Dean Dwyer first appeared on the paleo scene back in mid-2011 with a Friday success story on Marks Daily Apple that had female hearts around the globe all a-flutter.
Since then, he has injected his namesake blog, with some startling virality, established a membership site, presented at Paleo F(x) and written a book, Make Shi(f)t Happen, created a top-rated podcast show and interviewed Tim Ferris, and, and, and… His self-deprecating sense of humor, upbeat personality, and sharp lateral thinking have clearly won him a legion of loyal fans.
When I asked Dean for an interview, I threw all the questions I could think of at him. He answered every single one, bless him.
Dean is a former veggie, former teacher, and former heavy guy (he is still Canadian, however,) and once told me he was ‘charming but harmless.’ I’m not so sure. Read on to find out why. (And keep an eye out in Starbucks, ladies!)
Dean, let’s start by you telling us about your pets. You have a cat and a rabbit, right? Are you an animal-lover and how did you get them?
I am a huge animal lover. I’m the guy who sits at Starbucks and goes outside to say ‘Hi’ to every dog that is eagerly awaiting his or her owner’s return. As for me, I have a cat and I did have a rabbit; I never planned on having either. The cat came into my life when a friend who lived in the apartment upstairs brought a kitten home from a party. A few days later she discovered she was allergic to him. So I just took him. That was 10 years ago. I still have him and the little dude runs the show. I plan my life around him (which is why I don’t’ travel.)
The rabbit (named Bubbles by the students who owned him) was a “rescue.” I discovered they were leaving him in a cage at the school I taught at over the weekend. When I realized that I just took him home with me. I never planned on having a rabbit but you can’t do that to an animal. I had to put him down last summer however after having him for 5.5 years. He cost me a ton of money as he had a lot of medical problems, but man, did that little guy have character. He made me laugh every single day. It was so worth having him in my life.
Why did you first go vegetarian and how did you reconcile that ideology when you went paleo?
I was heavy when I came out of university. And by heavy, I mean I was fat. Everything I came across at the time leaned towards vegetarianism and so I really thought I was making a choice that was going to lead to amazing health. I never had health problems, mind you, but I never got lean being a vegetarian. I still remember the look on people’s faces when they discovered I was a veggie. A few had the courage to say what most only revealed with their bulging eyes. “I thought vegetarians were supposed to be lean.” My response, “That’s what I thought too!”
How do I reconcile the switch to paleo? I haven’t really. I don’t even kill insects or spiders that I find in my house. But I can sleep OK at night knowing it has not only changed my health BUT my destiny.
What grade and subject did you teach? What did you enjoy about teaching and why did you leave the profession?
I taught for almost 17 years. I was in a private school at the end of my career teaching English as a second language, but my most enjoyable years (9) were spent teaching grades 6, 7 and 8 in the public school system in Toronto. I was supposed to be teaching them math, English and social studies, but what I really wanted to teach them was stuff that helped them navigate the difficulties of their everyday lives when they were outside my classroom. That was tough to do though.
What did I enjoy? Hands down it was the students. They are the best part of the system. I left because I realized I didn’t give a rats ass about the curriculum. The education system is horribly flawed and irrelevant in my opinion. Its supposed to teach kids what they are great at and allow them to create within that medium whether it be art, music, dance, math, humor, you name it. Instead I was forced to evaluate them in two mediums; either language or math. If they didn’t excel in those intelligences because they fell into some I listed above, they were screwed.
I also realized I could not change the system and if I stayed I would be that guy who stayed where he was because it was a good-paying, safe job with great benefits and holidays. I don’t know much but I did know that it was a no-brainer; I would look back when I retired and be horribly disappointed that I didn’t try to live life on my own terms. So I made one of the best decisions of my life and resigned from teaching.
Do you do anything to support yourself besides your paleo coaching, book and other activities?
You mean besides my male strip-o-gram service? I’m kidding. I am 100% sure that business would go under immediately. I have put all my eggs in the paleo basket at this point, but I am now ready to expand my message beyond paleo to the larger, more complex and important context of shift.
How do you think/hope the paleo movement will evolve over the next few years?
I think/hope it will evolve in two ways.
One area I would like to see change is the role women play in paleo. To be honest, I find it too male-dominated. And almost all the prominent women seem to fall into the stereotypical recipe genre. I think it’s crucial we bring more women and their stories out into the open and that these leaders have sites that address the real pressing issues beyond recipes. I get that recipes are popular, but the truth is recipes don’t change lives. People and their stories do.
I’m working on two things to change that now. I have started offering my services (sorry that sounds sexual, ha ha!) to women who I think have a story to tell. I’m sharing what I know about building an audience and a business online in an effort to help jump-start their careers in this space.
Second, I’m starting a podcast series with another woman who I am hoping will become a prominent name in the space herself: Tara Grant of Primal Girl. She has an amazing story of transformation (115 lbs) and will help me produce and host my podcast while simultaneously growing her brand as well.
The second area where I see the biggest change is more a generation thing. Most of the current crop of paleo peeps are in the space for reactive reasons…we had failing health or extreme weight gain and are desperately clinging to paleo to help reverse the effects. But there are a whole group of proactive young couples coming into the space who are raising their kids paleo. Those kids are going to be the future of paleo. They will be able to market this lifestyle to other teens and that’s when I think the movement will really take off.
What do you perceive the biggest obstacle to success is for people wanting to adopt a paleo lifestyle. How can they turn things around?
The biggest obstacle? I believe there are two main ones.
First, they/we think this is a weight loss issue or a health issue. IT IS NOT! Both of those are outcomes of how we have led our lives to this point. You can’t diet and exercise your way out of those contrary to what the ‘experts’ say.
People need to be taught (not easy to do) that there are reasons why they do what they do. If they don’t begin to learn how to pull off the bark and explore those issues then all the knowledge in the world won’t mean a damn thing. But what happens instead is they keep buying more and more paleo books and reading more and more paleo blogs waiting to find an answer that is OUT THERE. The answer is within. (Whoa! That was very buddha-like wasn’t it!?!)
The second BIG problem is faulty logic. People draw the wrong cause and effect conclusions. For instance, when they are unable to resist treats they know they shouldn’t have they talk in clichés like, “I must be more disciplined. I must have more willpower”. But that isn’t the issue at all. We missed the cue that triggered the event to begin with. When we begin to uncover those, changes in behavior can happen.
I will give you an example of something I literally discovered today. My workouts for the last week have not happened. Today was no different. I knew I should workout but I didn’t want to but today I did something I realize I do from time to time. I blasted my workout music to get me going. In fact I always start with the same song.
I never made the connection before that the music is a success trigger I have used inconsistently in the past (meaning I don’t always play music when I work out). So for the rest of this week I am going to just get the ball rolling by blasting my workout music first to get myself ready for my workout.
I am going to explore more of these positive triggers but I already know I can do the same thing to get to bed early each night as well, for example.
What non-paleo vices do you have? What is your philosophy towards them? – ‘They will be fixed in a future release’ or ‘The heck with it. Life is for living? None of us are perfect.’ Or something else.
Interestingly based on something I said above, I don’t’ see my life as paleo/non-paleo. Its just my life and each role I play requires that I make teach myself to practice making good decisions.
But one of my biggest vices is the illusion of being busy, but not really working on anything that is epic to my overall journey of leaving a legacy. I am now beginning to approach those issues as I have done with my Paleo…it’s about applying principles that I shamelessly steal from the world of business and use in my own life.
When you learn something new about being successful with paleo, how do you keep that in mind and integrate it into your life?
I love that question, mostly because I don’t have an intelligent answer for it. To be honest I am great at coming up with great ideas…but my nature is to jump from one idea to the next to the next, much like books. I have a house littered with half read books. I think that’s probably analogous for how most of us live…we lead half-lived lives jumping from one idea to the next.
What I have been thinking about for the past few weeks is how to sort through all my ideas and just work on one until I can see that it is implemented. I’m attempting to do this on a smaller scale though…build up the skill if you will. I’m basically listing my items on my to-do list – breaking them down into doable chunks and then completing the first one in its entirety before moving on to number 2. I would be much happier if it took me all day to finish just one task than have a bunch of unfinished tasks that will most likely never be finished.
Tell me about your views on the ‘Try it for 30 days’ approach to going paleo. What philosophy do you think works best?
Oh boy, you are going to get me in trouble on this one! Let me preface this by saying that the people who put this out are trying to give people a starting point or a frame of mind upon which to just get the freaking ball moving. That said, I’m not a fan. First, 30 days is too long for most people and it’s too damn extreme for almost everyone. Second, the issue isn’t the first 30 days. It’s the next 3000+.
I think the fundamental flaw we are making in this space is the idea that if you get people through the first 30 days then the ball will just keep on rolling. The problem is that’s only the case in a small number of people. We don’t have a lot of data right now to point to people who have lost weight and maintained it long term.
And this leads to what I think most people are missing. We have two problems. The first is people looking to lose weight and get healthy. That’s a tough one for a lot of people. But the BIGGER problem is those who do lose…95% of those people end up right back where they started or worse. Trying to kick bad eating habits is no different than trying to quit smoking. How successful do you think someone will be if you tell them not to smoke for 30 days? The results are going to be near identical: not many.
This is my own theory so people need to take this for what it is worth – the bigger issue is sustainability. What we need to do is help people BUILD THEIR CONFIDENCE first. Don’t ask them to dive off the cliff without any training. I actually think the solution lies in a format that functions similar to something most major league sports do.
Baseball is a great example. They don’t’ take an 18 year-old kid and toss him into the majors. He’s not ready: when they light him up he’s going to be crushed and there are few who ever recover from that. It’s the same with paleo. Push people too soon and too fast and you will crush them for life.
Here is a real example. Roy Halladay is one of the best pitchers in baseball. He will be a hall-of-famer when he is done. When he was with the Toronto Blue Jays, they brought him up quickly and after a few great starts he was awful. Toronto did something that was unheard of. Not only did they send him back to the minor leagues they sent him all the way back to A ball (their first level) to work on the basics and rebuild his approach and his mindset and his confidence. When he mastered the skills there they moved him to Double A, then Triple A and then he made his way back to the majors. He has been a monster since then.
We need to build paleo people the same way: give them time to work through the system. Once they have mastered the initial set of skills required, then they can advance to the next level. I think we would have far more sustainable success if someone had an approach like that.
You’ve talked a lot about your 25 years of struggle with weight-loss – what was different this time around? What can people learn from your struggle?
Personally I get frustrated when people answer these types of questions because they dish out clichés, etc. The truth was I had no idea if this time would be any different than all the other times, but I did have a moment where I thought, “You know how this is going to play out if you just do all the same things you have always done.”
That thought made me realize that my solution lay in doing what might have seemed counter-intuitive in the past. That included things like doing less instead of more; realizing that seismic changes could actually be accomplished by the smallest of tasks if these tasks were done repeatedly. I also had this moment where I thought, “If I could actually figure this out I could teach it to other people.”
That’s the bigger lesson in all this. We start out on a very selfish journey to improve our look or our health, but if you begin to study those who have had sustainable success you will see they are committed to something bigger than themselves. That’s crucial and something NO-ONE is talking about unfortunately.
What issues do you see coming up for your readers time and time again? What do you say to those people?
That’s easy. Failure. People don’t know how to deal with failure. I get that because I have spent my entire life avoiding failure. It’s something that has been ingrained in us from the moment we are born. Failure is something to be avoided. The problem with that, however, is this journey is entirely about failure. We are, and should be, failing often because that means we are testing out ideas and pushing our boundaries.
What I discovered, and what I think is key for everyone, is failure is not the problem. It is our inability to recover from failure.
I am making this sound much easier than it is, but we need to learn to teach ourselves to invite failure into our lives and then figure out how to dissect it when it does occur. There are strategies to do this which I am going to be introducing soon.
What else do you do besides write about paleo, eat paleo, run a membership site for paleo peeps, and workout in a paleo way?
That’s been pretty much it for the past year. It took me 45 years to finally figure out how to create a career for myself that I am passionate about. At the moment I am in early of stages of building my business so pretty much everything I do revolves around that. I like it, though. This is how I want to spend my time. The goal is to be geographic independent so I can start living in varying places for 30-day stretches.
I’m stealing your idea here, but what are the three things you would like people to walk away with as a result of reading this interview?
You mean besides brainwashing them into thinking how freaking awesome I am? Ha ha!
Three things would be the following…
1. The key to success is to deconstruct your failures and put a plan in place so it doesn’t happen again. Failure comes with its own grieving process, but we must teach ourselves to move quickly out of that phase into something where we then deconstruct what has happened and put a system in place so it won’t happen again. We continue to tweak that system until we have it mastered and then we move on to our next challenge. We spend the rest of our life moving from challenge to challenge until suddenly our body of work (pun intended) is spectacular.
2. This is not a weight loss issue. Weight loss is an outcome of our behavior. Our behavior and how to change it is what we need to focus on. The truth is we gain weight and get unhealthy as a result of the decisions we have made and the habits we enact each and every day. When we finally make that connection then we set the table for weight-loss to occur. When we focus on the outcome as almost ALL traditional approaches do then we end up forcing our body to do things that just aren’t sustainable long term. And this dovetails nicely with my final takeaway…
3. Sustainability. People think the challenge is to lose weight. While that is tough, the real issue is what comes after weight loss…sustainability. Losing is easy really because we can force our bodies to do crazy stuff for 30, 60 or 90 days. But once the newness wears off and the results start to plateau that is when people fall off the rails. There is a reason why 95% of people who lose weight gain it back and then some. They have never considered that the real problem is how to sensibly approach this so they can not only lose weight but make it sustainable. When we start to take this approach then we forgo the crazy cold turkey techniques and start looking for behaviors we can consistently repeat over time what will maximize our results. A question I now ask is, “Can I do this 5 years from now? If I can’t, then I know it isn’t sustainable.” I believe there are 3 to 5 key behaviors (different for everyone) that could produce incredible results if we leveraged the shit out of them.
4. Bonus idea: There is no final destination. We will never arrive. People have to stop thinking this is a 30, 60, or 90 day problem. It is a problem you and I will have for a lifetime. It’s exactly the same as someone who has quit drinking. Every day is a challenge to make the right decisions so they won’t have a drink that day. It’s no different for any of us who have been chronically overweight our whole lives. We must happily be in this for the long haul.
So Dean, help a girl out here. What is the purpose behind men shaving their bodies?
Hair (even as sparse as mine was) hides body fat so shaving it either reveals you are heading in the wrong direction or it brings out the muscle separation that is beginning to happen. Most men who shave body hair are being vain but considering I have spent my whole life hiding from my body, I will gladly invite some controlled vanity into it by shaving. I mean, it’s not like I ride the subway with my shirt off. Either way I would recommend people do it when starting out because it helps in the all-important element of building confidence.
I can still hear the sound of thousands of women’s chins around the globe clattering to their keyboards as they came upon your ‘after’ picture in the MDA success story? Did the response surprise you? And what do you think drove that response?
To be honest, Alison, I am a bit of a blockhead when it comes to stuff like that. I often have no idea how women see me. Of course that may be a result of years of not being happy with how I looked. I’m sure women picked up that vibe. I am noticing that changing however. My confidence has increased immeasurably as a result of the changes. I think I am perceived differently because I carry myself differently now.
For instance, I have been strangely shy around women I do not know. That has shifted of late. I make and keep contact now and I am the one who is starting conversations. So watch out ladies! 🙂 I might be chatting you up at a Starbucks near you.
And finally, the question every woman wants to ask – why are you not married, you paleo hearthrob, you?
Ha! Ha! A few reasons for that. First, I never thought I would be very good at it. I’m not a jackass or anything but if I was to get married I want to do it right. I saw it, and still see it, as the biggest decision I would ever make in my life. I don’t take it lightly.
The other reason is I am not wired to be a married kind of guy. What I mean is most people get that voice in their head that says, “OK you need to get married.” I have never had that. I enjoy being single as weird as people find that. The third reason, I have always believed marriage would pick me when the time was right. Apparently, it has decided the time is not right yet. 🙂
Awww. He seems a very forthcoming chappie, that Dean. Could he be paleo’s answer to this guy? What would you like to ask him? Ask away in the comments and he’ll come over to say ‘Hi!’ I’ve told him to expect a few marriage proposals. 😉
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