How to Focus on WHAT you Eat (Not Crazy Calorie Counting)
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Hey, everybody. Jonathan Bailor back and we have another course today. This is one that is going to be on the top of the “me getting amped” scale because it is about my favorite/least favorite topic in the world and that is calorie counting. Specifically, ten reasons that it’s just crazy. It’s just absolutely crazy. And I can probably give you more than ten but I had to limit it down to ten and — anyway, let’s just get into it.
So the first thing that I want to start off with — this is before we get to the Top Ten list but it’s just to — we’ve been so inundated with this calorie mythology that we need to count calories and that calories should be our focal point and it’s on menus and you go to a fast food restaurant, it’s the healthy options and they’re just determined by the ones that have the fewest calories, not to mention that it’s like, uh, chicken nuggets or whatever. The serving size is so small, it’s irrelevant but I digress.
The thing to keep in mind is that any lifestyle that has — let’s be very clear. There’s many ways to eat that are dramatically better than the average American’s diet. We know this. So even diets and lifestyles that seem to be very, very different — such as a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, when compared to a Paleo or Atkin’s like low-carb lifestyle — they seem really different and then we could toss in maybe like Mediterranean-style diets, South Beach-style diet — but all of those have positive health outcomes. We’ve seen — they don’t work for everyone. They work for some people.
But what you’ll notice with those lifestyles that have stood the test of time — veganism isn’t going anywhere, vegetarianism isn’t going anywhere, the Paleo Movement’s rapidly growing, low carb has been working for people for decades. Of course, there’s hundreds and hundreds more but those kind of fade. All of those diets – lifestyles — have one thing in common. None of them focus on calories.
They don’t. Think about it. A vegan isn’t saying ‘eat less’ anymore than a Paleo person is saying ‘count your calories’. They’re both saying different versions of the same thing which is, Change what? Your eating. Stop worrying about what is analogous to just smoking less to avoid lung cancer and just come breathe this other air over here that doesn’t cause lung cancer. It’s not about smoking fewer cigarettes; it’s not about just eating fewer calories of the toxic addictive edible products that give you obesity and diabetes and just therefore slowing that process. It’s about avoiding those things completely.
And there’s any number of ways of doing that — veganism, vegetarianism, Paleo, ancestral ‘just eat foods found in nature’, low carb, Mediterranean. But the key thing again is that all of those — and this is what breaks my heart — they’re all thought of as fringe or diets or something odd and what the mainstream just says is, the mainstream just says ‘eat less’. That doesn’t work for anybody. Like, it doesn’t work. Studies have shown that 95.4 percent of the time, people who just try to starve themselves long-term end up worse off than before they started because hunger isn’t sustainable.
If I just told you, “Here’s the problem. You are going to the bathroom too frequently. Just go to the bathroom less frequently. What’s your problem?” That’s not — You can’t just tell a person, “Go to the bathroom less frequently.” You can’t just tell a person to eat less, but that’s what calorie counting does. Calorie counting is quantity focused. It ignores quality and that ignores that which really matters. If you focus on quality, your body will take care of quantity or the calories that you consume for you.
And that’s what I want to prove to you in a less scientific way because The Calorie Myth book goes deep into the science but it’s very difficult if you’re talking with someone or even talking with yourself, which we do a lot of – a lot of self talk. Sometimes we need a little bit more of an emotional intuitive arsenal to help convince ourselves to stop doing this calorie math that we’ve probably been doing for decades. So that’s what I want to help you with today.
When someone tells you to just eat less, first of all, I want you to think about that as like someone just telling you to breathe less. So if you’re suffering from allergies, which many of us have probably suffered from at one point or another, could you imagine going to see a doctor and the doctor saying, “Your problem is you’re inhaling too much. Just, you’re breathing too much. Stop breathing and your allergies will go away.” And you’d say, “That is true.” It’s true that if you would stop breathing air, you would no longer have allergies but we get that that’s missing the point entirely.
It’s not that you’re breathing air. It’s that the air you’re breathing has had its quality affected in a way that causes you to manifest these symptoms that we call allergies. Your eyes water, your nose waters, your head feels foggy. Similarly when you eat contaminated edible products, your body starts to manifest symptoms like diabetes and obesity and those are symptoms of an underlying disturbance caused by the wrong quality of stuff going into your body. And what’s crazy is, we know this. We know this on some level.
Nobody thinks that you get diabetes — you do not get diabetes from over-consuming calories. We know that. We know you get diabetes from consuming certain types of foods and when you get diabetes, even if you go to a standard care physician, they’re going to tell you, “You have to change what you’re eating.” Same kind of thing if you get heart disease or if you have blood pressure problems; anything. It’s change what you’re eating, not how much you’re eating.
So will breathing less stop you from having allergies? It will, but it’s not practical or reasonable. So when people say, “Well, I watched the biggest loser on television and I saw there’s that female recently who was overweight and now looks like she has an eating disorder.” I said it. Whatever. And clearly, eating less works. It works like breathing less cures your allergies.
If somehow you can go through your life breathing less frequently, you will have less severe allergy symptoms. I don’t know how you can live an optimal life while worrying about how much you’re breathing but so many of us, it’s hard for us to live our optimal lives because we’re worried about how much we’re eating. We shouldn’t have to worry about that. Just like we don’t worry about — well, I’m going to skip to some other stuff so I have to wait.
Point is, yes, eating less can cause temporary, painful, non-sustainable results. That’s not what we’re after, right? It’s not a quantity problem primarily; it’s a quality problem and if we take care of quality, quantity will take care of itself. So how can this possibly be true? How can it possibly be true that if you just eat the right kinds of things, you won’t over-eat. Well, first of all, let’s challenge the assumption because in what I just said, Well, if I don’t consciously count calories, how am I going to avoid over-eating? Think about what that is implying. That’s implying that you are defective by default; that unless you consciously think about how much you’re eating, you are programmed to over-eat. That doesn’t make any sense.
If we, as a species, were somehow different from every other species on the planet, notice how there’s no wild animals, like, omnivorous wild animals that eat — excuse me, herbivores that eat nothing but plants. They have an unlimited amount of plants. There’s no shortage of food but they don’t over-eat. They don’t become morbidly obese. They have all the food they want, yet somehow they just spontaneously don’t over-eat. We are not less capable than all those other species so let’s, for a second, just say, like, by default, we’re going to eat the right quantity of food if we eat the right quality of food and, because of that, things get a lot simpler. So let’s jump into this.
Now, nobody knew what a calorie was before the obesity epidemic. So this is a really important logical point because it applies to not just calories, but also all sorts of scammy supplements that we hear about. So you turn on daytime television, you hear about Supplement X and the idea is that if you just take Supplement X, you will not suffer from the disease of obesity anymore. Now, that has to be false. Here’s why that’s false. Supplement X didn’t exist prior to the obesity epidemic so a deficiency in Supplement X cannot be the cause of the obesity epidemic.
Disease is caused by the disturbance of a natural state. Again, we’re not supposed to be diseased by default. So this idea, it’s almost always — almost always — it’s not about adding some sort of pill, patter, or potion; it’s about removing the thing that’s causing the problem in the first place. So again, prior to the obesity epidemic, nobody knew what a calorie was. In fact, calories didn’t even really enter the scientific literature until the late 1800s so it’s a very — and then the mainstream didn’t really know about it until the ‘60s and ‘70s so it just wasn’t something that people talked about very much.
And no one struggled. Not no one — excuse me, actually the oldest known records of obesity rates come from the military in the early 1900s and we had a sub-three percent rate of obesity. So we had over ten times fewer people suffering from this illness before no one knew what the heck a calorie was, let alone counted them. So the idea that we now need to count calories harder to avoid obesity is like that logic that says, Just take this magic Supplement X. No, that’s not what we did before we had the problem so the idea that doing more of it now is the solution to the problem doesn’t make any sense.
Now, I alluded to the next point here which has to do with every other species on the planet earlier but it’s really important to keep this in mind because if you’ve read The Calorie Myth, you understand this concept of our set point and how our body works to balance us out automatically and how we get this — and this is a fact — for almost every other system in our body other than weight regulation. We know that our breathing is automatically regulated. If you hold your breath, you can temporarily restrict the quantity of air you consume but eventually your body wins out and your body controls the quantity of air you’re consuming.
You control the quality of air you’re consuming but your body’s going to automatically regulate that quantity. Same thing with blinking; same thing with blood pressure; same thing with blood sugar. Your blood sugar goes up, your body takes steps to bring it down; it goes down, your body takes steps to bring it back up. Same thing with hydration. You drink more, you automatically urinate more. You don’t need to think about it. You drink less, you urinate less. Right? So your body — bodies in general — have the thing called the hypothalamus. So this is the part of our brain that we share with every other species on the planet.
The thing that makes us uniquely human is our neocortex up here but our animal brain — our hypothalamus — is what controls basic bodily functions. And this is why we’re an animal just like any other animal and this is why animals left to their own devices in nature don’t struggle with obesity and diabetes. The brain automatically is supposed to balance out energy. If you don’t eat enough, you die; if you eat too much, you die. Therefore, it’s a mission critical function. Therefore, the body has to subconsciously control it otherwise we wouldn’t be able to function as a species. Are we to believe that we’re the only species on the planet that somehow has this deficient part of our brain that doesn’t work that way? No, false.
And it’s not unique to us. In fact, people say, ‘Well, why do we have so many obese people then?’ Because of the quality of the food we’re eating. If you look at obesity studies, these are often done on rodents. And up until a few decades ago, the primary challenge in studying obesity in rodents was because they couldn’t make rodents obese. They couldn’t. There’s actually studies done where they would take the rodents and they would hook them up to stomach tubes and they would just pump calories into the rodents and the rodents would respond by just stopping eating. They just wouldn’t eat because their brain would say — and it’s really cool to study rodent models because there’s not this emotional eating, societal — it’s just like, how does the brain work? The brain knew that it had calories so it again blunted the rodent’s appetite. The only way they have been able to make there be chronically obese rodents is, first, genetically engineering them. We’re not going to genetically engineer people any time soon so we’re not going to talk about that.
But what they did is, they discovered what they called the “cafeteria diet” which is the scientific way of saying the “standard American diet”. So it was a diet high in processed starches, sweets, and trans-fats. And when they fed rodents or any mammal, including humans, this diet, they break their body. This automatic regulation system gets spun out of whack and we become overweight. So does every other species. Again, it’s not a quantity problem. It’s not because they’re consuming too many calories that they’re becoming overweight. It’s because they’re consuming the wrong quality of food which breaks their brain which causes the amount of calories they’re consuming to be inappropriate regardless the level.
And this is why we see individuals today who — most frequently post-menopausal females — who have been given wrong information their entire lives. They’ve been victims of the Great Nutritional Depression and they’ve weight-cycled, they’ve eaten a high-starch, high-sugar, low-fat diet. They’ve chronically exercised and now they find themselves at sixty years of age, in the prime of their life, and they’re eating 1,000 calories per day and not able to lose weight. You can’t tell me that their base metabolic rate is 900. Clearly, you should just be eating 600 calories per day. No. The system itself is broken down. Every other species avoids obesity without counting calories. We can, too if we just don’t break the system itself.
Now, less scientifically and more — this is like a fun one that you can use at dinner. Someone who wants to just say, “Look, whatever. Science. You and your facts. Why? How? Come on. We’re gluttonous. Original sin. We’re gluttonous by nature. We’re going to over-eat and we can’t possibly — this can’t just be magically regulated.” Okay. Energy balance is magically regulated like — so we need energy, right? We need calories. We don’t eat calories, we die. So calories are essential. That’s the definition of something that’s essential.
What else is essential? Vitamins are essential. What else is essential? Minerals are essential. What else is essential? Amino acids, fatty acids. Notice how we don’t have to consciously regulate any of those things? Like, there are eighteen minerals, twelve vitamins, nine essential amino acids, eight conditionally essential amino acids, and two essential fatty acids. If the logic holds that we must consciously regulate calories, why is it that it is the only essential thing that we need to consciously regulate? Why isn’t it that you need to consciously regulate milligrams of vitamin C in and milligrams of vitamin C out? How does your body balance vitamin C automatically?
Now, keep in mind this isn’t saying vitamin C doesn’t matter. This isn’t saying that vitamin C doesn’t exist. The calorie myth isn’t that calories are mythical. It’s that it’s a myth that we need to consciously regulate them. So just like it would be a myth if I said you must consciously regulate the amount of [lutein 16:34] you consume and the amount of [lutein 16:36] that ends up in your toilet bowl. You would say, “That’s ridiculous. How am I supposed to understand how much of an amino acid I’m consuming and of an amino acid I’m excreting out of my body?”
Well, how the heck are you supposed to know how many calories you’re taking into your body and how many calories you’re burning off, especially when a bunch of the calories you’re burning off — and we’ll talk about this later — have nothing to do with movement. It’s literally as impossible to consciously balance calories as it is to consciously balance any other essential thing and we all acknowledge that we don’t need to consciously balance other essential things so why would we need to do it with calories?
Similar to that — I alluded to it before — we talked about other essential things. We talked about other species. Let’s talk about other bodily functions. Blood sugar is a great example because, as pervasive of a problem as obesity is, we’ve also got this problem with diabetes. What is diabetes? Diabetes is the breakdown of your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar automatically, a.k.a., diabetes is the breakdown of the system which balances blood sugar automatically. So when your body can’t balance blood sugar automatically, you know what you need to do? You need to start injecting your body with insulin and taking over that otherwise automatic function — that otherwise automatic function.
What is hypertension? It’s when the automatic system that regulates blood pressure breaks down. Now you need to go on medication because the system itself has broken down. That’s how your body works. Obesity is analogous to diabetes and hypertension, not to a moral failing; just like blood sugar, blood pressure — everything else is automatically regulated by your brain. Assuming we don’t break our brain, assuming we don’t get a disease, it’s going to take care of itself. It’s not the one exception to the rule. The rule applies uniformly in your body.
Now, this is for the fellow geeks out there. Let’s actually talk about the calorie math idea that you just count calories and count calories. That’s not even possible. It’s really, really not. It’s not even possible to count calories in so that’s another reason it’s crazy. Let’s really consider what we would have to do if we wanted to consciously count calories in accurately.
So chances are, we’d only eat the things that have those little nutrition labels on them because that’s the most precise way to count calories, right? Someone’s already done it for us, it’s ready to go. And a lot of people actually do eat these edible products specifically because they’re like, Okay, I get it. This is 100 calories. It’s a 100-calorie snack pack. It fits within my 1200-calorie budget. I get it.
That’s not a good way to think but we get it. We covered that a little bit in the other class. So let’s imagine that we are in this fictional world where we’re a person that’s only eating products that have these calorie counts on them. Even in that most precise of worlds, even those labels have been shown in studies to be, at best, ninety percent accurate, which might seem, Oh, ninety percent. That’s good. That’s an A. But when you think about the fact that the average person consumes about a million calories in a year, ninety percent accuracy means you’re at plus or minus 100,000 calories — even in the world in which you most precisely count calories.
Now, if this is all about precision and math, under-estimating your caloric intake by 100,000 calories — again, going into this mythical mathematical world — could mean that, in a year, where you only ate things that had precise calorie counts on them, you could still gain, supposedly, 30 pounds of fat because there’s 3,500 calories in a pound of fat and if you over-consume 100,000 calories in a year and your body’s stupid and it works like a mathematical equation, then even in that most precise of worlds, you’re still swinging up and down 30 pounds, depending on luck — for lack of better terms. So that’s calories in. Clearly, we can’t do it.
Calories out is even harder because — and I think it’s great that there are these new biometric devices coming out and they help us to be more conscious of our steps. It’s really important to be active. Moving more is critical for health. But if we’re moving more in an effort to burn more calories to somehow trick our body, it’s not going to work because seventy percent of the calories — seventy percent approximately — of the calories we burn throughout the course of the day have nothing to do with how much we’re moving — just nothing. And there’s no way we could calculate it.
Your liver burns about 600 calories per day, just being your liver. Put that in perspective. If you go for a 30-minute jog, you’re going to burn about 170 calories. So you would need to jog for about 90 minutes every single day of your life just to equal the number of calories burnt by your liver. And your brain burns a lot of calories. And most interestingly, what you eat has a huge impact on the number of calories you burn. One of the most compelling examples of this is through a metabolic process called muscle protein synthesis. And this is why eating protein is so important because your body can rebuild itself.
We don’t just grow when we’re children. We’re growing throughout our lives, in the sense that our body is constantly regenerating itself. And if we eat the proper amount and quality and frequency of protein, we can actually build up to 250 grams of new “us” every day. You can imagine, that’s a hugely metabolically expensive process. There’s a reason that pregnant women are very hungry. There’s a reason that growing children are very hungry. It’s because creating human is expensive calorically.
So just eating certain types of food — for example, eating high-quality protein in about 30 gram doses has been shown to raise amino acid levels to a certain point in your blood stream that it signals your brain to build new “you”. This is called muscle protein synthesis. And if you trigger this process three times a day — so again, 30 grams of protein — high-quality protein — with breakfast, lunch and dinner, you would be triggering muscle protein synthesis three times a day. That process can burn upwards of 700 calories per day.
Now, think about that for a second. Consider an individual who eats fifteen — wait, let’s make this fun. Consider a person who eats 15 grams of protein with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That person — there’s a good chance — never actually put enough high-quality protein in their body for their brain to say, I’ve got enough raw material to build new “you”. So their brain doesn’t trigger muscle protein synthesis. Let’s say that person burnt 2,000 calories that day. Whatever. 2,000 calories. That same person consumes 45 more grams of protein the next day so that they have 30 grams, 30 grams, 30 grams. 45 more grams of protein would be 180 more calories. Yes, 180 more calories.
By eating 180 more calories, in this example, that person’s net for the day would burn about 500 more calories. So, yes, you heard that correctly. By eating more calories, this person could have actually created a more caloric deficit because the calories they ate made their body run differently — run faster. A bit like putting nitrous in your car’s gas tank or something like that. So how are we supposed to…? This is so complicated.
You can start to see that this idea that we can just simplify this down to a mathematical equation — it does simplify things and I talk to people about this. They’re like, “Look, Jonathan, the reason we keep telling people this is because it’s simple.” And I say, “You know what else is simple? Just call every person you ever meet John. Just simplify things. Just call them all John. Just, everyone’s name is John. Yep, it’s simple.” “The sum of any two numbers is thirteen. Simple. Totally simple. It simplifies your life. It’s wrong but it simplifies your life.”
Okay, I’m all about simplicity but not when it’s wrong. It’s simple to just say, “Oh, I’m just going to drive on whatever side of the road I want. I’m not going to worry about those traffic laws.” It’s simple but it’s not going to work out well for you. Same thing here. This idea that counting calories, calories, and calories — it’s simple but it doesn’t work and we know it doesn’t work because we’ve tried harder and harder and harder and gotten sicker and sicker and sicker.
So speaking of things that are simple and things that are intuitive and things that are wrong, think about the flat earth theory. I love to call calorie counting the flat earth theory of weight loss because it’s been around for a long time and it’s been around for a long time because it is intuitive. It’s extremely intuitive that if you just eat less and exercise more, you should lose weight. It’s also extremely intuitive that the earth is flat. Look out your window. Chances are, depending on where you live in the country, it really looks flat. And if it wasn’t flat, wouldn’t the people on the bottom fall off? I mean, heck, I’m not going to stay a lot past the horizon because when I do, I’ll just fall off the side of the earth. It makes sense. I can’t see past there. It must just end. It’s intuitive but it’s wrong.
The same thing applies here. Once we understand science — for example, when it comes to the flat earth theory — once we understand the law of gravity, we can see that, no, the earth doesn’t have to be flat. And, in fact, once we understand science the theory, the intuitive theory, that the earth is flat starts to sound ridiculous. Similarly, once we understand science and understand biological law and how the body is a brilliant homeostatically balancing and regulating system, this starts to look like the flat earth theory — this idea that we just need to count calories.
Now, finally — or actually, we got two more here — but you may have heard if you’re part of this program, chances are you’ve done a lot of great research, a lot of great reading, and you’ve heard people say things like, Calories in, calories out is kindergarten math. It doesn’t explain anything. It’s true. Yes, if you’re gaining fat, by definition, your body is storing more calories than it’s burning. That is true. But that’s not helpful information. It’s like if you go to your doctor and your doctor says, Just eat less, exercise more.
That is analogous to if you were struggling, instead of with a physiological issue, with a psychological issue and you were to go see a psychiatrist. You’re suffering from severe depression and the psychiatrist looks at you and says, “Your problem is that you need to frown less and smile more. It’s that simple. People I see who are happy, they don’t frown nearly as much as you and they smile way more than you. So your problem is just that you frown too much and you don’t smile enough.”
Now, that doctor didn’t really help you because you are not confused about the fact that you’re not smiling a lot and you’re not confused about the fact that you’re frowning a lot. You’re confused as to why your brain is telling you to frown so much. And if you’re struggling with weight gain — let’s say, you have 125 extra pounds of fat on your body. That means you have about a million calories just chilling in your body already. Why is your brain making you hungry? You already have an abundance of energy inside your body. So again, it’s not explaining anything.
It’s like if your favorite athletic team lost a game and they were to interview the coach afterwards and say, “Coach, why did you lose?” And the coach said, “It’s because the other team scored more points than we did.” That’s true but it’s not telling us anything. So “eat less, exercise more” as an explanation for obesity or a solution is like saying “just frown less and smile more.”
And finally, let’s bring this back home. Food is more delicious than math, right? Food is supposed to be an enjoyable, delightful, wonderful thing. In addition to astronomically rising rates of obesity and diabetes, we’ve also seen horrific rates of gain in eating disorders and that’s because this idea of counting calories has turned food into something that is to be avoided. Food — the right kind of food — is not to be avoided. It is our single most powerful, pervasive, and affordable tool to end the global obesity and diabetes epidemic but when we have these quantity-based mindsets, we paint all food into a negative corner and that’s just absolutely wrong.
So it’s not just about breathing less, it’s not just about frowning less and smiling more, and it’s not about doing math at the dinner table. Food is delicious and eating more of the right kinds of food will heal your brain, your gut, and your hormones, and allow you to do what every other person prior to the current three generations and every other species on the planet does. And that is, eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, and avoid disease and obesity effortlessly.