How to Unlock Your Genetic Potential with Kevin Cann

Jonathan: Hey everyone, Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast. A delightful guest for you today, he is a Board Certified Holistic Nutritionist, Nutritional blogger, teacher, strength and fitness coach. He’s based out of Boston. He’s all over the internet, very passionate guy and a gentleman who is not afraid to take the road less travelled, let’s say. All about helping people, so I’m all about helping him spread his message. Kevin Cann, welcome to the show, my brother.

Kevin: Thanks for having me, glad to be here.

Jonathan: Kevin, to get started, for those who are not familiar with your work, can you tell us a little bit about how you went from little Kevin to the strapping gentleman that you are today?

Kevin: Basically, I started my fitness career as a personal trainer. Basically, I was abiding by the typical, my pyramid scheme, based off of beta metabolic rate calorie count and it wasn’t working for my clients. I had developed, we’ll call it a mission statement, if you will, that everybody who comes in front of me is going to see results and if they’re not, there’s something I can do to make it better. I know my math was right and maybe it works for this point for about 50% of the population that was coming in front of me.

Also, their energy levels were low, they weren’t showing up for their sessions in the gym, they weren’t coming more than a couple days a week. They just lacked overall motivation to exercise in general. When I started looking into it, I started seeing that low thyroid, the neurotransmitter deficiency. Basically, our brain chemicals that are responsible for our mood and our energy levels were low. Our thyroid hormones that were also responsible for our energy levels was low. There were people who were just chronically exercising, eating low calories but still gaining weight.

That’s when I stumbled upon an adrenal resistant so that hormone actually freeze up our fatty acid that utilizes energy, that most of my clients ended up being adrenal resistant. When I switched everything around and started instituting a different diet approach, people’s results, their moods, everything just seemed to change for the better in a much more positive direction. My retention rate in my gym increased and my clients saw much better results.

Jonathan: Kevin, I certainly empathize with your story. I have almost an identical one. I started out as a personal trainer. I was versed in the standard mythology of eat less, exercise more. It was not at all working for my clients. What was going on in your brain when you were doing what you were taught and what seemed like it seems correct that if you eat fewer calories and you exercise a lot, that you just have to get results. You and I have both seen and millions of people have seen it, it doesn’t work that way. How’d you wrap your head around that?

Kevin: It actually took me a while because as far as I know my math is right. This is what I’ve been told, like I should just believe it. The science part of my brain is pretty much, but why should this work? When I started looking up the research and stuff about various hormones that control our energy homeostasis, it doesn’t typically turn out to be that away. It’s just a really simple, algebra problem. There’s a lot of different chemicals that come into play and there’s a lot of different factors that can influence how we hold on to fat, how we release it as energy.

We’ve never even evolved to dealing with the stress we’re under on a typical daily basis, like sitting in traffic, deprived sleep window, Vitamin D deficiency, you name it, money problems, boss, even people who don’t thing they’re stressed out, they are. I think that’s a major, major part of all of this and actually, what I ended up doing for a lot of my clients, was, we actually exercised less, eat differently and saw much, much better results.

Jonathan: Kevin, I don’t want to take any liberties here, but I would imagine that with some of your clients, especially with your female clients, who are doing especially low calorie approaches, did you have a case where you were exercising less and also eating more?

Kevin: Oh yeah, it’s typically more so for females than it is for males, although I think typically, a 20 to 30 year old male population has started to become a piece as well, but they come on the low calorie diet. Every single time that we have a low calorie diet, within six hours, a thyroid can down regulate it, according to some studies show, by upwards of 60 percent. That’s basically our body going into a major energy conservation.

If we are doing something like that, after six hours of work, you probably would be doing it for a month, and then coming off it for a month, then doing it again for a month, it just throws all of our energy on the homeostasis hormones for a loop and we just run into problems where, without some type of supplementation and intervention, it’s just not going to be correct.

Jonathan: Kevin, you keep saying energy homeostasis, because that really hits home with me and this audience and it seems such a profound distinction to understand that at, most simple level, we’ve been taught that if you eat less and exercise more, the body is a passive vessel and it, just like it’s fixed, it doesn’t change.

If you change, how much you’re eating and how much you’re exercising, you create more deficit and blah, blah, blah, blah. What you’re seen, what I’ve seen, what the research shows, is that assumption that your body just sits there is not even controversially false. That’s patently false. If you just eat less, you burn more because in reality, you eat less and you just slow down, right?

Kevin: Exactly. We would not have survived millions of years as a speciesif we couldn’t go a few hours without eating. A lot of people come in front of me, so basically what I try to promote is that we start with three meals a day. That way we can actually space out those meals about five hours apart and then our hormones are responsible, the Leptin, the insulin, the adrenalin, all get equal time in the blood stream so one doesn’t become more prevalent than the other, leading to resistance, hopefully reverse everything that’s going on.

A lot of people who come in front of me when I try to do that, they literally cannot go three or four hours without eating, without getting really angry or really bad hunger pains. We never would have survived as a species if this was normal behavior.

Jonathan: It’s almost an analogous, we obviously don’t do this as people but there are other mammals, for example, who will sleep, aka hibernate, four months. If mammals and species did not have the ability to slow down their metabolism, well, bears wouldn’t be able to hibernate very long now would they?

Kevin: Exactly. What literally got me going on this whole thing was theat3,500 calories equals a pound of fat. I literally cannot find one human study that actually shows that if somebody ingested 3,500 calorie, they would turn into one pound of fat. There are no human studies that even show, this is just a guess of math.

Jonathan: Yes, it’s pretty amazing that this is still considered controversial, as you said. In my reviewing of the research as well, I have every single metabolic award study I’ve seen works tightly controlled for calories in and calories out and they monitor this stuff. No person, no participant in any study ever has shown the traditional calorie math to be true. They’ve all, everyone, like 100 percent, proven it false, meaning if they eat 35,000 extra calories, nobody gains 10 pounds, nobody does.

Kevin: Right and then they’re still under the whole principle of let’s do some simple math, take 500 calories off a day, there’s your pound a week and that’s literally the problem I ran into when I first started my business. It did not work. It actually was kind of embarrassing when you feel like you’re a professional in your field and you’re directing people in a certain way. It’s not worth it.

Jonathan: I appreciate that you Kevin, took a step back and didn’t take what seems to be a common approach in that situation, which is, “Well, client, you must just not be working hard enough, just try harder.” That is the common response, it seems.

Kevin: It is, and you know what? That’s probably the worst thing that someone can do. We end up low calorie eating and then over exercising and basically, it just throws our stress levels through the roof. So that adrenalin that I mentioned earlier, that’s actually responsible for releasing our fat store, we get so much of it so that we become resistant to it. We end up putting ourselves in a really good spot of getting really, really good at storing body fat and really, really bad at releasing it. This is where we can run into those problems where we still low calorie diet, exercise a lot but can’t lose weight or even in some cases, continue to gain weight.

Jonathan: Kevin, that fact that you use the phrase, “we can get really bad at burning fat,” I think that, in and of itself is a bit of a paradigm shift for people because we see naturally thin people. We all have naturally thin friends or co-workers who we may resent, on a sub-conscious level, because they don’t watch what they eat, they don’t exercise and they stay slim. We now know, as you’ve seen, you can look and see biologically, here’s what makes a naturally thin person good at burning fat and here’s what makes someone who is metabolically disregulated bad at burning fat. What are some of those differences?

Kevin: A lot of those differences, the sugar components to it. There’s also lifestyle pieces to it but it all ties into those homeostasis hormones that I was talking about. Some people are just genetically more prone to stress, so they are going to be the ones who are producing an excess amount of adrenalin and causing that adrenalin resistance in the first place. Then you put the low calorie dieting on top of it, and we’re eating the wrong types of sugary foods, we can induce insulin resistance, so then we need more insulin to treat it, to actually take care of all of the blood sugar and then lowering the adrenalin, it becomes a very reciprocal approach.

Then Leptin, is a hormone that actually controls our satiety and how much fat we store. When we look at ourselves in the mirror, we actually see an image. Our brain doesn’t actually see that, that same image. Our brain response to that hormone, Leptin. So however much Leptin is being brought into the brain is actually kind of telling it where we are with our body weight but the more we get, the more resistant we get, so that we are not hearing those signals.

As Leptin levels rise, we should be getting full but if we’re resistant to it, it’s like making a phone call and nobody answering on the on the other end. There are numerous things that lead to this, deprived sleep, Vitamin D issue, poor stress management, genetic factors, you name it, food choices, and I think some people are more prone to have issues than others. It is not to say that people who are naturally skinny are not having other type of health problem.

Jonathan: Exactly. Kevin, it’s easy for people to hear this message of homeostatic regulation of weight and jump to the other end of the spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is calories, calorie math, it’s all calories and then people hear the proven science rather than this metabolism mythical math and they say, “Oh, okay, calories don’t matter at all, like not at all.” It seems like that’s also not true.

Kevin: Yeah, I know. Calories do matter. Obviously, studies have shown that if we over consume, we will gain weight. I think overconsumption of food is a symptom of some type of metabolic dysfunction going on, so say Leptin resistance. Our Leptin levels are rising and our brain is not hearing the message to stop eating, we’re going to continue to eat. So, it’s trying to figure out what’s causing that Leptin resistance, removing that factor and trying to reset those homeostatic hormones.

It’s not about taking the calories away, like I have said before, even in that case if somebody who’s over-consuming food, if we remove food, they’re still going to down regulate thyroid hormones. It’s making sure that they’re eating enough, they’re meeting nutrient demands, but they’re also eating the right foods, hopefully the right mealtime, and getting the right amount of sleep, getting outside, getting some sun, doing some type of stress management. It’s a whole spectrum. To be healthy, it’s not all about one symptom, one solution. I think there’s a whole wide array of stuff that comes into this picture.

Jonathan: Even the term ‘overeating’, Kevin, it seems we need to revisit that because if you look at overeating studies, for example where you have metabolically functional people rather than metabolically dysfunctional individuals, when they try to overeat,…overeating by definition is an uncomfortable state. I think we’ve conflated two definitions of the word ‘overeating.’ There’s eating in a way that causes your body to store fat. If you’re eating, and you just keep eating and you’re hungry, you’re not technically overeating. Your body is telling you to eat and your body is doing what it thinks it needs to do.

Overeating, it seems, is a very painful state. We’ve all overeaten before and it’s not something you want to do. You feel bloated and terrible. It’s horrible. It seems like the underlying cause of overeating as it’s traditionally defined, which is eating in a way that makes you gain fat, is just because your body isn’t giving you the signals that would otherwise make it painful to do that.

Kevin: Yeah, absolutely. That’s exactly what’s going on. Not to mention with all the processed foods and how they actually illicit a response from the reward center in our brain. It pretty much acts like a drug to us at the same time. So with the down regulating our satiety hormones, it’s also up-regulating our reward response. Typical food does illicit a response from our reward system. These processed foods, between the sugars, the salts, and the fats, actually are creating an increased reward response. We’re getting that little piece at both ends that we may end up becoming addictive to these foods.

Jonathan: Kevin, just to give a concrete example for folks, the distinction you’re making here, which is one that I think will resonate with all of us because you have all experienced… many of us, let’s say, like steak. Steak is a delicious food for many people. If you just said, “I’m not going to eat steak for two weeks, I’m going to eat chicken and salmon, and other things,” you wouldn’t not be able to sleep, your mood wouldn’t suffer, you wouldn’t have the shakes, you wouldn’t have headaches from not eating steak. However, if you decide to give up soda, you will experience something very different than if you try to give up steak. Does that hit on this reward issue?

Kevin: Oh, yeah. That soda, I swear to God, is one of those things that is just so hard to break people from. A neurologist, Dr. Kenneth Blum, he developed what he called the ‘reward deficiency syndrome.’ Basically, it states with addiction that we will become addicted to anything that balances out our biochemistry. So those neurotransmitters, those chemical messengers of our brain.

All these processed foods, they illicit a reward response from these chemical messengers and if we get onto one of them that actually balances out our biochemistry, we’re going to get hooked to it. One of the ingredients in diet soda, the phenylalanine, it’s a precursor for some of those neurotransmitter, especially epinephrine and nor-epinephrine. We’re deficient in those, we start drinking diet soda, balances out are biochemistry, it’s going to act the same way a drug would. We’re going to actually be addicted to them. I’ve had plenty of clients in front of me who drink two 20 ounce bottles of Diet Coke or 2 liter bottle of Diet Coke per day.

Jonathan: Kevin, some of these things kind of blows my mind, that people think it’s shocking to say that these things are addictive. We know we can be addicted to nicotine. Everyone knows, you pick up a pack of cigarettes, you smoke it, you’re going to die sooner, you’re probably going to have terrible lung cancer, and it’s just terrible. People just go, “Yup, I’m going to smoke my cigarettes,” but the same exact thing. I don’t know if there’s anyone out there who thinks that drinking two, two liters of Dr. Pepper per day isn’t going to hurt them in some way but they still continue to do it. That is the textbook definition of addiction, is it not?

Kevin: Oh yeah. It definitely is. There was a study, it was done on rats, so take it at face value. They pretty much had given them two food options. They had their typical rat chow and they had a rat chow that kind of mimics what we would get at a fast food restaurant. These rats would literally go through extreme temperatures and electric shock therapy to get that chow that simulated our fast food over the normal rat chow that they wouldn’t have experience any negative feelings going towards eating it. Rats are different than humans but it shows the addictive properties of some of these foods.

Jonathan: It does show that it’s addictive properties of some of these foods. Nicole Avena, I think she was over at Florida or Princeton, or something like that. She talks about how it is specific to things like soda. Like you said, it’s not that people can’t give up food. If you told someone you can never eat spinach again for the rest of your life, they wouldn’t be like, “Oh god, I have to eat spinach.” It’s not just food. It’s these processed, sugary, trans fatty, chemically things, right?

Kevin: Oh, yeah. If you think of it too, if we take a bowl of sugar and you take a spoonful of just regular table sugar, we’re not probably going to overeat just at a regular table sugar but, the second you drop it in some water and you make some Kool-Aid or you make some Diet Coke, it becomes very easy to consume massive amounts of that same sugar. If anything, just take out the sugar in water drinks in general, absolutely awful for you.

Jonathan: Kevin, so much knowledge and insights. I so appreciate you sharing it with us. What’s next for you? I know you’ve got your Genetic Potential Nutrition effort. Are you moving forward with that? What’s going on?

Kevin: Yes, still moving forward with that. I’ll be speaking at a Transform Your Health World Summit, pretty much runs from October 1st to October 10th. It’s free. You can sign up right online. There’s some great speakers that are speaking, I think 31 in all. There will be some good information shared there. Just going to keep pushing forward with the research, writing articles and hopefully, in the long term we can make a difference.

Jonathan: Kevin, where can folks read your research and learn more about you online?

Kevin: You can visit my website, I also write for the Paleo Solution Blog as well as Breaking Muscle, which can be found at and

Jonathan: Beautiful, beautiful. Again folks, that was Genetic Potential Nutrition. Our wonderful and insightful guest today was Kevin Cann.

Kevin, thank you so much for joining us.

Kevin: Thanks for having me. It was great.

Jonathan: Listeners, I hope you enjoyed this wonderful conversation as much as I did and please remember, this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter, live better. Chat with you soon.

This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Kevin Cann. In his own words:

“I am Kevin Cann, a Board Certified Holistic Nutritionist, nutritional blogger, teacher, and strength & fitness coach in Boston, Massachusetts.

I advocate the Paleo Diet for my clients to help alleviate existing symptoms, reverse disease, or boost performance. I spend a lot of my time sifting through research to make sure my knowledge base is up to date and my clients are getting the best care possible.

As a Board Certified Holistic Nutritionist, I have the same educational background as a Registered Dietitian with a few differences.

  1. I will work with you to find the underlying causes of your health issues.  I do this by asking pertinent questions necessary for defining your personal health goals.
  2. I will complete a comprehensive analysis of your personal objectives, current lifestyle, and environmental factors.
  3. I will design a lifestyle strategy and nutritional plan for overcoming the weaknesses in your present health program and will provide specific recommendations to assist in the achievement of improved health objectives.”