Eat to improve sleep. It seems boring and goes against the old “You can sleep when you’re dead” cliche, but you’d be surprised at all the areas of life being well-rested can improve. Just as an example, poor sleep increases dementia risk by 33% and can age your brain for 3–5 years. Also, studies show that a deficit in nocturnal sleep of as little as 90 min for just one night can lead to a reduction of daytime objective alertness by one-third.
As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stefan Weitz.
Stefan Weitz is on a mission to make Americans healthy again. His first step? Founding Jetson, a new company helping people lead a healthier life through high-quality, affordable, scientifically backed, and seasonally formulated probiotic products.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?
The journey that led me to found a health company began one morning in 2005 when I woke up with a numb leg — so numb in fact I was able to jam a fork into it without any pain. I was hoping that I was morphing into a superhero; instead, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I was immediately subjected to a heavy regimen of drugs that made me feel like crap — which then meant pain pills. Knowing there had to be a better way to live, I conducted an exhaustive search to uncover the most effective ways to overcome the health challenges that faced me. I was thankfully able to ditch some of his daily fistfuls of big-pharma products. I never felt better and wanted to share what I’d learned about honest solutions and simple habits that can improve anyone’s health. So Jetson was born.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Oh boy — probably my first boss at Microsoft who told me “I expect an incident report on you every few weeks”, meaning he expected me to push so hard on people that they would report me to HR. The culture has shifted since then… I also am reminded of the time security came by my office at 2 am when I was working on Internet Explorer 4 and told me “you know, you can’t live here”. I had moved a couch in from the lobby of the building and was sleeping there rather than make the drive home.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
I was a 21-year-old techie in a meeting with 35+-year-old mid-career experts who, in my humble opinion, didn’t know what they were talking about. So I introduced my idea with, “I don’t mean to be an asshole, but…” and then went on a 20-minute tirade as to why the idea they were discussing was totally wrong. Turns out I had misunderstood the entire premise of the concept — which taught me to listen more than I talk — a skill that has served me well in my older age…
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
I have hacked my way back to health after being diagnosed with a potentially physically and mentally crippling disease. After 14 years, most people with MS have significant degradation — I have been both lucky and planful as to how I keep the disease at bay and manage to run 2 companies, sit on 5 boards, travel 200k miles a year, and hopefully am a good person while doing it.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
No — there is no one person. I stand on the shoulders of giants. I literally can’t think of one person who embodied all that I want to be. Certainly, my mother and father taught me to be humble and kind, my managers and fellow executives at Microsoft taught me to be tough and intellectually honest, my mentors taught me to be eternally curious, my daughter has taught me to be present, and my present co-workers remind me to laugh, every day, a lot.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
- We don’t believe it will help. We have so many competing demands for our attention and time — to add something nebulous like “drink 80oz of water a day” without a concrete difference in how you feel that day is difficult.
- Bad information. We have dozens of different diets, lifestyles and “hot tips” telling us how to get better — how do you choose? The “paradox of choice” kicks in and we are left with making no choice. Pro tip — most of these things are complete horseshit. Moreover, the big food companies actively lie to us — so we’ve marketed one thing with a billion dollars in advertising while the truth is buried.
- Accessibility — many of the things we are prescribed aren’t realistic for the majority of Americans. $10 juice? Really? “Cleanses”? Non-GMO, Organic, virgin, single pressing nut butter? Yes — they are amazing but you also don’t need them to be healthy. It makes people feel hopeless because they can’t afford or access these things — why even try?
Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)
- Cut out caffeine.
You might be asking how you can live without caffeine, but I can tell you it’s not that hard. As someone who cut it out 7 years ago, I have MORE energy, sleep better, and don’t suffer from highs-and-lows that only a caffeine-addled brain can generate. Do keep in mind: cutting caffeine altogether will set you on your back for a couple of days and it is possible that people won’t want to be around you as your attitude will be…challenging.
So if cutting it completely is too hard, here are some tips to drink it responsibly:
Cut the Coke: Take your caffeine without the added sugar. Generally, soft drinks are loaded with unhealthy amounts of sugar.
Watch the Starbucks: Or really any mixed drink — again, the caloric content of most blended or milk-based drinks is astronomical. An Eggnog latte from Starbucks has as many calories as a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder and 29g of fat. Americanos with a splash of almond milk will come in under 30 calories and no sugar!
Join the British: I know tea isn’t coffee — but it’s a really great substitute this time of year and still provides the ritual of a warm cup in the morning. Caffeine-free teas from places like Numi Organic Tea offer delicious flavor and zero jitters.
2. Eat to improve sleep.
It seems boring and goes against the old “You can sleep when you’re dead” cliche, but you’d be surprised at all the areas of life being well-rested can improve. Just as an example, poor sleep increases dementia risk by 33% and can age your brain for 3–5 years. Also, studies show that a deficit in nocturnal sleep of as little as 90 min for just one night can lead to a reduction of daytime objective alertness by one-third. And I’m sure you’ve all heard about turning your phone off, white noise, etc, but here are some foods that can help when consumed about 2–3 hours before bedtime:
- Nuts (almonds, walnuts): These contain melatonin (sleep) and magnesium (stress reducer) and are generally full of healthy fats. DO NOT SUBSTITUTE flavored almonds and candied walnuts before bed — they are sugar bombs.
- Chamomile Tea: It contains apigenin, an antioxidant that has been shown to promote sleepiness. And it’s backed by science.
- Tart Cherry Juice: It’s full of good nutrients, has nice melatonin characteristics.
- An Egg: It’s a superfood that contains a bucketload of nutrients. They also help you sleep with their amino acid tryptophan, which increases serotonin which increases melatonin.
3. Prioritize your gut.
Gut health has been linked to mental health, overall wellbeing, weight loss … and a plethora of other issues related to your wellbeing. Two quick ways to help your gut?
A (high quality) Probiotic: A live microorganism of which we have billions naturally occurring in our gut — some are good and some are bad. It’s the balance of the two that keeps it healthy, and a probiotic can help that balance.
Diet: Try to cut sugars and processed foods. Pro tip: If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, you shouldn’t eat it.
4. Turn yourself into a Pollyanna.
According to a multi-decade study involving almost 70,000 participants, people were able to live 11–15% longer by doing one simple thing: having an optimistic view of life. That’s it. Even controlling for all the environmental and demographic factors (age, educational attainment, chronic diseases, depression and also health behaviors, such as alcohol use, exercise, diet, and primary care visits), the results stuck.
5. Stay AWAY from trendy diets.
The only “diet” that I’ve found to have overall proven benefits (and Harvard seems to agree) is the Mediterranean diet. Beyond that, they’re pretty faddy. If weight loss is your goal, eat fewer calories than your body is going to burn. But make sure you are eating the right calories (i.e. foods made up of the right nutrients, fiber, and carbs).
If you’re going on the Keto diet, you’re likely going to be constipated. Cutting back on carbs aggressively can put your GI tract into a distressed state. Also, when you eat fewer carbs, there is often a correlation with eating less fiber, which means less material for gut bacteria to eat, which means they are going to die and you are going to have an out-of-balance gut. And an out of balance gut yields all sorts of badness.
As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?
So easy. 1) mental acuity and focus — nearly a 60% reduction in dementia among those who hit the streets and many more benefits — Google it!, 2) heart health (the #1 killer of Americans isn’t cancer — it’s heart disease by a landslide. You need 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 3x a week — that’s it, people)., 3) it improves bone density — trust me, you’ll thank me when you’re 70.
For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?
- 30 minutes of cardio where you get your heart rate to 80% of max, 3 times a week
- Strength training (upper and lower body resistance to help build muscle mass — helps with back problems, libido (men), bone density and body mechanics)
- Meditation — a focus on mental health is equally as important as physical health. 20 mins 2x/day is optimal — but even once/day is great.
In my experience, many people begin an exercise regimen but stop because they get too sore afterward. What ideas would you recommend to someone who plays sports or does heavy exercise to shorten the recovery time, and to prevent short term or long term injury?
DE111 is a probiotic strain that can be found in all of our seasonal formulations. At 5B CFU, combined with exercise and a 20 g protein recovery drink, DE111 promotes a leaner body with reduced body fat and improved performance.
But wait, there’s more. Our summer formulation, Fit, actually has six strains living in harmony, and one of them is Bifidobacterium lactis (B420). B420 is a powerhouse bacteria that has significant clinical studies demonstrating its efficacy in reducing weight and trunk size.
Finally, and this is an area where we need to tread lightly because the science is still emerging, we know that being able to absorb more of the amino acids from the protein one consumes can help increase muscle growth in the long run. With all the current hype around “getting protein”, it’s important to remember that the body can’t really absorb more than 25g of protein in a sitting without some help. The good news is it appears that probiotics like DE111 can play a role in the use of protein for muscle growth and human recovery by promoting the absorption of key amino acids. So, long story short, probiotics COULD help reduce the recovery time from working out.
In addition, DRINK WATER. Make sure you’re getting enough post-workout protein (although we usually eat enough in this country already). Try heat or cold. And at the end of the day, suck it up. You’ll live longer.
There are so many different diets today. Can you share what kind of diet you follow? Which diet do you recommend to most of your clients?
I avoid gluten, dairy, added sugar and caffeine because I like to eat food that isn’t overly processed. I’m a major believer in “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it”. Imagine how healthy your gut would be if you were only consuming fresh ingredients year-round. It’s not that hard — just eat whole foods — mostly plants, and quality fats and proteins. The rest of the diet fads are there for someone else to get rich.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
I have a few “top choices” to share:
- Brain Food — Dr. Lisa Mosconi: I love this book because it gives me practical advice on what to eat to maximize the only thing I really have going for me — my noggin. Best part? The advice isn’t based on some current fad — it’s based on her years of clinical research as the former director of the Nutrition & Brain Fitness Lab at NYU School of Medicine. It’s a must-read.
- The 10-Day Detox Diet — Dr. Mark Hyman: It’s billed as a weight loss book, but that’s not why I like it. This was one of the first books I picked up after working with Dr. Hyman on my health issues. It’s focused on practical things you can do and eat that focus on nutrient density and keeping your toxin load low. A lot of it isn’t rocket science — which is sort of the point — this doesn’t have to be that hard.
- The Rational Optimist — Matt Ridley: So much of your overall health comes from your mind (and, of course by connection, your gut). Obsessing over all the ways the world is seemingly worse off than when you were hanging out in arcades in the 80s (ok, that’s me) is a leading cause of stress. Grounding yourself in the facts around how we’re actually living in the best time in history can help!
- Gut — Inside our Body’s Most Underrated Organ — Dr. Giula Enders: Dr. Enders is a phenomenal writer who really explores the connection between the gut and the brain. She helps answer the burning questions like “is gluten really bad for you, or is this a big con by Big Rice Flour?” and “what are psychobiotics?”. Awesome book and also a great TED Talk.
- A Fraction of the Whole — Steve Toltz: An oldie but a goodie. Nothing to do with health — but sometimes you need a slow read that wanders beautifully and helps you breathe.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Today there are over a billion sites, books, Instagram accounts, and apps telling you how to live better. There are witch doctors, huxters, sincere idiots, and even a few geniuses, all of whom are giving you advice on how to be your best self. It’s overwhelming. When I have too many choices, I usually don’t make one at all.
Even so, many of these systems prescribe impossible regimens. Personally, I don’t have 6 hours a week to juice, or the discipline to take magic pills four times a day. I want to help people get healthy in the simplest of ways.
Out of the gate, Jetson provides products that have had a profound effect on my life, and the lives of many others: a line of common-sense probiotics.
But, while we’re starting with proBs, my real goal is helping people focus on a few things that really matter, most of them free or low-cost:
- Eating more plants and less crap
- Drinking water
- Going for walks
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
This one is so easy — be prepared to say “I don’t know”. I can remember one time when I was pretty young I was in a half-day meeting with Bill Gates and I was pitching him on an idea I had for a new, risky product. We were three hours in and he was grilling the team with questions — and a couple of my team members would answer with weak responses. They got eviscerated. A few minutes later, another zinger of question came my way and I stopped, took a breath, and said “you know, I don’t know the answer to the question. I could make one up on the spot or you could give me til tomorrow and I know the four people on the planet I could call to get the best answer to the question that would give us the highest chance of success for the project.” He looked at me over his Diet Coke and said, “yeah, go do that” and we moved on without any drama to the rest of the pitch. Being prepåared to say “I don’t know” is a powerful piece of the growth mindset that more people I wish would practice.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I’d love to buy Tom Hanks’s breakfast because of his humility, kindness and work ethic from which I could learn. For business, I’d like to talk with Bob Iger because of his big swings and calculated risk-taking that has paid off handsomely.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!