We are Paul and Shou-Ching Jaminet, a husband-and-wife team of scientists. We live in Boston. Shou-Ching is a cancer researcher at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; Paul once upon a time was an astrophysicist at Harvard, but left to start a software company and now has his own consulting business.
We are best known, however, as creators of the Perfect Health Diet. PHD, as our fans call it, was the result of a seven-year research effort to cure middle age health problems. Paul had developed a mysterious neurological and fatiguing illness. Shou-Ching had endometriosis, fibroids, ovarian cysts, acid reflux, hypothyroidism, and other problems. Doctors were of little help.
We discovered the Paleo diet in 2005 and, when it made some of our symptoms better and others worse, we got excited. It took us years of work to refine Paleo into a better diet, and along the way we learned a lot about natural healing. We ultimately did cure our illnesses. Scribner published our book, Perfect Health Diet, in 2012. In 2013 we began to provide Perfect Health Retreats, an opportunity to eat PHD food and live our lifestyle advice while learning the science of good health.
The results have surprised even us: every single Retreat participant has improved their health dramatically. In some cases the results were transformative: a woman scheduled for two knee replacements and a hip replacement became able to walk pain-free, and a few months later took a job as a gardener. Diabetics normalized their blood glucose levels, inflammatory markers and blood pressure went down, and in 30 days every obese participant lost at least 8 pounds – a number lost over 20 pounds. This is all the more surprising because we serve everyone 2000 calories a day and recommend only 30 minutes of daily moderate intensity exercise – not at all a “Biggest Loser” type of environment.
We’re grateful to Dr. Junger and the Clean Program for letting us share a few days from our life. We’ll show how we try to implement our own diet and lifestyle advice.
The Work Week
We practice intermittent fasting and try hard to entrain our circadian (day-night) rhythms. We abide by a “personal day” of 8 am to 8 pm, year-round. Although we wake at 7 am, we leave the lights fairly dim at home until 8 am, when we open all drapes and blinds, turn on bright natural-spectrum white lights, and make our morning coffee. We also get outdoors and obtain ten minutes of natural sunshine. Shou-Ching intentionally parks a ten minute walk from work, while Paul (who works at home) goes outside for a brief set of light exercise.
Often, for Paul, this morning exercise involves circling the block doing track-and-field warm-up exercises. Yesterday, Shou-Ching took these videos of Paul’s favorite warm-ups. First, “high knees,” a warm-up based on the “100 Up” technique of the 1800s sprinter W.G. George (profiled in this 2011 New York Times Magazine article):
Another great warm-up is called “karaoke” or cross-overs:
Paul also likes skipping as an exercise:
And of course, light running:
After this turn around the block Paul settles into work.
Paul’s office environment is interesting. His desk is set up to allow him to work in a variety of postures – standing, sitting, or kneeling. The desk is raised on cinder blocks to about the right height for typing while standing. A draftsman’s chair, with the seat adjusted to its highest position, enables Paul to work sitting without adjusting desk or monitor. Paul also has a piano bench that is knee height for him, allowing him to work kneeling or to put one leg up on while standing.
Paul hit on this arrangement three years ago after he started using a standing desk, but found that standing all day made him stiff and sometimes would give him swollen feet. Being able to alternate between standing and sitting eliminated all problems.
Two years ago, Paul’s office was moved to the darkest room in our home. After a while Paul noticed that he didn’t feel as well, and realized that the darkness – the room has only one window which is shaded and gets very little sun after 11 am – might be a factor. Since then he’s brightened the room lights and placed a lightbox on his desk, and feels much better.
After three or four hours of working, Paul goes for a run. Immediately after, he makes lunch using leftover meat, fish or eggs; potatoes or white rice; vegetables; and usually butter or coconut milk plus an acid like vinegar or lemon juice. A typical example is Bi Bim Bap, the Korean dish of leftovers:
In the afternoon, more work. Paul tries to take a break for exercise around 5 pm. This is usually just a few minutes of exercise at home – push-ups, pull-ups, squats, planks, and kettlebell swings.
When Shou-Ching gets home about 6:30, we pour some wine and set out cheese and rice crackers to snack, and start cooking. Generally our meals take less than 30 minutes to prepare. Yesterday we had a simple meal of salmon, beets, plantains, and rice:
We always have some homemade kimchi on hand as a ready-to-eat side vegetable:
After dinner we relax, read or watch a movie, and do some “pre-cooking” of ingredients for future meals. Foods we prepare in the evening, for use on a future evening, are:
- Starches like white rice or potatoes. Typically we make enough for the next 3 days. When they run out, we make more. They are simply warmed up at dinner.
- Kimchi. This is easy to make – just put vegetables and salt in a ceramic or glass container and wait three days.
- Bone and joint stock. This provides collagen and calcium and a great deal of flavor to future meals.
Last night we prepared some bone stock. We used marrow bones purchased at Whole Foods, simmering them briefly until the blood is released and has turned brown. This brown water is discarded and the bones covered in fresh water and returned to a simmer. This round produces a very fatty stock, as the marrow and fat from the bones are released:
This is very fatty, so we skim off much of the fat and freeze it for future use. We make stock from the bones five times or so, and subsequent rounds of stock will be low in fat, so we return a bit of the fat to each subsequent round of stock.
Tonight we got the benefit of this work. In only a few minutes, we were able to make a delicious shrimp pho dinner:
Rice noodles, vegetables, and shrimp in the fatty broth make a delicious dinner. With kimchi on the side, this took about fifteen minutes to prepare.
At 8 pm, after eating, we convert our home to its night time environment. We close drapes and blinds to keep out street lights, turn off bright white lights, and turn on red-yellow lights. Our living room looks like this:
We go to bed by 11pm, and wake naturally around 7am.
On weekends, we go for a hike in a natural setting. Fortunately, Boston has many nice places to hike not far from the city. But last week, between Christmas and New Year’s, we visited Paul’s father in Florida, and our hiking took us to Myakka River State Park. Here is a photo:
And here we are, the family, save for Shou-Ching the photographer, at Siesta Beach in Sarasota:
If only we could get as much sun in Boston in January!
Our way is, for the most part, simple. Work, exercise, cooking and eating, and family time fill our days. Our routine is very consistent from day to day.
But that very rhythmicity is one of the keys to its healthfulness. Life should be rhythmic. We enjoy every part of our lives. We wouldn’t do it any other way!