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Sugar: The New Smoking

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After freshman year of college my Probation Officer issued me a final warning: If one more marijuana test came back positive I’d be “in violation” and imprisoned. I thought I would never quit weed, nor would I be able to if I had to; but apparently we can do just about anything, depending on the definition of “have to.” I was terrified of sobriety – just not as much as I was of jail. After having smoked all day, everyday for three years I quit cold turkey for the following two.

Once Probation was over I figured I’d go back, but when I tried our relationship had changed. She changed, or I had, or we both had and she didn’t love me anymore. What had been my favorite thing in the world suddenly induced feelings of panic and anxiety, and it took a few years of stubborn attempts (like all pathological relationships) before finally I gave up. It wasn’t until weed was out of my life that I discovered my passion for stand-up comedy; which lead to my performing all over the world, including on HBO and several other networks; which lead to my meeting the girl that introduced me to Chinese Medicine.

In spite of having now spent the last decade of life on the more health conscious side of the spectrum I’d never until recently explored any radical diet of complete abstinence. For New Year’s, 2018, at the behest of my teacher, Dr. Frank Butler, I decided to jump the Keto bandwagon. This meant for the first time in my life no bread. No pasta, no rice or potatoes (not even yams!), absolutely no sugar whatsoever. I was terrified again, then equally shocked that I’ve kept it up, though grateful, as what I’ve already learned about my/the human body just may have saved my life.

I was four weeks into “ketosis” when I went to visit a friend who manages Gustiamo, an incredible Italian food exporter in the South Bronx, and in typical Italian fashion he insisted on showering me with samples. Sample after sample of literally the greatest olive oil that’s ever grazed my palette, and who was I to turn down such generosity? I didn’t hesitate when he passed me what I assumed was vinegar.

Wrong. It was Saba.

What’s Saba?

 “Isn’t that incredible?” John phrased his statement to me as a question.

My eyes got as wide as they’re capable of getting, as I’d never tasted anything like it before. Such savory, delicious, sweet vinegar!

That’s because it’s not vinegar, schmuck.

“It’s like a syrup,” John explained, “made by cooking down grape must,” and he walked away in his own personal mic drop, leaving me alone with the experience.

Suddenly I felt awful.

No, that’s an oversimplification. I didn’t feel awful. 90% of my body felt fine, but I was overcome with an uncomfortable head rush, not dissimilar to my own expression of anxiety that has intermittently plagued my past 17 years. I was barely able to think. I picked up the bottle to read its ingredients. It was all in Italian, but hey, I’ve seen the Godfather over 100 times; and I speak Spanish.

In Spanish sugar is “azucar.” This bottle of saba had 38 grams of “zucchero,” and I felt like I’d just drank them all. Meanwhile I hadn’t even drank 10% of them. Still, I was legitimately trashed, almost as if on a bad weed high, and almost hesitated to drive home when it was time 15 minutes later.

The “high” lasted two hours, but the lesson will stick with me forever. Either I suffer from a degree of insulin resistance I’d be well advised to take heed of, or sugar is poison, or a bit of both. I’ve since had three similar experiences as a result of the notorious, “hidden sugar” in restaurant foods, and once even from too many organic blueberries! I feel like a kid again, but instead of my Probation Officer, I’ve got a prestigious acupuncturist trying to steer me towards a better self.

 How long do M&M’s stay good for unrefrigerated? 

 The answer to this question is all you have to know to never eat M&M’s (or anything shelved adjacent to them) ever again. The fact that they don’t spoil should inform us: This is not food, in spite of it being edible. The fact that we can inhale and exhale cigarette smoke doesn’t make it oxygen, right? So, why do we eat junk?

Basically because it’s been in our faces for our entire lives so most of us don’t feel its negative effects immediately after consuming it. In every store window and school cafeteria, on every shelf in every convenient store and practically every home we’ve been in has been some form of edible toxicity… that all happens to be delicious to boot! Whether consciously or not, this creates in us some degree of acceptance, that although we’re aware of its (lack of) quality, how bad could it be, really?

What if we weren’t conditioned as such? What if sugar had always held the same stigma that cigarettes now hold? What if the companies couldn’t advertise, the prices on M&M’s went up to $12/pack, and every night on TV, just after the commercial depicting a smoker dying of Emphysema was a sugar addict suffering in Diabetic coma? Instead we’ve been fed (no pun intended) the opposite message.

In the wise words of Malcolm X: “You’ve been had! Ya been took! Ya been hoodwinked! Bamboozled! Led astray! Run amok!”

Obviously Malcolm was talking about the white man’s doings to black people, though I believe an equally accurate accusation is of the rich man’s doings to all of the masses. At some point big corporations realized they could turn a much bigger profit if they made cheaper food that didn’t expire, obviously sans regard for how it might impact the human body. Typically, competitive companies turned copycat, and the marketplace was flooded with these new forms of “food” that were even more addictive. As a more aware adult I find a good rule of thumb to be: Always suspect the product(s) being put out by the best businessmen, for what are the chances that the most clever marketing minds are also the most physiologically aware? Too many of us exist under the blind impression that we’re not under constant attack by big business. We walk into stores that sell junk and instead of seeing poison we see options. We assume if something is all over the place: How bad could it be? Neglecting the fact that equally all over the place are irredeemable diseases that logically should not be ruining so many people in a country so wealthy.

One of the most dangerous platitudes recycled in regards to diet is: “Everything in moderation,” a true fave of people who love their vices. One of my favorite rebuttals came from my teacher, Jason Ginsberg: “Yeah, everything in moderation… Including moderation. It means moderation can work, but to paint a broad stroke as a dietary prescription for all is as irresponsible as eating something that doesn’t expire.

 Some people have allergic responses to substances that would make moderation as harmful as would its opposite. Others have longstanding, complicated conditions that require everything they ingest be as clean as possible in order to have any chance at a full recovery. Should a 40-year old with an autoimmune disease be allotted moderation in the same way as a 25-year old athlete in great shape? We must define moderation, which is impossible, which is why it is dangerous. Its huge subjectivity and subsequent dosage being determined by non- professionals couldn’t possibly qualify as a “balanced diet.” Are cigarettes in moderation okay? What about fast food? If sugar is as toxic as studies show it seems like introducing it into the body every day could have as negative of an effect as daily vegetables would a positive. Therefore, if you are navigating through any serious illness a more effective approach would probably be abstinence. As for myself, the notion of never having another Manhattan bagel or pizza, or my brother’s delicious pasta terrifies me even more than any anxiety attack, but if nothing else I’ve already learned one thing from my Saba-interrupted ketosis: I’ll never eat sugar again.

I have patients come into the clinic all the time requesting “the herbal formula for weight loss”, or that I do “the point for headaches,” or heartburn or anxiety. Do these exist? Yes, there are approaches Chinese Medicine offers for the various patterns that express such symptoms. However, in my opinion much more valuable than adding remedies to our problems would be subtracting the original sources of said problems. The Latin translation of “doctor” is educator. This implies that any health practitioner who is only offering additional intake for patients, not suggesting any omissions is doing at most half the job; for a particular herb that might assist weight loss can at best only break even against the inflammatory effects of sugar. Less is more, a cliché many Americans refuse to accept, as most of the cases I see are a result of too much of a bad thing, as opposed to not enough of a good. We’re the richest country in the world. We’ve got plenty of the good. We’ve just got too much bad as well.


Don’t miss out! We have ✌🏻 weeks left in our Back to Health Yoga Challenge – a yoga series designed to help alleviate back pain and increase mobility. We will be offering another series soon so drop in for these last two weeks and see how you like it! . 📿Taught by the lovely Kristen Huffman . Only $20/class . . . #EvolveHealthNYC #BeWell #yoga #yogachallenge #yogaclass #communityclasses #yogaforbackpain #backpain #chronicpain #healthandwellness #holistichealth #naturalhealing #healyourself #feelgood #lovewhatyoudo #fitness #yogaposes

By | evolve-health-wellness | No Comments

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We have ✌🏻 weeks left in our Back to Health Yoga Challenge – a yoga series designed to help alleviate back pain and increase mobility. We will be offering another series soon so drop in for these last two weeks and see how you like it! . 📿Taught by the lovely Kristen Huffman . Only $20/class . . . #EvolveHealthNYC #BeWell #yoga #yogachallenge #yogaclass #communityclasses #yogaforbackpain #backpain #chronicpain #healthandwellness #holistichealth #naturalhealing #healyourself #feelgood #lovewhatyoudo #fitness #yogaposes

Chinese Medicine Theory for Beginners

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Starts this Wednesday at 7pm! Come learn the basics of the interesting theories and logic behind your acupuncture treatments.
Taught by the amazing Dr. Maryanne Travaglione. Spots still open – register at evolvehealthnyc.com or just drop in and pay at the door. Only $20/class . . . #EvolveHealthNYC #BeWell #chinesemedicine #chinesetheory #holistichealth #healthandwellness #acupuncture #communityclasses #acupuncturenyc #herbs #tcm #alwaysastudent

Do you know what fresh goji berries looks like?

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These beauties are grown on the Daoist Traditions Campus in Asheville, NC, where our Director of Advanced Education, Dr. Frank Butler, lectures on Advanced Orthopedics in the doctoral program.
Goji berries, aka Gou Qi Zi, is a Chinese herbal medicinal used to nourish the eyes, relieve back pain, and tonify the Liver and Kidneys.
. . . #EvolveHealthNYC #BeWell #herbs #herbalmedicine #naturalhealing #foodismedicine #TCM #chinesemedicine #plants #gojiberries

Spring Cleaning

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There is more to cleaning than just the merit of cleanliness. Even if we’re not talking squeaky, shiny clean, the process of cleaning up can have a profound effect on your mental health and cognitive performance. There is evidence that clutter adversely affects decision-making and can cause changes on a hormonal and cellular level. For example, in an observational study conducted by researchers at UCLA, they found that mothers’ stress hormones spike while dealing with material possessions.

Then there’s the satisfying feeling of clean. There’s something so rewarding about cutting through grease on a stovetop, or seeing a pile of dust bunnies and crusties after a good, clean sweep. We’re just talking about the home, in this case, but what about your insides?

You might be thinking: here it comes. She’s about to talk about cleansing… and you’re right, I totally am!

Even if you are averse to the words “detox” and “diet”, you should know by now that we here at Evolve Health + Wellness adhere to the principles of Chinese medicine and support our recommendations with modern science.

Here are some of our tips on Spring Cleaning for the mind, body, and spirit:

Give It A Break, and by “it” we mean the Spleen

There’s a reason why breakfast is called ‘breaking fast’. The Spleen/pancreas in Chinese medicine is in charge of transforming the things we eat into usable bits and transporting them to where they need to go. Like all of us, it can become sluggish and overwhelmed when presented with either too much or non-stop information. Do yourself a favor and set a time in which you stop eating for the day – and one in which to start eating again the next day – in order to give your Spleen an opportunity to catch up and rest. Science says overnight fasting is one way to do it.

Like Nate Dogg and Warren G said, It’s Time to Regulate

One of the oft-repeated statements of fact in Chinese medicine is that “the Spleen likes regularity.” When we talk about regularity in Chinese medicine, we don’t just mean the movement of our bowels. There are guidelines regarding the timing of activities such as sleep, mealtimes, and even sex in order to optimize health. One of the best ways to regulate your circadian clock is to eat at the same times consistently every day, regardless of how long your day ends up being.

Out with the old, in with the new

Stressed? Overworked? Overwhelmed? Just take a deep breath and do nothing. Studies show that taking a moment to breathe deeply is a cheap, easy, and reliably effective way to manage stress reactivity. A lot of times the focus is on taking a deep breath, when other studies show that the rate at which you exhale is just as important. Exhaling in a controlled and steady manner allows the diaphragm to fully relax and the abdominal muscles to gently engage, allowing for that next literal breath of fresh air.

Even if you’re not ready for a complete closet overhaul or a fasting cleanse, it is important to take some time to do your own version of a Spring clean. In Chinese medicine, the changes of season present a unique opportunity to effect your future health, and making small changes in the Spring can have great impact on your state of health in the Fall.

International Women’s Day

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To celebrate International Women’s Day, we honor those who came before us and helped shape the health of the nation. Clockwise from top left:
Elizabeth Blackwell: not only was she the first woman to graduate from medical school in the US, she did so as top of her class. Inspired by a dying friend who had lamented that her care would have been different had her doctor been a woman, she took on the challenge despite severe discrimination and went on to found the New York Dispensary for Poor Women and Children and the Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children.
Rebecca Lee Crumpler: the first African American woman to obtain a medical degree. Inspired by the desire for real missionary work, she moved from the North to the highly prejudiced war-torn South to help people freed from slavery, who would have otherwise had no access to medical care. Her writings became the Book on Medical Discourses, one of the first medical publications by an African American.
Ann Preston: doctor and educator, she founded the Women’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which became the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. She fought for the rights of her students to attend local clinics like their male counterparts, and was met with ridicule and violence. In one instance, the women were accepted to attend the clinic, however they were met by an angry demonstration when they arrived. The male medical students shouted insults and threw paper, tinfoil and tobacco quids at the women – who stayed and attended the clinic – and on their way out they were pelted with rocks.
Sara Josephine Baker: physician and pioneer in preventative care and public health, she worked as a New York City medical inspector and went on to become the assistant commissioner of health for the city. She educated people on basic infant care, nutrition, and sanitation that saved many lives and health care resources in the long run. Her methods were so effective that her work became in high demand in other states and cities around the world.
These are the people who inspire me in the work I do every day. Who are the people who inspire you? . . . #BeWell #internationalwomensday #health #medicine #history