they had study group number 2. They gave the horses these supplements and they walked them. And they found that that increased their bone density even more. So that’s really the key.

And hopefully we can talk about that today, because people look at exercise wrong. The word “exercise” is derived from the word “exorcism,” which essentially means it gets stuff out of you that shouldn’t be there. But it’s about assimilation, detoxification and elimination. That’s really what exercise as far as the human anatomy is constructed.

And so I started to do what I could. I could dead-lift 400 pounds today, but I started with the bar. And just walking. And doing some pedaling on a stationary bike. And I just went and added steps along the way.

And the last component, and where the story kind of wraps up was paying attention to my sleep quality. And the big take-away from today is really simple yet profound is that if you’re not sleeping, you’re not healing. That’s when your body releases the vast majority of anabolic hormones, reparative enzymes… and so my sleep was the biggest struggle in my life those 2 and a half years. Because the pain was so bad it would wake me up if I just changed positions. And so every night, it was a battle and it shouldn’t be like that. So once I got my sleep dialed in, due to some of the strategies we can talk about today, it’s like the flood-gates opened. I lost 28 pounds in the next 6 weeks. I really just… I didn’t just get my health back, I became better. And that led to eventually I got a scan done on my spine. It was about 9 months later. I regenerated the tissue that they said I couldn’t regenerate. My 2 ruptured disks retracted on their own. Because I also had 2 herniated disks. And my doctor said, “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it. I’ve never seen this before.”

And that’s when I fired my doctor. And so the end of the story is, since then I’ve opened a practice, clinical nutrition and studied biology, kinesiology in school and just set out to really serve and help other people that were also given that diagnosis that there’s nothing that you can do. Because I truly believe that, if you’re here, there can always be progress. And so that’s really what I focused on.

Teachers and Experience

Mark: Wow. I love that story. And I think it’s… it’s testament to it’s the most powerful teachers are those that have had to endure or go through what it is they teach. So you became your own laboratory. You were a lab rat out of necessity. And also… a couple other points… it shows me the incredible power of the mind to direct healing. Of course, it had to direct you to the information, and then you had to apply that information and follow through on it, for a long period of time. But the body will gravitate toward optimal health when the mind decides that that’s what’s necessary. And you don’t outsource your health or education or anything to the so-called “experts.”
And then the 3rd… and this where I kinda want to pick up next is… the integrative nature of sleep, exercise and nutrition. It’s like they all affect the other. It’s like this… there’s really no beginning and end. Nor can you separate them. You know? If you’re sleep is screwed up then you’re not going to be able to exercise well, and if you’re not exercising well, chances are your sleep is going to be screwed up. And nutrition affects both of those. And all of the above. So it’s this integrative kind of thing that if you make a few changes in each of those 3 categories, it could have a geometric affect on your internal balance and systems and, like you’ve mentioned, the hormones and electrical systems. Everything that’s causing you to be healthy.
Shawn: Exactly. Exactly. You know, I call these things, they’re all force multipliers. Especially sleep, you know. Your sleep quality radically impacts your diet. It radically impacts your exercise. Just to even give an example of that–when it comes to the relationship between diet and our sleep quality.
So Stanford University researchers they did a study, and they found that just one night of poor sleep quality was enough to dramatically suppress Leptin, which is your body’s satiety hormone. So then we’re in this battle of will trying to not eat the cupcakes. Trying to not eat the salty, crispy, delicious Doritos, right? And when it’s your willpower versus your biology, you can definitely will your way through a lot, like for a pretty long time. But eventually your biology’s going to ask for its change. It’s going to ask for its due. So many people are unknowingly stacking conditions against themselves that are making them make poor choices, you know?
And another big one–and this is in regards because I know there’s going to be a nice percentage of people who are listening who are struggling with back issues. Because the number 1 call off work issue in America today–but how important hydration is. And it’s so simple, and people hear about this, but the disks in-between your vertebrae in your back–and I had no idea until I was hit with this, and I woke up–they’re called “non-vascular.” So that means that hydration doesn’t get there directly. And you want them to be hydrated and juicy. I was drinking–I’m not kidding–maybe a cup of water a day. Most of that other space was filled with Hawaiian Punch and luck purple stuff. Like purple Kool-Aid or Tang or whatever it was. And so it’s like, I’m surprised I made it to 20 without breaking down.
And since it’s non-vascular, that means that water doesn’t get there directly. It’s through a process called remote diffusion. But the bottom line is this, is that you have to be so hydrated–and I call it super- hydration–that there’s enough water… Cause your body works on a hierarchy. So first thing water you got to get to make your blood this viscosity and the right texture is first and foremost. That’s what your body’s concerned about. Eventually it’s going to get to the disks in between your spine. And so once I started to understand that, and super-hydrate my system, it was a total game changer.
And also the weight loss aspect. There was a study and this was in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology. And I’ve been telling a lot of people about this lately because… you know, you already know this Mark. Like 2/3rds of our society are either obese or clinically considered to be overweight. And we’re missing the ball on simple things. And there’s something called “water-induced thermo genesis.” And basically what they found–these researchers published in this particular journal, very prestigious journal–is that simply by drinking about 17 ounces of water at 1 time, increases your metabolic rate by 30%. And it’s because of your body… number 1, a big part of that thermogenic effect is your body heating up the water. And they recommend the water is room temperature which is generally around 72 degrees. And your body heating it up to 98.6 adds to that kind of metabolic boost that happens.
Right so, that’s just 1 tiny thing, but because some people are trying to get enough water in, but they’re sipping on it. “You’re gonna die! You gotta stop sipping on that water.” You gotta get a guzzle in. And so I recommend people do this every day, when they first wake up in the morning. I call it taking an “inner-bath.” And you drink at least 20 to 30 ounces of water to kick that metabolism on. And also, it flushes out all the metabolic waste that you accumulated while you were sleeping, and that could be a game changer in and of itself.
Mark: That’s terrific. In fact, that’s part of our morning ritual for Unbeatable Mind. Except I was recommending just a 12 ounce glass of water, so you recommend a little bit more than that.
Shawn: Yes, yes. The more the merrier. And you know, sometimes people have… they’re not that attracted to drinking water, so I also talk about ways of spicing up your water. Making your agua a little bit more attractive. So you know, you can maybe add a little bit of mint or there’s those fusion bottles. You can add some fruit or veggies too. And that actually provides more electrons to the water that makes it more hydrating. You know, so there’s a bunch of different things to make the water more attractive. Some people like warm water. Whatever it is you got to do, just make sure you get that in, cause it can definitely change the game.
Mark: Not so tasty, but a lot of my friends are adding a little Himalayan Sea Salt to their water, and I’m not sure exactly what that does, but they say it’s very healthy for you. I’m sure it is.

Hormonal balance and water

Mark: Well, that’s awesome. So the other thing about water–back to all the hormonal balance–your body’s in homeostasis, so if you’re dehydrated then there’s not enough fluid to balance out, you know, the toxins in your body. So you tend to get acidic and everything starts to get a little bit off.
Shawn: Oh man. It’s so simple, but, you know, the thing is we today we’re always on the eye… we’re looking out for complexity. For whatever reason. And it’s because our world today, it seems very complex, but there are fundamental laws of life. There are fundamental laws of how the universe works, and since we’re talking about water–just a few of the things we’re talking about here is hydration levels in your body are responsible for maintaining your DNA, right? So just even a 5% drop in your hydration level can damage your DNA. Facilitating processes by your mitochondria, so that’s like the energy power plants in your cells. The blood, like I mentioned earlier, is about 90% water–that transfers all of the oxygen and nutrients throughout your body.
So if you’re doing all these other things, you know, you’re kicking butt in the gym, and your even doing Mark’s program, but you’re not doing something as simple as making sure you’re getting adequate amounts of water in during the day, it’s going to really gum up your results. And, it’s like, “Why, why am I not getting the results? I must need to exercise more.” Instead of getting back to basics, right? Getting back to basics and just to throw out this little tip here… the baseline that I recommend in just doing this stuff clinically over the years is drinking about half of your body weight in ounces every day. So what that means is that if you’re 150 pound person, you’re going to shoot for 75 ounces minimum of hydration–of water. Not Sunny Delight. But water.
And then use that, and then that’s the baseline. But then if you’re very active. If you’re outside doing work in the sun and you’re sweating, then you need to build up from there, but that’s the baseline. Absolute minimum.
Mark: Right. I love the idea of everyone’s looking for complexity. And we have this saying in Unbeatable Mind. We’re looking for the simplicity on the other side of complexity. Because you can look at… let’s take nutrition for example. There’s this dizzying array of diets and theories and everything, but ultimately, when you boil it down, the idea is to fuel yourself effectively when your body needs it, and to hydrate yourself effectively, and to breathe effectively. And the fueling just needs to be real food, in modest quantities. So there you have it, right? There’s your nutrition program. Hydrate well, Breath well. And that take practice and awareness, like you were alluding to. You’ve gotta do the work, right? Most people don’t have the discipline to drink half their body weight in ounces every day.
And then breathing. It’s one of the big training tools for Unbeatable Mind is to learn how to get the right amount of oxygen into your body.
And then food. Just eat real food. Real, healthy food. And we know what that is now. And there’s plenty of sources, it’s not like, you know, they’re hiding that stuff from us anymore.
Shawn: Exactly. You know, all we have to do is really… today we’re really bombarded, we’re overflowing with this data, but again that can add to the idea of complexity. You know, something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and I’ve been talking to these just world-class experts when it comes to high intensity interval training. Like, talking to the guys who’ve been like, in the lab. Taking muscle biopsies and looking at people’s mitochondria when they’re doing high intensity interval training versus long-distance cardio.
One of the things that scares people off from doing the things we’re talking about. The simple actions, is that we have a sub-conscious belief that it’s going to take a long time. There’s so many different things… Like, what’s recommended is basically 150 minutes minimum of exercise you need to get in a week. Of cardio. That’s the baseline of cardio you need to do. And what’s advised… a better end of the spectrum is 300 minutes a week. And people are like, “I can’t! That’s too much. I don’t have the time.” Which is the number 1 reason people give for not exercising. Not understanding that the research shows that we can get a greater gain in you mitochondria density, how many mitochondria you have. Fat loss. Cardiac function. By doing 4 minutes of high intensity reps versus 150 minutes of traditional cardio. So it’s just really changing our mind and looking at… This is why this show is so important, Mark. And I’m so happy and proud that you made this show possible. Same thing we’re doing with my show. Is making it a filter so that people can get the right information and got the documentation to back it up. So that they know that this is what actually works so that we can cut away all the clutter.
Mark: No, I agree with you. And on the exercise, the simplicity on the other side of complexity is just that. That the exercise needs to be functional. Needs to be mobile, meaning we want to be able to move our bodies through full ranges of motion. And intense, to get that metabolic effect.
Nowhere in there did I say it had to be long, know what I mean? And my personal workouts have… when you include the prep and the mobility and the post–recovery and yoga–are like 30 to 40 minutes long. And the high intensity interval part is 12 to 15 minutes. Max of 20 minutes. And like you said, can be super-short. Sometimes 6 or 7 minutes.
And that’s good. I mean, I’m done. I’m good for the day. And if I do any other work, it’s going to be more of a recovery, yoga or walk or martial arts training or something like that. Which is more skill specific.
And people look at me and say, “But Mark, you propose these crazy long workouts for SEALFIT.” And my answer is, “Well, that’s because it’s a very specific skill… set of skills we’re trying to develop for those Special Ops athlete/warriors which require them to be able to do things that are really unique. Like, Superman type stuff. But when it comes to optimal health, even they will say, when they’re on deployment. 20, 30 minutes of a Crossfit WOD is what’s going to keep them going and it’s all they need.
Shawn: Exactly. That’s what it really boils down to, is what is your goal? If you wanna expand your health-span, which is what I’ve been talking about a lot lately. Our health-span versus our disease span. First of all there’s a premise that psychologically many of us feel that health is simply the absence of disease. And that’s not really… that’s not how it works… that’s not true.
Health in my opinion is vitality. Is energy. Is fitness. To be able to do the things that you wanna do when you wanna do them. And what we’re finding now is we can extend our health-span via… there’s this whole topic that we could get into possibly talking about our telomeres, right? So these are at the end of chromosome. Basically our telomeres–make it really simple–they’re biological markers that essentially tell us how long we’re going to live. If anything tells us how long we’re going to live healthfully. And I just talked with the co-author of this woman. She won a freakin’ Nobel Prize for this discovery, of telomerase, that can literally add length back onto these telomeres and essentially make you younger. Essentially your body’s printing out younger copies of you.
And I know this is for certain because that’s what happened to me. I had the spine of an 80 year-old person, right? And I turned back the clock. And I’m not talking… we’re not going to get into weird immortality stuff. But you can’t help but start to think that way. But what they really found is that you definitely can live, healthfully to 90 or 100 years old and not lose function. I don’t know about you, but when I’m 90, I still want to be getting busy. I still want to be able to do my work. And when I say “get busy” I mean with my wife, you know.
That makes me think of Jack Lalanne. You know, he lived to be I think 95 or 96 or something. And in an interview close to his last couple years, he was still having a healthy sex life, and he was happy. I think it was his 75th birthday, like, he swam from Alcatraz carrying like 70 boats or something.
Mark: (laughing) He was insane. I love that.
Shawn: That’s what’s possible. That’s what’s possible. And it’s really adhering to… finding those things that help to modulate and extend our health-span. And it again boils down to basics. I’ve gotta say this, I’m so glad that you are one of the people that are out there. Cause when people see you, they’re just like, “Mark is the truth. He’s the walking, talking representation of what health and performance looks like.” And you’re telling people to breath. You’re telling them to breath. And it can go over our heads.

Just Breath

And I wanna add a little something to this because maybe this can shift some people’s perspective and just drop this knowledge-bomb. But… and people can go to Dr. Google and just check this out. It was a University of New South Wales in Australia. And what they discovered is that when you lose weight the majority of the weight that you lose is breathed out as carbon dioxide. So you are literally… like Cesar Milan is the dog whisperer, you’re the “fat whisperer.” You literally are breathing out fat. And that capacity for you to do so is based on your ability to breathe properly. To breathe deeply. And of course, there’s the other components of like being able to actually unlock those stored fatty acids, and use them as fuel and get them burned off. Of course, we understand that.
Mark: And that comes from the interval training. Right? Cause that’s going to turn… and the nutrition. So you’re building the right kind of fat storers and you’re mobilizing fat for fuel before your storing and all that kind of stuff.
Shawn: Precisely.
Mark: And you’re exhaling it. Cause fat’ll break down into the base elements, and then you’re exhaling it. And you’re sweating it out.
Shawn: Precisely. And so what we would normally think and what we would just kind of unconsciously, we would think that if we’re breaking a good sweat we’re losing weight. And that water… we’re talking about less than 10% of the weight that you lose is via water, and the majority of that is via your breathing. So just to give a couple of numbers and people can go to… it was BMJ and check it out. And so I believe that these numbers are correct, but don’t quote me precisely, but I’m pretty sure. And what they found was that 10 kg of fat when it’s oxidized, about 8 and a half kg of that is converted and excreted as carbon dioxide. Via the lungs. And about 1.5 kg is discarded via water.
So please understand, when Mark is talking about making sure that you are breathing optimally and learning how to actually use the capacity of your lungs… the benefits that it has for you parasympathetic nervous system. The benefits that it has for your blood chemistry. And also, literally, being able to breathe that fat off. So I’m kind of really simplifying the process because again, you have to have the other components, but this is how your body is actually getting rid of fat.
Mark: Right. Yeah. And it’s again… there’s no chicken before the egg in this story. I mean, sleep, exercise and fuel in the form of water, breath and macro-nutrients, they all work together. And you could literally choose one thing… I feel like an infomercial, right now… choose one thing in each of those categories  to work on right now, and there’s that geometric effect that it has. It’ll make you so much healthier in just a few days. And then just imagine that trajectory you set yourself on.

Just sleep

Let’s talk about sleep, now. Because I think there’s so much we can do. And most people just sort of ignore that piece, but that’s where it all kind of comes together. That’s where the magic happens. The recovery and the sleep cycle. Both psychologically processing mental/emotional patterns. Your body’s recovering. Your bones are healing. Your muscles are repairing. Hormones are getting re-balanced. Your stores of energy getting restocked. It’s magic. Like, sleep is so important. So let’s talk about some of the simplicity on the other side of complexity when it comes to sleep. Where do we even start with it? Like, how much sleep should we be getting, in your opinion, every night?
Shawn: Oh, that’s such a good question. You know, and so… this was about 5 years ago. When I was running my clinic, and I would see people coming in. And we had an exceptional rate of assistance for things like type 2 diabetes. We had about a 79-80% reversal rate for type 2 diabetes. Adult onset. So help people to get off metformin and sometimes insulin. And really to turn their whole thing around.
But ironically, it would keep me up a little bit at night thinking about the other 20%. Like, “What is wrong? Are they lying to me?” And I’d go through all these different things to try to figure out why this person isn’t getting the results all these other people are.
And it finally clicked, and this was about half a decade ago, to start asking people about things outside of their nutrition and exercise. And you’d think that I’d know, since sleep was such a huge part of my recovery, but I started asking people about their sleep and my jaw just… I had to keep hold… you know how sit on your desk and you put your hand under your chin? Like, I had to keep my mouth closed because, you know, my jaw would just be dropping to the table when I would hear about people’s sleep experience.
And so, what I did was I set out to find… because one of the big things with helping people to change their lives and recover is ease of implementation. And being able to have a simple on-ramp. Because if you’ve got to turn your world upside down too much for the majority of people, they’re going to tuck their tail in and run.
Mark: That’s why dieting doesn’t work.
Shawn: Exactly. So what we’re going to do here is… and I made this decision. I’m going to find clinically proven strategies that people can implement. And sometimes not even changing their life much at all. Maybe like .5%. A tiny change that they can immediately get results in their sleep quality.
And so that was really the birthing of the first… first of all testing it out clinically, and then doing some shows about it. So I started my show very soon after that. Because I was testing the concept, and I was pushing these ideas out in culture. So a lot of things that people are hearing today about their electronics and about the impact of exercise on sleep, I really helped to get out there. Arianna Huffington, who wrote a book on sleep as well, she used my book in research. And so it really hit a chord with people, because this was kind of the missing component. So when it comes to how much sleep we should be getting, I have to give this important caveat which is, it’s not necessarily about sleep more, it’s about sleeping better. And having very efficient sleep cycles. That’s the key.
There are people who are getting basically… when we talk about food, we know everybody is really getting this that a calorie is not a calorie. It doesn’t really work like that, that a calorie of Twinkies is the same as a calorie of broccoli, right? It impacts your hormones very differently, right, so 300 calories of Twinkies is going to do a very different thing to your body than 300 calories of broccoli.
And so what I liken that to, is today many people are getting what I call, “Twinkie sleep.” They’re getting these sleep minutes in. Maybe they’re sleeping 7 hours, but they’re still waking up feeling like a rusty, crusty, dirty gym sock. Like they just feel horrible. And snooze… that’s their morning every day.
And so it’s because their sleep cycles are not functioning properly. And, you know, their brain waves… So that’s what I wanted to look at. How can we optimize people’s sleep so they don’t necessarily have to sleep more? Now with the outside of that, it is recommended for the vast majority of the population unless they’ve got this kind of a mutated gene–is that they are getting in the ballpark of 7 to 9 hours of sleep. And that’s kind of depending on your genetic make-up. But I’ve seen firsthand and working with some of the top performers in the game. From entrepreneurs to athletes and seeing that sometimes they’re getting 6 hours of sleep, but like a rock-star 6 hours of sleep. That’s better than some people’s 9.
And so what I want to share with people is this. We were talking a little bit earlier about that release of fat via our breathing. Well, what’s so crazy is the University of Chicago did a study. And they had these individuals do a traditional kind of calorie- restricted diet. And they monitored their results. And they allowed them to get 8 and a half hours of sleep during the space of the study.
A different phase of the study–same people, they had them on the same exact diet. Now they sleep-deprived them. They took away 3 hours of sleep. Now they’re getting 5 and a half hours. At the end of the study they found that when people are getting adequate amounts of sleep, they lost 55% more body-fat. Simply from sleeping more, all right?
And one of the things to put out there for everybody, if you are sleeping more, chances are you’re probably going to be dipping into the regenerative stages of sleep. But I want people to really understand that, and to dig even further why does that happen?
Well, sleep is probably the biggest influence on epigenetic triggers and your hormones. So even more so than your exercise, even more so than your diet. Because of the impact of melatonin.
People know about melatonin as this glorified sleep hormone. But, first of all, it’s probably your body’s most powerful anti-cancer hormone as well. And studies across the board. People just go and type in “melatonin”… go to Doctor Google and type in “melatonin and cancer.” And just be blown away when you look at it the nurses study that found that nurses who were working the night shift–the overnight, doing the shift work–had 30% greater incidence of breast cancer.
And also the World Health Organization coming out and calling shift work–working overnight–as a Class 2A carcinogen. But you don’t hear about this on the news. We’re too busy looking at what happened on the Oscars. And the thing is, it’s right there in black and white, and because it’s regulating your day and night cycle and you fall out of tune with that to easily, it could be a problem.
Last thing I want to mention with melatonin is, another study, and this was in the Journal of Pineal Research, found that melatonin has this really powerful ability to activate more brown adipose tissue. Or BAT. Brown Adipose Tissue or BAT fat. Kind of like Lego Batman. Never mind.
Mark: (laughing) I like that. We want BAT fat. BAT fat is good.
Shawn: Yes. This brown adipose tissue burns the white adipose tissue. The kind of gooey stuff that people are trying to get rid of. And so melatonin… it’s crazy, this sleep hormone does that. So these are the underlying mechanisms, plus the impact on testosterone. We could talk about the impact on human growth hormone. The impact on regulating estrogen and estradiol. And I can go on and on and on. Insulin. It’s really a game changer once you get your sleep dialed in.

Kirk Parsley and Sleep

Yeah, so I mentioned earlier that I have this friend, Dr. Kirk Parsley. He’s a SEAL team guy who then left to get his MD. I think he did that through the military health system. Then he came back and was a doctor for the SEALs. And he got really into sleep, because these SEALs were coming to him, just completely wrecked. Totally fatigued, no energy. Their performance was being affected, and he studied them and he found out that as a result of their lack of sleep from extended combat tours, they had the testosterone levels of 13 year-old girl. Can you imagine that?
Shawn: Crazy, crazy.
Mark: These big, tough Navy SEALs, And what he was telling me is that through his research it was the first 4 hours of sleep every night that was the most critical for restoring and rebalancing all these hormones that you were just talking about. And if you’ve missed an hour of that first 4 hours, or didn’t work out so well for you, then you put like, a pound of fat on a week. You ended up gaining 17 or 20 some odd pounds over the course of a year. Maybe it was a pound a month or something like that. Does that ring true to you? Is that, in your experience, something that you’ve seen?
Shawn: Definitely. Definitely, right off the bat. This is why I tell people too that timing your sleep is like timing an investment. And really it’s not necessarily how much you invest, but when you invest. Really maximizing that first chunk of sleep. And so what the research shows is that the window between 9 PM and 1 AM in the morning, that window there, is really… it’s called the “anabolic window” by some experts. And so you’re going to get the greatest secretion if you’re adhering to certain things we’ll talk about. Share some tips. Adhering to principles that help your body release melatonin. You’re going to get the release. You’re also going to get the greatest release of human growth hormone. Reparative enzymes. Also in that first 4 hours, that’s when you’re spending the most time in stage 3, non-REM sleep. Quote “deep sleep,” delta waves and also the stage 2 where you’re getting a lot of the kind of brain consolidation, mind, memory consolidation, all that good stuff. So bottom line is that… and last thing, and then we’ll jump into some tips. I’ve gotta share this with the testosterone. And there’s a specific study, and I’ve been telling people a lot about this one.
This was in the journal of the American Medical Association guys, so again, very prestigious journal. And again, they confirmed that young men–we’re not talking about older fellows–young men who were sleep deprived just one week, getting 5 or less hours of sleep per night, saw their testosterone levels drop about 15%. That might not sound like a lot, but basically, you’re suddenly 10-15 years older as far as what that diagram would look like. And the good news is we can recover from this stuff. You’re going to have intense moments of training, you’re going to have intense moments of life, but employing some of the things we’re going to talk about right now can instantly turn you sleep quality around.
Mark: Nice. Yeah, so let’s get into those tips and see what we can learn and what we do to improve our sleep.
Shawn: Sure, sure. So first thing is–and this is a really special chapter that I talked about in my book that I… is very special to me because it changed my paradigm when I found this out. The title of the chapter is “Fix your gut to fix your sleep.” And I’m already kind of just getting like, it’s just blew my mind when I found this out a couple years ago. And it still just really resonates with me. I was shocked because I was not taught this in a traditional university. When I was taught about melatonin, I was taught that it’s produced by your pineal gland, end of story. Well what the researchers found, and I cited this in the book is there’s 400 times more melatonin located in your gut than in your brain.
Mark: What? Really? No way.
Shawn: Yes. Crazy, crazy stuff, all right. So this is where the whole show is really going on when we’re talking about this. And at really prestigious universities all across the country they’ve been really diving in and breaking this stuff down and looking at what’s going on. And specifically Cal Tech, and they found the impact that your bacteria has on your body’s production of sleep related neuro-transmitters and hormones. So when we’re in the conversation–I know you’ve probably talked about this a bunch of times–taking care of that micro biome is of the utmost importance. We have to make sure that we’re treating those guys well. We’re keeping the good guys in power, and keeping the kind of opportunistic bacteria in check. And so some people have dysbiosis, where that’s upside down, so we talk about… and we could do a whole show just talking about what to do about that. But bottom line is, you want to make sure that you are not making it friendly for them by eating processed foods, by drinking chlorinated water. As much as you can avoid that stuff. Because chlorinated water’s like a little missile that goes off in your gut and it kills the good bacteria as well. So that’s part 1.
And part 2 is making sure you’re getting in an ample amount of resistance starch and probiotic foods and/or supplements for some people so that they can actually thrive and colonate. Because some people take a lot of these probiotic supplements and wonder why it’s not working to reverse their dysbiosis or their irritable bowel syndrome. You also have to have the resistant starch in there as well.
A Paleo paradigm we might not acknowledge, like sprouted grain bread. For some people that might be just the thing that they need. Or some soaked and sprouted beans. But for other people, it might be sweet potato can help, it could be tiger nuts and things like that. And when I say tiger nuts I’m not talking about actual tiger nuts. If people haven’t heard of tiger nuts. “Man, that sounds really exotic.”
Mark: (laughing) I eat those all the time. Gotta capture the tiger first.
Shawn: On safari I got a whole jar. It’s not that, all right? This is… people can just go to Doctor Google and look it up. And you can like use it as a flour and even making like cookies and things like that.
So that’s number 1. Fix your gut to fix your sleep.
Add in, also, good sleep nutrients. So number 1–I’m not going to put these in a specific order, but I’ll share 2–number 1, magnesium. It’s probably our biggest mineral deficiency in our world today, but why does this matter with sleep? Well, this is like our kinda number 1 anti-stress mineral. So it helps to really relax your nervous system. And there was a study that I cited that they did a study on insomniacs, and all of them were deficient in magnesium. Chronically deficient. And by elevating their magnesium levels they were able to reverse many of the symptoms of their insomnia. Simple as that. That one thing, because it’s responsible for over 300 biochemical processes in your body. So make sure you get your magnesium levels up.
I like topical magnesium that you rub onto your skin, rather than oral magnesium, which you could do that as well. But if you take too much of an oral magnesium–which you might need more than what you’re getting from your food and from supplements, it’ll cause diarrhea, so you’ve got be careful with magnesium.
But food first. Definitely food first, topical second.
Last good sleep nutrient, vitamin C. As crazy as it sounds… we knew about this for scurvy. Like people knew about that for the immune system, but not for sleep. And the Public Library of Science did a study and found that people who had interrupted sleep, that were deficient in vitamin C–once they elevated their vitamin C levels, they were able to optimize their sleep cycles.
Last tip is… if we want to add another bonus one in here we can, but timing your exercise. Timing of your exercise can be a game changer.  Appalachian State University did a study, and they had exercisers train at 3 different times throughout the study and track their results. And they found that morning exercisers spend more time in the anabolic, deep stages of sleep. They generally sleep longer. And they also have a 25% greater drop in blood pressure at night. That’s correlated with the parasympathetic nervous system activation. All of that by getting in some morning activity.
And it’s really as simple as that. That doesn’t mean you can’t do a workout later. If you’ve got a Jiu-Jitsu class at 6. But get some morning activity in because clinically what I call that is a cortisol reset. It helps to get your cortisol level peak in the morning, like it should be. And clinically we see people… we call them, “tired and wired.” So if cortisol too low in the morning and too high at night. And simply by getting some exercise in in the morning can help to reset that.
And these are the kinds of things that we would implement in the clinic to see some really quick results. And there’s actually 21 strategies that we talk about in “Sleep Smarter.” But there’s a low-hanging fruit there that people can implement.
Mark: Awesome. I’m sure people can find more information in your book or on your website, or on your podcast too. So your book is “Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep your way to Better Body, Better Health and Bigger Success.” Wow. That’s a mouthful.
Available at Amazon obviously, and elsewhere?
Shawn: Yeah. Everywhere that you buy your books. Barnes and Noble, all that good stuff. Little side-note… I gotta share this… I just found out on Monday that it’s number 1 in the US in health and fitness on audio book.
Mark: Right on.
Shawn: So people can check it out there on Audible as well and of course we talk about all this stuff on “The Model Health Show” as well. So wherever people are listening to this incredible podcast… you’re doing, Mark, before we got on today I started listening to your show. And the people that you’re bringing for everybody. The mindset that you’re bringing. And walking your talk is really remarkable, and so I wanna thank you for doing the work that you’re doing. And anywhere that people are listening to this podcast they can find “The Model Health Show” as well. And just really grateful to talk with you today man.
Mark: Yeah, Shawn. It’s been awesome. I’m super-stoked. I really want to do a follow up because this stuff is so important. I know we just scratched the surface, so let’s plan on doing that maybe later this year. That’d be terrific. And if there’s anything that I can do for you, then let me know. If you wanna get out of St. Louis and come to California… come to our Kokoro camp and test yourself, then just let me know. We’re here for you, buddy.
Shawn: Aw, I think it’s already done, Mark. Thank you so much for the offer, and again, thank you for the work you’re doing.
Mark: All right, Shawn. Thanks buddy. Stay on for just a second.
All right everyone. You heard it. Shawn Stevenson. Check out his book. Check out “The Model Health Show” on iTunes. Check out if you don’t want to go to iTunes. And like he said, go to Doctor Google if you can’t figure any of that out and just type in “Shawn Stevenson.” That’s the easiest way to do it. That’s usually what I do.
And support him. He’s doing great work.
And I’ll throw a little plug in. Every one of his tips is spot-on, and there’s so much more that I know he wanted to share, but when it comes to gut health–man, it’s so important. And the things that I do, the supplements that I do… or not supplements, but the food I use to help with my gut health. Kombucha. If you haven’t done kombucha it’s awesome, right Shawn?
Shawn: Yup.
Mark: It’s very, very good for your health and very tasty. And now you can find it in most main stores. And then, you might have heard me talk about a new product, and this is something Shawn you might be interested in checking out, is… I got a buddy and I invested in… Spoiler alert, but I invested in his company because I believe so much in it. Connor Young has created something called “Ample Meal.” And this is an extraordinarily healthy, powdered meal that comes in a bottle. And it’s pre-loaded with pre-biotics and pro-biotics. And all the nutrients you want. And it’s got an ample supply of protein, carbohydrates and fat from all the right sources. I mean, it’s really incredible that he’s been able to do this. I’ve been waiting for this product for years, so it’ll replace the MRE eventually for the military and it’s just awesome. I look at that, and it’s like my secret weapon. As long as I have one of those a day, I know I’m getting all the micronutrients plus a full, 600 calorie meal and tons of really good fat from macadamia nuts and kale and all that kind of stuff. It’s pretty cool. Have you ever heard of that, Shawn? The Ample meal?
Shawn: I haven’t, but my ears are perked…
Mark: Yeah, check it out. Or I’d be happy to tee you up with an intro to Connor if you wanted to talk to him, and try it out, and get some samples for your peeps on your podcast. Cause I think it’s gonna be big. It certainly helped me out. For people like us who are really busy, you know, I’d drink one as my morning meal before, during and after my morning workout. I just kind of use it as my hydration-slash-fuel source. And it’s been a game changer for me. I love it.
Anyways, that was also a little plug because I’m an investor, so… totally honest here guys. (laughing) That’s what we’re all about here, right? Transparency.
All right. Shawn, thanks again. You rock. I look forward to staying in touch.
Everybody else, stay focused, train hard, do the work. That’s where the magic is. Show up, put out, do your training. Physically, mentally, emotionally, intuitionally and spiritually. And the results will happen.
And relax don’t worry. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Just do the work, and everything else will just fall into place. You guys rock. Thanks for paying attention. We’ll see you next week.
Divine out.

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