Gunnar Lovelace: Eating on a Budget

This week’s show is with Gunnar Lovelace, the CEO of the online shopping club Thrive Market. Like many listeners and readers, Gunnar is a productivity beast, sometimes working 18 hours a day leading one of the hottest health companies of 2015.

If you want to know how to keep your health and sanity while working insane hours, this show is for you. We’re also going to talk about eating on a budget, how to sleep better when you’re stressed, and what it’s like to do a cleanse the right way.

On this show you’ll learn:

  • How to eat real food for less
  • What an effective “cleanse” should look like
  • How to hack your sleep when you’re stressed
  • Why you should break a sweat every day
  • And much more…


Gunnar is an entrepreneur who focuses on business and wellness as vehicles for change. As the founder of Thrive Market, what he’s doing is unique in this space right now… and it’s really blowing up.

Before we get into the meat of all that, I want to ask Gunnar about the cleanse he started a couple weeks ago. How’s that going?

It’s amazing. When your body adjusts, you realize how much food you’re actually putting into your body at all times. Now, I feel great with less food. I had been working 18 – 20 hours a day and eating random food in a bad order, and I felt like I needed a reset.

I’m doing a combination of green juices and bone broth during the day, and then one big meal at dinner time. That’s actually the way to fly in general.

The problem is most people hear “cleanse” and think, ”I’m going to have diarrhea for the next two months.” But there are more moderate ways to do a reset for your body.

You’ve been gunning it for the past couple of years. How do you stay sane and healthy with something moving so quickly?

There are a lot of different ways to answer that one…

Hiring great people and bringing on amazing partners. Early on I brought on 3 other co-founders to help start the business. It’s actually really hard to move these products around at a low margin. It was important that I find people who were better than myself so they could execute in parts of the business that I don’t excel in.

We have so many different initiatives running all the time—so we needed strong shared leadership and ownership from the start… that meant picking the right partners. When you have that right, it’s 1 + 1 = 10,000.

Personally, I’m able to relax more into the experience, which is relative. It hasn’t been relaxing at all. But text and content and brand are all being handled by people better than me at those areas.


So you said you like to get about 6 – 8 hours of sleep.  What about when you can’t sleep?

I’ve had some insomnia over the years—it comes and goes depending on the intensity of my neurotic thought forms.

I had an uncle once tell me: I hope you’re not burdened by any more big ideas. @gunnarlovelace Click To Tweet

But, here are a couple sleep hacks:

  • Magnesium before bed,
  • Be in bed by 10:30 or 11:00pm
  • Get at least 30 minutes of cardio 5 days a week

Even if it means a little less sleep, I just stay to those core pieces then I hit the weekend and I sleep ten hours on a Saturday or Sunday and go back into the week getting 5 or 6 hours…

How do you make sure your workout happens 5 days a week?

If I don’t get exercise, I turn into an a-hole. Click To Tweet

I’ve gone for a week or two without exercise and then I’ll get sick.  It also helps me sleep. By the third or fourth day of no exercise, I don’t sleep.

I’m really into rowing right now—in 30 minutes I’m dripping in sweat and I get the whole workout done in 50 minutes: in, row, and out.  I get the muscle and the cardio. I grew up in the country, so I had mountain bike riding right behind my house. Now, I’m in an urban environment. I’m looking for low impact but powerful quick cardio hits.

Doesn’t it eat up all your muscle to work out while you’re on a cleanse? (read-sarcasm)

How do you make that work?  I was putting on some extra weight, so I don’t mind losing a little bit of that belly fat.

I’ve done calorie restrictions and fasts and cleanses before.  Every time I do it, I discover something really important—we derive so much pleasure from food.

If I had to choose between sex and eating food, it would be a hard decision because I love eating. Click To Tweet

“We are wired as a species to derive pleasure from putting food in our mouths.”

We are fundamentally presented with this incredible level of choice. One of the greatest challenges we face now is developing self-restraint. We are one step away from being monkeys pushing the pleasure button all the time… we are overfed and undernourished.

We are putting food in our mouths in a very reflexive ways. Maybe there’s emotion or vulnerability or something. This is an exciting part of that exploration.


After Alyson and I lived on the road for the past year, we realized there’s a fundamental difference between how we live in the modern world as opposed to going out for a day hike. You don’t pack three square meals and have it ready for you whenever you have a hunger pang. You might snack or have some nuts—but you’re eating one meal when you’re setting up camp.

Most of us can engineer that into our own lives, but we have to do it.  We have to trick ourselves in a way.

We are so powerful and have so much tech now to augment our capabilities. On-demand pleasure at our convenience, we are conditioned to feed ourselves pleasure and inputs all the time and that’s our duty as a citizen in a consumeristic society.

We each need to figure out what we stand for, what’s important to us individually. Then we need to ask that question as a species. Nothing is going to happen to Earth, it’s been here a long time. But what kind of Earth do we want to live in?

I like really good food—but it’s about putting more pleasure into less food. I mean, you go into Whole Foods and by the time you check out you’re like, “Wow, what did I do?”

We all can relate in different ways. You go to a whole food retail store and fill a couple bags and it’s like a couple hundred bucks.

“Why do foods without chemicals and processing cost so much more than foods with chemicals and processing? It’s so backwards. It’s like the sky is down and the earth is up.”

I grew up really poor and saw my mom struggle with healthy choices. I see the food issue as a function of price, geography, and education.

But my mom made food a priority—even if that meant second hand clothes or we didn’t have a car for a month or something. The practical reality is that a lot of people don’t have the education to understand that.

Then when she married my stepfather, he ran a food co-op from a farm in California and I got to see first-hand the power of group buying as a way to make food affordable to people.

I saw an opportunity to take that model online and build a 21st century co-op that stripped out all the hippie stuff, but kept the heart and soul of it and really made it accessible to everybody.

My brother Mark runs a CSA and has for years at this point, but it’s challenging to do it with perishable and highly seasonal foods. So I think it’s interesting to see the model expand. A lot of people live in a food desert—literally the nearest Whole Foods is in a different time zone from our house. Now, you can get staples and have them trucked out to you.

The model is cutting out the middle men, the brokers, the slotting fees, the pay-to-play, and we pass that on to members—we are selling nontoxic products for the same price as conventional ones.

You can get 70 loads of clean laundry soap for the same price as 70 loads of soap with endocrine disruptors in it.

We are leveraging existing infrastructure, so we’re using that to get the products to people’s doors for free, saving money and time.  But we still deal with limitations from lack of education, so we’re trying to make sure that’s our mission.

For every paid membership, we give a membership to a low income family, a teacher, or a military vet. If you can’t afford $60 a year, if that’s gonna’ get in your way of accessing the platform, we want to make sure you get one.

We are also building courses and videos included in the membership on how to:

  • Think about healthy living on a budget
  • Read a food label
  • Learn about how carbs turn to sugar
  • Understand the emotional issues behind food

The membership is a holistic package that comes with a free membership to families that are exposed to this maybe for the first time, and it’s important that we’re doing it in a way that’s aspirational but not condescending.

Where do we see ourselves going?  Making good on all three: price, education, geography.

Growing up, my mom was an herbalist, studied holistic medicine, and was a nurse practitioner. So, we went into health food stores all the time… but we had to be really careful about what we’d buy.  Peanuts that were $1 at conventional store were $5 from the health food store.

We need to bridge that gap and educate people.

We’ve been using Thrive for a couple months, but might not be using it like we are if we hadn’t been Prime Members on Amazon.  It’s interesting to see how this could work using the infrastructure already put in place essentially by the internet.

We are doing a carbon audit on the supply chain right now—but net, we are lower carbon distribution. Normal products are distributed like this: manufacturer, distributor, broker, retail space where it sits for a long time with lights, refrigeration, etc., then someone drives there and picks it up.

We are piggybacking on a UPS or FedEx route that the guy is already driving, so the little bit extra off the path that he drops the box off at your house is so small comparatively.


This is happening (all of this, including Fat-Burning Man) because of the internet, where you can reach people that are otherwise unreachable. Where is this going in a perfect world?   

Why do those conventional products cost more?  Because conventional products have achieved economies of scale and are beneficiaries of crony capitalism and corporate welfare.

“Multi-billion dollar food corporations are effectively poisoning the economy, poisoning the earth, and poisoning our bodies.”

We are responding to this personally—our customers and everyone who’s a part of this conversation—and we want to vote with our dollars. And yes, we are self-serving and interested in getting what we want at the best price, but we are also concerned about what we are supporting.

Your ability to turn on your video camera and speak to people without intermediaries—your audience is the same people who respond to the message. We vote with our dollars.

We are going to make a world that we think is good for us and good for our families.

Is there potential to go international?

Our model can be applied internationally. We get requests every day from Canada, Europe, China, Australia.

We study why other successful tech companies have failed: It’s because they get ahead of themselves and take on too much—we need to focus on the domestic market. In the U.S. we will be hyper successful in changing the food supply and changing that conversation. If someone copies that model in another country, that’s great for everyone because that means people are accessing healthy food for less.

What’s making this difficult?  As the first mover in any space, what’s working against you?

One of the fundamental challenges is just scaling, growing as fast as we are.  How do we make sure the culture and the values are maintained?  How do we find good people? Talented, passionate, and a good person. It has to be all three. A talented passionate person who’s an a-hole is so insidious, and it rots the culture.

Finding great people is always a challenge.

The value of a good hire in leadership, particularly how that trickles down, is exponential in its impact. Finding really good people is the most difficult and important challenge.

We are successful in having a self-serving feedback loop—resonating to the social mission.

We are in the 10th month of business and have over 200 people, and we’ll end the year with 400. We started with 10 people. We’ve had an employee food program but now it’s harder with so many employees—then we just did medical, and we made a fundamental philosophical decision that we want all the employees to have the same benefits as the CEO’s.

We are showing social enterprise, businesses that do good, can succeed and be profitable.

You’ve heard about Amazon not having air conditioning for some of its employees, and there was a picture of an ambulance outside the warehouse.

It’s hard to scale at the same time using a similar model, but still “be good.”

Amazon is really good at getting the best deal for its customers, and that comes at the expense of many other aspects—employees or other types of supply chain issues. The question is now, you can see how it’s trending, people want to know.

Transparency is a critical theme.

We are in a world where we don’t know what we can trust.  The more transparency we get as consumers in terms of media and products, the more we’re likely to make a resonant decision with that particular product.

One of the questions we get as health nuts is – how can we feed the world with healthy, real food?

There are so many interesting things happening with regenerative agriculture, Savory Institute, mob herding, intensive farming practices. The ability to put people to work with good paying jobs doing intensive farming practices on all of the arable land that we have, to produce nutrient dense food that’s also good for the environment—it’s clear.

All kinds of studies about carbon farming and regenerative agriculture, and how building topsoil through intensive farming practices is the fastest way to sequester carbon, create jobs, and create truly nutrient-dense food.

Obviously there are supply chain issues with that, and scaling issues. We’ve been supporting an effort over the last couple weeks in California—there’s an initiative to get $160 million unlocked for carbon farming here in California. Regenerative, microfarms doing really intensive practices. We need to support those efforts as consumers and help our policymakers understand that this is a smart political decision.

Put the honor and respect back into farming by putting people to work doing incredible service to society producing nutrient-dense food while getting paid a living wage.

It pays for itself.

Polyface Farms is doing it.  They have the schematics and maps, diagrams and blueprints. How to make $45,000 a year just moving your pigs from one quadrant to another—it’s a net net net win across the board. Building those templates out in a way that’s accessible, understandable, funded, with really good science behind it, is crucial.

Somewhere in the past 3 – 5 years we’ve realize that we’ve had enough of dumping money into the wrong system. But there’s a lag in getting to sustainable farming and supply.

You’re trying to take some of the hippy stuff out of it and make it accessible.

We are looking for an organizing principle in a way that we can have this conversation at scale for a long time, but I’ve always felt friction talking about politics or social justice topics… those topics are instantly polarizing.  

What’s so amazing about health and wellness is that it plays into self-interest in such a powerful way that it transcends ideology. @gunnarlovelace Click To Tweet

It doesn’t matter if you’re a conservative or liberal, everybody wants to feel good in their bodies and everybody wants the same thing for their children. -Gunnar Lovelace, CEO of Thrive Market, Win a Thrive Market $1000 Shopping Spree Giveaway, plus 1-year Free Membership to stock up on healthy groceries like spices, baking supplies, almond butter, coconut oil, olive oil, almond flour, kale chips, and organic chocolate. Plus shop their large selection of non-gmo, gluten-free foods and chemical free household products.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re conservative or liberal, everybody wants to feel good in their bodies and everybody wants the same thing for their children.”

Being part of a distribution mechanism and an educational platform that makes that choice easy for people is naturally part of a larger cycle that’s benefiting families, community, the economy, and the environment. That, to me, is what’s so exciting about the conversation around health and wellness.

We have to transcend our differences, otherwise we’re going to pass a world onto our children that’s toxic and disgusting. -Gunnar Lovelace, CEO of Thrive Market, Win a Thrive Market $1000 Shopping Spree Giveaway, plus 1-year Free Membership to stock up on healthy groceries like spices, baking supplies, almond butter, coconut oil, olive oil, almond flour, kale chips, and organic chocolate. Plus shop their large selection of non-gmo, gluten-free foods and chemical free household products.

We get so lost in the debate—Paleo vs Vegan, for example—that argument is important and fun and entertaining, but it’s really important we don’t get lost in the weeds. We have to transcend our differences, otherwise we’re going to pass a world to our children that’s toxic and disgusting.

In the last 100 years we’ve gone from 2 billion to 7 billion, and we’ll grow to 9 billion in the next generation.  If we don’t get our act together, we’re going to be in trouble.

In a given month, we’ll have conversations with the most powerful conservative people and the most progressive… and without exception, everyone is like, “How can I help?  How can I get involved?” There’s a real shift happening and we’re part of it.

What is one simple thing people can do to apply health to their lives?

Drink a lot of water with lemon. That’s a really simple one. Just make sure to wash out your mouth after so the acidity in the lemon doesn’t eat your enamel off your teeth.

I take a lot of probiotics throughout the day. Our immune system is under duress, so it’s a great way to support your immune system.

Great advice.


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Okay, before you click off—be sure to check out Thrive Market.

I get a lot of people telling me that getting real, healthy, or Paleo-friendly food is 1) geographically inconvenient, or 2) really expensive. I hear you.  Alyson and I live in the middle of nowhere with the nearest Whole Foods literally in another time zone. If you’re anything like us, you might find that Thrive can be a nifty solution to how to get real food for less (especially if you live in the boonies).

You’ve probably heard loads of people talking about Thrive—that’s because it’s growing insanely fast… and they’re delivering on their promise.

You can get Organic, Paleo, Raw foods and other natural health products for 25-50% below retail.  It’s kind of like costco for Paleo people, but you don’t have to drive there.

If you haven’t tried Thrive Market yet, you’ll also get 15% off your first purchase by signing up and placing an order.

They’re a great spot to pick up all the extra kitchen necessities, like organic coconut oil, olive oil, and spices, as well as snacks like Nuttzo, chocolate, and kale chips.

Quick Disclaimer: Just like Whole Foods, you’ll run across a lot of products that are full of sugar, have GMOs, and are processed. Thrive displays the ingredients on every product page, so be sure to click the little “Ingredients” tab below the picture to make sure you’re buying gluten-free, wheat-free, non-GMO, low sugar, real foods. You’ll save a buck on things you’re probably buying already.

At first, honestly, I wasn’t so sure about Thrive, so we decided to try it ourselves. Alyson and I have been Thrive customers for the last 3 months, and we love it. We’re saving a TON of money on our food bill every month. We’re getting some of our favorite Paleo and Raw snacks, staples and spices—all shipped our front door even though we live way out in the woods.

Most importantly, we can get our favorite chocolate for HALF of what we were paying at the health food store!

Don’t miss out on your chance to get a Free 1-month trial, and 15% off your first order

Click here for a FREE 1 month Trial, 15% Off your first order & Free Shipping on orders over $49

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