757: How to Create Compounding Health Habits That Stick With Dr. Molly Maloof

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How to Create Compounding Health Habits That Stick with Dr. Molly Maloof
Wellness Mama » Episode » 757: How to Create Compounding Health Habits That Stick With Dr. Molly Maloof
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757: How to Create Compounding Health Habits That Stick With Dr. Molly Maloof

I’m talking with Dr. Molly Maloof again today about healthy habits and how to integrate them into your daily life. Dr. Molly is not only a doctor, but a researcher, advisor to many companies, and the founder of Adamo Bioscience (which we talked about in our last episode).

She discusses growing up with lots of junk food and unhealthy habits and then destroying her health in her 20s. She then completely rebuilt her health, is thriving, and is now on a mission to help others do the same.

We talk about how to build small habits into your day so that they can compound and build over time. You’ve probably heard me talk about habit stacking before and why it’s so powerful! Dr. Molly also goes over why it’s so important to pick one new thing at a time to avoid overwhelm and burnout.

We also discuss nervous system health and how to get your body into a better state. Dr. Molly considers this foundational to overall health and a key way to make an impact in other areas of your health journey. She gives lots of helpful ways to do this that come at the issue from different angles.

I really enjoyed our conversation today and I hope you’ll join us and listen in!

Episode Highlights With Dr. Molly Maloof

  • How it took her a decade to destroy her health and a decade to rebuild it
  • Ways to begin creating compounded habits that actually stick
  • Fundamental foundational habits to start with
  • How to not break your mitochondria, and how to support them
  • The reason to only do one thing at a time
  • Important reasons to focus on sleep as the first habit
  • What somatic experiencing is and how it can help separate the story we tell ourselves about our life from the felt experience
  • How to increase motivation and use habit stacking to make them stick

Resources We Mention

More From Wellness Mama

Read Transcript

Child: Welcome to my Mommy’s podcast.

Hello, and welcome to The Wellness Mama Podcast. I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com, and this episode is all about how to create compounding health habits that actually stick. And I think this is foundational to actually making lasting changes. And my guest, Dr. Molly Maloof, is by many means an expert on this topic. She’s not only a doctor, she’s also an investor and a researcher and an advisor to many companies, as well as the founder of a new company called Adamo Bioscience, which we talk about in a previous episode, and you can find out more about that there. But she also, on a personal level, totally destroyed her health in her 20s and completely rebuilt it in her 30s and is now absolutely thriving and on a mission to help other people do the same thing. So we talk about how to integrate small habits that really compound and build over time. And I’ve long said that compounding is truly one of the wonders of the world, and it’s often talked about in finance, but I feel like it’s equally relevant in health and in many other areas of life. So let’s join Dr. Molly and discuss how to create health habits that actually stick. Dr. Molly, welcome back.

Molly: So great to be here. Thanks, Katie.

Katie: I will link to our past episodes in the show notes because we’ve gotten to do a few now that have been really fun. But in this one, I wanted to talk about something that it seems like you have some great insight on and that many people have a struggle with, which is actually like creating healthy habits that stick. And I know we’re early in the year and many people begin the year with huge plans and lofty goals. And that statistically, most of those fade away by February. And I know from experience, it’s the small, seemingly insignificant and easy habits over time that really stack up and actually stick. And the more I learn in the health world, the more I go back to their true foundational basics and the morning sunlight and the getting rest and the things that are not expensive or complicated. But I would love to hear your take on this of how can we create compounding healthy habits that actually stick?

Molly: Yeah. The first thing I will tell people is that it took me about a decade to destroy my health and a decade to rebuild it. So do not be intimidated by the fact that this is not a overnight success plan. Like I wrote a book on the first principles of health called The Spark Factor for a reason because I felt like a lot of books on health were so oriented around quick fixes and 30-day, you know, 30-day programs. And I think those are falling out of favor for a reason because they don’t really work. And in my medical practice, from the very beginning of its design, I was very clear with my clientele that this is about developing compounded habits because they’d build like compounding interest. And over time, they will create far more capacity in your body on a cellular level, which is going to translate on a macro level, but you do need to have these foundations set in place. And they may change and modify a little bit over time, but fundamentally your food has to be high-quality. You can’t eat garbage if you want your body to be a robust system because your fuel is literally becoming you, like you are what you eat, but it’s also the fuel you put in your body is powering your mitochondria and your mitochondria require you know, high-quality fuel to not break.

And we, people break their mitochondria constantly through eating poor diet, a Western diet. They also damage their microbiome. And if your microbiome is not healthy, you’re going to have a messed up immune system. And so food is really fundamental and, you know, we make it really complicated, but it’s really just about eating whole foods and whether you lean vegetarian, vegan, whether you lean ancestral paleo, whether you’re somewhere in the middle. It’s, to me, most important that you’re eating real food, and you get copious amounts of vegetables and high-quality protein. And really try to avoid the unhealthy fats, you know, like the fried fats, the industrialized seed oils, the, you know, the just the problematic foods that we know are pretty consistent, like trans fats are obviously like pretty toxic and poisonous.

But eating healthy, we think it’s really complicated, but that biggest challenge is breaking the habit of eating junk food. And really it’s just about eliminating those foods from your house. Like you can’t have them around. I mean, I grew up on a lot of processed food. My parents always had junk food in the cabinets. And it was so problematic for my brain function. And I really struggled with focus and attention. And it took me a long time to really figure out, oh, eating healthy is just about really eating simple foods, healthy ingredients, and just consistently doing that.

It’s not as complicated as we make it out to be, but it is something that a lot of people still struggle with because healthy foods are more expensive in America than they should be. I mean, you go to Mexico and it’s like, buying fruits and vegetables is not that hard to find. And you go to other countries and the markets are pretty robust. And in a lot of America, there’s a lot of food deserts and there’s a lot of problems with getting access to healthy, fresh foods. But I’m just such a believer in a diet rich in plants and just lots of different colorful fruits and vegetables and healthy proteins, whether you are vegan or paleo, whether you’re a carnivore or a plant-based person, you want nutrient density.

And then fitness, right? Like, you got to move your body, otherwise you’re, it’s like having a car in the garage producing exhaust. And you don’t want a car riding in a garage. You want to run the car, right? Like, and if you’re not, I mean, I’m guessing you, so you just said you did a seven-day fast. I’m guessing you probably weren’t doing a ton of exercise, right? Like you were probably letting your body just be still and going inward. Like you weren’t using a lot of fuel because you were burning your own fuel, and you were probably trying to conserve energy because your body was like in a state of regeneration, right?

Katie: Exactly. I went into like, I did a gentle walking, got lots of sunlight, but also tried to make it like a week of meditation and rereading some books that helped me recenter and like hugging my kids, but not like I wasn’t sprinting. I wasn’t lifting weights. I was being gentle.

Molly: Yeah. And that’s something that I think is really important is like, just kind of thinking about your body. Like, okay, I’ve got a machine running. What kind of fuel am I burning? And what are the demands of this, of this, like, what do I need to be doing? What do I need to be doing with this body? And so when I was doing like hardcore weightlifting last summer, building a lot of muscle, I was eating a lot of protein because I was building muscle, right? I’m not going to be doing like, if you’re not, I kind of see it as like your body’s going to go through different phases of different things it needs to do. And those demands are going to be different depending on the stage of life you’re in.

So if you’re building a baby, you’re going to be eating differently than if you’re trying to get pregnant, right? Like if you’re going through menopause, you’re going to have a different diet than if you were like 20 years old because you’re going to have different hormonal systems. So I talk a lot about this in the book, The Spark Factor, but essentially, you know, diet and exercise can change throughout your life, depending on your, your demands.

I’m currently in like a experimental phase right now where I’ve been I basically started dating someone, and he is mostly plant-based, and we do mostly yoga and like some skiing. And so like my exercise habits have shifted to like slightly higher carb diet, but also still a lot of activity, but I’m not doing as much weight training. So I’m not eating as much protein as I was before. And I’ve gotten really lean, and it’s cool to watch my body change, but I’m not like beating myself up because I’m not eating like 1.6 grams per kilogram, because I’m not justifying that by the level of activity that I’m doing right now. So it’s fun to experiment with different times of your life, with different exercise demands, with different phases that you’re going through. You know, like I’m kind of in more of a detox phase right now than I am in a muscle-building phase. And I’ll probably go back to, you know, weight training in the spring before summer starts.

So that’s weight, you know, so exercise and, and, and nutrition are fundamental, I really do believe that there’s sort of like, you can only do so much with your exercise regimen. So typically what I will do is like focus on developing new skills of what I’m trying to optimize for. So if I’m trying to optimize for exercise, like for weight training, I’m going to learn how to do proper weight training with a trainer or with a coach. But once I’ve mastered that skill, what do I want to do next, right? So I do believe in getting professional help to like learn a new skill set. So I just got Hatha yoga training because what I’m really trying to learn right now is how do I regulate? How do I slow down? How do I actually focus on building nervous system attunement so that it’s super relaxed and super regulated? And I love somatic work for that reason. And I think Hatha yoga I’ve discovered is one of the slowest forms of yoga. So, you know, if you’re trying to develop more femininity in your nervous system, doing slower exercises is a great way to do that.

But compounding habits, you know, so that we’re kind of talking about like compounding habits based on what you’re trying to optimize for. So, you know, pick a certain thing you want to learn and do that concertedly for like a quarter and really gain that skill until you’ve mastered it before you go on to something else. And don’t try to do three or four different types of like learning in one quarter, right? Like you can’t really learn something effectively if you’re trying to, if you’re mixing it with so many different things. So going back to the original thing I was trying to tell people is it took me a decade to ruin my health and it took me a decade to fix my health. And I learned specific skills concertedly over time. And I mastered those before I moved on to something else. So if you’re struggling with like getting new health habits in place in a new year, like just focus on one thing, focus on doing a sugar cleanse for a month and just not eating sugar for a month, focus on dry January for a month, focus on weight training for a month, focus, just focus on like one thing at a time and master that skill. If it takes you three months to master that skill, great.

When I was learning fasting and ketosis, I focused on ketosis for like three months. And I was like, it really took a lot of troubleshooting before I really mastered it. That’s when I got into fasting. So I don’t recommend doing fasting, weight training, Hatha yoga, eliminating sugar. Like a lot of people get so sidetracked with health because they’re trying to do like 10 things at the same time. My book has a lot of recommendations, but one of the things that I really want people to get hammered home in this podcast is you’re going to be more successful if you do one thing at a time. This is great for productivity at work. This is great for, just learning how to be more focused is like one thing at a time is how you get stuff actually done and mastered. And like you get yourself actually in a place of having skills in a new area. If you try to do too many things all at once, you’re going to fail because you’re just going to miss. You’re just, you’re never going to really get anything right because you’re going to be doing too many things and your nervous system is just going to be like, oh my God, I can’t do it. I’m going to give it up. This is where people get their New Year’s resolutions, they’re all off is like, they’re trying to do too many things. Maybe do Whole 30 for a month. You know, like pick one thing, do it well, and move on to the next one. Sleep is something that a lot of people don’t do right. And so if you’re listening and like you think sleep is probably your biggest problem space, please focus on sleep first. Because if your sleep is all wrong, then you’re not going to want to eat the right foods. You’re not going to have energy to exercise. And you’re just going to struggle with everything else in your life.

Katie: Absolutely agreed on that one. And I think there’s so much wisdom in even the psychology of just doing one thing at a time, because A, it’s going to be easier to integrate that habit, but B, it’s going to keep you excited to add more versus when you do all of them at once and then you’re overwhelmed. And then now all of them are resistance versus anything being exciting or fun.

I love also that you talked about nutrient density, because I think this shift alone could help so many people if we stopped thinking about calories and macros and really learned to maximize for our specific bodies what nutrients do I actually need the most of right now and choose foods based on how many nutrients they have, not on how many calories they have. I think that little shift alone, maybe just make that shift in your daily choices a little and see what happens.

Molly: Totally.

Katie: Also, I think you mentioned nervous system health, and I would love to go a little deeper on this one because I feel like nervous system supporting habits can also make other habits easier. And if we are coming from a very dysregulated nervous system, it can be really tough to integrate any habits. And I know part of that is like having quarterly things and keeping the nervous system attuned as we add things can help. But any suggestions for like regulating and calming our nervous system?

Molly: Well, first up is knowing that you’re feeling dysregulated, right? Like, it’s one thing to, like, it’s one, you really got to start with like, okay, what does it feel like to be regulated, safe and sound? What does it feel like to be dysregulated and reactive? And I really love this concept of somatic experiencing by Peter Levine, because basically it’s like a shift in psychology away from the story we’re telling about our lives and more into the felt experience of what it means to be at home in our bodies. And, you know, I was talking to JJ Burge did on a podcast recently. And she said, you know, Molly, I only in my 50s started feeling really, truly safe in my body. And I was like, whoa, like how many women and men listening to this probably don’t feel safe. And that sucks, you know, like that’s as a culture, like we, we can do better.

And so I got really into somatic work in the last decade and it started with a lot of like obscure meditation retreats that I would go on. There’s a company in Berkeley that’s very weird called Clear Vision Institute. And I came across a Clear Vision meditation teacher who taught me this thing called Inner Space Technique. And it’s this very like esoteric method of like learning how to meditate in a more, and learning how to map out your experience on a, on a physical level. And it’s really kind of a, really kind of a cool thing I learned, but it was my first foray into a somatic practice. And then, you know, a lot of people struggle with meditation, but I’m a huge believer that we can learn to create space between perception and reaction if we just learn to slow down. So I’m really getting into Sadhguru’s work right now. He’s a Indian mystic who’s world famous he has like 17 million volunteers. And he’s just such a cool guy because he really brings a no-nonsense approach to spirituality that’s non-denominational and is very much focused around being highly responsible, which means response-able, being able to respond to what is going on in your life in a conscious manner. It’s so simple.

And yet when we’re in a reactive state, we often do and say things that are unkind to ourselves and others. So Inner Engineering is a fantastic course that is very cheap and very affordable. It’s about $100, maybe $150. And it’s a very comprehensive course on just a very short introduction to very simple methods of meditation and yoga and a lot of stretching exercises and just a lot of like nervous system attunement. It’s very simple. But if you want to go into something deeper, I would recommend getting a somatic therapist who knows somatic experiencing because sometimes working with a therapist is a better way to actually get to the root of what’s underneath your body’s nervous system problems.

I also learned, sidebar, this thing called Neural Therapy from a friend, Dr. Tudor in Sedona. And if you’re really struggling with like getting your nervous system to attune on its own through your brain, like just through your conscious control, you can do things called Neural Therapy. And so I wouldn’t recommend this to everybody because it, it’s like pretty intense, but they inject procaine into nervous system and into your ganglia, which are little bundles of nerve terminals in different parts of your peripheral nervous system. So I had this done all over my body in the fall. And I actually think it like reset my nervous system and people hurt here about stela ganglia blocks, but what they don’t realize that there’s all these other ganglia that you can have blocked through procaine. And it can literally like, take you from being kind of stressed, and if you’ve had any trauma at all in your body, your body will keep the score. So you can actually reset. It’s almost like a nervous system reset. And I did this with this, there’s probably maybe 250 good practitioners in the country. If you’re in the Bay Area, Beth McDougall does this at Jyzen Clinic. If you’re in Southern California, this guy, Dr. Tudor does it. He’s fantastic. I don’t know other doctors that do that in America. I know there’s a few in New York, but I can’t remember their names. But this is like, this emerged from an osteopathic sort of modality. But I really think this is like the frontier of healing is like getting your nervous system to be balanced. And there are so many doctors and nurses listening to this probably that have gone through COVID and have been working in a very dysregulated healthcare system. And anything you can do to heal your body on a somatic level will have ripple effects on every aspect of your health because you’ll make better food decisions. You’ll have more energy to work out. You’ll sleep better at night. So I really do think that it’s like, there’s things that you can do on a physiological level. There’s things you can do on a psychosomatic level. And there’s things you can do on a spiritual level that can really help you become a more regulated human.

Katie: Yeah, I think somatic experiencing and somatic therapy changed my life. And I love that you mentioned Sadhguru. I have been on a journey of listening to and reading Sadhguru lately, and he’s so precious. I love him.

Molly: Oh, good.

Katie: I think also the two other aspects of this that I’d love to touch on one would be motivation. Cause I think a lot of people struggle with the motivation to actually start or stick with a habit. And then also if you have any suggestions for habit stacking, I know this term became popular with Atomic Habits, and it’s been helpful to me with like getting sunlight in the morning while hydrating with mineral water or putting my legs up at night while I meditate or just drinking.

Molly: Flossing when you brush your teeth.

Katie: Exactly. Yes. So any advice on those?

Molly: Yeah. So, I studied a bit of habit formation when I was teaching at Stanford because I realized that like pretty much every one of my lectures was about developing a new habit in some way. And so I had a lecture on nature exposure. So getting outside in nature is a great way to get sunlight, and it’s a great way to get exercise in. So one of the first things that I did when I was trying to get in shape after being basically sedentary for my twenties, which super, super, super destroyed my health, by the way, I think education is a big problem because we’re like, we’re like really missing physical education these days.

And so I became really sedentary in my 20s and I think it damaged my mitochondrial health and set me up for some chronic fatigue syndrome in my early 30s, which I was able to overcome. But it did really screw me up physically. And it’s what actually propelled me in the direction of building a practice around health was I was so sick. When I left my residency and I started working in tech and started working with a company and started building my own medical practice, I was so unwell. And to any doctors or nurses listening or any coaches out there that are just starting their careers and may be intimidated by listening to a doctor who’s like kind of built a semi successful career in medicine around this topic, just know that if you’re not perfectly well, that does not mean that you can’t start building your health and building the health of others. Because I did it and it worked.

I mean, it’s really about understanding that you got to live what you’re preaching. You cannot be a person who works in a health or even honestly, a parent that preaches health to their kids, unless you’re doing it too. So, when I first started out in my practice and I was like really out of shape, I started doing Feldenkrais and I would go to the YMCA, and I would do like literally Feldenkrais method because it was the only exercise that I could do. And then I would go use a sauna, and the sauna was great because it was getting my cardiovascular system was, was building itself without having to exercise. So if you’re really struggling with like, you’re, you’re perfect, like totally sedentary out there, let’s say you can barely walk to the mailbox, starting with something as simple as Feldenkrais and sauna is like a first step to getting your metabolic health in shape. T

hen what you can do is start walking outside. So I was walking outside, walking to green spaces and getting sunlight. All in the same thing. So I was getting three different health habits, all in one fell swoop. And then I’m a really big believer in like, you got to brush your teeth. You got to scrape your tongue. You got to floss your gums. It took me a while to learn to floss. I mean, I was not a flosser 10 years ago. I just didn’t do it. And a lot of people don’t floss. So if you have your tongue scraper and your floss or your floss, like I like flossers personally more than floss. If you have them all in the same spot in your bathroom, you’re going to be more likely to do them. And a dentist once told me, like, if you’re not flossing, you’re not brushing like a pretty large percentage of your teeth. And that kind of grossed me out. And I was like, and if you’re not scraping your tongue, you’re basically not, you’re basically building a plaque layer all over your tongue, which is seeding the rest of the plaque in your mouth. So when I really understood the physiology of that, I was like, okay, I got to start doing these things. And then I was like, well, I can take my supplements. But I was forgetting to take my supplements. So I was like, maybe if I take my supplements around when I’m flossing and brushing my teeth every morning and evening, then I’ll remember. So I kept my supplements next to my toothbrush, and I would start to remember to take them consistently. So these are little practices that stack over time and lead to much better health outcomes.

Katie: I love that. I found the same thing with keeping supplements sort of in my way when I needed them. So like nighttime ones on my nightstand, morning ones on my bathroom counter, and mealtime ones on the kitchen table and like a cute little basket. It helps with my kids too, remembering to take supplements. So I love that habit. I feel like any time we can just make things a little easier, like reduce that effort or reduce the barrier to remembering by a tiny bit, that can make such a big change.

Molly: Oh, yeah.

Katie: And I feel like this is… go ahead.

Molly: I was going to say like habits are meant to become unconscious, repetitive movements in your life. So when you just start to develop, like, I wake up in the morning and I meditate. Like, I’ve been doing a 45 day, what’s called a 45-day mandala for this thing called Shambhavi, which is a meditation that you learn in, you learn this meditation in, in Inner Engineering at the end of it, they do this initiation and then you learn this meditation, but they want you to do this every 45, they want to do, they want you to do this twice a day for 45 days. So I was, so there’s this meditation called Shambhavi in inner engineering and they want you to do this twice a day for 45 days. And so in the app, they will like, you can check off if you’ve been doing this properly. And it’s really nice to see like, okay, I’ve got a goal. I’m going to do this for 45 days. And in that you become more, when you commit to something and you just decide, this is what I’m going to do twice a day for like, you know, a month and a half. It’s a lot easier to stick with it than if you’re like, well, I can skip a day or I could skip one. It’s like, no, you make a commitment, and you go off and you decide that it’s going to be something that you’re going to, you’re going to master.

Katie: And I know when it comes to the specifics of things like supporting mitochondria and integrating these habits and what healthy foods look like for you, you cover a lot of that in your book and also online. So I’m going to make sure to link to both of those so people can keep learning from you. I really enjoy following you. But where can people find you online and stay in touch?

Molly: Well, I’m @DrMolly.co on Instagram and @DrMolly.co, www.drmolly.co, on my website.

Katie: Well, you are awesome. I’ll make sure to include those links in the show notes, but Dr. Molly, you are such a joy. Thank you again for being here, for sharing today, and for all that you do in the world. I really appreciate your time.

Molly: Thank you so much for having me.

Katie: And thanks as always to all of you for listening and sharing your most valuable resources, your time, your energy, and your attention with us today. We’re both so grateful that you did. And I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of The Wellness Mama podcast.

If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.

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About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


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