How to Be Slimmer Without Willpower with Darya Rose

JONATHAN: Hey everyone, Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast. Very excited about today’s show because we have a wonderful, wonderful researcher, author, woman, entrepreneur, example, she is the author of “Foodist,” Using Real Food and Real Science To Lose Weight Without Dieting, she is also the founder of the wildly popular website,, Dr. Darya Rose, welcome to the show.

DARYA: Hey, it’s good to be here.

JONATHAN: Darya, your message is one that resonates so deeply with me and so deeply with so many as evidenced by your success. Can you tell me a bit about your core purpose and mission?

DARYA: Yeah, absolutely. I am a youngish to middle aged female, right, I’m about — just over 30 and like most women my age, I have spent the better part of my life on every diet under the sun, right? So, I started really young. I grew up in Southern California. My mom had me – I mean she was doing Slimfast, so I started doing it for no reason. I just wanted to have milkshakes for breakfast. I was 11. I was 11. And from that day forward I was just doing all of them – I did low fat, I did low carb, I did South Beach, I did – I was running marathons at one point to burn extra calories while starving myself and basically it was a nightmare.

So, that was like one part of my life and I had my successes, I had my failures, because I always dieting, I wasn’t like ever super overweight, but I was definitely significantly bigger than I am now, about 20 to 25 pounds bigger than I am now and I was miserable, absolutely miserable. I hated food. It was my nemesis, because it caused me so much stress and I was ready for a change and around the same time or throughout my life as well, I got into this science path where I was studying Molecular Biology, I went to UC Berkeley and specifically I was emphasizing neuroscience and psychology and I realized at a certain point – I ended up going to graduate school to do my PhD and I realized at a certain point that I had enough training and science that I no longer had to read like Cosmo or these ridiculous diet books in order to understand how my body works, that I could actually go to the science myself, which is not trivial, the papers are not easy to read. You have to have academic accreditation to even look at them without paying a fee.

So I started digging into the literature and I found a couple of things that at first really, really upset me. The first thing I found is that diets don’t work, which when you’ve been doing it for 15 years is like a major bummer. I was like what – what? I’ve been doing this forever and you’re telling me that dieting actually – it’s worse than doesn’t work – it actually predicts weight gain over time, which is really upsetting, but made a lot of sense when I stopped and thought about it in a non-emotional way.

Then when I learned what does work and this was sort of a leap of faith for me to some extent, I learned that you should focus on health and more important than any nutrient, I was looking for something – okay, I cut out carbs, I cut out sugar, I count calories, something’s going to work, but I was focused too narrowly on the micro/macronutrients and what seems to be much more important is like your overall patterns of food and what you do every day and when you think about it, it makes sense, but at the time it just seemed so counter-intuitive to me. I was like, but I need to diet, I know I need to diet, and I thought if I started eating healthy, like eating breakfast, eating three meals a day, stuff I’d never, ever did before, that I would gain weight, but I didn’t.

I stopped eating packaged diet foods. I started eating and focusing on real foods, started focusing on healthy foods in the sense of like vegetables, grains, beans, fish, stuff like that and to my shock, two things happened. One, for the first time in my life, I lost weight effortlessly. I was eating more than I thought I was allowed to eat, I was cooking, I was doing all these weird things that I thought only overweight people did and I was losing weight and it was amazing. The other thing I discovered was when you eat this kind of food — I grew up eating diet food, right? Have you had Slimfast? They taste disgusting. I mean it’s absolutely disgusting the stuff I grew up basically eating this stuff and I realized that real healthy food, like the real food that makes you lose weight, the stuff at the Farmer’s Market and the stuff in the produce aisleis delicious and that really threw me for a loop because I just expected it to be bad, the vegetables I grew up eating were just soggy, generic, those super industrial iceberg lettuce and whatnot, pink tomatoesthat are sort of mushy all year round, but when I started focusing on real food then I suddenly started caring about the seasons, what’s actually growing right now and I realized that these are completely different foods and that they’re amazing. So, I had this epiphany, I was like wait a minute, you can eat foods you like and lose weight – like the world needs to know this so I started writing and that’s how I came — that’s how the website was born and eventually how the book was born.

JONATHAN: Darya, it seems that the core message of health and then as a consequence fitness and being comfortable with one’s physical appearance is both simple and delicious — is a message that a lot of people would want to hear and to accept yet we still continue to be told that health and fitness is complicated and that it should feel like a burden, right? It should feel like you’re – ahhhh – like you have to try. Why isn’t the simplicity breaking through?

DARYA: This is the key. This is the key. You hit the nail right on the head. I like it. I like talking to smart people so – so right – we are told it’s hard. We are told – and what does that mean, right, in your mind psychologically, when you hear something’s hard, that means you have to make effort, that means it requires willpower, right? That’s the word we always come back to, if you failed it’s your fault, you didn’t try hard enough. You need more willpower to make that happen. It turns out that philosophy that you need to work harder, that you need to use your willpower, and that you need to suffer, in order to achieve your goals and health is completely absolutely 100 percent backwards. You couldn’t be more backwards. Here’s why. Willpower is not something you can just turn on and off like a switch. It is something – it’s a resource that can be exhausted like a muscle. When you think about a muscle it’s like – it doesn’t matter how strong you are, right? Like you can be lifting a 10 pound bar – a dumbbell and if you have to do it a thousand times, your arms are going to stop working at some point because there’s no amount, you just can’t use it forever. Willpower works exactly the same way and what’s funny is that the muscle analogy works really well because they actually both require the same energy. The reason they deplete is because of blood sugar, so you think about it, right?

We all are awesome in the morning. Do you wake up with – are you awesome when you wake up, you’re like I’m going to like conquer the world, man, like today is – I mean maybe you’re a little groggy for a little while, but at least after your first cup of coffee I mean you’re ready to go, you’ve got resolve, you’re going to go to the gym, you’re going to do all these things, but what happens to most people is they realize they’re sort of late for work, they’re like rushing around, they’re stressed out, the kids puked all over the place and they have to clean that up and take them to school and they’re late for work and there’s a meeting and the boss is upset about something and then they would kind of rush through lunch – by the time they get home from work, they’re completely depleted and more – it just doesn’t take willpower that – willpower has depleted by any tough decisions you make during the day, so what most people find is by the time they get home at night they just don’t have any more and so like crafting a difficult healthy dinner they’ve never made from some recipe that they read in Cooking Light magazine just doesn’t happen, they end up calling in for pizza instead.

What’s amazing is that this is predictable. We know how the brain works, we all do this every single day. We know it does not work. So, then what is the answer, right? Why is like failing for everyone, what can we do instead. And what I’ve discovered and it’s not a secret, but for some reason the whole diet world forgets to mention this, is that what you need to do is you need to stop relying on willpower and the only way you can do that is to start working on building habits. Habits are magical. I’ll explain why. Habits are magical because they actually don’t require willpower. They happen automatically. All they need is a trigger. It’s always like some trigger that gets you to start acting in a certain way and you don’t’ have to think about it, you just go on autopilot and your brain loves autopilot because it doesn’t take any work and then you do whatever you’re going to do.

The key to habits though, if you’re like okay, I’m going to put my healthy eating on autopilot, that sounds great – the issue though is that habits don’t form without reward. And I’m not talking a reward like in three months you’re going to fit into your jeans. It has to be an immediate, tangible either physical or emotional or some sort of immediate reward for you and if it’s not there it will never form into a habit.

What that means and this is like I think super profound and it’s something I’d really like to slow down and stop and pause and really reflect on this, it means you have to like what you’re doing. It means you have to enjoy the food as you eat if they’re healthy. It means you have to enjoy your workout routines, it means if you try to do something you hate, it’s just not going to stick and you’re wasting your time. You’re wasting your willpower and it’s just going to end up in failure so you’re better off just starting with one little habit at a time and putting them on autopilot one at a time and it’s kind of like, if you think about your savings account, do you – most of us like what we do — have you ever tried to like not have a budget and just be like okay, I’m going to spend money and then see what’s left over and then I’ll put that in savings? Have you ever tried that?


DARYA: Hello?

JONATHAN: Oh, Darya, yes, I have.

DARYA: Oh, sorry, I thought I lost you. Anyway, if you try to just say you’re going to have enough willpower to save money at the end of the month, you’re never going to have any money left at the end of the month, so what you do is you put it – you automatically have it deducted, right, and it goes into a special account and you’re good, for your taxes or whatever, so it’s the same idea. You want to put as many things as you can on autopilot and then when the weekend comes and you’ve been healthy 85, to 90 percent of the week, you can eat whatever you want. You can eat if it’s a cheesecake or a cupcake or whatever.

JONATHAN: Darya, do you see that this is why one of the things I’ve always would not struggle to wrap my head around, but let’s say actually admired is – if you look at people who eat in a way that is not considered a diet, but is also not normal, for example, vegetarians – like it is not the typical diet is not a vegetarian diet and for most people to think that they would never eat meat again would be very much a struggle and would very much require willpower, but for the vast majority of vegetarians I know it’s not every day, it’s not as if their willpower meter is getting depleted every time a steak passes in front of their nose, they just don’t want it, so is that maybe an example of where we can make our minds go eventually not so much for meat, but for these sickening edible products?

DARYA: Yeah, I mean I think that’s one good strategy, so I mean when I talk about habits, I mean about things like you wake up in the morning and eat breakfast, like you don’t think about it. You make it a happy and enjoyable – I don’t think that vegetarians necessarily enjoy passing up the meat, I think they have a conviction for a different reason and it’s just something I recommend as well.

I think when you establish a set of values that you associate with your identity and if you can link those to food in some way maybe where food comes from, maybe you care about the environment, you want to have organic or maybe you don’t like the government subsidies that go to the industrial food chains, you don’t want to support that sort of corporate welfare or whatever your pet cause is – I definitely highly recommend – there’s good data, there’s good data that shows that people who believe in their food for more than just I want to be skinny – I want to just – I want to fix my cholesterol or whatever something vague like that – if you actually believe something about your food and that it matters beyond you – something bigger than you – then you are – sticking to it is not a problem. Not a problem at all. I think about also there is like religious practices where you fast for two weeks or whatever and it’s the same thing like those people don’t cheat. It’s because they believe what they’re doing is like absolutely part of who they are, it’s part of their identity and they would never mess that up.

JONATHAN: And Darya, some of the things you’re saying when we state them explicitly, they are so profound and so obvious and I don’t mean obvious in a derogatory sense, but like the whole idea of if it requires you gritting your teeth, it is not sustainable. It’s a little bit like saying, I’m just not going to go to the bathroom anymore, I’m not going to sleep anymore, like you’re going to lose like you’re not going to be able to be hungry for the rest of your life and we all understand that on some level rationally, but it doesn’t set in, right? There’s that maybe emotional component, so how do we overcome that?

DARYA: absolutely. So, the biggest issue for most people is getting started. Getting started is the hardest part on any new habit. The distance is nothing, however far you have to go – it’s that first step that’s hard.

So, what I try to do for people and what I have dozens and dozens of tips to the “Foodist,”and Summer Tomato on my website of how to make that big wall that’s in front of you to make that look really hard, you want to bring that wall down, so it looks like something you just step over, so it looks really short and small and easy and surmountable. So, you just have to start small and get those small winds and I think people dismiss that very easily out of hand, well, then it doesn’t seem worth it, but it’s really the only way and it’s funny and it’s like and my challenge to people – like I dare you to do it, like people say, I want to start running three times a week, so it’s like okay, how much do you run now? Zero. Well, why don’t you make your goal running one time a week and then work your way up from there?

So, I recommend people start with eating breakfast. I recommend people start with generally eating more – rules in general because if you think about cutting stuff out that’s not really fun – you’re not going to – those aren’t really habits that naturally sounds fun and enjoyable to you, but eating more vegetables that are in season from a good vendor like spending a little bit more money maybe and getting something a little tastier, but healthy, start there. Start with the things that are really easy for you. Really fun for you.

If you’re eating a donut at work during your meeting every week you have a strategy meeting and you’re eating a donut, try to bring something else instead don’t necessarily try to sit there and stare at the donut box and like wonder why, how soon this meeting is going to be over, bring – I’ve had lots of people love Greek yogurt – it’s like a great alternative so you have something good there to have and then when the donuts (Inaudible 00:16:44) you’re not hungry anymore. Things like that.

JONATHAN: And Darya why do you think – in so many areas of life we explicitly want and desire simplicity – like we just – we don’t even turn the key in our ignition, we want a button to turn our car on, we want keyless entry, we love the iPad because it’s so simple and easy to use, we always want things to be simple, except when it comes to health and weight loss – where it actually seems like to your point of people want this extreme thing or this pill, this really regimented program or this weird complicated like calorie counting has got to be the single most complicated thing ever right? You’re trying to –I mean it’s like being diabetic with your blood sugar and you’re trying to do that with calories, like that’s even more of a pain in the butt, but it’s almost like we seek that out, it’s almost like we want that complexity in this area of life. Why do you think that is?

DARYA: I think we’ve been duped honestly. I think that — people like to feel like they’re basing their actions on sound science and they want to get really into the nitty gritty because they think if they understand the details then they can make it work for themselves and I think that that has been a trick that the dieting industry has used to confuse us and to sell us crap and I don’t – and I know you know this – I love your video about how people in the old days, people 40, 50 years ago, we did not have these problems. We did not need to count calories and carbs and we didn’t have to take our yogurt and remove the fat from it in order to be thin and healthy, they were naturally thin and healthy without even trying and I think that when you start to look harder at the situation you realize like the emperor has no clothes, like all these magical formulas that are supposed to make us lose weight and be healthy they don’t work.

So it’s like I understand – I’m a scientist – I was really into this stuff, really hard core and it was scary for me to stop doing that and to start eating real food and just be that simple about it. It was totally scary. So, my challenge to people generally is just try it – it’s like it’s a leap of faith, if it doesn’t work, if you’re eating breakfast and it doesn’t work, you can always go back to your grapefruits and cabbage soup and it’s not going anywhere, but you really have nothing to lose than to just start small. The little things. Do the easiest ones first. The low hanging fruit and build from there.

What I found of people is that they’ll pick one thing, it’s often exercise, actually, they’ll start – they’ll figure out a workout program that works for them and they’ll start realizing that they feel good after – the first few weeks are hard. The first three weeks are really hard and they get into a routine and they enjoy it, and then they start realizing hey, it’s like, if I have to eat these fries with my burger, I’m like undoing like half my run this morning and that starts to make them angry. And that’s what you want. You want to get to the point where you’re like – give me – I’ll have the burger, but give me the salad so that I don’t have to work off an extra 200 calories tomorrow morning and you just build on those winds. You don’t have to try to do it all at once. Just pick one thing and tackle it for a couple of months and then move on from there.

JONATHAN: Darya, certainly there is a wealth of information in addition to what we’ve talked about here up on your website,, folks, if you haven’t seen this website, please do check it out. It is just fabulously done not only from a design perspective, but it is thrilling from a content perspective and of course in your book, “Foodist,” one of the things that you do cover though in your book, “Foodist,” which I wanted to touch on briefly because I know we’re running out of time here, is your work around how to deflect criticism because it’s one thing, especially in a family environment if we as individuals choose to make these choices, but often how we eat and how we live our lives affects those around us, so how do we deflect those criticisms when people start to give us those little negative jabs?

DARYA: Yeah, you know we talked about when we’re talking about habits, we talked about triggers and how little things can like force you to react in a certain way, so when you’re dealing with other people, one of the biggest and most common triggers that we use that influence people’s perceptions of our actions is the language we use, the specific words we use to describe what we’re doing, so if you’re all like holier than though and like I’m going to eat this because I’m going to be healthy and I’m going to lose weight and I’m going to do this and I, I, I – if you’re talking like that and about how you’re all self-righteous, you’re going to turn people off and similarly – because what they do is they feel judged. They’re like well, if you think that’s important, I’m not doing that so, bite me – or whatever – and so you want to be really careful with the words you use, never imply a value to what you’re doing so never be like I’m doing this because it’s the right thing to do, be like an – I’ve been tired, I just want to see if this will help me get a little more energy, make it look like it’s personal and about you and not about them, not about the general definition of the word good. Another thing to keep in mind is that and there’s data on this I’m not making up this number, 90 percent of people when they hear the word healthy, they automatically think two things, about what they’re about to eat, one that it doesn’t taste good or it tastes worse than something that’s not healthy and two, that it’s not very filling, has fewer calories not very satisfying, whether or not it does so this is a problem because it means, even if you are eating healthy food it means you’re going to think you can eat more later because you think you ate less than you really did and sometimes the foods is not even healthy like Subway, the great example, they call it a health halo, people think they’re eating something healthy, it’s got 300 more calories than a Big Mac, and then they go eat the cookie because they thought they were doing something good for themselves.

In terms of dealing with your family and friends, if you want to make some amazing food and share with them, which is the best way I found to get people on your team, they know you’re healthy, they can see you, they see you and what you look like and what you’re eating, but like if you don’t ever use the word healthy, just like, this tastes amazing and you make them something really good and share with them and they can taste it for themselves and be like you know what, this is amazing, and the word healthy just goes away and all they care about now is the tasty, tasty food.

JONATHAN: I love it. I love it folks. Her name is Darya Rose. She is the author of “Foodist,” obviously I could talk to you, Darya, for a day non-stop, but I know you’re a busy woman, so I will wrap up here again folks, the book is “Foodist,” it is fabulous, the website is, it is beautiful and insightful, and the woman who joined us today is Darya Rose, brilliant as well. Darya, what’s next for you?

DARYA: I’m just trying to figure that out. I’m just trying to tell everybody I can about “Foodist.” I mean I don’t feel like there’s anything more important to do is drive this message home until the entire country stops dieting, so you guys are next.

JONATHAN: Well, Darya, certainly, certainly I salute that effort and I’m joining you right there on the front lines, so thank you for all that you do to help so many live so much better.

DARYA: Thanks so much Jonathan.

JONATHAN: Folks, I hope you enjoyed today’s conversation as much as I did and please remember, this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter and live better. Chat with you soon.