The Next Brand, Episode #10

Curing hiccups, how to stay healthy and feeding 150k+ people

Hi there, and welcome to The Next Brand - my take on health, wellness and brand building.

In the last 4 years I’ve founded 2 health brands (Kettle & Fire and Perfect Keto), which did nearly $100mm in revenue in 2019. I’ve raised ~$20mm to build Kettle & Fire, gotten into 10k+ retail stores, bootstrapped Perfect Keto, launched 80+ SKUs… and have a small portfolio of Shopify apps I run on the side. Previously, I worked in tech and had no experience in CPG, DTC or any other 3-letter industries.

If you missed past episodes, you can catch up here (Episode 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 07, 08, 09). Otherwise, let’s dive in.

🆕 What’s new

In June, a member of the Kettle & Fire squad had the hiccups. For 10 hours. 

Then, he figured out how to cure them (seriously). So, in today’s “what’s new” section, I bring you… how to actually cure hiccups, by the esteemed Kyle Krull of Kettle & Fire. Kyle, take it away!

***

Let me start by saying that I have always hated the hiccups.  HATED. Why?

  • They’re uncomfortable

  • They prevent me from eating

  • They prevent me from drinking

  • They’re mentally and physically exhausting

  • And for whatever reason, when I get them, they seem to last.  I’m not talking minutes, I’m talking hours...and they seem to come back easily after going away.

This year I have been dealing with some medical issues.  Something I’ve never really had to face before, and for the first time in my life, I am consistently taking prescription medications (which I also hate).  One of the side effects of one of these medications is my arch-nemesis, hiccups.

On June 5th, 2020, I had the hiccups for 10 hours. 

10.  

Miserable.  

Hours. 

During those hours, I did the classic, “how to get rid of the hiccups” google search and spent an embarrassing amount of time trying various at home “remedies” to cure my hiccups.  Some of these remedies included (but are not limited to):

  • Holding my breath and swallowing three times.

  • Breathing into a paper bag.

  • Drinking a glass of water quickly.

  • Swallowing a teaspoon of sugar.

  • Pulling on my tongue.

  • Gargling with water.

  • Taking a shot of apple cider vinegar.

  • Drinking water from the opposite side of the glass.

  • Biting a pencil while drinking water

  • Etc.

Nothing worked. 

After tiring of trying these “remedies” for literally hours, I had decided to accept my fate and just let the hiccups run their course.  I tried meditating and finding “inner peace”...no dice. 

So I changed tack. I thought I’d do some research into what actually causes the hiccups.

Findings:

“Hiccups are caused by involuntary contractions of your diaphragm — the muscle that separates your chest from your abdomen and plays an important role in breathing. This involuntary contraction causes your vocal cords to close very briefly, which produces the characteristic sound of a hiccup.” - Mayo Clinic

There seems to be no identifiable “cause” for hiccups, but there are some common triggers:

  • Drinking carbonated beverages

  • Drinking too much alcohol

  • Eating too much

  • Excitement or emotional stress

  • Sudden temperature changes

  • Swallowing air with chewing gum or sucking on candy

For me, eating too quickly or eating something really spicy would often cause a single “warning” hiccup...as if my body were saying “I’m warning you...if you continue eating at this rate (or eating this spicy food) I’m going to cause you mildly infuriating levels of discomfort for an extended period of time.”

While I was doing this research, my girlfriend had recommended ANOTHER breathing exercise, which I had at first written off, but something about it seemed different. 

It was simple.  

  1. Fully extend your arms and hold them perpendicular to your chest.

  2. Take a deep breath while simultaneously raising your arms over your head.  

  3. Hold your breath as long as you can, keeping your arms raised. 

  4. Exhale slowly while lowering your arms.

This struck a chord.  

Background:  In 2019 I took a freediving course and spent a few months training to increase my breath-hold and practicing different breathing / breath-hold techniques.  The “arms above the head” part of this technique reminded me of the final inhale in freediving and my mind immediately shifted and everything started making sense. 

  • Most of the stupid “remedies” for hiccups involve holding your breath.

    • Personal theory - all the weird ways to drink water are kind of ploys to get you to hold your breath without thinking about it.

      • Why?

        • Because holding your breath is uncomfortable.

          • Is this an excessive use of bullet points?

            • Probably

Anyway - one of the first things you learn in a freediving course is WHY holding your breath is uncomfortable. I, like most people, assumed it was because my body was running out of oxygen.  Right?  WRONG. 

Holding your breath is uncomfortable because it stops an essential function called Gas Exchange.

“Gas exchange is the delivery of oxygen from the lungs to the bloodstream, and the elimination of carbon dioxide from the bloodstream to the lungs. It occurs in the lungs between the alveoli and a network of tiny blood vessels called capillaries, which are located in the walls of the alveoli.” - MedlinePlus

Holding your breath is not uncomfortable because you’re running out of oxygen, it’s uncomfortable because there is a buildup of carbon dioxide in your bloodstream.  

When you hold your breath, gas exchange stops.  There’s enough oxygen in your system to continue sitting or laying wherever you’re holding your breath, otherwise, you’d lose consciousness.  It’s the lack of exhale that is the problem.  Your body has no way of getting rid of that CO2 if you’re not exhaling, and with every additional second of breath-holding your body is converting more oxygen into more CO2 that cannot escape. 

How does this relate to freediving and/or hiccups??

First of all, what is freediving?

“Diving into deep waters on one breath and without any breathing apparatus is referred to as ‘freediving’. Freedivers use inward control, discipline and power to descend into the ocean while holding their breath until they resurface.” - PADI

The first thing every freediver wants to learn is how to increase their breath-hold.  As we now know, holding your breath is uncomfortable because of CO2 buildup, so freedivers train to increase their CO2 tolerance using CO2 Tables.  We won’t get into the specifics here, but basically, CO2 tables are designed to increase an individual’s tolerance to CO2 buildup in the body.   

How?  

When you hold your breath for a long enough period of time, your brain will get irritated with you and send physical signals that are designed to make you gasp for breath.  In the freedive world, these are called IBMs or Involuntary Breathing Movements.  These take place...IN YOUR  DIAPHRAGM.  The purpose of CO2 tables is to induce these spasms for longer and longer periods of time (starting small) and to learn when to expect the onset and how to remain calm and relaxed these convulsions.

After having this Epiphone I had an idea.  

What if I held my breath long to induce IBMs to get rid of hiccups (involuntary diaphragm spasms)?  In other words, can I force stronger, less rhythmic spasms to throw my hiccups out of wack long enough that they’ll go away?

The answer - YES.   

After 10 Hours of hiccups, I decided to try the technique my girlfriend had recommended, with a  couple of additions from my limited experience in freediving.

The Technique

  1. Forcibly exhale all the oxygen out of your body using your diaphragm.

  2. Fully extend your arms and hold them perpendicular to your chest.

  3. Take a deep 2 part breath while simultaneously raising your arms over your head. 

    1. Part one, use your diaphragm to breath in

    2. Use your chest to breath in 

  4. Hold your breath until your diaphragm starts to contract and spasm, keeping your arms raised. 

  5. Continue to hold your breath for between 15 and 30 seconds after the spasms begin.

    1. In my experience, 15 seconds is the minimum amount of spasm duration to “cure” the hiccups.

  6. Exhale slowly while lowering your arms.

And your hiccups will be gone. Since I’ve started using this technique, I’ve been able to cure my hiccups EVERY SINGLE TIME I get them. That said, I have had to repeat the technique twice a handful of times and even had to three-peat once. 

Why the hands over your head?  

  1. The raising of the arms will help open your chest cavity so you can take a bigger inhale.

  2. I have a theory that keeping your diaphragm stretched while inducing the spasm makes the technique more effective.  I have no proof of this - pure theory. 

One more thing.  I am not a doctor, and breath holds can be dangerous.  This Healthline article is a great summary covering some of what I’ve written + the benefits and dangers of breath holds. 

***

Is this off topic relative to what we normally cover here? Absolutely. But it’s also my newsletter so 🤷‍♂️. Thanks Kyle!

💪 Health stuff

Probably the largest shift I’ve made over the last decade health-wise is a shift towards prioritizing food quality over almost anything else. When I started going paleo, I’d go HAM on terrible quality stuff that fit my macros (hello low-grade store bought beef!). After all, it was Paleo - I’m being healthy! 

As I’ve understood more of the impact food has on our health, environment and community, I’m now more likely to enjoy a pizza with super high quality ingredients (one that really does not fit my macros) than I am a burger made with factory farmed beef. 

This year, I’ve started to think more and more about what a food system focused on quality would look like. And have come to the conclusion that a decentralized food system - one that doesn’t rely on 8 food companies for 80%+ of America’s caloric intake - would be a big step in the right direction. 

One of the largest issues with our food system today is the lack of accounting for negative externalities. Big Food creates products that make people sick, and externalize that cost onto the US healthcare system (and thus the US taxpayer). Big Food harms the environment, and makes the government + populace pay for it. Big Food lobbies to influence school lunch guidelines, and pizza is now a vegetable. Big Food doesn’t know you or the communities it sells products into, nor does it care. 

This math changes when you have a more decentralized food system. When farmers are growing food in the same community they sell to, there’s a tighter feedback loop between farmer, consumer, environment and health. Some things work well at scale: others don’t. At this point, I’m fairly convinced the modern-day food system is completely broken at scale (as I touched on in my last newsletter). 

As a conscious, health-oriented consumer, what do you do? How do you opt out of a food system that’s literally killing people and the planet? This is an evolving area of interest for me, but there are a few things you can do:

  1. Buy from farmers and ranchers on Eat Wild - the best collection of farmers and ranchers following grass-fed and pasturing practices that I’m aware of today.

  2. If Eat Wild doesn’t have many good options near you, that’s okay. You can still get super high-quality, regeneratively-raised meats from Force of Nature (disclosure, I’m an investor). These guys source meats only from regeneratively raised sources of incredible quality and ship anywhere in the country. I especially love their ancestral blends, which blend beef/bison with heart and liver to increase nutrient density without any offal flavor.

  3. Subscribe to a CSA (Local Harvest has a great directory) and get fresh produce delivered to you from local farmers. Or, frequent farmer’s markets and get to know your local farmers. Ask them about regenerative ag, the challenges they face, and how they think about building soil health. As I’ve gone to more markets over the past year I’ve found it endlessly interesting to get their perspective on regenerative, soil health and the current food system.

  4. Cook! Seriously, cooking more meals is one of the best ways to opt out of the toxic food system. To start with, when you’re cooking at home it’s highly unlikely that you’ll use toxic industrially processed seed oils (canola, etc) in your cooking: you know, the ones that 99%+ of restaurants use. Really - between Austin and San Francisco, I’m only aware of 3 restaurants (Picnik, Kitava and Little Gem) that make a point not to use these awful seed oils. And honestly, cooking is fun. I started quarantine fully unable to cook a meal for myself. Since then, my girlfriend and I have been cooking our way through Made Whole (5 star recommend) and it’s been fun both learning a new skill while also improving our health. When you know every oil and ingredient that goes into your food, it’s a lot easier to stay healthy.

  5. Grow your own food (at least some of it). Even if you live somewhere where it’s not realistic to have a full garden + raise chickens (like me), growing your own stuff is super rewarding. You could start a container farm, get a seed sheet (which we did), or get a Smart Garden just because it’s fun and looks cool. 

For more resources, check out Sacred Cow’s resource page. Overall, I think getting closer to your food system is one of the most important investments you can make in your health and your planet. 

🤑 Biz stuff

This month, I’m proud to reveal a food security project I’ve been working on since the COVID crisis began - HelpKitchen.org. Along with Eric Ries, Jeff Nobbs, and Brent Summers - and incredibly generous funding from Twilio founder Jeff Lawson - we’ve built a program that’s fed 175k people since our launch in late April, and kept nearly $2mm in the local SF and Detroit economies. 

For those who need a meal, they simply send a text to HelpKitchen and tell us what neighborhood they’re in and how many meals they need. We then match them with a partner restaurant who prepares their meals for pickup. 

For restaurants, they get to feed those in need in their community while also generating revenue to keep them in business. 

For donors, they donate to feed the hungry in their community while also keeping restaurants in business, and restaurant employees still working. 

It’s this approach that we launched at the end of April. Since that launch (and with a $0 budget and  an all-volunteer team) we’ve served 175,000+ meals, contributed $1.5mm+ to the San Francisco and Detroit restaurant economies, and raised $2.3mm in total for the HelpKitchen operation. I’m incredibly proud of the work we’ve done here, and excited to see the organization grow and scale. 

If you’re interested in more of the nitty-gritty of how we validated and built HelpKitchen, I did a longer writeup on Eric’s Startup Lessons Learned blog. This newsletter is already long enough, so take a peek there if you want more details around how we tested, validated and spun this up! 

😌 Dope stuff on the internet

Some of my favorite things since the last newsletter (note: I don’t get paid to recommend anything here):

  • 📰 Article - If you’ve ever wondered why healthcare seems so broken and expensive, this article does a good job telling some of the history of our faulty medical system. It also points to a potential solution: Direct Primary Care. I.e., getting doctors more intimately involved in the health of their patients once again. Apparently what happens in the food system also happens in primary care: the more removed the producer (doctor) is from the consumer, the worse overall outcomes are.

  • 📚Book rec - Sacred Cow. WOW it’s been a while since I’ve highlighted a book this much (well, 2 months since reading Food Fix. But still - lots of highlights). One of the most concerning trends I’m seeing is the trend to demonize all things meat. Animals are a critical piece of a healthy planet and thriving ecosystem: no matter how much money Beyond Meat and their ilk spend to say otherwise. This book is the best refutation I’ve read around why animals are literally necessary to a healthy food system with healthy humans. It also debunks some common myths (like a pound of beef requires 2000 gallons of water), and shows how raising cattle is actually far better for the planet than the current monocropping system.

  • Cool product - I heard a quote recently: “Find three hobbies you love: one to make you money, one to keep you in shape, and one to be creative”. Well, since quarantine began I’ve found the hobby that keeps me in shape… biking! I’ve been getting out a few times a week to explore the gorgeous Tahoe area and been absolutely loving it. To that end, my favorite (cheap) product has been downloading Strava, a super useful app to track your rides and high five friends. On the more expensive side, I’ve absolutely loved my Hakka MX gravel bike. Would highly recommend.

  • 🎵Music - I’ve been a big fan of David Hohme lately, and this mix is one of my favorites. He’s been doing some fun mixes during quarantine that are SOLID work beats. If you’re digging his stuff, his Anjunadeep mix is another great one.

  • 🏀Random - I’m generally not big on life and health hacks. I pretty firmly believe that if you want to be healthy, the 80/20 rule applies: focus on diet, sleep, movement (and exercise), sun and relationships and you’ll be healthier than most people on this planet. Feel free to ignore many of the heart rate monitors and other stuff that you (truly) do not need.
    That said, if you have any back or neck pain… boy do I have a health silver bullet for you. For years, I’ve had light to moderate neck and back pain due to lots of computer usage (and horrible posture in my early 20s). Well in June, I began the hanging challenge and spent 7 mins per day hanging from a pullup bar. Since doing so, my neck and back pain is completely gone, to a degree I wouldn’t have believed without doing it myself. Hanging is free, I do it on phone calls, and you feel great afterwards. 

***

The Next Brand subscribers are starting to pick up now, 9 months into this experiment - and I’d love it to continue. 

So, this month only… if you get 3 friends who’d like this newsletter to subscribe to this, I’ll venmo you $10. Valid for the first 10 people who do this as a fun experiment 😅. 

Enjoy the month,

Justin