Fresh Pots, Whiskey, and Six Pack Abs: An Interview with Greatist’s CEO Derek Flanzraich

When I was an impressionable teenager, I devoured popular fitness magazines to learn the “secret” to healthy living.

Each article was like a hit of crack. Now I finally knew how to be healthy! It’s about salmon… or Tabata sprints… or that new fad diet. I think.

But like you’ve surely noticed too, each magazine starts to look eerily similar after awhile. How many ways are there to get six pack abs or lose body fat? And then the article titles increasingly made me cringe:

  • The 8-Hour Diet!
  • Look Great Naked! [confession: I still read this one]
  • Hot Body Fast!
  • Scrawny to Brawny in Just 8 Weeks!

Cut the bullshit people! But the titles aren’t the biggest problem: most of these publications are fluff pieces that sell advertising. When your main business is ads, it’s tempting to write sensationalist articles. That’s why there’s zero advertising on Strength Running (and I turn down 1-2 requests every single week) – I’d rather focus on high-quality articles for you.Derek Flanzraich

So naturally, I was thrilled to interview Derek Flanzraich, the founder and CEO of Greatist – the fastest growing site in the health and fitness space with over 3 million (!) visitors every month. Greatist is a social health and fitness startup working to make healthy living cool.

But more importantly, Greatist is legitimate: each claim is cited by a PubMed study, every story is thoroughly verified and expert approved. Just recently I was asked to be part of their Expert Network and of course, I was excited to help.

Now Derek is about to unleash some knowledge bombs, dispel popular misconceptions, and explain why finally getting a six-pack made no difference to his level of happiness.


Healthy Living… and Ice Cream?

Jason: One of the things that I love about you is that you’re unabashedly vocal about liking things that aren’t considered healthy. You like ice cream and whiskey. You talk about Shake Shake a lot. And this is from a guy who founded a health and wellness media company! Can you share your philosophy on diet and junk food?

Derek: Heck yeah. My story is that I grew up struggling with my health and weight big time, but felt like everywhere I turned to in the health space was trying to sell me something, wasn’t really on my side, and didn’t understand me.

It blew my mind that there wasn’t a modern consumer health brand that people could really trust and turn to, that spoke to them as a real friend… so I became obsessed with building a brand that brought together extraordinarily high quality with a powerfully friendly and accessible perspective.

From day one that perspective was basically that you don’t have to be the greatest all the time, but instead a “greatist” and make healthy choices some of the time. That step-by-step approach to health is really powerful and, at least from my personal perspective, much longer-lasting.

There’s never been a word before for someone just trying to get healthier, someone working towards being healthy their own way– so that’s what a “greatist” is and why we believe in it! In my opinion there can always be room for whiskey, ice cream, and Shake Shack (sometimes even on the same day) as long as it’s a choice I’m consciously making, you know?

Choose right or choose wrong, but at least I’m choosing – and just knowing I can choose makes me a “greatist.”

Six Pack Abs In Six Weeks

Jason: You did an experiment that I love – you got six pack abs in six weeks, which is a top goal for most guys. But the funny thing is that at the end of the experiment, you admitted it made you NO happier! Can you explain some of your reasoning and why it’s a bad idea to chase superficial goals?

Derek: This experiment (we actually affectionately called it an “#absperiment” at the time) has actually been on my mind a lot recently since it ended just a little over a year ago. I’m writing a follow-up post for Greatist to share some of the lasting impact it had on me, but there’s still no doubt in my mind that you don’t need six pack abs in six weeks to be happy.

In fact for the brief few hours that I had them (and definitely the weeks leading up to it) I was totally miserable. That doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently wrong with six pack abs, actually – if that’s important to you, they’re possible to achieve! But the question I wanted to ask is whether that’s actually what people want, or if they’re using the goal of “six pack abs” as a stand-in for something else.

A superficial goal is fine as long as it’s just that: superficial. But if it’s actually your attempt to look in the mirror and feel better about yourself, there are so many more powerful and long-lasting ways to accomplish that. At least that’s what my conclusion at the end of a torturous six weeks was. They’re not important to me.

I’d much rather have chips and guac with my buddies every now and then than look shredded – but that’s my healthy, not yours. All I’m saying (sound familiar?) is that everyone’s healthy is different and that healthy should equal happy however you define it, not how someone else defines it.

Fresh Pots!

Jason: You’re a big-time coffee lover, which makes me automatically like you more. Are there “do’s and don’ts” to enjoying coffee but still keeping it healthy? How do you do it?

Derek: I’m still struck by how many people are surprised to hear that overwhelming scientific evidence now points to coffee being super healthy for you (it’s often the popular science trends that people are just sure of that are the hardest to displace. See: anything with saturated fat, for example.)

Of course, the key is to do it right, which basically means, as I’m sure you know, skipping the “coffee drinks” and learning to love the black stuff on its own. It’s the cream and sugar that get people into trouble. A huge revelation for me was putting cinnamon in my coffee, which is a habit I picked up a few years ago and haven’t looked back since and definitely helped me transition from the half & half.

I’ve also been drinking roughly the same amount every morning for a long time, so drinking coffee for me isn’t about the caffeine as much as it is about the ritual. Taking time every morning to enjoy my coffee is a small indulgence I allow myself, and rituals like this are known to have similar effects as meditation on the brain.

Basically what I’m saying is that I’m a big, big fan.

Jason: See also: FRESH POTS!

Getting Healthy 101


Jason: Alright, to wrap up, what’s your #1 recommendation (besides reading Greatist, of course) for someone who is just starting on their journey to get healthy, lose weight, and lead a more active lifestyle? What’s your favorite book about this topic?

Derek: Well I definitely think Greatist isn’t a bad place to start! I’m not an expert, but for people just getting started I almost always suggest a few thing: first, find something active that you love to do. That could be walking the dog, going for a run, doing CrossFit, playing basketball, joining mud runs, whatever.

Healthy should be fun and I think it’s important for people to associate “getting healthy” with something awesome that you’re looking forward to instead of “torture” or something you just “have to do.” So that’s one.

Second is finding someone online that you’re inspired by, whose voice resonates with you, and whom you can trust to guide you to things that work. That someone could be this great guy I know, Jason Fitzgerald from Strength Running, but it could also be practically anyone.

There’s definitely never been a better time to reach and connect with brilliant, passionate, and motivating health and fitness champions online. Go find one that speaks to you!

Are You a Greatist?

Last weekend as I was drinking beer at noon, I thought to myself: this is not how a competitive runner should train. But then I reminded myself that I’m not a professional athlete and what I do most of the time is more important than what I do some of the time.

Like Derek said: healthy is happy. Drinking beer at noon isn’t exactly healthy. But it makes me happy and once in awhile if I consciously choose to day drink, I’m ok with that!

How about you – what strategic decisions do you make to balance your health with running?

What indulgences do you allow yourself? Do you feel guilty?

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