April 9, 2014
[03:08] Seamus’ Story in Boarding School and Descent into Poor Health
[08:05] The Time When Seamus Went from an MRI to Waking up in an Operating Room
[10:03] How Food and Diet Affected the Rheumatoid Arthritis Seamus Had
[11:29] How Seamus Found out he Had Parasites
[19:15] Seamus’ Gut Balancing and Healing Protocol
[32:10] Seamus’ Kale Pesto Recipe
[34:31] Seamus’ Creamy Scrambled Eggs with Chia Seeds and Grass-Fed Butter
[37:47] Seamus’ Recommendations for Pre and Intra-Workout Eats
[50:52] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey folks, it’s Ben Greenfield with a special guest for today’s podcast, and there was actually a recent article in Men’s Journal on my guest today. And here’s just a snippet of what Men’s Journal had to say: “few people have subjected their bodies to as much wear and tear as this Manhattan chef and restaurateur. The mastermind behind the red-hot Manhattan restaurant Tertulia,” and I don’t know if I’m pronouncing that properly, “and a regular on the food network, he has seen it all. He contracted dengue fever on a mountain bike trip across Costa Rica, he was bitten by a vampire bat while cooking at an eco-lodge in the jungles of Venezuela, an injury that required an emergency helicopter trip to the nearest hospital. He spent five months on a punishing 11,000 mile dirt-bike trek from San Francisco to Panama and back. There have been bike races, cyclocross challenges, and mountain-bike half-centuries, not to mention years of brutal 90-hour work weeks in high-end restaurant kitchens all over the world.”
Well, it may sound like I’m about to interview somebody who’s just a daredevil chef, but in fact, he also has a remarkable journey from fighting back from rheumatoid arthritis and chronic pain and gut inflammation, and a ton of really serious health issues caused by a combination of bad food and modern medicine and pharmaceuticals and some of the things that we’ll talk about today. And he is now well on his way to peak fitness, being in the best shape of his life, and completely changing his body primarily by eating the right foods and fixing his approach to our medical system. So Seamus Mullen is my guest today, he’s the author of “Hero Food: How Cooking With Delicious Things Can Make Us Feel Better”, and Seamus, I wanna welcome you to the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast.
Seamus: Thanks Ben, it’s great to be here. I’m a huge fan of the show and an avid listener.
Ben: Well I’m excited to learn some really cool lessons from a guy who apparently cooks very delicious food. I know we’ll get into that too, how our listeners can cook some of the delicious things that you used to heal your body. But first, I wanna delve into your story and kinda hear about how you more or less got messed up as far as your body and your gut and your joints go, and what you did about it and how your journey progressed.
Seamus: Yeah, well I mean it’s been a pretty wild journey as you got a sense of from that article in Men’s Journal. And you’ll have to forgive me, I got a little bit of a cold so if I sound kinda stuffed up, you gotta get over it. [clears throat] I’m getting over it though, I’ll try not to cough in your ear. But my relationship with food, with all of us, our relationships with food begins the moment we come out of our moms and that’s the beginning, right? Perhaps we even start before that.
Seamus: And I was lucky that I grew up on a small farm in Vermont, I was exposed to really, really good food the majority of my early childhood. And then my parents made a decision because I was living in such a rural environment, to send me away to boarding school, and my brother and I went away to boarding school. And in hindsight, I spoke with my mom about this quite a bit, and she said that she knew that when she made the decision for us to go to boarding school that they were gonna lose control of what we were eating and that was a really big issue for them. And in fact, I learned that years later that was a real big issue for me, as well. And it was my first exposure to industrial, institutional food, and I’d had a very, very clean upbringing in so many ways, and it’s funny looking back because it was one of the most positive experiences of my life, going to boarding school. I met people that were just incredible, people that… I also think it was the beginning of, really, a slow kind of descent into poor health. Even though I was athletic and I was really fit, when you’re a teenage and you’re going through puberty and you’re going through change, it’s really when you need to be nourishing your body more than ever. And in a private boarding school in the late 80s-early 90s, we’re eating Sysco junk, it’s all garbage.
Seamus: And I actually got into my first real, major issue, I had developed salmonella in 1991, I think. And there was an outbreak in my school, a whole bunch of people got sick, and it took me a really, really long time to get over that. And just kind of when I was starting to feel back on track, then I got dengue fever in Costa Rica 20 years ago. And that was kind of beginning of what was really, really traumatic for me. The whole time though I was very physically active, I was an athlete, I was racing mountain-bike semi-professionally in the 90s, but still struggling with my health. And it got to a point where in 2001 I got very, very sick in Mexico, and when I came back from Mexico, my health just really rapidly started to fall into the gutter. And I didn’t know what was going on, I just felt crappy all the time. My body ached, at this point I was working a lot as a chef, and I just sort of attributed how I felt to the lifestyle, to my job, my profession, anything I was doing. And actually, I would bring this up with my doctor and there’s not really any kind of response, “well, you need to rest a little bit more” but never was there any question about what I was eating, first of all, or my lifestyle. And then I started developing these really horrible, acute flare-ups which I now know are flare-ups, I didn’t know they were flare-ups, in my joints. It started in my shoulder and then it would go to my wrist or my knee or my hip. And I went to the hospital many, many times in the emergency room.
Seamus: I was just with inflammation that felt like a knife in my shoulder, a horrible pain with no trauma whatsoever. And then they give me some pain medication and some anti-inflammatories and send me home and tell me there was nothing really wrong with me.
Ben: Wow, just like an ibuprofen or an Advil or something similar to that?
Seamus: Yeah, no. I mean they were very, very quick to hand out Percocets and Vicodin, hardcore pain medication which got me through it. In fact with my shoulder, they multiple times would give me injections cortisone directly into the shoulder to try and quell the inflammation.
Seamus: But no concern or question about what might be causing it, and it eventually got to a point where I had an attack in my left hip that was just excruciating. And when my friends took me to the ER, and they tried to send me home, and I literally couldn’t walk. They tried to stand me up on both my feet and I collapsed, the pain was just beyond belief. And so I was admitted to the hospital, and over the next five days, I was just in excruciating pain and under observation, they had no idea what was causing this pain. And eventually, I convinced them to give me an MRI which they did not wanna do because it’s very hard to get approval through the insurance company to get an MRI if there’s no rationale for it.
Seamus: But the MRI, basically they had to sedate me to get into the MRI, came out of sedation I was in an operating room and I was like totally confused, I had no idea how I’d gotten there, and my body was covered in sharpie marks. They were about to cut me open, and this is pretty insane. Fortunately my brother was there who has been this incredible pillar of help in my life, and he instead listened. They had to make sure what they found in my hip was fluid, and my white blood cell count was extremely high, it was like in the 40% or something like that. And so they thought that I had a septic hip that I had somehow gotten an infection inside my hip and it was gonna go to my spine.
Seamus: They needed to perform what’s called a pelvic evacuation where they basically split you open and they scrub you out and sterilize you, and God knows what the effects of that are.
Ben: Yeah, that does not sound fun.
Seamus: No [laughs], and button me back together and that’s when my brother said “listen, we need to make sure there’s an infection there before we do that.” So they performed a culture and found there was no infection.
Seamus: Yeah, that’s when they reached out to every department of the hospital and the Chair of Rheumatology came back and said “I think this guy has rheumatoid arthritis, he’s got all of the symptoms of it, I need to see him and I wanna run tests.” That’s when they ran tests on me and I was diagnosed with RA, and then the next seven years of my life have been kind of living with RA and what that meant. So it was pretty intense… intense road to diagnosis.
Ben: Now as far as rheumatoid arthritis is concerned, I mean some of that can obviously be genetic but how much did food, inflammation, and your gut play a role in this as far as like digging like you did to kinda look into what may have contributed to the flare-ups and maybe aggravated rheumatoid arthritis?
Seamus: Yeah, well I think that from when I was diagnosed, I had no idea what the disease was and they didn’t know… most people don’t know that RA is not an autoimmune disease, a systemic inflammatory disease, so it’s very different from osteoarthritis. And as you rightly pointed out, it can be caused by many things and they’re still slow to acknowledge exactly what may be causing RA and there are certainly genetic markers that can make you more predisposed to it, or so it would seem. But it seems as though there’s a lot more compelling evidence out there now that it can be driven by some sort of ulterior infection or inflammation caused within, whether it’s in the gut or maybe it’s a viral infection. Something that kind of causes the immune system to spin out of key.
Seamus: And like in my case, I didn’t know any of this and I didn’t realize any of this until about a year and a half ago, I was very fortunate to be introduced to Dr. Frank Lipman who practices functional medicine. And Frank was the first doctor I ever seen, probably in my whole life who when I first met him, I wasn’t even planning on seeing as a doctor, we met socially. He said “what’s going on with you?” And I kind of told him my story and he said “this is a freaking shame that you’ve been through this.”
Ben: Mmhmm, and this was just last year?
Seamus: This was about a year and a half ago, yeah.
Seamus: And he said “I think that we can get you feeling better. It’s gonna take a little bit of time but I think we can help you to feel better.” I never had a doctor say that to me before, that was willing to actually put his money where his mouth was and say you can get over this, we can get you past this. And his suspicion was that in 2001 when I got really sick in Mexico that I contracted parasites.
Seamus: Yeah, so he sent me to a…
Ben: Did he just like think that right off the bat based off his experience that, just because the whole parasite to rheumatoid arthritis link seems almost farfetched unless he already known that that could…
Seamus: Yeah, well in his practice what he’s seen with so many different presentations of autoimmunity, that we compartmentalize diseases, we say “okay this set of symptoms belongs to lupus and this set of symptoms belongs to IBS and these symptoms belong to MS.”
Seamus: And what he really believes is that a lot of times these presentations are different reactions to a similar cause, and if you treat the root cause, then you can in theory, you can help the body heal over some of these symptoms rather than just symptomatically treating the issues on the outside.
Seamus: And so what he… in my case, it wasn’t like initially “oh let me see what you’ve got going on, I think it’s parasites.” He went through all of my medical history and looked at absolutely everything. I gave you a very kind of cliff notes version of what my medical history’s been, but I’ve had all sorts of weird things happen to me from blood clots to an infection in my brain that nearly killed me. All of these things that seemingly, to most western doctors, are very unrelated and they weren’t able to come up with any kind of answer, but to Frank, he looked at this and said “I think there’s an infection, and there’s some sort of infection in your system that is appearing when your body is compromised, when your immune system’s compromised and it’s receding when your immune system’s able to handle it a little bit more. But your baseline is pretty crappy and what we need to do is find out what that is.”
And so when he kinda poured through all my medical history, he came to the sickness in Mexico and he said “ah, you got sick and you never really got better and then your health really started to decline after that. That tells me that possibly something could’ve happened in Mexico. What I think it might be is it might be parasites.” So that’s when he sent me to see a Parasitologist.
Ben: Wow, so this is a year and a half ago, you go to the Parasitologist, you’ve already got this rheumatoid arthritis that you’ve been living with for how long was it at that point?
Seamus: Well, diagnosed for 7 years but living with it in terms of symptoms for at least 10.
Seamus: And for 7 years on pretty hardcore medication, everything from chemotherapy drugs and prednisone to biologics, immunosuppresants, all that stuff.
Ben: Okay, so the Parasitologist actually finds that you have a parasite?
Seamus: Yeah, he finds that I’ve got not one but I’ve got a whole colony of them living throughout my body, throughout my digestive tract. And so what we end up doing is first, a very kind of heavy artillery job of trying to wipe those guys out which is pretty unpleasant but we definitely made very good progress but I still didn’t feel a whole lot better.
Ben: Well I’ve had a parasite before and been given by a naturopathic physician, a basic bare brain goldenseal kinda Chinese herb complex to successfully knock it out, and this was in this case a blastocystis parasite. And that is actually something that’s pretty common even for a lot of folks who are just living in a regular American or Canadian or kinda safe city to “safe city” to have. For you, was this issue because you were off in the wilds of Panama and Costa Rica and Venezuela, or were these type of things that were found in your body something that were relatively common for a physician like this Dr. Frank Lipman to or actually come across?
Seamus: I think in my case, it was something that I developed a very long time ago, contracted in a tropical environment.
Seamus: Then just over time, the issue actually I think is less so the parasites because parasites doesn’t normally kill you. It wants to live off of its hosts. But unfortunately, the parasites are not alone, they create a lot of bacteria, there’s bacteria on them, and that’s really where I think the issue was, I think that’s where… what’s really fascinating to me is this whole notion that the bacterial movement in medicine, and that’s really, I think that’s the future of medicine. I had a meeting a couple of weeks ago with Dr. Dan Littman who’s a researcher at NYU and he basically published a paper linking specific gut bacteria in rheumatoid arthritis patients. That’s the first conclusive study to link the two together, and he and I were talking about the future of medicine and he feels very, very… he convinced that shortly we’re gonna be using, we can call them probiotics. Basically bacterial implants or fecal implant or bacterial seeding to change, coz he’s been able to see someone’s microbiome go from 90% dominant with one bacteria to 10%, a subordinate change overnight by changing the diet.
Ben: Yeah, the infamous poop pill.
Ben: Well you know, I get what you’re saying that there are multiple ways to get to a gut imbalance or an imbalance in your bacteria or what’s called your gut flora. And in your case it turns out that a big contributing factor was this parasite.
Ben: So before we jump into how you balanced your gut and some of the things that you did to address the gut flora issues created by this parasite coz I know a lot of listeners out there actually have joint pain and brain fog and a lot of the issues that could be related to gut flora, and I think what you say will help them out, what’d you do about the parasite? Did you take some kind of a pharmaceutical, did you use herbs or what was the protocol for that?
Seamus: Yeah, both. We used both herbs… so the idea was to use a heavy-duty pharmaceutical to wipe it out, and then backing that up with herbs and supplements and at the same time doing a very kind of gut-healing anti-inflammatory protocol with supplements and diet at the same time.
Seamus: And it really was… it’s funny, Frank told me “I think it’s gonna take six months until you feel better” and it was almost six months to the day that I woke up one morning, and I literally had a hallelujah moment. I woke up and I was like “oh my God, I’m not in pain.” It was the first time in 11 or 12 years that I woken up and not be in pain.
Ben: Wow, amazing.
Seamus: It was absolutely amazing, then my wife literally cried. She had never heard me say that, and then for years, when people asked me how I was doing, I said “I’m okay, I’m alright.” Literally, the notion of actually feeling great was something that was so foreign to me and I’d completely forgotten what it was like not to be in pain.
Ben: Yeah, wow. So the rebalancing of the gut, you’d obviously been on prednisone, you’d been on a lot of things that I think our listeners might already be aware of, can do a number on your gut and stomach.
Ben: What did you go about doing as far as balancing your gut, what kind of gut healing protocol kinda worked for you?
Seamus: Well, I mean the first thing was to try to reduce any inflammation via the foods that I was eating, so that involved a strict kind of elimination of anything that was processed, which I was already not… I mean I wasn’t eating very much processed food but cutting back on processed carbohydrates and then really just getting most carbohydrates out of my diet.
Ben: Even though you were still cooking and living as a chef at this time, right?
Seamus: And that’s another challenging piece of it for me is that as a chef, you have to taste a lot of food and you end up not really eating at regular intervals, which is not… I don’t necessarily think you have to eat three square meals a day, I think that’s kind of a weird convention that we’ve invented, but I do think you need to be very considerate about how much food you eat and when you’re eating that food. And when your main preoccupation as a cook is to make sure everybody else’s food tastes really good, you end up eating a lot more than you necessarily need to, and eating when you don’t necessarily need to like late at night right before going to bed, which also didn’t help me balance my gut. So a big change for me was just being really considerate how and when I was eating, and then eliminating things like sugar and gluten and carbohydrates from my diet.
Ben: Now obviously elimination is kinda one key to healing the gut but there are obviously other things you have to do, heal the lining, heal the cells, basically seal up the cellular junctions, all this stuff. What kind of things did you do from that standpoint?
Seamus: Well I used… I took, I still take, L-glutamine, I take krill oil, a lot of supplements I take on a daily basis, anti-inflammatory supplements, things like curcumin, high doses of curcumin…
Seamus: Cat’s claw, I started looking, going back about a year and a half ago, I started looking at my blood panels very, very regularly and seeing where I was deficient, what I needed to increase, doing this in conjunction with Dr. Littman, making sure that I was taking high doses of vitamin D, vitamin K for now over a year. Across the board, just initially a cleanse that was two weeks and then went into another four weeks, and ended up being about six weeks of just really gentle food consumption coupled with a lot of anti-inflammatory supplements.
Ben: Okay, gotcha. So you did a cleanse, you did kind of a gut reboot, you did this gut healing protocol. Were there other things that you did to heal your body from the inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis and years of unhealthy eating and parasite?
Seamus: Yeah, I did. Movement became really important to me, certainly acupuncture helped a lot, for about nine months I was doing acupuncture at least once a week, and focusing mostly on major sort of… both digestive and immuno-points. Body work, whether I was doing ART, I mean a lot of the issues that happened to be joined with inflammation, muscular imbalance and lack of mobility, and I’ve had major, major inflammation in my shoulder and my knee and my hip as well. Multiple spinal surgeries, knee surgery, all these sorts of things that end up developing a lot of scar tissue, so all of that really helped a lot, doing body work and movement. And then for me, getting back and exercising again, which was really a huge win for me.
About I would say May of last year, I got on my road-bike for the first time in years and I rode 10 or 15 miles, incredibly slowly and I thought, “oh my God, this is incredible, I can actually ride a road-bike again.” And over the next two weeks, I rode every day progressively, a little bit further, a little bit faster, and I thought “you know what, I’m gonna try to ride my mountain-bike again.” I got my old race bike from 1999 and I went out for a mountain bike ride, which is my favorite thing in the world, riding my mountain-bike, there’s nothing I enjoy more than that. And it was a revelation I was going off for drop offs and jumping over logs, and things that I never thought eve three months before, I’d be able to do. So I promptly went out and spent a fortune on a brand new mountain-bike. [laughs]
Ben: Now, didn’t you actually get back surgery at one point in your life?
Seamus: I’ve had back surgery twice.
Ben: So you’ve had two back surgeries, but were those surgeries done back when you were doing all these things like cycling and extreme exercising and adventuring and things of that nature?
Seamus: Nope. All that happened while I was really sick.
Ben: So I have a question for you: would you have done anything differently like 10 years ago in your exercise routine or in your workout protocol to avoid getting those spinal surgeries with what you’ve learned about movement and exercise, kinda going above and beyond just the gut stuff as far as your exercise routine, what have you learned, what would you have changed?
Seamus: I think the main thing I would’ve changed, and I know you’re a big advocate of this, is getting away from just being in a single position and doing single, repetitive motions. One of the challenging parts about cycling is that you’re in one position for a very long period of time, and while it’s good for certain muscle groups, it’s not necessarily good for overall body mobility. I think if there’s one thing that I could’ve… I’ve recently, and when I say recently I mean in the past 9 months, I’ve kinda discovered the squat. And the squat, to me, is I think something that would’ve saved my life. I don’t think I would’ve had back surgery if I had been doing squats in my teens and twenty’s.
Ben: Just like squats with a barbell on your back or?
Seamus: All kinds of squats. I think even more important than weighted squats are just the motion of squatting. If you think about any other culture in the world, they do almost everything in a squat, whether you’re going to the bathroom, giving birth, socializing, eating, cooking, planning a hunt. All of that happens in the squatting position, and most Americans can’t get anywhere close to ass-to-grass.
Seamus: And I know that I certainly couldn’t until very recently. Our hip flexors, our psoas, the front muscles of our body really play a huge role in supporting our spine, become atrophied and shortened by spending so much time in chairs, by spending so much time in supporter furniture, by not moving and getting in and out of that squatting position. And I think that that one exercise and that one kind of modality would’ve really helped me prevent having back surgery.
Ben: Yeah, absolutely, and kinda tying this together with the gut, it’s interesting that a lot of times avoiding that squatting position can create quite a bit of colonic issues, too. As things stay inside your large intestine for longer periods of time, that can create some toxicity issues…
Ben: And I have actually found with myself and with some of the folks who I coach, that when you train your body to have a morning bowel movement and you just make that happen whether it’s doing like magnesium-vitamin C in the morning, whether it’s using one of these squatty-potty’s, you’re using a squatting position. But basically getting yourself into that habit makes you feel a lot better during the day if you can get complete elimination in the morning, it’s really interesting.
Seamus: Oh yeah. I mean a squatty-potty has changed my life.
Seamus: It’s incredible, a ridiculously simple device but… the other thing that’s great about it is…
Ben: And by the way, for people who don’t know what the squatty-potty is…
Ben: It’s this little device that you kinda, you shove it up against your toilet and it’s this nice looking stool that you pull away from your toilet when you’re ready to go to the bathroom,. It allows you to get in a squatting position without, for example, perching in a squatting position on top of the actual toilet bowl, which can either be uncomfortable or gross or both.
Ben: Or break the porcelain.
Seamus: Yeah, it’s the stool stool.
Ben: Exactly, sorry to interrupt. What were you saying?
Seamus: No, but I mean the squatty-potty is great, and that I totally agree with you that it’s something that I got turned on to I think through your podcast last summer. And I’ve since bought them as gifts for people who’d think that it’s kind of an odd gift but then thank me and then write me months later telling me how much better they feel because they use it every day and they can’t actually… I have a friend who now, when he travels, he takes his suitcase into the bathroom and uses it as a squatty-potty coz [laughs] he can’t travel his potty. But you’re totally right, that squatting position, that’s how we’re designed to eliminate, it’s how we evolved to eliminate. And that movement at the same time also does so much to stabilize your core, so it’s one of those kinda functional movements that I think really would’ve helped me from having spinal surgery.
Ben: Yeah. So you turned your body around with gut healing supplements, with kinda fixing the diet with what sounds like kind of an autoimmune protocol where you were eliminating gluten and I assume you’ve made some adjustments as far as soy and dairy and eggs, as well.
Seamus: Um, yeah. So for me, dairy and eggs I actually think eggs are wonderful, eggs are one of my favorite things in my diet. And dairy is something that, especially when I was going through the healing process, I eliminated it but then I’ve added it back in and I do Bulletproof coffee in the morning, I’m a big fan of grass-fed butter.
Ben: I’m glad you were able to add some of those things back in now that you’ve healed your gut.
Seamus: Well dairy, yes. Gluten, I’m not really interested in adding back in, it’s one of those things that once… it’s an incredibly addictive substance. Once you’ve kinda broken the habit of eating it, and I think a lot of carbohydrates are the same way, when you’ve broken the habit of eating them, at least for me, I look at… when I look at stuff that I would’ve craved a year and a half ago or two years ago, I now kind of look at that as like a slippery slope back into what I call hellness.
Seamus: From wellness to hellness, I don’t wanna go back there. So I’m not really interested in it. And then corn and soy, those are both inflammatory foods. So corn is something that, it’s hard for me to pass up sweet corn in the height of summer.
Seamus: We’ve got amazing corn around here and I do love a really good handmade tortilla, but I just eat it in moderation. It’s not something that… it doesn’t form a big part of my diet.
Ben: Yeah, and that’s an interesting point you make about gluten and addictive potential because you get these gluten exorphins formed during the digestion of gluten and those are opioid peptides, I mean they’re very similar to opiate addictive drugs. In, for example, modern wheat that’s bread for high yield crop where you get really concentrated amounts of wheat germ and gluten and that can be… Wonder Bread can be incredibly addictive, as can pasta and all the other derivatives used from that wheat. So you are a chef, and I would be remiss not to, when I have a world-class chef on the podcast, start to talk about how we can actually heal our gut and address inflammatory issues, or make sure that we’re not creating inflammatory issues but not feel like we’re eating cardboard.
Ben: So, I know you have a cookbook, and I’ll link to that in the show notes if people wanna check out your Hero Food cookbook, but can you start to share with some of our listeners, some easy recipes that they can get started with that are just safe but also kinda delicious that maybe go above and beyond just drinking coconut milk or something?
Seamus: Yeah, absolutely. I mean well, coconut milk is great and I’m a big fan of everything coconut…
Ben: It just gets old sometimes all by itself. [laughs]
Seamus: It does get really old, yes although I slather it on my body in copious amounts, the oil at least. But yeah, there’s so much great stuff that you can eat that is really, really good for you and full of good fats, full of good anti-inflammatory properties that are delicious, and it does sometimes take a little bit of thinking outside the box. One thing that I love to make, and it’s a really simple condiment that you can have around, but you can also use it to fold into… if you do rice, you can fold it into some rice or you can spread it on some grilled steaks, it’s a kale pesto.
Seamus: And you just use a good number of that, if you’ve got a VitaMix or you have a MagicBullet, you can use either the MagicBullet or the VitaMix, any food processor works really well with a high speed. It’s literally just kale and anchovies and your favorite nuts if you wanna use any. I actually like putting macadamia nuts in it coz it’s got great oil and they’re really just one of my favorite nuts to cook with. A little bit of olive oil, some vinegar, if you wanna throw in some hard cheese you can throw in some hard cheese and you close that up, season it with salt and pepper, maybe a little dried chili and you have this incredible pesto, but it’s made with kale which is obviously dark, leafy green and it’s got all sorts of great stuff in it. You’ve got anchovies, you’re getting good fats, good omega-3s, you’ve got macadamia, again you’ve got another great fat, you’ve got olive oil, great fat. A little bit of vinegar which really, if you wanna go take it to the next level, you can use a living vinegar like a Bragg’s or something like that that has the mother in it. And then you got this incredible kind of a superfood that as a condiment you can use…
Ben: Wait, Bragg’s makes a living vinegar with a mother in it, like kombucha?
Ben: Interesting. And you can just get that out of the grocery store from Bragg’s brand vinegar or?
Seamus: Yup, they’re apple cider vinegar with a mother, has a mother in the bottom. We use it to start other vinegars, so when you go to the restaurant, we actually use that mother as the starter for other vinegars. And then I actually, the Bragg’s I keep… I have like three bottles in the house, I have one bottle in the shower, so when I wake up in the morning and I’m taking my shower and doing my hot and cold contrast showers, I take a swig of Bragg’s apple cider vinegar and then I use it twice a week to actually wash my body with it so that I’m balancing my external microbiota, if you will.
Ben: Can you get that online or is that more like of a health food store?
Seamus: I get it from Amazon.
Ben: I’ll take some notes here, I’ll get some notes for people, things like your squatty-potty and the apple cider vinegar and maybe some of the recipes you send over and your books. Folks can check this stuff out, I’m taking notes as you go.
Ben: Okay, cool. So we’ve got kale pesto.
Seamus: Yeah, kale pesto.
Ben: Can you give us a couple others?
Seamus: Sure. I mean if you’re down with eggs, which I’m down with eggs as long as they’re from a really good source, that’s something that… this is a whole another conversation, we can have a whole podcast about labelling and what the difference is between pasture-raised and cage-free and vegetarian-feed and all this stuff. In my opinion, your best bet is to try to find someone who has chickens, or better yet have your own chickens which is a little challenging in New York City but I know some people who do it. I mean chickens, first of all, they’re not vegetarian so I think it’s kinda odd to feed them a corn and soy-based vegetarian diet even if that is organic and labelled as something that’s healthy. So if you can find chickens from a farmer’s market that are really literally free-range chickens, they’re out in pasture eating bugs and grubs with a natural diet, that’s the chicken you wanna be eating and that’s the egg you wanna be eating. So some eggs that are just soft scrambled, and what I do I make scrambled eggs very frequently, so what I do with scrambled eggs in the morning is I’ll take maybe three really good eggs, lightly whisk them up, I’ll put a couple of knobs of grass-fed butter from a local dairy that we have here in upstate New York, right into the eggs while it’s cold. And if you do it with the butter cold into the eggs when you’re [beeping sounds]… uh-oh, you have a fire?
Ben: I’m sorry, it sounds like my home is burning down.
Seamus: Oh no.
Ben: But that’s okay, everything’s fine. That was a quick one, quick fire.
Ben: Sorry folks. Just for our listeners, that probably won’t even be edited out but there you go. So sorry about that, it seems Seamus, you were talking about the eggs?
Seamus: Yes, so if you add some cold grass-fed butter into the eggs, when you go to scramble the eggs in the pan, the butter will just slowly melt and will actually emulsify with the eggs, you’ll get a really creamy egg versus separating the fat. So we’ve got some butter, we’ve got some good eggs, a little salt. I’ll then add in some chia seeds and I’ll let that bloom for a couple of minutes in the eggs before I scramble it, maybe take a clove of garlic and grate it on a microplane into the eggs. And then I’ll add a little bit of greens in there, if I have kale, I’ll just mince it up really finely, maybe throw in some mustard greens, any bright green that I just wanna gently cook a little bit in the eggs, and then melt some butter and olive oil in a cast iron pan, medium-low heat, and just slowly scramble the eggs. And I always use a rubber spatula when I’m doing it so that I can get all the eggs off from the bottom of the pan, and then just throw in some avocado at the end, and you got an incredible, very fat-laden, great protein, good veg breakfast or lunch. I mean this is… I typically don’t really eat breakfast, I’ll have this when I come home from a bike ride, maybe late morning around 11:30 or so.
Ben: Love it. For the folks who are out there working out, exercising, or maybe going out for long periods of time and want something non-inflammatory, something kind of real food-ish that they can use before or during their exercise session. Do you have anything like that that you can take out with you on your bike rides?
Seamus: Yeah, one of the things that I do is I take… I actually take coconut oil with me on my bike ride.
Seamus: Also if I’m riding in a fasted state which I usually do, is I’ll start my workout in a fasted state so I have… I mean not a true fasted state because I’m having Bulletproof coffee and I’ll take branched chain amino acids before I go out, and then I’ll go for a ride. And then on my ride as I feel it along the way, I’ll have some coconut oil in a little squeeze tube, I’ll take macadamia nuts, beef jerky. I’m a big advocate of eating real food on the bike. I’m also not a professional competitor, I’m not an elite athlete, I’m just out there trying to hammer and goes as hard as I can, but I also wanna make sure it tastes good so I’ll take stuff like that. I stay away from the dried fruit, I stay away from the energy bars and things that aren’t gonna really affect my sugar levels. And I really noticed, in the past 9 months to a year, coz I do check my blood sugar periodically. I was doing it really, really frequently, and now I don’t need to do it quite as frequently as I’ve been able to dial in my diet, but I did notice for a long time, if I ate more carbohydrates the day before a workout, I would need to eat more carbohydrates and get more sugar in my body when I was working out. Otherwise, I’d feel the glycemic spike and then I feel myself kind of crash and I’d had that feeling of bonking.
Seamus: And I haven’t bonked since become really a fat burner, I haven’t bonked at all, so I can go out and do… last week I did a 75 mile ride with a group of guys. And we were riding hard and I didn’t eat anything during my whole ride coz I felt fine.
Ben: Yeah. It sounds like you’ve really kind of tapped into almost like that biohack of fat adaptation and turned yourself into a fat-burning machine and being able to get away with just a little bit of coconut oil and something like that during the long sessions.
Ben: And that kinda leads me to another question that I wanted to ask you, because I know that you listen to this show and you probably have used some of the “biohacks” that I’ve talked about. But you’re also preparing for, I believe… are they mountain-biking races that you’re preparing for?
Seamus: Yeah. The big one that I’m preparing for is called La Ruta de los Conquistadores and it’s a three day mountain-bike stage race in Costa Rica that starts on the Pacific coast of Jaco, and then it goes and ends on the Atlantic coast in Limon. So it’s three days, it’s about 60-70 miles a day but it’s all off-road. But the real challenge is that it’s 29,000 feet of climbing over three days.
Seamus: So it’s a lot… it’s a really intense ride.
Ben: So what kind of things have been kinda working for you in your prep for that? I know that you’re doing one other event, you told me about it… South Africa, is that right?
Seamus: Yeah, that’s actually next. I’m going… before kind of leading up to Costa Rica, I’m doing quite a few local races like I’m doing, next month I’m doing a 50 mile, single-track mountain-bike race. In May, I’m doing the Gran Fondo New York, which is a 100 mile road race. So I’ll be doing periodic races… once a month I’ll probably be doing an endurance race as I lead up to November which is when the race in Costa Rica is. As I get closer, I’ll do a few, 2 or 3 day back-to-back hard efforts just to get ready for that race. But the next spring in March of 2015 is the Absa Cape Epic, which is kind of the granddaddy of all epic endurance mountain-bike races and it goes across South Africa, it’s about 700 km, so that’s a serious race. In many ways I think La Ruta, even though La Ruta’s incredibly hard, that’s sort of the warm-up for it.
Ben: Yeah. Aside from fat adaptation, any other biohacks from an exercise standpoint or a nutritional standpoint that you find to be effective right now?
Seamus: Well, one of the things I’ve really been amazed by is the Powerlung, and I’ve been using that quite a bit, at least twice a day. And I’ve been able to see on a lot of the climbs that a climb that historically we could meet prior using Powerlung was challenging for me.
Ben: For folks who don’t know what that is, it’s a spring loaded resisted breathing device that you use, typically not when you’re exercising, like when you’re in your car or sedentary.
Seamus: Exactly. And I’ve been able to see also, looking at… charting where my heart rate is, one specific climb that I use is a good test phase for me because I know how long it takes me to climb it, I know exactly where my heart rate’s gonna be throughout the climb based upon my effort and what my wattage is or anything. I can look at that and see major progress week-to-week that I know is above and beyond just my fitness improving. It’s coming from greater anaerobic strength… excuse me, aerobic strength, from using the Powerlung. So that’s a cool device. I’ve been using earthing sheets for about 8 months or so?
Ben: Mmhmm. Earthing sheets?
Ben: And those you’re putting on your bed and then plugging in to the grounded outlet on the wall?
Ben: And what do you notice when you use those?
Seamus: Well I sleep a lot better. I have much more deeper sleep, as I track my sleep it seems as though I’m spending more time in REM. I’m getting less interrupted sleep and when I do wake up, I get to fall back asleep much more quickly.
Seamus: So that’s helped me. One of the things that’s been kinda…
Ben: Gotta get you on the BioMat, man.
Seamus: Yeah, I know, I really want to.
Ben: It’s even more natural than an earthing sheet coz you still get some electrical pollution, like some dirty pollution, at least in the United States, when you’re using an earthing sheet. And the BioMat actually has an EMF blocker built into the unit that travels between the electrical outlet and the mat itself. And finally for the first time, last night I got my wife to sleep on it, so there you go.
Seamus: [laughs] It doesn’t cover the whole bed, it’s just sort of under your bed or how does it work?
Ben: You put it underneath the… what would I do is I put it underneath the comforter, and so I’ve got one comforter on top of the BioMat, then a sheet on top of me, then a blanket on top of that. So there’s a little bit of padding between me and the BioMat, so yeah.
Seamus: Gotcha, okay. Cool. No, I gotta try that.
Ben: Sorry, you were gonna mention something else.
Seamus: Well, the only other thing I was gonna mention which is not really a specific biohack, but it’s a challenge for me because I have to travel quite a bit. As you can tell I’m a little stuffy right now, and that’s a direct result of travelling. Every time, as I was telling you before the podcast, every time I fly on an old plane, an MD-80, the past four times I’ve flown on an MD-80 I’ve gotten sick.
Ben: The ones that don’t have a Hepa filter on them?
Seamus: There’s no… yeah, there’s no real filtration system so you’re getting just kinda recycled, stale air.
Seamus: And what’s really bizarre to me is that every time this happened, I have been able to feel the instant I got sick. I’d take breath in and I suddenly feel something out of sorts in my throat, and I know in that moment that I’m getting sick. So I foolishly, this last trip which was a very short trip, I thought “oh you know what, I’ve been doing so well with all my travel hacks to avoid jet lag and to keep from getting sick” coz I’ve been travelling a lot for the past 6 months and I haven’t gotten sick at all except for when I do these short trips on these old planes, but I thought “oh I’ll be fine.” And then of course I flew and I got sick. One of the things that’s been really amazing for me is figuring out how to kind of overcome jet lag, and that’s made it easy for me so that when I am flying to, say to Europe, figure it out in the morning and immediately get a workout at 9’oclock in the morning and feel good. And then by 10’oclock at night, I’m on European time and I’ve fallen asleep and I feel fine.
Seamus: So that’s been really cool. Have you used these No Jet Lag pills?
Ben: I have used No Jet Lag before, and they work really well if you take them according to instructions.
Ben: So as soon as the flight leaves and then about every two hours of the flight, when you land… yeah, it’s a homeopathic Asian remedy designed… I found them in the Hong Kong airport for the first time in like a Chinese herbal medicine outlet and tried them. And they’ve actually got a lot of kinda things that are traditionally used a nootropics and smart drugs and brain anti-inflammatories in them which, I suspect, why they work. Club moss and things of that nature, but yeah they actually, for international flights, I like those.
Seamus: Do you think it’s because of the EMF waves that they’re blocking out and they’re helping you deal with them? Is that part of the equation when it comes to dealing with jetlag for you? Because I have to think that… I have like three or four boxes of seaweed before I fly and I think that definitely helps.
Ben: Yeah, it can help to shut down some of the inflammation that results from solar radiation, but I suspect part of it is simply regulation of circadian rhythms and some of the neural inflammation that could happen just by travelling across multiple time zones as well. So probably a combination, but yeah, man, we could keep going on for a while I think. What I wanna know though, for folks who are listening in who maybe just wanna go visit one of your restaurants and taste some of your food, where can people go right now if they happen to be in an area where you’re at and they just wanna taste some of your cooking?
Seamus: Sure, absolutely. In New York City, you can come to either of my two restaurants, Tertulia and the website is tertulianyc.com, that’s T-E-R-T-U-L-I-A-nyc.com, you can probably put that in the show notes. And the other one is El Colmado and that is a tapas bar. They’re both Spanish restaurants, I lived in Spain for a number of years. And while we don’t feel either restaurant as being a paleo restaurant or a health food restaurant per se, you’ll find that for people that are conscientious about how they eat, there’s a lot of offerings there, and we’re scrupulous about where our products come from and our ingredients come from. We have relationships with farms throughout the northeast and everything is seasonal and locally sources. So if you’re concerned with eating well they’re really great places to come and they’re both very fun restaurants. And I’ve got a few other projects that are in the works…
Ben: So if I pull this up on like Yelp or Urbanspoon, they’re gonna be okay?
Seamus: Oh yeah, you’ll find ‘em.
Ben: Just making sure. [laughs]
Seamus: Yup, absolutely.
Ben: Cool. And what else were you gonna say?
Seamus: And I’ve got a couple of other projects coming on board. One in Europe which will be open this summer… or not. I can’t really talk about that quite yet but it is the reason for me travelling back and forth. And that’ll be announced probably in another month or so.
Ben: How do you spell… I’ve got the Tertulia pulled up coz I’m putting links in the show notes for anyone who lives in the New York area. I’ve got the Tertulia one pulled up, but how do you spell the other one?
Seamus: The name is El Colmado, so it’s E-L…
Seamus: C-O-L-M-A-D-O, so it’s two words.
Ben: El Colmado.
Seamus: Yeah, and it means “the grocer.”
Seamus: The URL is elcolmadonyc.com.
Ben: Okay, elcolmadonyc.com, got it. Okay, well fantastic. This was a great time and I hope this’ll be really helpful to folks. And of course if you have questions or comments or feedback or you wanna check out anything that we talked about, then head over to bengreenfieldfitness.com, go check out the show notes for this episode. If you can’t find them because you’re listening to this on a date much later than when the podcast comes out or something like that, you can just do a search for Seamus Mullen. You spell his first name S-E-A-M-U-S, Seamus, and Mullen, M-U-L-L-E-N. and you can also of course google him and find his website and everything as well, so Seamus Mullen. Um, alright. Well Seamus, thank you so much for coming on the call today.
Seamus: Thank you, Ben. It’s been great, it’s awesome, I’m so glad to be here.
Ben: Alright folks, until next time, this is Ben Greenfield and Seamus Mullen signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com.
Meet chef Seamus Mullen.
A recent Men’s Journal article described Seamus as follows:
“Few people have subjected their bodies to as much wear and tear as Manhattan chef and restaurateur Seamus Mullen. The mastermind behind the red-hot Manhattan restaurant Tertulia and a regular on the Food Network, Mullen has seen it all. He contracted dengue fever on a mountain-bike trip across Costa Rica. He was bitten by a vampire bat while cooking at an eco-lodge in the jungles of Venezuela, an injury that required an emergency helicopter trip to the closest hospital. He spent five months on a punishing 11,000-mile dirt-bike trek from San Francisco to Panama and back. There have been bike races, cyclocross challenges, and mountain-bike half-centuries – not to mention years of brutal 90-hour workweeks in high-end restaurant kitchens all over the world.”
And it doesn’t end there. Click here to read the rest of that article.
In today’s podcast, I interview Seamus about his remarkable journey from hellness to wellness, fighting back from rheumatoid arthritis and chronic pain and inflammation to being well on his way to peak fitness at nearly 40 years old. Seamus is a chef and restaurateur in New York City, he’s found food to be the single most important factor in his journey to getting better, and he just published the book “Hero Food, How Cooking with Delicious Things Can Make Us Feel Better”.
In the past year, through work with Dr. Frank Lipman, he has managed to turn his health around significantly to the point of having zero signs of rheumatoid arthritis in any of his blood markers – and as of the fall of 2013, he has been off all medication for the first time in 11 years.
All of his inflammatory markers have gone from extremely high to normal, his white blood cell count has gone from a constantly elevated state to an extremely healthy 9%, his cholesterol is terrific, he has lost a pounds of fat, gained pounds muscle and most importantly, for the first time in over ten years, he feels like a different person.
During our call, Seamus and I discuss how our medical industry is very focused on symptomatic treatment rather than addressing the root cause of the symptoms – and how this often leads to protracted, ineffective palliative care that leaves patients with even more complex medical problems than they started out with.
In the case of Seamus, a severe auto-immune issue (in all likelihood caused by undiagnosed parasitic and bacterial infections, along with imbalanced micro-biota) led to a seizure caused by medications he was taking, and infections that spread to his brain and spinal cord as a result of immuno-suppressants, blood clots and pulmonary embolisms that nearly killed him. This also led to an immune system that made him vulnerable to every bug that camemyhisway and finally – the icing on the cake – a chemical dependency on so-called “safe” synthetic pain medication.
For years, Seamus followed the advice of “experts” in the field and any time he suggested anything as radical as a “gluten-free diet” or perhaps acupuncture, he was told “…if you feel as though it helps, I don’t have a problem with it, but there’s no clinical data to support any claims around diet and rheumatoid arthritis.”
After doing a systemic cleanse, a gut biome reboot, following 6 months of a gut-healing protocol with regular acupuncture, a primarily ketogenic diet and regular exercise, Seamus started to see major improvements in his health. And he noticed this difference not only in how he felt, but also had the empirical results of his bloodwork to back it up.
Fast forward another 9 months and he is stronger and fitter than he’s been in years. In his twenties I was a semi-pro mountain biker, racing 40-50 races a year and while I’m not quite back at that fitness level, it’s in my crosshairs to get there this year.
You’ll learn about lessons Seamus has learned along the way, including:
-How Seamus was saved at the last minute from a botched diagnosis and attempt to do massive pelvic surgery…
-A crazy but correct diagnosis that uncovered the true reason behind Seamus’s auto-immune issues and extreme joint pain…
-How Seamus completely destroyed intestinal parasite issues, eliminated his gut inflammation and healed his digestive system…
-The alternative medical procedure Seamus used once a week to address both gut and joints at the same time…
-How Seamus reversed the damage caused by prednisone and chemo drugs…
-What exercises he does now that Seamus would have done differently 10 years ago to avoid getting two spinal surgeries later in life…
-Easy and delicious recipes you can use that are completely non-inflammatory and help to heal your gut…
-Biohacks that Seamus is using to prepare for La Ruta de los Conquistadores in October and the Absa Cape Epic in South Africa next year…
Resources mentioned in this podcast:
–Dr. Frank Lipman
Seamus is also leading a Culinary Cycling Tour of Piedmont this Summer and still has some spaces available. It’s going to be an epic trip – riding every day through picturesque vineyards and gorgeous small towns, followed by cooking classes and personally prepared dinner each night – right in the villas you’re staying in. Find out more at https://duvine.com
Do you have questions, comments or feedback about this podcast with Chef Seamus Mullen? Leave your thoughts below, and be sure to check out his excellent book: Hero Food, How Cooking with Delicious Things Can Make Us Feel Better!