Kathy Freston – The Lean
Jonathan: Hey everyone. Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus, Smarter Science of Slim podcast. Today’s show is certainly going to be a fun one and a unique one. We have a wonderful woman with us. A New York Times best selling author who is all about healthy living and conscious eating and one of the things that I really like about today’s guest is she’s an extremely positive woman but she also recognizes, and this is going to sound a little funny coming from me, Mr. Smarter Science of Slim guy, that so much more is going on here than just science. There’s a lot of emotional aspects and there’s a lot of spiritual aspects to what we put in our body and what we surround ourselves with. Kathy Freston is here with us today to share some of her awesome insights in those areas. Kathy, welcome to the show.
Kathy: Hey, thanks for having me.
Jonathan: Well Kathy, before we get started, certainly you’ve got all kinds of great work out there people can check at kathyfreston.com and your book that just came out in paperback, The Lean, but what got you started on this path? Little Kathy to today, adult Kathy, what was that journey like?
Kathy: Well, let’s see, I started off writing about relationships. My first two books were about how to bring consciousness into relationships and how to understand the bigger picture of them. Then I spread out into how to build a foundation for your life to keep evolving and keep growing as a human being and getting better and better because I’m all about self-improvement. Body, mind and soul. I want to be happier, I want to be healthier, I want to be more energetic, I want to live a long time, but I also want to feel like I’m an active force in the world. Like I’m doing something to make the world better and that’s part of my spiritual growth I guess you could say. I’m always trying to better myself and contribute to a better world.
I started thinking, I’ve brought my consciousness around to relationships that I understand that and I have written about meditation and self-improvement and all those things, but the thing that I wasn’t looking at at all was food. I wasn’t really conscious about food and I was eating everything that I grew up loving, but I didn’t really have any thought about it. I thought I need to start really looking at the deeper levels of that so that I can be fully awake in this area and make conscious choices, know what’s going in my body, how it’s going to affect my body but also how it’s going to affect my soul, if you will. That inner “Am I okay with what’s going on” part of me. That’s how I sort of evolved into writing a lot about food and health and all of that stuff.
Jonathan: I love it Kathy. It really hits on – I remember having this conversation with my mother. A conversation like this many years back. I grew up in a very religious house. A Roman Catholic household with wonderful parents and they always quoted the chapter in the Bible, whatever anyone’s religious denomination is, this is just a story, about your body being a temple, and just how certainly, and I don’t want to get too far off the ranch here, but certainly in other areas of life when we’re dealing with putting things into our body, be it medication, be it the air we breathe in or be it even more of an intimate setting, being intentional and being deliberate about that which we put into our body is top of mind. Why isn’t it, when it comes to food for so many of us?
Kathy: It’s crazy as that because I think we’re just driven by several things. We’re driven obviously by taste craving. We get all that sugar and fat and salt in our bodies and it just makes us want more. We go unconscious because the cravings are so strong, but we’re also driven by tradition and if you’re anything like me, I grew up eating spaghetti and meatballs. Sometimes they were often out of a can. Steaks and burgers on the grill when we could afford the steaks and I had all kinds of chicken-fried steak and cheesy stuff and processed food. I mean that’s just how I grew up feeling like I related to my community. It felt like happy times if I was eating junk food. I made me feel like, yeah, now, it’s the weekend, I can relax. I can do this.
I think there are many forces that drive us to go unconscious around our food and if we don’t actively wake up to this stuff, someone else is in control of our future, because what we put into our body is going to show up. There’s no free ride. I look around sometimes at college kids and people in their young twenties and I marvel at what the body can do because they can eat all kinds of bad stuff and just booze it up so much. Their bodies still look good, but once you start getting into your late twenties, your thirties, the body can’t do it any more. Then people start blowing up. They put on the pounds that are oh so hard to take off. You see the results of all the unconscious eating. I’m just fascinated by that and I love the empowerment you get by really understanding what happens in your body and what happens in your soul when you decide to eat consciously.
Like you’re into science. I think that’s so exciting. It’s very empowering to know if you do this, this is what happens and I’ve looked into this very deeply and then I apply it also to my emotional life or my conscious life, whatever you want to call it, my spiritual life. When I say spiritual all I mean is trying to become a better person. Someone who is thinking of not only myself but the bigger picture. That’s what I mean by it.
Jonathan: It reminds me Kathy of one of my favorite authors of all times, certainly an individual who has had a massive influence not only in my life but on so many others, the late Stephen Covey and he talks about private mastery first or physical mastery. And once one can achieve mastery over the self, these public victories become so much easier. The one thing I also remember Bill Phillips back in the days, a gentleman who wrote Body By Life. When he was not the major personality, he was just getting started, he had these videos that he would put out and they were stories of how people transformed their lives through their eating and exercise habits. I remember in one of those videos an individual said, “For me, what I eat is the one thing in my life that I have control over.” I can’t control the way other people treat me.
I can’t – in some ways, I can’t necessarily – like if you get a virus, you’re going to get sick. I mean obviously you can remove yourself from the situation where — You know what I’m saying, but there’s so much in life that’s out of our control and sometimes we might feel like what we’re eating is out of our control, but it seems like it is something we have quite a bit of control over, but how do we help ourselves embrace that control?
Kathy: Well, I think weight loss is a great motivation and a lot of people come in through that doorway which is why I wrote The Lean. It’s all about losing weight and so I think that that’s a good motivation. I think disease or the fear of disease is a good motivation, but also I think just wanting to be full of energy and full of this get up and go in a day. For me, the way that I got into healthy eating is a little bit backwards. I thought, okay, I’m a big steak lover. I love fried chicken. I love all of this stuff, so I am going to start watching the videos of how meat is produced and how eggs arrive at my door and on my plate. I’m going to start looking at this stuff so that I can be awake and choose consciously whether or not I want to eat this food.
When I saw the process of what the animals went through, I was just horrified. I mean all you have to do is just Google factory farm video or something like that and then you see this stuff. I thought, oh, my goodness, I do not want to be someone who supports this kind of cruelty because the way the animals are treated are just awful. I thought I don’t know how I’m going to give up eating meat and dairy and eggs and all of this stuff because I love it so much. I thought, okay, well, I’m just going to point myself in that direction and I’m going to lean into it. Little by little I discovered other meals that I really enjoyed or I swapped out meat for other high protein plant based sources. I just started feeling better about what I was eating but I did it very gradually. I did it one little bit at a time. I didn’t put so much pressure on myself.
I have to tell you, when I started this process, I challenged myself, because I love how you were talking about private mastery and personal mastery. It’s like how can we go out in the world and expect to do great things if we can’t even master these impulses, these cravings. If I can’t say my desire to be compassionate is not bigger than this momentary taste craving. I didn’t have respect for myself. I really wanted to respect myself and feel empowered. When I was able to do that, I thought okay, something is freed in me. I know that I’m bigger than this. I know that I can do things because I’ve overcome these momentary gustatory pleasures.
Anyway, it was just a process that I did for those emotional spiritual reasons – that I wanted to have compassion in my life. There are very few ways that you can really activate compassion on a regular, daily basis. Eating compassionately or with mercy and choosing foods that didn’t suffer to get to your plate was one way to do it, but when I made this decision, I was a real Atkins person. I thought, well, I’m going to gain twenty pounds for sure and I’m probably going to cut my life short because everyone knows you need animal protein to stay slim and healthy and all that stuff.
I was really pleased and excited that the more research I was doing showed that, in fact, a plant based diet actually lowers your cholesterol. It lowers your blood sugar. It increases your life span. It prevents all kinds of diseases like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease and stroke and even certain kinds of cancer. I was very, very excited that I was doing something that was motivated from an emotional place but my body actually was getting the bonus of getting healthier and slimmer.
I ended up losing weight. It’s funny, I noticed the other day. I remember I’d always had cellulite on my thighs and I really didn’t pay attention to it for the last, I don’t know how many years, or just whatever. My cellulite is gone. It’s not like I really tried to get rid of it. I had resigned myself to having cellulite for the rest of my life and it’s gone. It’s funny because when you eat this healthy way without all that saturated fat and you put in your body all this healthy fiber, your body just thrives. I feel like I’m finally in this place where I feel well all around in body and mind and in soul.
Jonathan: Kathy, certainly there is – I love a lot of what you just said and I think for some of our listeners, there might be a few points of clarification if you don’t mind and I think what I want to highlight about what you just said are a couple of things. One, while certainly my own message and many of the listeners of this podcast do eat both nutrient dense plant and wild caught type – cared for animals that are also nutrient densed. The thing that I think is so fascinating and so empowering about many individuals’ journey to vegetarianism or veganism which is just a fine lifestyle is two things.
One, there’s almost always a deeper motivation. It’s usually not predicated on just the media says I should be skinny and I want to be skinny. It’s about something deeper. The deeper and the bigger the reason you’re choosing to change the quality of the foods you eating, I think the easier it is to sustain. I think this is why I always use the analogy of if you take someone who is a vegan or a vegetarian and has lived that lifestyle for let’s say a couple of years. It’s my understanding that that individual is not like every single day they see a steak, they’re like, “Oh, my God. I want to eat that steak.” They’re just like, “I don’t want to eat that steak.” My mind has shifted and the point here is not to say that we shouldn’t eat grass fed humanely raised steak necessarily.
I mean that’s not what my research says, but more that wow, this is an amazing example of choosing different qualities of food for a reason wholly different than because the media says I need to look a certain way and a much more noble and bigger reason. I think that’s fascinating and I think we can all learn from that. What do you think?
Kathy: Well I think yes, I think you’re absolutely right. When you have that thing that guides you forward it’s like I don’t even – I look at a birthday cake if I’m at someone’s house and I just think, if there’s eggs or whatever and it doesn’t even tempt me. It’s like doughnuts don’t even tempt me because I think about the eggs or I think about the chickens or I think about the dairy and I think about the cows. So it is a bigger motivation for me that I don’t feel, ‘oh, I’m white-knuckling it through.’ That said, there’s tons of vegan sweets and doughnuts and stuff like that and certainly you can be an unhealthy vegan, too. Just like unhealthy meat eater.
Any diet you just have to be judicious about what you put in your body and choose as much of the whole foods and less processed stuff and less sugary stuff as possible. I think it’s something that’s a great weight loss tool because every time I would think about do I want that cheese, I would just think about how the cheese got to me and again, this is something that for me I wanted to challenge myself as an evolving human being.
I want to see if I can live in a way that feels compassionate and conscious and thoughtful. I want to be an environmental steward and factory farms do so much harm to the environment with polluting the water and using up so much water and creating global warming gases, all kinds of stuff. I want to be a responsible steward for this planet. I want to be someone who is exercising my compassion. I want to be someone who is taking care of this temple; my body, and being thoughtful about what I put in it. Choosing carefully what we eat is a really good opportunity to actually put those principles into action.
Jonathan: And to develop those habits because it is a choice we make so frequently. Actually one thing, Kathy, that so encourages me, and again, as you mentioned, certainly there can be horribly unhealthy plant based diets and there can be horribly healthy, horribly healthy is probably kind of a wrong word, amazingly healthy plant based diets and there can be horribly unhealthy omnivorous diets and horribly, gosh darn it. Heavily healthy omnivorous diets but in both contexts, I really want to highlight this for our listeners because in both contexts, focusing on something bigger than what the doggone scale says is your key to success.
I literally, oftentimes, what inspired my initial book was this idea of there’s naturally thin people in the world. What is it about naturally thin people that’s different than non-naturally thin people biologically that they can just eat whatever they want and they don’t really seem to get heavy? Like what’s going on there? Then I thought – there’s a similar thing mentally. What is it? I thought vegetarians. Because it’s a group of millions of people who, like you said, these for most people animal products – let’s forget about healthy, not healthy, are quite tasty.
Many millions of vegetarians ‘effortlessly’ avoid these foods. It’s not a daily struggle. They’re not craving them. And what is it? And how can we make our minds work for high quality food whether they be from plants or from animals the way that a vegan’s mind or a vegetarian’s mind perceives meat.
Kathy: You’ve got to think about what’s important to you and make choices that are in alignment with those values. Your food is that foundational thing that builds out your life. I mean, it’s the most elemental thing we do; is we eat. And so to apply – we say we want to see, for instance, I’m always thinking gosh, I’d love to see a kinder world. Okay, well where can I apply kindness in my day. Where can I go the extra distance and apply mercy or responsible stewardship. These things start at home on our plate and then they branch out. They get bigger and bigger and they – and I do think, like you said, to have that bigger purpose it pulls you forward. It just propels you into the best part of you. Your very best potential. There’s something that feels so good when you are thinking not just of yourself but outside of yourself. It’s not just about you. You’re not mired in that self-centered fear or self-centered anxiety anymore. You’re thinking about something bigger. Something really important to you. Then everything else just sort of falls into place.
By the way, I really love that we’re different. That we eat differently. I think that there’s room for everything. I think there’s room for everybody to eat the way they want to and I think both of us are saying the same thing is that you can just apply consciousness to what you’re eating. Just to be thoughtful about it. Consider the source. Consider what it does to the body. Consider what it does to the planet. And then, like Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” If we want to see a cleaner planet and we want to see more kindness, how can we activate that in our personal lives? That’s very exciting to me because we get to be real forces in the world.
Jonathan: Absolutely Kathy. I love also the imagery you painted in terms of the mental exercise, for lack of better terms, you went through that caused you to change the quality of food that you focused on. I see, actually, with a lot of this research which is now becoming more mainstream in terms of these, let’s call them edible product manufacturers, and just how intentional and deliberate they are about manipulating us at a neurological level. The same way say a cigarette manufacturer would. When we talk about doing things for different reasons. Just like we want to protect our children from addictive drugs. Just like we want to protect our children from things in the environment that can cause permanent damage. Just like we don’t want to lose our own personal freedom.
Kathy: That’s the thing. I don’t want anything to have power over me. You brought up cigarettes. I was a smoker for many years. I smoked a pack a day. I tried to quit. I mean I stopped smoking it must have been twenty years ago, but I smoked – I would get so angry at myself because I’d quit and then I’d start again and I’d quit and I’d start again. It was just then smoking owned me. My cravings owned me. I was not able to overcome them. When I finally did stop smoking, and it’s like with anything, you just keep trying and then finally you kind of get it. I felt so freed by it. I felt so empowered by it. This no longer holds me.
Now, I used to be a sugar addict, oh, my gosh, Jonathan, you have no idea. [crosstalk 23:19] without diving into twelve of them. Now I look at a box of doughnuts, my favorite doughnuts and it’s like, “Yeah. Um-hum.” I’m not in its thrall any more. I think that comes from what I’ve talked about in The Lean a lot is that ‘crowding out’. That’s a term used in nutritional circles that instead of just cutting something out, you crowd it out with something healthier. Instead of just saying, “Okay. I’m not going to have sugar any more. I’m not going to have fattening cheese any more. I’m not going to have my burgers anymore.” What I’m going to do is I’m going to deprive myself of anything but I’m going to start putting in things, crowding out the unhealthy stuff. I’m going to put into my daily routine. I’m going to make sure I have an apple a day. I’m going to make sure I have two tablespoons of ground flax seed a day. I’m going to make sure I have at least eight glasses of water a day. I’m going to make sure I have at least one big salad a day.
I’m starting to put these things in and what happens is, there’s only so many minutes in the day. There’s only so much room in your belly that by the time you’re like putting in all these extra healthy things, you’re crowding out the old cravings. You’re changing your body’s chemistry so that you literally don’t have those same impulses. They just go away away. The fiber changes things because fiber is the one thing that’s been consistently associated with lasting weight loss. Fiber makes your food break down into the sugar so your body gets the glucose slowly and steadily. You feel full for longer. You feel steady blood sugar. You’re not on that up and down thing. I think crowding out is one of those wonderful things we can do that we don’t feel like we have to deprive ourselves of the things that we love.
Jonathan: Kathy, that’s so spot on. In fact, I think I kid you not, I think we may be entering a state of mind meld here because literally right before that segment, I wrote down on my pad of paper, “Pursue the positive.” Underlined. That is such just getting, because you’re Ghandi quote. There’s also a story with Mother Teresa where it was in the Vietnam war era and someone asked Mother Teresa, “Will you march with us against the war?” And she said, “No.” They were surprised because obviously Mother Teresa’s all about peace. Therein lies Mother Teresa’s answer, she said, “As soon as you have a march for peace. Rather than a march against the war. I will be there.”
That is over here our message of eat more, but smarter. And having that – stopping and thinking about shrinking yourself and depriving yourself and instead thinking about how much nutrient dense, fiber rich, whole humanely raised foods can I put in my body that is such – but that’s not what we hear. Right, Kathy? We just hear just starve yourself. You lazy, just starve yourself. That’s the opposite. It’s so violent. [crosstalk 00:26:28]
Kathy: Who wants to live that way? That’s why diets don’t ultimately work because people feel so deprived and so miserable. I certainly would. If I had to eat broiled chicken and steamed broccoli every day, I would shoot myself. Life is to be lived and so when I think I can eat foods that I absolutely love and that are going to feel hearty and I’m just going to be drinking all this water and salads and apples and black bean burritos and all that stuff. I realize that I’m not missing out on anything. I’m just sort of crowding into my body all these delicious nutrient dense stuff. Then the rest takes care of itself.
It’s like I don’t feel like having that piece of cake. It’s funny, I’m not kidding you. I was owned by sugar. I mean seriously possessed by sugar. I could care less about it now. Not to say that I never have it, because on my birthday, my friend makes me cupcakes and at Christmas I’ll certainly enjoy things. If I’m at someone’s birthday party and there’s like some vegan cake, I’ll definitely have it. So it’s not like I don’t indulge in those things, but I’m not enthralled by it. I’m not like under the spell of it anymore and that’s what I think leaning into a healthy diet does and crowding out the stuff that makes us fat and makes us tired and all that stuff. We’re not worried about cutting it out. We just keep feeding ourselves the good stuff and then our body just gets right. Gets into alignment.
Jonathan: In fact, Kathy, just building off what you said, you said you won’t be missing anything. In fact, not only will you not be missing anything, but you will avoid missing things that you don’t want to miss. For example, not being around for your grandkids. For example, not being able to enjoy the last third of your life. For example, not being able to move around without feeling terrible. Let’s recognize that if we don’t fill our lives with all of this good stuff, we will miss things. Those things are a lot worse.
Kathy: Oh, it’s rough. It’s really – going to the doctor’s like that and undergoing treatment and I have one gal in my book in The Lean, who she lost two hundred pounds and she was about to get her leg amputated. That’s what the doctor was saying might have to happen because she had Type 2 diabetes because she was so obese. She was on 9 different medications and just going to doctor after doctor and kept loading her up with medications and missing work for this stuff and then this fear of losing a leg. Now, it’s like she’s lost two hundred pounds. She’s off of all of her medications. Obviously, didn’t lose her leg. Not going to the doctor every other minute. It just frees you. Being healthy really frees up your time. It really is so good all around.
Jonathan: I love it, Kathy. Well speaking of good all around, I think this podcast fits right into that category there.
Jonathan: A little bit of good all around show.
Kathy: Yes. Exactly.
Jonathan: Well, Kathy, thank you so much for joining us. Certainly, I’m sure, we could talk for hours and hopefully we can have you back. Folks, please do check out Kathy’s work. It’s quite insightful. It’s Kathy, K-a-t-h-y, Freston, F-r-e-s-t-o-n. Certainly a wonderful, smiley woman and you can see her leaning on the cover of her book, called The Lean and she has many others. Kathy, thank you for all the work you do to help so many live so much better. I truly appreciate it.
Kathy: Oh, thank you. Right back at you Jonathan.
Jonathan: Well thank you, Kathy, again for joining us and thank you listeners for joining us. I hope you enjoyed today’s show as much as I did and remember, this week and every week after, eat Smarter, exercise Smarter, and live Better. Talk with you soon.