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126: Balance is the Key with Listener Neil

Jan 03, 2023

Neil started gaining body fat as he got older, even though he watched what he ate and was getting at least 2 hours of daily exercise. Concerned about the health dangers of excess belly fat and just not feeling well, he decided something had to change. After discovering the WCAMH podcast, Neil adopted new habits that helped him naturally increase his testosterone from 300 to 450, lose almost 20 pounds, and improve his sleep apnea. He feels better now than ever physically and mentally and doesn't feel guilty about eating pizza and pasta anymore.

Episode Transcript

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Scot: All right. Do you have any questions before we start, Neil? Anything that you want to know? Anything that'll help you feel more comfortable?

Neil: No. I mean, just thanks for having me. I didn't contact you guys for that. I just wanted to know how to treat sleep apnea, but it's great to be a part of the show, so thanks. Yeah.

Scot: Well, that's the danger of reaching out to us, is we might have you on the show. No, we really appreciate you being on the show. This is something we'd like to do more of, but it can be really challenging getting listeners to interact. There's not a lot of interaction. We like that because it's about men talking about health, and we like as many perspectives as we can get.

This is "Who Cares About Men's Health," offering information, inspiration, and a different interpretation of men's health. My name is Scot Singpiel. I bring the BS. As always, the MD to my BS, Dr. Troy Madsen.

Troy: Hey, Scot. Good to be here.

Scot: Mitch Sears, as always, in the mix. We always love having his perspective on the show.

Mitch: I'm happy to be here.

Scot: And we are so excited. Our guest of honor this episode, guys. We have an actual listener joining us.

Troy: Yeah, it's exciting.

Scot: His name is Neil. Neil, welcome to the show.

Neil: Hey, thanks for having me. I'm super excited to be here. Big fan.

Scot: We're super excited. Oh, did you hear that? He's a big fan.

Mitch: I know. What the heck?

Troy: Do we have competition for a number one fan now?

Scot: I don't know. I thought we just had one fan.

Neil: I'm it.

Scot: "Who Cares About Men's Health," changing one Neil's life at a time.

We talk about health turning points on this show, that moment when you knew something wasn't right, and as a result, things needed to change. And listener Neil contacted us about a couple of other questions he had, but as he was doing that, he told us a little bit about his health transformation. We were so intrigued by it, we wanted to find out more.

So this is what Neil had told us in an email. He's 50 years old. He's in better than average shape for a 50-year-old. Works out five to six times a week, runs mud races, takes deliberate walks every day, eats healthy, drinks alcohol only occasionally.

Raised his testosterone from 300 to 450, which puts you right in the zone there, man. That's awesome. And that was done by changing his exercise. He said that he ended workouts that thrashed him, like CrossFit, and instead is doing more lifting. And then started eating healthier based off the show as well.

So we wanted to find out about your story. Before, what was it that molded kind of your opinion or your ideas of health, exercise, nutrition, and sleep that caused you to live the life that was the life before, this kind of extreme life it almost sounds like?

Neil: Yeah, I think that's exactly right, Scot. I was doing way too much. I was doing CrossFit in the morning. It would be nothing for me to get up, do CrossFit 5:00 a.m., 6:00 a.m. in the morning, finish that at 2:00, 3:00, go for a four- or five-mile run, and then maybe even do something at night. That happened as well in preparing for different mud races and things of that nature.

And as I age, which is one of the things I learned from you all, I wasn't losing weight, I wasn't gaining muscle. In fact, I was gaining weight and I was gaining it around my belly, which I knew was bad for my heart. So I kind of knew a change needed to occur.

Troy: So it sounds like your change was really kind of the opposite of a lot of changes we hear about. Your change was definitely not ramping up the exercise, but reassessing the exercise you were doing and just saying, "Maybe I'm doing too much or I'm doing the wrong things."

Neil: Exactly. So what I noticed was, and I think I wrote this to you guys, I felt like I was living the bad commercial that I think all men hate. Your testosterone is low, you're gaining belly fat, you're agitated, and you can't concentrate.

Scot: Don't want to be that guy, do you?

Neil: No. None of us want to be that guy. And as I approached 50, I thought to myself, "I've got to do something different. I'm pushing myself so hard." And so I started doing research, and what I realized is that the stress workouts that I was doing were causing what I believe to be a major increase in cortisol.

And so I learned from one of your previous guests that the only way to naturally raise testosterone was to lift weights. And I had stopped lifting weights because I was taught lifting weights makes you gain weight, and I wanted to lose weight. So I had the completely wrong concepts on what I was trying to accomplish.

Scot: Yeah. You wanted to lose body fat. So what was your diet like? Was your diet kind of the same?

Neil: Yeah. My diet was pretty rigid. It was paleo and I ate a lot of meat, which I don't do anymore. I feel so much healthier eating the way I'm eating.

I want to explore the Mediterranean diet that you guys recommend. But I eat really high quality carbs, split grain bread, quinoa, those types of things, vegetables, and I eat small portions of meat. And I feel way healthier than I used to feel eating paleo, which was high meat, high fat, that type of diet.

Troy: And a couple of things you mentioned I'm curious about. You said you weren't doing any weightlifting. Were you doing any resistance training at all, like push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups?

Neil: I was doing some push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, but not enough. Those were add-ons, if that makes sense.

Troy: Okay. But you were doing quite a bit of CrossFit though, you said, so I imagine you were getting some resistance training there.

Neil: Yes, some there. What I learned from CrossFit is you would do the resistance training and then you would go and do the AMRAP or the EMOM or whatever the next part of it was. And for me, I don't know, maybe I pushed too hard, but I would be completely thrashed by the time it was over. And I would feel awful. I'd crash on the ground.

Then what I noticed is I was falling into the trend of overeating afterwards. That's when I started realizing I need to make a change.

Troy: And was there one thing specifically? You mentioned you noticed increased belly fat, increased weight rather than losing weight. Was there one specific moment? Was it your testosterone check that really triggered this reassessment, or was it more of a process as you just noticed things were going the wrong direction?

Neil: I think it was more of a process. And actually, I was talking to my doctor, who's my best friend, but I don't go and see him, and we were just BSing at a bar having a beer and dinner together.

Scot: That's my kind of doctor visit. That's good.

Neil: Right? And I said to him, "Man, I'm doing all these events." And I told him what was going on. And he said, "There's a lot of evidence that that can actually do the reverse."

And so I didn't really follow up with him, but I decided to do some research on my own, and that's when the cortisol discovery came up. And I kept reading, "Take Ashwagandha. It fights cortisol." And then I realized cortisol is caused by stress. And so I thought, "Maybe I should stop stressing my body to this extreme." That was the process that I went through.

Troy: And it sounds like realistically you were doing, at least just from what I heard, two to three hours of pretty high intensity exercise every day.

Neil: Yes.

Mitch: Wow.

Troy: Yeah, that's a lot.

Scot: Yeah. It could be super frustrating too, I bet. You're exercising, you're eating what you think is healthy, and you're putting on body fat. That must have been really super frustrating.

Neil: It was super frustrating.

Troy: Were you monitoring your body fat percent during that time, or was it more just you noticed the increased body fat around your waist and on your belly?

Neil: No, I was not. I don't have percentages, but yes, my pants were getting tight. The usual.

Troy: Yeah, that's incredibly frustrating.

Neil: Yeah.

Scot: So where did you get your ideas about fitness? What brought you to be doing three hours of exercise a day and eating paleo? Where did these ideas come from?

Neil: Yeah, that's a good question. I'm not totally sure. I played sports in high school and in college, and I think it just came from media. I just thought that's what you're supposed to do.

And the American way is . . . which I love America, I don't mean to sound negative, but it's "push harder," right? Everything is "push harder, push harder, push harder." So that's what I did.

And I've taken more of a . . . Well, I've adopted your four pillars of health or whatever, four foundations of health. And I meditate now and just do some things quite a bit different.

Troy: But I think it's not at all uncommon. We always think if we're not getting results, you've got to do more of it. It makes sense, I think, for most of us to say, "Well, if I'm not losing weight exercising two hours a day, I should probably exercise three hours a day."

Mitch: And not just that. I mean, I'm really empathetic and resonating with the story, even though I think I come from a very different background. It's just this idea that whenever I was struggling with either my weight or feeling healthy enough or liking how I looked in the mirror or whatever, the thing that I tried to do was work harder, right? I'm not lifting heavy enough or I'm not doing the right program or whatever.

And I'd find something on Reddit and I'd commit to it for a week or two. I'd choke down 12 giant chicken breasts every couple of days or whatever, and I just felt like garbage. I felt tired. I didn't see any real results.

It's so interesting to hear that someone who was very active and who was doing these other things was kind of experiencing the same thing. If you are pushing yourself far too much, it's not going to get . . . I mean, it's not sustainable. It's not good for your body.

Scot: It's counterproductive.

Mitch: Yeah.

Scot: I'd like to share my experience. I wanted to put on some muscle, so at one point, as more of an adult closer to my age now than my age a while ago, I was lifting really, really heavy and doing heavy squats and that sort of stuff.

And I'm sure I was not doing them in good form. I'm sure I was trying to put too much weight on too fast because I had a bit of an ego going and I had this goal that I wanted to lift more weight, so you just put more weight on, right? You don't think about those things.

And then I'd come home and the next day, not from muscle soreness, but just . . . I don't know. It was just muscle fatigue. I could barely squat down and pick something off the floor. And I'm like, "What good is this kind of exercise routine if I can't live my daily life?"

The other thing that would happen is when I would start exercising, even where I wouldn't consider it pushing myself super far . . . it's almost embarrassing the little amount of weight I would do . . . I would notice I would start getting sick every time I started exercising again.

And I think possibly what I was doing is I was just doing too much for what my body could handle at that moment. You've got this built-in recovery system, and if you stress it too much, not great things start to happen. You start to get sick. You start to experience some of the things that Neil experiences.

Neil was going a lot harder than I was, which I'm a little nervous to say. I mean, that's been my observation. So that's really changed my opinion on what is fitness. It's about getting that dosage to be healthy, to have a healthy heart, to have healthy lungs, to have healthy bones and muscles, and to do the things I want, not to take over my life or make it so I can't do the things that I want. So that was a big reframing for me.

Neil, do you have any thoughts on that? Any additional thoughts?

Neil: Yeah, it's been great for me because I actually have more time to do other things that I want to do, like spend time with my family. So that's been great.

And I'll tell you, I probably will do another mud run because I'm curious to see if I can still go as fast as I used to. I have a feeling I can. In fact, I think I can go even faster because I think I'm a lot healthier, and that's what's exciting to me.

So I get up, I lift, I go for at least a one-mile walk every day, and that's about it. And I lift for about a half hour. Then about every fourth day, I do some type of HIIT workout that's about 20 minutes. And then about the 10th day of my routine, I do a big stressor, but I take the next day off. I feel way better. I'm actually excited to give it another shot at that.

Troy: So you said you're now doing 30 minutes of weights a day, a one-mile walk. How much cardio are you getting? Are you getting a decent amount just with the weightlifting or how's that looking?

Neil: Yeah, the cardio . . . so I get the HIIT. I think I get enough with the walking. My resting heart rate is about 57. So I feel really good about my cardio. My run times have all been . . . I run at 5,000-feet elevation, and my run times have all been sub-9-minute miles, which is good for me. I feel like my cardio is doing great. I mean, if you have another suggestion, Troy, I'd love to hear from you.

Troy: No, I think you just find what works for you. I was curious just how you perceive the cardio and if you feel like it's dropped off too much, because it sounds like before you were doing a lot of cardio. So I'm curious if you feel like you found a good balance there and exactly where things are.

But just the fact that you're getting your heart rate up and you're doing it every day, that sounds like that's what you need and it's working well for you.

Neil: Yeah, I think it is. Thank you.

Mitch: And one of the things that kind of . . . a thought that just kind of entered my head is that's the same approach that a former guest and listener Robb experienced. His approach to fitness and his own health was work out 30 minutes a day, run a couple of times a week, whatever.

But that's not what we hear when we talk about health and fitness, right? We hear, "You've got to push yourself harder. Oh, you've got to do whatever." It's not just a consistent, livable, reasonable kind of approach to your health. That's not what we hear.

Scot: Hey, Neil, it sounded like a lot of your thought of health . . . We do talk about the Core Four, exercise, nutrition, sleep, and emotional health. It sounded like before it kind of really focused around exercise and nutrition more and sleep and emotional health weren't quite at the forefront, and you've kind of brought those to the forefront. Is that accurate?

Neil: Absolutely.

Scot: Yeah. Tell us about that.

Neil: Well, if you remember, Scot, I originally emailed you about sleep apnea. I was diagnosed with moderate sleep apnea. My doctor friend recommended a CPAP. I don't really want to do that, so I'm still working on it. But I do know that I've lost about 16, 18 pounds doing what I'm doing. I have been sleeping way better, and my girlfriend says I do not seem to have the apnea like I did when I was heavier. So that's good.

I meditate every day in the morning, and I do a gratitude/grateful journal every night. And it's funny because I started the grateful journal literally the same week you guys did your show. I was like, "Oh, these guys. I'm their number one fan."

Scot: It didn’t freak you out a little bit, like, "Where's the camera, guys?"

Neil: It did freak me out actually. And actually, some of Mitch's stories freaked me out too because I was like, "Man, yeah, I know what he's talking about there."

Troy: Wow.

Neil: So anyway, that's really helped. I really feel very healthy. I feel better now at 50 than I did at 45 when I was doing all that stuff.

Troy: And it sounds like a lot of . . . The theme of this is just more balance. And it sounds like you're finding a lot more balance. Scot mentioned you were very focused on diet, but it sounds like it was not so much a balanced diet. It was just more of an extreme paleo diet where, again, that theme of balance has come more into your diet approach while also focusing on these other things as well.

Scot: Did the Neil before think the paleo diet was considered eating healthy? And what does the Neil of today think of the paleo diet?

Neil: Yes, to answer your question. Yes, I thought it was healthy and I was . . . When you go to the supermarket, you see all the magazines and everything else, "Eat paleo." So that's what I did.

And yeah, I did think it was healthy. The Neil now says no way. I just feel way too good or way too well to ever eat that way again. I actually like carbs. I have avocado toast every morning and I love it.

Troy: Nice.

Scot: All humans love carbs. That's what has sustained humanity.

Neil: Yeah.

Scot: It's interesting how the media and how popular culture can take things that aren't healthy and make them seem healthy? There was a period of time you believed the paleo diet was a healthy diet. And if somebody is on paleo . . . I might get pushback for this, but I think, Troy, you could speak that that's kind of an extreme diet and probably not the healthiest choice.

Troy: Yeah, it is. I absolutely believe it's an extreme diet. And the big thing I look at are the long-term outcomes. Cardiac outcomes. What's it doing to your cardiac health? What's it doing to your risk of colon cancers and other cancers? If you're eating that much red meat, those risks are all going to increase.

And again, we always come back to the Mediterranean diet. And the big reason I come back to it is because there's great research on it looking at those same outcomes of health in terms of just your . . . You're going to feel better, but just health in terms of your heart health, your cancer risk. All those things have been shown to improve with the Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean diet to me is pretty simple. It's just whole grains, nuts, legumes, vegetables, fruits. It's pretty simple, and it's very balanced. Any extreme diet, I think, may show some short-term results. Paleo, obviously, you're not eating carbs.

Scot: Short-term results, and this is interesting, I think, in weight loss. So much of our idea of health revolves around, "What is our weight? What do we physically look like?" We don't even consider "What's this doing inside of me?"

Mitch: "How do you feel?"

Troy: Yeah, exactly. "What is this doing inside of me? What's this doing to my heart health, to future risk 10, 15 years down the road? What's it doing to my cancer risk?" and those kinds of things. So, yeah, we do often focus very much on the short-term. Paleo, I have no doubt people can see some short-term results in terms of weight loss.

Again, Neil, it sounds like that wasn't so much your case. Maybe you did. Maybe initially you did see some results in terms of some weight loss, but I think it eventually catches up with you where your body equilibrates and you're not having that water weight loss that initially you get with all that ketone production from just not taking in carbs.

But yeah, again, long-term outcomes, I think it's that balanced diet. And I think, really, the Mediterranean diet is the one that again and again shows the benefits.

Neil: Yeah, I did have initial weight loss and I thought, "Oh, this is the greatest thing in the world." And that didn't stick.

Troy: Interesting. Yeah. That's my experience in terms of what I've heard from other people and just based on the physiology. Again, Thunder could speak to that a whole lot better than I could. But yeah, it's interesting that was your experience.

Scot: As you started focusing more on your emotional health, how have things in your life changed? How has that aspect of your health changed?

Neil: I definitely have the ability to stay in the moment better. With modern society and phones buzzing every second and computers beeping every other second, the ability to kind of just stay in the moment and concentrate has definitely improved through the meditation. I really enjoy that.

I also feel more at peace. I did share with you guys I'm working on being agitated. My job is somewhat of an agitating job, being a lawyer. But I still feel a little bit better at it. So I'm working on it.

But I do feel definitely more at peace. For me, it's a better connection with my family, because when I'm with them, I'm present, which is nice.

Scot: And then just even from an emotional or mental health standpoint, what would happen at work, Neil, before meditation and gratitude versus now? What might be something that would happen? Did you express anger? Was it frustration? Was it just overwhelm? What was it that's kind of gotten better?

Neil: Frustration. Frustration and allowing things that are out of my control to control me. You guys know this, and I think you guys just were talking about this, but when you meditate, you have the ability to realize what's in and out of your control.

And that's been a big asset, especially in my job, because as lawyers, we constantly or oftentimes have conflict with others. So you can control what you can control. You can't control what the other guy is doing. And so that makes life a lot better, a lot healthier.

Troy: Yeah, I couldn't agree more with you, Neil. I think that's just such a huge, huge thing to be able to meditate on and certainly to approach things with just accepting what we can control and accepting we can control our response, but we cannot control what others do. So, yeah, that's great to hear that's been a big part of this as well.

Neil: I know we're probably going to wrap up here soon. I want to thank you guys because you've really led me down this path. I found you on accident. And the University of Utah, thanks that they keep you guys on. I think it's fantastic what you do.

Men hate talking about this stuff. And when I got asked to do it, I've got to be honest, I was a little nervous. I really appreciate everything you guys have taught me and you guys are super open.

Mitch has shared so many different things, as you, Scot, and Troy have as well, but Mitch I know has led us on quite a path over the last few episodes. And then Troy had his dad episode, and I just listened to it all. I mean, I have two grown kids and I still listened to the episode about being a new dad.

There's always something to learn, and it's entertaining. You're very funny and I get a chuckle out of it, so it's good. Mitch, are you laughing at me?

Mitch: I'm so delighted because this is . . .

Neil: It was like a giggle of delight.

Mitch: Oh my god.

Troy: It was like he's on a merry-go-round.

Mitch: No, it's just that's part of it, is there are times that I think, "I am sharing a lot. I am giving a lot out there." And the hope was that . . . In the same way that just being able to talk to other guys about their health has completely changed my life, if I could just talk about my own health that way, maybe someone out there could hear it and do the same, or have at least even an ounce of the same sort of change I've had.

And so I'm just tickled pink to hear that there's someone else out in the world who is like, "No, we don't have to be super intense, and if guys just start talking to one another, we can help figure this out together."

Scot: You mentioned that you were a little nervous coming on the podcast, right? You listen to the podcast "Who Cares About Men's Health." We talk about guys don't talk about their health. We try to model behavior where you do talk about it because it can make a difference as we're seeing, but yet you were still a little nervous to come on. Where do you think that came from?

Neil: Ego. In a word, just ego. I mean, you can embarrass yourself, right? So I'm sure somebody I know listens and they haven't told me yet and they're going to hear this and they're going to be like, "Dude, I heard you on that show."

Scot: Well, hopefully it goes, "Dude, I heard you on that show and I've struggled with something like that too."

Mitch: Yeah, that's what we need, right?

Neil: Yeah, I hope so. That's why I was willing to do it. If you guys were willing to do it and you need other people to help out, why not?

Scot: So would you have a conversation with any of your men friends, other than this doctor friend that you get your doctor appointments at the bar? I've still got to figure out how to do that, which I think would get guys more interested in health and going and getting their checkups.

Troy: Yeah, sporting events. Let's take this to the arena. I agree.

Scot: Anyway, would you now be more likely to talk to another person in your life, doctor friend aside, about health? Is that something you do, or are you still a little close to the vest? I mean, I'll admit I'm still a little close to the vest.

Neil: I have a core four of friends, let's just say, that I would. And then outside of that, unless I'm asked, I probably wouldn't to be honest.

Scot: Sure. Got it.

Neil: Yeah, I wish I could. It's just not . . .

Troy: Yeah, it's tough. It is. It's tough. I think this podcast definitely gives me more of a forum where I feel like I can be more open about my health. But you're right, I think beyond that. I think it's helped me in a lot of ways to talk to some of my friends about mental health stuff and they've opened up to me, which I think has been really good. But it is. It's still tough stuff that most guys just kind of don't want to talk about, so I get it.

Scot: Wrapping up here, what have you learned from this journey that you have gone on this transformation? What have you learned from this experience?

Neil: If I can steal from Troy, I think balance. I was way out of balance. I was over-fit to the . . . Actually, I didn't even share this with you guys, but to the point where I had an EKG that was kind of wonky and they said, "Oh, you've got a runner's heart." It was really . . .

Scot: Wow.

Neil: Yeah, it was really odd circumstance. Anyway, what I've learned is just balance. My eating is better. I have some discipline as part of my eating. I have some discipline as part of my working out. I have some discipline as part of my meditation and my sleep. But I'm not over-the-top disciplined like I was before, where if I ate a piece of pizza and fell off my paleo diet, I needed to go run 10 miles. So I just I feel great. It's all about balance. That's what I learned.

Scot: And enjoying life, right? A piece of pizza has never derailed somebody's health, right?

Mitch: Right.

Scot: It's when that piece of pizza gets together with 18 of its friends every week. Then you've got a problem.

Neil: Right.

Troy: That's right.

Neil: Yes. Well, I've reintroduced pasta into my life and I love it. I just don't do it a lot. That's all.

Scot: Right? And I would contend that's just as much of a mental health thing as anything else. You've got to enjoy life. Why are we doing all these health things to these extremes at the expense of enjoying our lives?

Neil: Absolutely.

Scot: Well, Neil, thank you so much for coming on the show, sharing your story. I'm just so excited that you are finding success in what you're doing. A little of an unusual story, as Troy pointed out. Most of us are coming at it we need to exercise more maybe as opposed to less. But I think it's fascinating to know that you can take things too far, and when you dial that back, good things happen.

I bet you will run that mud race faster, because I've heard stories of runners that end up hurting themselves or getting sick and they take three or four weeks off, and those first runs back, they do better because they were just over-training.

It comes back to what Mitch says. You think, "If I want to get better, I've got to do more," but you've got to remember that recovery and all that other stuff as well.

Troy: And I've got to say this, Scot. I always say I'm not going to talk about running, but since we're doing this, I've got to say one of the big things that really hit me.

Several years ago, I talked to a runner who had broken the three-hour barrier in marathons, which is kind of a big deal when you can get sub-three hours.

And I said, "Well, how did you do it?" And he said, "Well, I just started running slower. I just didn't run as fast on my long runs. I just slowed down on my long runs and I saw the results."

So he went from kind of the same thing where he was just pushing himself way too hard. He said, "I just slowed down on my long runs and my races got faster."

So it's kind of cool to hear that. And it sounds, again, Neil, like you're kind of seeing the same things, where you've taken a step back from the really high intensity stuff. Again, you may see results as you start to do more mud races. It'd be interesting to see what happens.

Scot: And I think if there's another lesson to take away, it's what we believe, what society might have us believe, what the media, what advertisements might have us believe might not necessarily always be the right way, right? The paleo diet or you've got to push yourself if you want to be super healthy.

That's why, Neil, I love that you did some research and you're looking at science and you're looking, "Well, what does that actually say? What is the truth versus what truth are we kind of being fed about health?" So that's one of the lessons I'm going to take away.

Mitch, do you have a lesson?

Mitch: Just talking about it. Willing to be a little bit vulnerable and saying what you are concerned about with your health or whatever, how much it can help one another, right? Talk to your other guy friends. Just talk about health, please.

Scot: Neil, great story. Thank you for being on the podcast, and thank you for caring about men's health.

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