Jonathan: Hey everyone, Jonathan Bailor back. Very, very excited about today’s show. We have a wonderful woman with us, someone whose book I have read, very much enjoyed and very much admire her nonprofit processed free efforts. We are going to learn all about that today. She is an organic chemist, nutritionist, author. She has also lost over 100 pounds and kept it off for over two decades and she is all about making America processed free, in fact she has a nonprofit called “Processed-Free America.” You can learn more at processedfreeamerica.org. She is also the author of the book The Science of Skinny, Dee McCaffrey, welcome to the show.
Dee: Thank you, Jonathan; it is great to be here.
Jonathan: Dee, I had to have you on the show because I read your book over the holiday season, very-very much enjoyed it. There are all kinds of stuffs specifically in it that I want to talk about with you because it is great, but before we do that I would love for you to share your inspirational story with us and then talk a bit about Processed-Free America.
Dee: Great, as you mentioned I lost over 100 pounds and the weight loss did not come easy in the beginning and I actually had a history of being obese, I started gaining weight when I was 9 and so I was a chubby child and then I continued gaining weight and became a tubby teen and then by the time I was graduated from high school, I weighed 180 pounds and you have to realize that I am 4ft 10’, so I am not a very tall person and I have a very petite bone structure. So being 180 pounds with obese and basically after high school that was kind of the beginning of my dieting career. I went on a lot of diets, the things that I read in books and magazines and with suggestions of well-meaning friends and of course doing a restricted diet would always bring some weight loss, but I never really lost enough weight to get to my what would be considered my normal weight for my height and my body structure.
I would lose 40 pounds, but then I would gain 50, I would lose 50 and gain 70. So, I did all of this yo-yoing from the time I graduated high school going into my 30s and by the time I got going into my 30-31, that was at the point where the yo-yoing kind of really slowed down and all I could really do was go up in my weight, which I say all I could do was “yo” at that point, I could not go down and I had even gotten to the point where I was about to kind of just give up trying to lose weight and may be just tried to accept that, may be I am just supposed to be fat, may be that is my destiny and may be my life would be easier if I just stopped the struggle, but there was a little voice inside of me that said, “No that cannot be true,” because if I was destined to be overweight for the rest of my life that would also then mean that I was destined to be unhealthy for the rest of my life because being overweight is unhealthy and there was a little part of me that said it cannot be true that you are destined to be unhealthy for the rest of your life and so I did keep my mind open.
I was trying to really look for something that was going to be my solution or my answer and right around that time, this was the early 1990s, I was studying chemistry in college, I was sort of a late bloomer obviously for college because I did not start till I was 26, so as I was going into my 30s I was getting ready to graduate from college and my major at that time was chemistry and environmental science and my passion at that time was I wanted to be environmentalist. I was really passionate about the planet; I wanted to clean up the planet. That was my intention to do that after I graduated and I was just really excited about that.
One of the things though that was happening for me at that time was I had this conflict because my own personal life did not reflect what my passion for the rest of the world was. I was 100 pounds overweight. I was a pack a day smoker and I was just really-really unhappy with myself and I had a job, I was really lucky my job for the time that I was interning in college was I was working in my desired field being an environmental chemist at a environmental testing laboratory. My job was to analyze water, soil and air samples from the environment and to test them for the residual pollution that was in the environment and so being a newbie chemist, I was really enthusiastic about learning the names of the chemicals that we used in the work and wanted to know everything that we were doing even things that were not related to my particular job.
I was just learning everything that we did in the lab and so I became very familiar with the names of all of the chemicals that we used and also the names of the environmental pollutants that I was testing for. These are really long chemical names and when you are a chemist, you actually learn how to pronounce them. It is not something that most people know how to do and so one evening when I was, completely unrelated to my work, I was at home whipping up one of the favorite indulgences at that time which was Deluxe Angel Food Cake and I must have done it a hundred times in my life may be even more, so it was just the kind where you open up the box and add water, eggs, and oil and I never ever paid attention to the ingredient list on the box, but for some reason that evening, my eyes were drawn to the side of the box where the ingredients were listed.
At first I started reading, I saw sugar, flour, and I was like, well of course we know those are in there, but then my eyes fell upon three words I never expected to see in my Angel Food Cake Mix and those three words were sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate was an industrial degreaser that I was using in my work at the lab to test for pollution, use samples, and I thought what is that doing in my food and this was like the beginning of my wake up call because I did not get why an industrial chemical would be used in food; in my work it was something that we use to degrade samples and then I later discovered that in larger concentrations than what is used in food is we use it as a garage floor cleaner. It makes great suds and this was the beginning of what I eventually became, my life’s work was to learn more about food, the role of food in the human story, what types of foods are the healthiest for us to be consuming and then to really investigate and look at what are all these chemicals that are being used in foods that have multiple industrial uses and this cannot possibly be good.
The question was when I first saw that was what is it doing in my food and then what is it doing to my body and then what other chemicals are in the foods that I am consuming and other people are consuming and what are the long term effects and at that time the answers to those questions just weren’t that easy. It was just over 20 years ago and we did not even have internet to be able to look up these things and there were not a lot of studies that have been done and so really all I had to go on at the time was my chemist instinct and my chemist instinct told me that this cannot be good and it basically began my journey.
From that point forward that what I call epiphany of understanding that there are chemicals in the food that are not good for me and then also realizing that the refinement of foods basically renders them also like chemicals, things like white flour and white sugar become like chemicals in our body and can have some very addictive properties to them that when I started looking at my own diet, I started eliminating those particular things from my diet and within 30 days of eliminating white flour and white sugar from my diet, I lost 20 pounds and then within a year of doing that, I had lost 100 pounds and I did not do it by the dieting, my philosophy to it was I am getting rid of the processed refined foods from my diet and I am starting to replace them with whole natural foods, foods that our bodies are designed to eat and it completely changed my entire body chemistry.
The weight just kind of melted off. It was amazing to me. I did not even do really strenuous exercise. My main form of exercise at that time was walking. I walked for an hour a day briskly and that was really what changed how my body responded to food and just really changed my whole metabolism and I did it without dieting, it was just really amazing. I just was watching my portion sizes, I was eating a lot of vegetables and fruits and keeping the other types of foods in more moderation and balance to those fruits and vegetables and along the way just learning more about food and I eventually about 5 years after I had kept the weight off, I decided to go back to school to become a nutritionist and that is what I am doing now and that is my life’s path. I found my purpose.
Jonathan: Dee, so many good points in there. It strikes me that there is Dee who has experienced this amazing and sustained transformation in your health and your life personally, there was also Dee, the chemist, who has seen and had a profound mental shift in terms of things we’re calling food are much more analogous to chemical, drugs essentially and I want to dig into both of those if you do not mind. First I want to start with just the chemist side and that is why do you think in your experience, obviously we are the people around the country and even all around the world that if we were to for example, before we gave our child a pill, we are very careful about that and we would never blow cigarette smoke into our child’s face or purchase cigarettes for them because we know it contains a lot of harmful chemicals.
It seems quite clear that a lot of these processed starches and sweet edible products, it is not a mystery, they are chemical nonsense, yet they are given to our children in mass and it is almost unavoidable and it is in our school system, how can we outlaw even advertising cigarettes to children, yet take these other chemical things and sell them in schools. How does that happen?
Dee: That’s a great point that you bring out about that and I think that really one of the ways that why it happens is because people are not aware and one of the reasons why I wrote my book The Science of Skinny is because people don’t really understand what is in their food. They don’t read the ingredient list. People look at the front of the package and they look at those health claims and those marketing claims and they think that if the food is legal to sell as package that it obviously must be okay and safe because they think that our government regulatory agencies are taking care of us that they are overseeing the food ingredients and they would not allow anything that was harmful to be in our food and that is just simply not true.
There are over 3000 different food additives that are used in foods in multiple different types of combinations and many of them are either inadequately tested or have actually been linked to serious health issues, for instance sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate that has been used in lunchmeats and hotdogs. There was actually a petition brought before the FDA by a concerned group of citizens and parents because there have been studies showing higher rates of childhood brain tumors and leukemia from kids that eat a lot of these types of hotdogs and the petition was denied because the FDA says there is not enough evidence even though there are clear studies that show it and so it is going to take a huge awareness on the part of our citizens and then even more pressure on the regulatory agencies to really look more active studies.
We have artificial food colorings that are used in a lot of the foods that are marketed to children such as cereals and candies and colored types of foods that have now been banned in the United Kingdom because they have studies showing that they are linked to hyperactivity in children, some of them have been linked to cancers, but over here in this country, our regulatory agencies say there is not enough evidence to say that they are harmful and so they still allow it and the cereal manufacturers and some other of these food manufacturers they are selling their same products over in the other countries where these things are banned and so they have to use natural colorings, but over here they are allowed, so they are continuing to use the artificial ones that are very harmful. So, people need to become more aware of what is in their food and then either stop buying them and look for healthier options or sign petitions and become more advocates for healthier food options that really what I think needs to happen.
Jonathan: Dee when we talked about the advocates, I sometimes get frustrated because when I bring this up with people sometimes they talk about, for example the comparing to smoking is not relevant because you can just not smoke, but you cannot just not eat and to me that is missing the point entirely. Neither you nor I are talking about reducing the amount of food we are consuming, we are talking about eating food and you do have to eat food, you don’t have to eat chemicals and that seems to be the key distinction here and why do you think even our policy makers seem to make this unnecessarily complex when the world was fed and plenty of giant cultures have a diet which is much less chemically than ours and they do fine. So, the choice is not between eating and not eating. The choice is between eating food versus eating edible products and it seems quite clear the difference and why don’t we take steps to make it easier to eat foods as a culture and not as easy to eat edible products.
Dee: Yes, I am in agreement with you. Why don’t we take those steps, I think what is happening, there are some cities and places where the lawmakers are trying to get in on this and trying to make things better for citizens such as New York City banning the trans fats because we know that those are harmful that on that kind of level it is helpful, but more of it is going to have to come from people understanding that these chemicals are harmful and these types of foods are harmful and that you can eat healthy and you can avoid these types of foods because it is actually becoming easier to do these days.
We have food stores now. Twenty years ago when I was first doing this, I do have to put this out there because I get the same kind of reaction sometimes, it’s more expensive to eat healthy and all of that, and I have to remind people when I was doing this, I was a college student. I did not have a lot of excess money to spend on food and really I just started by eating foods that did not come in a lot of packaging and at that time eating organic was not something that was really important back then, it was not emphasized, so I just started eating more fruits and vegetables and we know that eating more fruits and vegetables is more important than eating them and making sure that they are organic. The idea is just to eat more foods in their whole natural form.
I started staying out of the center isles where all the packaged foods are, find things that were minimally processed and when I did that I had a wonderful diet that was full of variety and full of flavors and taste. I started really just replacing processed ingredients in my recipes that I had been using for a long time and started making them healthier, like I would replace sugar with something that was more natural like rock honey or blackstrap molasses which are two sweeteners that actually have a lot of nutrients and minerals in them that help our bodies to deal with the naturally occurring sugars rather than spiking our blood sugar levels creating biochemical havoc.
These types of natural sweeteners are acceptable in small quantities not everyday but on the times when you would want to consume something sweet, and so it is really just a matter of shifting how you think about food and really getting to the point of where either I change the way that I eat now and spend a little bit more time learning about it or when I am old I am going to be sick and I am going to be spending time sitting in doctors’ offices because I have health ailments. So, it is really just a matter of shifting the consciousness, sometimes we talk about personal responsibility and that is a term that sometimes I am not happy with when it comes from somebody like the sugar industry which says “people just need to take personal responsibility and not eat so much sugar.”
I am not talking about personal responsibility in that way, but the personal responsibility in the way that we need to become more educated about what we eat so that we can make healthier choices because the food industry and the society at large is not necessarily supporting eating healthy. It is everywhere; you go into an airport, you go to a work function, you go to a church function, you don’t see a lot of healthy foods and practices modeled there. So, you have to be the one to do that for yourself.
Jonathan: We are both not fans I know from reading your book, that we are both not fans of just saying, just take your existing diet that may be made you sick and may be made you over fat and just eat less of it that is not a great approach and the close cousins of that approach which is everything in moderation which just implies if you eat few enough calories it does not matter what you eat because you don’t have enough of it to do anything.
What is the alternate approach in your mind if it is not just small portions of everything, which by that logic, let’s just smoke fewer cigarettes and just eat fewer foods, eat 100-calorie snack packs that is only 100 calories, what is the more productive both from your personal experience and also from your scientific experience alternative?
Dee: The more productive alternative is that you replace the foods, you have to change what you eat rather than just eat less of it and that is one of the things that I talked about in my book about and my own personal story and experience was that the reasons why my previous attempts at weight loss failed me was because that is what I was trying to do. I was always trying to eat less of the same food. So, less cookies, less donuts, less pasta, and of course I was able to do that only for temporary periods of time. Eventually, I ended up going back to eating more of those same thing foods because they had an effect on my body that wanted me to eat more and it was kind of like white-knuckling.
I just was only doing it because I felt like I had to. When I really just changed, when I switched, I got rid of the cookies and started eating fruit, when I got rid of the white flour processed pasta and started eating brown rice that my cravings for those foods diminished and eventually left me and I was able to eat normal regular quantities of healthy natural foods as opposed to having to be strict. In my book, I talked about how the “calorie in/calorie out” argument is really flawed because it really depends on the type of food and not necessarily the calories in what you are eating that determines how your body chemistry works and if I were eating a 100-calorie snack pack as opposed to an apple that has 100 calories in it.
The apple is going to create a great metabolism, it is going to cleanse my body, it is going to help my liver work better, it is going to keep my body chemistry balanced whereas the 100-calorie snack pack, when I look at the ingredients on those, it is a lot of chemicals and it is not really real food and eventually eating a bunch of those is going to create weight gain in the end and there have been scientific studies showing that that is the case. We have studies show that eating the same amount of calories of something like a baked potato does not create the same type of response in the body as eating 100 calories of potato chips. It is all about the food density and the nutrient quantity in those foods that create the balance.
Jonathan: Have you found one of the things that I have found, certainly you have gone down the scientific route and there are so much new ones and obviously the beautiful complexity that is the human body and even if you go out in the “dieting world” there is all these conflicting claims, this, that, blah-blah, but it seems like at the end of the day if we had to just boil it down, if we were to say eat the foods that the closer they are to nature, the better and the more essential nutrition they give you per calorie the better, would you agree with those two things as guiding principles and would you add anything else to that list?
Dee: I would agree with that. Basically, the philosophy of processed free, in my book my husband, partner, and I we have created this. We coined this term “processed-free living” which basically means eat foods in their closest to natural form as possible and when we do this, we basically are eating more like our not-so-distant ancestors, which I would say in a way our great-grandparents or great-great-grandparents, really not talking anything different than that. Eating foods that don’t have chemicals added to them or foods that have not been stripped of their nutrients and when we do that that is like the basic fundamental way of eating that is the way that people have been eating since time immemorial.
If we look at the types of foods that humans have been eating since the time they have been here and whether or not you think certain which foods they are that is a matter for a different discussion, but basically the foods were not taken out of their natural form and so that is what we are basically trying to do and I believe that when people do that they start to experience improvements in their health, they will start to lose weight and then of course what I could add more to that would be that people, first we need to understand that we need to do that and then the second part of it would be the things that I talked about in my book that if you have health issues, if you need to lose weight, there are other steps that you can do and under that umbrella of eating foods in their closest natural form which are making sure that the foods that you do eat are in balance to each other, like one of the things is vegetables.
The amount of vegetables you eat is directly proportional how much weight you will lose and how much health you will gain and the more vegetables you eat the healthier you get because the vegetables are the foods that provide our bodies with anti-oxidants and nutrients and cleansing compounds that help to keep our bodies working properly and one of the things that I came across in research for the book was that nearly every medical association; the diabetes association, heart association say that the incidences of these types of diseases is very much directly related to the fact that people have a deficit of vegetables in their diet and that perhaps the cure for some of these types of diseases is that we just need to eat more vegetables.
So, keeping the balance eating more vegetables, eating more fruits and then less amounts of the other categories of foods and if you are a vegetarian that is great too. I know a lot of vegetarians who actually don’t eat a lot of vegetables. They eat more of the carb-type foods and nuts and seeds, so those types of foods need to be eaten in their natural form as well, but in lesser quantities compared to the fruits and vegetables.
Jonathan: Certainly, the vegetables get much love over here and I think just in general though like you said, the folks were to do two things, like literally sometimes we are always like what is the top 10 list, there is so much, oh it is complex, it’s complex. It seems just like you said Dee that until we can have like 21 days or 28 days or whatever number of days where we eat lots of non-starchy vegetables, I am talking like in 6 to 12 servings depending on your body size, just a lot and during that same time, we minimize if not completely eliminate stuff you could not find in nature.
It is like if we just did that, just that, just were like 21 or 28 days like you experienced personally, it seems that we would get more bang for our buck and we would see such a profound transformation that if we wanted to take it further, we could, but at that point it is almost like a whole new you, what do you think?
Dee: Yes, absolutely. If we just started doing that and a lot of times when people think of vegetables, they are thinking of salads, but one of the things that I help people do and introduce them to is that you can add vegetables to just about anything and to up the amount of vegetables that you eat, you can add them to your omelets, you can make sure that you add a lot of vegetables into your sandwiches if you can eat a sandwich. Make soups and grain dishes that have a lot of vegetables in them and so, it is not just a matter of eating a bunch of raw vegetables as a salad, it is just about incorporating vegetables in different ways into the foods that you already like and the foods that you are already eating.
Jonathan: I love it Dee. Well certainly, we can go on about this for quite sometime because you and I are both very, very passionate about it and have similarly titled books, so folks if you want to learn more about Dee, please do so. Hopefully, she will come back on the show, but in the meantime, check out her two key works, the first is her wonderful book The Science of Skinny which I personally recommend. I have read it, I love it, and in fact I have actually made some changes in my own life based on the book. We will talk about that on the later show and also please check out her nonprofit which is wonderful and we should all rally behind, and that is processedfreeamerica.org. Dee, thank you so much for joining us today. It has been an absolute pleasure.
Dee: Thanks Jonathan, I just wanted to mention one more thing if people are interested, I also do a podcast, it is called Diet Science and we do 7-minute audio programs weekly and on our website at processedfreeamerica.org, people can listen to our podcast archive. There are some wonderful information about nutrition and health news, so Diet Science.
Jonathan: Diet Science, The Science of Skinny, and processedfreeamerica.org; the trifacta shall we say?
Jonathan: Dee, thank you so much for joining us and folks I hope you enjoyed today’s show as much as I did and please remember, this week and every week after; eat smarter, exercise smarter, and live better. Talk with you soon.