Lauren: Jonathan, it’s so good to have you on the show. I know that this book is not a super recent release, I know it came out several months ago, but I’m just now getting my hands on it. By the way, I did have the book delivered today. I know I was bugging your publisher trying to get a copy of it as a PDS so I appreciate them being so cool about it, but I did get a copy in my hands, and I have it right here. It is just an awesome book. You put so much time and effort into this, and really make super-complicated stuff easy to understand. How much time did it take you to write this thing?
Jonathan: Oh, thank you so much. This is not just a cookie-cutter book, by any means. It was over a decade of my life in the works. I didn’t start out on the journey intending to write a book, I just am a geeky guy and I really enjoy technical topics. That’s why I was a senior program manager at Microsoft for more than a decade because I like to work with really technical people. I am not a coder, myself, but I like to work with coders to get in their minds and then translate what they sometimes have a hard time communicating because they are so wickedly smart, and figuring out a way to communicate that and turn it into systems that everyday people can use. So I did that. I love doing that with technology, and I love doing that with biology, as well, simply because I had some struggles in my personal life when I was younger. Prior to being an engineer at Microsoft, my first job was as a personal trainer, and it was really interesting experiences there which turned me on to human biology, and then, I really have the engineer mindset, so I just wanted to deconstruct it and understand it. Then people said, why don’t you write this down? So, one thing led to another and well over a decade after I started a book called The Calorie Myth came out, and ended doing quite well, so that was very nice.
Lauren: I think a lot of this is probably kind of born out of, I don’t know if it is frustration, or just your love of your clients, you wanted to give them something they could really understand, and actually, something that works. How many years were you a personal trainer?
Jonathan: I wasn’t a trainer that long because it didn’t take more than two or three years for me to give up, and what I mean by that is, I was taught what most people continue to be taught today, through no fault of their own, you can’t control what you are taught in some ways, though the internet has changed things a little bit, but anyway, I digress. I was taught what most people are taught today, which is that obesity is a character flaw, and that you just need to try harder. It’s a moral failing, and because it’s a moral failing, there is really no point to have a scientific discussion about it because if people are just stupid and lazy, then what role does science have to play in making people less stupid and lazy? They just need to try harder. So, I was versed in the personal trainer mindset of more of a punisher. You’re the person who needs to force the people that don’t have their own willpower to burn more calories and to starve themselves harder.
But here was the wrinkle: At this time I was in my early 20s, this was the way I paid my way through college, late teens/early 20s. The vast majority of my clients were moms or grandmothers, different gender, and significantly different age than me. At that time I was putting these beautiful, lovely, intelligent women on 1200-calorie diets, and having them do chronic, chronic cardio. At the same time, I was consuming about 6,000 calories per day because I wanted to be a big, strong football player. Now, while my dear female clients were not getting smaller, but were getting sick and sad, I was eating five times more calories than they were, doing less cardio than they were, and I was also becoming sick and sad, and also not achieving my goals. So I said to myself, “You can no longer blame these people for not trying harder, and just saying, ‘I don’t care how many food journals you show me, you clearly aren’t actually eating 1200 calories,’” because I knew that I was eating 6,000 calories per day. I kept an Excel spreadsheet, I did double shots of olive oil because it was very difficult to consume that many calories consistently, and I knew that it wasn’t getting me any larger, so who was I to say that just blind caloric restriction should be getting these people smaller? So, much like a physician, such as yourself, if you saw patients and they got worse, not better, every time you saw them, you would probably stop doing what you were doing, because I am sure you got in the business to help people. So, I wasn’t a trainer for that long because I didn’t feel qualified, and that is when I went on this ten-plus year journey to hopefully feel more qualified.
Lauren: So, what would you tell the old Jonathan back then, or I guess if you were Jonathan then and talking to those clients, what would you have done differently working with them, knowing what you know?
Jonathan: There is one key paradigm shift; well, let’s say there are two. Gary Taubes was one of the first people to try to communicate this. Gary is so smart that sometimes he can talk at a level that not everyone can understand. So, two key distinctions: One is, telling someone that they need to eat less and exercise more is analogous to – I live in Seattle, world champion Seattle Seahawks, Superbowl champions. So imagine that on the off chance that the Superbowl Champion Seattle Seahawks lost a football game, everyone in Seattle is depressed, the head coach calls a press conference and the press immediately asks, “Coach! Why did you lose this game?” And the coach looks down, scratches his head, looks up very quizzically and says, “You know, our opponent scored too many points and we scored too few points.” Everyone in the press conference would look at the coach like he is a moron, because he just stated a description of what happened, not an explanation of why it happened, or how the team could avoid it in the future. But the same thing happens every day in personal training offices, in medical offices, and around dinner tables and water coolers, where people say, “I’m struggling with my weight,” and individuals respond with, “Well, clearly, you just need to eat less and exercise more.” That doesn’t explain anything.
Another analogy, because I think analogy is the best way to communicate stuff sometimes. Imagine someone was struggling psychologically, rather than metabolically. Maybe someone just had a terrible event happen in their life, they are suffering from depression, and they walk into their psychiatrist’s office. Their psychiatrist sits them down and says, “Look, Mary, here’s the situation. I’ve got it figured out. I’ve got a diagnosis for you. You just need to frown less and smile more.” Of course, Mary would ask for her money back, because that provides no information. Mary knows that she has a shortage of smiles and an abundance of frowns in her life, but what she is asking for is why that is happening. “Why is it, that no matter hard I try, I continue to frown, and have a hard time smiling?”
Think about this in terms of obesity. Imagine you have a person – and then I’ll stop talking and you talk a little bit. I get excited about this stuff. Imagine you have a person – and it’s later in the day, I usually do my interviews early in the day because I get loopy later in the day. Imagine you have a person – we’re doing all sorts of imagining here, it’s like Sesame Street.
Lauren: I love it.
Jonathan: Imagine you have a person – that’s not too hard to imagine, especially if you live in the Midwest. Imagine you have a person who has, let’s say, 100 pounds of surplus fat on their body. Not super uncommon in this country. And this isn’t just 100 pounds of fat, it’s 100 pounds of too much fat. That person’s body has approximately – let’s assume the 3500 calories in a pound of fat thing we hear is true, that person has 350,000 calories sitting in their body, already. Why are they ever hungry? That, in and of itself, shows, that simple distinction, it’s so much deeper than willpower. If you eat a big meal, let’s say a 1000-calorie meal, you are going to be full for a long time. But why is it that you can have 350,000 calories already in your body and be hungry all the time? Doesn’t that indicate that maybe there is something neurological going on? Or hormonal going on? Or just a deeper problem, in general? That was only distinction one, do you want to hear about distinction two?
Lauren: I really, really do.
Jonathan: Distinction two will be much quicker. But it is the corollary to distinction one. Distinction two is as follows. Imagine your car was running really poorly. It’s not running well. It’s making weird sounds and it doesn’t seem to have as much kick as it used to have. You wouldn’t think that was a problem with the quantity of fuel in your gas tank. The amount of fuel you have in your car doesn’t determine how it runs. It determines how long it can run; it’s an energy source. But what actually determines how well your car is running is the quality of fuel you put in it. If you put kerosene or lighter fluid in your car’s gas tank, it’s not going to run well. It’s not a function of you putting too much fuel into the car’s gas tank, it’s a function of you putting the wrong fuel in the car’s gas tank. So, if you put premium gasoline in your car’s gas tank, wouldn’t it make sense that the car would run a little bit better than if you put, for example, lighter fluid in the car’s gas tank? That might sound like a silly example, but today, if you look at the way people fuel their bodies, we don’t eat food anymore. For thousands and thousands, dare I say millions, of years, depending on your religious beliefs, we ate things you could find in nature, plants and animals. Forty to sixty percent of the average American’s diet does not come from either plants or animals anymore. We are putting lighter fluid in our gas tank, and people are saying the problem is you are just putting too much gas in your gas tank. That’s not the problem at all. The problem is not the abundance of calories, the abundance of calories is the result of a poor quality of fuel, and then a dysfunctional body saying, “This fuel isn’t getting the job done, so I need more and more and more.
Lauren: So, principle one is really the whole, calories in, calories out; not really legitimate. And number two is, calories are not created equal, there are different kinds of fuel. I think explaining that to his clients would probably really free up a lot of guilt. Because I get this. I get patients coming in here all the time, and they show me what they eat, and their main symptom or complaint is they can’t lose weight, and they are eating like birds and they can’t lose weight. And they work out like crazy, they do hot yoga every day or twice a day sometimes. And it is so frustrating and they beat themselves up. Being able to really understand this and see that it is really not so much about calories in, calories out, and that if you are really looking at calories, it’s the kinds of calories you are having, so comparing 100 calories of Twinkies versus 100 calories of steak is a very different kind of ballgame. Is that what principle one and two are saying, or am I totally off track?
Jonathan: You’re not totally off track at all, I think you are right next to the track, so we’re going to give it one quick point of clarification, and although it is minor and kind of semantic, I think it’s critical, because I am not the first person, by any means, to say that calories should not be the focus. But what often happens in America, especially on the Internet, is that people see a book title, The Calorie Myth, and they think that I am saying that calories are a myth, and that calories don’t matter at all, and that calories in, calories out is like unicorns and is just nonsense. I don’t think anyone is saying that. What we are saying, and what the science has now proven, is that calories exist. There is no question that they exist and that they matter, but they are one piece of a massively more complicated problem, and to focus on them exclusively, which is what has happened in our culture, is not only wrong, it is counter-productive.
Here is one silly example: Heroin has no calories in it. Does that mean it is good for you? But seriously, by the logic – people say, “That’s a crazy example.” Walk into McDonald’s. Look at a Coca-Cola billboard. They hang their hat on the fact – Coke says, “It’s only 140 calories. Diet coke doesn’t even have any calories in it. What’s the problem? It’s just a 100-calorie snack pack. Everything in moderation, right?” But what we are starting to understand in the hardcore clinical science, when you look at neurobiology and gastroenterology and endocrinology, not even necessarily nutrition science, when you look at these biochemical arenas, calories in and of themselves are just benign. They are energy. You need this to live. What actually determines if your body functions or not is everything else. If you don’t eat enough vitamin C you get a disease. If you don’t eat enough amino acids, you die. Calories are one of many elements, and all these other elements – we don’t say, “How many milligrams of thiamine did you consume today, and were you sure to balance milligrams of thiamine in and milligrams of thiamine out?”
We don’t perceive any other aspect of this equation as this ludicrous mathematical thing, and because we have this flawed math of how the human body works, much like thinking the earth is flat, it is just a flawed paradigm. If you think the earth is flat, and it is intuitive, if you look out your window it looks like the earth is flat, but sadly, once you understand that it is wrong, and things like gravity exist, that can mean that you can sail all around the world and you won’t fall off. Once you understand that calories aren’t inherently bad, they are neutral, and it’s everything else that comes along with calories that is good or bad, it frees you up to sail all around the world in terms of the foods you eat and the exercises you do. And you don’t live in this mathematical cage where calories determine everything you do. It’s just ludicrous.
Lauren: No more being a victim to rules of nutrition, and you can eat in abundance, certain foods on this planet, the green leafy veggies, and other foods you talk about. You get to eat a lot more than what you might have been eating before, right?
Jonathan: That’s exactly right. The subtitle of the book says, How to Eat More, Exercise Less, Lose Weight, and Live Better. I would have preferred for it to say, Lose Fat, and Live Better. But you have to make compromises every once in a while with the publisher. And this is absolutely the case. Eating an abundance of the right types of food – this is how nefarious, to use a million-dollar word, these calories myths are. We have to sit here and explain why eating an abundance of the right kinds of food is good for you. Food is the only way to get that which is essential for life: Vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids. These are required for life, and if you want more of them, and you want to have better health, and you want to give your body the raw material it needs to function well, and even to heal itself, of course you need to eat an abundance of the right types of foods. And that message, the message of enjoying an abundance of the right types of food so you heal the underlying neurological, gastroenterological and endocrinological causes of obesity, such that your brain automatically balances calories for you, just like it does in every other species on the planet. Isn’t it amazing that cats can’t count calories, but they don’t become obese when you leave them to their own dynamic? That is what we need to do. We need that abundance of food to heal our body and restore our body’s natural ability to balance calories for us automatically.
Lauren: Great, Jonathan. Love it. Let’s talk about the concept of the set point. I know that there are people listening who are frustrated, they’ve been working out really hard and eating according to the way they think they really should, and everything they have been taught, and they just feel like they are at their set point and no matter what they do they cannot lose weight beyond that. You talk about this in your book, how to determine what your set point is, and how you change it. Talk a little bit about that.
Jonathan: This is another key distinction. The reason that calories in, calories out, the way it has been presented to us, is not helpful, and the reason the quality of calories matters so much, is that there is this over-arching system, this self-regulating or homeostatic system in our body. Homeostatic seems like a big word, but we all learned it in high school biology class, homeostasis, which is just that every biological organism in the world, from a flower, to a cheetah, to your sister, tries to maintain balance automatically. The only reason something is able to stay alive is because it is maintaining balance in a certain range. If your body temperature becomes too low or too high you die. Your body has to have an automatic regulatory system to maintain the range in which life can exist. You drink more water, you automatically urinate more. You walk into a hot room, you automatically sweat more. You don’t need to balance water in and water out, consciously; your body does it unconsciously. You don’t have to manage breaths in consciously, and breaths out consciously. You could if you wanted to, and if there was a reality television show about it, people probably would, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to if your brain is working correctly.
The set point describes that just like every other mission critical function in our body, energy balance is automatically regulated by our body, and people used to call this the set point theory. That was many decades ago before a bunch of research was done. This is not a theory anymore, any more than it’s a theory that blood sugar or blood pressure is homeostatically regulated. What we mean by that is, if you look at any scientific study that has ever been conducted which restricts calories, all you need to show, to show if the body is trying to balance itself automatically, is: Does the body consistently respond to a restriction of calories, AKA reduction of calories in, with an automatic and unconscious reduction of calories out? And the answer is yes. If you don’t believe this, don’t eat tomorrow, and watch how cold and tired you get. That is because your body is automatically slowing down in an effort to counter-balance fewer calories in with fewer calories out.
Similarly, in over-feeding studies, believe it or not, these exist, there are quite a few done, and there was a pretty famous one done on prison inmates, in fact, in which these inmates were told to eat and eat and eat, and what they found was that when individuals were eating 5000 or 10,000 calories per day, their base metabolic rate spiked in an effort to try to balance calories out for them automatically. This also explains how you can have a 70-year-old post menopausal woman who is eating 800 calories per day and still not able to lose weight. Her body has balanced itself out in a way that, while 800 calories per day seems like too few calories, her body has become so accustomed to, and used to that, that it is balancing itself out at that point. So, what we need to do is, not tell this woman who is struggling, “Eat 400 calories per day.” Rather, how can we change that system, itself, to demand more than 800 calories per day and to start burning, let’s say, 400 additional calories per day, automatically, from your hips, rather than with food that passes through your lips?
Lauren: How does that happen? How do you go from that place? I know for this woman, she is used to eating 800 calories. She knows if she eats 1000, she puts on a pound, it just happens, and it’s like she goes into freak-out mode. How do you go from that, just barely being able to get by with how she is eating, to then being able to eat somewhat of a more balanced diet and still maintain her weight, or even lose weight?
Jonathan: The first step is psychological, because as long as she or he, whatever the case may be, is thinking in terms of calories, this is going to be a challenge. But if you think instead in terms of SANity, or what I posit should replace calories, or Calories 2.0, a SANE score, you would think in terms of primarily four food groups.
The first is nonstarchy vegetables. These are vegetables you could eat raw. You don’t have to eat them raw, but you could eat them raw. For example, corn and potatoes can’t be eaten raw; those are not nonstarchy vegetables. Green leafy vegetables are peppers, asparagus, broccoli, mushrooms, all that good stuff, nonstarchy vegetables.
Nutrient-dense protein would be the second food group. These are humanely raised animals, wild caught seafood; foods that have a lot of essential nutrients in them, and which get the vast majority of their calories from the macro-nutrient proteins. So, nonstarchy vegetables, and nutrient-dense protein.
Next is whole food fats. These are whole foods, so olive oil is not a whole food. It doesn’t mean it is bad for you, it just doesn’t fit into this category. Olives are a whole food that get the vast majority of their calories from fat. Also very nutrient-dense. So, whole food fats.
Finally, low-fructose fruits.
We need to think in terms of those four food groups, and we need to eat just an abundance of nonstarchy vegetables. That is rule number one. I know it is not easy. Kermit the frog has told us for many years that it’s not easy being green. But we can do it! We can do it, with the thanks of modern technology like VitaMix’s and blenders and all kinds of good stuff. We can make green smoothies and we can eat ten plus servings of nonstarchy vegetables per day. That, in and of itself, will provide a therapeutic dose of nutrition that will very much help to neutralize and reverse many of the dysfunctions that take place which are causing that person’s body to think it only needs 800 calories per day.
And second, we are going to eat nutrient-dense protein. We are going to eat somewhere between 90 and 200 grams of nutrient-dense protein per day, depending on our age, gender, and activity level. So, a 70-year-old sedentary small female, more on the 90-100 gram end of the spectrum, and a 20-year-old CrossFitting male, more like on the 200 gram end of the spectrum. And this is really important, because this is going to help to rev up our metabolism. It is going to help us to maintain lean muscle tissue and preferentially burn fat. And it is also going to trigger an amazing process called muscle protein synthesis, which in and of itself, if triggered three to six times per day, can rebuild up to 250 grams of you per day, and that’s an incredibly calorically-expensive process. Researchers estimate that anywhere from 500-700 calories could be burned per day simply synthesizing new tissue in your body if you eat sufficient and high-enough quality protein. So, an abundance of nonstarchy vegetables, surplus of nutrient-dense protein.
Then you are going to get the balance of your actual calories from whole food fat, because vegetables do not have many calories in them at all. Protein is not a really good source of energy, it is a structural component, so those calories are not necessarily being used for energy, but we can get into that later if we have time. So, you are getting the vast majority of your energy from whole food fats, because it is hormonally healing, and it does all sorts of good things if you are getting it from mono-unsaturated fats and omega-3 fats, such as those found in fish, so, literally, it will reverse the inflammation in your brain that causes the calorie balance to get all messed up. So, you are getting calories, you are getting therapeutic nutrition, and then if you need something sweet, you are eating low-fructose fruits, berries and citrus fruits rather than things like bananas, apples and grapes.
Lauren: I think that is something people don’t really realize. Just laying down all day, you are actually going to burn a good amount of calories just with normal metabolism. I remember doing a body impedance analyze test, just little electrodes and it calculated what my resting basal metabolic rate was, and it was like 1200-1300 calories, or something like that, just doing absolutely nothing, and that was a real big paradigm shift for me. This was years ago before ever going to medical school, and I realized, “Wow, just doing nothing I burn a big amount of calories.” That is fascinating to me. But the average person thinks, “Oh my God, I go to the gym and I burn 400 calories, and I’m eating 2000 a day. Holy crap, I’m going to get so fat.” People get so obsessed with this. Furthermore, the whole scale thing. Do you just tell people to throw away their scale?
Jonathan: Absolutely, and it’s unfortunate, because there is a little rule in science that scientists don’t really want to tell people, and that is, we measure what is easy to measure. We don’t necessarily measure what is useful; we measure what is easy to measure. Cholesterol is a good example of this; weight is another one. The reason cholesterol is so popular is because it’s so easy to measure. There are a lot of other things that are much more meaningful, but they are not easy to measure.
Weight is really easy to measure, so that is why everyone measures it, but there is something that is as easy, if not easier, and that is waist circumference. The thing that is so beautiful about waist circumference – if you want to make your scale happy, here is the secret. I don’t tell this to everybody, I warn you, because I’m going to tell you right now, are you ready? How to lose 30-40 pounds immediately, and keep it off for the rest of your life? Are you ready? I’m not even going to charge you for this. Cut off your right leg. Right? You’re done. Right there, 30-50 pounds gone, and the scale will say you were successful. You made a good decision. False. Clearly, you didn’t. Again, is that a silly example? Well, when you look at the fact that 95.4% of people who restrict calories end up yo-yo dieting and that yo-yo dieting has been correlated with just about every terrible affliction that can ever befall a person. Starvation dieting is a bit like cutting off your metabolic leg; it’s not a good idea, and it will work, if success means you drop the number on the scale. But that’s why you don’t want to use the scale, because it’s going to reward you for slowing killing yourself, whereas waist circumference does a much better job of saying, “Look, you want to maintain or build lean muscle tissue and burn body fat, and you don’t do that through starvation.”
Lauren: How do you turn on the fat-burning hormones? I know that is a big thing you talk about in your book, it’s all about hormones. What are some easy things people can do that would turn on their fat-burning hormones and turn off the fat-storing hormones?
Jonathan: The four food groups I mentioned earlier are going to be 70-80% of it, so getting the vast amount of what you eat, in order, in nonstarchy vegetables, nutrient-dense protein, whole food fats and low-sugar fruits. That is going to do a huge amount for you. Doing the type of exercise we talked about in the book will also help, but let me give a quick explanation why this matters. Hormones. Everyone talks about hormones. “Synergy in business! Synergy! Hormones!” “Patriotism!” These awesome words which have just kind of lost all meaning.
Lauren: I hate the word synergy. Oh, I hate that word.
Jonathan: “Paradigm! Strategy!” All right, so, I’m ready for – what are we talking about? Hormones! The reason that hormones matter so much, the best way to think about it, is that hormones are how the various parts of your body talk to each other. Right now we are speaking English. That’s why we can understand each other. If your brain wants to communicate something to your gut, or vice versa, it is hormones, for all intents and purposes, that make that communication happen. But the reason this matters – people think that, for example, eating calories makes them fat. That’s not true. Hormonal signals make you fat. A great example of this is insulin therapy in diabetics. Diabetics have to rotate where they inject insulin into their bodies because if they don’t they will get localized fat deposits because the hormone insulin literally says, “Store fat.” It communicates, “Store fat.” An example that I think probably everyone can empathize with intellectually, because, hopefully, no one has ever done this, is steroids. Steroids are, essentially, when people inject the hormone testosterone into the body. Someone could literally sit on the couch, change nothing about their life, and inject themselves with steroids, and we would all expect that they would build muscle and burn fat. Why? Because testosterone tells your body, “Build muscle and burn fat.” Certainly, we do not want to inject ourselves with steroids, but what we need to do is use our food and exercise to change the hormones that are circulating in our bodies, so that the conversation between or brain, our gut, our musculature, our adipose tissue, stops being, “Hang onto fat, burn less calories, hang onto fat, burn fewer calories, eat more calories,” to being, “Burn more fat, feel more satiated, burn more fat, exude more energy, feel more satiated, maintain lean muscle tissue.” If we can change that conversation, then we can change the way our body looks and the way it feels, almost automatically, because it is really on autopilot at that point.
Lauren: That sounds awesome – autopilot. And then, the exercise frequency, you talk about doing that a lot less. What, a couple of times a week? Is that all you need? I know for women who are listening, and a lot of my listeners are women, a lot of my patients are. They are going to yoga, like I said, every day. They are doing cardio 45 minutes to two hours, when they first come in to see me. A lot of what I do is just unlearning them, just trying to have them literally dump all the knowledge they have had all their life and just start from scratch. Reset button, let’s just forget everything you know and just listen to me, listen to what I’m saying. And that’s makes a big difference. But, hearing me tell them to exercise less is so hard for them to hear. But they do that. I have had patients, and I talk about this on my show, and I tell them they have to quit CrossFit; they can’t do CrossFit any more. They have to just hike a couple of times a week for three months. Once their adrenals are healed, now we can do some intervals twice a week and we can add in some weights. And it makes a difference. They actually start to lose weight. It is mind-blowing. So, what is your philosophy with that? How much exercise, and does it matter if it is a woman versus a man?
Jonathan: I do not see a huge difference between a woman and man. We are all homosapiens here, and at the end of the day, it is the same thing causes diabetes in a man as in a woman, and the same things cause lung cancer in a man as in a woman, and the same things cause obesity. Obesity is treated as something different; it shouldn’t be. It is a disease. It is a breakdown of a body’s homeostatic mechanism, just like diabetes is. So, same for a man and woman, for all intents and purposes, for 90% of the cases. And when we talk about exercise frequency, it is really dependent on the type of exercise we are doing. The reason I say to exercise less is because the type of exercise which has been shown to most effectively change the hormonal composition of your body is very intense, and when I say intense, I don’t mean flipping tires and power-lifting, I mean recruiting a lot of muscle fibers in a slow and sustainable and safe way.
Intensity is really just another word for the amount of energy it uses, so driving your car at 200 miles per hour is more intense driving than driving your car at 20 miles per hour, and you would certainly imagine that you would run out of gasoline faster driving your car more intensely than you would if you were driving your car less intensely. And similarly, if you are exercising with greater intensity, you can’t exercise a lot. It’s not because you are lazy, it is just because you run out of energy really fast, and it is just such a taxing activity that you can’t do it frequently. In fact, if you can do it frequently – there is a wonderful irony in these workout DVDs that are so popular nowadays. “We’re so intense! We’re so intense that you should do us 50 minutes a day, six days a week!” If something is that intense, how in God’s name can you do it 50 minutes a day, six days a week? Try to squat your body weight on your back 50 minutes a day, six days a week. It’s impossible. Try sprinting, full out, 50 minutes a day, six days a week. You can’t.
There is an inverse relationship between the intensity of an activity and the duration and frequency with which you can do it. And research has consistently shown that if you want to change the hormonal composition of your body, the answer is not to dial up quantity of exercise, the answer is to dial up the quality of the exercise that you are doing, and by definition, the higher the quality of your exercise, the higher the intensity, the more energy you are going to use, and the less exercise you can do.
So, if you are exercising a lot, by definition, it is not high-intensity exercise. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t walk 10,000 steps a day. I don’t consider that exercise. I consider that just being a person. I think we should all be people. I think there is a reason we have legs, I think we should play with our kids, I think we should walk around. I think things like yoga, and Tai Chi and stretching and Pilates, these restorative activities should be done as much as we can fit into our lives. They are fabulous for us. However, things like exercise, when we really mean exercise, that needs to be done with high-intensity, high safety, infrequently, and for short durations.
Lauren: Where do you feel like adrenal function comes into it? If someone is just pretty wiped adrenally, do you think that’s okay for them to do? Or should they take a break for a while and then add that in? What is your take on that?
Jonathan: Someone who has a severe adrenal restriction, just like if someone has the flu you aren’t going to say, “Hey go to heavy breathing squats until you pass out.”
Lauren: I think you’d still do that.
Jonathan: (laughs) Maybe in my younger days, but I have since learned my lesson. Okay, actually I haven’t.
Lauren: I don’t know.
Jonathan: I don’t know. But no, people don’t understand. Exercise is potent medicine. Exercise is a stress on the body. It puts a massive amount of stress on the body. It can be a positive stress if done appropriately, but it can also be bastardized. A great example of this is people who wake up early to jog, so they compromise sleep to do exercise which just reeks hormonal havoc. You should really only be doing intense exercise if you are otherwise quite healthy. Until you get quite healthy in place first, it is going to be counterproductive.
Lauren: That’s good. I like that. A lot of the women who come to see me are on the Paleo diet, and sometimes we will find that they will come to see me because they are not losing weight on the Paleo diet, where men will lose weight just looking at a treadmill and weight just falls off of them. Not even getting on the treadmill, just looking at it and it falls off, whereas a woman may be doing the same diet and it just doesn’t happen the same. Have you seen this, where a woman going on Paleo or primal eating, they don’t really lose the weight they want? And do you have any idea why this might be the case? Any ideas?
Jonathan: I do, yes. And there are some fascinating studies in the book that also help to explain it. Accidental spousal weight loss is something that I have commonly seen, and it is often that the female in the relationship is trying really hard, and oftentimes she is the food CEO of the household, so her husband or partner ends up also going SANE, or eating more nutrient-dense foods, and his pants start falling off, whereas for the female, nothing is happening and she gets so frustrated. Sometimes people say, what is it in that moment that is causing that to happen? If you dig into the research a little bit, it is actually not what is happening right then that is causing the problem, it is what has happened years prior that is causing the problem.
What you find in these relationships is oftentimes, the man has never counted calories. He has never starved himself, he has never yo-yo dieted, so he has not as severely broken his metabolism. The woman, though, has yo-yo dieted many times, up and down and up and down, and restricted her calories constantly. So, just like if you had fractured your ankle six times prior, the seventh time you break it, it is going to take even longer than the first six times for it to get better, the same thing happens here. There are really compelling rodent studies in the book, and the reason there were a lot of rodent studies in the book is because you could never do these studies on people, because they would never let you do it, because starvation is torture. But, they find that every single time they starve these rats, and then let the rats eat food again, every single time they lose weight slower and gain fat faster when they stop. Every single time.
I am here to tell the truth, and truth isn’t always happy, but just understand that the more often you yo-yo dieted in the past, the more metabolic healing is going to take place before anything happens. And you might need to start thinking about fat loss a little bit like you would think about a bone healing. Let’s go back to the fractured ankle example. You break your ankle; you put it in a cast on day one. On day two, it doesn’t really seem like anything has happened. On day three it doesn’t really seem like anything has happened. In fact, if you are 70 and you broke your ankle, you might have that cast on for a few weeks or months, and it doesn’t really seem like anything is happening. But one day the cast comes off and you can walk around on your ankle for the rest of your life because it is healed. If you have yo-yo dieted consistently in the past, and you start to say, “I’m not going to restrict calories, I’m going to improve food quality,” I would just basically say the first three months are healing time. It is just time for your body to heal. So, your goal is not fat loss at that point. Your goal is getting back to a baseline level of health that will then make fat loss simple for the rest of your life.
Lauren: Oh, I love that. I just want to take a little sound bite of the show. That is just genius, I love what you said, and I have patients do that. I say, “Throw away your scale. You might gain ten pounds during the beginning of this, but we are healing your body, your metabolism is going to heal, and over time you will be able to lose it for good. We have to do some real healing, and it takes a lot to do that.” I love that, I think that is brilliantly stated.
Jonathan: Just a quick distinction that I think might help your listeners with that, too, is that humans consistently make mental errors. This is why things like riddles and these optical illusions, like which line is longer; you look at them and you say, that line is longer. And then the person says, ha-ha, they are both the same length. Our brain consistently makes certain mistakes. We often think everything works linearly. If I eat 500 fewer calories, there is going to be this linear progression where I am going to lose a pound per week, and clearly, that will continue to work until I weigh zero pounds. No, that’s not how things work. Your body doesn’t necessarily work linearly. If you have a fever and you are healing yourself, it is not like your body temperature goes down 1/10th of a point every minute. Some things don’t behave linearly.
And that can oftentimes be the case with fat loss. I have actually seen that sometimes when people say fat loss happens quickly at the beginning, and then slower. I have seen the exact opposite quite frequently, where an individual will see really no change, very little change, in their body composition for weeks, or even a couple of months. And then, one day, they just start shrinking, and it doesn’t seem like they have changed anything, it’s just like they start to shrink. And they don’t really know what is going on. Well, what is going on is that at some point your body has reached a threshold where it has flipped from fat storage mode and fat burning mode, and we used to call this in our little community, the waterfall effect, where it is just like boom! And then the floodgates open. Just because nothing has happened for two months, or three months, things might change dramatically in month four.
Lauren: Yes I have seen that happen too, and it’s like all of sudden. And it’s usually when the patient isn’t even really trying anymore and all of a sudden, “Wow, I’m losing weight, that’s so cool.” It’s like a nice side effect, because they’ve started to change their focus to, “I’m going to focus on getting healthy, not focus so much on fat loss,” and they give it some time and all of a sudden they are actually losing weight, so it’s great.
Okay, I’m going to open the phone lines. For you callers on the switchboard, if you would like to ask a question, go ahead and press 1. I see a few of you guys on the switchboard, so if you want to ask a question, press 1.
Jonathan, I’d like to know. What do you eat? What did you eat today? What is a day in the life of you?
Jonathan: It’s actually in The Calorie Myth book, so my answer is going to be quite boring, because it follows those four food groups I just mentioned. I drink all sorts of green smoothies. Today I made a bunch of dandelion greens smoothies because they had dandelion greens at Safeway, so that was awesome. I had some eggs. I had some salmon. I love seafood, so I had some clams and some oysters. I had macadamia nuts and almonds. And I had a little bit of berries and I had a Quest bar because, I like Quest bars. What else? I drank a lot of water and green tea. That’s probably about it. That was quite a bit of food, though.
Lauren: That’s not boring. That sounds like what I eat. Awesome. What do you feel about coffee? Do you drink coffee? What is your sense on that?
Jonathan: I do drink coffee on occasion. There are good things about coffee, and there are things that aren’t great about coffee. Personally, if you must have caffeine and you are not addicted to coffee already, I would strongly recommend you get your caffeine from green tea. It is miraculous. Add some lemon to it, and it is even more miraculous. That said, if you drink coffee, I don’t think we have an obesity epidemic in this country because people are drinking too much coffee; too much black coffee, that is. Personally, as a general rule of thumb, if it is not a green smoothie, don’t drink things that have extra calories in it. People may say, ‘Oh, but you wrote a book called The Calorie Myth.” Well, it’s not that calories don’t exist; it is that it shouldn’t be your primary focus. The general rule of thumb is that you don’t drink your calories. If you want to see how body builders get big, they drink calories because it is the easiest way to get calories into your body, so don’t drink calories. Coffee, calorie-free, AKA black coffee, is okay. Green tea, even better.
Lauren: Your wife, Angela, is super hot. What does she eat? What does she do for exercise? I want to get personal and see what she does.
Jonathan: Well, Angela has a really cool story. She started out as a cross-country runner. When I met her she did not look like she does today. When you see her today, she has much more of a sprinter body type than that of a cross-country runner. She literally exercised six days per week, ate an incredibly high-starch diet, and she is tax accountant. She is an accountant CPA tax manager, so during her busy season, leading up to April 15th, she would consistently gain 10-20 pounds per year. This was in her late teens, early 20s. Now she is in her early 30s, so it’s ten years later. She exercises once or twice per week, SMARTer exercise, like I describe in my book, higher-intensity, higher safety, and she is completely SANE, meaning she eats nonstarchy vegetables, nutrient-dense protein, whole food fats and low-sugar fruits, in that order. In fact, she is even more routine than I am. She eats salmon, and kale, and eggs, and nuts, and coconut, daily. She kind of just eats the same stuff every day, that’s what she likes to do. So, she eats a lot; she eats a massive amount. In fact, my mother is like, “How does someone that size fit that much food in her body?” When we went on the low-carb cruise with Jimmy Moore people were just like, “What? This is crazy. You guys are eating more than anyone else on the ship! How do you physically fit that much food in your body?” So, yes, she eats a lot, she exercises a little, and she is healthier and fitter than she has ever been in her entire life.
Lauren: That’s awesome. Awesome, awesome. It looks like my caller has the guts to come on the show now. Caller from the 770, welcome to the show. What is your name, and what is your question?
Lance: Hi, this is Lance. I’m from San Diego. How are you doing, Dr. Noel?
Lauren: Hey Lance. Good. What’s your question?
Lance: I am trying to add chicken back into my diet, and I know that grain-fed animals are not the best choice. I was reading on Mark Sisson’s blog about the fact that if it is organic, I guess that’s okay, but the best thing you can do is get pasture. So, I wanted to get your opinion, since some of the organic chickens have to eat grain in order to meet the USDA standard, and I know that with the grains it raises the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio and you want to stay away from that.
Lauren: Jonathan, did you want to chime in on that?
Jonathan: Oh no, you go ahead, it’s all good.
Lance: Oh, I was asking both of you guys.
Lauren: Yes, well Lance, you know that you want to get things pasture-raised if you can. I know you are in San Diego and there are some great farmer’s markets here, so I think you are able to get pasture-raised chickens. Chickens should be able to eat bugs and things like that; they shouldn’t be just fed grain, because that is not really their natural diet. Unfortunately, we often find the grains have arsenic in them, and that creates insulin resistance. The chickens get a lot fatter, it makes them grow a lot faster, and it’s just not a good thing; if you can have organic and pasture-raised chicken that would be better. I would just say if you can be selective then go that route. If you can’t go that route, then definitely organic chicken would be the second best choice. But pasture-raised is really the way to go, if you can do it. Jonathan, do you have any follow up?
Jonathan: I would agree with that and I think the one piece of feedback that I would add which is very much in line with that is really, just making sure you focus on the big things. I can’t tell you how many people who ask me a question very similar to the excellent question you just asked. At the same time, I might come back with them and say, “Hey, how many hours of sleep do you get a night?” And they say four, maybe five.” And I would say, “I would urge you to take all the mental energy you currently spend on where you acquire your chickens from, and focus it on getting seven hours of sleep per night, consistently. “And how many servings of green leafy vegetables do you eat per day, on average?” If you ask most Americans, they will say zero. I would say, getting that number up to at least five, spending your energy on that. Think about it like if your car was on fire, or if you saw your neighbor’s car on fire, and then you saw them using a toothbrush to clean off the grill. You’d be saying, “Dude, your car is on fire! What are you doing?” Same kind of thing.
Lance: I appreciate that, understanding setting the priorities as far as what it is that you’re eating, because I know that the whole movement is about eating real foods, and a lot of people have problems with just getting the base of their diet right instead of wondering about organic this, or pasture-raised that, so I appreciate that.
Lauren: Awesome. Thanks for your question, Lance, and I will see you soon.
Lance: Yes, you will.
Lauren: All right. Well, Jonathan, that’s pretty much our time. Do you have any parting words, anything you want to leave with us before you go? And then also, where can people follow up on what you are doing, and keep in touch with you?
Jonathan: In closing, I just urge people, at the end of the day, there are two things you can do to try to change the way you look and feel. One is, you can change the quantity of food you are eating. The other is, you can change the quality of food you are eating. And studies have consistently shown that if you change the quality of food you are eating, your brain will automatically take care of the quantity of food you are eating, so why not do that? It is the easier and more effective approach. And then, if you want more information on that, check out sanesolution.com. We have an amazing amount of free resources and apps and online programs and videos and exercise demos and all kinds of cool stuff, at sanesolution.com.
Lauren: Right on. Good job, Jonathan. Good to have you on the show. Thanks for being an awesome, fun guest.
Jonathan: Beautiful. Have a good one.