Aaron: Today my guest is Jonathan Bailor, author of The Calorie Myth. Jonathan, it’s great to have you on the show.
Jonathan: Hey Aaron, thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Aaron: Jonathan, so give me a little bit about your background. How did you get interested in exercise and science and calorie counting and all that?
Jonathan: It’s a long story. So, I will give you the short version. In high school, I was a personal trainer. This is actually how – high school and college – this is how I paid my way through college, and I had a very unique experience as a trainer. Specifically, my goal was to get bigger, but my clients who were by and large females over the age of 35 had consistently the opposite goal. They wanted to get to smaller. So, versed in the conventional wisdom, which everyone is at this point because it’s what we have been told, I would tell all my clients to eat about 1,200 to 1,400 calories per day, predominantly a very high-carb 1,200 to 1,400 calories per day, and to do a lot and a lot of cardiovascular exercise, and this was while I was eating about 6,000 calories per day. So, I was trying to get bigger using calorie math, and they were trying to get smaller using calorie math and neither one of us achieved our goals. Both of us felt worse and felt sick and I had to quit being a trainer simply because I felt like I was doing people a disservice, which I was. Right? I started to be a trainer because I wanted to help people and I wasn’t helping them. I was actually hurting them and simultaneously hurting myself. And in my other life, let’s call it, I am a very technical geeky guy. I am – actually right now I am a senior program manager at Microsoft and I have been so for about a decade and so I have a very inquisitive mind let’s say. A less kind way would be I am a geek, and so I said to myself I just I couldn’t wrap my head around what was going on with my clients back in my – let’s call it previous life. So, I decided to look the only place that I had left, which was I just asked myself were am I getting my information from. Okay like conventional methods like any trainer would. Okay where do those people that are teaching me get their information from? Okay where do those people get their information from tracing it all the way back to the source and started this now 13-year odyssey studying primary research. So, actual papers that you can’t just find. You have to go to university libraries, you have to call researchers directly, you have to get in all these e-mail correspondences and after over a decade of that reading over 1,300 studies and studies from arenas which traditionally are not considered relevant to eating and exercise such as neurobiology or gastroenterology or endocrinology, translating the brain, the gut, and your hormones, the disconnect between what I was taught as a trainer and what the actual clinical, not observational, clinical studies had shown about the way the human body works and the way we should eat and exercise based upon that proven science, it was just so different that I decided to dedicate my life to sharing that information with folks because fundamentally Aaron, we laugh at last year’s iPhone. Right? We are all about progress and technology, but truly, as a society, we are being told the same eating and exercise information we were told in the 1960s. Could you imagine if we flew in the same airplanes we flew in the 1960s or used the same phones we used in 1960s? The internet was far from existing in the 1960s, but still for these key areas of life eating and exercise, we are led to believe that science just stopped in the 1960s. It didn’t, but we were not told about it, and that’s the point of the book The Calorie Myth and that’s the point of my life and my mission is simply to be a mouthpiece for the hardcore researchers and to share the modern science of eating and exercise with everyone else.
Aaron: Okay. Well, Jonathan what would you say to someone who says well you know the reason that we don’t need new science is because we already know everything; all you have to do is exercise more and eat less. Isn’t it that simple?
Jonathan: Look around. If it was that simple, we wouldn’t have forty million children under the age of five who are overweight. We wouldn’t have the first generation in the history of this country that’s expected to die at a younger age and to experience more disease than their parents. We wouldn’t have 70 percent of our population who despite their best efforts are becoming overweight. We wouldn’t have a 100,000 percent greater rates of diabetes and prediabetes than we did just a few generations ago. People – this gets me little fired up Aaron and I won’t spend too much time on it, but at this point if any person with a heart and a brain can look around at the amount of suffering we have in this country and the number of people its affecting and say you know what, it’s just because 70 percent of you are stupid and lazy” That is the stupidest and laziest thinking I have ever heard in my entire life. Seventy percent of the American population is struggling. Do we honestly believe that spontaneously 70 percent of the people in this country are stupid and lazy? That’s just ridiculous.
Aaron: Right. So, what would your response be then if it’s not just calories in, calories out, what is it that actually makes people fat?
Jonathan: Calories matter. The point of my work is not that calories don’t exist and if you drink 10,000 calories of butter you wouldn’t gain fat. You absolutely will gain fat. It’s just that calories are a very small portion of a bigger equation. Using calories to evaluate eating and exercise is a bit like using height to evaluate intelligence because these little kids they are short and if you have them take the SAT test, they will probably do worse than someone who’s taller, aka older but, that’s a really rough correlation and intelligence clearly isn’t determined by height. And yes, there is some relevance to calories, but if you actually look at the science, for example, the Harvard School of Public Health did two studies. One on about 60,000 women, and one on about 50,000 men and actually found an inverse relationship between the quantity of calories consumed and their body mass index, meaning the individuals who ate the most calories had the lowest body mass index. Calories matter, but the question is not oh just eat fewer calories and exercise more off. That’s a bit like telling a depressed person just frown less and smile more. The question is why is the person depressed, why aren’t they smiling more, and why are they frowning so much. And the question with obesity is not – again spontaneously people like just be hungry. Once you come to the realization that this is not about a moral failing – the reason we haven’t paid attention to the science is we’ve been led to believe that obesity is a moral failing, and if we believe it’s a moral failing, there is no need to look at the science because people just need to stop being gluttonous sloths. But if we assume that we are not, 70 percent of us aren’t just gluttonous sloths, we start to say sure. There is one percent of the population that eats 20,000 calories per day of garbage, and they know they shouldn’t do that, but that’s one percent of the population, so what about the other 69 percent that are struggling. Why is it that when they just eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full like everybody else, they seem to get overweight and diabetic? The answer is actually quite simple. The answer is what we are eating has changed. And this is so patently obvious, it’s shocking. If you look at any culture that ever lived, ever, anywhere, once they adopt a western diet, aka non-food, aka edible products, they get sick and fat and everybody – it doesn’t matter if they eat like 90 percent starch or 90 percent fat – as long as they are eating things you find directly in nature, they don’t become overweight and diabetic because they are eating food. They are eating things our body and our brains and our hormones and our guts are designed or evolved, depending on your belief system, to handle. So, to again think about calories misses the point entirely because calories are a quantity measure, and if the underlying cause of obesity is the quality of what you are putting in your body, which it is. We don’t diabetes is caused by too many calories. Diabetes is caused by the quality of foods you eat. We don’t say heart disease is caused by eating too many calories. Heart disease is caused by the quality of things you put in your body. Lung cancer is not caused by an excessive quantity of air put into your lungs. It’s caused by the quality of things put into your lungs. Once we realize that these metabolic disorders are quality issues, using a quantity measure makes absolutely no sense.
Aaron: Got you. So, you know a lot of times we are told in the mainstream to eat natural whole foods, which a lot of nutritionists will say you need to eat a lot of healthy whole grains. And people who listen to this show have a little bit more of a Paleo than a lot of people. And what’s your take on whole grains? Is that a whole food?
Jonathan: Whole grains, as they are found in nature, are a whole food, but no one eats whole grains as they are found in nature. So, it’s somewhat of – it misses the point a bit because whole wheat bread is not found in nature. There is no such thing as a bread bush. If anybody can find emmer wheat, like actual wheat, not genetically engineered dwarf wheat, but emmer biblical wheat and chooses to eat it directly off the stalk, I would support that. I would say that’s not a bad decision. No one would do that because it’s disgusting, and I would recommend you eat other things, but grains are not something that can be consumed in their natural form. They require processing. And logic would seem to dictate that if something requires a bunch of processing outside of the body to be handled inside of the body, maybe it wasn’t meant to be put in the body in the first place. Can we eat it? Yes. Is it the optimal thing to eat? No. I think that’s where some of the confusion lies, and clearly our grandmothers ate bread and didn’t struggle with diabetes and obesity. Can we eat bread and not struggle with diabetes and obesity? Yes, but you need to think about the starting point. If you look at our grandmothers, they didn’t have metabolic dysfunction, like they weren’t already pre-diabetic. So if you take a healthy person and feed them bread that was homemade with emmer wheat, that is very different than taking someone who has yo-yo dieted thirteen times, is pre-diabetic, and has neurological inflammation and telling them it’s okay to eat bread and processed garbage modern bread. They are two very different people. So, you have got to focus on where you are at and if where you are at is you’ve been subjected to this calorie myth dogma, it is ideal to only eat the highest quality foods available to you. Those highest quality foods are non-starchy vegetables, nutrient dense proteins, whole food fats, and low fructose fruits. They do not include whole grains not because whole grains are poisonous, but because they are just not an optimal source of calories.
Aaron: What’s your take on exercise? You say that on the cover of your books how we can eat more and exercise less while still losing weight. How is that possible?
Jonathan: Exercise, as you know Aaron, because I know you are a diligent athlete, is very goal specific. Right? If you want to become a great long jumper, you train very specifically. And if you want to become a great sprinter, you would train differently than someone who wants to be a marathon runner. And certainly golfers don’t train the same as football players. So, when I talk about exercising less, the goal of my work and my research, which really isn’t mine, it’s just a mouthpiece for all these actual experts out there, is how do we heal ourselves metabolically. How do we reverse the neurological inflammation, the gut bacteria deterioration, and the hormonal dysregulation that is at the heart of obesity and diabetes? How do we do that? That’s my goal – that’s the goal of my research. Given that goal, the way we exercise to achieve that goal is very little. And the reason we exercise very little is because the type of exercise we do is targeted at activating all four types of our muscle fibers. We actually have four different types of muscle fibers, three of which most people never actually exercise because the only way they get exercised is by generating a huge amount of force. And if we listen to conventional wisdom, we only do high-quantity, low-force exercise, and, therefore, never exercises muscle fibers. But when you do exercise those muscle fibers, you exert a massive amount of energy very quickly and because of that you can’t exercise a lot. Think sprinting versus jogging. Someone who sprints for ten seconds and stops isn’t doing so because they are lazy. They are doing that because you can’t really sprint full on for longer than ten seconds unless you are a highly-trained athlete. So if your goal is metabolic healing, the best way to do that, and this is not at all my opinion and this is not at all controversial in the scientific community, is to engage in forms of exercises that activate all of your muscle fibers because that causes the hormonal response that quells all of these inflammation and hormonal dysregulation at the heart of obesity.
Aaron: Got you. So, that’s a little bit counterintuitive because people would think if I do high-intensity exercise, I am not going to burn as many calories. But I think you are saying is that there is something else going on in the body that’s going to maybe change your hormones, activate certain genes, that’s going to help you burn more fat. Is that what I am hearing?
Jonathan: Aaron, you are spot on and that’s why the title of the book is The Calorie Myth. Literally, if you think about calories, it’s like the flat earth theory of eating and exercise. It’s just wrong, and it will prevent you from getting where you want to go. And it’s intuitive – it’s intuitive that the earth is flat. Look out of your window. It looks like the earth is flat. And if it wasn’t flat, wouldn’t the people on the bottom fall off? But once we understand the scientific laws, such as the law of gravity, we understand that the earth isn’t flat, it’s spherical and that is – that makes sense once we understand the science. Once we understand the science that hormones, our brain and our gut are really what dictate what go on in our body, calories are a source of energy, great, but they don’t control the system itself. Just like the quantity of gasoline you put in your car will never actually change the way your car runs, it will just determine how long your car can run. However, if you put premium versus crap gasoline in your car, that will change the car itself. Or if you put lighter fluid in your car’s gas tank instead of gas, that will change your car itself regardless of the quantity of lighter fluid you put in your gas tank. Right? Quality is what determines the system, and it’s the system that determines long-term outcomes. So, with exercise, if the goal is to become a great endurance athlete, you are going to train one way to do that. If your goal is to manipulate the system itself to restore it to before it was – let’s call it deconditioned – the way you do that has nothing to do with calories and everything to do with hormones.
Aaron: Got you. So, Jonathan is your weight loss program, isn’t it just a low-carb, Atkins-style diet? What differentiates this from Paleo, from the bulletproof diet? Is this kind of similar low-carb thing or do you have something special that you really wanted to put out there?
Jonathan: Aaron, you will notice that every “diet” with staying power has one thing in common. Like let’s consider all of them. Paleo, vegan, vegetarian, bulletproof, Mediterranean, South Beach, whatever, like all of the – Halal, Kosher, like let’s go broad. What do they all have in common? They all have in common that they change the quality of food you eat not the quantity. No vegan is counting calories; they are just changing what they eat. Same thing with Paleo. It’s not about quantity; it’s about quality. Now, my research is not about a given diet, it’s about looking at the science and saying what are the characteristics. What are the common characteristics that are associated with positive body composition and health outcomes? Vegans have some of those. Low-carb has some of those. South Beach has some of those. We call the types of foods that the research recommends eating SANE foods, these are satisfying, unagressive, nutritious and inefficient foods, and to the extent that any lifestyle focuses on eating those foods and in such high quantities that you have no room for what we would call inSANE foods. And again SANE foods are nonstarchy vegetables, nutrient dense protein, whole food fats, low fructose fruits; inSANE foods are processed starches, sugars, and processed fats. To the extent that any lifestyle fits that template, it is SANE, and it will be associated with positive health outcomes. So, Aaron we are less about hey do this specific diet and more about here are the proven principles that you can apply to any lifestyle to optimize it.
Aaron: Jonathan, you keep going back to this thing about what the science says, what the actual proven principles are versus what’s actually out there in the clinical world. When you did all your research, what are – are there a few core principles – I know you keep hitting on the quality of foods. Is that something that keeps coming up in the research? What are the main things that come up in the research that you are finding?
Jonathan: The three things that are most common to at least nutrition are water, fiber, and protein. So, when we talked about these four factors, satiety, that’s how quickly food fills you up, how long it keeps you full; aggression is the hormonal impact that food has; nutrition is how many essential vitamins, minerals, photochemicals the food provides; and efficiency is how easily your body can store that as fat. There are three common denominators that determine how SANE or high quality a food is and they are water, fiber, and protein. So foods that are wet, high in fiber, and high in protein are going to be good choices compared to foods that are dry, low in fiber and low in protein. And again, think non-starchy vegetables, again super high in fiber, super high in water, and most people don’t realize this, but also super high in protein. Spinach calorie for calorie has more protein in it than a lot of red meat. Next on that list would be nutrient-dense protein. So, think humanely raised beef, grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, things like that. Again, super high in protein, also getting 50 percent or more of their volume from water. Then next on the list is whole food fats. Again, nuts, seeds, you got your water, you got your fiber, you got your protein and then low fructose fruits like berries and citrus. So, that’s really the key thing is focusing on natural water, fiber, and protein rich foods.
Aaron: Okay. Do you have any specific tips that you could give to someone who is into endurance activities, marathons, half-marathons, do they need to do any special precautions while following a low-carb diet? I know I just interviewed a man yesterday, Zach Bitter, who, following a low-carb, diet broke the American record for 100 miles running in 11 hours and 47 minutes. And he said during his racing, he eats a little bit more carbs, but then during his training, he eats lower carb. Is there anything that you have come across in the literature that you could share with the listeners?
Jonathan: For endurance athletes specifically, a higher natural whole food fat lower carbohydrate lifestyle seems to be far and away the most promising. There is a lot of research that supports for burst-based, intensity driven activities, you are going to need some level of glycogen and blah-blah-blah and your listeners are all familiar with that. But for endurance, the research around ensuring your body can efficiently burn fat because you can store hundreds of thousands of calories of fat on your body, but you can only store a few thousand of glycogen, is extremely promising. But the caution to endurance athletes is the quantity of calories you are going to need to consume to fuel you if those calories are not coming from optimum sources. It’s like you are smoking ten packs of cigarettes a day. It’s really not a good idea to just like pound back fructose packs because that fructose is just causing a bunch of inflammation in your brain, and as soon as you stop training, you are going to be like oh my God! Why am I gaining fat so rapidly? It’s because you have actually caused a change in the composition of your brain. So, what I would recommend is if you need lots of calories, either because you are trying to bulk as a bodybuilder, because you are a child who is growing, or you are an endurance athlete, I would highly recommend getting those from the following four sources – maybe more than four – macadamia nuts, coconut unsweetened, cocoa, and I would actually focus on and avocados if you can, but those are little bit harder to just kind of pound back. But, for example, like a smoothie with macadamia nuts, cocoa and coconut, you could easily consume 4,000 calories that are actually anti-inflammatory and great for your gut bacteria. Whereas, if you try to do that by carb loading, you would kind of destroy your body.
Aaron: Yes, you mentioned cocoa there. How do you incorporate that into a smoothie? Is it like a butter or what is it?
Jonathan: Oh just powdered cocoa. So, you want to look for un-dutch.
Jonathan: Because the dutching process is an alkalizing process which takes away lot of the powerful antioxidants that are found in cocoa. So just literally get raw cocoa, raw coconut, and you can get coconut manna or shredded coconut. I buy Let’s Do Organic coconuts, subscribe and save on Amazon – it’s super inexpensive – and then also macadamia nuts, which I buy in ten-pound bags on Amazon because they are expensive otherwise. I get them raw. I would recommend raw whenever possible and just – talk about easy, like if you want to go for a run, just you can put 5,000 calories of macadamia nuts in your pocket. It’s super easy.
Aaron: Right, got you. Can you give me a little bit of an idea of some foods that you eat on a daily basis? We’ve talked a lot about the science here and high quality foods, but people like to know what actually does a meal plan look like?
Jonathan: Yes, there is a lot of recipes in the book itself, but for me personally and this is just what I do, so this is not like what everyone should do, but what I do for breakfast is usually a – let’s call it a SANE oatmeal. So, I make a dish which we talked about in the book which is based on eggs or egg whites and chia seeds and coconuts and guar gum and a little bit of erythritol to sweeten it up and little bit of cinnamon and vanilla. And I make that in big batches. And it’s like oatmeal, and it tastes like oatmeal, and it’s delicious, and I can drink it if I don’t have time, so it’s really convenient. I often have a green smoothie in addition to that so think kale, romaine, or spinach with strawberries or oranges. And then for lunch – lunch is super easy. Right? Most people just eat whatever you are going to eat without the bun, or eat whatever you are going to eat without the pasta or rice and just eat more of everything else. And same thing with dinner. It’s not about deprivation. Like if you go to CalorieMythBook.com, we can literally make any kind of food with SANE ingredients. Instead of, for example, lasagna with noodles, you would make lasagna with eggplant. So it’s really not about saying you can never have ice cream. It’s about check out the book and learn how to make ice cream with coconut milk and xylitol instead of garbage. So, again it’s about SANEitizing what you would naturally and normally eat.
Aaron: Okay. I think you mentioned xylitol there in a couple of the recipes. What actually is that?
Jonathan: Both xylitol and erythritol are sugar alcohols, so they don’t have a blood sugar impact. They are very difficult to over-consume because if you do over consume them, you will have gastrointestinal problems, aka you will be running to the bathroom. So you will learn not to do that pretty quickly. They are actually been – they have been studied pretty heavily. So, they are things that are quite safe at least as evaluated in contrast to their alternatives and when you think of one – ideally you wouldn’t need any sweeteners, but whatever, most people aren’t going to live their life that way. I enjoy sweets, and I am willing to have some sweets as long as I do it safely. Think of sweeteners in four categories. There are caloric natural sweeteners like honey. Then there are caloric pseudo-natural sweeteners like sugar. Sugar is natural, but it has been processed. Right? Agave is natural and unprocessed, but it has twice as much fructose in it as high fructose corn syrup, so calling it healthy is inaccurate at best. So there are processed natural sweeteners, there are unprocessed natural sweeteners, both of which are caloric. Then there are non-caloric natural slightly processed sweeteners such as xylitol, erythritol, luo han guo and stevia. These are natural, but they are extracts from plants. And then there are artificial non-caloric sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame. Those are bad. I would generally recommend that folks, if they have to have a sweetener, worst on the list are things like sugar, high fructose corn syrup. Next in terms of avoiding for a normal person would be things like agave and honey simply because again people are like oh it is natural. It is natural, but so is snake venom and tobacco. That doesn’t mean you should consume it in excess. Next, on the list would be things like artificial sweeteners. These are not at all good for you, but if you have to chose between eating a teeny-tiny bit of sucralose and a bunch of sugar, sucralose is going to be a better choice based on the actual research. But optimally you wouldn’t need to eat any of that stuff because there is this category of wonderfully safe and delicious sweeteners that are natural called natural non-caloric sweeteners – xylitol, erythritol, stevia, and luo han guo.
Aaron: Okay. Well, Jonathan it’s been great talking with you today. Where can people go to find out more about you and your book?
Jonathan: Please hop over to CalorieMythBook.com. Again, that’s CalorieMythBook.com. We’ve got a bunch of great bonuses if you are able to pick up a copy of the book right around the launch date which is the 31st, meal plans and e-books and fun stuffs like that, and I would really highly encourage. The book is like $12.74 on Kindle and $19.30 something hardback. It’s less than 20 bucks and it is – it will literally change your life because it has over 1,300 studies worth of just proven science then applied into a five-week program. I don’t care whether you are a grandmother, whether you are a doctor, there is information in here, it has changed my life, it has changed thousands of people’s lives. I would highly encourage you to check it out.
Aaron: Awesome. Jonathan, it’s been great talking with you today. Thanks so much for being on the call.
Jonathan: Thank you so much Aaron, have a good one.
Aaron: You too.
Delighted to be rebroadcasting a delightful interview I did on the Paleo Runner show.