Frank Lipman, the doctor who infamously declared “gluten and sugar are the devil,” is one of a handful of health coaches who’ve come to prominence in recent years thanks to the founding of his Flatiron Eleven Eleven Wellness Center and the publication of his definitive best-seller Ten Reasons You Feel Old and Get Fat. He’s also earned a degree of celebrity for his menagerie of clients who have themselves become well-known for leading über healthy lifestyles, like Gwyneth Paltrow, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Arianna Huffington, and Donna Karan. His Be Well Cleanses are still de rigueur before fashion week. He is known to take a hands-on approach with them, counseling his clients on everything from rebooting their nutrition and lifestyle choices to turning them on to new interests, like the heavy metal band Disturbed. The South African native set aside a few minutes to speak about why it’s important to skip the edamame and read food labels, even though he’d prefer you eat food that’s too organic to have a label.
Is sugar still the devil and gluten still devil number two?
Absolutely. I stay consistent.
Aside from avoiding sugar, what are next three things you should avoid?
After that, it’s more determined by your metabolism, your age, many other things. But after sugar and gluten, I’d say all processed foods. And corn.
Yeah, because most corn is genetically modified. Not all corn. I mean, you can get great local corn this time of year, August and September. I’m not saying you should avoid corn, but there's too much corn in food and I think that can be a problem. Soy, the same thing. Soy is not a health food. If it's not fermented, I don’t recommend it. And again, most soy is genetically modified. For some people, grains in general. It's tricky after sugar and gluten. You’ve got to find a way where it doesn't feel like you're on a diet and you don’t feel deprived. So it’s not that you can never eat soy or corn.
But treat them like treats you can indulge in every once in a while.
Real food. Eat food as close to nature as possible.
Aside from the, eh, obvious signs, are there signals your body tells you when you can’t tolerate certain foods?
It’s very non specific. Some people get brain fog, some feel sluggish, some people get gas, loose stools or constipation. Fatigue, headache, even rashes or joint pain. Basically, signs of inflammation in the system and it can present itself anywhere in the body. But it's not the short term effect of these foods to be concerned with; it’s the long-term. Often, it's not just eating one dose, but the frequent continuous ingestion of foods that are triggering inflammation in your body. Another one I forgot is factory farm meats or fish. The frequent, continuous ingestion of these low-grade foods can trigger inflammation. And it's not the food per se, but what’s been done to it. It’s not meat that's the problem, but it's factory farm meat where they’re fed corn which changes their fat profile and they’re injected with antibiotics and hormones. It’s not fish that’s the problem, but what we've done to the fish, all the mercury and getting injected with hormones and an anti-fungal because of the way that they’re farmed.
Did you see the article in New York magazine?
Yeah. The fake food one? Real food, fake food, and I think he’s right. The New York magazine article is an extension of what I’m talking about. I just ordered the book. I’m quite intrigued, I thought he was spot on.
It was terrifying, though. It makes you feel paralyzed and think the only thing you can safely eat is kale - after you rinse it down a few times.
I know, and this is the problem. You've got to be careful, [but] you can't drive yourself crazy. It's about a balance. But you do of need to be aware of these things.
Would you recommend people grow their own gardens?
In an idea world, yeah. But few have that luxury. Either grow your own garden or try to buy food from farmers who you know care for their produce and don't spray tons of pesticides. Farmers who look after their chickens and let them roam free, and who let their cattle feed on grass. The ideal world is to know your farmer. The more you know the source and the origin of the food, the better.
What's your newest hot find?
Califia Farms almond milk. I'm a big fan of almond and coconut milk but a lot of them have carrageenan in them. Califia seems to have taken over, which is great.
Do you have any weaknesses?
Lots. I still love sugar, so that’s always a struggle. I love ice cream, but now if I have too much ice cream, I feel it the next day, so it’s not worth it. Last night I had a little bit, so I feel fine. But if I have more, I suffer the consequences. A scoop is fine, but once I have three scoops or four scoops, it becomes a problem.
But Frank, that’s common logic.
I love ice cream! So, of course, it’s common logic. I just think with everything, you have to tailor it to where you’re at. Now that I’m older, I’m 61, I don’t metabolize sugar as well, so I have to stay very low, whether it’s dairy or grains. I have to put it all into one bucket. For me, eating rice or ice cream are all in the same bucket. I tend to eat really low carb, but when I do have crap, I'm going to have really good crap that I enjoy. I'll never have a bagel or bread, per se. I’ll have a croissant. I sort of pick my villain. I can't deny that I enjoy eating ice cream or a really good croissant. I’ll just eat one that I think is really, really good and I won’t have a lot of it. I also love dark chocolate.
Isn't it the good-for-you sweet?
Yeah, but if you’re eating a 70 percent chocolate, and have half the bar…
How many times a week are you bad?
Usually, during the week I'm pretty good, but on weekends when I’m chilling out and relaxing, I indulge. Dark chocolate I probably have much more often, but I try to limit it.
Are any supplements a waste of time?
It's the quality of supplements. They need to be targeted. Most people get deficient in vitamin D, omega 3s, and magnesium. Most people are looking for yes or no, or a good or bad answer. I think it's very personal. At different times, different ages, your needs change. I'm a big believer in targeted supplementation. I think the important thing is to take good quality supplements that don't have fillers, that are absorbed well and actually getting into your system. So I think it's a matter of where you're at, your personal needs and if you are going to use supplements, use high quality supplements.
And what do you think about self diagnosing?
I’m all for empowering people. You’ve got to be clever about it. What I’m seeing a lot, which I think is a good thing, is a lot of women coming in to see me after their doctors told them they’re crazy [thinking anything is wrong with them], but they worked out what’s going on with them from the web. They come in and they’re looking for support and confirmation for what they figured out that their doctors didn’t. The medical system is great for acute infections but not dealing with these chronic problems. Getting educated is a good thing.
What about foods affecting your mood?
We know now that the microbiome can affect your mood. A lot of women come in with multiple symptoms after they’ve been told by their other doctors that they’re just stressed out, when they know that’s not just it, there’s something going on. That’s what I mean when I say their doctors say they’re crazy.
Oh, I know. But that does bring me to depression, and curing it naturally.
Depression's tricky. Depression is often a symptom that something is off in your body. It does not mean you have a serotonin deficiency and you need a drug that’s going to increase your serotonin levels. To me, depression is a sign that something is off-balance in your system. It could come from your gut. It should be seen in the context of people’s lives and what’s going on versus something that should be treated by drugs. But a lot of people are depressed. I'd say the majority, not all, but the majority of people who don't have severe depression can be helped with dietary changes, some supplements, some exercise, sleep hygiene, stress reduction, things like that.
How do you fight the blues?
I don't tend to get down, but I exercise, I go for a bike ride, I sauna. I just had a two and a quarter hour bike ride this morning. I go early in the morning when no one else is on the road. It’s wonderful. I generally practice what I preach. I eat what I recommend, I take quite a number of supplements, I exercise, I meditate, I tend to look after myself.
What are the most common ailments you’re seeing these days?
I'm seeing more young women with problems in their microbiome.
What do you blame that on?
A very liberal use of antibiotics. Women being given antibiotics for sore throats, urinary tract infections, acne, the list goes on and on. The fact that antibiotics are in our meat is huge. The type of diet that so many people grew up on, we’re seeing the results of that now.
Hindsight is 20/20.
It’s a problem that’s not being acknowledged by the medical system yet. It will be, but it might be too late.
What so-called “heath food” is over-rated?
Juicing is a problem. Fruit juice is just one big dose of sugar. People think having a glass of orange juice in the morning is healthy. They go to a juice bar and get a juice that has 36 or 40 grams, which is 7, 8 teaspoons of sugar in it. I think granola and a lot of these health bars are pure junk.
Are there ones that you like?
I think they’re harder and harder to come by. The ones I like usually have 4 or 5 grams or less of sugar in them. I’m looking to actually help develop one, because there aren’t that many that are healthy. Yes, they’re convenient, but definitely not healthy. Granola is loaded with sugar. People also think frozen yogurt is healthy, but it’s usually full of additives and sugars and junk. I could go on and on.
Back to the sugar amount for a second: Ever since I had a discussion with you a few years ago about my sugar intake, as a rule, I look for labels that contains less than 5 grams.
That’s a good rule to follow. Look, my catch phrase is try to eat foods that don’t have labels, but if you are going to eat ones with labels, yes, look for foods with less than 5 grams of sugar per serving.
Ok, you time! If we pulled back your shower curtain, what would we find?
We use clean products, but my wife buys most of them. Acure shampoo, Acure Facial Cleansing Gel. It has a chlorella growth factor, that's very nice. My wife's clearly going through an Acure stage. Oh, and there’s Honest Body Wash.
What’s in your medicine cabinet?
Toms of Maine deodorant, Jason toothpaste and Philips Sonicare toothbrush,
What was your first fragrance?
My first fragrance? I don't wear that shit.
Ok, fine, fine, fine. What are you currently obsessed with?
Disturbed’s cover of “Sound of Silence.” It’s the most amazing song. I'm also obsessed with cycling early in the morning. Cycling a lot, and some yoga. I need to do more yoga again.
Describe the first 15 minutes of your day and the last 15 minutes.
During the first 15 minutes, I usually meditate in bed or on a cushion in my meditation place. I try not to go the computer, but, unfortunately, there are days when I go straight to it.
You’re only human. And your last 15 minutes?
I usually listen to music before bed.
And where is this “meditation place”?
It happens to be my daughter's old bedroom. There's a pillow I sit on and that's it. Nothing special.
Final question. Epigenetics. You were the first to tell me about this [science of gene expression and what can be done to alter them with lifestyle changes] years ago. Do you have a big “I told you so” in your mouth now?
No. I could have a big I told you so about 50 things, but I'm not that kind of a person.
And that's why you're so healthy. Last request. You’re really into music, especially world music. Can you give us a summer playlist?
“Sounds of Silence” by Disturbed
“S.O.B.” by Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats
“Crazy” by Agent Sasco
“Hello” by Conkarah and Rosie “Need to Know” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
“Fickle Sun (iii) I'm Set Free” by Brian Eno “Kalaajo” by Baaba Maal
“Adieu” by 17 Hippies
“Chillax” by Farruko
“Fly 420” by Alborosie