044. Fighting Diseases of Ignorance with Howard Jacobson

By on February 26, 2019

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Howard Jacobson, PhD, is Chief of Behavioral Science (aka Chief Habit Nerd) at WellStart Health. He’s the host of the wildly popular (in his home) Plant Yourself Podcast.

Howard is co-author, with Josh LaJaunie, of Sick to Fit, and contributing author to T. Colin Campbell, PhD’s WHOLE: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, and Garth Davis, MD’s Proteinaholic. His work has also been featured in Fast Company and the Harvard Business Review online.

Howard is lead instructor at the WellStart Health Coaching Academy, and co-author of the Coaching for Performance chapter of the American Management Association’s Book of Knowledge.

In his free time, Howard runs, practices Russian martial arts, gardens, and plays far-too-competitive Ultimate Frisbee.

Howard earned his BA from Princeton University, and his MPH and PhD from Temple University.

He lives in Pittsboro, North Carolina with his wife, and sometimes with his adult children. (Fly, kids, fly!)

Key Points from the Episode with Howard Jacobson:

  • As Howard went through his career, he had a feeling that making money meant he was selling out, so he does a lot of things for free.
  • His podcast, Plant Yourself, has a huge following, and shares the vegan lifestyle with thousands of listeners.
  • WellStart Health – a digital platform and care team to reverse chronic disease. Can you use behavior change to lead to better health outcomes and get people to put those new habits into their lives in a meaningful and sustainable way.
  • Millions of people have tried and failed to do better, and Howard uses a really brilliant analogy to illustrate why. If a six year old who has never played the piano before sat down to play a complex concerto, they will fail. This isn’t surprising. Yet we are essentially doing that with totally different ways to eat where we go in without clear knowledge, guidance or resources and don’t seem to have the same understanding when we struggle. Instead, we go to a place of frustration and a mentality of, “This will never work for me. It’s too hard.”
  • In Western society, we carry trauma and push ourselves to just move on, which really means the trauma stays within us, stuck there. In other cultures throughout time, there were processes to move through trauma, whether ceremonies, rights of passage or forms of therapy so people could truly move on. We don’t do that, and the trauma continues to cost us as time goes on, and it compounds with each successive trauma. Howard has chosen to face his rather than deny them, and that’s part of the work they do at WellStart.
  • Howard went into a podcast episode he did during a water fast he was on, which lead him down a mental path that came from releasing a lot of inhibitions as he faced lots of feelings. The episode went through a lot of thoughts around his father, and losing his father to cancer when Howard was just 24 years old.
  • He said he was really angry about it, which came from losing his dad to what he saw as a disease of ignorance. He realized this after digging into the research when his father was sick to find a way to save his life.
  • What he learned was that there are many diet-based changes that could have prevented and could help fight the cancer. Lacking that knowledge is the driver of this feeling of the loss being unnecessary and due to ignorance.
  • The knowledge was out there, but it was relegated to a very small academic world rather than the norms of the world at large.
  • While he was angry about the loss of his father, he used the time to reflect on who his father was, what he meant to Howard, and the ways his father would have grown and improved as a person had he had the chance to.
  • We have all lost people too soon. We have all seen towering figures shrivel and die unnecessarily, as Howard put it. And it’s been decades since his father died, so we shouldn’t still be able to say that this is still happening from the same ignorance.
  • He would like to see all doctors trained in lifestyle medicine, which, essentially, none of them are today. And the doctors should be upset about this situation.
  • We need to get this knowledge to a place where it’s accessible to all, not just people in the small group who know today, or to those who live with access to the tools you may need, like a Whole Foods store.
  • He asked really pressing questions around the sustainability of what we are doing in healthcare and agriculture/the environment. Things have to change, but will they change because we change them before it’s too late or will it change because it comes crashing down and we have no choice.

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