WHAT ARE WE EVEN LOOKING FOR?
I remember when I found the bodybuilding website Testosterone Nation. I was a 17-year-old skinny kid with shitty grades and no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I devoured every article from every fitness expert on the site. They told me to train hard, eat big, and try to make something of myself. I got to work.
That was 16 years ago. In that time, I gained 30 pounds of muscle, became a personal trainer, started a popular blog, and scored a book deal to write a workout guide called Built for Show. I began receiving thousands of emails from men around the world asking for my advice.
One was from a guy who wanted to know if having sex with his girlfriend would reduce his testosterone levels and wreck his ability to gain muscle.
I told him no, it wouldn’t—I’d Googled research that said as much. Even if it did, having sex was way better than having big biceps. I still stand by that. I soon found myself uncomfortably straddling two worlds—those of the seeker and the sought-after. Just like my idols, I had become a fitness guru.
Guru. Everyone I know—including me—hates that word. And yet there’s truth to it. When you witness the influence of some bloggers and podcasters, it can feel like a kind of religion.
Call it the Church of Self-Improvement. We are all disciples and we worship daily: two-hour podcasts, YouTube videos, Instagram stories. What are we looking for? Salvation, of course. But we’re also looking for meaning. We know we’re going to die, and, dammit, we want to live our #bestlife before we do.
So we wake up early, put butter in our coffee, meditate, do burpees, and dream of starting a travel blog while drinking ayahuasca and living in a refurbished van in Peru. Or whatever.
We live in a time when anyone can get into the business of giving advice. Following that advice could change your life. That’s obvious. What’s not so obvious is who’s worth listening to. There are a lot of people doing good work out there. But there are also a lot of frauds.
I don’t much give straight-up advice anymore. It’s presumptuous, and we’re different people with different histories. I can’t tell you what to do. But I can share my experience. And that’s this: The people I’ve found who are worth listening to are the ones who’ve had success in some part of their life but who don’t perpetuate the idea that every part of their life is amazing.
Yes, the gurus can help us change our lives. Sometimes we simply need a shot of inspiration and someone to show us the path. But we also need to be willing to pause the podcast and start walking on our own. —NATE GREEN
THE GALLERY OF GURUS
They sell books, promote supplements, preach from the podcast pulpit. Who are these people? Get to know the wide world of gurus. With insight from nutrition expert and Men’s Health advisor David L. Katz, M.D., M.P.H.
Known as: Early investor, author, self-experimenter.
The reach: 300 million downloads of his podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show; five New York Times best sellers.
The message: Adopt the strategies of the world’s most successful people and maximize your time, output, fitness, life.
The solid advice: “What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”
The suspect: Ferriss has touted metformin for glucose control. According to Dr. Katz, metformin is effective for treating diabetes, but it has no benefit in healthy people and can injure the kidneys.
Aimed at: Those looking for an extra hour in the day.
Known as: Former research biochemist, author.
The reach: Two NYT best sellers, including The Paleo Solution.
The message: Take your cue from evolutionary biology and anthropology and eat and move the way humans were supposed to.
The solid advice: Emphasize unprocessed foods in your diet and get lots of varied exercise.
The suspect: His claim that the paleo diet is the best
way to be healthy remains scientifically unfounded, says Dr. Katz.
Aimed at: Protein-forward diet junkies.
Known as: Triathlete, the Google of ancestral health.
The reach: 600,000 monthly visitors to his blog, Mark’s Daily Apple (self-reported).
The message: Follow the guidance of this ripped 65-year- old to return your health to its genetic roots (by buying his products).
The solid advice: Along with Wolf, Sisson helped popularize paleo eating plans, which reject processed any- thing, especially fast food and soda.
The suspect: He’s selling paleo in a box, including ingredients like coconut oil, despite limited evidence of its long-term health benefits, says Dr. Katz.
Aimed at: Protein- forward-diet junkies who can’t cook
JOSEPH MERCOLA, D.O.
Known as: Osteopathic physician, natural-health expert, debunker.
The reach: 25 million monthly page views (self-reported).
The message: Take on Big Pharma and target the causes rather than the symptoms
of ailments, often via alternative medicine.
The solid advice: He’s been ahead of the medical community in touting the benefits of nutrients like omega-3’s and CoQ10.
The suspect: Dr. Mercola has also been ordered by the FDA to cease making false claims regarding his own products, sold on his website.
Aimed at: Health-conscious conspiracy theorists.
JOSH AXE, D.N.M., D.C., C.N.S.
Known as: Doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist, health nut.
The reach: 1.4 million subscribers to a YouTube channel featuring Dr. Chelsea, his wife; authored the best seller Eat Dirt.
The message: Whole foods and natural remedies, like essential oils and herbs, can make you healthier and happier.
The solid advice: Natural before artificial. Organic before modified.
The suspect: Dr. Katz notes that Axe is perhaps overly reliant on supplements and trendy foods like broth. “There’s no evidence of the health benefits of bone broth,” he says.
Aimed at: The family that ketos together
Known as: Comedian, UFC commentator, podcaster.
The reach: 30 million+ monthly downloads of his podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience.
The message: Listen to mind-expanding conversations with guests like climber Alex Honnold and a stoned Elon Musk, covering topics from supplements to space-time.
The solid advice: “Be nice to people. And do what you really want to do in this life.”
The suspect: Rogan doesn’t sell his own line of supplements, but he’s endorsed ones from other guru types, like Aubrey Marcus (see right).
Aimed at: Enlightened sports-radio listeners.
DEEPAK CHOPRA, M.D.
Known as: Physician, integrative medicine expert.
The reach: 3.28 million Twitter followers; more than 85 books authored or coauthored.
The message: The OG of alternative medicine and the new age fuses mind and body, Vedic science and Western medicine, to reduce stress and improve diet.
The solid advice: Dr. Chopra was an early proponent of mindfulness as a salve for everything from stress to sleep to eating.
The suspect: Suggesting that some of the supplements associated with him can help with mindfulness “hints at an effort to ‘cash in,’ ” says Dr. Katz.
Aimed at: The spiritually minded. Book readers
Known as: Actress, entrepreneur, founder of Goop.
The reach: 2.4 million visitors
per month to Goop.com (valued at $250 million).
The message: Let a beautiful movie star share her unbiased travel, shopping, and health advice while giving a platform to her own cadre of mentors and experts.
The solid advice: High-quality aromatherapy products and sex toys are self-care, too.
The suspect: The site recently settled a consumer lawsuit over the veracity of health claims about its vaginal jade eggs.
Aimed at: Those with disposable income looking to buy a gift for a girlfriend.
Known as: CEO and founder of Onnit, psychedelic medicine advocate.
The reach: 10 million+ podcast downloads (self-reported); the NYT best seller Own the Day, Own Your Life.
The message: With the right training and supplements, a regular person can do everything better.
The solid advice: The Onnit Gym is a leader in functional training, emphasizing fun, safe ways to build muscle and boost mobility.
The suspect: Taking pills to be your “best” is a worrisome concept, according to Dr. Katz. Many formulations offer vague promises like “boost athletic performance.”
Aimed at: Fitness buffs with a new-age bent.
Known as: Pod-caster, author, mentor, former pro athlete.
The reach: 80 million podcast downloads (self-reported).
The message: If a small-town boy can make it big and achieve his dreams, then so can you. Listen to inspiring authors, athletes, and influencers to start believing in yourself, champ.
The solid advice: The actionable motivational talk will get you taking on new goals.
The suspect: Sometimes he’ll host questionable health and dietary authorities, including Goop’s Steven Gundry, M.D., whose claims about lectin have been derided.
Aimed at: Those who wish Tony Robbins were more affable.
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