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Going Beyond Nutrition to Make Healthy Eating Choices | Shawn Stevenson

Episode 68, duration 1 hr 18 mins
Episode 68

Going Beyond Nutrition to Make Healthy Eating Choices | Shawn Stevenson

Shawn Stevenson is a bestselling author and the creator of The Model Health Show, featured as the #1 health podcast in the U.S. with millions of listener downloads each year. A graduate of The University of Missouri—St. Louis, Shawn studied business, biology, and nutritional science and went on to be the founder of Advanced Integrative Health Alliance, a company that provides wellness services for individuals and organizations worldwide. Shawn has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, Muscle & Fitness, ABC News, ESPN, and many other major media outlets. He is also a frequent keynote speaker for numerous organizations, universities, and conferences.

Going Beyond Nutrition to Make Healthy Eating Choices - Shawn Stevenson

In this episode we discuss:
– Why eating with your loved ones will improve your health.
– The best foods to improve your brain function & sleep quality.
– Science backed ways to make meals more rewarding.
– What the foods you eat say about your cultural and political values.

00:00:00 Introduction

00:04:16 Why A Cookbook?

00:11:27 #1 Factor for Lifespan

00:17:28 Creating a Wellness Culture

00:19:40 Foods to Reduce Inflammation

00:25:00 Eat With Your Family

00:35:43 How to Manage Adversity

00:45:25 Food and the Future of Health

00:48:50 Replacing Old Habits

00:53:30 Creating Legacy

00:59:04 How to Connect Better With Your Family

01:02:43 Shop The Perimeter

01:04:12 Avoid Plastics

01:08:03 How to Develop Recipes

01:10:30 Building a Culture of Unity

01:16:59 The Eating Smarter Cookbook

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Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:00:01]

Welcome to the Dr. Gabrielle Lyon Show where I believe a healthy world is based on transparent conversations.

Friends, in today’s episode of The Dr. Gabrielle Lyon Show, I sit down with someone who has inspired me personally, Shawn Stevenson. We have a very lively discussion about food, food relationships, why eating with people you love can improve your health, specific foods that are clinically proven to improve your metabolic health, brain health, and even enhance your sleep quality. We pick individual foods that have very interesting nutritional benefits. We talk about science-backed ways to make meals with friends and family more consistent and rewarding.

I love this conversation with Shawn. He is a bestselling author and creator of The Model Health Show, which is featured as the number one health podcast in the US with millions of listener downloads each year. What makes Shawn so unique is he’s an avid distiller of scientific information, and he does it in a very transparent way to bring you the best of the best information.

This episode was so interesting to me and something that I can take with me and implement immediately with my family. He did a degree at the University of Missouri, St. Louis in Nutritional Sciences. He studied business, biology, went on to be the founder of Advanced Integrative Health Alliance, a company that provides wellness services for individuals and organizations worldwide. Shawn Stevenson is a force of inspiration and goodness in the world. Now, without further ado, let’s get right to the content. As always, if you like this episode, please take a moment to like, share, subscribe, pay it forward. I provide this content free, and the only thing that I ever ask is that you help spread the word.

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Shawn Stevenson, I am so excited to be able to sit down with you. You don’t actually know this, but there are only a very handful of people that have had such a massive impact on me personally throughout this journey, throughout the podcast, especially my show. You are one of the big inspirations. I don’t think that you actually know that, do you?

Shawn Stevenson  [0:05:40]

Not in particular. Of course, I’m happy to hear that. But to impact somebody like yourself is really special.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:05:46]

I’m going to tell you why. one There’s two really big things that I’ve learned from you. Number one, never be afraid to share your voice. The world needs to hear unapologetically what you have to say. Not only have I heard that from you, but I have witnessed you do it time and time again. That has been so impactful for me personally, because, believe it or not, I was very reluctant to start this podcast, which has done very well, and also very reluctant to be on social media and do the outreach that is necessary to change the world, and you do that. The other thing that really struck me about you, and I’ve known you for a couple years now, is your giving nature and your intention behind what you do. So not to embarrass you, but those things really struck me and in a very meaningful way. So thank you for sitting down with me. Speaking on being intentional, which you are. You wrote this cookbook, and you’ve written other books, but this one involves the family. I would love to hear the motivation behind that.

Shawn Stevenson  [0:07:12]

Thank you. Well, first and foremost, you don’t know this, but one of the big reasons that I shifted over from working in an office and really focusing on the one-on-one clinical work is I wanted to influence influencers. I wanted to impact leaders. So to hear you share that, it’s just like that’s exactly what I do this for and why I said yes to stepping up into building up that resilience to go through all the things because now it’s starting to reach that tipping point. Somebody like you is so remarkable. You changed my paradigm. Every time we talk, you change my perspective, my paradigm and help me to look at things in a new way. So that really does mean a lot. This book, for me, is one of the most timely of all of the different pieces of the health conversation that’s out there right now. So many of them matter, but oftentimes, especially working as a clinician and working in service to help people, so many times we’re targeting behavior change, and we’re trying to talk people into doing the right thing for themselves, not understanding, unfortunately that we’re recommending this behavior change and then sending people back into an environment that is counter to that behavior change and most of the time, inundating them in the opposite, forcing them oftentimes to doing the thing that’s creating the suffering in the first place.

So for years, I’ve done this. We can be very good and clever at getting people to make those changes in an environment that is counter that, but it takes a tremendous amount of will that they have to develop. And yes, we can. We’re very strong creatures. But we also are human. Even today, we know things about decision fatigue and just the more that’s piled on us, it is very difficult to make those changes in that environment. So fortunately, it took me a while, but I realized that we need to address, and we do this even with chronic disease treatment, focusing on the root cause instead of treating the symptoms. The behavior outcome or the behavior change is still treating a symptom. The root cause of our decisions and the root cause of our multiple health epidemics is the culture that we’re existing in. Once we can shift the culture, we can make the behavior change automatic.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:09:47]

I love that, and it’s so powerful. We talk all about the epidemiology. We talk all about the empirical data, the numbers, what to eat, how to eat it, how to cook it, but that never interfaces with the socialization and the culture of food where right now, we have these conversations and the conversations that we have are, eat this amount of protein, get it from here, do this. Then there’s the political aspect, and the moral aspect of are you being a good person by how you’re eating? When did you start to realize– did you have an aha moment that brought together– where I see this book fit is I see this book bringing everything full circle. It is so beautifully done. It’s so smart. It’s bringing full circle back to all the knowledge and all the information that you put out there to create this redefining the homefront as the place. Did you have a moment of insight where you were like, we have to change this.

Shawn Stevenson  [0:10:54]

Yeah. Of course, recently, we’ve seen relationships and family structures being even more fractured in many ways, while there is simultaneously many families that came together even closer. Just seeing all the unrest, seeing all the divisiveness, not just with families, but with our citizens as a society at a time when on paper, we’re supposed to be more connected than ever, more understanding, more compassionate all the things, but a lot of that is very superficial. My question was, could our interactions as a species, could this be the most powerful leverage point for changing our health outcomes? Already, of course, we know that many new research have been publishing this data.

I’m so excited to share this. I couldn’t believe this study was out there, but this was conducted by researchers at Brigham Young University. They did this huge meta-analysis. This was 148 studies, over 300,000 study participants, and they identified healthy relationships, having healthy social ties, as the most powerful determining factor on people’s health outcomes, more so than obesity, more so than quitting smoking. It was in a different stratosphere. As a matter of fact, they found that having healthy social ties resulted in about a 50% reduction in all-cause mortality. This is basically 50% reduction from dying from everything prematurely. My question was, how is that possible?

What it really is, is that our relationships so deeply determine what foods we’re eating. Our relationships so deeply determine our exercise habits. Our relationships so deeply determine our mental health. The list goes on and on. It’s really the tip of the spear. If we understand that we are social creatures truly, even the most introverted among us, which I could definitely be introverted at times, but we require each other. We require input from each other and connection to each other. Our chemistry changes when we’re around people that we care about. We know about, obviously, things like oxytocin, for example. This is one of the few compounds that counteracts cortisol. We know that stress is such a huge component in many of our biggest issues.

As a matter of fact, some researchers published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association not too long ago, they found that 60% to 80% of all physician visits are for stress-related illnesses. It’s a huge component of our suffering, and our relationships are one of the most powerful buffers against that. But unfortunately, and I wasn’t taught this in my university education either, how important it is to cultivate healthy relationships, we don’t talk about it. We just  stumbled upon it. If we have some, and we stumbled upon, quote, bad relationships as well, we really don’t understand. We’re not taught in our culture how to build healthy relationships, and also how to avoid unhealthy relationships. It’s just something that just happens, versus this should be a key component of our education.

To put the cherry on top of this, I don’t know if you’ve talked to him yet, Robert Waldinger out of Harvard, he’s the most recent director of the longest-running longitudinal study on human health and longevity. This is a Harvard study that has been going on for over 80 years. They’re passing the baton down to new directors. He was actually sitting right here in this room. He was sharing with me that when he first became aware of this project, he didn’t believe the data himself. He just didn’t believe that our relationships were so impactful. He sought out other scientists who were studying the same thing, and it just became apparent. What they found was that our relationships are the number one determining factor on how long we’re going to live. He couldn’t believe it, but it’s true. On top of that, it’s the number one determining factor, not just on how long we’re going to live, not just our lifespan, but our health span. Again, it makes sense when you realize that our relationships, that culture that we’re existing in, is determining our behaviors.

I’m going to say one last thing about this. So many of our cultural inputs are subconscious. What I mean by that is there are societies that exist today, they’re still hunter-gatherer tribes, for example, they have a subconscious belief that if they don’t move, they will die. Our survival is dependent upon us moving. We have to hunt. We have to procure our food. We have to gather. We have to prepare this food. If we don’t move, we will die. We don’t have that subconscious belief in our society. Movement is optional, more optional than it’s ever been. We’re just talking about DoorDash right before we got started. We can have food put right in our hand. We don’t have to get our butt out of the chair. It’s baked into the culture that you move. Whereas again, we’ve been devolving on that front where movement is concerned. Also, the same thing with food, nutrition, and what we’re eating because our cravings are cultural. We crave things that we’ve been exposed to.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:16:22]

Our cravings are cultural.

Shawn Stevenson  [0:16:25]

Our cravings are cultural. Existing in what we evolved in, the conditions that we evolved in as a species, we’re going to be driven towards eating certain things. There’s this really interesting phenomenon of something called post-ingestive feedback. Through our evolution, and even today, we’re experiencing this, but we don’t realize it. When we eat a food, we’ll just say, we eat some cherries. We eat some wild cherries that we find. When we eat that food, our cells are essentially taking notes on what it found in that food, the details on those nutrients. We got some anthocyanins, amino acids. We found a dense source of melatonin in a food, in a fruit. Well, that’s interesting. Our cells are taking notes. Over time, as we will become deficient on those key nutrients that we found in that food, we would develop a craving for it. Our bodies would tell us what to go and eat. Have you ever wondered why animals eat certain things in nature when left to their own devices? Why do they eat that thing? Ourselves, we have an inner intelligence that already knows.

So now with that post-ingestive feedback, food scientists have really muddied up those waters a lot because now, certain flavors are not relegated to certain foods. There’s an invention called a gas chromatograph, for example, where they can identify the chemistry to make up that cherry flavor.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:18:00]

I’m learning something. I’m mind blown right now. I’m learning stuff that I had no idea.

Shawn Stevenson  [0:18:06]

So now we can take that cherry flavor, and we can add it to soda. We can add it to candy. We can add it to ice cream, no cherries necessary. We can add it and make a cherry juice, no cherries necessary. We have the chemistry. Now here’s the thing, it doesn’t have to taste exactly the same. But it’s just enough to muddy up those metabolic waters and that communication, that post-ingestive feedback. The cravings that we would normally have are now getting mutated into something else. So of course, there are components of vanishing caloric density and bliss point and all these different things that food scientists have manipulated with our biology. But the bottom line is cravings are cultural. We’re going to crave what we’ve been exposed to. We cannot villainize the fact that humans have crazy cravings or we’re driven to eat certain things. We’ve always wanted to seek out stuff that tastes good. That’s what makes us want to eat it.

But with that being said, we now exist in a culture to where we’re craving things that aren’t even real food anymore. 60% of the average American adult’s diet is ultra-processed foods. This is published in the BMJ. But with the Eat Smarter Family Cookbook, this is the first book that’s detailing this recently published study in JAMA looking at our kids’ intake of ultra-processed food. This was a 20-year study. The researchers found that in 1999, the average American child’s diet was made of 61% ultra-processed food. By 2018, it was almost 70% of our children’s diet is now made of ultra-processed fake food. These are the things that we’re craving now as a culture, whereas people in that hunter-gatherer tribe would have cravings and a drive towards eating real food, natural fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, animal products, things that they’ve been exposed to that we evolved eating. We’re dealing with a different culturescape right now. But what this mission is really about is taking the power back into our hands and creating a micro culture in our own home that makes healthy choices automatic.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:20:14]

How do we do that? What are some of the biggest obstacles, you think, for creating a healthy culture within our homes? What are they, and how do we circumvent that?

Shawn Stevenson  [0:20:27]

That’s such a great question. For me, one of the most important things with any kind of success is removing the obstacle. It’s the same paradigm with treatment, again, treating the symptom instead of the root cause. Let’s remove the cause, so that it makes this process so much easier. One of the things preventing us from leveraging this is we no longer intentionally for most of us, most families, unfortunately, myself included, we’re not proactively creating a culture of wellness. We’re a product of our environment, absolutely. But we’re also creators of our environment; let them become aware of it. For me, I was just a product of my environment growing up in the inner city, growing up in poverty, in a condition where we would get food from charities, we’re on government assistance programs, all these things. Most of our diet, we’re inundated and surrounded by ultra-processed food. I didn’t know that there was a difference.

By the way, just so we have a distinction on what the difference is, let’s clear this up. Humans have been processing foods forever. If you cook a food, that is processing that food. Whether we’re taking a yam and baking it, or cooking meat, or taking an olive and pressing the oil out, that is a process. With that being said, humans have been doing that a long time. As a matter of fact, one of the foods that I pointed out in the new cookbook– and by the way, there’s over 250 scientific references.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:22:01]

I could not believe it. I could not believe how well done this book is.

Shawn Stevenson  [0:22:07]

Thank you. This is a paradigm shifter because that amount of science has never been put into a cookbook before, let alone laid out in a fun way, in a beautiful way, and a way that is empowering for everybody.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:22:21]

It’s so user friendly.

Shawn Stevenson  [0:22:25]

One of these foods that I targeted in the book, I identified over 40 specific foods that have mind-blowing benefits that are seen in high quality peer-reviewed data. One of those foods is olive oil. Olives are historic. They’re mentioned in books for centuries. There’s something really special about that fruit, it’s a fruit. That particular oil, this oleocanthal-rich substance that should be bottled in dark glass, and we naturally do that. We’ve done that for centuries as well. Our ancestors knew there’s something really special about this oil, but it’s sensitive. It’s even sensitive to light as well. So bottle in dark glass, extra virgin, means that it’s cold-temperature processed, so it’s not heat treated. Traditionally, it’s a stone pressing. What these researchers at Auburn University found was that this food is one of the few foods ever discovered that has the potential to repair the blood brain-barrier after damage. What they found was that this food can help to reduce neuro inflammation, which is a huge problem right now that’s not being talked about.

In particular, and this is from researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, they found that hypothalamic inflammation, so the HPA axis, this is the tip of the spear, largely can be considered a master gland, if not the master gland of the body. It’s the integration point of our endocrine system and our nervous system. I like to think of it as the thermostat for your metabolism. The thyroid is along that super highway, the HPA axis, your gonads or your adrenals, all the things. But they found that hypothalamic inflammation is directly leading to increased levels of downstream belly fat and insulin resistance. They found that excessive belly fat and insulin resistance was creating more inflammation in the brain. This is happening. This vicious circle is getting created. In a lot of people, we’re not talking about addressing the inflammation in your brain to help downstream with losing body fat and of course, with gaining muscle by the way when talking with you.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:24:43]

Yeah, of course. The listeners know, yes.

Shawn Stevenson  [0:24:45]

The last little piece of this is olive oil has the potential to reduce inflammation in the brain, helping those downstream outcomes that we want to change. That’s really special. But also, okay, you know about these great benefits.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:25:01]

I have a question about olive oil. Can it be heated, or it’s not heated? You keep it cold pressed. If you heat it, will it destroy any of those low molecular weight molecules?

Shawn Stevenson  [0:25:13]

It’s a great question. We’ve got to understand, yes, when we heat anything, it’s going to change the chemistry. Absolutely. But it is relatively stable to a certain degree, if we talk about things like the smoke point and all this stuff. Personally, I would not utilize olive oil as my primary cooking oil, but you can cook with it, and it’s okay. You’re still going to be able to start with a lot of its benefits.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:25:35]

What would be your primary?

Shawn Stevenson  [0:25:36]

Something that is more stable, higher in saturated fat, so ghee, grass-fed butter, coconut oil, tallow, things like that. Again, humans have been cooking with those for centuries as well.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:25:49]

I think also what you’re saying is important because people that are not well equipped in the kitchen like myself, we wouldn’t necessarily know well, do I use the olive oil? Or do I use the tallow, all of these things with a higher smoke point? I think that makes a lot of sense that it’s not just the foods that you pick, but also how you’re utilizing them, which I’m sure went into a lot of the recipe selection of the book. Was there anything shocking that you found during your research that you were just mind blown, that either positive or negative that you just didn’t expect?

Shawn Stevenson  [0:26:26]

Well, this actually ties in to your earlier question of what’s blocking us from getting these benefits culturally? This is really at the heart of even why I wrote this book, is the impact that eating with our family has on our health outcomes, especially for children. This was really highlighted. First and foremost, what set me on this path was this massive amount of research conducted about family eating behaviors, and food choices, health outcomes that was conducted by some researchers at Harvard. What they found was that families that eat together on a regular basis have a significant increase in consumption of real whole foods, fruits and vegetables, and in particular, key micronutrients that help to prevent chronic diseases. There’s something going on here with eating with your family and eating more nutrient-rich foods. They noted significantly reduced intake of ultra-processed foods, namely chips and soda they had identified in this study. I was like, wait a minute, this is crazy. Is there more research on this? I found so much, and I couldn’t believe it. Two studies are combined together; one was published in pediatrics, the other was published in JAMA. These researchers found that eating just three meals per week, and they found a minimum effective dose.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:27:48]

I love it. That was going to be my next question.

Shawn Stevenson  [0:27:50]

Three meals a week with your family led to significantly reduced incidence of obesity developed in those children in those families, and significantly reduced disordered eating. Three meals per week created this insulation from obesity and from eating disorders within those kids. Now, where does this tie in for me? Because, again, some of these things for people, unfortunately, we tend to have a lot of objections as well. Well, that’s good for you. Maybe you can eat with your family; I can’t. The environment that I come from, I already set up– I struggle to say this because growing up in poverty in the US is different from other places in the world. In the US, if you’re living in poverty, you probably still have a TV. We had the Nintendo, but maybe we get a year or two later, but we still had one. Also, you probably have a car. A lot of times, of course, we were taking the bus and things like that, public transportation. But my mom, this is true story, she would get cars from this place called Okay Junk Cars. She kept this Ford Escort on repeat. Every time one breaks down, she’d get another Ford Escort. But you still have opportunity. You still have access to certain things that other people don’t in different countries. It’s a different reality.

But with that being said, it was very hard. It was absolutely difficult. I was wondering, would this apply for me living in a low-income environment? I came across a wonderful study that was looking at health outcomes and eating behaviors of minority children who would generally be in the context of a low-income environment. They found that for these children if they ate with their families just four meals per week, and this could be any meal, those children ate five servings of fruits and vegetables five plus days a week, just the simple act of eating together, and significantly less intake of ultra-processed foods, chips and soda, and the researchers noted in particular when the TV was never or rarely on. Had my family known that eating together would create some kind of health benefit or insulation from disease for the children of the family, we would have done it.

My family wanted to do well, but we all had some form of a chronic disease. My little brother had chronic asthma. He was in and out of the hospital throughout the year. My sister, terrible eczema, just all these patches of this terrible– it tortured her. My mother, obesity, diabetes; stepfather, addiction, obesity; and me, chronic asthma. For me, I was the one in the family that was the, quote, skinny kid. Until the age of 20, I get diagnosed with a degenerative disc disease and degenerative bone disease. I have this advanced arthritis on my spine. I broke my hip at track practice.

I was excelling as a tracker. I ran a 440 when I was just 15 or 16 years old. Everything was looking good. I was doing a 200-meter time trial with my coach, and I broke my hip from running because my bones were so brittle. Nobody stopped to ask, how did the kid– you know this. Stuff like that is usually relegated for people at advanced age. How could that happen for a child? I didn’t realize at the time that I was making my tissues out of all this low-quality food. That’s upwards of 90% of the food that I ate on a daily basis was ultra-processed food. I’m not exaggerating. Just to hear the numbers already–

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:31:26]

What kind of foods would that be?

Shawn Stevenson  [0:31:30]

Let me give you the day in the life. In the morning, I’m knocking down some cereal of some sort. At the time, probably, I was really into Tony the Tiger, the Frosted Flakes and maybe grab a banana. That would be some kind of whole food would be in the mix there, maybe some piece of fruit. Then for lunch at school, I would get a personalized pepperoni pizza. I would get a pretzel with cheese and dip the pizza into the cheese. And by the way, that’s not really cheese. They probably could legally call it cheese. Cheese product, that’s what it was. Before practice, being a football athlete, track, I’d go to the vending machine, get some  chips or cookies, Gatorade or something like that. A lot of the marketing I started to see during that time period in high school were these companies would come to our school and give out free samples. It literally was little boxes of Rice Krispie Treats cereal, or Surge energy drink, soda, Mountain Dew. These companies are literally coming into our school and giving free products to the kids, and we love it. Then post practice for dinner when I eat at home, again, nine times out of 10, we’re eating some kind of ultra-processed meal. A lot of times, it was fast food. Now here’s the craziest part about this, this is the irony. My stepfather was an executive chef at Morton’s of Chicago.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:33:05]

How is that possible? Did he ever come home and cook?

Shawn Stevenson  [0:33:09]

A lot of times he wouldn’t be there, again, trying to make ends meet in this low-income environment. By the way, the data now is indicating how living in these conditions and dealing with a chronic disease, it makes it more likely that you will stay in these conditions. Those times, and I’m going to share a really powerful food experience with him though. But whenever he would cook, it would be amazing. Absolutely. My mother is an amazing cook. But over time, one of her mantras that she would say is I’m tired. I’m tired, Shawn. She was working overnight at a convenience store for a time period. But again, living in this volatile environment, people don’t understand because you would hear this and be like, just work harder. Figure it out.

Working at the convenience store one night, she was stabbed eight times. Somebody was trying to rob the store. But my mom is different. She’s alive and well today right now, by the way. But she fended off the guy, and he was apprehended by the police. But when she went in for treatment and to get stitched up, after her procedures, the physician told her, if you weren’t a heavyset woman, you would have died. You being overweight saved your life. I was a child when this happened. I was eight years old, and I’ll never forget hearing her say that. She was actually talking to a friend. Do you think she’s going to be in a hurry to lose what saved her? That psychological aspect of this, and so living in these conditions oftentimes our parents are missing each other. We’re all scattered. There’s not a sense of order. But many times, at least one parent would be there. Had they known that eating together with us could have protected our health in some way, we would have done it despite us not having a lot of resources.

To this day, one of the most foundational core memories I have is one of those days when my stepfather was home, and we’re opening the cabinets like, we don’t have anything to eat. We’re hungry. I’m opening the refrigerator. We don’t have anything to eat. We’re hungry; me and my little brother and sister. He looked around. In the cabinet, there was some tomato sauce. We had some Texas toast that was probably from WIC program or something like that, which is like some thick-cut bread. There was government cheese, which, if you don’t know about government cheese, you can’t understand government cheese. It doesn’t melt very well, but it tasted pretty good. This is block cheese. There was some deer sausage in the freezer that my grandfather had when he went hunting, and he packaged up and sent us some. At the time, I’m a kid. I wasn’t in a hurry to eat Bambi personally, but I didn’t know that that’s what it was. So what he did was he took those four ingredients and some spices, and he made pizza out of those ingredients. It was one of the most beautiful moments. And by the way, the pizza didn’t taste like Little Caesars. It didn’t taste like Domino’s. But the fact that I was having pizza, kids love pizza, and he made pizza, it invoked a core memory about how deprivation can lead to creativity, how being in this environment that might be lacking resources develops more resourcefulness. He found a way to create something special. The fact that I was eating with him was so special.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:36:51]

That’s amazing. That’s really—


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–powerful. Everyone must be so proud of you, of what you’ve done and the impact that you’re having on the world is truly profound. In your house, how do you set the culture?

Shawn Stevenson  [0:39:57]

Yeah, that’s the question. That’s the question. As I mentioned, we are a product of our environment, unknowingly oftentimes, but we’re also creators of our environment. I can see these things, these tenets that we talk about play out in the real world and the outcomes with myself, my brother, and sister and starting to replicate behaviors in that environment, replicating the violence, replicating the  inflammatory, volatile tendencies, and also replicating the fear. If there was one energy, or if you were to ask me, what was the main feeling that you felt in that environment? It would be fear. I felt that in my own household as well. But there was also love there. There’s also love in the environment, but you also have to be on guard because there could be somebody driving by and shooting. There’s a walkway separating our apartment from where crack was being cooked and sold. Living in these conditions, you have to find out how to live and manage yourself in those conditions. What happened to me, even as I was excelling in school and going on to be the first person in my family to go to college, let alone graduate–

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:41:20]

Is this where your interest in nutrition came from?

Shawn Stevenson  [0:41:23]

This is, and this is exactly where the transition took place is I’m carrying these behaviors with me. So there’s a lot of that associated fear had me very closed off. I definitely had lone wolf syndrome big time as a protective mechanism. I didn’t trust people. I was very  isolated. I still had friends and different girls I’d mess with and that kind of thing. Shout out to my wife, by the way, who I had met in college towards the end. But I didn’t trust people. It was holding me back because if you’re going to do anything of great success in this life, and you know, this, too, is going to be with and through other people. But because my health was so poor, and I didn’t realize the interconnection between my physical health and my mental health and my perspective, but going through that condition with my spine and my degeneration with my bones, and getting this prognosis from my physician that– when he put the MRI for me to see, he said that I had the spine of an 80-year-old man. I’m just like, okay, so what did we do to fix this? This is where my interest in nutrition, the first domino, started.

I didn’t really have a reference point to ask him this. I’m 20 years old. I asked him, does this have anything to do with what I’m eating? This might have been like a Back to the Future thing. I’d go back and my new self asked this question. But when I said that, when I asked him, does this have anything to do with what I’m eating? Should change the way I’m exercising? I didn’t understand why my spine was degenerating like that. If you were looking at my L4 and L5-S1 disc, they look black. They were so degenerated. Light should be shining through them. When I asked him, does this have anything to do with what I’m eating, he looked at me like I was from another planet. He said, this has nothing to do with what you’re eating. This is something that just happens. I’m sorry that it happened to you, son. We’re going to get you some medication. We’re going to help you to manage this. But I’m sorry, this is something you’re going to have to deal with.

You know the power of the placebo and the nocebo. So taking that message in that there was nothing I could do about this, I embodied that in that moment because he was the authority figure. He knew better about me than I knew about me at the time, even though I live with myself. A part of the story that I hadn’t talked about for years is that physician was morbidly obese. He was around 300 pounds. I remember him like his body sitting on me as he’s examining me, as his belly is on me, and he’s telling me about health. Not to say that he didn’t know and wasn’t great at what he was doing. Also, not to say that he wasn’t trying to get certain results, but what he was doing was not leading to the outcomes that he wanted. I was taking advice from a culture that was unwell in that setting. I sought out, fortunately, second and third opinion, same bill of goods, same diagnosis. I walked out of there with a new prescription, a new little note for bed rest, so I didn’t have to work. So not only is my spine atrophying and my bones, but now everything else is. Now I went from at least semi-active to doing nothing because I was afraid. I was told they told me not to. What do you think’s going to happen? Now I’m losing all this muscle. It’s just snowballing downward. Everything changed when fortunately, having those little moments of light in your life, it could be a family member. It could be a moment of insight. It could be a seemingly chance interaction.

It took two years, and now the skinny kid in the family is now pushing 200 pounds myself, on my frame; I was significantly overweight. I just thought about my family, in particular, my grandmother. I was the one who was supposed to make it out of these conditions, and here I am, the worst off of all. This is very simple. It’s this really interesting phenomenon in the human brain. It’s called instinctive elaboration. If you ask yourself a question, we’re constantly asking ourselves questions, but it really points your focus. We all have a dominant question that we’re always asking. Some people are asking, how can I get people to like me? How can I feel better? How can I make it through today? Whatever the question might be. For me, I was asking on automatic, why me, all the time. Why me? Why me? Why me? Why did this happen to me? Why won’t somebody help me? Why can’t I stop this pain?

You find answers to affirm what you’re asking. You’re finding evidence to your filter. We find our filter. In that moment of thinking about my grandmother and living up to what was expected of my life, I asked a different question, and it changed everything. I simply asked, how can I feel better? What can I do to feel better? I never asked that. I never thought about what I could do because I was sourcing my potential to everybody else. It’s not like I found a magic lamp or something, and everything changed. But it changed my perspective. I put a plan together. Part of that was my low-hanging fruit, which was exercise. I asked, okay, if my bones are degenerating my spine, what are they made of? So now I’m looking for certain foods and certain key nutrients that make up these tissues, and so my sleep because that was my biggest struggle. It wasn’t like I knew anything about the science around this subject, but my biggest struggle was trying to sleep at night. If you’re not sleeping, you’re not healing. I was on medication for that as well.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:47:20]

Wow, so young.

Shawn Stevenson  [0:47:22]

20, 22 years old, I got a plethora of medications. The main one I was put on initially with Celebrex, which, one of the side effects, which had not been noted at the time, was restless leg syndrome. It felt like my legs were trying to get up and go for a jog, and I’m trying to get some sleep. But at the same time, I could have been put on Vioxx, another nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory that ended up killing at least 40,000 Americans confirmed upwards of 60,000, not to mention hundreds of thousands cardiovascular events. And it was just a notepad away. A lot of young people died from that. So that’s the paradigm that I was operating in.

Bringing us to this point with this project is my passion for nutrition. Focusing on that in school was when I understood that even with our muscle, for example, this is literally made from the materials that you give your body. If you don’t provide your body with those raw materials, it’s going to do the best it can. Our bodies are resilient at adapting, but a lot of the things that we put the label on as a disease, this is your body making adaptations to continue to function and keep you alive under unideal circumstances. My passion for nutrition was really because that was my bridge.

As I started to provide my body with this different input, because food isn’t just food; it’s information. Now, not only is my body changing, and now I’m giving my body all these nutrients that truly, omega-3s, are you kidding me? I might have went years without getting a viable source of omega-3s, truly. Some of my favorite foods, as I mentioned, for dinner, I would eat a family can of SpaghettiOs. That was my one of my favorites, or a box of Velveeta Shells and Cheese if I had a couple extra dollars to get fancy. Literally I was living like that and eating fast food every day.

So, the last part here is once I saw the power of food to change my physical body, but also I didn’t know the side effect will be my mind change. I started to tap into that creativity and see more opportunity. Most importantly, it opened me up to connect with other people because it was through people that I found all of these solutions. A person that I had known for years that I would hang out with is the first person to take me to a quote, health food store. There was one Whole Foods in all the St. Louis, which is a big ass city, and there was one Whole Foods. There was one Wild Oats who has just been bought up by Whole Foods. I’ve known her for years. But after I made the decision to get well and asked what can I do to feel better, within a week, she’s taken me to Wild Oats of the 50 times we hung out before. She was in chiropractor school. I just thought, she was just super weird, her and her weird friends, and she takes me to this place.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:50:15]

But you went anyway.

Shawn Stevenson  [0:50:17]

It’s because my filter changed. There were books there. Of course, like me, being somebody who was in school and very acclimated with research and doing well in school, I’m just looking for references. I’m very skeptical by nature. There were books in there with all these scientific references of like I mentioned, omega-3s. I had no idea that mattered for my bone density. I had never heard that before. What? And I’m just like, how do I find this? First, I became a natural pill popper because just like, oh, these isolated nutrients. But eventually that evolved into food, which has this underlying intelligence, and we only still know a fraction about what’s in food.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:51:03]

I agree with that. I absolutely agree with that. This cookbook is actually so much more than a cookbook. It really is a culture-shifting book about how we can come together as a family, create a micro culture, and feed our bodies good foods. I have a personal question I want to ask. I’m curious, as you started learning, did those old habits from childhood follow you? Or did they just drop off? Was there a transition that happened for you?

Shawn Stevenson  [0:51:39]

You’re the best. This is such a good question, and it’s both. The same thing, this is really how the brain changes. As we repeat behaviors, we lay down more myelin insulating that firing. We say that neurons that fire together wire together, and to make behaviors automatic. But also, you could change your brain significantly with an emotionally charged event. We know that some of the most emotionally charged things in our lives are the most of the brightest memories, whether it’s a negative memory or positive memory. With that being said, it’s both. Certain behaviors over time whittled away, and others were dropped instantaneously.

For me, the biggest thing, and I’ve seen this also with all the thousands of people I’ve had the opportunity to work with, being able to leverage our psychology, a huge part of that is just awareness. There’s so much that I just didn’t know. I didn’t know that there was a difference in the food that I was eating. I had no idea. I had no idea that there was a difference with wild-caught salmon and the fish sticks that I loved. They both were fish. That’s it. Just the awareness that there’s a difference here in the inputs that I’m giving my body, a significant difference, that lit a fire under me to get the best stuff. Also, you got to deal with deserving—am I deserving of this thing?—and address the psychological barriers to doing those good things for yourself and investing in yourself. But I’ve never met one person in all my years of work—I’ve been in this field for 21 years—who didn’t want to be healthy. Never; not one person.

We might have stories about why we can’t be healthy. It’s too hard. It’s too expensive. I don’t have the support. I don’t deserve it. We can develop learned helplessness because we’ve tried so many things, and we don’t get the result. It’s not reserved for me; that’s for those people. There can be a story. But if we could choose, everybody would choose health. What it really boils down to and to tie everything together is those cultural shifts. We have to realize there’s a larger meta or larger culturescape that we’re existing in. But we can create a micro culture in our own household, but that starts with us.

With my family, one of the things that I employed, and I’ve been able to replicate this with countless other families as well, is intentionally creating certain family bonding or rituals. We evolved doing this stuff. There was there was a synchronicity or rituals with so many aspects of our lives. A lot of that has been abandoned. Our friend, Bedros, for example, is rekindling the rite of passage that young men go through that we don’t have really in our culture. We stumble into a lot of this stuff. There really isn’t any guidance.

We just got back. We went to Hawaii for the first time, and we got to see the dramatization of a luau. That’s one of those things, you just go to some dancing and food, whatever. They come out with a pig on the stick. But it’s an reenactment of something that we’ve been doing forever as a species. We hunt together. We gather together. We prepare food together. We eat together. We celebrate together as a tribe. Over time, we’ve been becoming more and more distant from each other, isolated into our little buildings. There was even a time when that isolation started to happen, where families would at least have extended family nearby. Now, we’re very isolated. My question was, again, is there something protective about eating together that’s been taken away? And now the data indicates that yes, that’s the case. So knowing that this is happening, and by the way, friends are included in this, too. It’s not just family, but friends as well. I proactively made it a mandate that we ate together throughout the week.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:55:42]

When did it start?

Shawn Stevenson  [0:55:43]

This started when I lived in Ferguson-Florissant, Missouri.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:55:46]

So you recognized you’ve been doing this with your family?

Shawn Stevenson  [0:55:49]

Yeah. But I didn’t know specifically.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:55:53]

As you became more successful and as you go through a push phase, was there a period of time where that fell off, and then you realize that we have to come full circle?

Shawn Stevenson  [0:56:06]

Oh, yeah. I mean, this trial and success. But also, this gets back to what was the biggest obstacle? One of the biggest obstacles was a TV. By the way, I love– we’re living in the golden age of television. No matter what you’re into with this–

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:56:21]

I don’t know. If I have to watch UglyDolls one more time with my four-year-old.

Shawn Stevenson  [0:56:28]

Hey, but it’s out there catered to everybody’s got their thing. But I realized that, for example, while I was doing my homework when I was in my university still, and I was working as a personal trainer at the university gym. I would put on the Cardinals game; I’m from St. Louis, so it’s baseball heaven. All right, that’s what we call it. No disrespect to any other team, but it’s just what we had. The Rams were there for a little stint of time, the Blues, but we didn’t have basketball, that kind of thing. We’re a big baseball city. I put the game on. Each baseball game, by the way, was a three-and-a-half-hour investment. We went to a lot of baseball games too, and I put on pretty much every game. I knew batting averages. I knew so much about it. I knew about their kids, whatever, just so much information about these players. But one day, it hit me, as I had the game on, that I was watching them be extraordinary. I spent so much time watching them be extraordinary and investing in them and not in myself. That’s one of those cold turkey moments where I stopped paying for cable. At that this point, my wife and I were married. Not having cable at this time, this was, we’ll just say 2000.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:57:54]

Was she on board with that?

Shawn Stevenson  [0:58:00]

She was really– we were both in this–

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [0:58:03]

The way that you think is very innovative, and that’s experienced now. What we’re getting at and what I’m hearing is the thought innovation as you’ve created and are creating a legacy. That’s fascinating.

Shawn Stevenson  [0:58:18]

Let me tell you the superpower in this was her mother. My mother-in-law, to this day, is my greatest teacher in nutrition, in health. She’s the one who really shifted my paradigm, but I was open. I was seeing things differently when I met her. That’s part of the package deal that I got. She had been teaching meditation for 40 years or 30 years or something at that point. I didn’t know what that was. Also, after I really transformed my health to a significant degree, the regeneration of my disc, I had two herniated disc get retracted. I could see the light shining through my disc again. This was nine months after that decision of getting a scan done. My body had just transformed. At that point now, all these people had asked me for help just walking around my campus; it was crazy.

But after that, I still had seasonal allergies that I would end up in the ER for. I just thought that was just my life. I’m with my wife at the time, she’s girlfriend at this at this time, and she takes me to the ER because I can’t breathe at night. It’s just like I was really struggling. They give me prescription antibiotics, of course. It was just even a bacterial infection probably, but I just wanted something. We stopped by her mother’s house on the way back to my place. Her mother came up to me, and she was like, so my daughter tells me that you are having this hay fever. I was like, yeah, it’s the weather. She was like, is the problem out there, or is the problem in you? That’s one of those moments where time froze. I’m blaming outside. I’m blaming the world, in life and the weather, in the environment, for something that’s internal. Of course, there’s an interfaces and interconnection to these things, but I was focused on this thing outside. There were certain things with my nutrition that I was doing that was hurting me still.

At the time, I had a big allergic response when I was eating dairy. That was just for me at the time, by the way. I’m not anti-dairy in any means. But I’m getting quote, organic dairy from Whole Foods and whatever, but I’m having a mucus response, like a lot of mucus buildup, post any kind of dairy that I was consuming at the time. This histamine reaction is just making me more sensitive. I pulled dairy out, never had another problem. Never. Not any kind of asthmatic symptoms, any of that stuff ever since. By the way, I could dabble in a little dairy now, and it’s all good. But at the time, that was a thing that was creating this hyper  inflammatory response.

Having her as a package deal helped me to build the culture. To this day, one of my proudest moments is her being able to see me doing this work because she passed the baton to me. To be able to impact the lives of millions of people at this point is just really special.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [1:01:35]

It is, and you carry those behaviors forward now in your own family. Are there certain things that you guys do together? For example, do you set the table together? Do you clean together? Are there things that you review that happened during the day? What are  your ways in which you navigate that culture right now?

Shawn Stevenson  [1:02:01]

So even tying in the TV piece, we can get together and watch a game or watch our favorite show and have a meal, that’s totally fine. It’s just, are you having that face time in the real world, real face time with the people that you love. We’ve made that a consistent part. It might be that three minimum a week. By the way, it changes. Another tip for everybody, we have to give ourselves grace. When we find out this information, maybe we’re telling our kids who are gaming right now, Dr. Lyon had on this guy, a scientist, he said, we got to eat together, so get off your device.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [1:02:39]

I am definitely using that.

Shawn Stevenson  [1:02:42]

It’s understanding the culture that we exist in where there’s a lot of screentime. We’re addicted to our devices. Our devices can be very divisive in many ways. Ironically, it’s supposed to be bringing us together. But understanding our addiction, we have to replace that with something of greater or equal value, just ripping the band aid off and going cold turkey is not necessarily the way to go about it. My wife and I, by the way, we’d maybe throw on a Bruce Lipton cell biologist lecture and eat dinner or something sometimes. But a lot of times, we just ended up eating together because the TV didn’t have anything good on because we didn’t have cable anymore. Having that face time with our family, especially when my mother-in-law, which we ended up eating a lot together, whether it was at her house or at our house, it just naturally happened when we took away that thing that was really–

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [1:03:38]

The external distraction.

Shawn Stevenson  [1:03:40]

Exactly. We know that the data is indicating how that leads to the consumption of more ultra-processed food. Just yesterday, my youngest son–

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [1:03:48]

How old is he?

Shawn Stevenson  [1:03:49]

He just turned 12 about a week ago. We’re watching his favorite YouTuber, and literally, you know how YouTube would throw out all these ads now, ultra-processed food ad after ad, Taco Bell, Burger King, Pizza Hut, all just constantly, some weird stuff I never even seen before, and all these cartoon characters, it is crazy what’s being advertised to our children. By the way, one of the studies that I noted in the book, how impressionable we are as children and what these food manufacturers are doing is their goal is not to get a one-time relationship; it’s to create lifetime customers. They took a bunch of children, and they wanted to see the impression of advertisers and using cartoon characters and how that affects children’s taste preferences. They had the children rate on a five-point smiley scale, how many smiley faces, how much they enjoyed the cereal. Here’s the thing: it was the same cereal, but in one instance, one part of the study, they’re given the cereal without a cartoon character on the box in one time, and the other time they’re giving with a cartoon character. They rated the cereal taste higher when they had a cartoon character on the box. When we walk down the cereal aisle, it is like a freaking carnival.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [1:05:18]

How do you suggest that people go grocery shopping in a way that is protective from that, just in general?

Shawn Stevenson  [1:05:29]

Well, of course, people talk about the perimeter, shop the perimeter. But mainly, it’s coming into it understanding what this quote, supermarket is.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [1:05:39]

I agree with you 100%. It’s not about shopping the perimeter. It’s about having a game plan and knowing exactly what you’re interfacing with.

Shawn Stevenson  [1:05:48]

Exactly. It looks like there’s all this variety on these store shelves, but these foods are made from the same 10 things. Most of it is genetically modified wheat, corn, soy, different sources of sugar, maybe a little dabble of orange is here and there, but it’s mostly ultra-processed foods. We’re going to eat what we’re exposed to. We crave what in our culture. Our cravings are cultural. It’s coming in knowing what you’re going to eat. One piece of advice, too, it’s not a good idea to shop while you’re hungry because you tend to end up with stuff in your cart that you normally wouldn’t. Oh, this looks good. This looks good.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [1:06:34]

I’m just shopping for a friend. That’s it.

Shawn Stevenson  [1:06:37]

In certain places, you might go in for five things and you end up leaving with 15 things. I’ve done that before. You’re going to Whole Foods, I’m just going to grab something, then I got an armful of stuff.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [1:06:47]

What I really also liked in the book that I learned a lot, and I would love for you to just highlight the packaging. How do we store our food? Does it make a difference whether we’re using glass or plastic or aluminum? What did you find when you were reviewing all the literature for the book?

Shawn Stevenson  [1:07:04]

This study actually just came out just a few months ago looking at the microplastics and nanoplastics that end up in our food in these quote, microwave-safe containers. The researchers found that just a 3-centimeter space of that material that you’re heating your food up in in a microwave, for example, was releasing billions of nanoplastics and millions of microplastics into the food. Facts. Most of your containers are not 3 centimeters, by the way. That’s just from that amount of space. When you hear something like microwave safe, that’s not the FDA saying that your food is safe. This is that the container is not going to blow up. You can put it into the microwave. That doesn’t mean that it’s safe. Who’s looking out for you with all of this stuff? We know about the xenoestrogens, BPA, whatever, but there’s BPS, there’s different compounds. Even if it’s BPA-free, there’s all these other compounds that effectively work as hormones in your body and fit into certain receptor sites that activate or deactivate programs. We’re interacting with something that we don’t understand.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [1:08:24]

We’re not routinely testing for it either. It’s very difficult, unless you’re going to a toxicologist or a toxicology testing, as in find that in the bloodwork.

Shawn Stevenson  [1:08:34]

Exactly. As a matter of fact, this study was published in Clinical and Experimental Pediatrics, and they were looking at the health outcomes in infants that are being bottled fed. Of course, what’s in the bottle can be a factor here as well, but even breast milk in these bottles, they were finding BPA metabolites in the infant’s urine, not to mention higher levels of triglycerides in these babies, higher levels of VLDL, very low-density lipoproteins, other risk factors for cardiovascular damage as well that they noted in this study. It’s just what’s going on and know again, all of those microplastics that are ending up in the formula. Another study found that as well.

With all that being said, we’re not trying to scare people straight or scare people into making the right decision. We still have plastic stuff at our house. It’s not about being neurotic. It’s just over time making some changes. So over time, I would get a set of stainless steel containers for our food or a glass set and finding what works for you. Of course, I give different tiers in the book like here’s some different options, which a lot of times I didn’t know. I didn’t know that stainless steel containers were a thing because I just grew up with Glad plastic containers. You can get stainless steel that have silicone lids. You can get various glass containers as well. There’s a bunch of ceramic options. There are so many different things that we have access to that a lot of times can be even cost effective. But we might not think about it because we’re so inundated in this plastic society.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [1:10:21]

Your suggestion would be to minimize plastics, try to go for glass, use ceramic, stainless steel. In the supermarket, if it’s high quality, try to avoid– in our house, we get milk out of glass containers. We’re in Texas, they have all kinds of stuff there. What about when you were making the recipes, did you choose the foods first for their powerful, whether it’s an antioxidant, or again, low molecular weight compounds? Did you choose the individual foods, or did you take recipes that were from tradition? How did you decide?

Shawn Stevenson  [1:10:58]

You’re the best. How did you know this? So I did both. Primarily, food first, I took the foods, because again, you might learn this cool stuff. I mentioned even about cherries. Okay, now what? What do I do with them? Do I just nibble on cherries? Well, we’ve got some, for example, cherry frozen yogurt pops that the kids–

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [1:11:18]

We are definitely making that.

Shawn Stevenson  [1:11:20]

Kids love them. You could take this amazing food you just learned about and learned all this cool science on. What I did was I know that we have an emoji culture as well. Sometimes you could express an entire conversation with emojis. So for each of these foods, I put the respective emoji, for example, with cherries and being a natural source of melatonin. I shared some data on, does that actually translate to various health benefits? But you will see a little sleep emoji next to cherries when we talk about it in that section. So now you can eat for purpose. Now we go back to the recipe section, you see the same emoji, and if you’re interested in getting in what I call these, quote, good sleep nutrients, that’s a food you might want to have added to your regimen.

Another thing, being that I’ve been in this field for a while and my first book being Sleep Smarter, it really was the first sleep wellness book and crazy enough to become an international bestseller. This was back in 2015, 2016. It identified that you can have the most fancy-pants mattress do all this external sleep stuff, which they all have valid data to back them up and they can be super helpful, but if you have key deficiencies in the nutrients that build sleep-related hormones and neurotransmitters, you’re going to struggle with your sleep. Vitamin C is even important. This is plus one found some data on this in building sleep-related hormones, helping in particular to reduce wake-after-sleep onset, so helping people to wake up less often at night, vitamin C and vitamin E in particular, those two.

The list goes on and on. There’s a bunch of good sleep nutrients that we’ve identified. These are featured in the Eat Smarter Family Cookbook as well, so that again, you can eat for a purpose. Another food, really quickly, is I mentioned earlier. When I was talking about this, it jumped into my mind, processing of foods, so sweet potato when I said yams earlier. A lot of people know we could bake a sweet potato. We could mash it, maybe can make a hash. But being that this food is so remarkable has these really incredible anthocyanins that have been found to even affect your memory in a positive way, let’s turn this sweet potato into pancakes. So I’ve got these protein sweet potato pancakes–

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [1:13:47]

I saw it though. It’s not lost on me.

Shawn Stevenson  [1:13:49]

–to increase that protein ratio as well. We have some that’s traditionally are very carb-dominant food that you might need a nap after, an increase in the protein ratio, but also making the basis of the food a real food. This is a game changer. We love pancakes. My family, we’re big foodies. I mentioned the culture that I come from with having a lot of great cooks in my family. A lot of times the food wasn’t the best as far as like the food quality, but making delicious food, I have that in my DNA into all of my family. Even my wife and my oldest son is a knock you out of your socks great cook as well. But we’re big foodies.

Another food that I loved growing up was breakfast sandwiches from McDonald’s. If I got up in time to make it, how can I upgrade this? That was another thing with the recipe based on things we love in our culture, but let’s make a higher quality version of that and make it simple. That’s the most important part of this. Even as I’m talking about sweet potato pancake, you don’t need 15 ingredients. This is something that we reduce the complexity because it’s not necessary and also, implementing strategies like you were mentioning too, for my family culture, cooking things in batches more often as well. We have leftovers, so when I make those protein sweet potato pancakes, we can put them in the freezer, and my son could warm them up himself before school, so just little simple strategies to take out some of the stress. Also, most importantly, the mission behind the book is bringing us closer together as a family.

Last thing I want to share on that is, I mentioned earlier, we have to find something of greater or equal value to get buy in from everybody. You know your kids better than anybody. You what excites them, what de-excites them. We find psychological leverage points. For my youngest son, he likes to have a plan. If he knows that we’re having family dinner, it’s just it is what it is. But springing it on him, he might, because his mind is like, well, I’m doing this thing. It’s a little bit more complicated. My oldest son’s just like, it’s whatever, whenever. Let’s go. Okay. Oh, we’re doing this? Cool, let’s go. Because he’s much more sporadic.

Knowing that my youngest son, if I want to come in, like, oh, we’re actually making a switch, I need to know, how can I get some buy in right now at this moment? So it could be, hey, bud, we’re having family dinner tonight actually. Do you want the cherry frozen yogurt pops or the snicker bites for dessert? Oh, okay, I like dessert. So him being able to know, oh, I have something to look forward to. Also, finding those things in your family, building things intentionally, this circles all the way back to what we talked about initially, proactively building a culture of unity. You have to find out what that is for your family. For us, one of the things that we’ve done over the years is when we sit down to eat together, we all share three things we’re grateful for from that day. It just gets us open. We get to talking. We get to see each other. I get to see my child in front of me without any distractions and see, what’s going on? Is there any inflections in his voice that might be indicating something? Because a lot of the problems we experience, we allow things to go on too long because we’re not paying attention. We can identify things that might be off or they may be struggling with if we’re there to be present and pay attention. The dinner table is a unifier. It’s a superpower for families. That’s what this mission is really all about is helping to share the science but also the practicality.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [1:17:35]

Thank you so much. You dropped so many amazing tips, tools, but what I think is most valuable is hearing where it came from, and how it came to be. I think there was probably a lot of reflection and healing and going back into the past and thinking about what you could have done different or how you can now bring some of these things forward. Thank you so much for coming on.

Shawn Stevenson  [1:18:05]

It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [1:18:07]

Where can everybody find this, the Eat Smarter Family Cookbook?

Shawn Stevenson  [1:18:11]

They can pick it up anywhere that books are sold, so Amazon, Barnes and Noble, your favorite local bookstore as well. Folks can pop over to, and we’ve got some really cool bonuses there. We’ve got a family health and fitness summit I put together that people get free access to. The ticket for the event is like $300, but you get free access whenever you purchase a copy of the book. We’ve got all these incredible experts who have families and have kids sharing their experience, so you’re not just learning this stuff from me, but a host of other people. We’ll figure some things out so we can all learn from each other and really create a movement towards family wellness.

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [1:18:49]

It’s wonderful. We’ll link everything. Thank you again.

Shawn Stevenson  [1:18:53]

Thank you for having me.


Dr. Gabrielle Lyon  [1:18:55]

The Dr. Gabrielle Lyon podcast and YouTube are for general information purposes only and do not constitute the practice of medicine, nursing, or other professional health care services, including the giving of medical advice. No patient-doctor relationship is formed. The use of information on this podcast, YouTube, or materials linked from the podcast or YouTube is at the user’s own risk. The content of this podcast is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Users should not disregard or delay in obtaining medical advice for any medical condition they may have and should seek the assistance of their health care professional for any such conditions. This is purely for entertainment and educational purposes only.