Why Starvation Isn’t Healthy with Caitlin Weeks
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Caitlin: Well, welcome, Jonathan! We’re so glad to have you on the Health Nuts podcast.
Jonathan: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure.
Caitlin: Well, one of the things that’s on our listeners’ minds right now is New Year’s resolutions, and we always hear, “I’m going to go on a diet in the New Year” and all that, but what are some of the things you hear from your listeners and your readers about where people go wrong during the New Year’s?
Jonathan: It’s really not any individual person going wrong which is the challenge here. People do the best they can with the information they’ve been given, and the information we’ve been given is so horribly flawed. There’s no surprise that we have record level rates of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and heart disease. The de facto approach to weight loss that we’ve been told is “just count calories and just starve yourself” and that’s a bit like telling people “just go to the bathroom less” or “just sleep less.” You can’t just tell a person “No, just be hungry for the rest of your life.” That is absurd.
Mary: Jonathan, we got a lot of questions from our Facebook listeners and readers and before we get into those, we’re really curious. I would like to hear from you why you wrote this book The Calorie Myth. And it’s really taken off and people are really embracing the information, so tell us a little bit of background about why you decided to take on this project.
Jonathan: Would you like the short, medium or long version?
Mary: I guess maybe somewhere between the short and medium.
Jonathan: All right, so I used to be a personal trainer, and back in my personal trainer days – this was many, many years ago – I experienced something very unique. I’m one of those hated people who is naturally thin and my goal was to get bigger. I would consume 6,000 calories per day. Literally, I have Excel spreadsheets to track this out. I would do double shots of olive oil. Just literally trying to get bigger while the vast majority of my clients were women over the age of 35 who had the exact opposite goal. They wanted to get smaller, so I did what anyone who’s versed in the conventional wisdom would do, and that is to tell them to eat about 1,200 calories per day and exercise way more than I was exercising.
The unfortunate thing that happened was that neither myself nor my clients achieved what we wanted. We didn’t become slim and healthy. In fact, we just became sick and sad, so I said to myself, “Self, you’re in the business of helping people and you’re hurting people and you can’t even help yourself. Stop.” So I stopped being a personal trainer because I didn’t feel qualified any more, because I was not achieving the outcomes that I or my clients wanted. But I didn’t want to give up. I’m trying to help people, so this is when I tapped into my geeky side.
My day job is I’m a senior program manager at Microsoft, and the reason I have that job is I really, really like working with very technical people, extremely technical people, to pick their knowledge and to translate it and to apply it into systems, aka to engineer things, that everyday people can enjoy and use to live better lives. So I do that with technology at Microsoft, and I’ve done that with biology with top researchers around the world with the Harvard Medical School, John Hopkins, UCLA. Analyzed over 1,300 studies over a ten-year time period simply because what I personally was doing and telling people to do was counterproductive.
So, I said to myself, “Self, there has to be a better approach.” And ironically there’s a vastly better approach. When you take a step back, it makes a lot of sense because think of all the technological advancement we’ve seen in every other area of life over the past fifty years. However, for eating and exercise, we’re told the same stuff we were told fifty years ago: “Just eat less and exercise more.” “Fats are going to kill you.” “Sugar isn’t really a big deal and protein is somewhat irrelevant.” That’s the same stuff we’ve heard for fifty years, the exact same time period when we got sick and heavy. Isn’t it time that we look at the modern science and engineer a solution that actually works?
Mary: In the calories in, calories out model, just what you discuss in the book, first off, why is this kind of theory flawed and then, I think our listeners also, since you are so science-based, would appreciate if you could point us to some specific studies that are in support of this, too.
Jonathan: Sure. Think of the calorie math theory as the flat-earth theory of fat loss. It’s incredibly intuitive. Look out your window. It looks like the earth is flat and if the earth wasn’t flat wouldn’t the people on the bottom fall off? It’s a very reasonable position to have but it’s not accurate. You could imagine when people try to convince the world that the world wasn’t flat, they’re just like, “What do you…? Look outside. It’s clearly flat.” But then they said, “Well, when you understand science, for example, the law of gravity, you start to see that. ‘Wait a minute. Okay, it could be round.’” And these scientific laws explained how that’s possible. The same thing applies to your metabolism.
It’s intuitive to think that if you just starve yourself, you’ll lose weight. And you will lose weight but our goal isn’t to temporarily lose weight. Everyone has temporarily lost weight. You can temporarily lose weight by cutting off your leg. That doesn’t mean it’s a good approach. Our actual goal is to be a type of body we love, to have a life we love, and to have wonderful health for our entire life. You cannot achieve that through starvation. That doesn’t make any sense at all. If you look at the actual studies, every single clinical study that has counted calories has shown that calorie math doesn’t add up.
Meaning if people, for example, were in a super-tight-controlled environment where they all cut, say, a thousand calories, theoretically they should lose two pounds per week according to the conventional wisdom. They never ever, ever do. The fact that the mainstream keeps perpetuating a theory that has been disproven by every relevant study that’s ever examined it is beyond me.
Caitlin: I was listening to one of your podcasts where you said there was a study where people were basically on IVs, and they didn’t lose weight. They were on a very restricted calorie diet and they didn’t lose weight. They lost muscle mass and that was the body – even though it was restricting calorie so much, it just started eating its own muscle. And they really didn’t have the benefits that they were looking for and that just showed the calories in, calories out model doesn’t really work, right?
Jonathan: Exactly, and we can look at it in both directions. We can look at it in terms of weight loss. We can also look at it in terms of weight gain, so from a weight loss perspective let’s look at this personally. If you just try eating less which – because we’ve all been told to do that, chances are all of your listeners have tried that – the first thing that happens is you become tired and cold. Do you know why that happens? Because your body just slows down. It’s like, “Oh, I have less fuels so I’m going to use less fuels.” It’s like if you lost your job, you wouldn’t be just “Going to keep spending my money.” You’re going to say, “I better conserve. Money in has gone down; therefore, I’m going to conserve money out.”
The body is an adaptive organism. If you starve it, it fights you, so that’s why you get cold and hungry and tired, but what’s really fun – because that’s not fun at all. What’s fun is if you look at the other side of the equation, which is when you do eat too many calories, you do not gain the amount of weight you should. In fact, the most recent research which came out this September showed that the most accurate estimates available indicate that the average American male is consuming 1,000 more calories than he should need per day and the report then just went on to gloss over – yeah, we’re eating too many calories.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Talk about burying the lead. If the average American male is consuming a thousand more calories than he needs per day and there’s 3,500 calories in a pound of fat, that means the average American male is consuming 7,000 too many calories per week which means he should gain two pounds of fat per week, which means he should gain 104 pounds of fat a year. Yes, we’re getting heavier but we’re not getting nearly as heavy as we should according to the number of calories we’re consuming.
Caitlin: Absolutely, I’ve noticed that myself. If it was really calories, think about the holidays. If those are really calories in and calories out then everyone would gain way more than they actually do gain.
Jonathan: Excuse me, Caitlin. That was Caitlin, correct?
Jonathan: Okay, Caitlin. It’s nice. Our little system here highlights when you’re speaking versus when Mary is speaking. If you think about the whole calorie math equation, it’s absurd for so many reasons. One of which is that it’s impossible to do. Even – even, say, you only ate food that had little nutrition facts on it so that you could “accurately” know calories. First of all, that would be horribly unhealthy because the healthiest foods in the world don’t even have nutrition labels on them. But besides that point, even the nutrition labels have about a 10 percent margin of error, so even if you counted every single calorie in, you could still have a margin of error of 10 percent, which doesn’t seem like a lot. But the average person consumes about a million calories in a year. That’s a hundred-thousand calorie margin of error.
Jonathan: It can’t work that way.
Caitlin: I was wondering a little bit more about – I’ve heard you talk a lot about how hormones come into play, and can you explain to our listeners a little bit about how quality food comes in, makes the hormones regulate and stuff like that?
Jonathan: Hormones are really what we should be focused on, not calories. The reason for this is think about it a bit like a car. The quantity of gasoline you put in a car does not change that car so if a car is not running properly, just putting more or less gasoline in it will never change that. The quality of the fuel you put into the car will, though. Premium gasoline will make the car actually run differently, and if you put kerosene or lighter fluid in the car’s gas tank, it will run much differently. So it’s the quality of things we put in the system that changes the system itself. The same thing applies to our body. The quantity of calories we take in doesn’t actually change the way our metabolic system works.
The quality of foods we take in does and the way it does that is in three ways. One is hormonally; but also neurologically; and also gastroenterologically, so with our gut bacteria. But hormones are really the biggest one and hormones are how our body communicates, so at the end of the day you burn fat when hormonal signals tell your brain “burn fat.” And you store fat when hormonal signals say “store fat.” If you want concrete examples of this, two things. First, if you take a person – don’t do this; it’s a bad idea, but let’s talk about science. If you take a person, you set them on the couch and you change nothing about their eating and you shoot them full of anabolic steroids, aka hormones, they will build muscle and burn fat.
Why? Because those hormones are telling their body to do that. The body does what hormones tell it to do. Similarly, and this has been shown repeatedly in clinical trials, if you take a person and you inject them with the hormone insulin and you change nothing about their diet or their exercise routine, they gain fat. Why? Because insulin tells the body to gain fat. It is through the quality of food we eat that we change that hormonal conversation and can get our body to burn fat for us long term.
Caitlin: Isn’t insulin basically just sugar?
Jonathan: Insulin is the hormone your body releases in response to sugar.
Caitlin: Of course.
Mary: Yeah, that’s kind of what we always say is that food is information for the body, and what you eat can dictate whether or not you are storing fat or burning fat because your body functions more as a chemistry lab, really, than a bank account, right?
Jonathan: I love the idea of food as information. It’s a bit like someone who is in a foreign country, let’s say, that they go to visit – let’s say Mary, you go to visit someone in China and you’re asking someone for directions and they don’t understand you and you just ask them again. Then, you ask them louder and you ask them louder and you ask them louder and they’re like, “Hey, I don’t speak English.”
You can increase the quantity of requests you make to this person, but if they don’t understand the information you’re giving them, it doesn’t matter. That’s basically what we’re doing with our bodies when we futz around with calories. It’s the wrong language. We’re screaming at our body “burn fat” in a language that it doesn’t understand.
Mary: With that in mind, tell us a little bit about your SANE theory. Everyone wants to get that teaser before they read the book.
Jonathan: The good news – two things. One thing I always like to call out very much, because while I am flattered when people say things like “my” research or “my” SANE theory – all that I do, I’m a mouthpiece so I’m not a doctor. I simply represent, for lack of better terms, researchers who spend their lives in laboratories, not on infomercials or not in spandex, so I try to make their information accessible to everyone.
This information, this idea of SANE is an acronym that break downs four factors that the scientific community has established which determine whether or not a food source is high or low quality. Because we all hear of “eat healthy food,” but if you ask ten people what healthy food is, you’re going to get ten different answers, right? The vegan community is going say something much different than the Paleo community, which is going to say something different than the low carb community, which is going to say something different from the United States Department of Agriculture, right?
It’s not like “eat more healthy food,” because clearly “healthy” has resulted in something very unhealthy over the past fifty years. We need to reevaluate what healthy is. The way you do that is you look at the science and you say, “What has the science shown?” There’s four factors that determine whether or not a food is healthy.
How satisfying it is. That’s the “S” in SANE. For example, Pringles openly advertises “Once you pop, you can’t stop.” They’re saying, “our food doesn’t satisfy you.” The point of light beer — the reason light beer was invented was to give people a mechanism to ingest calories and not feel full. Okay, right?
Caitlin: Or just to pee a lot.
Jonathan: Exactly, so light beer and Pringles are examples of foods that have low satiety. We want to eat foods that have high satiety to keep us full for a long time. We also want to eat the “A” in SANE, which is unaggressive foods. Foods that don’t dump energy into our bloodstream all at once, causing a huge spike in insulin. This is one that’s pretty well understood as to its glycemic index and glycemic load. The “N” is nutrition, and it has to do with the amount of essential things – vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids, essential fatty acids – a food provides us. This is one we can talk about more because the way nutrition has been presented to us is not what the scientific community shows but we can talk about that in a second.
Obviously, we want to eat more nutritious foods, and then finally the “E” is efficiency. This is the one that’s least well understood in the mainstream, and that is that different sources of calories are more or less efficient at being stored as fat on our body. For example, protein – which really isn’t an energy source; it’s a structural component – is very, very difficult for your body to store as body fat simply because there’s a huge number of chemical reactions that need to take place before protein becomes triglyceride and then gets stored on your body. So we want to eat satisfying, unaggressive, nutritious and inefficient foods, SANE foods.
Caitlin: What you’re saying is you’re kind of a conduit for information that exists out there that research is delving into but people just don’t have access to this information or why do think there’s resistance around it?
Jonathan: There isn’t really resistance by anyone other than people that have a vested interest in the old models. For example, I think you know I’ve got my own show that we do. I really appreciate the kind words you said about that earlier before we recorded. We’ve had vegans on the show. We’ve had Paleo luminaries on the show. We’ve had mainstream researchers on the show because the thing that’s cool about all of these different lifestyles, all of them – vegan, vegetarian, Paleo, low carb, South Beach – is you’ll notice they share one thing in common: they don’t count calories.
They focus on food quality rather than calorie quantity. The only people who are adverse [sic] to this information, which has been borne out by the science and borne out in practice for so many people, are individuals who have a financial interest in perpetuating the myths of fifty years ago.
Caitlin: Speaking of, if you hang out on the inter webs at all, you know that without naming names there is a school of thought out there now that’s kind of a backlash to this low carb, Paleo community saying that eliminating major food groups, and what we talk about a lot as eliminating inflammatory foods like you mentioned in the book – gluten, dairy, sugar, grain – that that kind of extremism in restricting these foods leads to eating disorder behavior or obsessive eating disordered behavior, so what would you say about that or what’s your opinion about it?
Jonathan: By that logic, every kosher and halal person in the world has an eating disorder.
Caitlin: That’s a good rebuttal. I like that.
Jonathan: In addition to that, so does every pregnant woman. I’ll tell you what’s the most disordered form of eating in the world aside from anorexia and bulimia. Taking a calculator around with you and a scale so that you can sort of balance this core metabolic process. Just think about how crazy that is for a second. What about vitamin C? Vitamin C is also required for life. Do we need to consciously regulate vitamin C in and vitamin C out? Or what about thiamin and niacin and vitamin E and vitamin D and vitamin K and phosphorus and the amino acid leucine?
If we needed to consciously regulate things like that, we wouldn’t be able to do anything because our body wouldn’t be like “You know what? It’s just this one thing you need to consciously regulate.” The body says, “All right, check it out. You got this powerful brain and there’s part of your brain called the neocortex.” Neocortex is the uniquely human part of the brain. It allows us to do things like talk like we’re talking right now, right? Things that make you uniquely human. We have this part of this brain called your hypothalamus, which takes care of unconscious things.
There’s a reason you don’t need to consciously monitor breaths in or breaths out or your blood pressure or your blood sugar or your body weight because your body is designed to take care of it for you so that you can do more important things. The most disordered form of eating in the world is one in which you do math instead of enjoying food.
Mary: Great point.
Caitlin: What do you – absolutely. I think your theory about SANE foods is really important because I know before, when I was just dieting all the time like all young girls pretty much, and before I started looking at food quality, it seems every food made me feel crazy.
Mary: Or guilty.
Caitlin: Yeah, or guilty or it was just a cycle of guilt and being tired and up and down and all this, and I don’t know. I know men feel it too, but it seems like women are maybe more sensitive to it.
Jonathan: Oh, Caitlin, I don’t mean to cut you off but I got to tell you, you just brought up my favorite point ever, and that’s how calorie counting is freaking oppressive to women specifically because even guys that are trying to get in shape aren’t generally told – if you pick up even mainstream men’s literature, it doesn’t talk so much about shrinking and being hungry and counting and just being in the background a little bit.
Think about this though: counting calories, chronic cardio. You’re going on a date with a man? Oh, order a salad. Don’t eat more than he does. Is it the 1920s? Did I miss something? When did we start going back and making it acceptable to openly treat women as second class citizens as if they need to shrink down in some way?
Caitlin: Wow, that’s deep.
Jonathan: Think about it, seriously. Men are told “Lift weights.” Women are told “No, don’t lift weights. Shrink yourself.”
Caitlin: The worst insult I ever gave a guy was “Wow! You look really thin.” That’s the equivalent of telling a man, I think that – I’m sorry, a woman that she looks fat because guys get appalled when you tell them that they look smaller, just as women get appalled if you tell them they look bigger, but that’s the whole dogma, that men are supposed to be big and buff and women are supposed to be tiny.
Jonathan: Absolutely, so moving away from — think about how different these two messages are. There’s message A, eat less. Come on. You need to scale back and you really you just got to run. You got to shrink yourself down versus lift weights, become a strong person and then fuel your body with an abundance of the most nutritious, natural foods in the world so you can rock your freaking mission. Why in god’s name would anyone advocate the first one and not the second one?
Caitlin: Absolutely, that’s a great point. What do you see when you – I don’t know if you work with people but you probably have in the past so you see them, they’re doing – let’s say they’ve been doing your recommendations for a while and they seem like they’re doing everything right but they’re just not getting results. I used to get a lot of clients like that before I stopped taking clients. They were doing the perfect food and the perfect exercise supposedly, and they just weren’t getting anywhere.
Jonathan: I’m going to give you an unpopular answer, but sometimes science is unpopular. Science doesn’t try to be anything, it just is. The best way to think about your body when it comes to sticking points is what has happened to us over the past forty and fifty years is because we’ve been given this wrong information, we’ve literally broken our metabolism. It’s literally broken and we can get into what that means, but for now let’s stick with it’s broken. So we have a broken metabolism, okay.
Compare that to a broken ankle. If you have a broken ankle, there’s a lot of things that impact how long it’s going to take for you to be able to walk again: how old you are, how much stress you’re under, how meticulously you care for your ankle, how many times you’ve broken it in the past, maybe some medications, maybe some pre-existing medical conditions that you have.
However, if you do the appropriate mechanisms, the appropriate things and you let your body heal itself, because remember that’s what the body does: it heals itself when it can. Your ankle will heal itself and it might be three months, right? Day two your ankle might not look any better than on day one and in fact, in month two, if you’re sixty-five years old and have broken your ankle fifteen times, month two might not seem any different from month one, but one day your ankle will be healed, and then you will be able to walk on it for the rest of your life.
Think of your metabolism the same way. If you’ve weight cycled over and over and over, if you’re under a massive amount of stress, if you’re on a bunch of medications, if you’re older, if you’re not sleeping well, it is going to take you a lot longer to heal your broken metabolism than it will someone who has not experienced those types of things. That doesn’t mean it can’t be healed. It just means if you think about it a little bit more like a broken bone where it’s not this linear process, it may help you wrap your head around the results you’ll get and when.
Mary: That’s a really important point because we’re obviously a quick-fix magic-pill society where we expect – especially I get a lot of women clients who say, “Paleo worked for my husband and he lost 20 pounds in a month” or “It worked for my neighbor and I’ve been doing it six months and nothing’s happening” or “I’ve gone grain-free and I’m doing CrossFit five days a week.” The important lesson I think is that while the model is good, there’s never a one-size-fits-all approach. You kind of have to tinker within the model, wouldn’t you say?
Jonathan: I would say. I would also say that there is one thing which more often than not I see individuals could leverage to help themselves in sticking points. That was a terrible way of phrasing that. It’s pretty easy to tell people to eat more protein. Protein is delicious. Everyone loves protein. That’s good. Tell more people to eat more fat. Fabulous! That’s wonderful. Tell people to eat more vegetables, non-starchy vegetables. Yeah, that one… I get a lot of people for example, who are saying “I’ve gone Paleo” or “I’m going SANE” and I ask them how many servings of non-starchy vegetables they eat in a day. They’re like, “One to three.”
So you’ve got to heal your body. What we’re talking about here is not a starvation model; it’s a healing model. The most healing food, the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet are non-starchy vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables, deep green leafy vegetables. If you’re not eating at least eight servings of non-starchy vegetables per day, and I know that seems a lot but most of us could eat three to four servings of non-starchy vegetables easily in a sitting and if you’re not afraid of fat, it’s delicious because you can sauté them and do all kinds of fabulous stuff. If you’re not eating at least eight servings – I’d really like you in the double digits of non-starchy vegetables – I would urge you to focus all of your efforts on that before worrying about anything else.
Mary: That’s great advice. That’s one of the biggest flaws I see is people kind of go grain-free and they eat tons of protein and fat because that’s what they’ve heard are the healing nutrients and then vegetables kind of get glossed over, so that’s a really good point. I’m glad you brought it up.
Jonathan: Thanks, Mary. Sometimes, we’ll say “Well, is what you’re saying the Paleo diet?” or “Is what you’re saying – because you talked a lot of vegetables. Is it a vegan diet or what?” It’s saying take the most nutritious foods in the world and eat the most of those. It’s take the highest quality of plants in the world and the highest quality of animals in the world and eat those things, but really it’s that vegetables – Kermit had it right when he said it’s not easy being green.
Everyone wants to post on Facebook. Oh, like bacon (woo!) and the protein (woo!), but check it out: T. Colin Campbell and Loren Cordain both agree that non-starchy vegetables are super-important, but that’s not what they talk about, not that they are doing anything wrong, but it’s like the single most important part of this equation is not the part that we’re talking about.
Mary: That’s great. That’s a great paradigm shift. I like that a lot.
Jonathan: Thank you.
Caitlin: How many servings? When you say “serving” what does that mean? How big is that?
Jonathan: It depends on what you’re eating but from a green leafy vegetable perspective, you’re looking at about two fists and that’s helpful because obviously different people are different sizes, right? If it’s raw two fists, if it’s cooked about half a fist so what most people find especially, and me, personally, if you’re new to greens, there’s two ways I highly recommend you eat them. The first, and this is more of a with-meal-as-a-side-type-thing, is sautéing. This is a great way to get healthy fats into your diet. Get yourself some coconut oil. Get yourself some bacon drippings. Get yourself some duck fat. Get yourself some salt, put some kale, some collards, some Swiss chard in a pan and throw some spinach in there, sauté it up. Throw onions in there, maybe throw some mushrooms in there. It’s so good.
It’s just delicious, right? When you’re not afraid of fat, vegetables are fabulous. I can’t tell you how many five-year-olds I’ve seen just devour half of their plate of greens when they’re prepared appropriately. It doesn’t always have to be a salad so sauté the heck out of them and truly if you sauté those vegetables, you will naturally eat three to four servings if you don’t restrict yourself very easily because it’s delicious. Then, I’m a big fan of green smoothies as well, especially in the mornings, people are tight on time and it sometimes hard to fit vegetables into breakfast so grab yourself some kale, some romaine, some spinach.
Grab yourself some of those. Maybe grab yourself some strawberries. Grab yourself an orange. Maybe a little bit of protein powder, a little bit of cinnamon, a little vanilla. Toss it into a good blender. It’s got to be a good blender or else you’re going to get chunky nastiness. Throw that into a good blender and enjoy that in a car on the way to work and right there you got three servings, four servings of non-starchy vegetables and they’re raw which is really good as well.
Caitlin: Yeah, that’s good on the go. Great ideas and some people think about vegetables – and I remember back in the day, I used to eat tons of steamed vegetables with…
Mary: With no fat on them.
Caitlin: Yeah, or maybe the Molly McButter or something, and they were horrible. I just would stuff them down to make them filling, but now it’s a whole different ball game when you start putting fat on them.
Mary: Your body won’t absorb the fat-soluble nutrients from the vegetables unless you have fat in them.
Caitlin: Absolutely, so you kind of are similar to me – besides studying studies – but I was a trainer for a long time and then I became a holistic nutritionist because the same way I got fed up with all the people just not getting results. And I got so much more out of the nutrition side of it than I did from the exercise as far as fulfillment. So I wanted to hear some of your ideas about what are some common exercise mistakes you see people making.
Jonathan: Exercise, just like eating, has been promoted to us by the mainstream as a quantity game, not a quality game. It’s just exercise more. Exercise more. Exercise more. Very simply put, energy is a fixed resource so if your goal is to exercise more, by definition you have to do exercise that doesn’t require a lot of energy. If your goal is to drive your car for as long of a time period as possible, you’d be better off driving it at two miles an hour than you would driving it at 200 miles an hour simply because the harder you drive it, the fastest it’s going run out of energy.
If the message we always hear is “exercise more, exercise more, exercise more,” what we’re actually hearing is two things. We’re hearing “exercise more with lower quality” because that’s the only way to exercise more. This is what I love about the CrossFit movement. The CrossFit movement is flipping that on its head. It’s saying, “You know what? No, exercise less, but with higher quality.” The great thing here is there is no debate in the actual scientific community about the health benefits of exercising less but with higher intensity. The high intensity interval training research is startling in terms of the metabolic health and fat burning benefits of short bursts of more intense activity.
Caitlin: Also, I heard you highlighting the eccentric. I remember when I was in personal training school, they’d always say, “Oh, really slow on the eccentric” but nobody ever did.
Jonathan: It is. It is somewhat heartbreaking because when you look at it, it’s really like we’ve been told the opposite of what we should. Even just the language that people use: “Lift weights. Let’s go lift weights.” Look at how most guys do bicep curls, it looks like they’re doing a freaking clean and jerk. I’m not sure if all of your listeners will know what that means. But they’re wiggling around like they’re a worm and they’re trying to do as many reps as possible; they’re trying to lift the weight as much as possible.
The goal of weight lifting unless you’re a competitive weight lifter isn’t actually to lift weights. It’s to trigger a result in your body, and that result in your body is caused when you activate muscle fibers. And training very slowly, training eccentrically allows you to generate a dramatic amount of force. In fact, that’s a 40 percent more force than contracting concentrically. So lowering weights, and when you do it slowly, you just minimize the risk of injury. So if you want the most benefits, the most sustainably, slowly lowering weights is a great option.
Mary: Yeah, I’ve seen some gnarly CrossFit injuries from people. In fact, almost everyone I know who’s gone into the CrossFit realm has had some really pretty bad injuries, but they seem to be very addicted to it and love it. I’m a big fan of interval training and burst training, especially for people who are exercise-rehabbing themselves from going out and pounding the pavement for hours and hours and hours jogging. When you tell them just do twenty minutes of burst training or something then they – definitely changes their world view.
Jonathan: CrossFit, like anything else in any other form of exercise – that is, safety is so important, right? There’s great ways to train eccentrically. There’s horribly dangerous ways to train eccentrically. There’s great ways to do CrossFit. There’s horribly dangerous ways to do CrossFit. What I encourage people to do is – there are a couple of things we know.
We know working more muscle is better than working less muscle. We know that. That’s non-debatable. We know a safe form of activity is better for you than a less safe form of activity, so what I encourage people to do – and we know that enjoyment is important. You got to enjoy what you’re doing so find something that you enjoy. Find something that has the lowest risk of injury possible and find something that activates the most muscle possible. That might be slightly different among various people. I personally – and the research shows that eccentric weight training with some basic safe movements with major muscle groups and interval training are two of, if not the best, two of some of the best options out there.
Mary: Great. Yeah, good guidelines.
Caitlin: We don’t want to keep you too long. We have a couple more reader questions if you have another quick minute.
Jonathan: I will give you shorter answers. I know I tend to be a little bit long-winded.
Caitlin: No, this is great. We’re loving the information. We just don’t want to monopolize your time here because we know you’re a busy man, but just to call a few more reader questions we got in. First one, she says, “Does the timing when you eat matter?”
Jonathan: I would focus on what you eat, not when you eat it, personally. There’s some research around this. I think it’s a bit of a distraction until you’re in the top point-1 percent of the population in terms of your health outcomes. My quick answer is focus on what you’re eating with 90 percent of your effort and then if you want to, 1 percent on when you’re eating it.
Mary: That’s what I would say, too. Good.
Caitlin: Okay, this one is kind of interesting and funny. So remember a couple of years ago that this reader of mine who always comments named Nick, he wants to know what do you think about the Twinkie diet, because the guy lost a lot of weight and he was eating the lower-calorie Twinkie.
Mary: That’s right.
Jonathan: I’m going to tell you about the next fad diet. I got the inside scoop. I was actually in Hollywood last week. This is the new Hollywood celebrity diet. Are you ready for it?
Mary: The cookie diet?
Jonathan: No, no. It’s called the amputation diet. What you do is you cut off your right leg, and you lose anywhere from thirty to sixty pounds instantly and you keep it off forever.
Jonathan: The point of that ridiculous story, which is obviously not true, is that there’s all sorts of things we can do to lose weight. That doesn’t mean they’re healthy or that we should recommend them to people. Of course, if you eat a thousand calories of anything and that’s all you eat for the rest of your life, you’re going to lose weight. You’ll also die and be miserable so why are we even talking about that?
Mary: People are just – they’re incredulous about this. They’re like, “See, see. I can eat at McDonald’s and lose weight. I can eat Twinkies and lose weight.” I think it’s really just wishful thinking.
Caitlin: The guy was – he did it for a month and…
Caitlin: You always have the benefits or some results at first – and then I also he think he got the bulk of his calories, I remember reading that, from protein shakes. So that may have been better than what he was eating before. Who knows?
Mary: He said his blood work improved, too, I think, which might be a knee jerk reaction that then it boomeranged in the other direction.
Caitlin: Jonathan, tell us just some closing words of encouragement around people who want to get healthy in the New Year.
Jonathan: Very simply, focus on foods in this order: non-starchy vegetables. The vast majority of what you fill your plate with, you fill your body with, should be vegetables you could eat raw. You don’t have to eat them raw but you could eat them raw. Think things like green leafy vegetables, cucumbers, asparagus, broccoli, mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, stuff like that. Next on the order of volume is about a third of your plate, nutrient-dense proteins, so humanely-raised animals, wild-caught fish. It doesn’t have to be expensive. There’s canned wild salmon. There’s canned options which everyone can afford. There’s frozen options that everyone can afford.
Next on the list would be whole-food fats. So the whole food: avocadoes, coconut, cocoa, chia seeds, flax seeds, olives. And then lower-sugar fruits specifically low fructose fruits. Think berries and citrus fruits. So blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, oranges, lemon, limes, grapefruits, because those are going to give you the most of what you do need, the vitamins and minerals, and least of what you don’t, fructose, things like that.
Eat so much of those foods that you’re just too full for everything else, and what you’ll find too is when you’re not afraid of fat and when you enjoy those foods, you can do all kinds of stuff. You can make cake. Just make it with coconut flour. Of course, you’re not going to eat it every freaking meal, but all of the flavors you like – salty, sweet, savory, fatty – they’re all available to you. We just need to do them smarter from the food groups I just outlined.
Mary: That’s what we talked about every day so that’s awesome. Now, tell us where people can find your new book and your site and all that.
Jonathan: The book is available anywhere books are sold. It’s called The Calorie Myth, and I don’t mean to be the sales pitch guy here, but I think on Amazon it’s less than sixteen bucks, and I personally guarantee that you will get at least sixteen dollars worth of information out of this book. It is been a labor of love for over a decade, and it provides you with so much proven science that you can practically apply it and it’s an easy read.
I would very much appreciate if you grab a copy, and the book is again called The Calorie Myth. Buy it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or anywhere books are sold and the companion website that’s got a bunch of free bonuses which you can check out immediately is CalorieMythBook.com. Again, that’s CalorieMythBook.com.
Mary: Thanks so much, Jonathan. This is great information. You’ve been a really great guest and I’m excited for your book. Caitlin and I are both excited to see the success it’s having and the impact that it’s making, and thanks for spreading the good word and all the work that you do.
Jonathan: My pleasure. Thank you for the work you do and thank you so much for having me today.
Caitlin: All right, get excited for our upcoming guests. We have a lot of cool people coming on this year and make sure and leave us a review on iTunes. Thanks so much. See you next time. Bye-bye.
Jonathan: Wait, wait. Don’t stop listening yet.
Carrie: You can get fabulous free SANE recipes over at carriebrown.com.
Jonathan: Don’t forget your 100 percent free eating and exercise quick start program as well as free, fun, daily tips delivered right into your inbox at bailorgroup.com.