Q&A with Konstantin Monastyrsky
This page represents the amalgamation of actual questions that I am frequently asked via e-mails, during lectures, book signings, etc.
Q. Konstantin, how old are you and your wife?
I am years old. My sign is Scorpio. According to my wife, I am Scorpio's twin brother incarnate. Tatyana is just three months my junior, and she doesn't hide her age. As you can judge from her picture on the left, why should she? I took this photo on August 24th of 2014 (six months short of Tatyana's 60th birthday), and it's un-retouched. My most recent photo on the Biography page was taken on November 29 of 2016.
We eat the same foods and take similar supplements ever since we switched to functional nutrition in 1996. Tatyana looks and feels today just as well as she did when we married in 1994. And she has never stepped into a gym. Only a few years ago we purchased an elliptical exerciser, which she uses on and off for 10-15 minutes a day. No plastic surgeries of any kind.
We both realize that she is a walking billboard for my work, but refrain from exploiting her good looks and good fortune for the same reason I keep my own story out of my books—one person's health history and aging experience aren't representative of another‘s.
There is nothing surprising about this—just look at Hollywood‘s glamour set. Many stars — at least the smart ones — age well because they preserve their bodies with the same attention and vigor that others use to preserve their car's underbody, their lawn, or their carpet.
From what I've learned from our journey with Tatyana, you need luck to become a movie star — but you only need performance and longevity nutrition know-how to look and age like one!
That's what I meant by once challenging visitors to this site with the opening question on my homepage: Why do some people live while others die? Because 'some' don't live by luck alone!
Q. How do you feel? How's your health?
Most people automatically presume that if you write about health and diets, you yourself should be a paragon of health and vitality. And if you aren't—you are a cheat. I actually agree with this “talk the talk, walk the walk” thinking 100%.
That said, I didn't start out to write about health and nutrition from a brand new or even slightly used slate. I did so when I was just a few steps away from a graveyard. Most of those problems, thank God, are gone. But, of course, all of them left their irreversible imprints, however hidden or well-burnished. So while I am in excellent health and shape vis-à-vis most men my age, only God knows what the future has in store for me. So, at this point, it's all a matter of luck.
Since I firmly belong to the harder you work, the luckier you get school of thought, I work awfully hard to attract all the good luck I can get. That means consuming a functional diet, enjoying restrained drinking (I no longer consume alcohol because it affects negatively my mood and sleep), exercising regularly, devoting time to quality sleep, taking professional-grade supplements, having a loving, supportive family, not using any prescription drugs, being happy with what you have, forgetting old grievances, not creating new ones, wearing seat belts, observing traffic rules, doing the work you love, getting paid for it well, sharing generously my knowledge with anyone who wishes to listen, and praying to God for love, health, and forgiveness.
Q. Do you have children?
No, we don't. We married in 1994 when we were both 40. We haven‘t done anything not to have kids. They just haven‘t happened on their own. With what I know now, it's not surprising — in those years we were in okay enough shape to enjoy attempts at child-making, but, apparently, were no longer fit enough for unassisted conception.
In the last several years I've been quite shocked to hear more than one story from ladies in their mid-40s who have been following my recommendations for several years, and got accidentally pregnant because they abandoned contraceptives years ago. In one case the husband was in his late sixties, also my ardent follower. Still, those 'accidents' are considered anecdotal evidence, and may not be representative for other couples.
Even this benefit turns some people off. One of our Russian acquaintances, learning about this probability, looked wistfully at his exceptionally attractive wife and remarked sarcastically: “You mean to say if we'll get to live to one hundred, I'll have to make love to my babushka?” The 'babushka' in this context is a Russian word for an old, withered woman. He grimaced, and added with pain: “Oh, no!..."
Q. What do you eat at home?
What I eat is what's right for me — a year old male of Jewish ancestry with a prior history of food allergies, digestive disorders, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and, at present, a somewhat sedentary lifestyle related to my occupation as a medical writer.
For these reasons, my daily diet is relatively meager and austere, at least by conventional standards. I also take a handful of quality supplements to compensate for not consuming fortified foods, and for avoiding fresh fruits, vegetables, and juices loaded with carbohydrates, fiber, and allergens.
Thus, what I actually eat may be completely inappropriate for you because of your age, health history, weight, ancestry, and a multitude of other factors that make the two of us so different. In addition, very few people take professional-grade supplements on a regular basis, so following in my footsteps may quickly lead you to undernutrition.
Also, responding to this question is a thankless endeavor because, inevitably, most people will end up interpreting my answer with respect to themselves: “Oh, I can't eat like that;” or “Oh, it's too little for me;” or “Oh, it‘s too much for me,” and so on.
If you are still not satisfied with my response, reading this page — The Ingredients of Longevity Nutrition — will give you a good overview of the key principles behind my diet. I also allude to what I eat in some detail in the last two chapters of Fiber Menace.
I‘ve only made one change since completing that book and launching this site — I no longer consume alcoholic beverages with most dinners because they started to affect my sleep, weight, and mood. This, in turn, started to impact my credibility (from not looking the part), productivity (from lousy sleep), and quality of life (from both of the above) in more ways than one, so giving up a glass or two of wine or sake with dinner wasn't such a big deal, at least for me.
Finally, if you are reading this, it is most likely because you have already damaged your health and digestion after reading one of those “repeat after me” books or blogs dedicated to diet and nutrition, so I am not about to cause you even more harm by promoting my own dietary preferences. If anything, I am not a zealot (or a fool).
Q. Do you eat out often?
Eating out without overeating is a huge challenge. It's also next to impossible to dine out in most restaurants, particularly ethnic, without ingesting MSG, gluten, excess sodium, soluble fibers, or some other junk.
Tatyana and I are so 'clean' on the inside, and for so long, that we acutely feel additives that are routinely added to restaurant foods. This isn't just MSG, but also countless commercial sauces and spices that may contain highly allergenic ingredients.
Some people, who are accustomed to taste and appetite enhancers, may not notice them. But when one does, it means unwelcomed anxiety, sleeplessness, migraine headaches and so on. No good either.
Tatyana loves sashimi. To get really good sashimi, we have to drive down to Manhattan. It's time-consuming and expensive, so we don't do it often.
Q. Where do you buy your food?
Our food shopping is more like foraging. We drive around a good half of Northern New Jersey to gather our usual staples.
We procure Australian lamb at Costco in Clifton; fresh-caught fish and vegetables at a Korean supermarket in Little Ferry or Fort Lee (H-Mart); ground beef, lamb necks (for stew), organic coffee, organic rice, rice pasta, and cat food at Whole Foods in Paramus; home-made pickles and Alpine butter at a Russian market in Fair Lawn; authentic Prosciutto De Parma and half-decent mozzarella at Market Basket in Franklin Lakes, and so on. I am sure with a tiny bit of effort you can find similar or better foods almost anywhere.
We rely on local supermarkets for heavy cream, toiletries, organic eggs, natural sour cream, and French or Italian table wines for Tatyana and guests — unlike vintage wines or domestic fare, table wines from Europe are practically sulfites-free, and don't cause headaches “the morning after.”
Q. Do you buy only organic food?
Yes, we prefer organic, but aren't really paranoid about it for several reasons. First, we don't eat fresh fruits, and buy few vegetables—mainly hydroponic tomatoes and cucumbers. Hothouse veggies aren't exposed to herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers as much as are conventional ones. They, in fact, may be 'cleaner' than 'organic' varieties from open fields, because they also don't get exposed to acid rain, air pollution, and residual soil contamination from the pre-organic era.
Second, we buy mainly imported (Australian, New Zealand, or Icelandic) beef and lamb. These meats come from free-range grazing animals, so they‘re as wholesome as domestic organic meats—and much tastier.
Costco is a great source for Australian lamb, and our local ShopRite often has superb Australian free-range beef. We buy only organic eggs, chicken, and occasional ground beef at Whole Foods—or the local supermarket, which resembles Whole Foods more and more.
Q. How do you feed your cats?
We adopted two strays in 1999. Dusik (a Russian diminutive for soulful) and Nosik (a diminutive for nose) are fraternal twins. They were born in our backyard, and we took over after their mother-cat left them to fend for themselves.
Despite our 'dog' lover background, which included a firm contempt for cats, it was love at first sight, and it's been growing ever since. Michael Reagan, a son of the late President Reagan, once remarked that cats are like children, but don't need tuition. If we ever develop deep wrinkles, they will be from smiling all the time our cats are close by.
After we brought Dusik and Nosik home, on the vet's advice we fed them dry premium food—a significant source of fiber. Shortly thereafter, I noticed that their stools were unusually large relative to their tiny bodies, and that they strained long and hard. Also, they were drinking non-stop and urinating profusely.
Following an urgent 'concilium' with Tatyana, we concluded that cats in nature feast exclusively on birds and rodents, and chomp on fresh grasses. No dry food in nature. No processed fiber. So no more dry food in our house.
We then experimented with different types of organic canned food. Soon we found the ones they like the most (PetGuard), and phased out the dry food. Their stools normalized, and they stopped straining, drinking, and urinating excessively.
We give them raw minced beef or organic liver every other day. They don't like fish, and don't express any interest in our food. Dusik weighs 10 lb, Nosik—13 lb. Their weight hasn‘t changed since 2000, when they were fully grown.
Ideally, cats this age should eat only once a day. Ours eat twice, about 3 oz each in the morning and in the evening. They are creatures of habit, and we don't have the nerve to stop that pleasure for them.
We regularly add a drop of cod liver oil and acidophilus from our capsules into their food. Before raw meat (a source of iron), they were also getting iron supplements once a week, after I noticed Dusik intensely licking a cast-iron skillet. We also grow fresh wheat grass year around, and, occasionally, 'dope' them with catnip (if you don't have a cat, that's a cat's version of pot, only legal). Nosik loves to get high, but Dusik doesn't care for it.
Nosik drinks water occasionally, but I've never seen Dusik drinking—he gets all his water with moist food. We used to buy Nosik Icelandic bottled water—his favorite, but in the last few years he has developed a taste for flat S.Pellegrino.
Finally, before we all go to bed, the 'kids' get a few drops of heavy cream mixed with water. That's our nightly ritual.
The last time they saw a doctor was when they were neutered in 1999. Since then, there has been no need. Our local animal shelter provides hassle-free periodic vaccination.
I have read a lot about IBS, hemorrhoids, colitis, kidney failure, diabetes, arthritis, arrhythmia, fibromyalgia, and other “human” diseases that affect cats. That's not surprising — human-like nutrition yields human-like diseases and misery.
Despite the substantial cost of fresh meat, zoos don't feed their wild cats (lions, leopard, jaguars, etc.) with dirt-cheap dry food. Veterinarians trained in wildlife medicine simply won't allow it. Besides, these cats are treasured acquisitions, so their handlers feed them accordingly. Probably better than themselves, that's for sure.
Q. Why are you so passionate about children's health?
If I wasn't who I once was, I wouldn‘t have become who I am. My own health was screwed up big time by 'healthy' nutrition. Growing up in a well-to-do family in the fifties and sixties, I had already been eating an abundant high-carb, high-fiber diet year-round.
For me, all that meant persistent migraines, depression, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders (AD/HD), somewhat stunted growth, countless cavities, hemorrhoids in my teens, unrelenting IBS in my twenties and thirties, and, finally, diabetes by 40.
I was also exceptionally aggressive in my late teens, early twenties, even though I didn't have a build for that kind of behavior. You can probably sense that innate aggression from my self-portrait on the left that I took in 1977. During those times I was picking fights with guys twice my size and strength. I finally stopped when somebody hit me in the face with a brick—you can take only so many bricks head on...
Now, of course, I realize the source of that rage. Just like the rest of AD/HD, it was an outcome of sky-high blood sugar (source of energy) and an elevated level of insulin (fight-or-flight response hormone, in my case — fight), two conditions typical of my diet. These two 'cancers' turn otherwise normal kids into little monsters, who can't stop self-destructing until all that pent-up energy gets expended or pummeled down with downers.
Not surprisingly, when I got older, I found a 'perfect' antidote—cigarettes and alcohol. American kids are doping themselves instead to curb aggression or treat depression. Lucky ones get prescription drugs like Ritalin or Adderall. Disadvantaged kids get the illicit drugs, like crack or pot. (I quit smoking cold turkey in 1984 on a bet.)
Same causes, just a different approach to medication or self-medication. As far as I am concerned, it's so much easier to remove sodas, cereals, juices, candies, and cookies from children's diets than to dope kids into submission with prescription meds, or let them dope themselves. And it‘s cheaper than building more prisons and training more prison guards. Drugs, prison—whatever way you do it, young lives are ruined for nothing. And, quite often, parents' lives are ruined too.
Back to your question: for every child my work helps, God gives me credit. I need a lot of credits to ameliorate my own upbringing and reverse the effects of latter-day damage. You can call it passion, if you wish.
Q. Why didn't you become a doctor?
Ever since I remember myself, I wanted to be a journalist, not a doctor. But in those years journalistic colleges in the Soviet Union were off-limits for Jews. That rabid anti-Semitism and a dead-end, uncertain future were the reasons why we emigrated to the United States.
When I enrolled into medical school (Lvov State Medical University, 1972), the M.D. track was 6 years, pharmaceutical track—just 4.5, which suited me much better. But dispensing pills all day long behind the counter wasn't exactly my life's calling. That's why, as soon as I recognized that, I decided to get into the high-tech field. The rest was pure luck, happenstance, serendipity, and lots and lots of hard work—until I got hit by carpal tunnel syndrome and no longer could use the keyboard and mouse.
My hands are fine now, even after five books, hundreds of articles, several web sites, and gazillions of daily e-mails. I have banged on the keyboard 10-15 hours a day, almost every day for the last 10 years. Not bad for someone who, a decade earlier, had to drive with his knees because of unbearable pain in both wrists.
I didn't do anything particularly specific to 'treat' carpal tunnel syndrome. All my efforts have been addressed towards the recovery from diabetes. As soon as I was diabetes-free, all other complications, including carpal tunnel syndrome, gradually receded on their own. That (the reversal of sugar diabetes) was the subject of my Russian-language book Reversing Metabolic Syndrome.
Q. You could have become a great doctor. Do you want to become one now?
I feel I wasn't born to be a doctor, but rather a rabbi or a priest. Unfortunately, I grew up in the wrong place and in the wrong time. So becoming a medical writer and performance nutrition counselor is the next best thing to being an ordained physician. Nowadays, more people beg for forgiveness in the hospitals and medical offices than in the pews. Ultimately, I've got to write and deliver my own sermons, which may also heal, improve, and enrich.
I admire and respect doctors. It's an incredibly tough (on call 24/7, witnessing so much suffering), risky (germs and all), and mostly thankless (patients die no matter how good you are) job.
True, doctors get paid well, but, as far as I am concerned, they deserve every penny of it considering the professional risks and investments (of time and money) they make into becoming one. But I really can't do it regardless of the pay and glory, even if there were no risks. Also, consider this:
— First, you don't need to be a doctor to be a good medical writer, just like a medical doctor doesn't have to be a writer to be a good doctor. (Medical education is a big plus for a writer, and I already have one.)
— Second, even the very best doctor can substantively help only a limited number of people on any given day. On the other hand, my books will eventually help millions.
— Third, if by “great doctor” you mean a physician who devotes inordinate amounts of time to each patient, makes sure they get well, and ensures they never return for more tests, more checkups, and more drugs—in today's business environment that's a certain prescription for Chapter 11, just as described in this article by The New York Times: Many Doctors, Many Tests, No Rhyme or Reason. So I may sometimes come across as naïve and altruistic, but I am certainly not stupid or munificent at my family's expense.
— Finally, there is a substantial difference between what medical writers and medical doctors do. I strive to teach my readers not to get sick. Doctors get confronted with sick patients, and work hard to save their lives. That's a tough and honorable job—but, ultimately, not the one I can do or would like to do.
Q. Are you the author of those caricatures?
I wish. I sketch them in words, sometimes in pen, and pass those descriptions over to a genius and genuinely great human being whose name is Eugene Kran. His sharp eye and unflinching brush gives them their character and gusto.
Eugene is a professional illustrator based in Tumen, Russia, and I am honored to have his illustrations in my Russian-language books and on this site. They make these depressing pages less somber. They are hilariously funny. If laughter is the best medicine, then they are our gift to you.
Interestingly, Eugene's wife — Dr. Svetlana Lapik, PhD, M.D., is a Professor of Medicine, and the Dean of The Nursing Department at the Tumen's Medical Academy. This “up close and personal” connection explains Eugene‘s uncanny insights into the characters of his jovial cartoons, and why they are so deliciously alive.
After reading both of my Russian-language books (that he so lovingly illustrated), and despite the concerns of his mother-in-law, who is a retired physician, Eugene wholeheartedly embraced the concept of functional nutrition described there. This change has helped him to overcome severe hypoglycemia that has plagued him since childhood, and reenergized his career. He is now one of the most recognized and prolific cartoonists in Russia. Not surprisingly, his mother-in-law has turned into a “believer,” especially when it applies to the family cat!
Q. Are your books as personal as this site?
A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. A medical writer who writes about and 'around' himself has a fool for a reader! For this reason my books are factual, not biographical. You can easily recognize this from perusing the chapters on this site.
I mention myself in passing in the last three chapters of Fiber Menace, which deal with recovery from fiber addiction and transition to low-fiber nutrition. I learned the perils of transition first-hand, survived them, and helped a lot of people to do the same. That kind of experience is priceless. Otherwise, I keep myself out of my books, because my personal travails and biases are anecdotal and aren‘t representative.
Dr. Ornish is a prominent example of the “do onto others what you've done onto yourself” school of medical writing. He happens to be a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco — a place perfectly suitable for year-round long-distance running.
An upper-class, middle-aged, healthy, and athletic intellectual living in California can indeed load himself to the gills with fruits and grains all day long, because he can burn off all of the over-consumed energy by pumping iron and running around gorgeous, sunny grounds under the gaze of an admiring faculty and students.
Try to imitate that feat year-round in Maine, Minnesota, or even New Jersey, particularly before or after your full-time day job. Factor in rambling traffic, insidious pollution, incessant noise, inclement weather, unwelcoming surroundings, and, often, no sidewalks.
Not surprisingly, the majority of those who heed Dr. Ornish‘s advice aren't remotely close to living his upscale lifestyle. Nonetheless, they load themselves with dirt-cheap carbs just as diligently—but instead of becoming fit, trim, and famous, they end up fat, miserable, and diabetic. And some direct their pent-up energy into road rage, drinking, or drugs instead of teaching, writing, and running.
Not surprisingly, the majority of “repeat after me” health books come from California, Florida, or Hawaii. Since I am still stuck in Northern New Jersey, no, my books aren't personal.
Q. Do you exercise?
To keep my spine supple, I stretch out each morning, and, weather permitting, walk briskly for several miles outside. On bad days I pedal the elliptical or run on the treadmill for a similar distance inside.
Also, from mid-spring until mid-autumn, while it is still relatively warm on our screened porch, I play high-speed table tennis against a robot. Each workout lasts for about 40-45 minutes, and I try to do it almost every evening.
Two years ago I started working out with a trainer several times a week. At first, I was anxious regarding my ability to sustain the aftereffects of intense training, but after a brief while my body adjusted better than I was expecting.
Also, luck has it, my resistance to stress is relatively high. But since I've started exercising this way, it's gotten even higher. So it's definitely worth the time, money, and effort to keep this program going.
I love winter sports, but that decade-old bout with diabetes killed the enjoyment because of a non-stop running nose and frequent colds. Now I am fine, but still kind of “allergic” to the cold, so, for now, no more skiing and skating.
Just like most post-collegiate-age emigrants from the continent, and with zero parenting experience, I am disfranchised from all American sports, and that saves me lots of time for work and other fun pursuits.
Q. How did you learn to write so well considering that English is your second language?
Writing is part gift, part hard labor. In my case the ratio is 1 part gift, 10 parts hard labor. I go over my texts over and over until they feel just right. Then, I let it rest. Another rewrite, another rest, until I am 95% happy. Trying to go after the last 5% means failure and depression, so I let it go at the 96% stage.
Many people are surprised to learn that writing in the Russian language — my native tongue — is many times more difficult for me than in English. Actually, the reasons behind this ‘anomaly’ are fairly prosaic. Russian hasn‘t been my “working language” since 1978, which means the following: I don't read much anything in Russian; I am behind the curve on the language development; all of my background research is English, and it needs to be translated; and I don't have as good on-line references, thesaurus, and dictionaries in Russian as in English — a must for a writer.
Technical merits aside, I also don't particularly enjoy writing in Russian, and the motivation isn't there because the pool of prospective Russian-language readers, and the potential for commercial success is correspondingly smaller, a lot smaller. Yes, professional writers have to think about these mercantile things too for the same reason non-writers seek job security, advancements, and pay raises.
On top of all of the above, Russian is harder than English to write because it usually takes twice as many words to express a similar thought or concept. That lack of brevity drives me nuts because I adore the laconic specificity of my beloved English.
People often ask me about Nabokov‘s extraordinary English, and this makes me laugh. English, not Russian, was Nabokov‘s first language. Apparently, his wealthy parents detested Russian — a peasant‘s language, — and he hadn‘t heard a word of Russian until he was 5 years old. I hadn‘t heard much English until I was 24!
Finally, I think in English, so, actually, writing in Russian is like translating my thoughts in real time, and this takes twice as much energy to the point of causing an occasional headache.
Spoken language is a different story. Although my spoken English is head-and-shoulders more expressive than my Russian, I am less self-conscious while speaking Russian. Interestingly, when I am speaking publicly, I lose that self-consciousness, and my English-language facilities dramatically improve. But small talk is often a problem. Probably for this reason many people take me for a dunce!
Oh, well, this is the story of my life regardless of the language. This, probably, explains why I became a writer — the audience, even an imaginary one, charges me up to the point of getting a “high.” From all other possible ways of getting high, medical writing is probably one of the healthiest, safest, and least expensive. And if one gets lucky, it also pays well. Not as well as writing about Harry Potter, but after the first billion, who cares. Just kidding…
A large part of this was edited by Terry Robottom. I am grateful to Terry for his dedication and patience with my numerous rewrites, revisions, and revulsions. Without his volunteering to edit my early writings, I simply couldn't afford to write and publish so prolifically.
On top of that, Terry is refreshingly non-judgmental, and this gave me a greater latitude to use humor and irony throughout the site. His only “shortcoming" — Terry is a Brit, and his “UK English” spellchecker sometimes leaves me flummoxed and befuddled!
Q. Your book/site really helped me. How can I tell others about it?
Thank you. Please post your story on Amazon.com, your blog, or social network page. Carbon copy it to your friends and colleagues via e-mail. Post it on your company's bulletin board. Send a note about it to your local radio or TV station. This way your account will find a much larger audience. Please, don't forget to include a link to this site.
I realize that my work is polarizing, and that some people may hate the messenger (of bad news). Others have a vested interest in hating me, and some are simply attention-seeking nuts. But there is little I can do about it—if you place your book on Amazon, you take it all, good and bad.
Fortunately, there are always more positive comments than negative, so I am blessed.