Introduction to Wellness for Vets

Fallujah, Iraq (2004)

Going as far back as my earliest memories as a young boy growing up in the small college town of Newark, Delaware, I have always had a deep interest in the human body.  With great interest I would observe the college students jogging around the city, exercising in the parks, and playing sports on the campus – a pickup game of football on the mall, guys playing rugby in the field at South College Avenue and East Park Place, or kicking a soccer ball around a circle showing off some fancy footwork.  As a young boy I would do my best to mimic the students whether it was playing baseball, doing calisthenics, or jogging through my town across campus, down Main Street, and back home.  During high school I began lifting weights.  I was never a big kid, in height or muscle mass, but I was interested to see what my body was capable of doing.  One could say I had a Napoleon complex and I was determined to lift as much weight as all the guys on the football team who were bigger than me.  These early experiences taught me the tremendous value of exercise, the timeless value of hard work, and self-awareness of my own tenacious desire to learn.  As an adult I took a nutrition class hoping to gain some insight on how to enhance my performance, but the class I took turned out to be more of a clinical nursing class.

Fast forward 20 years and to my retirement from the Marine Corps.  I had dabbled in holistic medicine when I was stationed in Europe from 2013-2015, but I’ll get into that in a moment.  In 2017 I spent Christmas with one of my best friends who had recently been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI) from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our shared experiences in combat were long in the past, but we had both been tried and tested in the gauntlet of protracted combat operations.

The Conner Family

I fared much better than most of my fellow veterans, despite receiving gunshot wounds and at one point being diagnosed with PTSD.  As I sat eating lunch with my friend and our families in a restaurant in Colonial Williamsburg, I watched his health deteriorate before my eyes until he disappeared for a few minutes to load up on the medications that had been prescribed for his condition.  As I sat watching my friend rub his face waiting for his meds to kick in I thought, “Surely there has got to be a better way?”  Around the end of January 2018, I had been retired for 3 months but no longer liked what I saw in the mirror.  I had gained a lot of weight, I had a job I hated, I wasn’t exercising, I was simply not happy with who I had become in such a short amount of time.  Then I was introduced to the ketogenic diet so I gave it a try.  I began listening to podcasts from Ben Greenfield, Paul Burgess, Dom D’Agostino, Robb Wolff, Dr. Berg, and many others.  I began doing my own research on keto and discovered there were many other health benefits from the diet besides just losing weight.  I started studying its effects on cancer and multiple sclerosis.  As I was researching, studying, and applying what I was learning to my own life, I thought about my friend with the TBI.  Then I thought about all my other friends who had been diagnosed with TBI and/or PTSD.  I was thinking, perhaps there is hope or even a cure for these ailments hidden in nutrition and exercise.  So I started researching the keto diet and TBI and discovered there has been very little research done on the matter despite the little bit of research which has been done showed promising results.  I thought about how exercise and nutrition had pulled me from the depths of wars from long ago and wanted to learn more, and do more all in an effort to help my friends get healthy and hopefully return to the people they were before they sustained their injuries.

This wellness journey neither starts nor ends there.  Another driving factor in my pursuit of learning more about health and wellness was the passing of one of my best friends from cancer.  My friend had beaten thyroid cancer once, then some years later was diagnosed with cervical cancer which quickly spread throughout her body.  When I was stationed in Europe I had made many trips to Eastern Europe and discussed nutrition with my friends there.  It was during this time I started dabbling with spices and researching the health benefits of various spices such as paprika, turmeric, ginger, and so on.  As I was learning about the benefits of simply eating right I began to wonder if this information I was learning would have helped my friend when she was alive.  Upon returning to the United States, I took an Anatomy and Physiology class where I did a research project on cancer. That’s when I discovered the Warburg Effect (in simple terms, the idea that cancer is a metabolic disease and cancer cells thrive on sugar).  I had listened to an episode of Ben Greenfield where his guest, Doctor David Minkoff, explained how cancer could be treated using proper nutrition.  Again I though, if I knew then what I am learning now and shared this information, perhaps my friend would still be alive today.

So what does all of this mean?  We all know eating right and exercising has health benefits and increases our quality of life, that’s not Earth shattering news.  The problem is, many of us simply don’t know how to do those things, nor can we tell the difference anymore between real and fake research. We’ve spent our whole lives being taught about portion control, proteins, carbs, and fats,  that your body is 80% water so if your pee isn’t clear you’re going to die of dehydration, etc., etc.  We’ve come to rely on medications to give us quick answers to problems, when really we could be treating ourselves with what the good Lord has provided us in clean food and good company.

WELLNESS FOR VETS:

I recently saw this meme on social media:

I don’t know who this guy is or the validity of this meme, nor am I an advocate for marijuana use, but I think this image is quite powerful.  We all know somebody in this situation, maybe you are one of them.  Take a pill for this symptom, take another pill for that symptom, take two pills for this pain, and four pills for that pain.  But is it necessary? Is there an alternative?  The reality  is YOU CAN solve most of your own problems, both physical and emotional, through nutrition and exercise.

Fun fact: Going back to TBI, did you know your brain loves cholesterol?  Did you know your brain prefers fat over sugar?  Yet our whole lives we’ve been told to avoid cholesterol and fat.

Wellness for Vets is a place to share information and experiences to help each other overcome whatever injuries or ailments we may have sustained through the course of our service.  Wellness for Vets is not intended to make anybody a body builder, or sell supplements, or get you to train on one specific program, or utilize only one diet technique.  Wellness for Vets is an opportunity to share what has and has not worked for the individual.  I can tell you keto has worked for me, but it may not be for everyone.  Some people may favor jiu-jitsu over yoga and that’s perfectly fine.  Our only goal here is to help you achieve happiness through being healthy.

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Author: James Conner , USMC (Ret.)

I am a 20 year United States Marine Corps veteran. I spent 10 years as an infantryman participating in many overseas deployments to include multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Currently living in Ireland, where I am enrolled as a student at the University of Limerick getting my degree in Exercise Science. Certified Fitness Trainer, Sports Nutrition Specialist,  Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coach.