Using Age Management Medicine as Part of Your Recovery

Age management medicine can serve as a tool for folks in recovery seeking to restore equilibrium to their body and mind.  These tools work well with the twelve steps and the Spiritual Adrenaline based lifestyle.  In this post, I discuss age management medicine with Dr. Michael Bedecs, a regular contributor here at Spiritual Adrenaline….




Do Performance Enhancers Destroy Your Chances of a Healthy Recovery?

shutterstock_109886555I received a couple of inquiries from members of the Spiritual Adrenaline community asking if I recommend any performance enhancement drugs and if any of those drugs were consistent with the basic principles of recovery and the twelve steps. Let me share one of the inquiries with you:

“Long story short, recently I wanted to add more muscle and help myself to heal from a tendon injury and I considered using a performance enhancing drug. Besides the fact that it’s illegal, I have been wrestling with my sobriety over this, trying to reason that its o.k. I FINALLY came to the right conclusion that it is NOT o.k. Whew, what a great feeling to have that weight lifted. I feel like I dodged a bullet! So, my question to you/your community is how can a sober person maximize muscle gains. Are there any products that will aid all the hard work in the gym and the clean eating, products that don’t compromise integrity?” T.J.

T.J. made the right decision, but many, including me, have not been so smart. Here’s my take on performance enhancing drugs and sobriety, my experience and my recommendations to add mass in a natural and sustainable manner.

It’s Just Chasing Another Drug

It is inconsistent for a person in recovery to use any performance-enhancing drug as part of an exercise or overall fitness program intended to promote well-being and relapse prevention. Once we start down the road of using these types of drugs, it becomes just chasing another high. How big can I get if I take it? If one injection or one pill gets me pumped, maybe I’ll try two, or three, or six, or one hundred. Since one will never be enough, one will always guarantee trouble in the long-term. I think once we start the journey down that road, it will lead us to places we do not want to go. Sound familiar? Does to me.

My Experience

For the first three years in recovery, I was absolutely opposed to trying any type of performance enhancing drug as part of my training. In 2014, guys at the gym where I worked out encouraged me to try out competing and I decided to do it. I competed for the first time in the summer and fall of 2014. I was one of the “smallest” competitors in my age group. The league I competed in does not test competitors, and so some people are natural and others enhanced. In 2015 I decided to compete again. During training, I got frustrated after seeing other competitors getting really big while I was able to add just a little mass. I am 48 years old and often forget that. For 48, I was pretty damn good. However, I became so frustrated that I decided to try something called “Deca.” Deca is a steroid that you can purchase on the Internet. Keep in mind that at this time I was eating almost exclusively natural foods, exercising every day and otherwise living completely clean and naturally.

I decided to try Deca just a week-and-a-half before I was to compete on August 1, 2015. I figured I was too small to win or place at that show, but if I started to take the steroids in July 2015, I might be big enough to do well at a show called the Brooklyn Classic in October 2015. So with one week left to train for the August show, I started taking Deca. Within a couple of days, I couldn’t feel my private parts. That is commonly known as “Deca Dick.” It was weird but that was a side effect I was aware of and willing to “suffer through” to gain mass. A few days later, things got much worse.

The Negative Side Effects of Drugs

My mood went from happy and optimistic to loathing myself and hating my life. I woke up in the middle of the night and had the worst nightmares you can imagine. I kept picturing myself lying in a gutter half dead and people walking by without caring. I couldn’t sleep and the nightmares continued throughout the day. It was awful and I really considered getting some Jack Daniels to help me pass out so I could sleep. But since I valued my sobriety so much, that was not an option. I decided I had two real options: check myself into the hospital and just tell them what I had taken and that I was having these terrible dreams, or drive up to visit my family and stay with them until things got better. I knew getting out of my apartment and New York City was for the best, so I drove upstate. I also decided that I would drop out of the contest because I felt so awful.

Being with my family helped quite a bit. I told my Mom and other family members what I had taken and why. I explained how awful I felt. My Mom and I barbequed and, as usual when I go to my parents’ home, I felt wonderful and slept like a baby. As I hadn’t taken Deca for more than 24 hours, it left my system and I woke embarrassed about what I had done, but was otherwise feeling great. My Mom and I discussed the competition, which was only a week away, and she talked me into not dropping out. I headed back to New York City, finished my training and competed on August 1, 2015. The interesting thing was that, once the drugs were out of my system, I knew in my heart that I truly wanted to compete.

I returned to New York, finished my final preparation and competed in the Tri-State Championships in Medford, New Jersey on August 1, 2015. I won in my age group at that competition.

Believe in Yourself, Not the Drug

I admit I made a big mistake when I got caught up in what is commonly known as “compare and despair.” First of all, I forgot that I live as a sober person, and that includes living clean in all of my affairs. I was too focused on what others were doing, or what I perceived them to be doing, than what I was doing and my own achievements. I looked and felt better than I ever had in my entire life up and until the time I put the pills in my mouth. What is even more remarkable is only four short years before, I was very sick and actually wound up in rehab. Irrespective of what others were doing, I was doing incredibly well, achieving great results and I should have been enjoying my success and accomplishments. It really reinforced the merit of the principle that I must find happiness within myself. If I look externally, to others and what they are doing, I will never be happy.

I competed in one competition in 2016 and came in fourth. Just being there was winning in my book. I plan to continue competing naturally into my fifties, as I love the discipline it requires and the people I meet as part of the process.

So What Can You Do to Add Mass Naturally

Here are my recommendations on healthy and recovery-consistent ways to add lean muscle naturally.

1. Eat healthy and varied protein sources such as chicken breast, fish and lean meats.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you can replace those recommendations with beans, nuts and certain green vegetables. There are lots of plant based protein powders available to help vegetarians/vegans add lean muscle mass.

2. Carbs are not the enemy but a friend, and are absolutely necessary to add lean muscle mass. Muscle needs two things to grow: protein and glucose. Carbs are sugars which break down into glucose. Too many people self-sabotage their workouts by denying their body the carbs needed to gain muscle. Don’t be one of them.

3. If you are looking to maintain your current muscle mass, try to eat 1 gram of protein/1 gram of carbs per pound. If you are looking to add muscle mass, try to eat 2 grams of protein/2 grams of carbs. These are just general rules. I recommend speaking to a sports nutritionist about what is best for you based upon your health history and your goals.

4. Time your meals to maximize your workouts. You will want to make sure to eat around your workouts. To add lean muscle, make sure to get a combination of carbs and protein into your system almost immediately after working out. Immediately after your workout, and for about another hour afterward, is the time that sore muscles are craving what they need to grow: glucose and protein.

5. To maintain rather than lose muscle overnight as you sleep, drink Casein protein immediately before going to bed. This type of protein breaks down slowly and helps maintain muscle mass overnight while you are sleeping and not eating.

6. If you are looking to stimulate production of growth hormone naturally, you may want to try L’arginine. L’arginine stimulates the production of hormones that in turn stimulate the production of growth hormone. L’arginine works for some, but not all. I had no success with L’arginine but many others do. Give it a try and see if it works with your body’s chemistry.

7. Form is critical, and without the proper form you can workout all day long but not see the results you are looking for. You may also injure yourself, which can set you back for months if not years. Thanks to the trainers at David Barton Gym at the Limelight in New York City, we have a whole series of videos on our Recovery Exercise page that demonstrate proper form for most of the popular upper body workout postures.

8. Lift less weight with more repetitions. Lots of folks will disagree with this statement and say, “more weight fewer reps.” I am writing this blog for folks just getting started in training. I am interested in people avoiding injury and remaining able to train in a long-term sustainable manner. That’s why I advocate lifting less weight for more reps. This way, you will see growth and add muscle but greatly limit your risk of injury that could set you back. Everything we do in Spiritual Adrenaline is intended to be sustainable. We aren’t looking for massive short term gains that are almost impossible to sustain. We are looking for long-term, sustainable growth.

9. Respect your body and let it rest. The proper amount of sleep and rest days are critical. Unless you permit your body to heal through rest, you may actually self sabotage. Without rest and repair, the body has an incredibly hard time, and you may actually lose muscle mass and set yourself up for a serious injury. My recommendation is to try to get eight hours of sleep as often as possible and rest every three to four days, depending on the intensity of your workouts. Your rest day is a great time to do yoga and stretch out not only your muscles, but ligaments and tendons. This will help to avoid injury. Lastly, yoga enhances your ability to get fresh oxygen to the muscles that need it.

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How To Stop Mindless Eating That is Sabotaging Your Recovery

pic 2One of my favorite websites is Authority Nutrition.  It reliably has interesting articles on important topics, and always includes all of the citations referencing the scientific support.  On May 9, 2016, they published an article entitled 13 Science-Baked Tips to Stop Mindless Eating.   There were lots of good, science-based, suggestions on how to modify bad eating habits.

According to Authority Nutrition, the average person makes more than 200 decisions about food each day.   I bet that people trying to give up a substance, like alcohol or drugs, probably make 2,000 decisions a day about food, given that it is quite common to substitute our attention on other substances in recovery.   I have no scientific basis for this statement, but it makes sense to me.   The article points out that we are only aware of a small number of these decisions.  The rest are made by our unconscious mind and are the primary reasons for “mindless” eating.   At Spiritual Adrenaline, we prioritize begin open-minded and willing to modify what we are eating and when to achieve our individual goals and to enhance, rather than undercut, our recovery.

I picked my favorites out of the full list of thirteen tips and highlight them below:

Use Visual Reminders: People tend to rely on external, rather than internal, cues to make decisions on when they are hungry and full.   For example, in one test, researchers had two test groups.  Both groups were given unlimited chicken wings to eat while watching the Superbowl.   The only difference was that while one group had the remains of the eaten wings taken away while the other group’s remains were allowed to pile up.  The group with all the bones remaining on their table ate 34% fewer chicken wings than the group that had the table cleared.   Following the evidence and conclusions of this and other studies, the message is to keep evidence of what you are eating in front of you so you cannot underestimate, consciously or subconsciously, the amount that you are actually eating.

Smaller Packaging Makes a Difference: Numerous studies prove this point.  For example, in one study, two test groups were each given cans of Pringle potato chips.  One group had a normal can of Pringles, the other had cans with every 7th or 14th chip dyed red.   The group with the red chips ate between 43-65% fewer chips than the group with the normal can of Pringles.    In another study, two groups were given M&M’s.  One group had a half-pound bag and the other had a one-pound bag.   The group given the larger bag ate substantially more than the group with the smaller bag.  Your take away is that portions matter.  Be very conscious of this and avoid super-size packaging and buying in bulk.

Decrease the Variety in Your Personal Menu:  According to studies in the article, people with more variety in their diets tend to eat 23% more than people who eat the same foods regularly.  This is due to what scientists call “sensory-specific satiety.”    By reducing variety, at least temporarily as you attempt to modify your nutrition, you will be enhancing the likelihood that you can reduce weight, lean out or achieve other goals.  My diet is modified every couple of months.    In between, I eat the same foods almost every day.  It makes it easier to reduce sensory-specific satiety, saves time shopping for food and makes food preparation more streamlined.  My diet is quite boring compared to most people’s.  But over time, I have adjusted and the diet allows me to accomplish my training goals much more easily.

Increase the Inconvenience: The more difficult it is to actually get the food, the less likely we are to eat it.   In a study, researchers had three control groups made up of secretaries.  The first had candy on their desk, the second had some in a drawer and the third had candy placed six feet away from their work station.   The secretaries ate an average of 9 candies a day when it was placed on their desks, 6 if it was in the drawer and only 4 if they had to walk to get the candy.    When I was trying to modify my diet, I made sure not to buy certain foods that would sabotage my goals.  Without the food in my apartment, I just did not eat it.  I absolutely refused to leave my apartment late night to go shopping, and over time, the urge went away.  I also used this trick to help quit smoking.   I would leave my cigarettes in the mailbox downstairs to avoid smoking in my apartment in the evenings and overnight. Based upon my personal experience, this tool works effectively.

Unplug While You Eat: Watching TV, listening to the radio, playing a computer game, texting or word processing while eating all increased the amount of food eaten by participants in numerous studies.   The studies showed that people watching TV ate 35% more pizza and 71% more macaroni and cheesethan folks solely eating these foods without being involved in any additional activities.  The studies also showed that the length of the show or movie mattered.   For example, study participants watching a 60-minute show ate 28% more popcorn than those watching a 30-minute show.

Choose Who You Eat With: Studies prove that when eating with one other person, we tend to eat 35% more than when we are eating alone.  Eating in large groups of seven or more further increases the amount we eat by 96%.    Notably, the numbers went up more when participants were tested eating with family and friends. That increase was attributed to the longer time spent eating with family or friends.   So the length of time that you are at the table matters.   The researchers recommended sitting next to slow eaters or people who normally eat less than you.   As much fellowship in twelve step communities revolves around diners, pizza, and often involves comfort foods, this suggestion is of particular import.


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Why a Food Log is Essential in a Healthy Recovery

In this video, I discuss the importance of keeping a food log with regular contributor Mike Foley from Foley’s fitness.

A food log is a form of a tenth step inventory in the context of what we are eating. Food and beverages contain substances that impact our mood, energy level and overall health. By keeping a food log, it is possible to go back and analyze not only what we are eating, but also why and when we are eating, so we can use that information to enhance our recovery.

Enjoy the video and let me know what you learned, any experiences you have had or may be having, and how I can help!


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Recovery: How Coffee Can Reduce The Risk of Liver Cirrhosis

coffeeA few weeks back, a new study published in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics linked drinking two cups of coffee per day to a reduced risk of alcohol-related liver cirrhosis (“ALC”) by up to 43 percent.    For people in the Spiritual Adrenaline community, this study is critical as it focused solely on alcoholic liver cirrhosis.   When I heard about the study, I had to read it right away.  I am very excited to share the findings with all of you.

ALC means that healthy liver tissue is replaced by scar tissue in people who drink heavily or have a history of drinking heavily.   The liver is a vital organ that is primarily responsible for detoxing our body.  ALC compromises the liver’s ability to perform this vital function, and is the most serious of numerous diseases relating to the liver that occurs in long-term alcoholics.   The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that 10-15% of recovering alcoholics have ALC.  Others estimate the number to be higher and up to 30%.  Those studies and researchers point out that in many cases, the disease is only discovered after death at autopsy.  Scary news, but alcoholism is a scary disease, and we cannot sugar coat the consequences of long-term drinking.

This study stands out from others due to its unprecedented scope.   Researchers gathered the results of nine previous studies that linked coffee to a reduction in ALC and analyzed those results.   The total number of participants in these studies was 43,000.  The results showed that one-cup of coffee per day reduced risk of ALC by 22 percent, two cups by 43 percent and three cups by 57 percent.  But why?

The authors of the study concluded:

“Coffee comprises over a thousand compounds, many of which are biologically active and may affect human health.  These include caffeine, chlorogenic acid,  melanoids and pentacyclic diterpenes kahweol and cafestol.   The biological effects of coffee include stimulation of the central nervous system, primarily by caffeine, the attenuation of oxidative stress and inflammation, and anti-carcinogenesis.  In the context of [alcohol-related] liver disease, coffee appears to confer a number of protective effects.”

I cannot pronounce the names of most of those substances and some I had never heard of before.  I did some research so you don’t have to.

It’s the Anti-Oxidants

The authors of the study did not state that any of their conclusions were definitive, though they believe that the observed benefits were a direct result of the anti-oxidants in coffee.   Most of the substances identified in the quote above are anti-oxidants.   Anti-oxidants are nature’s medicine, and are powerful anti-inflammatory agents.

The Lighter the Roast, the More Anti-Oxidants

So here is a tip if you are interested in maximizing the anti-oxidants in the coffee you drink:  the lighter the roast the greater the amount of anti-oxidants.  During the roasting process, the anti-oxidants are destroyed by exposure to heat.  The darker the roast, the longer the bean was roasted.   So if you are looking to maximize the benefits of your cup of coffee, go with a medium or light roast at least once a day.   Dr. Oz recently covered this topic in depth and I encourage you to visit his website for more information or to confirm the contents of this post.

 Avoid Hyper-Caffeinated Coffee

In a past video blog, I discussed how coffee content is jacked up in certain coffees available at major retailers such as Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks.  I encourage you to watch that video, which can be found at the bottom of our Recovery Nutrition page.  It is advisable to try and avoid those hyper caffeinated beverages, as the excessive amounts of caffeine will undercut the benefits of drinking the real thing.  One of the reasons that drinking too much coffee is problematic is that it puts large amounts of stress on your heart and other organs causing inflammation, rather than ameliorating it.

 Three Cups a Day, Not Thirty

The study found the greatest benefit to participants who drank three cups a day, not thirty.  I can tell you that as an alcoholic, if someone said that taking 50 grams of niacin was a good thing, I would take 500 grams.  My logic being – the more the better.  Unfortunately, my old way of thinking was not correct and oftentimes unhealthy. Something good for us in moderation can become dangerous in excess.   So let’s remember that moderate coffee drinking (up to three cups a day) early in the day to avoid trouble sleeping, with at least one or two cups being a lighter roast, seems to have substantial health benefits.


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How To Rid Yourself of the “Spiritual Bypass” in Recovery

tom picThe term spiritual bypass is attributed to well-known author and lecturer, John Welwood.   He defined a spiritual bypass as the tendency of jumping to a higher power or some other spiritual force prematurely in an effort to avoid having to actually deal with reality.  Take for example the failure to deal with critical health, financial, work or legal issues after stabilizing in recovery, and after sufficient time free of the effects of a substance or behavior. Often times, folks will use the spiritual bypass to avoid dealing with underlying emotions that make us feel uncomfortable.   In essence, spiritual bypass is another term for avoidance, denial or whatever you want to call not dealing with truth.

My Experience

 I often have to remind myself that incorporating a spiritual practice into my recovery does not necessarily mean only focusing on those things that make me feel good.  Often times, my greatest spiritual growth comes from things that are unpleasant, and require me to step out of my comfort zone in order to deal with.    Moreover, I recognize that a spiritual bypass also takes me out of the present and into the past, future, or some other place far away from where I am physically located.  To deal with uncomfortable issues, it is critical to stay in the present.

First Time Around – Spiritual Bypass

A good example of my personal use of a spiritual bypass was my tendency during my first time in recovery to not address financial amends that needed to be made.   When I would receive certified letters from the I.R.S., I would put them in the drawer and let them accumulate.  I didn’t open them, did not respond and never reached out to resolve the issue.  All the while, I would go to meetings and share about my “spiritual growth,” “working steps” and the virtues of “the program.”  Although I told people I was working steps, I wasn’t really, and I had no intention to.  It is very easy to talk the talk, especially at meetings, while not practicing the principles in all of our affairs.  Eventually, given my recovery lacked a proper foundation, just like a house of cards, things collapsed in around me.  I could hide the letters in the drawer, but eventually, liens were filed and things caught up with me and contributed to my relapse.

I use financial amends as an example, but the same pattern of bullshitting myself and others applied in almost all other aspects of my life and recovery.

This Time Around – Spiritual Growth

This time around, I recognized that I had to deal with my financial amends right up front.   I took working the steps incredibly seriously.    My financial issues were a major part of my fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and tenth steps.  I do not believe that anything is an “outside issue” as every aspect of my life impacts my ability to stay sober and/or desire for a drink or drugs.  It is impossible to compartmentalize recovery and succeed.  We must take into consideration those issues that are often thought of as “outside issues” such as nutrition, exercise, addressing financial amends, and figuring out work-related issues, personal relationships, etc., so that our recovery has a strong foundation.

By doing everything wrong in recovery the first time around, I was able to use my failures to achieve success this time around.

I made a list of creditors, wrote them letters explaining my situation and sent minimal good-faith payments.  I promised that when things got better, I would pay in full.   In regard to the I.R.S., I physically went to my local office and again explained my situation.   I also made good-faith payments, and then paid additional amounts over time, as I was able to do so.  I worked incredibly hard, and about three and a half years into my recovery. I eventually paid off all my consumer debt, back taxes, interest and penalties.   The thought of giving all my money to the government rather than putting it in my pocket made me so miserable, but after I made the payments, I felt so much better.    I started to track my credit rating and saw it improve slowly over time as I paid off credit card and other debt in a timely manner.  I am up to date on my taxes, and no longer get certified mail from the I.R.S. and State of New York.  No more unannounced visits by tax agents looking to discuss my back taxes with me.

Similar to how I handled my financial amends, I jumped right into step work, applied what I was learning to all the relevant “outside issues” that needed adjustment and gave it my best.  The results have been far in excess of what I thought I was capable of and confirm that the more effort I put in, the more benefit I get out.

A Spiritual Bypass Is Not Sober Behavior

I now recognize that it wasn’t sober to put the certified letters in the drawer and then go to a meeting and espouse my new lifestyle, the virtues of my step work (which I wasn’t actually doing) and my purported spiritual connection.  I was lying to myself, and lying to others and eventually, the house of cards collapsed in on me.  Rather than retreating from challenges that I don’t find pleasant, I now try to engage those challenges head on, without fear, and as honestly as possible.  That leads to spiritual growth.

Had I not dealt with my financial amends, Spiritual Adrenaline would never have become a reality.     My back taxes would have caught up with me and liens would have come down, which would have precluded my investing in Spiritual Adrenaline and seeing my vision come alive

Real spiritual growth is hard.  It’s uncomfortable.    We grow from things that are hard and uncomfortable.   In the AA publication The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, it states that “pain is the touchstone of all spiritual progress.”  I humbly concur.

 If you are feeling uncomfortable, you’re likely moving in the right direction.

Keep going.


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Amanda Buck Interview Part 1 – How I went from 400 Pounds To a Personal Trainer at Equinox

Amanda Buck is an inspiration and person who went from 415 pounds and sickly to a lean personal trainer who is in great physical and mental health.  This week, Tom speaks with Amanda about her inspirational journey and how she uses her experience to inspire others.    This is Part One of a three part series on Amanda’s transformation.  Make sure to stay tuned  for Part Two that will be released on June 21, 2016.

Part 2

Part 3