Introduction: In this episode: why we get fat and what we can do about it, quick core workouts, cheat meals, how to warm up, what to eat before you drink alcohol, competition in cold weather, danger of low body fat and why exercise won’t make you think.
Ben: Hey folks, Ben Greenfield here. You know a few weeks ago I was able to look over a manuscript that came across my desk that was the preview of a book about why we get fat and what we can do about it, and even though the book doesn’t come out and probably won’t come out for quite some time, I was able to get the author of that book on today’s interview. Because there was some information on there that I thought would be really beneficial for you, whether you’re trying to lose a lot of weight or you’re trying to just take control of your health or maintain weight. Now we have a pretty jam-packed Listener Q and A today, but before we go on to our special announcements and to that Listener Q and A – just a couple of clarifications. The first is that there will not be a podcast released next week in terms of the official Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast. You will get an Inner Circle podcast next week, but because I’m competing in the Hawaii Ironman World Championships, I’m very busy rushing around in Kona, Hawaii getting ready for that race, there will not be a podcast release on Wednesday next week, but you can look forward to an Inner Circle podcast release on Monday. The other announcement is that last week I told you that I’m not writing for Triathlete Magazine anymore and I just wanted to clarify with the policy of that magazine – it’s not that you not write at all for any other magazines, it’s not that you write for other magazines that are in the triathlon industry. Either way, the offer still stands. If you want to go email the editors of Triathlete Magazine and let them know that you’d like to see my articles in that magazine and that it doesn’t actually confuse you to see my articles in that magazine and other triathlon magazines as well, feel free to do so. Enough with my rant, let’s go ahead and move on to this week’s special announcements.
Ben: If you have a question, you can email [email protected], you can Skype to username pacificfit and you can also call 8772099439. I realize there have been a couple of episodes in the past where folks have called in, asked a question and left either their email address or their phone number and in the editing process I have actually not removed the email address and phone number. That is not something that I’ve done on purpose. Usually it just falls through the cracks, but I guarantee that in the future I will be making it a point never to allow anyone’s personal contact information to be released on the podcast. I apologize to those of you who have had your contact information released. If you decide to call in and ask a question, I will be policing that far more intensively in the future. Your phone number and email address will never show up in the question. So with that assurance you can call 8772099439 if you have a question. The first question this week is from Shawn.
Shawn asks: Like many people, I have a hectic work schedule, and busy family life. Any tips on some good 15-20 minute core workouts I can do, in home and or in my office, when I just don’t have time to make it to the gym?
Ben answers: Well in my opinion, this is one of those what I would call “teach a man to fish” questions because I could just fire off some quick core routine to you. Or I could instead teach you how to actually design your own core routine. So, essentially when you’re sitting in your office thinking gosh it would be nice if I could do an ab workout or core workout right now, you’ll want to focus on a few specific elements. The first is that you want to split your abdominal section into essentially four different areas. You’ve got your left side, your right side, your front and your back. Because your core is like one big muscular belt that’s around your midsection. And if you can choose a series of exercises that targets each of those sections then you’re going to get a complete core workout. And essentially all you’re going to do is choose the exercises, put them together into a circuit and then go as many times through that circuit as you’re able to go during the time that you have available. Now some of the exercises that you can do for the front of your abs – and these are exercises you’d be able to do with no equipment in an office would be of course crunches or sit-ups but there’s a multitude of variations on those. For example, you can do 6 inch crunches or crunches with your legs off the ground. Anytime you do crunches with your legs off the ground you’re going to target more of your lower abdominal muscles. And don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying that crunches are the best abdominal exercises. But when you have limited space to do an ab workout, they can be something quick and they also have what I call a low barrier to entry meaning that sometimes they’re not a hard exercise to start. They get you in the mood to exercise. So for example, you could do 15 crunches or 15 crunch variations. Next, for the side of your abs you could do a side plank or a side plank raise, and you can look at any of these exercises on my free video database over at www.pacificfit.net. That’s pacific like the ocean, fit like fitness.net. Side planks or side plank raises. You could do side crunches. You could do torso twists either in the seated position or you could do torso twists in the standing position if you happen to have an elastic band available. But essentially any type of side plan movement or torso twist type of movement would be the second exercise that you’d choose in the sequence. And then finally for your low back you can do extension type of exercises. For example you can lie on your stomach and lift all four limbs off the ground, that’s called the superman exercise. You can do extensions on a stability ball if you happen to have a stability ball available, you can do deadlifts if you happen to have a couple of weights available that you can bend down and pick up off the ground. Finally, another exercise that works not only the low back but also the stabilizing muscles on the front and the sides is the front plank exercise or any variation of front plank exercise – like being in a front plank and tapping your feet or reaching forward with alternating hands. Those types of exercises work well also. So essentially that’s the way that you would put together your exercises and you simply do your 15, 20, 25 reps of an exercise – however many reps it takes to fatigue that muscle, then move on to the next muscle group and continue to go through that circuit for 10, 15 or 20 minutes. I have published a couple of quick office workouts over at the YouTube channel for Ben Greenfield Fitness which is www.youtube.com/bengreenfieldfitness. So, go through there. Scroll through some of the uploaded videos and check out some of the workouts that I’ve put up there.
The next question is from TriHollywood and he asks a two-part question via Twitter. If you want to ask a question via Twitter, just go to www.twitter.com and do a search for Ben Greenfield or go to www.twitter.com/bengreenfield. Click follow and you will be able to ask me a question.
TriHollywood asks: How much does a ‘cheat’ or ‘reward’ meal screw up your metabolism?
Ben answers: Well contrary to popular belief, it’s very difficult to screw up your metabolism. Essentially in order to screw up your metabolism, you have to reset the set point of your body’s metabolism, meaning that you have to somehow convince your body to either burn far fewer or far greater calories than it would under normal circumstances. Now, usually when you’re talking about ‘screwing’ up the metabolism, you’re talking about burning far fewer calories than you would actually desire to burn. And the way that you can do that is by going on a very low calorie restrictive diet for several consecutive days and typically it’s going to take weeks or months before you actually do some severe metabolic damage. But essentially what happens at that point is you reset your metabolic point and if you naturally burn 1500 calories per day, your body going into its survival mode would naturally burn closer to 1000 calories per day. So that’s how screwing up your medicine would actually work. Now a cheat meal does not screw up your metabolism. A cheat meal of course by definition is not restricting your calories but giving your metabolism extra calories. If anything a cheat meal will temporarily speed up your metabolism. However, a cheat meal can inhibit your results if it’s done on a frequent basis. For example, if you’re doing consistent cheat meals everyday of the week or dinner is always your cheat meal or you always have a dessert cheat every day – that’s where it can come back to bite you. However if you’re doing a cheat meal once a week, that can actually work out pretty well. That actually comes in to what I use as a re-feeding strategy for folks who I have on an exercise plan and with somewhat restricted calories throughout the week. We’ll actually put a cheat meal or a cheat day in at the end of the week to refill the body’s energy levels, to refresh mentally and then to be able go to town again for the next six days and really get a lot of work done. What you’ll notice is a nice weight loss effect, that sure might not be quite as big if we didn’t put that cheat meal in or cheat day in but the actual weight loss tends to last for a lot longer period of time. Meaning using that scenario, that stair-stepping scenario of six days of good eating and good exercise, and then one day off of eating fairly liberally – you’ll notice that people can go for sometimes a year, a year and a half two years maintaining their diet like that. Whereas somebody who lives like a monk seven days a week tends to fall off the bandwagon after just a couple of months. So that’s where the cheat meals can come in handy or the reward meals can come in handy. I personally have a cheat meal or a reward meal at least once a week. Typically a cheat meal might occur for me on a Friday or a Saturday evening, especially if I’m going to end up going out to a restaurant. And then a reward meal will typically happen for me after I’ve done a very difficult workout or for example a triathlon or a race. Case in point, I did a 20 mile run three days ago, and I went out for a frozen yogurt with Butterfinger pieces, Reese’s peanut butter pieces, peanut butter and chocolate fudge on top afterwards. Granted I did not end up eating dinner that night, I was so full. But yes cheat meals can work.
TriHollywood asks: What’s the best way to warm up when starting a strength/resistance session?
Ben answers: The first thing is that over on my other podcast, The Get Fit Guy Podcast, I did do a pretty comprehensive podcast episode and article that covers the topic of warming up and cooling down. So I’ll put a link to that in the Shownotes. But essentially you’ll see most people warming up the wrong way at a gym. Meaning that they’ll do the very stereotypical five minutes of cardio plus a brief stretch and then on to their routine. While the cardio is good for warming up the muscles, the type of cardio that you’ll see a lot of people doing – for example, riding a stationary bike – isn’t quite as good as something that uses all the body parts. So for example doing a warm-up on an elliptical trainer that uses your arms or doing a warm-up by running on a treadmill or by doing a series of jumping jacks is a much better full body warm-up. And then from there, there’s no need to actually go into stretching. Instead go into what I call movement preparation where you’re doing dynamic stretching. That would be for example a series of arm swings and leg swings. There are exercises as well that you can do such as lunges with twists or even body weight or very lightweight variations of full-body exercises like a squat to overhead press or for example a pushup with rotation that you might do later on in the workout. You can just use body weight versions of your regular workout to warm your body up. That’s a much better and more effective warm-up than simply doing static stretching which can actually reduce the force capacity that you’re able to produce in the workout itself. The only muscles I tend to statically stretch prior to a workout meaning to stretch and hold are muscles that I tend to easily injure. For example I will do a static stretch for my IT bands prior to a weight lifting workout because my IT bands tend to get very tight and so rather than just doing say side to side leg swings to stretch out my IT band, I’ll also get down on the ground and pull my knee into my chest to stretch the IT band even more. So, that’s just an example of a consideration when you’re warming up. But go read the article that I’ll put in the link to the Shownotes and if you guys don’t listen to The Get Fit Guy podcast it’s just a very quick five to 10 minute podcast that I put out on a weekly basis along with an article that accompanies the podcast and it covers sometimes more basic fitness topics than we cover on this show. It typically doesn’t get into nutrition in detail, but also covers more advanced topics as well. For example, this last week’s topic was whether or not yoga actually works for weight loss.
Meredith asks: I am planning to partake in just a few drinks next weekend ,so my question is should I eat a carb appetizer or protein before I have my first drink, or does it matter?
Ben answers: Well, the quick physiology of drinking is that drinking alcohol is going to produce a metabolic byproduct of alcohol breakdown called acetate in your system. And acetate is going to preferentially be burned as a fuel over anything that you eat – carbohydrates, proteins or fats. So, ultimately the less that you can eat when you drink, the less you’re going to risk weight gain when you drink. But drinking can cause acidity. It can cause a drop in testosterone levels and there can be some metabolic issues with alcohol consumption that go beyond simple empty calories. So it can be useful to put your body in a state where it’s better able to absorb some of the alcohol that you’re consuming. And in that case, the best thing to go for would actually be a higher protein, higher fat meal. For example, a sample meal prior to drinking might be an egg omelet with a little bit of cheese added. Or you could do something like almond butter spread over vegetables with some olives or avocado on the side. So primarily you’re looking at a fat based or protein based meal before you have your first drink and then you’re going to want to stay very hydrated afterwards. Sometimes I’ll do the backwards approach. If I don’t want to drink much but I’m drinking to feel my alcohol, I’m drinking to get a buzz then what I’ll do is not eat anything before I drink but very soon after I drink, then I’ll have that higher fat, higher protein based meal like say the omelet. Now of course what I’m not condoning is you go on a four hour bender and then pull into the McDonald’s drive through and get a couple of super sized meals to put a brick in your stomach to be able to absorb all the alcohol. All I’m doing is saying that with the acidity and the drop in testosterone that alcohol is already going to cause, you don’t want to supplement that with even more acidity from carbohydrate and starch based sources which is why the higher protein, higher fat based meals can help out quite a bit. Those are always going to be released more slowly into your blood stream, cause a little bit less of a spike in blood sugar which you probably already have from the alcohol and so that’s another reason that those would be a better choice if you’re going to be drinking.
Constance asks: I noticed at the Spokane Triathlon (and for those of you listening in, that’s a local triathlon here that myself and many other local athletes competed in) that many athletes had difficulty during transitions with cold/numb extremities. What are your tips for cold management during triathlons?
Ben answers: Well, first of all let me say that this is one of those do as I say, not as I do pieces of advice that I’m going to give because I competed in that triathlon. I won that triathlon but I was quite uncomfortable during the race because I came out of the water, I hopped on the bike, completely skipped putting on the gloves and the long-sleeved top that I had sitting right there on my bike because I wanted to beat everyone else out of transition and I took off and I was literally watching my hands turn blue as I rode the bike. I came back in and actually had to get assistance from a volunteer putting my running shoes on because I couldn’t feel my fingers. So a few of the tips that I have are number one, think about using a muscle warming cream. I’ll put a link to it in the Shownotes but there’s one that’s very popular among cyclists that you can also use in a triathlon called Greyhound Muscle Warming Juice. It looks like a deodorant stick and you essentially rub it in places that you want to stay warm. Specifically the arms, the legs, the hands and the feet during or before a cold event, whether that be a run, a cycling event, a triathlon, a swim, etc. It’s called Greyhound Muscle Warming Cream. I would caution you that when you apply that, make sure that you already applied anything that you’re going to put into your crotch, like a chamois cream before you’ve put on that muscle warming cream because trust me, you don’t want to get essential oils full of cayenne pepper in any of those sensitive spots. This is the voice of experience speaking. Also be sure not to rub your eyes after putting that stuff on. The next thing you would want to do is think about putting not necessarily a glove but like a lobster glove or mitten in your transition area. That will really help to keep your fingers warm on the bike. They’re quick to put on. You can still shift when you have those on and they’ll help your fingers to warm each other during that ride. The other thing that I’ll do during the bike and that I did during this race was I was frequently clenching and unclenching my hands to keep the blood flow going to those hands and to make sure that they weren’t actually going to fall off or have to be cut off after the race. I would have pulled out if frostbite was an issue. I actually almost did pull out since I was a little bit scared of that. The next thing that you want to do is make sure that your shoes – if you’re doing a triathlon – are loose or you’re using elastic shoelaces when you come back in so you don’t have to worry about tying or pulling those shoes on and you don’t have to struggle with the shoes quite as much, granted because I didn’t wear mittens or gloves on the bike ride I still had a lot of trouble putting my shoes on in that race. But because I had elastic shoelaces, once I was able to get into my shoes, I didn’t have to worry about trying to tie them with cold fingers. And then my final piece of advice would be to make sure that you warm up well. You may have noticed that before that race, before the swim, I was doing jumping jacks and pushups rather than getting into the water and swimming because I knew that the water was going to cool me down more than it would warm me up. You have an elastic band that you can bring to a triathlon, that also works quite well for helping to warm you up before a cold weather race or before a race where you may not get the chance to warm up much in the water. So that’s a great question. In terms of cold management during triathlons, we are getting towards the end of the season so I would imagine there aren’t going to be a lot more cold water triathlons coming up here but if you’re planning on an early season spring triathlon or late winter triathlon next year, there are some tips for you. And the other thing is make sure that you really do dry off before you take off on that bike. That’ll help as well.
Payam asks: You often suggest quinoa as a healthy alternative to other sources of carbs. However, I have read that it is high in sapponins, which are essentially a poison. Is this true, and what steps should be taken to minimize the sapponin content?
Ben answers: Well for those of you who don’t know what quinoa is, it’s a plant based food. It’s a grain, it’s very high in amino acid content. It’s a wonderful alternative to rice, to oatmeal and it’s highly nutritious. It’s not only got tons of protein but it’s a great source of fiber. It’s a good source of stabilized energy levels. It’s one thing that I tend to carbohydrate load on especially in the week before a triathlon or a race and it’s a really great food. It actually is considered a superfood. It’s also gluten free. And it’s fairly easy to digest. The issue is that quinoa in its natural state has this kind of resin like coating around the outside of it called a sapponin. And a sapponin kind of gives quinoa a bitter taste and it might be that these sapponins are designed to keep fungi or microbes from feeding on the natural quinoa plant and it can also serve as an anti-fetin. Meaning that it can keep grazing animals from mowing down too much of the quinoa. And some sapponins can actually help with animal digestion but in many cases sapponins can cause some issues with human digestibility, specifically because they are able to poke little holes in cell membranes. They can cause some inflammation and some disruption of metabolic activity in the intestines and in the gut as they travel through the gut and as the quinoa is digested and absorbed. Now, many of the sapponins are actually removed during the rinsing and washing process that takes place as the quinoa is harvested and packaged and sent out to wherever you get it from – the grocery store or anywhere else. You do get a lot of trace sapponins still there and that’s where doing more washing of the quinoa can help quite a bit. So you could put it in a strainer or rinse it very thoroughly with water, but you can also actually soak your quinoa and this can help out quite a bit. We actually soak our quinoa and not only does it remove a lot of the sapponins but improves digestibility and you simply soak it in a bowl overnight and you rinse it well afterwards, again using a strainer and the sapponins really will not be an issue after you do that. And interestingly, here’s your fun fact for the day. In South America where quinoa is used quite a bit, they’ll strain it and they’ll get the sapponin out and then they’ll use the sapponin as a detergent for washing clothes and also as an antiseptic, again because it can break through cell membrane walls and be used as an antibacterial, as an antiseptic. So there you go. And we’ve got lots of recipes for quinoa especially inside the Body Transformation Club that I run at Ben’s Body Transformation Club, I do tons of recipes for folks and video record recipes and workouts. Some of the things that we use quite a bit over there is quinoa and you can get into the Body Transformation Club by going to www.bengreenfieldfitness.com/bodytransformationclub.
Chuck asks: With my history of an eating disorder, I have been diagnosed with low testosterone. A few years back, I went to a specialist in this area and she told me that my low testosterone was due to my body fat levels being so low. Is my low testosterone a cause of not eating enough fat in my diet or would it be a cause of having too low a body fat percentage?
Ben answers: Well in past podcasts, we’ve discussed body fat percentages and how much body fat we actually need and when you’re talking about body fat that you actually need, what that is is actually your essential body fat. So you get essential fat that’s stored in your bone marrow, in your organs, in your central nervous system, in your muscles – and that’s actually needed for the normal healthy functioning of those body systems. Your body actually relies on that storage body fat for the use of the fat as energy – for metabolic activity – but also for insulation, cushioning, warmth, things of that nature. For a man, that’s about 3%. So if your body fat drops below 3%, you’re going to lose a lot of that essential body fat and for women, if you drop below about 12% that’s where you start to lose that essential body fat as well. For women, that also dips into your normal female reproductive function. So, there have been studies that have looked at folks who have eating disorders and some of the things that happen with the hormones that go along with those eating disorders. And these problems are not just with levels of fat that are too low, but also a drop in your ability to produce hormones, to produce energy just because of a general lack of nutrients due to the low caloric intake. So your gonadotropin levels drop which is what are called your follicle stimulating hormone and your lutenizing hormone levels and your gonadotropin releasing hormone as well. And if the name of that hormone gives you any clue, the gonadotropin releasing hormone and the other gonadotropin based hormones are essential to sexual activity and the correction of sex hormones and more and more reproductive function in both males and females. You’ll get a drop in growth hormone and a drop in growth hormone releasing hormone. A lot of the thyroid, especially T4 and T3 tend to drop as does your thyroid stimulating hormone. Your TSH levels. Corticotropin releasing hormone – again an essential hormone for stabilizing your cortisol levels. That tends to get decreased and your leptin levels which help your body’s appetite to stabilize tend to fall and your ghrelin levels which increase your appetite tend to rise. So there are a lot of issues that happen. Interestingly almost every single one of these issues is completely reversible with re-nutrition or a good re-feeding protocol. So a slight rise in the body fat percentage and a return to normal caloric consumption. However, the meat of your question – no pun intended – is whether the drop in testosterone levels is due to a low dietary intake of fat or a low body fat percentage and it’s more likely due to the former. Low dietary intake of fat because cholesterol is the precursor to all your steroid hormones including testosterone. So even if you have low levels of circulating cholesterol because you’re getting low cholesterol from a restricted dietary fat consumption, you are going to limit your production to produce steroid hormones more than if you have a low body fat percentage. There are a lot of guys… you think about a bodybuilder for example or an athlete walking around with 5 to 10% body fat levels who have testosterone levels through the roof. However if you’re on a low fat diet, that’s a great way to suppress the testosterone levels. So what I would look at doing is going back and listening to the episode with Bioletics where we talked about healthy fatty acid intake. My personal fat consumption is at about 30 to 35% dietary fat. I’m getting in a ton of fat. I’m up to the point now where I’m putting pads of butter and almond butter in my oatmeal. I’m even using heavy cream in my coffee. Remember I’m not trying to lose weight. I’m trying to optimize my hormone levels and my recovery. For someone who’s trying to lose weight I would definitely be limiting the fat to a certain extent especially from a caloric perspective, I wouldn’t eliminate the fat but I wouldn’t be on as high a fat percentage consumption as I personally am on. So essentially I would increase your dietary fat percentage first and if your body fat is already low as it probably is, Chuck, it’s naturally going to go up just a little bit but that’ won’t necessarily be a bad thing.
Now the last question is a very, very interesting question. It’s from listener Josie. Josie sent me a link to an article entitled Exercise Won’t Make You Think and she’s wondering what I thought about it. So I actually pulled up that article and what I want to do is go over that article and I did this a few months ago with an article that appeared in Time Magazine about exercise and people not losing weight from exercise. And I’d kind of like to do the same thing that I did with that article, with this article. Specifically I want to read it and give my thoughts to you as I read it. So we’re going to finish with this before we move on to our interview with Jonathan Bailor. But I want to go over this article, read it to you and give you my thoughts. And then if you have thoughts, be sure to leave a comment on this podcast’s Shownotes for episode number 114. So, this article is written or released in something called The Guardian and I’m actually not even seeing an author for this article, interestingly. Oh yes there we go. Emma John, the deputy editor of the Observer Magazine. Here it goes.
Article: My mum used to complain that she couldn't lose weight. A size 18 and a couple of stone heavier than ideal, she tried in vain for years to shed the extra. Every week she headed to the gym, where she pounded the treadmill like a paratrooper, often three times a week. Most days she took the dog for a brisk walk. She didn't eat unhealthily – the rest of the family ate exactly the same meals, and did a fraction of the exercise she did. She ought to have been the slimmest of the bunch: that she remained overweight was a frustration to her, and a mystery to all of us.
From StairMasters to kettlebells, we understand and expect that getting in shape is going to require serious effort on our part – and the reverse is true, too, that we expect exercise to pay back the hours of boring, sweaty graft with a leaner, lighter body. We’ve known that the healthiest way to lose weight is through exercise. It's science, isn't it?
Well, science has some bad news for you. More and more research in both the UK and the US is emerging to show that exercise has a negligible impact on weight loss. That tri-weekly commitment to aerobics class? Almost worthless, as far as fitting into your bikini is concerned. The Mayo Clinic, a not-for-profit medical research establishment in the US, reports that, in general, studies “have demonstrated no or modest weight loss with exercise alone” and that “an exercise regimen… is unlikely to result in short-term weight loss beyond what is achieved with dietary change.”
It sounds faintly heretical, if not downright facetious. And it's a scientific discovery that most health professionals are, naturally, keen to downplay.
Ben: Alright, this is Ben Greenfield now. I want to make an observation. These studies that are being cited relied on cardiovascular exercise, on aerobic exercise. So I want to let you know that they were not using resistance training or interval training when they were comparing whether exercise alone would get you benefit compared to just dieting or if exercising and dieting would give you benefit compared to just dieting. So these studies that she’s citing – those are aerobic studies, not with resistance training. Not with cardio intervals. So she goes on. She says…
Article: Most of us have a grasp of the rudiments of weight gain and loss: you put energy (calories) into your body through food, you expend them through movement, and any that don't get burned off are stored in your body as fat. Unfortunately, the maths isn't in our favor. “In theory, of course, it's possible that you can burn more calories than you eat,” says Dr Susan Jebb, head of nutrition and health research at the Medical Research Council.”But you have to do an awful lot more exercise than most people realize. To burn off an extra 500 calories is typically an extra two hours of cycling. And that's about two doughnuts.”
Ben: Well let me interject here that if you ride a bicycle for two hours and you’re only burning 500 calories, somebody needs to light a fire under you. This is Ben Greenfield commenting again. But that’s a severe underestimation of the amount of calories most people burn with two hours of cycling if they’re really serious about their exercising. For the folks who are reading a novel on the bike that may be a different case.
Article: From a practical perspective, then, exercise is never going to be an effective way of slimming, unless you have the training schedule – and the willpower – of an Olympic athlete. “It's simple maths,” says Professor Paul Gately, of the Carnegie Weight Management institution in Leeds. “If you want to lose a pound of body fat, then that requires you to run from Leeds to Nottingham, but if you want to do it through diet, you just have to skip a meal for seven days.” Both Jebb and Gately are keen to stress that there is plenty of evidence that exercise can add value to a diet: “It certainly does maximize the amount you lose as fat rather than tissue,” Jebb points out. But Gately sums it up: “Most people, offered the choice, are going to go for the diet, because it's easier to achieve.”
Ben: This is again where I completely disagree with the author, that in order for exercise to be an effective way of slimming, you have to have the willpower of an Olympic athlete. I have been a personal trainer for over a decade. I have helped hundreds of people to lose thousands of pounds and it can be achieved very easily through a combination of the right type of exercise and diet. These professors are simply wrong. Most people offered the choice are not going to go for the diet. They’re going to go for dieting plus exercise because in 100% of the cases, you feel better when you’re dieting and you’re exercising and you get faster results if the exercise is structured properly. So let’s go on.
Article: There's another, more insidious, problem with pinning all your hopes for a holiday body on exercise. In what has become a defining experiment at the University of Louisiana, led by Dr Timothy Church, hundreds of overweight women were put on exercise programs for a six-month period. Some worked out for 72 minutes each week, some for 136 minutes, and some for 194. A fourth group kept to their normal daily routine with no additional exercise.
Against all the laws of natural justice, at the end of the study, there was no significant difference in weight loss between those who had exercised – some of them for several days a week – and those who hadn't. Church identified the problem and called it “compensation”: those who exercised cancelled out the calories they had burned by eating more, generally as a form of self-reward. The post-workout pastry to celebrate a job well done – or even a few pieces of fruit to satisfy their stimulated appetites – undid their good work. In some cases, they were less physically active in their daily life as well.
His findings are backed up by a paper on childhood obesity published in 2008 by Boston academics Steven Gortmaker and Kendrin Sonneville. In an 18-month study investigating what they call “the energy gap” – the daily imbalance between energy intake and expenditure — the pair showed that when the children in their experiment exercised, they ended up eating more than the calories they had just burned, sometimes 10 or 20 times as much.
Ben: Ok, I’m going to stop here for a second. This – what the author is pointing out is true. You’ll get a lot of people who use the 30 minute spin session that they do during the workday lunch hour at the gym to justify going home and sitting in front of the TV for three hours while eating popcorn and a couple of dinners. This actually is a problem that you’re going to see quite a bit and this is something where you need to be honest with yourself and ask yourself if you’re using exercise as an excuse to sit around the rest of the day or to eat cheat meals every day. We already talked about cheat meals earlier in this episode. Just to give you an example, one of the things that I do because I know that when I exercise – when I get a good exercise session in, I’m tempted to just kind of sit around the rest of the day. I have a standing work station and so when I’m working, I’m in a standing position and when I’m forced to be in a seated position, I have a rule that I simply do not allow myself to break. That every 45 to 60 minutes I have to get up and do 100 jumping jacks. That’s simply a rule that I give myself. So if you figure out ways, especially if you have a sedentary job to work in physical activity and make rules for yourself you tend to overcome this natural propensity to want to sit around especially if you’ve already exercised. Ok, we’re going to move on.
Article: In the 1950s, the celebrated French-American nutritionist Jean Mayer was the first to introduce a link between exercise and weight reduction. Until then, the notion that physical activity might help you lose weight was actually rather unfashionable in the scientific community. Over the course of his career, Mayer's pioneering studies – on rats, babies and schoolgirls – demonstrated that the less active someone was, the more likely they were to be fat.. “Getting fit” became synonymous not just with healthier living, but with a leaner, meaner body, and the ground was laid for a burgeoning gym industry.
Each successive postwar generation was enjoying an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, and those lifestyles have been accompanied by an apparently inexorable increase in obesity. But have we confused cause and effect? Terry Wilkin, professor of endocrinology and metabolism at the Peninsula Medical School in Plymouth, argues that we have. The title of his latest research is: “Fatness leads to inactivity, but inactivity does not lead to fatness”. Wilkin is nearing the end of an 11-year study on obesity in children, which has been monitoring the health, weight and activity levels of 300 subjects since the age of five. When his team compared the more naturally active children with the less active ones, they were surprised to discover absolutely no difference in their body fat or body mass.
That's not to say that exercise is not making the children healthy in other ways, says Wilkin, just that it's having no palpable effect on their overall size and shape. “And that's a fundamental issue,” he adds, “because governments, including ours, use body mass as an outcome measure.” In other words, obesity figures are not going to improve through government-sponsored programs that focus primarily on exercise while ignoring the behemoth of a food industry that is free to push high-calorie junk to kids.
For one thing, Wilkin believes he has discovered another form of “compensation”. Looking at the question of whether it was possible to change a child's physical activity, Wilkin's team put accelerometers on children at schools with very different PE schedules: one which offered 1.7 hours a week, and another that offered nine hours.
“The children did 64% more physical activity at the second school. But when they got home they did the reverse. Those who had had the activity during the day flopped and those who hadn't perked up, and if you added the in-school and out-of-school together you got the same. From which we concluded that physical activity is controlled by the brain, not by the environment – if you're given a big opportunity to exercise at one end of day you'll compensate on the other end.”
Ben: This is me again interjecting, but I do think there’s something to be said here, that we naturally have – like we have a metabolic set point and a physical activity set point and this could be due to the body’s natural survival mechanisms. But it is possible that if you are putting your child or yourself into a structured exercise program, you are fundamentally introducing a mental and physical propensity to exercise less or want to do less physical activity later in the day. Again, I don’t think this means that you are held to that and doomed to that. It just means that it’s something you are naturally going to progress towards but if you are aware of that and you make it a point to stay physically active, even if you’ve already exercised then you’re still going to be able to overcome this compensation effect that the article is talking about. So we’re going to go on.
Article: “What we want to avoid is people thinking they can control their weight simply by dieting,” adds Jebb, who points out that this is the very scenario that encourages anorexia in teenage girls. “Just restricting your diet is not going to be the healthiest way to live.” Scientific studies show that exercise is an important factor in maintaining weight loss and, Jebb adds, some studies suggest it can help in preventing weight gain.
But it is still much harder to exercise when you're already overweight, and “high energy density” foods are quick to get us there – overeating by just 100 calories a day can lead to a weight increase of 10lb over a year. “Education must come first,” says Wilkin. “Eating habits have to change to a much lower calorie intake, much lower body weight, and we would be fitter as a result because we would be able to do more physical activity.”
Ben: This is where I find this article to just be very interesting. Because you’re getting the same researchers who admitted that they found that exercise does not help with weight loss to say that there are studies to show that exercise can help to maintain a steady weight or to help in preventing weight gain. I just don’t understand how they can say that on one side and then on the other side say that exercise is not going to help with weight loss. In the absence of that compensation effect, and with the right type of exercise – exercise can absolutely lead to weight loss. So the author goes on.
Article: When it comes to losing weight, it seems there's only one real choice – stop eating so much food. The good news. The latest scientific findings from the US suggest that an intense workout in the gym is actually less effective than gentle exercise in terms of weight loss. Barry Braun, associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Massachusetts, says that the evidence emerging from his research team shows that moderate exercise such as “low-intensity ambulation” may help to burn calories “without triggering a caloric compensation effect” – without making you reach for a snack the moment you're done. In one experiment, Braun showed that simply standing up instead of sitting used up hundreds more calories a day without increasing appetite hormones in your blood.
Ben: So this is interesting because the author who just told us earlier in the article that exercise won’t help you lose weight at all is now citing scientific studies that show that low intensity exercise can help you to burn calories without triggering a caloric compensation effect. In essence, the author is using a study from the US to tell people that they should exercise at a low intensity and not do hard exercise or cardiovascular intervals because of a study that showed that low intensity exercise doesn’t trigger a caloric compensation effect. Again, just a ton of contradiction in this article. Essentially what this comes down to is that yeah low intensity exercise may help to burn calories without triggering a caloric compensation effect, but as a matter of fact the research studies are far more comprehensive and elegant that have shown that low intensity exercise offers you no advantage over simply dieting. So this throws this part of her argument completely into the trash and weakens the earlier point of you’re the article. Then shoes on, and almost done here. She says…
Article: Perhaps offering one reason for a multi-billion-pound weight-loss industry aimed almost exclusively at women, research has confirmed that it is more difficult for women to shed the pounds than men, because women's bodies are simply more efficient at storing fat. In one of Braun's experiments, in which overweight men and women were monitored while walking on treadmills, the women's blood levels of insulin decreased while appetite hormones increased; the men's, meanwhile, displayed no such change. “Across the evidence base, it seems that it's tougher for women to lose weight than men,” affirms Ken Fox, professor of exercise and health sciences at Bristol University.
Ben: I think that we all know that this fact is true. Women have a higher body fat percentage. They have higher needs for essential body fat because of the female reproductive system, because of the breasts, the hips, the thighs and the butt naturally storing more body fat. This is completely natural. I think if you’re listening and you’re a woman, this is not something that should discourage you. It’s something that should make you take pride that you are built differently than a man. This is one of the reasons that you are able to be attractive to men and I don’t want to get into the sexuality argument too much here but I think it’s ok that women are slightly fatter than men. I think that is completely natural. Yes that means it may be tougher for you to lose weight, but I think that comparing the weight loss of men to the weight loss of women is like comparing apples to oranges. This author finally finishes by listing a ton of foods and then listing how long it would actually take to burn those foods. For example, she says a Mars Bar would take 15 minutes of aqua aerobics. A Subway Tuna Wrap would take one hour and 10 minutes of body pump. A slice of Domino’s pepperoni pizza would take 45 minutes of swimming. Well this is a perfect place to end, because remember folks, it’s not just the calories that you eat, it’s the source of those calories. And we’re going to talk more about that in today’s featured topic with Jonathan Bailor. So let’s go ahead and move on to that interview.
Ben: Hey folks, this is Ben Greenfield and occasionally things come across my desk that really raise my eyebrow in terms of me seeing that somebody has really gotten a grasp on being able to give us a very good idea about what makes people tick when it comes to being healthy and when it comes to being smart about specifically fat loss and weight loss. And there is a gentleman named Jonathan Bailor who lives over in Seattle and he has done a pretty extensive amount of investigative journalism into why we as a culture aren’t losing weight and what some of the problems are in terms of our approach to fat loss. I’ve seen some of the findings and some of the research that he has actually been able to dig into and make palatable for the average person to be able to understand. He is going to be later on in 2012 putting all this information into a book, but I didn’t want you to have to wait until then to at least get an idea of what Mr. Jonathan Bailor has actually found when it comes fat loss, weight loss, and your health. So Jonathan, thanks for coming on the call today.
Jonathan Bailor: Hey my pleasure Ben.
Ben: So before we get into what exactly is the reason that people aren’t losing weight and why people have such a hard time burning fat, what inspired you to get involved with looking into this in the first place?
Jonathan Bailor: That’s a great question Ben. About 10 years ago I was actually a personal trainer so I do have a bit of background in the industry but I’m really just fundamentally a geek at heart. My day job currently is software engineering so I’ve just had a passion for really digging into the real sort of research and clinical sort of studies that have gone on about fat loss and I’ve just been fascinated with how we as a culture exercise more than any other culture in the world and we diet more than any other culture in the world and yet we’re still fatter than every other culture in the world. That really didn’t make sense to me. And I really just wanted to find out why that was taking place so I just hit the books and came up with some pretty surprising findings.
Ben: Now I want to jump right into the meat of some of the things that you found and you know, I know that there’s a lot that we could talk about but I want to specifically dig into some of the things that I thought were most interesting that we haven’t talked about too much on the Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast before and the first is the issue that there area actually foods that you can eat that can cripple your ability to burn fat. I think a lot of people don’t realize that. Can you talk about the reasoning behind that and which foods can actually cripple the ability to burn fat?
Jonathan Bailor: Absolutely. This really gets to hit the nail on the head. A big sort of gist of my book and my research and that’s sort of people – as a culture, we really focus on the need to burn fat. This calories in versus calories out equation and this myth that if we just exercise more and eat less we will automatically burn fat. Well as we all know, just needing something is not enough. I’m losing my hair, I need to grow some hair back but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to actually grow my hair back because my body doesn’t have the ability to re-grow hair, at least not yet. Hopefully science will fix that. But food can actually do the same thing to our bodies. For example, high fructose corn syrup which I’m sure everyone has heard of is terrible for us is actually not recognized by our body as a food and actually has metabolic consequences which basically say our body can no longer burn fat effectively. When it is prompted to burn fat – when we burn more calories, what our body will in fact do is simply prompt us to eat more or prompt itself to burn muscle tissue rather than burning fat because these unnatural foods that we’ve put into our body have essentially clogged our ability to burn fat so we can create the need all day but we’ve sabotaged our ability to actually burn that fat. It’s actually very fascinating.
Ben: Can you go into a little bit more detail about how that actually happens and give some examples. I know a lot of people really know that high fructose corn syrup is bad for them, but are there things that go beyond that and if so, how is that actually happening? How is the body losing its ability to burn fat as it consumes these foods?
Jonathan Bailor: Absolutely, it’s a great question. So, I’m sure a lot of people are very familiar with the fact that we as a culture have an incredibly high rate of what’s called type 2 diabetes and this is adult onset diabetes or diabetes that is not a genetic consequence. We’re doing or we’re eating something that is causing us to become diabetic. Another condition very similar to this is called insulin resistance and these are all the consequence of what I would call the fundamental crippling of our ability to burn fat and what happens without geeking out too much is that when we eat foods that are very high in sugar essentially, or starches basically – all of our breads and grains and sweets – what that triggers is a lot of hormone called insulin in our bodies. And when we produce all this excess insulin, we build up a resistance to it. So, if we eat a lot of foods that cause us to trigger a lot of insulin, we’ll just have insulin sticking around in our bloodstream. And when insulin is present in our bloodstream, our body will never burn fat. The reason this happens is our body – it just sees insulin in our bloodstream as an indication that we have enough food. Because we traditionally would only release insulin when we eat a lot of food, but nowadays, we’re eating the types of food that cause an excess amount of insulin to be released so we have this sort of ever-present state in our bodies of insulin. So our bodies never really think we need to burn fat and that really sabotages our ability for our body to burn fat. So, here again from our perspective, we’ve created the need. We’ve created this negative caloric balance, but you have this ever present increased level of insulin in our bodies which to our bodies’ perspectives says well I don’t need to burn fat. I don’t have the ability to burn fat. I’ve got all this insulin sticking around. You can do whatever you want, with all this insulin in my bloodstream I can’t burn fat. The reason for that again without really geeking out is there’s myriad hormones that are required – glucagon and adrenaline and epinephrine – that are required for our body to actually breakdown store fat which is called triglyceride into free fatty acids which we can then burn as fat. None of this can happen when we have things like insulin present in our bloodstreams. This is why we’ve heard these low glycemic diets or this Atkins diet – the reason some people see a lot of great results on those diets is they do really target sort of minimizing the amount of insulin in the bloodstream. Of course the problem with these diets is they also potentially minimize the amounts of very healthy foods such as vegetables and that’s not the right thing to do. But as fundamentally, they are on to something in the sense that people on the Atkin’s diet will eat a lot of food and still burn a lot of fat because what they’ve done is restored their body’s ability to burn fat by getting rid of all this excess insulin in their bloodstream.
Ben: Yeah, it’s interesting that you bring that up because I think a lot of people are used to constantly having high levels of sugar coming in and not even used to the feeling of burning fat. I know that you as somebody who’s physically active and who exercises, Jonathan, you’ve probably bonked during exercise or felt low blood sugar during exercise and it can be somewhat uncomfortable, right?
Jonathan Bailor: Definitely. I think… oh go ahead, sorry.
Ben: I was going to say that I think a lot of people, even when they’re not exercising, they put their body into fat metabolizing mode in the way that you’re recommending by the presence of these constantly high insulin levels, that it’s initially uncomfortable.
Jonathan Bailor: Oh absolutely. Well in addition to sort of being uncomfortable, it’s very interesting because there’s been many studies done at very prestigious universities such as Harvard that show that a lot of these insulin triggering foods actually have the same addictive characteristics such as drugs, like opium or heroin causing the same sort of serotonin and dopamine triggers in our brain so that when we do try to break what is literally a sugar and starch addiction, we go through a mild case of withdrawal. Because these chemicals are causing the same sort of drug like and addictive dependencies that much more hardcore drugs do cause. That again is really crippling our ability – if you’ve ever tried to give up sugar, you definitely experience this, it’s like trying to give up coffee. You’re going to go through a little bit of a withdrawal. It’s not a fun process.
Ben: Yeah, and I think even beyond the withdrawal process that people go through, you begin to burn a different fuel. When you tap into fat, you’re tapping into what are called ketones or fatty acids and those produce energy in a different way and I know a lot of people, a lot of people that I have talked to have switched to these high insulin levels, they just feel a little blah for a few weeks when they first make that switch and then your body learns how to burn fat.
Jonathan Bailor: Absolutely. And then it’s actually a pretty incredible feeling because of having those peaks and valleys which I think we experience a lot as a culture, as we can see by the prevalence of energy drinks that have now swept the market – it’s to bring us out of those peaks. When we get off of running off of a sugar or a starch high and then having to drink a can of further sugar inducing energy drink, we can have that constant level of fuel, just like a slow burning fire going on in our bodies which kind of keeps us up all day which is wonderful.
Ben: Yeah. Well you talk in your book a little bit about how someone can actually burn fat without changing the number of calories that we eat and I know that people probably are somewhat familiar with the idea that maybe the calories in versus the calories out equation isn’t all that there is to life and weight loss, but in your words how can somebody take their diet, still eat the same number of calories but still lose weight and how would you explain that?
Jonathan Bailor: Cool, yeah so this is one that really gets me a little bit fired up. Because we hear this myth all the time that a calorie is a calorie. Sure folks have heard that phrase before and that’s just silly. That’s like saying Vanilla Ice and Mozart are the same because they’re both musicians. That’s absolutely not true. So a very simple example is the way that our bodies process various calories is fundamentally different. Fat, for example, takes very little metabolizing to become usable energy within our body. The same thing with highly processed sugar. But let’s talk for a moment about proteins. We hear about high protein diets and why protein is so valuable. Well without getting too much into math, if you eat a 100 calories worth of protein, before that protein is available for your body to store as fat or burn as energy, it has to go through an immense amount of processing and the reason for this is that when we eat protein, it breaks down to what’s called amino acids. And amino acids can be used for all kinds of things in the body. But two of them are not to be burned as energy because our body fundamentally, like Ben said, only burns two things as energy and that’s ketones and glucose or it can be used to be stored as fat. But before amino acids, which is what protein turns into after its digested, can be turned into glucose so they can be metabolized by our body, an immense amount of processing has to take place. And that active processing burns an immense amount of calories. In dietary fields this is caused dietary induced thermogenesis, which basically just means digesting food burns a heck of a lot of calories. In fact for the average American, about 10% of the calories we burn a day is spent simply digesting food. Now if we change the type of calories we eat, we change the quality of calories we eat – we eat a lot of lean protein, we eat a lot of good fats, we eat a lot of fibrous vegetables and fruits – the amount of calories that we will actually burn digesting that food increases dramatically. In fact, protein – when you eat it, you will actually burn 70% of the calories that you eat simply turning that protein into metabolizable energy in your body. If you think about that, that is mind-blowing. That means if you eat 300 calories of protein, when everything is all said and done, no matter what – if we’re in a coma, on our bed – the most amount of calories that our bodies could ever conceivably store as fat would be 100 calories simply because about 66%, 70% — 2/3rds of those calories from a lean protein is simply spent digesting it. It’s called metabolic inefficiency and it is absolutely a scientific fact that a calorie is not a calorie and by changing the quality of calories we eat, we can lose weight without eating any less.
Ben: With the word “inefficiency” being a good thing in this case for people.
Jonathan Bailor: Absolutely. We want our bodies in some sense – it’s actually funny that you should say that Ben – it’s actually a key point. I’m very happy you brought it up. Our bodies are fundamentally designed to be very metabolically efficient. We’ve evolved over 2.6 million years and for the vast, vast majority of that time, we’re talking like 96% of that time, food was very scarce. We all know that. And our bodies were designed to most efficiently as possible take as many calories as it could and use them for energy and then store them should we run out of food. Obviously we have no shortage of food in America today. We have an excess of food so our goal actually is – we’re in an incredible position… instead of eating foods that should maximize metabolic efficiency, we should be eating foods that maximize metabolic inefficiency and the funny thing is that these are just the foods that fundamentally we’re designed to eat – natural meats, natural fish, a lot of natural vegetables, natural fruits, nuts and seeds. The most healthy foods available are also the most metabolically inefficient foods available and are also the most natural kind of chemical free foods available, and it’s pretty hard to argue that we should simply eat the foods that nature provides us and it’s funny because those are the exact foods that make us metabolically inefficient and make us burn fat. It’s quite a virtuous cycle.
Ben: It’s interesting. When I think about this sometimes, in a way our ability to create efficient foods like breads, calorie dense foods has somewhat crippled us in one way because we have excess calories around but we’re really not in danger, at least that I’m aware of, of going through a famine any time soon so we’re basically eating all these efficient foods that are very convenient, that get us full very quickly or at least allow us to store away a lot of storage energy. But we really have no need to be storing away that energy. As you mentioned in what I’ve seen so far of your book, that has a pretty stark effect o health care cost as well.
Jonathan Bailor: Oh absolutely. It’s funny that you should mention that because we have this phenomenon in our country which is really unprecedented. And a gentleman by the name of Michael Paulen which I’m sure some of your listeners have read his books developed this term or he may not have developed it but he certainly says it a lot, which is we as a culture have become overfed and undernourished because what we’ve done in producing all these efficient foods is they’re efficient because we’ve processed them. We’ve done what traditionally our bodies would do and we’ve broken the food down and sort of stripped out all of these things that are difficult to digest because it’s cheaper and food is sort of – we can mark it up on supermarket shelves and we can store it for longer, but then when we eat it, our body really has nothing else to do except – it’s like hmm, this has already been processed for me, might as well just stick this in the fat cells. And the food has very few nutrients in it so our body will be then just like hmm, I don’t have enough nutrients so you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to crave some more food. So we have children who are obese and have these “archaic” diseases like rickets which is a fundamental vitamin and mineral deficiency and you’re like this child – this 10-year-old child who weighs 200 lbs and has a vitamin deficiency? How is that even possible? Well they’re eating food that has an immense amount of calories, that’s been immensely processed that has no nutrition in it and that makes us overfed and undernourished. It’s just a shocking phenomenon.
Ben: Well, you know as you and I both know and I’m sure many of the listeners know, gaining weight and fat loss is not just about nutrition. There’s definitely physical activity that has to come into play, and you have some opinions about exercise and what form of exercise is best for maximizing fat loss. For you as an investigative journalist, someone who’s looked quite a bit into weight loss and fat loss, what have you found to be most effective for folks in terms of physical activity?
Jonathan Bailor: It’s a great question, Ben. Again this is one of these things where again the sort of overarching trend I found in our culture is this focus on quantity. Saying what quantity of food are we eating? We need to eat less food and then we take it the other direction with exercise. We say what quantity of exercise are we doing? Let’s go do more exercise. Let’s spend more time in the gym, but we don’t focus necessarily on what we’re doing in the gym. We’re just like oh I was on the treadmill for an hour therefore I did better than someone who was on the treadmill for a half hour. And that is not at all true. In fact, to fundamentally restore our body’s ability to burn fat, to unclog what I call our fat metabolism system, to re-sensitize our body to insulin and these hormones that cause us to burn fat. What we actually need to do is a much lower quantity and a much higher quality of exercise and that takes the form of two things. One of which I call high quality resistance training and the other which I call high quality interval training which is very similar to what a lot of folks have heard about a little bit in the mainstream, which is for a high quality interval training, it’s doing short intense bursts of low impact, cardiovascular exercise. And that can only be done for a very short period of time but again it’s much more effective. It’s forcing this clog out of our fat metabolism system. And resistance training is very much the same way. It’s a very intense exercise for a very short period of time, forcing our body to sort of make adaptations which – the analogy I use is sort of trying to move a couch by poking it with a finger. Our body will never react if we just sit there and poke at it. Just sit there, poke a couch, the couch will never move. You can poke it a million times. You can use any quantity, it will never move the couch. When we do this continuous low cardio, that’s what we’re doing. We’re poking on our fat metabolism system. We’re saying please burn fat. Please, and the fat metabolism system is like “leave me alone.” But when we actually go in there and we do high quality resistance training, we do high quality cardio which because it’s so high quality and so intense, we have do for a short period of time, we’re basically taking that couch and we’re giving it one good push and it slides right across the floor and we’re doing the same thing with our fat metabolism system. We’re giving it one good high quality push and we’re forcing that clog right out and forcing it to again burn fat.
Ben: Interesting. Now you have the opinion that some of the metabolically inefficient foods are foods were something that from an evolutionary standpoint people were eating for a long period of time. Do you feel that these types of exercise modes perhaps are metabolically efficient or effective for fat loss for a similar reason based off of how our body responds to certain modes of exercise in terms of what our ancestors may have done?
Jonathan Bailor: That’s a really great question. I think it is a lot like that – what I found in my research is that I think you hit the nail on the head when you said just like there’s metabolically inefficient foods, and metabolically efficient foods. There’s metabolically efficient modes of activity and there’s metabolically inefficient forms of activity. We’re designed to sort of perform low intensity activity for a long period of time. That’s what we did. We walked around, we hunted, we gathered. It is easy for our body to do that. We’re very efficient at performing that but when it comes to oh my gosh, there’s a tiger, let me go sprint for 30 seconds to get away from it or oh my gosh, this boulder fell on my leg, let me lift it up really quick – those activities were not really designed for us so when we performed them it causes this extreme amount of stress on our bodies, but a good stress in this sense. And for us to recover from this stress, we burn an immense amount of calories and release an immense amount of hormones which cause us to then have both the need and the ability to burn fat for exactly the reason you mentioned. These are very inefficient activities to perform and thus, I guess getting back home to the key message here which is almost like inefficiency is a good thing in this realm.
Ben: Yeah I think a lot of people may not realize of most of the animals or the living creatures on the planet, humans are one of the best at endurance exercise in terms of going and going and going on even low amounts of fuel and that’s something that you actually don’t want to do if you want to lose weight. It kind of flies in the face of logic but you want to stay away from the stuff that you’re good at, that’s what you’re saying?
Jonathan Bailor: Of course I think we can always take this in an unhealthy direction too so we need to be sensitive – this doesn’t mean go to your gym and stand on one leg and spin around… we’re not designed to do that. That’s neither what Ben nor I are saying. It’s much more just like from a high level, it’s about doing things that fundamentally aren’t easy. If it’s easy to do, chances are it’s not going to be producing many results.
Ben: Now what about hormones? Do you feel that – you mentioned hormones earlier, but how big of an issue at this point are hormones in terms of say the average American’s ability to lose weight.
Jonathan Bailor: I really… Ben, I couldn’t stress it more. I mean I think that we thought… I like to joke around and I say hormones are the new calories. For the past – since the 1970s when exercise really became mainstream and monitoring the way we eat really became mainstream – because it wasn’t before then. There was one fitness guy. His name was Jack Lalane and in the 50s and 60s, people didn’t really exercise. In fact women weren’t even allowed to exercise at many universities. But in the modern era where we do exercise and are sensitive to our diet, at least in this country, we’re all about calories. And really, really that’s not what we should be focused on. Our body is controlled by hormones. The easiest way to look at this is anybody who hits puberty. They’re not growing, because they’re eating more calories. They’re eating more calories because a bunch of hormonal things are happening in their body which are triggering them to grow, which are triggering boys to turn into men and girls to turn into women. The same thing happens to women when they go through menopause. It has nothing to do with calories. These dramatic changes in our bodies have nothing to do with calories and have everything to do with hormones telling our bodies to change. And we can use nutrients, and we can use foods, and we can use exercise to dramatically influence these hormonal issues in our bodies and once you’ve taken care of that – once you’ve gotten your body hormonally correct, the calories kind of take care of themselves. Because when you’re hormonally right, you won’t crave and you won’t desire these types of food that cause you to go all out of whack and overfed and undernourished. So taking a step back and saying how can we make eating less about calories and more about hormones and how can we make exercise – especially exercise – because exercise is really easy to do hormonally versus calorically – how can we make exercise more hormonally focused and less calorically focused.
Ben: Gotcha. So when you talk about hormones you’re more focusing on kind of these digestive hormones like insulin and glucagon and some of these others that you’ve mentioned. But in terms of say like sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone or testosterone – you hear about industrialization causing us to be exposed to all these what are now termed obesogens or plastics, phyto-estrogens, fake estrogens in the environment that are causing females to gain weight or get breast cancer or go through puberty earlier or males to develop female characteristics, excess fat or male’s testosterone levels to go down. All of these little things, do you believe that that has something to do with it as well?
Jonathan Bailor: You know honestly it’s an area my research really didn’t take me. I certainly would say that anything that is going to cause our bodies to get out of… anything that will change the hormonal state of our body, I fundamentally believe it will have a bigger and more long term and more meaningful impact on our ability and need to burn fat than we can really ever manually do with a calories in and calories out focus. And the simplest example I can think of this is we all know people who can eat whatever the heck they want and never gain a pound. They can go and eat an entire cheesecake and they will not put on any weight. And we know another person who can eat a cheesecake flavored jelly belly jellybean and seems to gain 5 lbs. These people are not dealing with a caloric issue. They’re dealing with a hormonal issue and studies after studies after studies have revealed this to be true where you can take sets of twins and if you take one set of twins and you feed them both 10,000 calories and you take another set of identical twins and feed them each 10,000 calories – the two twins will always gain the same amount of fat. But across… like if we have the Smith twins over here and the Jones twins over here, the Jones twins can gain or lose up to 10 times more or less fat than the Smith twins based on the hormonal state of them. It’s very profound because the twins allow us to say if we have two people with the same genes and basically the same hormonal state, they will react the same way to various foods and modalities of exercise. But when you take two people with different but still the same within their own pair sets of genes and hormones, they will react differently. So it’s very, very interesting.
Ben: It is. And let’s get controversial for a second here. I know that you have directly said that big business and government are burying all this information that we have talked about today especially with regard to the issue with fat loss being far more detailed than calories in versus calories out. You say they are burying all this so they can keep their oversized profits and budgets. Can you expound on that?
Jonathan Bailor: Sure, so this is one that I can go a little bit bananas on, because it really upsets me.
Ben: That’s fine. I’m not afraid of getting shut down.
Jonathan Bailor: So I guess I’ll start with I think the two most salient points, at least for me. One is that time after time after time, a gentleman for example by the name of Walter Willet who’s the chair of nutrition at the Harvard School of Nutrition – we’ve proven that the food guide pyramid in whatever form – they change it every 5 years, but it’s still fundamentally the same thing – is backwards. The food guide pyramid fundamentally says that the foundation of our diet should be starch. From an evolutionary perspective, we did not eat starch until 10,000 years ago and that seems like a long time but humans have been around for a lot longer than that. A lot longer than that. In fact, for about 96% of human existence, we ate no starch. And we’ve got all sorts of studies saying that we don’t really need starch. We do need carbohydrate. I’m definitely not an advocate for what I would say are the extreme low carbohydrate diets but we don’t need to get it from starch. And our government, it’s funny because it’s not necessarily all of our government, it’s the United States Department of Agriculture, put out this food guide pyramid which says we should base our diet on starch. Now wait a second. The United States Department of Agriculture, what makes up the backbone of our agriculture business? Ah, corn, wheat, starch. Ok. Starch begins to make a little more sense now. Why we’re being recommended to base our diet on starch. Even though there’s absolutely no science backing it and myriad studies proving it to be terrible and the cause of diabetes and the cause of coronary heart disease and the cause of all these terrible things like around the metabolic syndrome, if folks have heard of it. And yet, we’re still told you know, 6 to 11 servings of a food we didn’t eat for 96% of human history. That blows my mind.
Ben: And do you feel that the food pyramid is based on that?
Jonathan Bailor: Well you know I think the food pyramid… going way back… the food pyramid came out of this thing, the dietary guidelines which was put out by a senate committee in 1977 and there was very little nutritional guidance, it was much more of a politically inspired doctrine that sort of then spun out of control and turned into the food guide pyramid. And now you have companies like General Mills – cereal companies basically, which the cornerstone of their profits is selling cheap starch that is highly refined and generally marketed toward children and that’s where we learn about the food guide pyramid. It’s on the back of cereal boxes, and what is cereal composed of? Nothing but nutritionless starch. And then you have the food guide pyramid saying you should eat 6 to 11 servings of starch so it’s this virtuous cycle where you’ve got the government putting out bogus information and then you’ve got big business picking that up and sticking $30 billion marketing budgets behind it and saying look, the government which is supposed to take care of you is saying you should eat 6 to 11 servings of starch and look, our cereal is a great source of starch. In fact our soda is low fat. So, you can drink soda and eat starch until your blue in the face because it’s a great source of 6 to 11 grains and they’re both low in fat and it’s just this devastating insulin shit storm – excuse my language – that is causing us to just spiral into this obesity nightmare. It’s very scary.
Ben: So it comes full circle to what we started talking about that a lot of these metabolically efficient foods are hormonally crippling our ability to burn fat and at the same time all of this is being subsidized.
Jonathan Bailor: Oh absolutely. If you think about the way food companies make money – and again that’s one thing we need to keep in mind here Ben, is that as you know business – food companies aren’t out to necessarily make us healthy. They’re out to make profits for themselves. And that’s fine. We can have a separate conversation about that. How can a big business make money? Selling carrots is not very profitable. In fact, carrots are a vegetable. There’s no processing. It’s a commodity. You’re not going to make much profit there. But if you can take corn and do all kinds of crazy stuff to it and turn it into this packaged thing that doesn’t need to be refrigerated and you sort of extracted all the nutrients from it and injected a bunch of chemicals which essentially make us become addicted to these food products – now food companies can charge you $4 for something which really cost them 4 cents because starch is incredibly cheap and big business can buy a lot of it and they can process the heck out of it and make new foods – how many food products are in every supermarket? It’s ridiculous. You’ve got the perimeter of the supermarket that has your meats and your vegetables and your natural foods. And then you have the middle of the supermarket that has like 50,000 invented foods that didn’t exist 100 years ago and that makes up the bulk of our diet and that makes up the bulk of big business’s profit and that makes up the bulk of the food guide pyramid’s recommendations. It doesn’t… actually it does make sense to me but it’s unfortunate that it makes sense.
Ben: You have a lot of material that we didn’t cover today that you’ve actually found in pages and pages of studies that you reference. And I know it’s going to be a little while before all this comes together, probably around… for those of you listening, around 2012. Jonathan’s book which is tentatively going to be titled Hot, Smart and Healthy will come out. I will keep you posted over at www.bengreenfieldfitness.com because I’m actually following the progress of this book. I’m excited for when it comes out because it is full of a lot of very good information, especially in terms of putting this into terms that are easy to understand for the general population when it comes to fat burning and health and weight loss. So I will keep you posted on the development of this book by Jonathan Bailor. And in the meantime, Jonathan, thank you for coming on the call today.
Jonathan Bailor: Oh my pleasure Ben. I hope it was useful for your readers and it was certainly fun for me.
Ben: Alright. Fantastic. Until next time, this is Ben Greenfield and Jonathan Bailor from www.bengreenfieldfitness.com signing out.
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