Hi folks, Don here. Let me tell you a bit about the path that led me to Gaining Strength.
I was born and raised in northwest Ohio, U.S.A.
Neither of my parents participated in sports or physical training to maintain health and fitness. My mom was (still is) a traditional cook who prepared a lot of home-made meals, but also loved to bake cakes and cookies, and included a lot of refined carbohydrates in our diets. I had skin and digestive issues throughout my childhood, and by the time I reached my teen years I had chronic eczema, psoriasis, acne, hemorrhoids, an abdominal hernia and spring allergies.
Nevertheless I was fairly athletic and set some records in events (like the shuttle run) which I have been told still stand today!
By the age 12, as a result of exposure to superhero comic books containing ads for programs by Charles Atlas and Hercules II, the Kung Fu and Wide World of Sports television shows, and Strength and Health and Muscle Builder magazines, I developed a strong interest in both martial arts and bodybuilding.
I started to read everything I could get on these topics. The city library system had many good books on strength training, bodybuilding and martial arts and I used these to create my training programs. I started using isometrics and calisthenics, and built some equipment myself with help of my father when needed.
My parents gave me a basic set of barbells and dumbbells one Christmas before I was in junior high school, and I started training both martial arts and strength in our basement. I used money I earned delivering newspapers, cutting lawns and washing cars to purchase more equipment. Soon my basement gym had a pull-up bar, iron boots, a bench, a squat rack (one of my father’s co-workers welded it together for me from scrap pipes and had automobile rims for bases), and a home-made slant board for sit ups. I also had a home made sort-of heavy bag, home-made shurikens, and home-made nunchucks.
I also read books on nutrition and gave up eating the deadly whites: white sugar, white flour, white bread, pasta and rice. I got my Mom to start buying whole grain bread for me and I mostly ate a whole foods omnivorous diet, which greatly reduced my acne. I started taking supplements including milk and egg protein powder, desiccated liver, yeast and many others I learned about through magazines.
I was on the track team in junior high school. I did the pole vault, long jump, 200 yard dash. After that I focussed my energies on strength training until I was a sophomore, when I had a math or science class taught by the junior varsity wrestling coach. One day he asked me to try out for the wrestling team. I ended up wrestling in the 155 and 165 weight classes that year.
Soon I found a hard core local gym to train at. It was owned by Jerry Bell, who became the first 165 pounder to deadlift 700 pounds in 1978 (the year before I graduated high school). I loved that gym. It was only about 750 - 100 square feet, and only serious lifters and athletes trained there. Jerry also coached Bob Wahl, who was a year older than me; in 1983 Bob did a 661 squat at a bodyweight of 148!
Before I graduated from high school I competed in several teen bodybuilding competitions. I won third place in a local competition in my senior year and placed in the top ten at a state-wide competition. I achieved those results using high intensity training methods strongly influenced by Mike Mentzer and Arthur Jones.
I entered college on a pre-medicine scholarship. I was intending to go into exercise science, nutrition, sports medicine or chiropractic. However, none of that happened. I did very well in science courses (I graduated Summa Cum Laude) but at the time I got interested in philosophy and decided not to complete the pre-med program. I went on to complete both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in philosophy. As an undergraduate I started eating a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, and during graduate school I did resistance training, but only as a supplement to my main passion at the time, which was the martial art of aikido.
In 1994 I completed the nutritionist certification program from the American Academy of Nutrition, now called the Huntington College of Health Sciences. This program is the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, and is accredited by the DETC, an accrediting agency that is approved by the US Department of Education.
Then I completed the Fitness Clinician certification program from the International Association of Resistance Trainers (IART). This organization promotes application of rational, efficient, safe, brief high intensity resistance training principles. As a Fitness Clinician I know how to apply these principles to individuals to produce the maximum possible results with the optimum amount of exercise. Brian Johnston, the founder of the IART calls this Prescribed Exercise.
As a student of martial arts I became interested in Chinese medicine. Some Chinese martial arts masters have said that if one is capable of hurting people with your art, you should also know how to heal people. I first became interested in Chinese medicine in high school, and in 2007 I graduated from Phoenix Institute of Herbal Medicine and Acupuncture, with a knowledge of how to use acupuncture and herbs to stimulate or support the body’s own healing processes. Many of the herbal formulas we learned to use to treat injuries and trauma were developed by men who were both doctors and martial artists.
From my 20s to late 30s, I mostly followed various whole foods vegetarian and vegan diet plans, believing that my skin, digestive and allergy issues were caused by eating animal products. My first wife Rachel and I published a macrobiotic vegetarian diet book called The Nourishment for Life Cookbook. That's my copy to the left.
However, I lost strength and muscle mass and had ongoing digestive issues and no improvement or worsening of my skin conditions during these early years eating vegetarian diets.
Seeking a resolution to these issues I experimented with a paleo diet rich in meat, fats, fruits and vegetables for about a decade. During this period Rachel and I published one of the first paleo-diet cookbooks, The Garden of Eating: A Produce-Dominated Diet and Cookbook.
I adhered to the Garden of Eating plant-based and meat-rich version of a paleo for more than 10 years. I found that that didn’t improve my skin. As I recount in my preface to The Hypercarnivore Diet, Rachel developed breast cancer during our paleo years, and I had intermittent prostatitis, skin tags and other issues. All of these problems suggested hyperinsulinemia (the diet was high in both fat and whole foods carbohydrates from fruits and tubers).
At that point I was still very stuck in the belief that the optimal diet should be plant-based. I decided to try a vegan whole foods plant based diet again, thinking that I had figured out why I didn’t improve on such diets previously. During this time I wrote Powered by Plants: Natural Selection and Human Nutrition, detailing all the evidence upon which I based my belief that humans evolved to eat a plant-based diet. You can download that whole book here for free.
I proved myself wrong again. I adhered to the vegan diet for more than 5 years. I did not thrive. My skin conditions worsened, I had more or less continuous gut distress, and I progressively lost muscle and strength and gained fat.
In mid 2017 I switched to a hypercarnivore diet, still seeking relief from psoriasis and eczema. I told the story in detail in the preface to The Hypercarnivore Diet, and won’t repeat it here for lack of space. Since adopting the hypercarnivore diet my skin and digestive health have improved gradually and dramatically and are now better than I can ever remember. By combining this diet with high intensity training, my body composition now is virtually the same now at age 57 as it was when I was in high school.
Through all of this I have come circuitously back to my true nature and purpose. My job is to help others avoid all the mistakes I made and reach their full potential more quickly and elegantly.
Thanks for taking time to read this. Stay healthy and strong.
The Gaining Strength Mission: To empower others to achieve health, fitness, wisdom and freedom through proper nourishment and education of body and mind.
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