Why “When” You Eat SANE Food May Matter More Than You Think with Dr. Alan Christianson


Jonathan: Hey, everybody. Jonathan Bailor back with another SANE show. Very excited about today’s show because a new guest and someone who I had the pleasure of meeting in person recently — and this gentleman has to be one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever met. It was just like, Who are you and where did you come from and how can I move there because if everyone is as nice as you, then I need to be around them. His name is Dr. Alan Christianson. He’s the author of the upcoming Adrenal Reset Diet. He is amazingly SANE and I’m so happy to have him with us today. Dr. Christianson, how are you doing today?

Alan: Hey, I’m doing awesome. Thanks much for having me, Jonathan.

Jonathan: Well, Dr. Christianson, tell us a little bit about your journey from little Alan to now big official Dr. Christianson.

Alan: You know, the journey went the way that it did because little Alan wasn’t all that little. As a kid, I had seizures and I had some problems with movement and it led me to get pretty obese and somewhere around seventh grade was the real low point of that. I got called out in gym class about my shape in ways that I didn’t want to be called out on and it kind of hit me that, Wow, I really needed to change this and I had to make a difference in some way. I got stacks of books and I was able to go through these books and change it and make a difference and it led me into medicine. In medicine, I found that there’s a lot of people that have thyroid disease or conditions like adrenal dysfunction, metabolic syndrome, and a lot of folks are struggling with these issues and the stuff that worked for me is not always enough so I wanted to help make a bigger impact and find more explanations behind it.

Jonathan: So you were in seventh grade, you started doing this reading, you started doing this research when you went into the formal kind of traditional medical practice or — tell us about how the medical field journey progressed.

Alan: The plan was medicine but I really wanted to tie nutrition into it. As a kid, I was taken to doctors and I was given treatments and whatnot. It didn’t help me with my weight and it didn’t help with a lot of other health issues. I had the realization that, after about the age of thirteen, when I saw things start to turn around, some random kid with library books could get more traction than doctors were giving and I thought, What kind of world is this? How can this be? So I was really motivated to go into a practice that focused on key hormone conditions which really do it in a way that integrated diet because that was my game changer. I knew that was critical.

Jonathan: What have you seen to be the biggest differences between what you were taught in more of the conventional medical practice and what you have found through your own independent research and independent practice to be, This is the conventional wisdom but this is what actually works?

Alan: Well, the conventional wisdom right now is trying really hard to make sense out of this pending obesity crisis. We’re looking at two-thirds of the humans on the planet being overweight, obese, or morbidly obese in just a little over a decade. The trends are just — if anyone’s looking at them, they’re scared to death. We’re talking about brain corrupting in global economies because of the health care cost from this. The conventional model is saying –

I had one physiology professor. He took us through about two weeks of all the research to date on obesity and there’s like one called the Mona Lisa Hypothesis, if you’ve heard that one, but at the very end of it, one of my kind of wise-ass classmates sitting next to me, he’s like, Okay, so the last two weeks, what it came down to is fat people are lazy liars. And that’s what the research is when you really get down to it. They say that people misrepresent their food intake and they’re less active than they should be. That just does not fit the data anymore and everyone’s trying to chase this dead-end model. I’m so glad to be here with your audience and partnering with you. You’ve talked about how the calories are a myth and that’s what it is. There’s more factors behind it and that’s what I really want to have people understand.

Jonathan: Let’s start to dig into those factors because you’re exactly right. I agree with you wholeheartedly that part of the reason we have seen this obesity epidemic rise is because this is seen as a moral failing of people, not a scientific problem. If it’s just a moral failing, then we can say, Well, those people are stupid and lazy. Let’s go move on to more important things. But you and I both know it’s not about stupidity and laziness and there’s very little else that’s more important than this, given the scope of the problem. So what are the underlying causes where we have individuals who are dieting; who are eating 1,200, 1,400 calories; who are just as active as everyone else, but can’t seem to halt weight gain or enjoy weight loss?

Alan: Yes. I’ll share with you what went on inside my head, trying to figure this thing out over the years. I saw a lot of research that was looking at different theories. Some talked about this new concept of obesogens — there’s chemicals that trigger weight gain, independent of food intake — and I found that really compelling. We had a family trip to Thailand one year and you couldn’t breathe the air, it was so bad in Bangkok, and everybody was skinny so I’m like, Oh, this doesn’t fit.

So there’s a lot of theories like that — the obesogens, the fructose, the heightened load of mental/emotional stress — many things that disrupt the circadian rhythm. There are a lot of really good theories that are very compelling and explain a lot of it but there’s a lot of ways in which any one of them doesn’t quite make it all the way connect and I realize that maybe there’s not one thing, one cause, but there could be one shared mechanism, one way that the body responds to all these different types of triggers. So if it’s not the same trigger for each person, there could be one same shift that occurs from all these factors that have increased in the last few decades.

Jonathan: What have you seen those common denominators be where there could be many different causal factors but the underlying trigger or switch that they flip is the same and if we could understand that, maybe we could kind of do an end around and get around it somehow or what do we do then?

Alan: That was the thought process. I vividly remember the moment of having all these piles of studies around me actually in this room and trying to literally connect them in some way and realizing that there was a connection, that our body has very elegant mechanisms to survive famine. If you take humans and throw them outside and take away their food, there’s predictable metabolic shifts that go on that we hold onto the calories we’ve got around our belly fat and we might even take away some muscle tissue to build more of that during times of crisis. The epiphany I had was that all these things that some of which you could see obviously as stressors, like mental/emotional stress, but many that you might not at first glance — the chemicals, the fructose — all these things put us in this survival state. They all cause us to go into this storage mode and they do so by hijacking this delicate cycle of our adrenal hormones.

Jonathan: Have you seen –? I think someone just casually listening, maybe they’re doing some vacuuming while listening, and they hear adrenal hormones and they think adrenaline, so they think people who are really stressed and — this might be a really silly analogy, I just thought of it in the moment — but if we think about maybe a monk or someone who is very, very calm and serene and we wouldn’t think has much adrenaline going on in their body — these people aren’t all thin. So help us understand what you mean when you say adrenal reset, adrenal glands, what actually causes those to go out of whack, and what we can do to get them back in whack.

Alan: Yes, yes, great point. It is more than just the perceived mental/emotional stress. That can be a factor for some but there’s many factors besides that. There’s a rhythm in our bodies and there’s actually a rhythm in our fat. Crazy stuff — you could pull the fat around from someone’s organs, put it in a Petri dish, and keep it living, and you could measure its daily rhythm, you could measure its clock. It’s got a clock that is separate from your body’s central regulating clock. It’s got its own little thing going. The more visceral fat someone has, the more their clock is out of rhythm with their brain’s governing clock. So the fat is working off of the adrenal hormones and when this delicate rhythm of cortisol — which we make more of to wake us up, we shut it off to go to sleep — when that’s off, the fat timing gets disturbed and we’re in storage mode.

Jonathan: This is really a transformational understanding, I think, for folks and you mentioned something about taking fat out, putting it in a Petri dish, and popping up even a level from that. I know nowadays — and this wasn’t always the case — but recently in the scientific literature, it’s pretty much a fact. Again, correct me if I’m wrong, that fat is not just a passive storage repository for calories but I bet 99.9 percent of people who struggle with excess fat believe that the purpose of fat and the function of fat — the sole function — is basically like a bank account. It’s a calorie bank account and calories just sit there. What we’re actually finding out is, it’s an endocrine organ. It is part of the system. So tell us a little bit more about how we should perceive body fat.

Alan: Yes, you’re exactly right. It’s an endocrine organ. It makes some hormones. It’s also a circadian endocrine organ. It’s got a daily rhythm to it and there’s so much interconnectedness between many big parts of the body but the fat’s main tie is really the adrenal hormones. So your adrenal hormones — I mentioned cortisol — that’s one of the stronger hormones they make. They also make a real weak hormone called cortisone. So we’ve got cortisone, o-n-e, and cortisol, o-l. So weak cortisone is always coming out and strong cortisol comes out in its rhythm. Now the connection is that, your fat can actually take cortisone and make cortisol out of it or it can do the opposite. So when it’s healthy, it does that in a way that allows you to generate energy and keep enough reasonable amount of fat but not to have it grow out of control, but once that conversion gets thrown off, your body’s locked into this spiral of storing more and more fat and making more stress hormones from your fat.

Jonathan: Wow. This is another great example and I love this because it’s concrete science. The concept that the listeners and viewers of this show will be familiar with is, we talk about a hormonal clog or a metabolic clog and this homeostatic interplay that should be taking place in your body starts to break down and the communication breaks down. It sounds like, here, we’re digging into the specific adrenal components of that. Have you found that –? What’s the treatment for that? What are the lifestyle modifications we make to get that back in line?

Alan: Perfect question. That was kind of like my next thought process. Okay, so this is what’s happening. What are we going to do about it? We can’t all become monks, like you alluded to. We can’t be in this perfect pristine environment with no EMF’s and no pollutants or nothing else. I also thought we’ve got to eat as well. I think diet is a very big thing psychologically as well as physiologically. Along with just the stressors of struggling with one’s weight, there’s a whole lot of cognitive mental trauma about what to eat and always feeling like, Wow, this may not be right for this reason, this might not be right for that reason. I thought, How cool would it be if we could get clarity about a simple regime for eating that could also coax back these rhythms and bring these cycles back into line again. So I used the idea about cortisol also regulating blood sugar. There’s data showing that the ratios of our protein, fat, and carbs can have effects upon our cortisol rhythms. So I thought, Wow. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could make these ratios and then kind of time them throughout the day to help the body get reset back to an ideal cortisol rhythm again.” So healthy foods, clean foods, but the unique new aspect is that having a specific timing regime for them so that they could re-train the body back to a rhythm that made it burn and produce energy better.

Jonathan: Fascinating. So it’s still the baseline of nutrient density but what we now vary
and we add to the mix is the “when”. The title of your book is Adrenal Reset Diet, so would we have to think about the timing of our eating for just until we’re reset and then we can kind of stop thinking about it or is this a long-term lifestyle change? Tell us a little bit more about that.

Alan: That’s the cool thing. Boy, it’s been coming up on twenty years of medical practice now and I’ve really developed this belief and this experience that, in a good state of health, our bodies maintain homeostasis. We can do that. So you’re right — the more stable we are, the more easily we can stay stable, and the more stress-resilient we are and the more we can buffer against untoward factors.

We saw this. We did a clinical trial of this diet and we saw that, in just a month, we could see this huge measurable shift by more than fifty-eight percent of the adrenal rhythm only on the diet and when someone does have their rhythms back in line again, they are measurably more stress-resilient and, yes, they have more autonomy and more leeway over their habits. Of course, you can still wreck things if you tried to but it’s easier to balance when you’re moving than when you’re not moving.

Jonathan: Got you, got you. So it’s a bit like — we’re going to have to go at a level ten out of ten for a time period to get reset and then, as the system, as the homeostasis takes over, we might be able to ease back. Of course, we’re not going to start eating inSANE garbage but thinking about when during the day we’re eating it, would that become more lax then over time?

Alan: People get more leeway when they’re stable. The cool thing, too, is that some of the hard parts about dieting would be just the hunger, the food cravings, but also things like mood changes, fatigue, insomnia — they come about from that. I argue in the book that those are consequences, sure, of just being restricted of food, but they’re also consequences of having your daily cycle a little goofed up and having your cortisol rhythms thrown off. So when you’re eating in a way to improve that, people pretty routinely said that, “Wow. First off, this is working, which is cool, but not only that, I’m actually feeling better as I’m losing weight,” which is kind of unprecedented for most people.

Jonathan: Absolutely. It sounds like it would also be getting easier over time versus the longer you try to live on 1,000 calories per day, the harder it gets over time. So can you give us, just in big broad brushstrokes, if, right now, we’re in a place where we like eating SANE foods — vegetables, clean proteins, whole food fats, healthy stuff found in nature — what is the high level brush we would paint over top of that — right before we buy your book — to start modifying the timing of those foods?

Alan: One of the general concepts is having good healthy carbs, like you’ve taught everyone about, having those types of good carbs later in the day rather than earlier. There have been some experts who have talked about having carbs earlier when you burn them but it turns out that it takes a long time to get them ready to burn, so actually like eight to fourteen hours. What we burn in the course of a given day is less so from our breakfast and more so from our prior evening meals. Some people argue that there’s this historical rhythm of our ancestors to where we were probably hunting and gathering throughout the day and not consuming major amounts of food during daylight but then, come early evening, make a communal campfire and gather together and have our social bonding time, protect from our predators, and that was the time we would have our larger meal. So in the evening, we respond to food in ways that are very different than we do earlier in the day and that’s not to say, “Take a diet that’s not working and throw a lot of extra food before bed.”

Jonathan: But it is very counter, which I always find to be encouraging. When something sounds dissimilar to what has failed us for the past forty years, I say, “Well, that might lead to a different result, which is good,” because the conventional wisdom is, if you eat basically anything after 6 p.m., you’re going to get fat. I mean, you just can’t eat — it’s eat this starchy breakfast, so it’s like, load up on your carbs in the morning and then don’t eat anything in the evening. It sounds like you’re almost flipping that. Is that accurate?

Alan: Yes. There was a real cool study I saw about some Israeli military and they were put on equal-calorie diets but the only difference in this study was just when the calories came in. One group had a greater quantity of them in the evening than earlier and that group had a fat loss of fifteen percent above the group that had the same food earlier in the day. So there’s something to it and it really does fit what we’re learning about the body’s rhythms and our cycles of storage and burning. Early in the day, our food is going to get more stored as fat. Later in the day when it’s timed well, we’re going to build healthy glycogen out of it. Also, just the big picture — I’m certainly a fan of a solid breakfast, I’m a fan of having lunch and eating as need be, but just kind of having the bulk of that be at a time when it will support relaxation and sleep and support generation of fuel for the following day.

Jonathan: Well, it’s very good news as well because I think most people won’t struggle to eat more food in the evening. At least, that’s been my — I mean, I probably consume sixty to seventy percent of the calories I consume over the course of a day — just because I listen to my body — after 6 p.m. That’s just natural. I know it’s how my father works. Are we just — big, broad brushstrokes — are we basically saying, baseline of clean foods, baseline of SANE foods, and then we’re going more of them later in the day and we’re going kind of higher fat/lower carbs early in the day and higher carb/lower fat later. So you’re just kind of skewing that as the day goes?

Alan: Totally. You got it right on.

Jonathan: Brilliant. What have you seen to be, if any, the one or two, maybe, stumbling blocks where, if people just hear the CliffNotes, someone’s like, “Hey, I read this book called The Adrenal Reset Diet and you do this,” and you’d be like, “No, that’s not what it says.” What would be the two cautions you would want to give people?

Alan: Probably the first one, like I said, was just not to take a diet that’s not working and throw a lot of extra food onto it.

Jonathan: Especially in the evening. “He said, Load up on carbs in the evening so let’s go to Dunkin’ Donuts, let’s get a dozen donuts, and eat them after 9 p.m. and then you’ll lose weight, right?”

Alan: Yes. Another one would be really the context of one’s sleep habits. We’re getting more data about — we’ve always struggled about diet and exercise for weight and it might be the case that sleep is a bigger variable and there’s more mounting evidence about that. So putting a lot of thought into one’s rhythms, one’s schedules, one’s downtime, bright light in the morning, winding down in the day — so ignoring one’s sleep and dialing in all the rest. So the rhythms are huge. That’s an important part of it.

Jonathan: Brilliant. Well, I think we’ve got folks some wonderful teaser information here. They can take their existing SANE lifestyle, do some experimentation with doing — if you’re going to have your fats, try to have those earlier in the day; if you’re going to incorporate some more carbs, do those later in the day; and don’t feel bad if you’re hungry in the evening about enjoying a big meal then. Where can folks learn the details of this? How can they get your book?

Alan: Well, we’re going to give a whole bunch of them away. I want to get this message out and I want to make a big, big difference on this. This is something that can really shift the global perspective on it and we’re going to do a giveaway process and actually we’re going to have some great bonuses from you as well as part of it.

Jonathan: So where can we –? — I’m sorry, you’re giving — You’re giving this book away? What? What?

Alan: I will ask for a little help in shipping and handling, just a bit, but, honestly, we’re going to give it away. We want to get the message out in a quick way and have the discussions and the thoughts about obesity start to really change, yes.

Jonathan: Excellent. Well, folks, we will send out a link where you can get all the information on where you can get a free copy of the book plus shipping and handling, which is certainly a better deal than you’re going to get from any other place in the world, so that’s pretty awesome. Dr. Christianson, if you have any parting words, what would those be?

Alan: What I’ve seen is that our bodies can heal and our bodies are really driven back towards this amazing state of thriving and if you’ve ever been in a place to where it’s not where you want it to be, don’t ever give up and don’t ever think that it cannot improve because it really can. There’s only just a matter of undoing the things holding you back and providing the things that are going to move you forward and with those steps, you can really achieve the health that you want.

Jonathan: Well, Dr. Christianson, thank you so much for that inspirational message and also for all the amazing science and clinical practice that you bring to the table to back that up. I so appreciate your time.

Alan: Thanks again for having me, Jonathan.

Jonathan: Well, listeners and viewers, again, our wonderful guest today is the always delightful and insightful Dr. Alan Christianson. The book you heard about today is The Adrenal Reset Diet. Of course, make sure you’re signed up at SANEsolution.com and I’ll send you a link on how you can actually get a free copy of that book, which is pretty awesome, and again, a great book to read. Also, look up Dr. Christianson online. Just type in Dr. Alan Christianson because a great individual in the field of –

Look, this isn’t about starving yourself. It’s about healing yourself. Once you heal yourself, it’s literally a new you moving forward and that really changes the game. It’s not about starvation; it’s about healing. We’re going to support anyone who’s saying that message, especially someone as nice as Dr. Christianson, so be sure to check that out. Remember, stay SANE.