PODCAST: Our Updated Recommendations For Saturated Fat

Thanks for joining us for episode 122 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are answering following question from a listener:

“Hello! I really love the podcast and I’ve listened to every episode multiple times. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us all. I know this might seem like an old topic, but could you do an episode on saturated fat and what the most current evidence says? Does it depend on the type of saturated fat like oleic acid versus lauric acid etc.? I know fat in general is good, but when it comes to saturated fat do we need to get it in the diet or can we just make it in our body ourselves? And if saturated fat is in fact great for us, is there a minimum or maximum amount that you would suggest getting each day? Should people with certain health conditions be wary of too much saturated fat?”

Even though recent research shows that saturated fat is not the villain it has been made out to be for decades, it’s still a topic of controversy. Most in the Paleo community tout its health benefits and enjoy it liberally while others warn to take a more cautionary approach.

So what’s the deal with saturated fat? Should we really make a habit of putting coconut oil in our coffee?

Join us today as we share current research and our updated recommendations on the topic of dietary saturated fat. Some of what we’ll be discussing is who should be cautious about the amount of saturated fat in their diet, the effect of saturated fat on the microbiome, and how consuming excess isolated fats differs from eating fats in whole food sources.

If you want to decide for yourself how much saturated fat to include in your diet regardless of popular food fads or phobias, this is a conversation not to be missed!

Here’s what Laura and Kelsey will be discussing in this episode:

  • [00:04:33] The definition of saturated fat and which foods contain it
  • [00:06:50] The lack of evidence supporting the belief that saturated fat has a negative impact on health
  • [00:13:26] While saturated fat is not an essential nutrient in our diet, saturated fat is essential to our body
  • [00:19:55] How saturated fat can be part of a balanced diet for most people
  • [00:21:57] Genes that can affect the way the body processes saturated fat which affects cholesterol levels
  • [00:24:00] Lipoprotein particle levels in addition to total cholesterol that are markers of cardiovascular disease risk
  • [00:27:33] Research that suggests saturated fat can reduce insulin sensitivity as compared to monounsaturated fat
  • [00:29:17] The effect of saturated fat on the microbiome
  • [00:33:32] The importance of differentiating between excess isolated saturated fats and saturated fats found in whole foods, and why you should reconsider the belief that unlimited dietary fat is healthy
  • [00:38:46] Our general guidelines for including fats in a diverse diet that is optimal for health

Links Discussed:


Laura: Hi everyone! Welcome to episode 122 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Laura Schoenfeld and with me as always is my cohost Kelsey Kinney.

Kelsey: Hey everyone!

Laura: We are Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence-based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me, Laura, at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com, and Kelsey over at KelseyKinney.com.

Over the next 30 to 45 minutes, we’ll be answering your questions about health and nutrition and providing our insights into solving your health challenges with practical tips and real food.

Kelsey: If you’re enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that you never miss an episode. And while you’re there, leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well. And remember, we want to answer your question, so head over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a health related question that we can answer on an upcoming show.

Laura: Today on the show we’re going to be discussing the latest evidence around saturated fat and recommendations for how to approach saturated fat in your diet. But before we get into our question for the day, here’s a quick word from our sponsor:

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Kelsey: Welcome back everyone! Here’s our question for today’s show:

“Hello! I really love the podcast and I’ve listened to every episode multiple times. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us all. I know this might seem like an old topic, but could you do an episode on saturated fat and what the most current evidence says? Does it depend on the type of saturated fat like oleic acid versus lauric acid etc.? I know fat in general is good, but when it comes to saturated fat do we need to get it in the diet or can we just make it in our body ourselves? And if saturated fat is in fact great for us, is there a minimum or maximum amount that you would suggest getting each day? Should people with certain health conditions be wary of too much saturated fat?”

Laura: I think this is a really good question. To be fair, it’s kind of like a multi-part question. I’m not sure if we’re going to get to every single thing that they’re asking. But we did want to do a show just overviewing saturated fat and answering some of these questions like how much should we be eating? Is it really good for us? Is it really bad for us? Because there’s so much back and forth in the nutrition world about saturated fat and I think we can kind of go in either direction as far as saying it’s bad for you or it’s good for you depending on what information you’re looking at.

We just wanted to give kind of a basic review of like what saturated fat is as far as where in the diet it is, what saturated even means, and then also talking about who should worry about saturated fat. I hate to use the term worry, maybe who should be more considerate of the saturated fat in their diet versus who might not be as worried about it.

But first, like I said, maybe we can just do a quick little review of what saturated fat is and where it is in the diet. I think most of our listeners probably understand this, so I’m just going to do very high level overview.

Saturated fat is referring to the type of bonds in the fatty acid chain. There’s different types of bonds between the carbon molecules and a fat fatty acid chain and basically they’re either going to have single bonds, which is just basically one electron as a bond versus double bonds, which has two electrons is the bond. And again, this is like really basic chemistry over here. It’s not going to get deeper than that. You guys can go to Chris Masterjohn’s podcast if you want the deep nitty gritty of the biochemistry.

For saturated fat, it has all single bonds in its fatty acid chain and saturated just means all of the bonds that can have hydrogen’s attached to them, do. This makes the fat rigid and more structured than other types of fat such as the mono and polyunsaturated fats. In monounsaturated, there’s one chain that has a double bond instead of being fully saturated with hydrogen. Polyunsaturated has multiple bonds. There’s a lot of structural differences between these fats.

The main thing you’re going to notice in the real world with these fats is that saturated fats are solid at room temperature because of these saturated bonds, whereas things like monounsaturated, polyunsaturated fats, so oils essentially are going to be liquid at room temperature. That’s the main thing you’re going to notice between the two fats in the real world.

Foods that are higher in saturated fat would include things like beef, lamb. Pork has not as much as beef, but it does have a higher amount. Coconut is almost entirely saturated fat. And then full fat dairy products like butter, and cheese, and yogurt, that kind of thing are going to have saturated fats as well. Most of the saturated fats in the diet are going to come from animal foods, but there are some plant foods that are pretty high like coconut and palm.

As far as what this person says about saturated fat being great for us, I think we have to kind of break down the pendulum swing that has been happening over the last couple of decades when it comes to fat. Again like I mentioned the beginning, there’s kind of that concept that fat is bad and excess fat is the root cause of all these health issues, it causes heart disease, especially saturated fat, cholesterol, that kind of thing. And then there’s the other side of the spectrum which has been a little bit more popular lately that saturated fat is great for you, and it’s like you should eat as much of it as you can, and it’s super stable, and doesn’t cause oxidative stress, and all this stuff.

We want to talk about kind of where our beliefs lie and why we feel this way based on evidence. I would say that saturated fat in general has gotten a bad reputation in the last couple of decades because of a lot of population studies or generally these studies that don’t necessarily translate to humans. There has been a lot of poorly executed research studies and there’s been a lot of industry influence over the last couple of decades as far as showing which type of fat is healthier.

There’s a lot of history that goes into the belief that saturated fat is very bad for us. And as far as that goes, there’s actually very little evidence that moderate amounts of saturated fat in the diet has a negative impact on our health. So it’s not as simple as saturated fat clogs our arteries and causes heart disease or stroke. I think that was like kind of the basic understanding of saturated fat up until the last decade or so. And the most recent evidence that’s been published really shows that saturated fat intake in general is not associated with cardiovascular disease or stroke.

And again, I think we’re talking about more moderate amounts of saturated fat, nothing super extreme. A lot of these things are population studies, or if they are randomized controlled trials, they’re not necessarily putting people on like very, very high saturated fat diets. They’re just looking at kind of a normal amount of the percentage of calories coming from saturated fat.

Kelsey, I know that one of the things you wanted to mention here when it comes to chronic diseases talking about fat versus sugar as being a trigger of things like heart disease and stroke, that kind of thing.

Kelsey: Yeah, definitely. Like you were saying, there there’s been this whole idea for many decades at this point that fat, and especially saturated fat, and cholesterol, and those sort of things are the main drivers of cardiovascular disease in particular. Some more recent research is showing that sugar is way more problematic when it comes to heart disease than saturated fat or even just fat in general is.

I think that the tune is changing quite a bit on this whole idea that fat is the problem and fat is the main driver of chronic disease in our society. But I think what can happen and what we see at least in the Paleo community and kind of the real food community is that it’s almost like we’ve kind of gone to the other extreme where we just, I’m sure you see a lot of people in your practice that come to you and I do as well, that are just on very, very high fat diets, very low carb.

They kind of think that the research how it’s going now where it’s saying that sugar is a problem and refined carbohydrates are a problem extends to all carbohydrates and that all carbohydrates are bad. And I think that’s definitely a misconception that’s out there. It really is more about these refined carbohydrates and things like sugar that are particularly problematic. Real food carbs, fruits and vegetables, plant matter, that sort of thing when it’s not highly processed is definitely not nearly as much of an issue. But it seems that a lot of people just blanket everything under that category of carbohydrates and think that all carbohydrates are bad and that if sugar is a problem, then we shouldn’t be eating even things like fruit that contain natural sugar.

I think we have kind of gone to this other extreme where we have vilified carbohydrates in general especially in the Paleo community. I think that unfortunately and fortunately, it kind of goes both ways, it’s a lot more complex than that. Unfortunately, it’s complex so not everybody fully understands all the different nuances that go into this, but fortunately it does mean that there’s some degree of flexibility here. It’s not so black and white and that there is kind of a middle ground that I think makes a lot of sense for most people when it comes to preventing chronic disease.

Laura: We did a show on sugar a couple weeks ago, so definitely check that went out if you want to hear more about our perspective on sugar.

But I think in general, and we’re going to talk about this a little bit more, it’s this pendulum swing that causes the problem. It’s not that sugar in moderation – and we can definitely talk about moderation as like an episode in itself – but sugar in moderation, or foods that have carbs or natural sugars in them, they’re not necessarily driving chronic disease. And then fats in foods, they’re not necessarily driving chronic disease. We will talk a little bit about excessive amounts of these things. Certainly in combination, which I think the Western diet is pretty high in both, it tends to be high in sugar and fat, that tends to be a problem too.

We just want to make sure it’s clear that we’re not saying sugar in any amount is like going to cause heart disease. It’s just if you’re chronically getting lots of sugar and probably also getting a lot of fat on top of that, that’s going to be much more of an issue than having a little bit, I don’t even mean a little bit, like a normal amount of saturated fat in your diet compared to the other fats.

This person had asked about if we need saturated fat in the diet or if we can just make it in the body ourselves. That’s a little bit of a loaded question just because technically we don’t need to eat saturated fat.

It’s not an essential nutrient. Essential in nutrition just means that our bodies can’t create it itself, or it can’t create enough of it, I should say, to meet our needs.

Technically saturated fats are not essential fats. Our bodies can produce all the fat it needs from de novo lipogenesis if necessary. De novo lipogenesis is just the process of creating saturated fat from other….well it would be saturated, generally, what we’re creating. But just in general, creating new fats in the body is going to be from things like carbohydrates and maybe some protein as well, but usually just carbohydrate.

Now that’s not necessarily something that the body does a ton of unless we’re eating a very low fat diet and we need to create new fat, or if we’re eating a ton of extra calories and we need to store those calories as fat. That would be the two times when we’re going to be doing more de novo lipogenesis.

I don’t really think that’s something that most people eating a whole foods diet need to worry about that they’re not going to eat enough saturated fat to meet their body’s needs. Most people are not going to have a completely devoid of saturated fat diet. Even other fats that are more monounsaturated sometimes have some saturated fat in them. Having like a zero percent saturated fat diet would be pretty tough.

Kelsey: Yeah, you’d have to try really hard.

Laura: Right. But if you had a zero percent saturated fat diet, it in and of itself that would not cause like a major nutritional deficiency. The downside of avoiding saturated fats would be the fact that a lot of foods that contain saturated fats have a lot of nutrients in them that are difficult to get elsewhere. So particularly the fat soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, and K-2, those tend to be in higher amounts in foods that contain saturated fat. If you’re totally avoiding saturated fats, you may actually be challenged to get adequate amounts of those micronutrients from food. Well really A and K-2 are the biggest concern because D we can get from the sun.

So I would say that it’s not the fat itself that would be essential, it would be more the foods that contain those fats that would be potentially essential to be eating if you don’t create those nutrients super well. Things like vitamin A, our body can convert beta carotene into, but I think there’s some stat that like 50 percent of the population can’t produce enough vitamin A without getting some pre-formed.

So again, essential versus optimal is definitely a conversation that is important to consider here because we don’t need saturated fat from our diet, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t help us to get some. We do need saturated fats in our body. It’s not that we don’t need those fats, it’s just that our body can create them if we do need it.

Saturated fat does play a lot of essential structural roles in our body. That’s why our body will tend to create a lot of saturated fat as part of its fat production process when it’s creating new fat or if it’s turning carbs into fat if we have an excessive calorie intake. Our body can use saturated fat to both store energy as well as create cellular structures like the cell membrane. So we just want to make sure that aware that it’s not that saturated fats are not essential in the body, it’s just that as far as an essential nutrient, they’re not technically essential.

And that again is not super relevant to somebody eating a whole foods diet because you’re not going to be getting a completely devoid of saturated fat diet if you have a mixed omnivorous diet and you’re just eating a variety of foods. I would say that in that situation, when I’m talking about a normal amount of saturated fat intake, I’m considering the people who just eat a variety of foods including higher saturated fat foods like beef, and coconut, that kind of thing. When we start getting into trouble nutritionally is when we’re either going way in one direction or the other. So maybe we’re either completely avoiding all foods that have saturated fat in them and maybe avoiding fat in general, or for at that other end of the extreme where it’s like you just look at saturated fat as this super food that you should just eat as much of it as possible and the more the better.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: I don’t necessarily think our listeners have that very extreme mindset, but I have seen it in my clients where they for whatever reason don’t look at fat as being something that they should be controlling portion-wise whereas they look at carbs as something that they should. As an example they’ll put coconut oil in their coffee, but they won’t eat more than half a banana because they’re worried they’re going to gain weight from eating a banana. I think that’s the level of extremity that I tend to see in my clients. What about you, Kelsey?

Kelsey: Yeah, same sort of thing. I think that again goes back to this idea of what you’re saying about that pendulum swing. First we thought that fat was the problem and now we’re really on the other side of carbs are the problem. There never seems to be a balanced discussion about it. It’s either vilifying one or the other. I think that just creates a lot of problems mindset-wise when you start thinking about food and putting that mindset into practice obviously into what you’re actually eating on a daily basis, you tend to see these kind of behaviors come out where it doesn’t even cross someone’s mind to think about I’m putting in a lot of calories from fat into my coffee, but I’m worried I’m going to gain weight from half a banana, which is what? Like 60 calories.

I definitely see that a lot in my practice as well. It’s something that just takes a little bit of education about. That’s what we’re hoping to talk to you guys about today so that you think about the research behind this, you can think about sort of the mindset that you should think about these things with so that you can make a decision for yourself that makes the most sense for you and your goals.

Laura: Definitely. As far as the average healthy person goes, I would argue that consuming these saturated fat containing foods on a regular basis is perfectly healthy for most people and there’s no need to be afraid of these foods in the diet in general.

Now we can talk a little bit about some people who may benefit from a reduction of saturated fat intake, but the average person can eat saturated fat containing foods just across a mixed diet. Of course they’re not going to be eating all beef, or all coconut oil, or coconut products, or something. There’s going to be a mix of other types of animal foods like fish, and chicken, and things like that that have other types of fats in them. There will also be fats from plants like olives, and avocados, that kind of thing.

We’re not necessarily getting an extreme amount of saturated fat intake from these foods. Even something like pork, I think actually the fat is primarily monounsaturated if you look at the percentage of fat in their in their fat. Generally if you’re eating a mixed diet, you’re not going to get the bulk of your fat calories from saturated fat. It’s going to be fairly balanced across the three different fat types.

Now there’s two things we want to talk about for the rest of the podcast. We have the concept that there are some disease states or some genetic states that might benefit from reducing their saturated fat intake, maybe not 100 percent avoiding it, but definitely not making up the bulk of either their calorie intake or their fat type intake.

And then there’s also like we were saying that trend in the Paleo community where people are generally just eating as much as saturated fat as they want, particularly from isolated added fats, things like coconut oil, butter, that kind of thing. We need discuss if that is something that is supported by the evidence as being healthy or if maybe that is a behavior that is worth changing for people listening to the podcast.

Like I was saying before, there is a small subset of the population who could benefit that have chronic diseases that are potentially impacted by excessive saturated fat intake. There are genetic factors that affect the way our bodies process saturated fats. For some people, a higher saturated fat intake actually raises LDL cholesterol and may increase their weight as well.

It’s not everybody and I don’t want everyone to be listening to this thinking that if they eat saturated fat it’s going to raise their cholesterol or cause them to gain weight. But there are some genetic profiles that actually do see a higher risk of this.

So if you want to do genetic analysis, they have some programs out there that can look at your susceptibility to these issues. Of course the genetic risk is not the same thing as the actual outcome. If you’re eating a higher amount of saturated amount of saturated fat in the diet but your calories are appropriate, it’s unlikely that you’re just going to put weight on with no excess of calories.

But if you’re eating a super high saturated fat diet and you have one of these genetic factors, even just a little bit excess may be more likely to cause weight gain and in that kind of person than someone that doesn’t have those genetic factors so.

And then with the LDL cholesterol increase, there are some people that have that like saturated fat sensitive cholesterol levels, so if they eat more saturated fat, they’ll see an increase in their LDL cholesterol, they’ll see an increase in their total cholesterol, they’ll see an increase in their particle number. It’s not only increasing the total cholesterol, but there’s more cholesterol lipoprotein particles. That is something that’s a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. That would be something if you’re noticing that your LDL shoots up on either low carb or high saturated fat diet, that might be an issue where you need to reduce your saturated fat intake.

Kelsey: One thing to consider with that in particular is I know that there has been a lot of talk about how total cholesterol and even LDL cholesterol aren’t necessarily the markers that you should be looking at. But like Laura was mentioning, there’s a lot of other lipoprotein particles that can kind of give us a better indicator or they’re better markers of cardiovascular disease risk.

This is something that I see a lot in my practice, and I’m sure you do too, Laura, where you’ll see somebody come in and they’ve noticed that their total cholesterol and maybe their LDL cholesterol has gone up since they started eating more fat. What I usually recommend is that they do like a lipoprotein particle tests so they’re looking at things like ApoB and just they’re different particle sizes and overall particle counts. Again, those are generally considered better markers of cardiovascular disease risk.

But the first thing that somebody will tend to see of course is that total cholesterol and their LDL cholesterol going up because those are the things that are being regularly tested by their doctor. So if that is you and you have seen that pattern going up more and more over the years as you’ve been on a higher saturated fat diet, it’s a great idea as the next step to just get one of those lipoprotein particle tests. One of the ones that’s out there that’s pretty easy to get I think it’s called an NMR, like the letters, NMR lipoprotein particle test.

That just gives you a really good overview of all those different particles I just talked about. And again, much better indicator of whether or not you’re actually at risk for heart disease based on originally seeing your total cholesterol and your LDL go up.

Laura: Now I will say that generally like a total cholesterol and LDL number can be useful information if it’s super high. That 200 nanogram…I forget if it’s milligrams or nanograms. I think it’s milligrams per deciliter. I don’t even remember. I should know that. For cholesterol, 200 is kind of like that cut off point for medication for a lot of doctors. I think that’s definitely too low as far as the cut off point is concerned, especially for women.

But there are people out there that are walking around with total cholesterol levels higher than 300 or LDL numbers above 200 that they believe that that doesn’t matter for their heart health. And it’s not necessarily that that number is the say all end all of cardiovascular disease risk. But if you have a number that high, there’s a better chance that you are actually at higher risk for cardiovascular disease.

Kelsey: Exactly.

Laura: We need to be mindful of again the extreme opinion that total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol doesn’t mean anything with heart disease because very high levels are very dangerous. I mean there are people with familial hypercholesterolemia that have higher risk of heart disease just because they have higher amounts of cholesterol in their blood.

I just want to make sure people aren’t thinking that it’s completely useless, it’s just not as useful as some of these other tests.

Kelsey: Right, that’s a good point.

Laura: Anyway, so that would be a person who may want to adjust their saturated fat intake, maybe reduce it, maybe keep their oils to more of those monounsaturated fats.

There also is some evidence that saturated fat can reduce insulin sensitivity if compared to monounsaturated fat. It doesn’t necessarily affect blood sugar per se, but what they found in research is that if you replace monounsaturated fat with saturated fat, your body has to produce more insulin to get the same blood sugar control as if it was just normally producing insulin.

So even though there is a couple of steps in between that and anything like diabetes, or metabolic syndrome, that kind of thing, if somebody is already dealing with insulin sensitivity issues or if they have actually diagnosed insulin resistance, then eating a super high saturated fat diet may actually contribute to that. For those people, replacing some of those saturated fats in the diet with monounsaturated fat could be helpful in increasing insulin sensitivity.

Again a little bit theoretical because we don’t know what that means for the long term as far as does it matter if you’re producing more insulin and you have the same blood sugar control? But I would say that anyone with insulin resistance could benefit from more monounsaturated fats compared to saturated fat.

I would say those are some of the two major health conditions. So cardiovascular disease, higher cholesterol, both total cholesterol and then the particle count, and then as well as just general metabolic syndrome, diabetes. If somebody has like insulin resistant PCOS, they may want to reduce total saturated fat intake and increase monounsaturated fat.

Again, that’s not super controversial.

Kelsey: I was going to throw in a controversial one in here too, which is just your microbiome in general. I do think that if you’re somebody who’s suffering from microbial imbalances, things like dysbiosis, whether that’s in the large intestine, well I guess we don’t know quite as much about SIBO in particular. But I would say if you have dysbiosis and you’re trying to balance out your microbiome that depending on how high of a fat intake you’re consuming right now, it may be beneficial to reduce your I would say overall fat intake, but saturated fat certainly is part of that because there has been some research that shows that high fat diets do have a negative impact on your gut bacteria.

I think that’s partially why sometimes that they do find higher fat diets to be problematic for things like weight gain and for connecting it with cardiovascular disease too because there is a high degree of correlation between having just dysbiosis and then also having things like metabolic syndrome or cardiovascular disease because they are connected in that way.

It may be that that’s sort of the connection between the two, between the amount of fat that you’re eating and those disease outcomes is at least partially related to how your microbiome is responding to that dietary input.

There’s definitely been some research showing that there’s a negative impact on your gut bacteria. The reason I say it’s a bit controversial is because a lot of the research when they’re looking at those high fat diets, they’re using vegetable oils as the majority of the fat that is part of that kind of western high fat, high sugar diet that they’re looking at.

We all know that those are highly inflammatory, things that you wouldn’t want to be eating and so we can kind of expect that that would be problematic for the gut bacteria. But there is also some other research that does show that saturated fat itself especially in high amounts can also cause those unfavorable shifts in gut bacteria.

It’s controversial in the sense that we don’t entirely know how much of an impact saturated fat in particular is having on your gut bacteria, but I think there’s at least enough information out there that I’m even less inclined to recommend that people just eat saturated fat to their heart’s content. We’ll talk a little bit more about that later, but I do want to throw that out here when we’re talking about what conditions may benefit from reducing fat intake, and particularly saturated fat intake, that if you have dysbiosis, and then especially if you have dysbiosis and you have another condition that Laura was just talking about like higher risk of cardiovascular disease or you have metabolic issues, I think those two in combination makes it even more important that you really think about the saturated fat intake that you have in relation to its effect on your gut bacteria and then your gut bacteria’s relationship to any of those disease outcomes.

Laura: Yeah. It’s interesting because I feel like you could look at it as a total high fat diet versus high saturated fat diet and both of those have some potential problems with the gut microbiome. So it definitely adds a monkey wrench into things because like you were saying, it can actually be one of the potential driving forces of the higher cholesterol, and the insulin resistance, and fatty liver and all these things that come from a high fat diet in the research. It just adds some complexity.

It’s not like we’re saying that everyone that eats a higher fat diet is going to develop gut dysbiosis, and obesity, and metabolic syndrome, that kind of thing. It’s just something to think about if you either have any of those conditions or if you’re at higher risk for it based on your genetics.

I think again we need to talk about this in the context of the Paleo community because I don’t think anyone saying that eating a normal food appropriate amount of saturated fat is a problem for the average person. We’re really more talking about an excess of added saturated fats here. And again, this is particularly from oils and added fats like butter or coconut oil, that kind of thing, not as much as just eating full fat dairy or eating some coconut products.

This is something that we see in the Paleo community as being really strongly recommended, things like Bulletproof coffee or just like not worrying about fat at all and only thinking about your carb intake as being a problem. As you can tell, Kelsey and I don’t necessarily agree with that perspective. We don’t necessarily look at putting coconut oil in your coffee or dousing your vegetables in butter or even your starches and butter if you’re eating them. We’re not seeing that as the same thing as having like a fattier piece of beef or eating full fat yogurt at a meal.

Those isolated fats, they’re really not necessarily benefiting people if they’re just doing lots of them. We would rather see people eating foods that contain saturated fat like beef, and dairy, and pork, that kind of stuff rather than adding tons of extra fat to foods from these saturated sources.

If people want to hear a little bit more about some of the research behind that, we did just do an interview with Stephan Guyenet where we talked about the potential issues with adding excessive added fats to food. If you want a little bit more about that, just listen to that interview.

The main take home point from that conversation was that most of these added fats are not actually very nutrient dense when we consider the total calories that these fats provide and the amount of micronutrients they contain. They’re very high calorie products. A tablespoon of butter is about 120 calories and that’s what would be in like a whole banana, for example. There are some nutrients in some of these fats, but not as much as I think people tend to think.

And then things like coconut oil, is that’s actually a rather nutrient poor fat. There’s really not much micronutrients in coconut oil at all. If you’re having a large percentage of your calories come from coconut oil, I wouldn’t really say that’s a great move for optimizing your nutrient density in your diet. It’s not that we’re saying that coconut oil is bad for you. I think that whole cooking oil controversy that came out a couple of weeks ago made everyone think that coconut oil is bad. It’s not that using coconut oil as a fat to cook with is so awful, it’s just using it in just like indiscriminate amounts where you just think I can put as much of this into things as I want, or if I get hungry I’ll just eat coconut oil instead, that’s not really a great nutritional strategy to optimize the nutrient density of your diet.

I just think it’s interesting. I’ve seen on some of these food packages like coconut oil fried potato chips and stuff where they call coconut oil a nutrient dense oil. That’s not true at all. I actually am surprised that they’ll put that on products. So just people keep that in mind if you’re eating coconut oil. It’s not a big deal, it’s just one of those things that I don’t want people looking at coconut oil and even like lots of butter or ghee as being super nutrient dense because they’re really not. For a lot of people they’re just adding a lot of extra calories that maybe don’t contain the most nutrition.

If you’re super active and if you need a lot of calories, added fats can definitely come in handy for getting your calorie intake up. But for people that don’t need to be getting a lot of calories, or if they’re struggling with weight loss, or if they’re gaining weight on a Paleo diet, it’s going to be difficult to keep a healthy weight or to lose weight if you’re adding multiple tablespoons of added fat at each meal.

Because we have to remember that calories do matter and the belief in the Paleo community that fats are just healthy in unlimited quantities ends up leading to people overindulging especially in saturated fats like butter and coconut oil. It’s really easy to forget about the extra calories that come from these fats either if you’re cooking with it or adding it to vegetables if you’re not paying attention to the amount that you’re using or if you think like you can just use as much as you want with no problem.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: That’s a little bit of a tangent, but I just want people to keep in mind that if you’re struggling with weight loss and you’re thinking I should try going keto or cutting more carbs out, it might be that you’re just getting too much added fats in your meals that aren’t necessarily benefiting you and reducing those could actually be a better strategy than cutting out carbs.

I wanted to kind of remind people about that and just addressing that thought that saturated fats are just amazing and in any quantity, and it doesn’t matter how much we use, and they’re totally healthy, and all that nonsense about fat being bad for us just has no merit, which again, not necessarily true. That extreme of an opinion isn’t based in reality. And like usual, there is context that affects whether or not you can be liberal with saturated fat or if you need to be a little bit cautious with the amount you’re using.

Kelsey: Yeah. I would say granted I work with a lot of people with digestive issues so I think that colors the way that I think about sort of the optimal diet. But I think it really applies to general health as well and perhaps that’s because of the effect that gut bacteria has on all other aspects of our health as well.

But, Laura, you can tell me if you feel the same way about sort of a balanced diet. The way that I think about it is you know that people should be eating lots of plant matter, different types different colors, like as much variety as you can put in there and just eating a lot of plants, and then high quality proteins, and then fats coming from your proteins as the majority of your fat. So small amounts of add added extra fats of any type basically other than vegetable oils are perfectly acceptable, but the majority of your fat coming from the proteins that you’re eating or like Laura was mentioning before, full fat yogurt, things like that.

We’re not saying that you need to now go on like a “low fat” diet where you’re relying on these low fat products like low fat milk, low fat yogurt, fake butter, and all that sort of stuff. You can certainly use full fat products and I think that’s still the way to go. And small amounts of extra added fats if you need the extra calories or if you’re enjoying them and they fit within your overall caloric needs, then I think that makes sense, so coming from things like butter, olive oil, avocado oil, and even coconut oil. Even though it doesn’t have a whole lot of nutrients, as long as it fits within your overall plan for calories, I think that makes sense.

That is the kind of diet that’s really going to benefit your microbiome. It’s going to make sure that you have a healthy, diverse, and balanced microbiome which is going to help a lot of other health conditions as well. That’s why, at least for me, that’s sort of what I feel like is the optimal diet. And of course there’s nuance within that, like some people are going to be more on the higher carbohydrate side, some people are going to be more on the higher fat side. There’s certainly variability that can come in within that. But as a general overview of like my basic diet philosophy, that’s sort of where I stand. I’m curious to hear what you think about that too, Laura.

Laura: Yeah. I definitely feel like I’m on the same page. We’re not saying that you should never have any added fats. I feel like I look at added fats a lot of times as more of an enjoyment food than something I think is like crazy healthy for me or anything like that. So it’s not that you and I totally avoid butter and never use coconut oil or anything like that.

If I’m going to use butter, it’s because I want to make something taste a little bit better and I understand that I probably should be moderate with it and I don’t need to use a ton of it. Sometimes there’s days where I don’t use it because I don’t think I need to be enjoying every single thing that I eat.

It’s very difficult to make any sort of generalization for any particular person especially because like I said, for people who need a lot of calories, added fats can really come in handy. But like you said, for the average person, eating a lot of plants, eating carbs from plants, eating high quality proteins and having some fat from whole food sources is generally what’s supported by the research as far as the optimal diet. Which again, it’s not rocket science. It’s just you have to kind of be willing to ignore some of the trendy fads that come into the nutrition world. Because again, it’s like there’s just this belief that you can just put as much fat on things as you want.

I’m saying that in the context that I used to do that when I was in college and right in the beginning of grad school when I was like full gung-ho Paleo. I was like I’m just going to have coconut oil instead of a meal or something. It’s not necessarily the best way to live.

But like I said, I think there’s a lot of stuff we could talk about with this question and we weren’t able to get to everything. If people want any sort of follow up information about this topic, please go to TheAncestralRDs.com. There’s a contact tab that you can click to submit a question or if you want some extra discussion on saturated fat because there’s lots of things we could talk about. But hopefully this is a good overview for people and we hope that the information we provided is helpful for making positive decisions with what you’re eating.

Thanks for joining us, everyone. We will see you around next week.

Kelsey. Alright. Take care, Laura.

Laura: You to, Kelsey.

PODCAST: The Relationship Between Food And Sleep With Dan Pardi

Thanks for joining us for episode 121 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are thrilled to be interviewing  Dan Pardi!  

Dan Pardi’s life’s work centers on how to help people live healthfully. He is the CEO of humanOS.me which leverages a novel behavior model to promote health fluency, skill development, and lifestyle insights to help people master their health practice.

He does research with Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Department at Stanford and the Departments of Neurology and Endocrinology at Leiden University in the Netherlands where he investigates how lifestyle factors, like sleep, influence decision making, cognitive performance, and metabolism. Dan also works with Naval Special Warfare to help the most elite fighters in the world maintain alertness and capable mental performance under challenging circumstances.

He currently serves as Board Member for StandUpKids.org, as a Council Director for the True Health Initiative, and Advisor to several health oriented companies, an editor for The Journal of Evolution and Health, and formerly as Board Chairman for the Investigator Initiated Sponsored Research Association.

We know that what we eat and how much sleep we get are major factors in health. But did you know that food and sleep are intricately connected so that the quality of one has a direct effect on the other?

Dan Pardi is here for a conversation packed with information about the emerging science of chrononutrition. Just some of what discuss is how what we eat is just as important as when we eat, food components that affect circadian rhythms, and guidelines for food timing. You’ll also come away with insight into how much sleep you should really be getting and how factors involved in sleep affect your daily performance.

You won’t want to miss this episode as Dan shares insight into the science and translates it into practical tips you can implement to optimize your health.

Here is some of what we discussed with Dan:

  • [00:04:56] The concept of chrononutrition and how this influences what and when we eat
  • [00:13:48] The value of animal and epidemiological research
  • [00:15:51] Guidelines for food timing
  • [00:25:16] The importance of understand your eating behavior when adjusting meal timing
  • [00:28:51] The effect of light exposure on the master clock, and the importance of finding consistency when experimenting with fasting cycles
  • [00:36:07] Food components that affect circadian rhythms
  • [00:44:27] Addressing the myth that you are more insulin sensitive later in the day
  • [00:49:15] Research that suggests eating protein and fat in the morning and carbs later in the day is a good meal timing strategy
  • [00:52:42] The recommended amount of sleep you should be getting and how factors involved in circadian rhythm and sleep processes affect your daily performance

Links Discussed:


Laura: Hi everyone! Welcome to Episode 121 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Laura Schoenfeld and with me as always is my co-host Kelsey Kinney.

Kelsey: Hey everyone!

Laura: We’re Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real nutrition, and sharing evidence based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com, and Kelsey over at KelseyKinney.com.

We have a great guest on our show today who’s going to chat with us about the influence of food on sleep quality, and sleep on food quality. It’s a great interview and we know you’ll enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed recording it.

Kelsey: If you’re enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that you never miss an episode. And while you’re there, leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well!

And remember, we want to answer your question, so head over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a health related question that we can answer or suggest a guest you’d love for us to interview on an upcoming show.

Laura: Before we get into our interview though, here is a quick word from our sponsor.

“This episode is brought to you by Paleo Rehab, a five week online program designed to help you recover from HPA axis dysfunction, also known as adrenal fatigue. Is your perfect Paleo diet and lifestyle leaving you exhausted? Now is the time to start feeling the health and wellness you know you deserve. If you’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, and are ready to take back your health, then head over to MyPaleoRehab.com to get your free 28 page e-book on the 3 step plan for healing from adrenal fatigue. That’s www.MyPaleoRehab.com.”

Laura: Welcome back, everyone. I’m really excited to introduce our guest for today, Dan Pardi, whose life’s work centers on how to help people live healthfully. He is the CEO of humanOS.me which leverages a novel behavior model to promote health fluency, skill development, and lifestyle insights to help people master their health practice.

He does research with Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Department at Stanford and the Departments of Neurology and Endocrinology at Leiden University in the Netherlands where he investigates how lifestyle factors, like sleep, influence decision making, cognitive performance, and metabolism. Dan also works with Naval Special Warfare to help the most elite fighters in the world maintain alertness and capable mental performance under challenging circumstances.

He currently serves as Board Member for StandUpKids.org, as a Council Director for the True Health Initiative, and Advisor to several health oriented companies, an editor for The Journal of Evolution and Health, and formerly as Board Chairman for the Investigator Initiated Sponsored Research Association.

That was a mouthful! Dan, you’re busy!

Dan: I am. I do too much.

Laura: And you’re a dad, so you do it all!

Dan: Yeah, exactly. Those are my priorities: work and be a good dad.

Laura: Awesome! I was stumbling a little on some of that stuff, but hopefully I pronounced everything. Is it Leiden University in the Netherlands?

Dan: It’s pronounced Leiden.

Laura: Darn, I thought I got it. Oh well. Well anyway, you’re very busy. You have a lot of lot of different pots in the fire and a lot of different interests. I know for us, we were going to talk about sleep primarily today, but you have lots of great information on your website about not only sleep, but things like nutrition, just general tips for improving health, exercise, that kind of thing. We just love the work that you do, so that’s why we’re really happy to have you on the show!

Dan: Thank you.

Laura: Like I said, today we’re going to really focus on the nutrition and sleep connection. The connection is interesting because it definitely goes both ways and we’ll talk about kind of a bi-directional relationship there.

When we were looking over your blog before preparing for this interview, we saw you had this really interesting concept that you had talked about recently called chrononutrition. Can you explain to us this concept and how this influences what and when we eat?

Dan: Absolutely. This is one of those subjects in health, I almost think of it like the microbiota, so these are all the gut bugs that we have that we are now beginning to appreciate the importance of this relationship between the bugs in our gut and how our systems function in our body.

Similarly, circadian rhythms is now one of these bigger fields that we’re appreciating its value to our health. Ten to fifteen years ago neither of these two components that are getting so much attention in press were a part of any health model that was prescribed or just describing why health happens and when it doesn’t. It’s pretty cool to now see how our scientific advances are leading to new areas of opportunity and deeper understanding into how the body works.

So what is chrononutrition? Well, the bigger field is circadian rhythms. A circadian rhythm is a repeatable 24 hour process that is mostly orchestrated by light coming into the human eye. We have a master clock in our brain and that master clock is synchronizing with a light/dark cycle of the environment. When we don’t get adequate light, adequate being according to what our ancestors had perceived over the millennia…so light dark cycles depending on what season it is, bright sun during the day, dim in the evening, dark but with some moon light at night. Anyhow, that has a very powerful effect on the timing of our body rhythms.

We have this master clock in the brain and there are then clocks, they’re called clock cells that are in every tissue, every cell of our body, and that master clock will help to synchronize those peripheral clocks and that will let the body know what time to do what function. These are things like cell cycle repair and growth processes, when you feel like eating or going to the bathroom, sleep itself is actually a circadian rhythm. The reason why we tend to sleep more at night and be up during the day is because that pattern is trained by this master clock system that we have.

We’re now appreciating something called chrononutrition, which is the influence of food on these different peripheral clock tissue cells and how that will then determine or influence how well we process them and overall the state of health. It’s another important contributor to the state of health.

To give you a little more sort of specificity, the body tends to want to be able to not do competitive processes at the same time. There’s the terms anabolism and catabolism. Anabolism is the building up of tissue and catabolism is the breaking down of tissue. The body wants to separate those so it’s not doing both simultaneously, it’s doing one during one period, and then another during another process.

All of this is meant to sort of orchestrate energy production to meet energy needs. When we’re up and physically active, our body has a way of creating energy that is then helping us go about our daily activities. And at night, t’s sort of the opposite. There’s different energy that is being used and in different quantities, and it’s also expecting a long fast because we don’t eat while we’re sleeping.

That’s generally the concept. Why this has sort of become more interesting aside from just the scientifically understanding how the body works is because we also know there’s two very big topics right now that are also emerging into our understanding of health and how to promote it which is fasting and time restricted feeding.

Fasting can be a lot of different things, but it’s basically the period of time when you’re not taking in calories. Everybody endures an overnight fast. It’s the time between your last meal of last night and your first meal the next day.

There’s some evidence now that extending that window is good for things like cancer. Depending on the length of that fast, it might trigger a process called autophagy which is an intercellular process that will break down broken down proteins, and protein aggregates, and viruses, bacteria. It’s generally a housekeeping process. In fact, I believe the 2016 Nobel Prize went to a man whose life’s work was on understanding the subject better. Really, really important to human health. That’s a pretty hot topic right now.

But then there’s also the timing of your food. I’ll mention one other thing. So then there’s a shortened eating window or time restricted feeding, and that means that you eat all of your meals between a certain window every day. So just for simplicity sake, let’s say that window is between 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. There’s some thinking that well, what happens if you actually narrow that window and let’s say ate between only 11 and 6, or noon and 5? That’s one question is how narrow can that window be? Can you actually get some health benefits from that?

And then what is the timing of that window? So is it if you only ate between let’s say 1 and 7, would that be the same as even if the window was the same length, but it was shifted from between let’s say 8 and 1 in the afternoon and you didn’t eat otherwise until the next morning?

There’s a lot of research that’s going into that right now and we’ve been exploring that. Greg Potter, who is somebody who does some writing on my team, and he has a Master’s in Exercise Physiology, and he is doing a Ph.D. in chrononutrition which is the feature of this several part series. And we also have recently done a podcast together, which is not published, with Jeff Rothschild who is an RD. We talk about this, so fasting, and when should that period of time where we’re eating happen, and all that.

But it’s really, really interesting and it all kind of came back to some earlier research that noticed when mice eat at a time when they’re typically sleeping, even if they’re eating the same amount of calories over a 24 hour period, they’re expending the same amount of calories, or at least in terms of having the same amount of physical activity as a control group. That is essentially doing the exact same things, but eating at a time when they usually eat. Well that group that is eating when they usually sleep, they will become obese in the course of six weeks and have a significant weight change relative to the group that that was just eating during the regular time.

That had then been repeated and explored in a lot of different ways. Even just having bright light on or some light on at night was…this was some work by Laura Fonken…that caused the mice to become obese as well because it shifted the timing of their food intake to later in the day.

And so, yeah, this is a really promising area to both explore further in science and then to turn into health interventions that can help us better control over metabolism and weight.

Laura: I think that’s a great segue to the next question since like you said, this topic is really hot in the research field. Anytime there’s a topic that is getting a ton of research as a timely way, like the microbiome, chrononutrition, that kind of thing, there’s going to be a lot of data that comes that isn’t necessarily translatable into real life.

So we always like to take these kind of bigger research topics and say, okay, what can you actually learn from this that affects the behavior or the choices that you make during the day? Because at the end of the day, we don’t want to say this is the perfect thing to do and this is what the research says if it’s not a fully supported theory. But there are probably a lot of things that come from that research that are just generally good practices.

On that note, are there some general rules of thumb for food timing that you feel are pretty well supported by the research at this point? Or do you think that this question needs to be individualized to the person that is making this decision?

Dan: It’s a really good point about research. It sort of makes me frustrated sometimes when I hear on the interwebs people talking about this is terrible research if it’s epidemiological or animal. All research has its place and it enables us to answer or ask and address certain types of questions. When some people will sort of over impute value to just one animal study or the epidemiological work, that can be problems.

But the way that we do science is we ask these questions in different manners and then you look at the totality of the evidence to try to piece those tea leaves together to say, okay, what does this body of work tell us? And you usually have hopefully a clear, but imperfect direction about what you can do to intervene.

That’s pretty much how science typically works, but it’s cool because a lot of the animal work can unveil mechanisms that help us understand what’s sort of happening in the background and that might enable us to engineer lifestyle interventions and/or drugs that could sort of help people do better. That’s how I sort of see that. I just wanted to address that real quick.

But what was the question again? I forget. Sorry.

Laura: No, that’s alright, I get it. I think the science piece, like you said, it’s not the scientists that are doing bad studies or saying that this one mice study should then inform an entire population’s decision about food. I think that’s just the typical, almost like the pop culture end of the science where any time a study comes out, they want to kind of blow it up into this like, what should we do about it?

The way that science works is definitely a positive force for learning. It’s just I think in the age of Google, it just tends to be something that gets too quickly translated into prescriptions for people that might not be totally accurate or fully understood.

So for you, knowing what you know about the research, and knowing about like how much of this research has been replicated and applied to humans, that kind of thing, are there general rules of thumb for food timing that you think apply to just the general population? Maybe not everyone, but most people. Or do you think that this timing question is really dependent on the individual?

Dan: When talk about food timing, it has a lot to do with your biological time which it’s a difference between the actual time of the day.  Some people might just wake up later and go to bed later, so their biological timing is different than perhaps yours and mine.

There actually are some dependencies. So if for example, you go to bed really late and you eat really late, and obviously if that’s the pattern that you maintain, you’re getting artificial light. If you were sitting in darkness, well darkness will trigger a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin will suppress pancreatic beta cells from releasing insulin.

And what does that do? If you have any carbohydrates in your meal, it allows them to circulate for longer without being stored in various tissues throughout the body. That’s a great mechanism for the body to be able to keep blood glucose levels higher across the night when you’re fasting. It is all very much orchestrated, and so there is this important relationship between our natural environment and then the behaviors that we’re engaging in. I just wanted to mention that.

But what I would say are some signs that we have right now of ways to sort of intervene is it appears that eating your calories earlier in the day is favorable over eating them later in the day. That’s one indication. So whether it’s animal studies or moving into human work, then we see when this is sort of probed in various ways, that that seems to be pretty consistent when you have a shifting of the total amount of calories that you are eating to later in your day, that can be problematic.

There’s two questions there. Is it that you eat more calories later in the day because you’re sort of tired and you’re more likely to make poor food choices? Possibly. Are you also more likely to then disturb your sleep with a big meal late at night? Possibly. And then is your body just simply handling those calories less effectively? Are you inducing less metabolic thermogenesis or body heat in response to food and then therefore storing more? That’s also a possibility, too. You’ve got multiple different factors that are at play.

So if you eat the same amount of calories earlier in the morning, you tend to both have more physical activity throughout the day…and a lot of this stuff may or may not be perceptible to you. It might just be things like fidgeting or non-exercise thermogenesis, so you’re expending more calories in a subconscious manner. You also might recognize that you might be more physically active as well. You sort of get fewer calories from what you eat by eating them earlier in the day.

It also depends on like what you eat as well. The research indicates that high fiber, high protein has a satiating effect so that you take in less calories over the course of the day by not only eating earlier but having those having a higher protein, high fiber for breakfast.

So that’s one. That is your, I would say like the when do you want to eat. So that’s earlier. Now does that mean as soon as you wake up? I don’t think that it has to be like that. In fact, I usually wait several hours before I eat. I’m not really hungry right away. I did experience or explore just not eating. For a lot of people it’s natural to just not have breakfast because you’re not that hungry in the morning. So if you have a cup of coffee, you can get on with your day.

Unfortunately, because that is an easy way for people to do it, there are some signs that it’s not that healthy for you. It’s disappointing to see that. Again, because the way that the research looked at it, if you maintained that pattern all the time, so you just didn’t eat till noon and your body was used to that pattern, then some of those acute effects negative effects that you see from skipping breakfast might actually disappear at once your body acclimates to that regular eating behavior. That’s one possibility.

The other possibility is, or the other opportunity is to try to eat at the same time pretty much every day. So instead of having lunch some days at noon and some days at 3:00, that’s kind of a broad window there, but you actually are eating like pretty regularly.

In response to one of the articles that was published, a person who I know wrote in who was a track coach and she said that’s so interesting. She was a coach at Rutgers for over 30 years and she said one of the big coaches at the school who was pretty famous, he said just good athletes are like clocks; they eat the exact same time every day. She was sort of reflecting on her own experience coaching people with this new science. I thought that was pretty interesting.

So yeah, that’s one thing. Part of what the circadian rhythm is trying to do is prepare the body for activities, behaviors based off of previous experience. So if you’re eating lunch at noon every day, then your body is going to generate enzymes that prepare for food intake and nutrient breakdown. And when you eat out-of-phase, then the body doesn’t handle that as well. Very erratic eating behavior can then lead to probably less efficient metabolism. So that’s another idea.

We talked about eating calories earlier in the day versus eating calories later in the day. We talked about eating sort of at the same time, trying to eat around the same time that you did the day before, and the day before that, that you might handle calories better. And then the last is then what about that eating window? How long should you allow for that period, that off period if you will, of no calories at all?

This is an area where it’s still being explored. But some good work that took place out of Boston in breast cancer showed that women that had a 13 hour overnight fast had less cancer incidence, had better cancer outcomes if they were diagnosed with breast cancer, and less remission. That is pretty exciting because 13 hours is not hard.

Laura: Right.

Dan: I mean if you eat at 7, that means you’re not eating again until 8 the next morning. People can do that. I try to eat as early as I can every night. I tend to make, I have a very high fiber, big salad and then usually some fish and a little bit of starch, and then I try to eat early. And I drink a small glass, I would say two to three ounces of red wine every night. I like Dry Farm Wines. I just did a podcast with those guys. They’re doing pretty interesting stuff. I have no relationship with them, but I do like their product. I try to eat early and give my body some time to digest. Then I’ve been monitoring my sleep. And then what I also do is I’ll have some tart cherry juice sort of after my meals as dessert and then some chamomile tea maybe a little bit later.

That’s been my pattern for a while. I really do notice a difference between if I eat, for me I’m very sensitive to alcohol. If I drink too much or too close to bed, not good. And if I eat a big meal closer to bed, then the likelihood of having worse sleep is higher.

Laura: Cool. It sounds like the general consensus would be consistency is really important for people, which I would say depending on the person’s schedule, maybe it’s not so much about a certain perfect time of the day to start and stop eating, but get it consistent.

Dan: Yeah.

Laura: So don’t like eat breakfast half the week and then don’t eat breakfast the other half, or something like that. And then also just generally, now when you say calories at each meal, would you suggest having breakfasts that are larger than dinner? Or is it just more about not going the other direction?

I know for a lot of people they don’t have as much hunger in the morning so maybe they’re not going to eat of huge breakfast, but at least balancing their calorie intake across all three meals is better for them than hardly eating anything at breakfast and then eating a massive dinner.

Do you have any thoughts about is it that the breakfast actually has to be larger, or it’s just more balanced?

Dan: This is where human behavior comes into play. You’re right, it depends on people’s schedules. You can try to understand the physiology and you can adjust your behavior. If you tend to be somebody who just has one big late dinner and you’ve done “fine” with that, or let’s say that that’s how you typically eat but you’re actually looking for some opportunities too lose some weight or improve your health in various ways. Then yeah, you can adjust over time.

I also know that there are plate cleaners. If you skip breakfast, then that’s one opportunity to not take in more calories because you’re not that hungry, but then you eat lunch and you eat dinner. And if that person were to eat breakfast, maybe they’re not as hungry at dinner, but because the food was served to them they’re going to finish it because that’s their behavior around food.

Laura: Right.

Dan: That’s part of the problem with humans right that we could absolutely eat even in the absence of hunger, we can eat beyond fullness. Many of us do. I grew up in a generation where my parents were plate cleaners. There are starving kids around the world, finish this and my plate too. That really set a behavior for me. So I have to be mindful of that, but I also have to sort of work around my own tendencies.

So yes, I think it’s an important point where you can understand the science, but then you have to understand yourself, too, and then try to figure out what works. If you’ve always done something one way, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it another way. It might just mean you need a period of time to entrain to a new pattern. And once you’ve acclimated to that new pattern, it can be as natural as your former one. Having little patience with it too is good idea.

Laura: Right. It’s funny because I think with the concept of fasting as being good for circadian rhythms, a lot of times when people think about fasting, they’re imagining skipping breakfast and like you said having their first meal at noon. But from what you said, you might consider a fast just 13 hours and that really doesn’t make a huge impact on having breakfast or not. You can still have breakfast. Maybe it’s just a little later or maybe if you eat dinner a little bit earlier.

But I think there tends to be this belief in the Paleo community that to do fasting, that it has to be that like 16:8 style. Which for people that I work with, ones that are a lot of times struggling with eating enough or dealing with health conditions that can benefit from a higher calorie intake, a lot of times skipping breakfast actually impairs their ability to meet their goals.

There’s this belief that fasting is good for you, but then again it gets kind of narrowed down to this one particular style of fasting when the research doesn’t necessarily say that that’s the only way to do it. It’s cool to know that there are some different options for fasting that don’t require skipping breakfast or maybe just affect the way that you’re timing your meals.

We were mentioning that food can affect our circadian rhythms. It sounds like maybe both the central clock and the peripheral clock are impacted by food. Or is it just the peripheral clocks that get impacted?

Dan: It’s just the peripheral clock, yeah, the peripheral clocks.

Laura: So the central clock, is that 100 percent dictated by light exposure?

Dan: The numbers that I’ve heard is it’s above 98 percent entrained by light exposure coming into the eye.

Laura: Okay.

Dan: We have about one to two percent of the cells in the retina are non-visual photosensitive cells.  Visual photosensitive cells are like rods and cones that see light and transmit that information to the visual cortex.

They are cells that basically do the same sort of thing in terms of turning light into a nerve signal, but they go to the master clock instead. That’s their destination. And that will then affect the translation and transcription cycles of the genes that are located there, which then will have an effect on behavior, or hormones, or humoral factors, so things that are released into the blood, and also your autonomic nervous system. In those various ways, it can have an influence on the different clock proteins.

But one thing that happens sort of during these fasting and feeding cycles is we do have these fluctuations in humoral factors, or factors that are in our blood and like what sort of nutrients are circulating. These nutrients can be sensed by an enzyme called AMPK. This is an enzyme that’s actually, you want to induce it. A lot of the benefits of fasting come through the induction of AMPK. What this does is it will help to stimulate cellular energy production when energy availability is low. This is an energy sensor that is detecting when energy is low.

What AMPK does is it will tag these molecular clock proteins with phosphate groups. And when that happens, those phosphate, those now tagged substances are broken down more quickly. What that does is it sort of kind of enhances the oscillations of the circadian element of nutrient breakdown.

When your body is used to doing a behavior every single day, it does it better, it’s usually at the same time. A good example actually is alertness and awakeness. If you are if you are used to being up between let’s say 7 and 11, then you can do that well. When you then are trying to be up hours later than you used to, you can feel your body struggling to do it well. Similarly, then if you’re trying to eat nutrients at a time that your body is not used to it, then your body is not going to do that as well either. But that’s how this interaction takes place between the nutrients that are coming into the body and the clock proteins that are available.

Kind of going back to that main point, eating out of phase is tough. You could really see how people exploring with fasting could sort of mess themselves up if they’re having very erratic patterns. I think probably a better way to do it is to find a narrow eating window, a more narrow eating window. Perhaps instead of eating at 7:00 a.m., you wait until like 9 or 10 and then try to eat dinner early and just keep it there. You do not eat before 9 or 10 and you do not eat after 7 or 8, or whatever that might be. That is something that’s consistent.

Occasionally you might want to do longer fasts because other benefits can come from that. And again, the protocols for that are not perfectly detailed. But Jeff Rothschild, who I mentioned previously who was on the podcast that I did with Greg Potter, he is the lead developer of our fasting course, which humanOS is not launched yet, but we spent months working on that. We talk about what are the different benefits you get from different fasting cycles, the 5:2, every other day fasting, shortened eating windows, periodic longer fasts.

It’s a really exciting area. There’s more coming out on a daily. And yet like so many things, there’s more to learn. But I’ve come to think that fasting is a missing component to our health practice.

Laura: Interesting. I’ll have to check that out when it’s available. We have a podcast that we talked about the different types of fasting. I’m sure we don’t go into the detail that you guys are going to go into in that program, but it’s just really crazy when you actually start digging into the different perspectives on fasting, how many different ways of fasting that can be done.

It sounds like generally what you’re saying the research suggests is that just routine is ideal and that’s going to help our bodies function better if we’re doing something consistently than if we’re playing around with all these different one day doing a fast and the next day eating breakfast super early and kind of bouncing all over the place is not going to work as well for a lot of people.

And that actually may also describe or explain why a lot of times when you make a big shift in your diet, like if you suddenly change some significant factors like your macronutrient ratio, or your meal timing, anything like that you may not do as well in the beginning because of these circadian things that need to get kind of shifted to your new routine. But once you’re in a routine, it’ll start to work better.

Dan: Yeah.

Laura: It’s interesting what you said about the AMPK. Is it an enzyme? I’m trying remember exactly. AMP Kinase, so it’s an enzyme.

Dan: It is, yeah.

Laura: That that topic is something that I know Chris Masterjohn has been doing a lot of podcasts and little videos about energy status in the cell as being an indicator of whether or not we use insulin and glucose utilization, that kind of thing. Adding that extra complexity of the circadian rhythm on top of that, I know it makes it sound more complicated, but it kind of it’s cool to just hear how that can affect basically the cell’s utilization of energy. And maybe that translates to that obesity issue that happens when animals are eating outside of their normal day and night cycles.

Just kind of thinking about all the different ways these things can connect, but it’s just interesting because I feel like people tend to oversimplify the concept of calories in/calories out or insulin versus non-insulin promoting foods and how that affects obesity. It sounds like there’s so much complexity that also is driven by circadian rhythms that if you just ignore that, you’re not going to get the best results. It’s just cool to see how these different topics can all kind of interplay.

Now actually, I wanted to ask you if you know are there certain food components beyond just calorie intake that actually affect our circadian rhythms more than others, like certain macronutrients or micronutrients, anything like that that will impact our body’s clock system?

Dan: Yeah, there’s been some work that’s been done. It’s definitely basic science, so it’s early, but showing that saturated fat can actually have a deleterious effect on circadian functioning. Whether or not that actually has a real effect in the human body, is yet to be told.

But I found that pretty interesting in that work when they then applied a polyunsaturated fat in addition with the saturated fat, it actually had a mitigating effect so that the polyunsaturated fat actually prevented the negative impact of saturated fat on your circadian timing. That was one element, some research that is early, but interesting.

For example, so what do I do then for now, because sometimes the science….The way that I think about it is even if it’s just one animal study or basic science, I always try to translate it. Okay, if you were to actually make this actionable, what would that look like? Because that actually helps to stimulate hypotheses.

Laura: Right.

Dan:  If the risks are low to just trying it, if it’s not like hey, we’ll take this one animal study, they took this drug and then there was positive effects. Ehh, I’ll wait until the human trials.

But it’s a matter of having some DHEA and EPA with my burger at night if I have some meat and that might actually have a sort of positive impact on the negative effects the saturated fat could be having on my circadian timing, why not? Easy.

Laura: Right.

Dan: Unless it’s causing a problem, which it doesn’t, there’s no evidence that it would appear to, then it seems like the worst thing that can happen is I’m out a couple of bucks. So that’s one element.

There’s some other evidence that saturated fat however is not great for sleep. I know we’re talking more about the circadian rhythms, but there’s been a lot of research looking at how inadequate sleep, so whether that is truncated sleep time, or disturb sleep, so whether you’re having a lot of arousals or you’re not getting depth of certain stages, lots of ways that sleep can be disrupted. But anyway, inadequate sleep can have a negative impact on both metabolism and then eating behavior. My research looks specifically at that.

There’s less work looking at the impact of food on sleep. But some has been done. Marie-Pierre St-Onge is a researcher who’s done a lot of great work. She published in The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine a study where she had people in an inpatient unit and for four days…inpatient meaning they were able to monitor their sleep closely, monitor everything that they were eating…and they gave them a controlled diet for four days. On the fifth day the patients were able to choose their own food and eat whatever they wanted. Like most people, when you’re given access to cafeteria food, you might not make the best choices.

What they did is they looked at, they measured everything that they ate that day and then they looked at their sleep that night. They had that four day control period and then they said, okay, does sleep change the night where they were able to eat whatever they wanted? 1 -What did they eat and how did that differ from the control diet? And then 2 – How did sleep change?

What she found is sort of the three most notable factors were things that have an influence on sleep are dietary carbs, fiber, and saturated fat. The more fiber that you have, you had increased deep sleep and less shallow sleep. And we want that. I could go on for a long time about the importance of deep sleep, but this is essentially where the body is in a high state of repair, you are removing components that make you sleepy. When you don’t get a lot of deep sleep you might wake up the next morning with some of yesterday’s sleep burden, so you still feel sleepy. It also is really important for purging potentially neurotoxic substances out of the brain like protein aggregates like beta amyloid which accumulate with Alzheimer’s disease.

As we age there’s a natural declination of slow wave sleep the to the point where we’re getting maybe 15 percent of what the highest amount that we were getting earlier in our life when we’re around 60. And so there’s a lot of interesting science now that’s going into science and technology that’s looking at how can we amplify slow wave sleep because that actually might really resolve the burden that our society now faces with increased Alzheimer’s disease. Great podcast that I just did with Bryce Mander at UC Berkeley, in detail conversation about that.

But point being here is that more fiber across the day, didn’t have to be just your dinner meal…they looked at total amount of food that was eaten across the day. Higher fiber intake led to more slow wave sleep and less shallow sleep. That’s good.

More saturated fat was had the opposite effect. It decreased the amount of slow wave sleep, or I should say this, it associated with decreased slow wave sleep. None of this study was able to determine causation, but just looking at associations. If you ate more saturated fat, you saw that there was less slow sleep.

Laura: Quick question.

Dan: Go ahead.

Laura:  I was going to say what these changes, is this from baseline per subject, or is it just generally these people were getting less sleep? I guess my question is did they test them before the diet change to see what their baseline was, and then when they just ate whatever they wanted, then they saw a change for the negative there? Or was it comparing this subject to that subject?

Dan: It wasn’t with a subject design.  But other research has done just that where they did it with subject design. In this case they were looking at the group and they were looking at it to see, okay, this is what they ate and this is generally what the sleep was like. And then what happens to this group when they make these dietary changes? And yes, for those who ate more saturated fat, you did see these kind of changes in slow sleep and more fiber, etc.

One study, again, does not…this could be wrong. But it’s an indication that we have now. And we also saw that more sugar and non-fiber carbs across the day led to more arousals at night. Now these tend to be bad, so having less slow sleep or more arousals across the night, that is an indication of sleep fragmentation. Problematic? Hard to tell. I wish there was more research on this.

And then there’s always the longer term impact of good nutrition on the brain. While it’s very difficult to just look at how one day of food intake…it’s interesting to look at how one day of food intake will impact sleep tonight, but it’s very difficult to then look at four years of dietary, like sticking with a Mediterranean diet for example associating with let’s say better quality sleep. You could do that, but it’s harder to do it in a controlled fashion is my point.

Laura: Now I’m curious with these different macronutrient impacts on circadian rhythms and sleep quality, that kind of thing, there is the concept of carb backloading, which for those listening that are familiar with that, it’s the technique of eating very low carb throughout most of the day and then eating the bulk of carbs at night. There’s lots of people that believe that that’s a better way to take carbs in, and that you’re more insulin sensitive later in the day, and all these like circadian rhythm impacts.

What does the research say about timing of carbs? Do you find that later carbs do actually benefit the circadian rhythms? Or is there a negative impact? If there is any science on that, what do you see in the research?

Dan: Well you’re not more insulin sensitive across the day. One thing I would first say is that again remember that timing matters. But now let’s just say your last meal, you’re now observing consistent timing and it’s not too close to sleep, again, I try to eat dinner close to five as I can. It’s not always possible, but I try.

I’ll get back to this question, but my pattern my whole life is that I’m hungry at 5:00, and then I’ll snack, and then I’ll wait till dinner and then I’ll eat again.

Laura: Right, because you’re like I need to wait until dinner. I can’t wait until dinner, so instead of just eating dinner earlier, it’s like let me snack until dinner time.

Dan: Yes. I mean growing up I was basically stuffed by the time dinner happened and then I would eat two dinners. It’s definitely why I’m interested in the subject because I was overweight as a kid and so it simulated the desire for me to understand what was going on.

But yeah, so then to go back to the carbs. We also know that with dim light and melatonin production you’re going to have less insulin sensitivity, or you are going to be producing less insulin for clearing. The carbohydrates that are available in your circulatory system are going to stay a bit more available than they were if you were in bright light setting. So that’s one factor that matters.

Now if people are sort of having experience with it, a positive experience with it, I would want to look at it directly, but those are two things that I would say. So maintain watching timing. I wouldn’t have the idea of I’m going to have a huge bowl of carbohydrates right before bed because some people have felt like well that’s going to then cause me to get sleepy. I’d be a little cautious about that.

But the cool thing is that there’s a lot of cool technology that’s coming onboard where we are going to be able to look at our blood markers with much greater fidelity and frequency. We’re going to understand things like heart rate variability, and heart rate and readiness. There’s a lot of cool stuff that’s coming that’s going to help us be able to figure out what’s working for us well and what’s not.

Actually one friend of mine, Tim, wrote to me. Because after this series that we’re doing on fasting, he wrote back and he said this is so interesting because I’ve been experimenting with fasting so I don’t eat breakfast. He’s tracks like crazy. He’s like my blood markers have been really out of whack and I’ve been wondering what’s going on. He’s like so I’m going to make some changes and actually sort of try again. That I think is going to really enable us to sort of back up our theory about what is going to be good for us with some hard data that can help course correct.

Laura: Cool. There’s going to be more information that will help individuals make decisions that are best for them rather than just assuming it’s best because what tends to work on average.

Just to back up for a second with the carb backloading, are you saying that you don’t think that that’s accurate as far as the circadian rhythm perspective is concerned? Or you’re just not agreeing that you’d be more insulin sensitive?

I definitely understand with the circadian rhythm that the insulin sensitivity is the highest during midday I’m sure just kind of when we would naturally be eating during the day and not at night. I’m wondering if there is any sort of role of the cortisol awakening response that can affect insulin sensitivity at least early in the morning? Is there any thought there as to carb timing? Or maybe it’s just meal timing in general that’s affected and not necessarily worrying about carbs.

Dan: The dance of processes and hormones that takes place across the night in order to maintain blood glucose levels, which is a priority for the body because the brain wants steady supply of blood glucose and is very hungry, 25 percent of our calories that we take in go towards the brain. So it’s a very small part in terms of weight and it has a disproportionate share of energy usage mostly in the form of carbs to supply and support brain processing activities.

If you have disrupted blood glucose regulation, that can actually lead to problems of sleep because your body’s not getting the energy it needs over the course of the night in order to be able to maintain the active process which is sleep. The brain doesn’t just sort of go into this quiescent period where it’s not really doing much. It’s actually doing very active stuff. Part of that is it takes energy to rebuild, repair, to go through the different sleep cycle stages that we do.

And then there is some evidence that the timing of food or what sort of nutrient that you’re taking in actually does matter. I think that carbs at night totally make sense. There is some work that was done by Adi Neufeld-Cohen and what she looked at is the enzyme carnitine palmitoyltransferase. It’s an enzyme that shuttles fatty acids into the mitochondria. What she found is that this protein is produced at the highest rate when mice are awake and physically active. And again, this indicates that the mitochondria are best able to use sort of lipids during the wake period.

That is indicating that a high fat breakfast might actually be good for us because our mitochondria are then sort of getting the nutrient that they want at the time of day that they’re going to be using it. Now sort of conversely, so that’s carnitine palmitoyltransferase. But if you look at pyruvate dehydrogenase, which is an enzyme that turns the rate of glucose utilization, similarly mice produce the highest amount of this enzyme during sleep. That means that if you were to translate this to humans from mice, then you would say, yeah, a higher amount of carbs at night might actually make sense.

In fact, her team tested this hypothesis. By supplying the mitochondria with glucose, the metabolism of sugar was at its highest level as well. Eating fat and protein in the morning and in carbs later in the day might be a great strategy. Again, don’t eat too close to night, watch your timing. But that idea that you’re more insulin sensitive later at night is not true.

Laura: Yeah. Like I said this was things that the carb backloading community tends to say. Like you were saying, the insulin sensitivity piece, definitely not necessarily going to be more insulin sensitive at night. But there are maybe some benefits from eating carbs that have more to do with the brain’s utilization of glucose and what our body might prefer to run on either fat or carbs during the day versus at night.

I feel like that could be its own podcast probably. If you haven’t done one on that, you should because I know that our listeners would love to learn more about that.

I feel like I have like a million questions I could ask you. One thing I definitely wanted to find out because I know there is a lot of controversy about this question, and it might be a little bit too late in the podcast to get a ton of detail on, but how much sleep is actually really necessary for optimal health? Is there an amount of time that is agreed upon in the evidence?

Dan:  Yes. The National Sleep Foundation recommends getting a sleep period of seven to nine hours. Now sleep period and sleep time are different. If you were to report to me how most people would report sleep, I went to bed at midnight, I woke up at 8, therefore I slept eight hours. Nobody reports sleep as I went to bed at midnight, I woke up at 8. I had 85 percent sleep efficiency, therefore I slept six hours and forty two minutes and I had an hour and a half of wake time after sleep onset. That’s what a sleep study will tell you. But people don’t report sleep that way.

Some very interesting work was done by Jerry Siegel looking at hunter gatherer populations, the Hazda, the Tsimane, and the San, three different hunter gatherer populations that are remote from each other and they found that in studying them, the expectation was that they are going to sleep more than modern humans, and they didn’t find that. In fact they found they slept on the lower end, 5.7 to 6 1/2 hours of sleep time per night. That got a lot of press.

The problem is that’s actual sleep time, but their sleep period, so the time that they were in bed sleeping was about 7 to 8 1/2 hours, right in line with what The National Sleep Foundation finds. The idea is while sleep efficiency always sounds like a good thing, efficiency is something that like nothing’s being wasted, well it’s just natural for the body to have 15 20 arousals across the night. You turn over in your pillow in the morning, you don’t even remember them. Actually you remember them more as you age, so it sometimes feels like you’re waking up more even though you’re not. Sometimes you are. But anyway, that’s an important point to write down.

What I like to say is that you want to try to get complete sleep. So if you’re waking up by an alarm clock in the morning, then try to get to a situation where you’re going to bed early enough where your alarm clock is sort of like a stopgap. It would be rare that you would need it, but if you don’t wake up by this time then you’re going to be late. Give yourself enough time in bed to get that sleep that you need. You’re not going to sleep 8 hours if you’re in bed for 6. That’s a simple one, and then try to wake up naturally.

Under the condition of just sort of no external influences that’s promoting and the sort of insomnia or you’re not dealing with a particular issue, then just having really consistent timing of your sleep, just like with food, and then an adequate sleep period. There’s also individual variability. It’s not that you’re going to sleep the same amount every night. It’s going to change. Are you fighting an infection? Did you have a hard workout? Are you excited about something and your mind is ruminating?

All that stuff is natural, but what I would say that probably one of the most important things kind of like with food, just like with food, is that the timing of your sleep is going to have a surprisingly important impact on how well you feel the next day and how well you perform.

In fact, there are aspects of cognition that are dissociable from whether or not it is being influenced by your circadian or sleep timing and light timing processes, or actual sleep pressure which is how much sleep did you actually get. The point is if you usually go to bed at midnight and wake up at eight, and you have that rhythm every single day, but you go to bed at midnight and you wake up at like let’s say seven, so you missed an hour, you still might perform just fine because the timing of your alertness rhythm is really well entrained because you do the same thing every single day.

It’s complicated. It’s easier to explain this when you see something with some graphics because you can see the different components. But that’s an important point here is that your circadian rhythm and your sleep processes are sort of doing this dance. They’re actually working independently, and sometimes together. But overall your level of alertness or sleepiness at any point during a 24 hour period is primarily determined by this dance of circadian timing and then how much sleep pressure you’ve built up.

Once you understand sort of the more fundamental components of it, then the guidance is pretty simple. But it enables you to empower that guidance and to make sure that you’re getting not a lot of light before bed sleep, timing is consistent, you’re spending hopefully adequate amounts of time to get complete sleep so your body wakes up naturally versus by an alarm clock. I would say that’s pretty good general advice. There’s a lot to go into the subject though.

Laura: Well, like you said, it’s a lot of different interplaying things that can affect whether or not somebody is going to have the same outcome as another person. It’s weird, it gets super complicated, but I also think it gets really basic. It sounds like the most basic takeaway from this podcast is that consistency and routine is really optimal. So whatever you choose to do, if you can get that consistent it’s going to be much better than if you’re playing around with a bunch of different things or if like let’s say on the weekdays you’re sleeping 6 hours and then on the weekends you’re sleeping 10. Consistency seems to be the take home point today.

Dan: Yeah. That’s actually a different subject. If you’re getting six hours of sleep during the week, do you want to get recovery sleep? There’s different ideas around that. But I would say that if you’re getting 6 hours every night during the week and you can sleep 10 hours, that’s called your weekend differential and it’s an indication that you’re not getting enough sleep if you can sleep that much more during the weekend.

I would say in that scenario, you can mess up your circadian timing. But I would try to get that extra sleep because you’re going to perform better the following week.

Now how many times can you repeat that process? 6 hours then 10,  6 hours during the week, 10 hours the first night, and then 9 hours the second and then you feel groggy as heck Monday still. That is being investigated directly by saying, okay, it’s this process, can you continue to repeat this before you only recover 95 percent, then 90 percent. You’re not fully recovering. You’ve hampered your body’s ability to fully recover.

There is some evidence, there’s some research that shows that extended wakefulness, which is the same thing as sleep deprivation, actually has a neurotoxic effect on wake generating neurons within the central nervous system. So your ability particularly at the locus coeruleus, which is the primary center or loci of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine which is very important in orchestrating wakefulness, if you’re damaging those neurons, then that could influence how much alertness you can generate the following days.

It’s a great need we have because of how technology intervenes, and how we live, and how different that is from how we used to live for so long. And so knowledge is power. There’s a great tech coming, but the whole sort of point of what I do with humanOS is saying how do we harness the world’s best health information and then how do we actually empower people to then both use that and good technology that can help them?

For example, Fitbit, I’m a big fan. But so many people will buy it and then three weeks later it’s just collecting dust in their desk drawer. If you don’t really understand its value, then you’re not going to use anything even if it has no friction. You’re only going to use it if you’re like, oh I get it.

Laura: Really bought in.

Dan: Yeah, bought in, you’ve got to buy in. I mean I’m using mine five years later. I charge it. All that “friction” you could say of like having to charge a device every few days, it’s sort of de minimis if you think it’s very valuable.

Laura: Right. Yeah, you’re speaking to the girl who’s Fitbit is definitely done and dusted so would need an upgraded one if I was going to be using it.

Well Dan, I know you have a lot of really awesome information on your current website and it sounds like you have some really cool projects in the works. Where can our listeners find you?

Dan: Depending on when this comes out, currently publicly the website is DansPlan.com. I’ve not worked on that for about 18 months because all of my effort is going into humanOS unless. You could think of Dan’s Plan as almost like a beta tool in a way that is all based off of a behavior model that I developed in order to help people adopt and sustain different things that influence their health long term so it becomes a part of the process.

humanOS is going to launch very, very soon and we’re doing all sorts of course stuff, peer reviewed health courses. We’re launching a course on fasting, and the Mediterranean diet, and weight loss, and one called Road Of Health. Doing a bunch more, basically just scientific assessments, but done in a way where it’s more of like an executive summary that you can just get to the main point quickly and understand it for a lifetime.

Laura: Awesome.

Dan: That’s one thing we’re doing. A bunch of tracking tools and recipes. So it’s a really three dimensional approach to accompanying you on a day by day process to keep you healthy and help you upgrade your health smarts.

Laura: Very cool. If people go to DansPlan, is it DansPlan.com or DansPlan.org?

Dan: DansPlan.com. If we’ve made the switch, it’ll redirect to humanOS. If you go to humanOS.me now, it’ll just redirect to DansPlan.

Laura: Right. That’s what I was thinking because we had gone to the humanOS webite to look up what you were doing to prepare for the podcast and it redirected us to DansPlan. So it sounds like people will be able to find you, and we’ll make sure we have the updated link in the podcast notes for this episode. If people want to see Dan’s most updated work, we’ll have the link there. If we were just publishing today, what would be the best website for people to go to?

Dan: Just go to humanOS.me because it’ll either be humanOS.me or redirect and that’s the one you should remember to bookmark. So do it that way.

Laura: Awesome. That’s the new one. That’s where people are going to want to go if they’re listening to this in let’s say 2018.

Cool! Well thank you so much for joining us, Dan. Like I said, I feel like I could have asked you a thousand more questions. I had a few on my list that we didn’t get to, so maybe we’ll have to have you on in the future especially as these courses come out because they sound super interesting and I would love to check out some of them to not only learn for myself, but also to help my clients implement better lifestyle habits. Thanks again for your time. And we will look forward to having everyone here next week

Dan: It was a total pleasure. Thanks for having me on, Laura.

PODCAST: Clearing Up The Confusion Around Sugar And Natural Sugar Substitutes

Thanks for joining us for episode 120 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are answering following question from a listener:

“Hey! Could you do an episode discussing natural sweeteners? What do you think about things like stevia or sugar alcohol? I also recently found some isomalto-oligosaccharide syrup, which seems to be a natural fiber. Do you think that’s a good one?”

With sugar being targeted as the villain at the root of all disease, many try to avoid sugar at all costs and turn to natural sugar replacements for a healthier option. If this sounds like you, get ready for a shift in perspective as we dispel common fear based myths about sugar and guide you to make an informed decision about whether caloric or non-caloric sweeteners are right for you.

You’ll gain insight into different types of non-caloric sweeteners, learn the negative effects of an anti-sugar mentality, and discover to ways to improve insulin sensitivity besides strict sugar restriction.

As we clear up the confusion around sugar and natural sugar alternatives, you’ll be on your way toward cultivating a more realistic mindset around and approach to sugar.

Here’s what Laura and Kelsey will be discussing in this episode:

  • [00:03:57] The importance of understanding that the assumption that sugar is bad for health is not true for everyone
  • [00:05:43] The difference between caloric and non-caloric sweeteners
  • [00:08:54] Kinds of prebiotic type sweeteners and the negative digestive effects caused by overconsumption
  • [00:15:08] The dichotomous relationship with sugar in America that leads to a disordered approach to sugar and sugar replacements
  • [00:19:08] Dispelling the myth that sugar is a toxin
  • [00:22:00] Clearing up the myth that sugar is as addictive as cocaine, and why pleasure responses to food are not dangerous
  • [00:24:55] How having the mindset that you have a sugar addiction can feed into disordered eating behavior
  • [00:30:46] How the empty calories in sugar containing foods can cause malnourishment or overeating of calories
  • [00:36:12] How energy status in the cell is the main factor that affects the cell’s ability to use glucose for energy, and ways to improve insulin sensitivity beyond sugar avoidance
  • [00:44:04] Potential causes of sugar cravings or sugar intolerance
  • [00:45:48] How choosing either a caloric or non-caloric sweetener as a small percentage in a caloric appropriate diet can be part of a healthy lifestyle

Links Discussed:


Laura: Hi everyone! Welcome to episode 120 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Laura Schoenfeld and with me as always is my cohost Kelsey Kinney.

Kelsey: Hey everyone!

Laura: We are Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence-based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me, Laura, at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com, and Kelsey over at KelseyKinney.com.

Over the next 30 to 45 minutes, we’ll be answering your questions about health and nutrition and providing our insights into solving your health challenges with practical tips and real food.

Kelsey: If you’re enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that you never miss an episode. And while you’re there, leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well. And remember, we want to answer your question, so head over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a health related question that we can answer on an upcoming show.

Laura: Today on the show we’re going to be discussing natural sweeteners and how to choose one that works best for you. We’re going to talk a little bit about sugar in general as well, so I think this will be one you guys really enjoy. Before we get into our question for the day though, here’s a quick word from our sponsor:

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Laura: Welcome back, everybody. I think we have a really good question for today that has come up I’m sure, Kelsey, with you with lots of clients.

Kelsey: Yes.

Laura: I feel like every time I mention something about sugar in general on either Facebook, or social media, or whatever it’s like there’s always some level of controversy about it. I think it’s good that we’re answering this question today.

The question that we got submitted, it’s not exactly on sugar, but I feel like it’s important to bring it all into the context of sugar. But here’s the question that we have:

“Hey! Could you do an episode discussing natural sweeteners? What do you think about things like stevia or sugar alcohol? I also recently found some isomalto-oligosaccharide syrup, which seems to be a natural fiber. Do you think that’s a good one?”

Like I said, the question is kind of more about just natural sweeteners. It sounds like they’re kind of focusing more on those natural non-caloric sweeteners like stevia, sugar alcohol. So we’ll have to talk a little bit about what a natural sweetener even is and kind of the main differences between them.

But I do want to try to branch this question out a little bit more into just sugar in general because I feel like again, if we’re going to answer a question about even natural non-caloric sweeteners, we need to talk about it in the context of sugar in general.

Because I think, and Kelsey, tell me if you feel the same way, that a lot of times people are really interested in these non-caloric sweeteners that get brought out or released into the public that are a way to avoid caloric sugar, like just normal sugar or other things that kind of work like sugar. And we’re operating from the premise that sugar is bad in that situation, so the goal is to avoid it and here’s these products that can help you avoid it.

I think that’s why we need to talk about sugar in general because I feel like coming from that premise for the average person is actually not appropriate, and so that kind of issue is going to affect whether or not you choose these kind of new products.

Do you feel the same way where we can’t really just talk about natural sweeteners, or I should say natural non-caloric sweeteners?

Kelsey: Yeah. There’s that inherent assumption with this question that sugar is bad, I’m trying to avoid it. What are my options if I’m looking beyond caloric sugars that I can choose from?

I think that it’s a question that people don’t even think they need to ask because, like what I just said, it’s an assumption that sugar is bad. And I think to challenge that assumption, yes, it gets controversial. But I think it’s a really important thing to do because like you just said, sugar is not something that is necessarily evil for the average person. I think it’s really important to have that conversation.

Laura: Like I said, I want to distinguish between the idea of a caloric versus a non-caloric sweetener. This person asked about natural sweeteners, so we’re not going to cover things like artificial sweeteners like sucralose, or aspartame, or anything like that that stuff. I mean we could definitely do a podcast on that, but we’re assuming that most people understand that those artificial sweeteners are not something you want to be using.

We’re going to talk more about the “natural” which the word natural is always kind of like a little arbitrary in general, but essentially things that come from nature, like stevia for example, which comes from a plant whereas something like aspartame is created in the lab. So we’re not going to cover those artificial sweeteners today. But we can talk about caloric versus non-caloric sweeteners because I think that’s again kind of the inherent assumption in this question that caloric sweeteners are something to be avoided.

We’re not saying this person should be eating sugar. We don’t know anything about this person’s health, so I’m not going to say that this person doesn’t need to avoid sugar, and maybe they have a health condition that really benefits from minimizing sugar and using non-caloric sweeteners is actually a good thing for them.

So I just wanted to make that clear that we’re not saying you should be eating sugar, this person asking this question. But we just want to open it up to the average population that’s listening to our show.

Basically caloric versus non-caloric sweeteners, that just means that they either provide calories as a source of energy, or they don’t provide calories, so that’s non-caloric sweeteners. Some of those examples include just sugar in general, so cane sugar, that comes from the sugar cane plant. There’s other things like honey, maple syrup, molasses, coconut sugar, agave. Of course fruit can be considered a caloric sweetener if you’re using it as a jam or something like that. But basically any of these sweeteners that actually have calories in them would be considered a caloric sweetener.

Whereas the non-caloric sweeteners are things like stevia. The sugar alcohols that this person was mentioning includes things like erythritol, xylitol, sorbitol. Anything that ends in “-al” is generally a sugar alcohol when we’re talking about sugars. When we say alcohol, we don’t mean the same thing as ethanol, like drinking alcohol. But there are chemical structures of these sugars that make them technically an alcohol. That’s a lot of the common non-caloric natural sweeteners that are being used in a lot of health food products these days.

There’s one called monk fruit that is somewhat new. I don’t know a ton about it. I’ve used it before just to try it, but I don’t know a lot about like the actual potential problems with it or the benefits. I know you’ll be talking a little bit about the yacon…how do you even say that? Yacon?

Kelsey: That’s what I say, but I’m actually not sure.

Laura: We’re going to call it yacon, and if we’re wrong, sorry. I think yacon has a little bit of calories in it. Technically you wouldn’t call it 100 percent non-caloric the way you would stevia, but it’s so low that it’s potentially considered non-caloric.

Kelsey: I was going to say that there’s sort of this middle ground of natural sweeteners that have started to come out with this whole idea that gut health is really important. There’s a trend I think with these prebiotic sweeteners and that’s sort of in the middle between caloric and non-caloric. Because they have some calories, but it’s very, very few really because the carbohydrate that you’re getting in that is really a fiber or a prebiotic. So you’re not digesting it, it’s your gut bacteria that’s digesting it. So I would say it’s sort of a middle ground, but more towards the non-caloric side for sure.

Laura: I think that’s a good segue to talk a little bit about these prebiotic sugars because that product, the yacon syrup and then the sugar alcohols, they are all high in FODMAPs, which FODMAPs, we talk about those a lot for gut health concerns like IBS, SIBO that kind of thing. But FODMAPs are just basically fermentable carbohydrates that your gut bacteria can break down for food.

And most people can do fine eating FODMAPs. If you have a healthy gut, you really actually should consume FODMAP foods because those prebiotics help feed beneficial flora. So for the average person who has a healthy gut, having sugar alcohols in small amounts even though they’re pretty high FODMAP generally isn’t an issue.

I don’t know if anyone’s ever looked up that Amazon erythritol sweetened…

Kelsey: Yeah, the gummy bears.

Laura: Gummy bears, right. If you go way too high on sugar alcohol sweetened products…you can look up…is it erythritol? I’m trying remember. Or xylitol maybe? There’s some sugar alcohol gummy bear.

Kelsey: Yeah, it’s a sugar alcohol.

Laura: Yeah, It’s kind of a running joke where you look at the reviews on Amazon and it’s like basically just talking about these gummy bears like they’re a colon cleanse or something. So when we talk about small amounts, we’re not talking about like a pound of erythritol sweetened gummy bears, we’re talking about little amounts in foods that you have one serving and it’s a small amount.

I’d say for the average person with normal health, a little bit of that is probably going to be fine. I really get concerned though when I see either we have people with gut issues, so the idea that people have a perfectly healthy gut I think is taken for granted. I think there’s probably a lot of people out there that may not have obvious got issues, but if they’re potentially dealing with some good imbalances and they’re doing a lot of sugar alcohols, they may actually be contributing to those or worsening them.

Or like I said with that gummy bear, not really a joke, but kind of like the gummy bear example, even if you have a normal gut flora and you eat a ton of the sugar alcohol or like high FODMAP sugar replacement at a time, this could actually just lead to a gut flora disturbance. It’s not that you have to necessarily start with one, but if you introduced this like massive amount of sugar alcohol into your diet all at once, that could actually cause problems.

I’m mostly thinking about, like the gummy bear example is kind of extreme, but I’d say the more typical example I see is a lot of these like low calorie ice creams for example or other desserts that are considered “healthy” that are sweetened with sugar alcohols. There’s some of those ice creams that they say it’s like 250 calories for the whole pint, and so people will end up eating an entire pint of it because it’s like oh, it’s 250 calories. But really you’re still supposed to only eat a quarter technically of that pint as a serving.

Seeing these people eating a ton of that kind of stuff, I do get concerned that that could contribute to gut issues or just exacerbate ones that already exist. Do you see that happening with your clients at all?

Kelsey: Yeah. I mean I will say that the people that I work with generally they’re not consuming a ton of these things, but it’s certainly something that I warn people about. And I agree, I think the reason that it’s so concerning is that if you are swapping sugar alcohols or other prebiotic-like sweeteners for regular sugar because you were eating tons and tons of sugar and you wanted to switch that to a “healthier” option, that’s when you’re going to get yourself into trouble.

But if you’re just eating a small amount, a normal serving that’s just a small percentage of your overall caloric intake every day, it’s not going to cause a huge issue unless you already have gut problems that are exacerbated by eating FODMAPs or prebiotics.

So exactly what you just said, yes, I definitely agree. You do need to be careful with those. I feel very conflicted about this, honestly, because I think it’s really great that we’re putting prebiotics into the food supply because a lot of people just don’t get them in their diet enough normally. If you can swap some sugar and get some prebiotic, and it’s a double whammy of benefit for you in that it tastes sweet, so it’s good, you want to eat it, and it’s also helping to feed your good gut bacteria, to me that’s like, okay, that sounds really good. I really like that. That’s a good swap.

But at the same time, if you are eating tons of these prebiotics, which is just not very natural, I do worry what that’s doing over time, and especially acutely of course if you’re eating a ton and you’re just getting massive diarrhea or something like that and that’s clearing out a lot of that bacteria from your large intestine anyway, I worry about that.

So I think it can be good in small amounts, but if you’re swapping it for large amounts of sugar trying to make that a healthier choice, I think you can get yourself into trouble there.

Laura: Right, and I think a lot of this comes down to some of the disordered relationship with sugar in our culture. We have kind of this extreme dichotomy in the United States where I would say the average American probably has way more sugar than they need. They’re eating tons of it, it’s a lot of high fructose corn syrup. It’s not like they’re eating tons of fruit, and honey, and maple syrup, and stuff. It’s a lot of processed food that has a lot of sugars added. Even things that don’t taste sweet still have sugar added to it.

Obviously there’s a concern about just unnecessarily large amounts of sugar consumption in America and other Western cultures, really the standard American diet is what we’re talking about. But there’s also this kind of opposite trend that I see in a lot of the people I work with that sugar is kind of given this like evil… I mean whatever the opposite of like a health halo is, like evil devil horns or something on it where it’s compared to things like a drug like cocaine, or poison, or toxin, whatever like these kind of ideas that no one should ever touch sugar, it’s terrible for you, and anything you can do to eliminate sugar out of your diet is a good thing.

I think that kind of extreme end of the sugar question ends up driving people to use a lot of these non-caloric sweeteners, which again, small amounts or like if you really don’t tolerate sugar very well and you want to switch over to a little bit of these non-caloric natural sweetener, not a big deal. But I think you just kind of swing from like too much sugar intake and sugar…I don’t want say addiction… but like just bingeing I guess would be what a lot of people end up doing when they just go have as much sugar as they want. And that will swing to basically bingeing on the sugar alcohols and non-caloric sweeteners because it’s still a disordered approach to food.

It’s still kind of not really addressing the issues that actually cause sugar cravings. It’s not addressing the blood sugar imbalances that often make people want sugar in the first place. It’s really just saying instead of having real sugar, I’m going to replace it with this stevia, or this yacon syrup, or whatever. And like you said, if they’re already eating a lot of sugar and then they just start eating a lot of these prebiotic sugar replacements, that’s not necessarily going to turn out super well for them.

I feel like getting into that middle ground of understanding more about your body, like how you handle sugar, why you may not handle sugar, and working on the kind of things that can help your body tolerate sugar better, I think that’s a much healthier approach than like you said, just replacing sugar with these non-caloric options.

And like I said earlier, I do want to talk about just sugar in general because I really feel like there’s this belief that sugar is awful. And like you were saying earlier when we first started, it’s not accurate and it really affects how people approach sugar, and I think it really leads to the development of this like binge and restrict mentality around sugar.

First of all, that’s not healthy. We know that having sugar binges and then restricting it most of the time is not a healthy way to approach sugar, and it also really I think gives people a lot of anxiety around eating sugar. They’ll still do it because I mean realistically most people are still going to have some sugar in their life as an enjoyment food, but then they don’t even enjoy it because it’s like they can’t stop thinking about how terrible it is for them or how it’s going to get them addicted or something.

Sugar right now in the health food world has this terrible reputation as being a toxin or like a poison essentially. You’ll see a lot of these blog posts that have that like skull and crossbones photo next to sugar cubes or something and they’ll talk about how it’s as addictive as cocaine and all this stuff about it being awful.

First of all, I just want to kind of talk about those myths because I feel like that’s something that super is just taken as fact right now, and it’s not. It’s not a fact at all. First of all, sugar is not a toxin at all. If we’re looking at the true definition of a toxin, which is a substance that causes disease when present at low concentration in the body, sugar does not qualify as a toxin. We always have sugar in our body. We always have a circulating glucose amount. If it was a toxin, we wouldn’t be having it just all the time at a concentration on our bodies.

It doesn’t qualify for the definition of a toxin in the first place. And even if we were looking at like if somebody is going to say, oh well, you know water can become toxic if you overdo it. I don’t really know of any acute sugar intake level that would cause either a disease or death. I don’t know if they’ve ever established somebody dying from a too high of a sugar intake the way that people can actually become seriously ill or they can die from too much water intake.

But regardless of whether it’s happened or not, it’s really borderline impossible for somebody to have so much sugar in a single intake that they would actually react to it the way you would react to an actual toxin or a poison.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: Our bodies are really good at handling sugar. Basically when sugar comes into our body, we have a couple of different options for dealing with it. One is it can be stored as glycogen either in the liver or the muscles. It can be stored as fat if we don’t need to be storing it as glycogen, or burning it for fuel. It’s essentially going to be used as energy. It can be stored as glycogen or it’ll be stored as fat. It doesn’t just circulate around the body and cause harm in the average person.

Now this isn’t necessarily covering someone that has diabetes. Obviously someone with a severe either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, that could become dangerous for the person to have a lot of sugar at once. We’re talking about normal human physiology right now.

This is something that I think people really need to understand because if you have generally normal blood sugar control and insulin response, you’re not going to be able to eat enough sugar for it to actually become toxic where could really cause harm in the short term. So that’s one thing I think we need to like just eliminate this definition of sugar as a toxin, because it’s not a toxin.

And then with this question about it being as addictive as cocaine, that’s actually not really an accurate representation either. That research is more based on the way that sugar activates the pleasure centers in our brain the same way that drugs do. That doesn’t necessarily mean sugar acts the way a drug does.

Definitely there are some people that can get behavioral addiction to food and overeating in general, and sugar is certainly one of those foods that is a pleasure center actor activator, but so is fat.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: Fat in food does also activate these pleasure centers. But that doesn’t mean that food works the same way as drugs do in terms of how it affects those pleasure centers, how it builds up tolerance and causes like that withdrawal if you don’t have it.

And really these pleasure responses to food, this is the way that our bodies drive the seeking out of necessary nutrients. It’s not like this is some pathological thing that if your food that you’re eating activates your pleasure circuits in your brain, that’s dangerous. That’s actually the way our bodies work to actually promote food consumption. It also drives us to seek out variety, which again, getting necessary nutrition, you need a lot of variety because you can’t just eat the same food all the time.

And this is actually a normal thing that happens in every person that eats food. They’re going to have some level of pleasure response to food because anything that is necessary for survival relies on that pleasure circuitry to promote the behavior. This innate drive for sugar or glucose is actually a survival mechanism. It’s not a pathology. It’s not an addiction.

Cocaine is not something that the body is going to seek out naturally. If you get exposed to cocaine and it triggers those pleasure centers, then yeah, you’re going to start getting addicted to it, and that’s why they kind of compare it to cocaine. But drugs are going to tap into that reward circuit in a much more powerful way that supports that true addiction and it causes extreme withdrawal when the person stops taking the drug.

Whereas with food it’s like yeah, you’re going to get a response, but you have to keep eating food. You can’t say I’m going to quit food because it’s like I’m addicted to food. It’s just stupid.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: I feel like people have this belief that sugar acts like cocaine, and it definitely doesn’t. And that like toxin or addictiveness of sugar perspective, if people understand that that’s not actually accurate, I think they can take a much more realistic and reasonable approach to sugar if they’re not having all this anxiety about how dangerous it is.

Do you have any anything to add about that particular issue with sugar?

Kelsey: Yeah. I mean I just see that a lot, and I’m sure you do too, with in my clients that I work with, people just have this idea that they’re addicted to sugar in the first place. And I think that first of all, thinking about it that way almost feeds into that behavior because if you feel like you’re addicted to something, you’re just going to be thinking about it more and just kind of ruminating on it, and I think that in some people certainly can almost cause that sort of behavior. Just the way that you think about something can really make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I do a lot of education on this with the clients that I work with that like you just said, you can’t be addicted to sugar. That’s not how it works. It’s a necessary thing and so your body is not going to make you addicted to it.

It is going to be pleasurable of course, but that’s okay. You don’t have to feel bad that you want to eat something that tastes good because that’s just going to make you feel pretty much terrible about everything you eat, I think. And if you’re thinking that sugar is this evil thing and then you’re thinking oh man, I really want something sweet, of course you’re going to feel like you’re addicted to it. And again, it’s going to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You’re going to feel like you want to eat it all the time or just think about it and feel bad about the fact that you ate it at one point.

This is something that I have to talk to people a lot about because once you stop thinking about it that way, it’s much easier to just say okay, I’m going to have a little bit of sugar. That’s fine. It’s a small piece of my diet and it’s not causing me any harm.

Of course this is a totally different conversation when we’re talking to people with diabetes, or with pretty severe blood sugar issues, or somebody with hypoglycemia maybe who really can’t have a lot of sugar at once because it’ll spike their blood sugar and then tank it down and they’re going to feel really poorly after that. That’s an entirely different conversation in those people. We do need to be very careful with their sugar intake.

But for the average person, that’s not the case, and like you said, they use sugar very well because the body has a lot of ways of using that that are perfectly normal. Once we change that mindset surrounding sugar, I feel like it’s a lot easier for them to just eat it in normal amounts and not be thinking about it all day or not beating themselves up over the fact that they’re “addicted to sugar.”

Laura: Yeah. I think like you said, it’s really disempowering if you approach sugar as this addictive drug essentially. Yeah, if you want to think about heroin as being something you probably shouldn’t mess around with because you might become addicted, yeah, I think that’s an appropriate way to approach drugs. Avoiding drugs because they really do significantly change your brain chemistry, a lot of times with like the first time people even try a drug, it just like totally alters their dopamine response and their pleasure circuitry so that they need this really powerful level of impact to actually get a normal response.

Sugar doesn’t work like that. And we’re not saying that there may not be some people out there who really feel better if they just avoid it, and they don’t struggle with it, and it’s fine. Kind of like overeaters anonymous model, it works for some people. If it’s working for you, we’re not saying that you’re unhealthy because you’re not eating sugar.

We’re really addressing those people who have a lot of anxiety about sugar and want to be able to enjoy it with a level of normalcy that is culturally acceptable. I’m not saying you have to go and have like Fun Dip every day or something, but being able to have some sugar here and there without stressing about it, I feel like there’s a lot of people out there that because they have these false beliefs about sugar, they can’t enjoy it.

I mean if you’re going to a party and someone’s like have some cocaine with us. And it’s like well, I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t have it, but I’m just going to have it because you know it’s socially acceptable. Yeah, I understand if you felt like a little anxiety about that. But it’s like if you’re going into a party and you’re looking at a cupcake as being that same experience, I think that’s definitely driving a level of disorder around food that is not really necessary for good health and causes people a lot of stress.

And like you said, sometimes, and I’ve been here where it’s like you’re so anti-sugar and anti that kind of like sweetened food, or even carbs in general, and then like the minute you let yourself have the stuff, you just like binge on it.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: I think, like you said, it kind of sets people up for these really unhealthy approaches to sugar containing foods. Whereas if you’re able to look at it objectively, you’re able to look at it as it’s kind of a benign substance, it’s not a health food, sugar is not necessarily something that has tons of nutrition in it or anything like that, but in the context of an overall nutrient dense diet… and we talked with Chris Masterjohn about this a little bit in another podcast where it’s like having some sugar in the context of a diet that provides all the other nutrients that you need, it’s really not a problem for probably the vast majority of people.

That can actually be a good segue to another thing I wanted to talk about with sugar. Because again, we’re not saying sugar is some health food that you need to be having a ton of to be healthy. We just want to kind of clear the myths around sugar because it’s something that can definitely be included in a healthy diet with not any problem.

For me, I think the biggest issue I see with sugar is that it’s something that we would call empty calories. Empty calories just means it’s providing some kind of calorie or macronutrient, usually we’re going to talk about more fat and carbs as being empty calories as opposed to protein. I wouldn’t ever really consider a protein food empty calories. It’s very difficult to overeat on protein. But we’re generally talking about foods that are either high in carbs, high in fat, either, or both, or a combination, and they don’t have much micronutrition to them.

Generally if your goal is to eat a nutrient dense diet, then eating a lot of pure cane sugar for example is going to reduce the nutrient density of your diet overall because it doesn’t really have any nutrition in it other than just glucose and fructose essentially. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means that it’s not going to promote high nutrient density.

Generally if your diet is full of a bunch of empty calories, it’s going to be more likely that first of all, that you’re not going to be nourished appropriately. If you have a lot of just processed foods or a lot of low nutrient density foods in general, you’re either going to be malnourished or you’re going to end up over eating in total calories because your body’s going to continue to seek out the nutrients it needs. Maybe you got enough of those micronutrients because you eat twice as many calories as you need for the day because your foods are so low nutrient density.

I’d say the second scenario is a lot more common than the first. But I do see a lot of…usually it’s a lot of kids that are not overeating total amounts of food, but they just eat such low nutrient quality food that they’re malnourished. You’re either going to be malnourished or you’re going to be basically over consuming calories if your diet is super low nutrient density.

Nutrient density, again, we’re just looking to maximize the amount of micronutrients and essential macronutrients that we need without going overboard in total calorie intake. If we’re within a context of a calorie appropriate diet that does contain adequate amounts of micronutrients and macronutrients… so micronutrients are things like vitamins, minerals, that kind of thing, certain let’s say essential fatty acids that technically are a macronutrient, but we could consider those more micronutrients because we need small amounts to get what we need.

Macronutrients are really more things like proteins, carbs, fats where we have some baseline needs of that. Like we have a certain amount of protein we need every day, we have a certain amount of fat, we do have a certain amount of carbs that we need. Our body can manufacture those carbs, but that doesn’t mean that’s the optimal way to do it.

But essentially if our diet is providing adequate amounts of micronutrients and macronutrients, once we’ve had our nutrient needs for the day within our food intake, whatever the rest of your calories come from assuming you’re not overeating on calories, it really doesn’t matter that much. I mean certainly you don’t want to be eating things that are causing food sensitivities or something, like if a celiac person is going to say I should have wheat for the rest of my calories. Obviously no, we’re not saying that. But generally if it’s foods you tolerate, getting 20 percent of our calories from foods that are not super high nutrient density is really not a big deal.

Just to kind of have a little side note about nutrient density, we always talk about things like sugar and processed foods as being low nutrient density. But there is a lot of Paleo foods that I would consider pretty much empty calories as well, like I hate to say it, but like coconut oil. I kind of look at that as like as empty calories.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: Because other than just fat, it doesn’t really have any micronutrition to it. Bacon is one of those foods that I think Stephan Guyenet was talking about as being like one of those. I mean it gives you a little bit of protein, but really it’s pretty much empty calories if you’re looking at the total amount of calories it provides compared to the nutrients it gives you.

Things like bacon, and coconut oil, and tons of extra butter, that kind of stuff, that kind of counts for extra empty calories. You’re not getting a ton of nutrition from those foods. Whereas things like fruits and vegetables, meats, eggs, that kind of stuff, you’re getting a lot of nutrition in less calories total.

That’s why if you’re getting, let’s say like I said, 80 percent of your foods are super high nutrient density, and you’re getting all of the needs that you have for micronutrients in those foods, and you still have another let’s say 400 calories, you can eat whatever you want. And some of that, yeah, if it comes from sugar, you should be fine.

I feel like most people don’t approach sugar that way though, and that’s the problem.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: Most people don’t eat a diet that’s super nutrient dense that the bulk of what they’re eating is a lot of high nutrient value and not a lot of calories. That’s when I was saying before about figuring out how to increase your sugar tolerance, having a lot of nutrients in your diet is a great way to increase your sugar tolerance because 1 – that’s going to help you have a higher metabolic rate, 2- you’re going to be a lot more insulin sensitive because you’re not going to have a ton of inflammation. You’re just going to basically function a lot more normally with the amount of calories that you’re burning just to be alive or to do the kind of activities that you do.

And then a side note is that…and this is something I was literally just listening to, gosh was it yesterday? It might have been yesterday. Driving home from a weekend away I was listening to like a bunch of Chris Masterjohn’s podcast and he has a great one that just came out on the insulin/obesity hypothesis. It’s like an hour long plus podcast. But the main conclusion he comes to that I think is really relevant to this conversation is that energy status in the cell is actually the main factor that affects our cell’s ability to use glucose for energy or to store it as fat.

A lot of people think insulin is the main driver of our bodies use of glucose or whether our cells take up glucose or not, but insulin is just part of the equation. Our cells can reject glucose even in the context of a higher insulin amount because they have other signals on a biochemical level that suggest that the cell has more energy available than it can use.

Kelsey: Interesting.

Laura: Yeah. I mean it all makes sense from a biochemical perspective. Kelsey and I did biochemistry pretty in-depth for our training as a Registered Dietitians. It’s not like there was anything new, well I shouldn’t say there wasn’t anything new. I feel like all of the different components of the cellular metabolism that he was talking about, I had heard of all of them and I was like remembering them from years ago when I learned about them and had to be able to spit them back out on a test. But I think it just kind of brought it into a context that made a lot of sense as far as how that actually plays out in the body.

Realizing that like, yeah, insulin does drive glucose uptake through certain transporters in the cell, but that doesn’t mean the cell has to either accept that glucose or keep it in the cell. It can also be kind of passively released from the cell if it’s not going to be used.

I just thought it was a really interesting adjunct to this conversation because anything that we can do to increase our body’s appropriate energy use is going to really improve our insulin sensitivity. That would be things like good micronutrient intake because our micronutrient status will affect how our body is able to actually even send these nutrients through the Krebs cycle, which is how we get energy from our food, or the amount of exercise that we’re doing, or let’s say like building muscle is going to increase how much energy your body uses to just even sit on the couch.

It kind of comes down to like a calories in/calories out question where if we’re not overeating, then we shouldn’t develop insulin resistance in just the way that the body works from a normal perspective. But that does require appropriate nutrition and micronutrient intake.

I just thought it was really cool. I think if you’re into that kind of biochemistry, then listening to that podcast would be awesome.

Kelsey: I’m going to have to listen to that.

Laura: Yeah, it’s good. I’m like loving what Chris is putting out lately. That’s like my little plug for Chris’ insane amount of content that he’s been putting out.

But I just think it’s really important because I think, again, with this whole sugar question, there is this assumption that if you raise your insulin ever at all for any reason that that’s going to create fat storage. And that’s just blatantly not true from a biochemical perspective.

So again, really just the summary of that podcast and how it’s relevant to what we’re talking about is that things like overeating total calories, under exercising or not moving enough, malnutrition which is going to affect your energy metabolism. I’m sure there’s other things like sleep, and stress, and all that stuff that affects the adrenals and cortisol is going to affect how well your body takes up glucose, that kind of thing.

There’s like a thousand different factors that affect our energy status in the cell, but insulin levels are not necessarily directly driven by the amount of glucose that we consume. It definitely affects it, but it’s not the only thing that affects our insulin sensitivity. And to just kind of over simplify it to that I think not only is scientifically inaccurate, but then it puts way more emphasis on avoiding sugar than it does on like getting a micronutrient rich diet, exercising appropriately, reducing stress, sleeping, all that other stuff that’s I think way more important than strictly avoiding sugar all the time.

Kelsey: Yeah, and I think that’s because it’s easy to tell a population at whole, just don’t eat sugar. That’s one thing where it’s exactly what you just said, that’s a lot of things to keep in mind. But I agree, they’re overall way more important than boiling it down to one specific thing being the problem and being the cause of all sorts of disease.

I think it’s important to think about it that way like disease is never caused by one specific thing usually. There’s all these environmental factors and things going on in your body that that play into developing any sort of disease state. I think it’s too simplified to just look at one thing, especially just one thing in your diet. That’s like looking at such a tiny piece of the overall puzzle that when you really think about it, it’s like yeah, that doesn’t make any sense. There’s so much more to this whole question. I think it’s really important to remember that because it helps to clear up that confusion about sugar and make you remember that it’s just one piece of the overall puzzle.

Yeah. I feel like the take home point here is that if you’re generally able to consume sugar without eating sugar causing overeating…and what I mean by overeating is just that you’re eating more calories than your actual body is burning for your energy needs. And again, in the context of a nutrient dense diet, sugar really shouldn’t cause any harm.

I’d say there are people out there that find that sugar does drive overeating and they don’t feel confident in their ability to stop eating when they’ve had enough. Then for those people, yeah, keeping sugar out or keeping sugar to just fruits and natural things that contain sugar may be necessary to maintain an appropriate calorie intake.

With our conversation with Stephan Guyenet a couple of weeks ago, that’s not just sugar. That may also be added fats. That may also be things like butter, like maybe adding butter to your food is going to cause just the same amount of overeating as adding sugar.

We need to kind of look at that as there are foods that do drive the hunger response and if you are someone that needs to lose weight or you’re generally overeating, then cutting out added sugars and added fats is a super easy way to reduce excessive calorie intake without really causing any sort of malnutrition.

But for the people out there that are listening, which I think a lot of our audience probably falls into this category, if you are someone who doesn’t have any sort of like binge eating issues…and again with the understanding that the bingeing may come from the restrictions, so it’s not necessarily just that like sugar immediately causes a binge in you… but if you are the kind of person that is either able to enjoy sweet or sugary foods in moderation or this is your desire to be able to do that as part of a larger healthy diet context, especially if you’re active because the more active you are, the more wiggle room you have with calorie intake, then I really don’t see any problem with including sugar in the diet.

And again, from what I’ve been learning about just metabolism, and calorie needs, and all that, my theory is that most of the time when people are craving sugar, it’s either that their diet is insufficient in micro or macronutrients so maybe they don’t get enough B-vitamins, or maybe their protein intake is super low and that causes their energy needs to be different than what they should be, it causes their blood sugar to fluctuate. It just causes a lot of different things that cause dysfunction in the metabolism in their body and it either makes them crave sugar or makes them not tolerate sugar super well.

And then like we were saying before, the other reason why someone might be craving sugar is that they’re on such a restrictive diet that they end up bingeing on sugar whenever they allow themselves to have it.

I feel like we could do another podcast on this and we’re obviously getting close to the end of our time here, but my feeling is that we need to just have an accurate viewpoint of sugar. And I’m hoping that this podcast gave people a little bit more of a realistic…and I don’t even know what the word is…

Kelsey: Accurate.

Laura: Yeah, less hysterical viewpoint about sugar. It’s not that you have to have it. We’re not saying you have to. But we’re also saying that avoiding it 100 percent is not necessarily the answer to good health. And from a mental health perspective, I really feel like a lot of people, and I’ll put myself in that category, and Kelsey, you may as well, having some sugar as a treat maybe a couple of times a week, maybe once a week, maybe every day, it really does help support an overall healthy approach to food and doesn’t actually negatively impact health in any substantial way that it would be worth removing.

Kelsey: Yeah, absolutely. I’ll say too that there’s nothing wrong with those lower calorie sweeteners that we talked about at the beginning of the show. I know that’s originally what this person was asking about is things like that IMO Syrup, that isomalto-oligosaccharides syrup. Like totally fine, if that’s what you want to choose for your sweetener of choice, that’s okay.

Again, it’s going to be in a small enough amount that you’re not going to have concerns over the gut issues potentially unless you have some major digestive problems already and you really need to be careful with that kind of stuff. In the small amounts that you’re going to have in the overall context of a calorie appropriate diet for you, it doesn’t really matter what sweetener you’re choosing.

We’re just trying to say that you don’t need to choose those sweeteners for the sake of avoiding caloric sweeteners. I hope that that’s clear. If that means that you still want to do these lower calorie sweeteners, that’s totally fine.

Laura: Right.

Kelsey: But if you want to do something like maple syrup, honey, or even just cane sugar, that’s also completely fine as long as it’s that generally fairly small percentage of your overall calorie intake within the context of a calorie appropriate diet like Laura was talking about before and you’re getting proper micronutrition, you’re getting your sleep in check, your stress levels are good, you’re going to be fine.

I think that’s the takeaway here is that it’s not as big a deal as I think a lot of people think it is and sweeteners are completely okay to use.

Laura: Right. With the non-caloric options, I would say if I was going to recommend those, it would be for somebody who needed to be on a fairly low calorie diet. Like let’s say they’re trying to lose weight and based on their….It was sort of like that conversation we had about that shorter woman who was struggling to lose weight on 1,800 calories and it’s possible she needed a lower calorie amount. In that situation, yeah, maybe doing stevia as a little bit of a sweetener so that way you can cut out 100 calories from sugar for the whole day, that may help you reach your goals better.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: And we’re not saying you have to. There may be some other changes you can do that would allow you to still have that sugar. Maybe you cut down on your rice portion at dinner instead or something. These are all totally valid choices to make and it’s really about what’s going to work best for the individual.

But like we said, I think we just wanted to address the really prevalent myth that every person who’s health conscious should be looking to replace caloric sweeteners with even just these natural, let’s even just say they’re harmless, which they may not be. Let’s assume that they, let’s say they’re harmless. The assumption that you’d have to do that I think is really a big problem and we wanted to address that in this podcast.

If you guys have more questions about sugar, please feel free to ask them. If the person who asked this question doesn’t feel like we actually covered their question, then please let us know and we’ll definitely do another episode on this topic.

But we just wanted to really set you guys up for a good understanding of sugar in general so that way when you do decide if you’re going to try out some of these non-caloric sweeteners, you’re making that decision from a place of appropriate scientific knowledge and not fear about sugar.

Kelsey: Absolutely.

Laura: I think that is a good place to stop for today. Thank you for joining us everybody. We are really glad to have you here.

Again, if you’re liking the show, go to iTunes and leave us a review so that way other people can find the show. If you want to ask us your question, go to TheAncestralRDs.com and we have a contact tab where you can submit your question. Again, we love talking about things like sugar, so definitely send us your follow-up questions to this episode.

Otherwise, we will see you here next week with I believe maybe an interview, but we’ll see what happens.

Kelsey: Alright. Take care, Laura.

Laura: You too, Kelsey.

PODCAST: A Holistic Approach To Overcoming Disordered Eating With Aglaée Jacob

Thanks for joining us for episode 119 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are super excited to be interviewing  Aglaée Jacob!  

Aglaée Jacob is a non-diet dietitian and heart and soul nutritionist. But it didn’t start out that way. After working for over 10 years as a Registered Dietitian, first as a diabetes educator and then has a digestive health expert and author, she was finally ready to reveal her terrible secret. A secret she was so ashamed of that she even hid it from herself for years.

Aglaée suffered from disordered eating for about two decades, which even reached the point of an eating disorder called binge eating disorder for many of those years. She’s now passionate about helping other women heal their relationship with food and their body with her unique Radicata SEED Protocol to help them break free from their 15 degree life and finally embrace a full 360 degree life.

If you’re ready for fresh insight into disordered eating behavior and revelation of how to find the root cause and begin to truly heal, this episode is sure to deliver.

Aglaée Jacob is with us to share her personal story of her struggle and recovery from disordered eating as she guides us through her holistic approach to healing incorporating body, mind, heart, and soul.

Just some of what we discussed with Aglaée is how prolonged elimination diets can lead to disordered eating, how under-eating stalls healing, and how disordered eating behaviors are symptoms that manifest as a result of unresolved deeper life issues and thought patterns.

You’ll come away with a revelation of how looking beyond food and the physical body can result in profound healing from disordered eating and transform lives.

Here is some of what we discussed with Aglaée:

  • [00:03:46]  How the desire to discover the secret to weight loss propelled Aglaée into the dietetics field, and the effect her education had on her eating behaviors
  • [00:07:15]  What made Aglaée share her struggles of her history of disordered eating
  • [00:13:14]  The difference is between disordered eating and an eating disorder
  • [00:15:46]  How prolonged elimination diets or restrictive eating plans for digestive conditions can lead to disordered eating
  • [00:17:47]  The importance of investigating the underlying reason behind food restriction
  • [00:20:41]  How under-eating stalls healing
  • [00:23:06]  The role body image plays in disordered eating behavior
  • [00:26:31]  How unresolved deeper life issues manifest as body image concerns
  • [00:29:33]  Aglaée’s approach to address the root of disordered eating
  • [00:36:37]  How becoming aware of her inner critic and dropping self-judgment helped Aglaée recover
  • [00:42:08]  Aglaée’s message to get those dealing with disordered eating started on the journey of healing
  • [00:45:49] The four components Aglaée addresses when working with clients
  • [00:50:01] How not working on emotions and thoughts is a barrier to healing

Links Discussed:


Kelsey: Hi everyone! Welcome to episode 119 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Kelsey Kinney and with me as always is my cohost Laura Schoenfeld.

Laura: Hey everybody!

Kelsey: We’re Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence-based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me at KelseyKinney.com, and Laura at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com.

We have a great guest on our show today who’s going to share her insight into her own struggles and recovery from disordered eating and how she can help you recover as well. We’re so glad she’s joining us and we think you’ll really enjoy this episode.

Laura: If you’re enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that way you never miss an episode. And while you’re in iTunes, leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well. And remember we want to answer your question, so head over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a health related question that we can answer or suggest a guest you’d love for us to interview on an upcoming show.

Kelsey: Before we get into our interview, here’s a quick word from our sponsor:

This episode is brought to you by Paleo Rehab, a five week online program designed to help you recover from HPA axis dysfunction, also known as adrenal fatigue. Is your perfect Paleo diet and lifestyle leaving you exhausted? Now is the time to start feeling the health and wellness you know you deserve. If you’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, and are ready to take back your health, then head over to MyPaleoRehab.com to get your free 28 page e-book on the 3 step plan for healing from adrenal fatigue. That’s www.MyPaleoRehab.com

Kelsey: Welcome back, everyone. We are so pleased to have with us today AglaéeJacob. Aglaée is a non-diet dietitian and heart and soul nutritionist. But it didn’t start out that way. After working for over 10 years as a Registered Dietitian, first as a diabetes educator and then has a digestive health expert and author, she was finally ready to reveal her terrible secret. A secret she was so ashamed of that she even hid it from herself for years. Aglaée suffered from disordered eating for about two decades, which even reached the point of an eating disorder called binge eating disorder for many of those years. She’s now passionate about helping other women heal their relationship with food and their body with her unique Radicata SEED Protocol to help them break free from their 15 degree life and finally embrace a full 360 degree life.

Welcome, Aglaée!

Aglaée: Hi! Thanks for having me!

Kelsey: We’re super excited to have you today because I think this is going to be a really great episode and it’s about a topic that I think is just so, so important to talk about these days. I know obviously you’ve worked in the dietetic field for a long time at this point, so what do you feel like drew you into this world in the first place?

Aglaée: Good question, yes. I was 15 when I made the decision of becoming a Dietician partly because I didn’t even know it was a thing, but my cousin was starting studying that so it kind of drew me in that direction. The main reason that I don’t really like talking about is actually because I thought that I would finally find the magic secret to lose weight and the perfect body. That was the main thing that drew me there.

Kelsey: It’s kind of funny you say that because I feel like going to school for nutrition and dietetics, that was something that I noticed with a lot of my classmates. I’m very fortunate to say that I’ve honestly never really dealt with disordered eating really. But it’s something that I would see in a lot of my classmates where you could kind of tell that they thought about food a little bit differently, there was this disordered way of thinking about it.

I think they went into it with the same idea that you did that it was going to fix all their problems if only they could learn all of this stuff about nutrition. I think that’s a really common story actually within the nutrition field, which is unfortunate and it’s a very sad thing, but I do think it’s very common.

As you went to school for that and you learned all this stuff, did you feel like it helped? I have to ask, of course.

Aglaée: It was a bit of a rollercoaster there were times where I thought, okay, now I know I just need to count calories, and do it this way, and those grams of this and that, and I need to do this. There was always that hope and that thrill of discovery, and learning something new, and hoping that that was it.

I remember at that time there was a big thing about… I can’t remember her name, but it was about the calorie density and how to add a ton of low calorie food to your meal to kind of dial in the calories, and it helps you feel fuller and longer, and all of that.

I was always discovering something new and thought that, okay, this is it! I will finally find what’s wrong with me and why I eat too much, and overeat, and emotionally eat. But then I would always feel disappointed and going lower, lower, lower in my self-esteem and my confidence, and even affected my credibility, how I felt credible to be able to help other people.

I don’t think that it was necessarily the best, the most helpful thing to help me know how to eat normally at all, unfortunately.

Kelsey: Yeah, and again I think that’s sadly a common story. You just realize that that isn’t the answer to all these sort of problems.

And even for those that aren’t going to dietetic school, if they are learning about nutrition on their own, they faced similar things, too. Right?

Kelsey: Yeah absolutely. Laura and I have known you for a few years now and we never knew that you struggled with disordered eating. What finally made you want to come out to the world and kind of share those struggles?

Aglaée: Yeah, came out of the closet.

Kelsey: Exactly.

Aglaée: Well I felt like there was something wrong with the way I ate and related to food, and all those ups and downs, and restricting and then over eating and bingeing. Actually all those times I thought, all those years even though I was in the “Paleo” community or eating that way… and of course when I found that, I thought it would fix everything because a lot of experts in that community would say that eating this way will take away all of your cravings and it’s impossible to over eat when you eat Paleo. Well, I’ve got some news for you, it’s not necessarily true. Actually I thought it was just because I was not trying hard enough. I felt like my disordered eating was normal and there was just, that it was something wrong with me that I had to fix.

Actually there was a long process. I worked with a therapist and life coaches, not necessarily on my relationship with food, but some issues related to body image, and my overall confidence, and trying to discover who I really am and how to be more better able to show up at that person that I want to be and create the life that I want to create for myself.

All of that kind of started healing my relationship with food quite naturally. And then actually it’s just a bit earlier this year in 2017 that I started looking back and seeing what a journey it had been. And then I said, yeah, that was pretty messed up. I can’t believe I went through all of that and I used to do that.

There was times where I would bake usually two batches of cookies because I was trying to have some left for my husband or the rest of the family. But I knew that if I would make only one batch, I would eat it all and I would have to make another one, so I would make two at once. I mean sometimes there would be leftovers and no one else was interested in the cookies, so I would throw them in the trash to try not eating them, but then would go back in the trash and get them out of the trash and eat them unless there was some kind of really disgusting stuff. But yeah, there’s not too much that would stop me from eating everything that was there.

When I started thinking about all of these food behaviors that I was so ashamed of, I started feeling more compassion for myself because I had come a long way and it just occurred to me like well, I need to check out that definition, those criteria for a binge eating disorder. I had looked at them like about 10 years ago when I was just starting working as a Dietitian. And of course you learn about some eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, but binge eating disorder was not something we talked about too much when I was in school about 12 years ago.

So I discovered that by myself and then it was just so much shame would come up when I would read those criteria still dealing with it. But now earlier this year, I just read them and said, yes, okay. I felt like it was like the final healing that needed to happen to just really acknowledge and recognize what was there and everything, all the steps that I took to move away from that.

Working as a Dietitian, I know there is just so, so many people struggling with… even though it’s not an eating disorder specifically, or binge eating disorder, or other form of disorder because it’s a whole spectrum. So I really felt like I needed to speak up, and it was time and I felt ready. I felt strong. We hear sometimes you shouldn’t share your wounds while they’re still bleeding, but I felt like my wounds were healed and I was ready to just share that and hopefully help others dealing with those same issues.

Yeah. And I think that’s honestly such a great thing because like you were saying, there’s a lot of shame that goes into some of these behaviors. Especially with something like binge eating disorder, I think there’s maybe even a different type of shame than somebody might experience from something like anorexia or bulimia.

I think it’s really great that you’re speaking out about it because for somebody else who’s struggling with that type of disordered eating, I think it’s really important to hear other people’s stories and see how they’ve gotten through it, how they’ve come out on the other side of that, and as we’re hoping to accomplish in this interview, sort of just hear that story, hear those steps that somebody else had to take to get through it.

Maybe your journey looks a little bit different, but it’s so nice to hear that somebody else has gone through this. They’re sharing everything that they felt, that they went through, and then you know kind of what to expect, at least somewhat, what that road is going to look like. And I think that really, really helps people.

Aglaée: Yes, that’s really my hope.

Kelsey: Yeah. You mentioned that disordered eating is a spectrum. One thing I wanted to ask you to explain is just the difference between disordered eating and an eating disorder. Is there a difference and can you talk a little bit more about that spectrum?

Aglaée: Yeah. I really see it as a whole spectrum. Like on one end that’s on the left side, you have normal eaters where there are still normal eaters and it sounds like you are. You’ve been one of those people. But I find that they’re in the minority nowadays with everything going on with the social media and all those diet books.

Kelsey: I’ll say I’m probably not a normal eater.I’m on the left end of the spectrum. I think you’re right, that’s a minority.

Aglaée: And then on the right hand, we have people meeting the criteria for eating disorder. They meet certain criteria, but there’s anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder. There’s other forms of eating disorders also. I think it’s just trying to put things in a box and we know that at this point it can really start interfering with the quality of life and those sort of things.

But anywhere in between those two extremes, there is that whole spectrum where a lot of people can feel like they’re out of control with food, where they feel they are crazy around food, where sometimes they feel like they are not autopilot and they end up like eating a whole bag of potato chips let’s say or a whole pint of ice cream and wonder how that even happened. It felt like they were abducted by an alien.

For some people it’s just going on that crazy roller coaster of trying to restrict to lose weight, or maybe trying to restrict because they want to heal certain health issues and follow elimination diet and all of that but end up restricting too much and it backfires at some point. Because if you’re starving the body, it will at some point start screaming and asking for more food and that results in over eating. So that whole roller coaster is not a really great place to be and so, so many people are living a version of that.

Kelsey: Yeah. I’m sure because you worked with digestive health clients previously, and that’s sort of where my focus is right now, but I see this a lot especially with digestive health clients because like you said, you go on these elimination diets or you do these very restrictive eating patterns to try to keep symptoms under control, so it feels like it’s this “good” thing to do because you’re trying to heal from something.

But at the end of the day, if you are restricting that intensely for a long period of time, most people are going to end up under-eating. And like you said, that causes the body to just scream out for more calories, more food. And then they can end up kind of being on the other end of the spectrum where they feel like they have this whole array of disordered eating symptoms because of this initial elimination diet or restrictive diet that they were using to try to heal from something else entirely. Did you see that a lot in your practice?

Aglaée: Yeah. Sometimes people may be quite “normal” eaters to start with, but that whole elimination diet process, we have that thought that more is better, so let’s take more, and more, and more, and more food out.

I wrote a book about it about how to do an elimination to heal your digestive health. When I wrote it, I wrote it in a way that’s quite restrictive, and of course I try to explain how to customize that depending on where you are at in your life. That not necessarily easy to do, but a little update: There is a revision coming with more options for that.

Other people may come into an elimination diet with already some form of disordered eating and that can often exacerbate those disordered behaviors.

Kelsey: Yeah. Did you feel like that played a role in your own disordered eating? I know you had digestive problems as well.

Aglaée: Yes. When I say I was trying to heal my own digestive issues, I had SIBO, and was starting to heal from a parasite, and dealing with leaky gut and a lot of food intolerances. I was already eating Paleo, but mostly primal so I was trying to eliminate cheese, and now nightshades and kind of do an AIP protocol. And then oh there’s FODMAPS too, I should remove that, and now the histamine, and trying to do everything at once.

In the back of my mind I was saying well, the more food I eliminate, maybe I will finally be able to lose weight at the same time. I feel like the main thing that can help us discover whether we’re doing something in a healthy way or maybe in a way that’s more leaning towards disordered eating is to look at that underlying motivation.

For many, many people it ends up coming from fear. If you really dig deep and go to the bottom of it, like why am I doing this? Why, why, why, why, why? It’s often the fear and what they’re running away from. That’s usually how we can tell that there might be a problem in the way we’re approaching this.

Kelsey: Right. I think that’s a really important point. I think that’s something that as a practitioner, and I’m sure you do this, too, when you’re working with somebody who does have a real disease that maybe they do need to consider at least some degree of restriction of some types of foods in their diet, you really need to make sure if they have come up with those restrictions and decided that there are certain things that they haven’t been eating for let’s say the last few months, what the motivation is behind that.

Because often it’s a mix of things, but there’s usually one that’s more so than the other. I think what you just mentioned, that fear and that idea that maybe this will help me lose weight as well, and that becomes the real underlying motivator rather than the healing that could potentially come about.

I think that those restrictive types of diets…and I’ll be the first to say that I use elimination diets in my practice. I use semi restrictive types of diets with my clients because they do help us to determine if there are food sensitivities and they can kind of help to reduce some symptoms in the meantime while we’re looking at underlying infections or other things that are going on.

But that said, you can take restriction too far and it ends up backfiring because not only is your body then going to scream out for more food, but also when your body is starved like that, I think it becomes really hard to heal from anything. How can your body heal when it’s got such a big stressor going on and then it’s not getting enough food? I’m sure you see that in your practice a lot too, right?

Aglaée: Yes. Food is kind of the building blocks to heal the body. You cannot heal if you’re starving and not getting enough of all those key nutrients that you need. And then there’s also that whole fear because many people feel like they’re kind of fighting against their body, fighting against their craving. The body is trying to survive and get us to eat more because we’re not getting the nutrients that we need.

So there’s that whole like feeling betrayed by our own body when our body feels hunger because we don’t want to eat. There’s that whole really complicated thing happening where that….I feel like that whole fear is really about trying to push our body, not trusting that our body can do what it should do and trying to control a little bit the whole process and micromanage everything.

I feel like there’s an incredible inner wisdom that we have in our body and if we can you know move away from the fear and lean more into that innate wisdom that our body has, then the healing process becomes so much easier. I mean not necessarily easy, but a lot smoother.

Kelsey: Yeah, and we’re not fighting against that all the time because as I’m sure you can imagine, anybody listening, that when you’re fighting against something, it just makes the whole process a lot harder. Whereas like you said, Aglaée, if you lean that inner wisdom, there’s not as much as much of an obstacle to overcome.

Aglaée: Instead of having your body as it enemy, it becomes an ally. That’s more powerful.

Kelsey: Right. I’d love to talk about the role that body image plays in disordered eating because I think you mentioned that your own body image certainly fed into your disordered eating and eventual eating disorder. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Aglaée: If you think about it, in our culture it’s so prevalent, there is just so much pressure for all women especially, but men also to look a certain way and everything that we see in the magazines, in the media. We see all these pictures of perfect bodies of women and men, and of course those are not even real bodies. They’re Photoshopped or these are people that are making this a full time job, and even then they are still Photoshopped or they have many, many different tools to make them look at the way they look.

We’re constantly comparing ourselves. Comparison is huge. For most of my clients dealing with body image issues, I don’t recommend any kind of detoxes, those kind of detoxes. But social media detox is always on the list of things I do recommend because being exposed constantly to those feeds and pictures of people that seem to have their perfect life, having all of their…I don’t know what kind of words I can use here, but everything together and just looking perfect.

And of course we know that when we take a picture, it’s just such a small, it doesn’t represent the whole thing. And we can always, most people will take a dozen, if not more, pictures to try that perfect pose where they look a certain way. So the body image issues, they’re just so entrenched.

Many of us have that belief that it’s kind of a prerequisite to look a certain way before making certain things happen in our life and I’ve thought that way for many, many years. Like if I can lose that many pounds or look a certain way, then this will happen, then this will become easier, then my book will sell more, then I’ll be able to be healthier, then I’ll have more friends, or whatever it is. It’s just that we put that barrier in there and it’s like we’re trying to get from point A to Point B, but having two points in between before we go to Point B where it’s just a totally unnecessary step.

I know self-love is something that people talk more about and I think that it’s still difficult for many of us to really understand what it is to love our body for certain people. It might feel like giving up, like just an excuse to stop trying, but I do think that it goes so much deeper than that. I’ve actually enrolled in a year-long program to become a self-love guide and it has been life changing in my own life, but also in the way that I work with the women I work with.

Those body image issues, they usually goes so much deeper. Just like food, like the way we relate to food, the way we behave with food because many people think that food is their problem when they overeat or their emotions, but it’s actually just a symptom. It’s a symptom of something that goes so much deeper.

And the same thing is true with body image issues. When we make our body the problem, it’s really because we don’t want to look deeper at the thing that really does hurt and that we’re not ready to face yet maybe. It just feels easier to say that it’s something wrong at our body instead of the other thing, or the many other things that are there waiting to be healed.

So putting it on our body just is a distraction really. I guess it makes our life a little bit easier because we’re kind of lying to ourself in a way in the short term. But then in the long term it becomes really, really draining, and soul sucking, and removes joy and so many of the good things that we could find otherwise.

Kelsey: Right. Would you say that focusing on your body image, for example, like you said, it’s a symptom. But do you feel like that gives somebody some potentially false sense of control over their life when they really…and I think this is maybe what you were kind of hinting at with what you just said…there’s other areas of their life that they are not happy with for some reason and they feel that that is kind of out of their control to deal with. They don’t know what to do about those things because they’re more complicated and something like losing weight seems like an easy thing to focus on and an easy thing that they could kind of control. Does that make sense?

Aglaée: Yes, totally. And it’s even something that’s encouraged by society and valued, and you get congratulated when you lose weight. So it feels so much easier to control it.

There’s so many people I work with, like they may hate their job, they may be an unhealthy relationship, they may feel isolated enough to feel like they have support network or a sense of community that they are longing for, or they may not really know what kind of things they enjoy doing, or they don’t know where they want to go in life. Those are really big questions.

If we start thinking about those things, then it can be overwhelming. It can be really scary. It can mean, okay, so if I start thinking about that, I’ll have to do this and that, and that becomes a really big mountain. So we go back, run away towards okay, I’ll control my weight. That feels a bit safer.

Kelsey: Right, exactly. I totally get that thinking about those bigger potential life changes can be very scary. I touch on that stuff in my work and it sounds like you do this a lot now. People may realize that those things are a problem, but they think they either can’t change them or that it’s too overwhelming to even think about changing it.

I’m curious as to how you deal with that. I think for me, it’s like it’s hard to talk to somebody who can’t recognize that that’s a problem necessarily, or they recognize it’s a problem, but they don’t know what to do about it or how to gain control over that. And so I’d love to hear from you about how you work with people on those huge life issues that are really at the root of what’s causing some of these symptoms like their disordered eating.

Aglaée: That’s not an easy thing to address because sometimes as a practitioner or even as a friend when you’re talking to someone, it can feel like pretty clear to you that this other person you should do this or that, or that there needs to be some major life changes to help that person feel better then stop needing to use food to fill that void or to use just that thrill of going from one diet to another or trying to lose weight. Again, those are just symptoms that we use to try to fill that void, but there is a deeper issue.

So yeah, you cannot really tell someone you should do this. This really is something that we have to help the other person see for themselves. It really depends on what kind of rapport we have, so it’s really important to have that trust and build that relationship, but then just trying to ask questions. My approach, I think it is probably the same with you, I don’t tell people what to do. I try to guide them, but I really do ask a ton of questions and I ask questions to try to just eliminate. If we stay focused on elimination diet and our health or body, that’s all we look at. And so those other questions can just start eliminating those other things that are maybe hiding in that dark corner inside of us that we don’t want to explore.

So maybe just asking about what is not working well in your life right now? And also giving people permission that if we look at that, we can do it without judgment. We can train people on how to be more compassionate with themselves. We can also explain that looking at these things doesn’t mean that we have to change anything right now, but just acknowledging them and becoming more aware of them. It’s just a first step, but just making sure that they understand that there is no obligation that they need to do anything about it because they still are in charge, they can make their own decisions.

But just trying to eliminate those areas that are maybe not working so well and then asking about what they’re getting out of it of staying in that situation. Let’s say it’s a job that they don’t like. Well maybe there’s some comfort, some security of staying in there. But then what is the cost of that could be another question. And then we start eliminating those other things.

There is one side of the things that that keeps us safe, but going out of our comfort zone is usually always scary. So just starting looking at the cost. If we stay in that job that we don’t like, yes, it’s safe. Yes, we know we have a paycheck coming. But the cost of it would be that we keep feeling miserable for the rest of our life and we don’t try to find that thing that gives us more purpose and meaning to our life and allow us to really use all of our skills and the things that we feel we’re good at, and maybe more be more creative, and all of these things.

Once we start shedding some light, some things start clicking and we don’t need to change anything, but just eliminating is huge and can slowly shift things and get the momentum going in a better direction.

Kelsey: I like that and I like the idea of just acknowledging the areas of your life that are problematic right now with no obligation to necessarily change them right now. Because I think a lot of people probably deep down, they know that there are areas of their life that they’re not happy with, but they don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it directly. They’re not necessarily hugely aware of those problems and exactly what about those areas of life are making them unhappy.

I think that awareness probably helps a lot because even if you’re not changing anything right away, you’re starting to think about it in a more productive way, in a way that acknowledges what’s going on in your life. And of course once you acknowledge something, I think you start to think about the ways that you can you can change that in a positive way.

Aglaée: I think it’s also important to be gentle with ourselves. And then this will keep happening as we grow and we grow. There will be other layers of it we’ll come to the limit of our present comfort zone and be ready to expand that.

Like just last year, last summer pretty much, I was feeling like hey, I love nutrition and food, but I really wanted to explore more of those body image issues and relationship with food. But I was still not sure how that would look like and I knew it was just scary to even think about it.

When I started with the support of a life coach to just explore that and just eliminate, then things started becoming more clear. I didn’t change anything right away. I just started taking that path of looking around and see, okay, what’s here? What could be here? And then slowly taking one step at a time. And then you are creating a new comfort zone that’s a lot larger than the first one you were in.

Kelsey: I want to hear a little bit more about your personal story of recovery. I was going to ask you with the areas that you were maybe unhappy with in your life, how did you come to recognize those and how much of a role did those play in your overall recovery journey do you think?

Aglaée: That’s a big question.

Kelsey: I know, probably a hard question.

Aglaée: Yes. But I think that the most healing and most recovery happened for me by becoming more aware of that inner mean girl or inner mean dude we all have that’s constantly criticizing and bullying ourselves. I think that sometimes it’s not necessarily about what you do, but all the thoughts and emotions that are around it that can just be draining you, exhausting you, making everything pretty dark.

Becoming more aware of that and being able to recognize when I had that negative self-talk and the really nasty things I would say to myself and trying to start rewiring my brain to think differently. Even without having to make huge changes in my life, just thinking differently, which led to different emotions. It doesn’t mean that it will lead to different behaviors right away, but with time if you do it gently, things start changing.

At first for the first part of my recovery, the big thing for me, what was huge is not focus on changing the behavior, not focus on no longer eating my emotions, or bingeing, or over-eating, but simply stopping judging. Well, I say simply, it’s not that simple, but not judging myself for it.

If I wanted to eat a lot of something, then I would do it, but try to be gentle with myself and tell myself like, okay Aglaée, I know you you’ve had a rough time or maybe you feel nervous about this and you’re eating this. That’s okay, it’s your choice. You can do whatever you want.

The more and more I started doing that, slowly things started shifting. I really do think that I started rewiring in my brain because those things are really hard at first, but it gets easier with time and then the ripple effect can be really huge.

I noticed that sometimes I started finding, like usually if I had bars of chocolate, one bar was one serving. But I started finding like parts of chocolate bars that I had left there or open bags of plantain chips, which used to be a “trigger food” for me, and things like that. It just started happening naturally just by dropping the judgment.

Kelsey: Interesting. I love that! Yeah, dropping the judgment, really important and probably easier said than done. But that awareness is the first step I’m sure is to be just like okay, I’m doing this, and thinking about the reasons why you’re doing it. And then just saying that, like you said, this is your choice. You can do that, that’s fine. We don’t need to change anything now, but I just I want to be aware when these things are happening, and why I think they’re happening, and just acknowledging those emotions that surround those types of behaviors.

Aglaée: I think that sometimes we just need to be a parent to ourselves and maybe becoming a parent helped me think more about that. But if a kid eats too much of ice cream or whatever, I think that they need to learn how it feels in their body.

What would you tell a little kid that had too much ice cream? Would you yell at him or her? Would you make him or her feel guilty or bad? Or punish him or her by not having the next meal? No. You would just try to be compassionate, give that kid a hug, and oh your tummy hurts, I know you probably had too much ice cream. Do you think it could be the ice cream that did that? What do you think you could do next time? Maybe just eat a little bit less? Okay. And again, just move on. There’s no need to be harsh, so harsh with ourselves all the time. So think of how you would talk to a little kid.

Kelsey: That’s a really great way of thinking about it because you’re right, you would talk so differently. I think I hear that example when we’re talking about this inner mean girl about would you ever say that to a friend? I like your thing better, talking to a child about this. You just have so much more compassion. Which you do of course with your friends, but I feel like that parent/child relationship makes it even more apparent.

Aglaée: Yeah, we all have that inside of us. We all have that inner child inside of us that needs to be talked to in that way, too.

Kelsey: Right, right. Exactly. We have a lot of listeners who are probably struggling with some form of disordered eating. If you could talk to them directly right now, what would you say and then what kind of tips would you give them to get started on this journey of healing that you’ve been through yourself?

Aglaée: I think that’s a wonderful question. I’m getting almost emotional. What comes to me is that you are not alone. I know it feels like you are. It feels like you’re crazy with food, it feels like you’re out of control, it feels like you’re failing all the time. I know you really want to be healthy. You really want to feel better.

But I think that where you need to look at right now is not trying so hard anymore and not trying so hard anymore to control your food and control every bite that goes into your body because the real healing that needs to happen right now if you’re feeling this way with food is really about how you talk to yourself and how you feel about yourself.

I know it might feel scary. It feels a lot easier to try to counter your calories or control the foods you eat. But let’s be honest here. How long have you been trying that? Weeks, months, years, maybe decades if you’re like me. And so far it hasn’t helped you get to where you want to go, right? So maybe it’s time to try something new.

Maybe it’s time to just…you don’t have to change anything as I said. Just take that flashlight. You can call it a loving truth illuminating flashlight, to use the words of my mentor Christina Arylo. But use that loving truth illuminating flashlight and just start shining it around inside your head to look at your thoughts in a different way. Look at those thoughts and become aware of are these thoughts really serving me? Are these thoughts really coming from me, or are they coming from my inner mean girl or inner mean dude?

I bet that a great percentage if not probably the majority of those thoughts are coming from your inner mean girl. So just know that those thoughts are not yours. They’re not you and you can start thinking differently.

It takes some work, it takes some effort. But I promise that the more and more you do that, it will become easier. And if you just do it that using that loving truth illumination flashlight and shine it on your thoughts, you’ll see more light coming into your whole body and your whole life.

It may sound too good to be true right now. You may feel like there’s nothing that can help you and it may sound too simple, too silly. I know, I’ve thought that. But it’s really that path you need to take. That what I would say.

Kelsey: That’s amazing. I hope that helps somebody out there, and I’m sure it will. With your whole journey as you’ve gone through this, I know it’s obviously changed not only the way you know you personally live your life, but also the way that you run your business and sort of who you focus on.

One thing I’ve been really happy to see you doing lately is first of all talking more about this stuff. Because again, like I said at the beginning of this interview, I just think that that storytelling is so important for people who are currently struggling. But you’ve also created a program surrounding these ideas that we talked about today. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Aglaée: Yeah. The way I work now with my clients, it’s always like the body is part of food and nutrition, but that’s only one of four components. The body is one component. Then we have the mind that’s all about our thoughts, the way we talk to ourselves, that inner mean girl stuff that I was talking about.

Then the heart is about the emotions. And sometimes for many, many people struggling with disordered eating, feeling their emotions is really scary. We’d rather numb ourselves with food or stuff it down with food. So that’s something that we try to nourish and nurture.

Then the fourth component is our soul. I say it doesn’t have to be religious or spiritual. It can be. But if not, it can also be seen as the integration of all of the other components that make your whole self. When we talk about holistic healing, there is the way you can look at all the different organs and all that work together in the body. But then I think that we really need to include the mind, the heart, and the soul as well to really make all of these things work together.

That’s what I do with my clients and it’s really incredible to witness the transformation that can occur. I just love it because I think that I just feel like we all get so much better results. It’s one thing I think that sometimes we just need nutrition advice, but including that part as a part of the whole package…the people working with me, the clients know that I’m like probably the least judgmental person on the planet. So we can talk freely about their food behaviors. They don’t feel judged and I think that that helps them not judging themselves so harshly.

And then we really use those different food behaviors as symptoms to learn how to use those things that happen in our life and the way we behave with food to go deeper and really find what’s really hiding underneath that. That’s what I love doing right now, and for a long time I think.

Kelsey: That’s amazing! I think that’s so great because it incorporates everything we talked about today, which is just is so important when it comes to disordered eating. Wherever you are on that spectrum, there’s always something underneath that behavior. Because like Aglaée has been saying, this is a symptom of something else going on. And if you don’t acknowledge what is causing a symptom… and that’s how we think about functional medicine, too, is if you don’t acknowledge the root cause of a symptom, you’re never really going to heal because you’re just covering up symptoms. You’re using Band-Aids.

What I love about your approach, Aglaée,is that you have taken that idea of functional medicine and holistic healing and you incorporated it into this program that you’ve created in a way that that goes even deeper. Because those emotions, those thought patterns, those can be root issues, too. I think we forget about that a lot of the time because we think that the root cause of some sort of symptom has to be some sort of physiology that’s happening.

Aglaée: We like to be able to see it. We like to be able to really see and measure the problem.

Kelsey: Exactly, yeah. So to think about thought patterns, and emotions, and your soul as being part of this whole picture that can be a root cause of a symptom is a novel idea first of all, I think. And I think it helps so many people as you’ve already seen because if you don’t acknowledge those things, I realize this sounds a little harsh, but I truly feel like some people will not be able to heal if they don’t look at those things. Would you agree with that?

Aglaée: Yeah. Unfortunately it’s the case. I see people struggling with the same health issues for years, and years, and years. It’s really, really hard to get into those emotions or thoughts. Some people just get stuck at that physical body level and are maybe not ready or willing to look deeper and that’s really a barrier to their own healing.

Kelsey: Yes. Yeah, absolutely. Well, I’m going to include a link to your website of course and the way that people can work with you because I think what you’re doing is really amazing.

Aglaée: Thank you.

Kelsey: I want people to start working with you that are listening now because I think you could really help them, so we’ll include a link. Where else can people find you online?

Aglaée: Radicatanutrition. That’s my handle for Instagram. RadicataNutrition.com is my web site. And then if you look on Facebook for the Radicata Nutrition Community, I’m quite active there and I offer free minute courses quite regularly, too. Some of your listeners might be interested in that.

Kelsey: Awesome. Great! Well, thank you so much, Aglaée. This was really, really wonderful and I’m sure you’ve helped a lot of our listeners start to think about those deeper root causes of some of the types of disordered eating behaviors and patterns that they may be incorporating into their life and what they can do to move past that.

Thank you so much for being here today. This was great and I’m sure we’ll probably want to have you on again sometime to talk even more about this stuff!

Aglaée: Thank you so much! That’s exactly why I’m here to do, to try to eliminate a little bit.

Kelsey: Perfect. Well, you take care, Aglaée. Thank you so much.

Aglaée: Thank you. Take care.

PODCAST: How To Add Bone Broth To Your Diet With Justin Mares

Thanks for joining us for episode 118 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are excited to be interviewing Justin Mares!  Justine_Mares_Headshot

Justin Mares is the co-founder of Kettle & Fire, the first shelf stable bone broth company. He started Kettle & Fire with his brother Nick after Nick suffered a serious knee injury and wanted to drink bone broth for recovery but couldn’t find any. Justin was formerly a tech guy and ran growth at Exceptional Cloud Services until acquisition by Rackspace in 2013.

Bone broth is a beneficial addition to a healthy whole foods diet, but the time consuming process and messy cleanup are obstacles to many of us.

Luckily, our guest today brings good news of a shelf stable bone broth made the traditional way providing all the health benefits without the hassle!

Join us today as we talk everything bone broth with Justin Mares of Kettle & Fire. Just some of what you’ll hear is the details on what makes Kettle & Fire’s bone broths different than other products in the supermarket, the health benefits of consuming bone broth, and practical ways you can incorporate bone broth into your diet.

If you’re thinking you’ll just use powdered bone broth that’s increasing in popularity, Justin shares the reasons why these products don’t have the same nutritional benefits as the real thing. You won’t want to miss this discussion!

Here is some of what we discussed with Justin:

  • [00:05:05]  How Justin got into the business of selling bone broth on a national scale.
  • [00:07:41]  What makes Kettle & Fire’s bone broth different than what is usually found in the supermarket
  • [00:10:27]  The difference between bone broth that gels and broth that doesn’t
  • [00:12:10]  What kind of bones Kettle & Fire uses to make a broth high in collagen and gelatin
  • [00:13:16]  Where Kettle & Fire gets the bones to make their broth
  • [00:16:06]  How having a high quality pre-made bone broth saves time and energy while making working toward health goals easier to maintain
  • [00:20:31]  Why powdered bone broth does not have the same nutrition benefits as liquid bone broth
  • [00:23:54]  How Kettle and Fire makes a traditionally cooked bone broth that is shelf stable
  • [00:28:48]  The health benefits of consuming bone broth on a regular basis
  • [00:31:23]  Testimonial stories from Kettle & Fire customers
  • [00:39:16]  Guidelines on how much bone broth to consume on a regular basis to see benefits
  • [00:41:14]  Practical ways to incorporate bone broth into your diet

Links Discussed:


Laura: Hi everyone! Welcome to episode 118 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Laura Schoenfeld and with me as always is my cohost Kelsey Kinney.

Kelsey: Hey everyone!

Laura: We are Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence-based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me, Laura at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com, and Kelsey over at KelseyKinney.com.

We have a great guest on our show today who’s going to discuss how bone broth can be a simple and healthy addition to your whole foods diet without all the work and mess of making it yourself.

Kelsey: If you’re enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that you never miss an episode. And while you’re there leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well. And remember, we want to answer your question, so head over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a health related question that we can answer or suggest a guest you’d love for us to interview on an upcoming show.

Laura: Before we get into our question for today, here’s a quick word from our sponsor:

This episode is brought to you by Paleo Rehab, a five week online program designed to help you recover from HPA axis dysfunction, also known as adrenal fatigue. Is your perfect Paleo diet and lifestyle leaving you exhausted? Now is the time to start feeling the health and wellness you know you deserve. If you’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, and are ready to take back your health, then head over to MyPaleoRehab.com to get your free 28 page e-book on the 3 step plan for healing from adrenal fatigue. That’s www.MyPaleoRehab.com

Laura: Welcome back, everyone. We’re excited to have with us today Justin Mares. He’s the co-founder of Kettle & Fire, the first shelf stable bone broth company. He started Kettle & Fire with his brother Nick after Nick suffered a serious knee injury and wanted to drink bone broth for recovery but couldn’t find any. Justin was formerly a tech guy and ran growth at Exceptional Cloud Services until acquisition by Rackspace in 2013.

Welcome to the show, Justin! We’re really glad to have you here with us.

Justin: Thank you for having me. Super excited to be here!

Laura: We had you guys as a podcast sponsor back in the day. I forget exactly what the timing of that was, but I have a lot of your product in my pantry, both because I had a subscription for a while and then also you guys gave Jordan and Steve some product at their business mastermind two weekends ago that we were in Boulder for that. I got a little extra bone broth from that. I don’t even know if you guys were talking directly to them or not. But I have lots of beef and chicken broth in my pantry now because I’ve been just hoarding it.

Justin: That’s awesome! I’m excited to hear it. Have you tried the new mushroom chicken?

Laura: No, I haven’t. I didn’t even know there was a new flavor. I’ve just been kind of doing the standard chicken.

Justin: Got it. I will have to get you some. It’s exclusive in Whole Foods right now, but I’ll send some your way.

Laura: Cool. I was living off chicken broth last week because my husband got me super sick. I always blame him, but he got me super sick after I got home. We were both in Colorado for that business mastermind. Luckily I had like a whole box of the chicken broth that was just like essentially half of my day’s calories were coming from that. Definitely saved me when I was feeling really, really not well.

I used to joke with him before we were married and our relationship was primarily phone based. I would get myself like a little nightcap of bone broth. He’s not into the whole Paleo or ancestral health thing, so he always thought that was a little weird. I think he is thinking it’s less weird now.

But anyway, enough about my little stash. I wanted to find out from you since I think a lot of our listeners probably are the kind of people who if they were going to start a food company, they would want to know how do you even get into that? Especially coming from a tech industry, how did you get into the business of selling bone broth on a national scale?

Justin: Yeah, it’s a great question. I’ll kind of go back to the beginning. Basically I was working in tech because like I mentioned, my last company we got acquired by a company called Rackspace. After two and a half years of working on this company and working in the developer tools space, I was like man, this space is just so boring. I just didn’t really care about the product. There’s only so much excitement you can get from talking about, and selling, and working on a product that is a software for software developers.

Around that time, I started thinking I want to focus on doing something that I actually care about. For me that is health and wellness. As I started looking in the space, I was looking at doing a couple of different companies. I was actually looking at doing a software company in the kind of the [inaudible] space and was looking at a couple of other food companies because I think Food and Nutrition is just one of the biggest problems that we have today.

Around that time, my brother suffered his knee injury. I was trying to incorporate bone broth more into my life and struggling to do so because just I frankly am not a great cook book and don’t do it all the time. Between kind of these two things, I wanted this product, Nick you wanted this product and we couldn’t find it anywhere. No one was selling it at the time.

We just kind of decided, hey, this seems like a really good opportunity. We can actual really be the first company to make a super high quality drinkable bone broth using all hundred percent grass fed, grass finished bones from grass fed cattle, organic ingredients, and the like. Once we decided that was a good idea, we just kind of started going for it.

Laura: I feel like when anyone is starting a business, obviously one of the main things to consider is, is there a market for this kind of thing? And like you said, I don’t think up until you guys started making it, it was pretty rare to see at least good quality stuff. I know there’s lots of different products in the grocery stores that have been there for a long time. I’d be curious to hear your perspective on what makes…I mean I can tell from like a flavor perspective what the difference is.  But what’s your opinion on what makes your bone broth different than what you would normally find in boxes at the supermarket?

Justin: We obviously before getting into this business looked at what all of the other businesses were getting, what the competitors were doing. What we saw is that this same thing happened in the bone broth category that’s happened in all sorts of categories in the food system which is there is a product with traditional methods and a ton of health benefits like bone broth that have been a staple of our diet or ancestor diets for hundreds of thousands of years. Then kind of big food comes into the space and looks at not how do we make sure that this product maintains the health qualities and the attributes that people drink it for? But instead, how do we drive down the cost?

For example, we looked at all of our competitors and all of them were doing a couple of different things. They were using bones from other factory farmed animal or strictly organic animals. They were mashing the bones, and so using a bone paste. Rather than using the highest quality bones, the bones that are traditionally used to make a bone broth, they were kind of using all of the bones along with the not ideal kind of crappy cuts of meat that they would flash boil at high pressure for two to four hours and then they would add a bunch of seasoning and “natural flavoring” and all of like. What you get is you get a product that effectively is devoid of all the nutrient content that people are looking for in the broth. Like no amino acids, very little protein, almost no flavor.

We decided to come in and do things completely differently. We use super long cook times, 20 plus hours in the case of our beef bone broth. We use all organic ingredients. We use bones strictly from cattle that have been 100 percent grass fed, grass finished. Together we have this super rich bone broth that gels just like homemade, it’s high in protein. From the lab tests that we’ve done, our stuff literally has 200 times more collagen than Pacific’s bone broth. That not an accident. It’s because we make it completely differently using time tested traditional method.

Laura: Actually I’m curious, you mentioned that you guys have bone broth that actually gels. It’s always funny to me because whenever I make bone broth, which isn’t super common these days just because of how busy I’ve been which is why I love your product. It’s super handy to not have all this cleanup to do. Every time I’ve made bone broth, it gels. It’s funny because I’ll put photos on Instagram, or social media, or whatever to show I made bone broth and people are asking how I got it to gel. And honestly, I have no idea why my bone broth generally always gels. I feel like I just follow the normal instructions for bone broth. What is the difference between bone broth that gels and broth that doesn’t?

Justin: The amount to which a bone broth gels is basically determined by how much gelatin is in the product. Bone broth is super high and collagen and when you cook it for a long time, some of that collagen breaks down into gelatin. When gelatin is cooled, so basically put in the fridge for an extended period of time, the molecules will bind to one another and so create a kind of gelatinous texture.  If you have a bone broth that doesn’t gel, chances are that you either didn’t cook it long enough, enough of the collagen from the connective tissue, and the marrow, and the bones themselves didn’t get into the broth, or something else went wrong where it’s not as healthy and nutrient dense as it could be. That’s kind of a big difference and that’s why it’s a key indicator. It’s something that we pay a lot of attention to with our product.

Laura: I always wonder, and maybe you can confirm this, I feel like part of the reason that the bone broth I make at home tends to gel is because of the type of bones that I use. I feel like a lot of times I’m using bones that have a lot of that like obvious gelatin or kind of tendon like looking tissue on it, whereas I think you can get like these big soup bones that are mostly just bone and maybe some marrow in it. I’m wondering if maybe the type of bone you use affects how much gelatin is even available to come out in the broth?

Justin: Oh definitely. We want to look for bones that have a lot of either connective tissue, or a lot of bone marrow, or just a mix of all of those. For us, we use femur, knuckle, patella, neck, those sorts of bones because they have a lot of connective tissue. And that connective tissue when it breaks down on the broth leads the highest nutrient density and the highest concentration of collagen and gelatin from all of the different tests that we’ve run and from everything we’ve seen.

Laura: Where do you get these bones from? Do you have like a partnership with meat producers? I’m assuming that you don’t just go buy a bunch of bones from the grocery store the way those of us at home do when you’re making it on that size scale.

Justin: I wish. To the best of my knowledge, we are currently the largest purchaser of grass fed bone in the U.S. What we are doing is we’re finding ranchers generally, so we work with a couple of different rancher collectives that follow 100 percent grass, grass finished practices. We then buy from this collective. So basically this collective works with a bunch of these small family ranchers, they source these bones from all of these different individual ranches, and then we buy right from that collective. That’s kind of how we do it and that’s the best way that we found to maintain quality while also making sure that we can access as many bones as we need.

Laura: I would imagine that probably makes it a lot easier if you have some ongoing partnerships with farmers that maybe they would normally sell their bones directly to the consumer or to a grocery store. But if they can just kind of dump them on you guys and you guys can make a product out of it, I’m sure that’s a lot more convenient.

It’s funny because I feel like with bone broth in a box, or in a jar, or however people want to buy it, sometimes people say it’s kind of pricey. I mean to be fair, it is, it’s definitely more expensive to buy it pre-made than if you’re making it yourself. But I would say personally, the main reason that I go for the pre-made stuff is just like the time savings and also I hate dishes. Doing dishes when you’re dealing with bones is like the most annoying thing ever because it’s just like beef fat and weird bits and pieces of bone stuff everywhere.

Justin: Yeah.

Laura: That’s kind of like a little personal side note that I feel like a lot of people don’t realize how much work goes into bone broth as far as like if you were going to make it at home. Then even though maybe bones themselves, you can get them kind of cheap, it’s like yeah maybe the starting ingredients are not that expensive, but just the amount of time and energy you save putting the bones in, like just setting it up, getting it cooking.

It’s not hard necessarily, it’s just when you’re busy, like I know for me running a business and newly married so I have a lot of stuff even just like home organization things that I need to be doing right now, I just don’t have time to be doing this like traditional cooking method.

Do you feel like that’s one of the big hurdles that a lot of like potential clients for you guys either hits that price point and is like, oh my gosh, it’s so expensive! Or they say I can make this myself, why should I buy it?

Justin: Yeah definitely. A lot of people say that. I think that in order for someone to improve their lives and change in a meaningful way their diet, their health, whatever, it’s really really, really, really important to make a new behavior super easy and accessible.

So many people don’t go to the gym, don’t go to CrossFit or whatever because they go to one class and then they get super exhausted, and they’re sore for the next few days, and after hiking to the gym that’s two miles away, or drive, or whatever, it just becomes a really typical habit that a lot of people drop off of.

I think in the same sense, if you’re looking to improve your health, or work on joint health, whatever issue you’re trying to improve and it requires that you buy these bones from these specific sources, like make sure you’re buying really high quality bones, and then cook them for 24 hours plus hours, and then like you said have to clean up, and all this kind of stuff, and sometimes you’ll mess up the batch, and other times you won’t, it just it makes it much, much harder.

I’m completely with you. If you know how to make bone broth and you have access to really high quality bones, go for it. I think there is a ton of good that can come from incorporating this product in your diet whether you buy it or whether you make it on your own. We’re more making this for people that like you don’t want to spend 24 hours cooking this so that they can have it every morning or drink it two or three times a week, which is lot of cooking.

Laura:  The cooking I would say because I personally have a Crockpot that I would use, so the cooking itself is not even where the time comes in. For me it’s like, first like you said, sourcing the bones. I know places I can get bones in the area like farmers markets or farmers in general. But it’s not just like going to Whole Foods and getting bones. You have to go to kind of special places to get it.

And then they take up a lot of space. If I’m not going to make the bone broth right away, it’s a long time to stay in the freezer and then it’s like half your freezer space is bones, which is not the end of the world, but if you’re not doing it right away, then it’s taking up some decent amount of retail area in your freezer.

Justin: Yep.

Laura: And then the putting together and cooking part, okay fine, not that hard. Like I said, it’s just that straining the bones and then cleaning up all the tools, like my cleaning my Crockpot, cleaning my strainer. Even just discarding the bones at the end it’s like, okay, do I throw these out? Do I do something else with these?

And then there’s the fat on the top, which I had gotten in the habit of saving when I was doing it. But honestly my fridge got so full of all this fat that I wasn’t using because I don’t eat like a super high fat diet. I was just like, this is ridiculous. I have to throw this out now because it’s been in here for years.

I would say for me it’s more like the time that goes into the prep, and then the cleanup up, and then the amount of extra stuff that’s either in my fridge, or freezer, or garbage can because of that process. It just got to the point where I was like I can’t do this. It’s just not reasonable. I’m too busy. I have two businesses that I’m running, all this stuff going on. I might as well buy the stuff and have boxes of it.

And honestly, really like I said, it came in handy when I was super sick last week. I wasn’t going to go through this whole process to make bone broth when I was in bed for the whole day. So it was really nice to be able to just be like, alright, I need to slam some chicken broth right now and I just went to my pantry and pulled out a box and did that a couple of times a day for a couple of days.

I mean it’s one of those things that I think the clients that I work with, sometimes they’ll have like sticker shock or they’ll be like bone broth is easy enough to make. Why don’t I just do it myself? Which like you said, it’s great, but I think people might be surprised if they’re trying to do bone broth on a regular basis that doing that on even just a weekly basis can get really exhausting.

Justin: Yep, completely agree.

Laura: I’d be curious because something I’ve been seeing crop up with a lot of my clients, not because I’ve been recommending it per se but because I think just the internet is recommending it, there’s a lot of clients that I work with that are using powdered bone broth and I’m wondering if you have any perspective on this. I don’t want to open a can of worms, but I’m just curious because I think a lot of people are using this powdered bone broth and they think that they’re getting the same product. I don’t know enough about it to say anything pro or con and I’m curious if you have any thoughts.

Justin: Yeah, definitely I have some thoughts. From my perspective, I think that whenever you’re looking to change something about your diet for health reasons, it is best to almost always go with a whole foods approach. That is something that I think has been proven over, and over, and over again.

If you look at nutrition science over the last 50 years, there’s been tons of different things where first it was it was just Resveratrol from wine and then just kind of trends hop around to all of these different miracle cure supplements that end up not working unless pretty much consumed in whole foods.

I’m just skeptical of that kind of reductionist approach to nutrition in general and more specifically as it relates to the powdered bone broth. If you look at the ingredients, if you look at how they’re sourcing it, if you look at all this stuff, it’s ironic to me that the people that often care a lot about their health and want to incorporate this product in their lives, they wouldn’t buy factory fed chickens, and yet they’re putting this bone broth into their body that is strictly from factory farm chicken sources.

How the bone broth powder is made is it’s a chicken stock where they make the stock from factory farm chickens, which has all sorts of issues, but they make the stock, they then concentrate it by spray drying it and exposing it’s a super, super high heat, and then blanch and bleach the powder.

What that does is that it effectively robs the powder, the broth of any nutrients that it may have had. When you’re exposing amino acids and proteins to super, super high heat, it does something called denatures the protein where the protein molecule actually warps and it is just no longer as nutritious, as effective, and it’s not used or processed by the body in the same way.

From everything I’ve done, everything that I’ve read into, there’s a lot of research about how gelatin and collagen can be denatured at super, super high heat, which is why though we’ve had tons of offers, probably could have made quite a bit of money doing this, we have not yet launched a bone broth powder because we have not found a way to do it the same sense, in the way that we think would be nutritionally advantageous and actually effective.

Laura: With your liquid bone broth, is there a temperature max that you’ve set for that product?

Justin: Yes. We don’t expose it to more than 160 degrees. That is the go long, slow simmer kind of process that we put it through.

Laura: I think this is where some confusion has come up with people that I have talked to about the product in the past is that their assumption is that in order to have a shelf stable product, it has to be heated to a point of I guess sterilization to be able to do a shelf stable. But maybe you guys have figured out a way to do that kind of technology without the heat process?

Justin:  They’re completely correct when it comes to…. there’s basically a couple ways that you can “sterilize” things. What these exposure guidelines are for are simply to kill bacteria that might exist in products. They’re mandated by the USDA or the FDA and it just says you must expose your product to this temperature or at some point if you want to kill off known bacteria, known pathogens that could exist in our food.

So that said, there are basically two ways that you can do this. One, what they do with a lot of shelf stable juices, and coconut water, and stuff like this is they will expose the product for a short period of time to a lot of heat. That will be 250 degrees or so for 30 minutes. Now in our case because bone broth is made by cooking it over an extended period of time at low heat, we actually get around that because of our long cook times.

The USDA says you either have to flash freeze something or you can keep it under a certain temperature threshold for an extended period of time. Those will both inhibit the growth of pathogens and stuff like that. We kind of go with the second option where we do our long, slow cook times. There is no way that any pathogens can get into the bone broth or grow in the bone broth during those long slow cooks. And then we package it so that. The product is actually good and shelf stable.

Laura: That’s good to know.

Justin: Does that make sense?

Laura: Yeah, definitely. And I’m glad that you’re explaining it because like I said I think the controversy, or not controversy, but the questioning that I was overhearing was coming up at the last Weston Price Conference that I was at. Now I don’t think people were being like belligerent or anything. I think they were just skeptical that there could be a shelf stable product that was as good as homemade. The Weston Price crew tends to be like hard core homemade everything, like down to any grains or fermented foods that you eat, you make it yourself.

Justin: Yeah.

Laura: So it’s definitely a little bit more to the DIY everything kind of crowd. Which that’s great if you have time for it, but obviously we’re talking to a lot of people who don’t have time to make everything. I think knowing that you’re not getting a super high temperature, pasteurized product with your bone broth is really important because I think that was the concern a lot of people had that like you said a lot of times the FDA requires certain processing styles to make sure that you don’t allow for pathogenic overgrowth, which is a good thing. You don’t want to be having like an anaerobic shelf stable bacteria in your bone broth.

But I think there was like I said just a confusion. So I’m glad that you cleared that up and hopefully that makes people feel a little bit better. Because you can say we cook it for 24 hours at 160, but then it’s like 300 degrees for 30 minutes before it goes in the box and then kind of just like ruins and you sort of long and slow technique that you’re using.

Justin: Yeah. It’s good for people to be concerned about this, but I think it’s important to know the difference between extended heat exposure with vegetables or fruits, probably not a good thing because those things are meant to be consumed fresh. That’s when they’re most nutrient dense is when you pick it off the vine and it’s fresh, it’s ripe, it’s all that, nutrients are at their peak.

Bone broth is entirely different where there’s not really a pasteurization. You can only get the nutrients from the bones after exposing it to heat over a long period of time and doing this cooking process to allow the nutrients to break down. And so it’s very different than picking something off the vine and trying to maximize nutrition content. With bone broth, actually you maximize it by cooking it at heat for an extended period.

Laura: I’m going to switch gears a little bit because it’s good to hear more about the why behind…like we get why your product is good and why it makes sense to use that product as opposed to making yourself sometimes. Definitely understanding that now.

Now the real question is why drink bone broth? What are the health issues that can be improved by consuming bone broth regularly? Do you have some either anecdotes or some research that you can point to that would support using this product on a regular basis?

Justin: Absolutely. Are you familiar with Chris Kresser at all?

Laura: Did you say Chris Kresser?

Justin: Yeah.

Laura: Yeah, Kelsey and I are his staff nutritionists.

Justin: I thought so.

Laura:  I was like wait, let me just make sure that’s who you said.

Justin: Yeah, sorry, I meant more for like the audience. He wrote a blog post recently where he talked about all the benefits of bone broth and pulled in a bunch of studies. It’s basically the best resource I’ve seen in terms of data backed by studies as to why bone broth is so, so good for you.

But at a high level and basically why I think it’s an important product to incorporate in your diet and why I use it is because even if you’re a relatively health conscious person, you’re probably eating a lot of cuts of muscle meat, organic, grass fed, and the like, and then vegetables, fruits, nuts, and all of that. What you’re not getting even in a pretty healthy diet like that is you’re not getting a lot of the amino acids, collagen, and other things that pretty much only come from organ meats, which very few people eat many of, and bone marrow, and bone broth.

Those amino acids, those proteins are really, really helpful in terms of improving the intestinal mucosa and healing and kind of sealing the gut lining. They’re important for bile production, so basically improving your digestion and the way that the stomach breaks down the food that you eat. They’re really helpful with joint health, skin health, and a bunch of other things that people tend to care a lot about.

Laura: Awesome. We’ll linked to that Chris Kresser article that you mentioned so that people can get a little bit more into the science.

Disclaimer: This is not a prescription for curing a disease or anything, but just as an example, I notice that when I’m a little bit more consistent with my collagen and bone broth consumption, I know my nails get a lot stronger. Do you have any sort of things that you’ve seen either in your own life or kind of testimonials you’ve gotten from customers about what the bone broth has helped?

Justin: Yeah. Several of our customers are a little bit older. One of them is about 50 and she said that she started taking our bone broth and drinking a cup every single day. And after three weeks, she basically was previously using a walker to get around because she had a bunch of knee pain and was taking a lot of drugs to kind of dull the knee pain, and she found that she could go several hours without actually using a walker, which is pretty crazy.

I feel like a kind of snake oil salesmen person telling that story because it sounds like one of those too good to be true type testimonials. But she e-mailed us and literally said that this is incredible and incorporating this product into my diet has literally changed my life.

We had another customer that they just had a baby who’s about 18 months old and the baby was anemic and was struggling to break down any of the foods. It was having a lot of health issues. What they did is they feed it this nutrient solution through a feeding tube and instead of blending that nutrient solution in water like they were instructed to, they started using our bone broth. Basically after two months that baby was no longer anemic, and was processing, and had an improved immune function, was breaking down the nutrients. Just a really, really incredible transformation.

For me, I think that it just shows like how badly people are lacking many of these nutrients in their diet and how helpful it is once you actually get the body what it needs.

Laura: I feel like it can be a little sketchy when you’re relying solely on anecdotes to promote something.

Justin: Totally.

Laura:  Especially when it comes to the health field, I mean certainly we try to be as evidence based as possible on our podcast and on our websites and stuff.

Justin: Definitely.

Laura: Like you said, maybe this Chris Kresser article has a lot of references. But sometimes with some of these health benefits from certain foods, you’re not necessarily going to have like a randomized controlled trial where they take like 10 people with arthritis and split them up into groups and have one do bone broth. Sometimes the evidence just doesn’t even exist.

Even though we don’t want to necessarily rely exclusively on anecdote, I think having those stories from people who saw these benefits, it is useful because I mean it happened. It’s not like it’s not true and I think sometimes people will tend to discount testimonials because they’re like there’s no science to support what they’re saying. Yeah, maybe that’s true. But at the end of the day, if it’s not causing harm and it’s potentially helpful, I feel like anecdotes can be a good just sign that something is helpful and it could help somebody.

So again, we’re not saying that it’s like going to replace medicine or that it’s like going to you know regrow a limb if you have a limb amputation. But I think just understanding human physiology and the composition of bone broth and then seeing these anecdotal reports, I think all the puzzle pieces line up.

Justin: Right.

Laura: Like I was saying, it’s rare for bone broth to cause problems. I have had some clients that have histamine issues that they don’t do well with bone broth. But otherwise for the average person, having some bone broth in their diet isn’t going to cause a problem and if it’s potentially going to help, then I think it’s worth experimenting with.

Do you have an idea about how much bone broth should be consumed either daily or weekly in order to really see any health benefits? I think some people would think that if I just have like a half a cup a day or if I splash some in some cooking that I’m doing, that’ll be good.  Other people might say I need to have like two 16 ounce boxes of bone broth every day to really get the benefits. Do you think there’s an average amount that would be a good place to start for just like your normal healthy person?

Justin: Absolutely, yeah. Before that, I just wanted to quickly follow up on the kind of studies that you just mentioned.

Laura: Sure.

Justin: You are completely right. I am not a huge anecdote fan. I’m definitely more of an evidence based person. The issue is that with a lot of whole foods, there have not been many studies conducted as to like how does eating this whole food impact your health in a positive way? That said, I am happy to send you a list of a bunch of studies that have been done on some of the amino acids and proteins that exist in bone broth showing how they help with bone health, reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, some of these things improved digestive health, and all this. Maybe you could link to a bunch of these studies that I’ll send you links for that in the show notes that would be most helpful.

Laura: Yeah, absolutely.

Justin: Awesome.

Laura: I think the optimal is to have the research that of course supports even just the mechanism. And I think that’s what you’re talking about is it’s like okay, here is these amino acids, here’s how they affect let’s just say arthritis, and bone broth is really high and these amino acids. You can connect the dots and say well that must mean that drinking bone broth has the potential to help with this specific health issue.

It’s a little different than what you were saying before about like resveratrol where it’s like they take this thing that’s super small amounts in wine and then they concentrate it like crazy and expect it to have the same outcome. I feel like when it comes to foods, there are certain nutrients and there’s vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, all that stuff that we know individually that those things are important. And then the goal is how do we make sure you’re getting that in your diet? Bone broth I think is a really good way to get a lot of those nutrients. It’s not the only way, but it’s probably one of the easiest.

So it makes sense to have, like I said, kind of like that connect the dots approach to research where maybe they’re not testing bone broth per se, but if they’re testing glycine and we know that bone broth has a lot of glycine in it, it’s kind of a reasonable leap to say that bone broth could potentially be helpful.

I think that’s how unfortunately a lot of nutrition recommendations have to be done because like you said, there’s not a lot of research into whole foods and you can’t really isolate individual foods in a diet anyway very easily. It’s pretty hard to do that in research because we don’t just eat bone broth all day. Other things play a role.

Justin: Exactly.

Laura: I think that combination of as much evidence as is available and also a willingness to be open to either anecdotes or just self-experimentation, I think in the world of nutrition you kind of have to get a gamut of evidence that’s supporting your approach.

Anyway, you were going to tell me about how much bone broth people should try to have regularly in order to actually see health benefits.

Justin: Yeah. We find that people tend to report the best results when they drink it three to four times a week, basically about a cup per serving. That’s around eight ounces is where we’ve seen our customers have the best results.

Laura: Your boxes are sixteen ounces, right? So it would be like half a box?

Justin: Yeah, exactly. That’s not going to harm you.

Laura: I’m one of those people that literally drinks the whole box in one serving. I’ll basically pour it up to the top of my mug and then usually there’s like two ounces left or something, or I don’t know, something insignificant. I’ll drink it down and then pour the rest in. I don’t usually save my boxes. But then again, sometimes when I’m having it it’s like emergency broth situation. But I would say like a couple of times a week.

I think honestly because of that low dose for what would be health beneficial, that’s another thing that kind of makes making yourself a little annoying because when you make it, you have just like a ton of it. Yeah, you could drink a lot of it all at once, but I almost feel like that kind of more consistent lower dose would be almost more useful than having like five cups a day for a week and then not having it for another two weeks because you didn’t make it.

This is just me like hypothesizing, but I do wonder if that affects the risk of the histamine intolerance issue because a lot of times people that are getting histamine intolerance, they’re drinking like cups and cups a day. Maybe that’s not really ideal for anyone that has any sort of either like glutamate sensitivity or histamine intolerance, that kind of thing.

Justin: Definitely.

Laura: Other than just drinking it straight, which is what I do, do you have any ideas for how to incorporate bone broth into a regular basis part of your diet?

Justin: Yeah, I mean we have tons of recipes on the blog, but I tend to drink it straight. I’ll add maybe a little bit of chili oil or some grass fed butter blended up in the morning. But otherwise, a bunch of people will cook vegetables with it, make really, really good soups or stews with it. But I tend to just drink it, personally.

Laura: I have a recipe, I don’t even know if I’d call it a recipe. It’s kind of almost like an inspiration for how to use bone broth on my site. It’s also kind of like how to get more vegetables. Basically you just like blend bone broth with cooked vegetables and maybe put some like cream or coconut milk and salt and pepper and stuff. I find that’s helpful for people that either don’t like eating vegetables or if they have gut issues and they can’t do a lot of super fiber rich veggies. If they blend it up, they often can tolerate it better because you’re getting a lot of that like mechanical breakdown happening. I think soups are awesome.

For me, like you said, I just do it usually it’s going to be an evening thing, like maybe an eight ounce cup or a 16 ounce mug, just cramming it in before bed. I normally add a little salt to it just because I like a little saltier broth, but I don’t think you’d have to necessarily.

Now I’m curious about this mushroom one. I feel like I’ll have to try that one out and see if that’s the next flavor I start doing for my little evening nightcaps. Any other new products you guys have, or is that like proprietary, not sharing that information yet?

Justin: We have a ton of new products we are working on. We don’t have any others that are live just yet. I will send you some stuff if you’re interested. Happy to send you some stuff that we are going to be launching over the next probably six weeks.

Laura: Yeah, absolutely. Like I said, I’m really interested in trying this mushroom one and I just know I really like the beef and the chicken. They’re both kind of different. Honestly I feel like the beef is almost more, I don’t know, earthy maybe than the chicken is, but they’re both pretty mild as far as bone broth goes. I feel like they’re a good kind of an entry point to bone broth if somebody hasn’t tried it before.

Cool! Well, thank you so much for your time, Justin, and sharing your knowledge about not only bone broth, but just giving us more details into the company. Because like I said, I think there was this concern about the heat and pasteurization potential for that kind of product, so I’m really glad you cleared that up because like I said, I really like your product. I think it can help a lot of people that don’t have time or maybe don’t have the kitchen space to be doing their own bone broth to be able to get a really high quality product and it just tastes good too. That’s always nice to have something that’s reliable and available when you need it.

Justin: People tend to like that.

Laura: Yeah! Anyway, we’ll share some links to your website, to the blog with some of those recipes, to the Chris Kresser article, and we’ll look forward to more products coming from your company in the next, who knows? Months, years. I’ll be watching and tasting everything.

Justin: Fantastic! Thanks so much, Laura. I really appreciate it.

Laura: Thanks for coming on the show, Justin.

Laura: Hey, everyone! Laura Schoenfeld here. I hope you’ve enjoyed this great episode with Justin Mares. As you’ve learned, bone broth is an awesome addition to a healthy ancestral diet. But if you’re anything like me, making it on a regular basis is somewhat impractical and can get really messy. Scrubbing pots and discarding old bones on a weekly basis just doesn’t fit into my busy week. In the past that made it hard for me to get bone broth in on a regular basis.

But now, thanks to Kettle & Fire, I have delicious shelf stable bone broth at my fingertips and all I have to do is tear open a box. I love drinking bone broth on its own. And lately I’ve been cooking my Rice in it, which adds amazing flavor to the rice that my husband and I both love.

If you want to try out Kettle & Fire bone broth, we have a great deal for our audience. Go to theancestralrds.com/bonebroth and enter the code “ancestral20” at checkout to get 20 percent off your order. Please note this coupon is limited to one use per customer, though you don’t need to be a first time customer to use the code.

Again, go to theancestralrds.com/bonebroth and enter the code “ancestral20”. That’s “ancestral20” at checkout to get 20 percent off your entire order. You can also check out the show notes for this episode to get the link.

I know you’ll enjoy this bone broth as much as I do and I hope you take advantage of this discount. See you guys next week!

PODCAST: Overcoming Toxic Nutritional Beliefs With Tessie Tracy

Thanks for joining us for episode 117 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.


Today we are very happy to be interviewing Tessie Tracy!

Tessie Tracy is a Wellness Coach who has been an athlete since the age of four when she started gymnastics. This came with a unique set of challenges keeping up with her peers as she was born with a rare heart condition that makes intense exercise challenging.

After defying the odds all the way through a collegiate cheerleading career, she was tempted into continuing her competitive career with bodybuilding but discovered that the restrictive eating and being judged solely on her appearance was not her true definition of health.

Her path as an athlete propelled her into her profession as now an Eating Psychology and Mind Body Nutrition Coach as well as a Level 2 CrossFit Instructor. Tessie is a global ambassador for the body image movement. She has worked with everyone from teens to celebrities and continues to develop tools for men and women to discover their true health instead of letting media, old science, and fad diets define it for us. You can find Tessie’s work at TessieTracy.com.

Calories in, calories out has become a catch phrase concept ingrained in our minds as being the key to sustainable weight loss. Tessie Tracy is here today to unravel prevalent toxic nutritional beliefs such as this and uncover their effects on our lives.

As we discuss toxic beliefs related to calories, weight loss, and macronutrients, you’ll learn tips and techniques to overcome toxic negative beliefs around food and body image. Tessie also opens our eyes to how the goal of weight loss is rooted in basic human needs and challenges us to dig deep to think about the underlying reasons that give rise to our desire and attempts to lose weight.

Here’s what Laura and Kelsey will be disucssing with Tessie:

  • [00:04:13]  How Tessie got into the field of wellness and body image coaching
  • [00:16:36]  Why the goal to lose wight is rooted in basic human needs and how uncovering the reason that gives rise to the desire to lose weight effects the weight loss process.
  • [00:22:10]  Why the concept of decreasing food and increasing exercise to lose weight is a toxic nutritional belief
  • [00:27:05]  The toxic belief that calories in, calories out equals weight control and the caveat that comes with it
  • [00:33:08]  Disproving the toxic belief that fat contained in food causes a gain in body fat
  • [00:37:20]  Techniques Tessie uses to address mindset, diet, and exercise when working toward sustainable weight loss and body confidence with clients who have toxic negative beliefs around food and their body

Links Discussed:


Laura: Hi everyone! Welcome to Episode 117 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Laura Schoenfeld and with me as always is my co-host Kelsey Kinney.

Kelsey: Hey guys!

Laura: We’re Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me, Laura, at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com, and Kelsey over at KelseyKinney.com.

We have a great guest on our show today who’s going to share her perspective on what she calls toxic nutritional beliefs including myths around calories, macronutrients, and weight loss as well as problematic beliefs around what most women consider to be the ultimate goal of eating and exercising. We’re excited to be covering this important topic today!

Kelsey: If you’re enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that you never miss an episode. While you’re there, leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well!

And remember, we want to answer your question, so head over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a health related question that we can answer or suggest a guest you’d love for us to interview on an upcoming show.

Laura: Before we get into our interview for today, here is a quick word from our sponsor.

This episode is brought to you by Paleo Rehab, a five week online program designed to help you recover from HPA axis dysfunction, also known as adrenal fatigue. Is your perfect Paleo diet and lifestyle leaving you exhausted? Now is the time to start feeling the health and wellness you know you deserve. If you’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, and are ready to take back your health, then head over to MyPaleoRehab.com to get your free 28 page e-book on the 3 step plan for healing from adrenal fatigue. That’s www.MyPaleoRehab.com.

Laura: Welcome back everyone! Today on our show we’re interviewing Wellness Coach Tessie Tracy. Tessie has been an athlete since the age of four when she started gymnastics. This came with a unique set of challenges keeping up with her peers as she was born with a rare heart condition that makes intense exercise challenging. After defying the odds all the way through a collegiate cheerleading career, she was tempted into continuing her competitive career with bodybuilding but discovered that the restrictive eating and being judged solely on her appearance was not her true definition of health. Her path as an athlete propelled her into her profession as now an Eating Psychology and Mind Body Nutrition Coach as well as a Level 2 CrossFit Instructor. Tessie is a global ambassador for the body image movement. She has worked with everyone from teens to celebrities and continues to develop tools for men and women to discover their true health instead of letting media, old science, and fad diets define it for us. You can find Tessie’s work at TessieTracy.com.

Welcome to the show Tessie! It’s really great to have you here.

Tessie:  Thank you, Laura! Happy to be here.

Laura: You and I met through a mastermind business thing that one of our mutual friends set up. I know that you weren’t participating in it for super long, but I remember just getting exposed to your work when we were communicating through that business mastermind. I was like she’s got a cool message, we should have her on the show. Thanks for being with us.

What I want to start with is, just because a lot of our listeners may not know who you are, I’d love to hear your story. We talked a little bit about where you came from in the intro, but I want to hear a little bit more about how you got into the field of wellness and body image coaching from being an athlete, and doing the cheerleading and the gymnastics and dealing with the heart condition. Do you want to tell us a little bit about what got you on the path that you’re on now?

Tessie: Yeah, absolutely. I’d love to share more about that. The intro was a beautiful, succinct overview of some parts of how I got into what I am. I grew up in Colorado. I did gymnastics when I was little, healthy, mom and dad cooked homemade meals, and wouldn’t define myself as someone who necessarily grew up with body image issues or felt like I had eating issues. It almost wasn’t until I had some things happen in my life, started doing some personal development work, and reflecting back I realized some things that actually were present in my life.

A huge factor and possibly something that I experienced…it happened in high school.  I, again, was an athlete, a cheerleader. After my junior year of high school my best friend and boyfriend passed away. He was in a car accident. I was there. It was a super traumatic event at that age, being 17, like first huge experience of this person that he was literally the one person I felt at that time that like accepted me for my imperfections.

Having the heart condition, I remember I was an athlete, but I was the slowest runner. I never ran a mile under like nine minutes and everyone in high school was running like seven minute miles and all this. So he would run with me. It was just it was very traumatic. I remember for the first time after he passed feeling like, who am I? It was really scary and I didn’t necessarily ask for the help I probably needed. But there were.

About a few years later, some of my cheerleading friends actually talked to me and they said yeah, after that happened you would like go in the bathroom for periods of time in cheerleading practice and no one knew where you were. I don’t even remember doing that.

One thing I do remember is I would late at night after everyone went to sleep, I would go in the kitchen and my mom had bought these like little Bon-Bon ice cream treats and I would binge on them. I didn’t even know what bingeing was. But bingeing is basically not just where you are emotionally eating, but you’re literally out of your body, you kind of don’t even realize how much you’re eating. I would eat like a carton and try and like hide the wrappers, all this. So again, like didn’t talk to anyone about it necessarily, but just kind of filed that away as, oh okay, that was an issue and it had to do with food.

And later again, still an athlete, cheered in college. After college, I had always been told that you have a perfect figure to do body building and you have the V-shape, and broad shoulders, and whatever, whatever. Kind of let it go in one ear, out the other. After college, had a huge like athlete withdrawal, like oh my gosh, I’ve had a coach since the age of 4, like now what do I do with myself? I’m not competing.

Right at the quarter life crisis of age of 25, I decided to do a bodybuilding competition. I hired coaches, started training, still living in Colorado. And it’s so funny, I was listening to your podcast and hearing Sarah Vance, I believe that it was, and her telling her story, I was like oh my goodness! Like that’s my story! So I started training, started changing my diet again.

I went into it with this mentality of hey, I’ve got a good head on my shoulders. I can change my diet and not let it get to my head. I had a really close friend who I knew her whole entire story who had suffered from bulimia and anorexia and been to treatment. The moment I told her I was doing this, she didn’t talk to me for the entire time that I was training.  I understood why later.

As I was training, my diet just got more restrictive and I found myself getting to that point where I was about three to four weeks out from the show, I was 9 percent body fat, had lost my period, was crying every day. I was also coaching cheerleading so I had to spot girls doing like flips and stuff and I felt like I was almost going to pass out because I was just so weak.

The day of the show came.  I had gotten to that place where I was completely mental about everything. I had my warmups on… I started at a point where I was still athletic. I was maybe 140 to 145, maybe 18 to 20 percent body fat. And then the day of the show, I had lost 20 pounds of just fat and I only lost two pounds of muscle.

Laura: Wow!

Tessie: Yeah, and my trainer was like, oh I’m so proud of you! You’re like my poster child!  I was like I feel awful! I remember not wanting to take my warm ups off, like I felt fat. I felt bigger than everyone, like comparing myself to all the other girls. I did the figure category. It’s where you still get judged on having like a feminine physique, but you’re judged on like your muscle symmetry and all this stuff. I was like maybe 120 the day of the show and I won the entire show. I won out of the novice category, I won out of all the other competitors that have been competing for years. I got all these trophies and I was like wow.

Then after my show, I had no education how to get off my very restrictive diet of chicken, spinach, and that’s it basically. Maybe a sweet potato here and there. No education how to get off of it. My coaches immediately after the show, all the guidance they gave me was like eat whatever you want the night of the show and then you actually want to like pretty much get back on your diet. It was just really emotional for me. They had a family crisis, so they actually had to then leave town and they didn’t offer a lot of support. I didn’t know exactly what to look up or how to do it.

My body being in a physiological starvation mode freaked out. I started bingeing on peanut butter and cookie dough. I got sick. I didn’t try to make myself throw up, but my body got sick from eating stuff I hadn’t been eating. It was really scary. I got depressed, I gained water weight, 10 to 15 pounds in the first couple weeks, I saw a therapist. I started Googling, does this happen anybody else? There were multiple stories that it’s very common, exactly what I was going through.

The thing that was so difficult is that I had literally after being an athlete my entire life and I had a heart condition, I had always struggled to keep up, I felt like I had to work three times as hard as everyone to keep up, and the one thing for the first time in my life I had won. I said whoa, l this is something I’m good at. It was a really hard mental decision. I remember the therapist asked me do you think you’ll do another show? Because it’s addicting, it’s addicting to be rewarded based on how you can change your body. It’s like achieving any goal, you’ll get a result and you’re mentally like hey look, I can do this! I had to wrestle with the fact and really look at it like yeah, but is this what I’m going to define as healthy for me? And it wasn’t, so never did another show.

I still had some trickle effect where I had then moved to Los Angeles. I moved here for hip hop dancing, acting, modeling, still interested in doing fitness modeling. I had settled back into like a fairly normal weight. I had little things still popping up like I had a modeling agent ask me if I had ever done plus size modeling. I was like ugh. And again, like super normal weight, still have muscle tone. I’m so happy to see that the modeling industry is slowly transforming, but it is definitely still very prevalent and the agents say that right to your face.

I was like, okay, that’s maybe just the industry or whatever. It was like every time I went to an audition, my mind just went to oh I didn’t get it because I’m too big. I had an athletic modeling agent where I could do CrossFit, I could do push ups, I could do pull ups, I could do skills. And there would be skinny girls there who couldn’t do one push up who got the athletic modeling job. Some skinny girls can do push ups or whatever, but to me it just felt unfair because it was only representing one body type.

Things like that happened. I had another acting coach tell me that I needed to either lose 10 pounds or gain 20 to either have the character roll of like the bigger girl or I could never be cast as the pretty girl unless I lost at least 10 pounds. So a lot of that. Being an impressionable age, so early 20s, I was listening to all of this and battling with it.

Eventually I got into personal training. I fell in love with the fitness industry and realized how many people out there, they didn’t have my background of working out their entire life. It felt really good to support people with those basics. And then I further realized that people don’t just need the physical side, they need the mental side of habit change, they need the nutritional side, they need this body image side that I’ve been wrestling with. That’s when I also did a lot of emotional intelligence training and did the eating psychology coaching. That’s where I’m at now. It’s really shaped my practice and how I help people.

Laura: Yeah, definitely. You’ve been through the experience of being at what a panel of judges said was the ideal physique obviously if you won the show, and yet you just to get there had done so many I’m sure what you would consider disordered eating and exercise behaviors. You’ve been at that point where a lot of women will say I just want to have abs or I just want to lose 20 pounds. It’s like being able to come from that place and say hey, I’ve been there and it’s not that amazing to go through what it takes to get to that point, so I’m sure that that helps. You’re working with clients to kind of show them what the realities of that goal is. Do you have a lot of clients that come to you wanting to lose weight?

Tessie:  Yeah, I think that’s it’s actually probably the most common client is that they want to lose a little bit of weight. Some of them have some other physical issues, maybe it’s energy or whatever. But there’s definitely this that I think we all have, and I always say it stems from a healthy human I think traditional need or desire to feel attractive.

Laura: Right.

Tessie: I don’t think that’s wrong. I think there are things, there’s clothes that we wear that we just feel our best, we feel ourselves, we’re expressing ourselves. There’s being active and when we’re eating good, there’s something that can be happening in our body where it helps us actually exude an inner energy and inner glowing to where we’re attracting a mate or you know whatever that is. There’s studies that show how a heterosexual woman, there’s like things about the physique of a man and how his muscles are shaped, they send off our pleasure receptors and are a physiological scientific attraction to one another.

To me, that’s where it’s kind of rooted, is like I think it’s very human and not wrong for us to be like…and of course that’s underneath a desire to want to live a long, healthy life. But we’re then told that it’s has to look a certain way. So where that message gets blurry is like well if you want to actually live a long life, if you want to be attractive to attract that mate, or if you want to be sexy, the magazines, the media, pop culture, you need to look like this and that’s where it gets kind of toxic.

With my clients, I try and root them into they can get down to those deeper reasons of maybe why they want to lose weight.  I always go with the sentence like if you could say once I lose 10 pounds, then I’ll be what?  And I have them really get grounded on that what. Then I’ll be…? That’s where the root comes in. Then I’ll be sexy, then I’ll be confident, then I’ll be whole, then I’ll be successful.

Then you get to the answers of what else is going on in their life, what else is missing, what’s their reason. Maybe they don’t feel enough and it actually has nothing to do with what they look like, or what they’re eating, or what they’re doing for exercise. It has to do with, we all have our insecurities, something we want to be better or something where we need to feel attractive because we don’t think we’ll find love unless we do it. We don’t think we’ll get the job unless we look a certain way.

What I have my clients do is… and it’s a practice… is practice stepping into the once I lose X pounds, then I’ll be this. I have them step into the this. We’re going to practice your sexiness just as you look right now. We’re going to practice your confidence just how you look right now. We’re going to practice feeling good in your body exactly how you look right now. And it’s 100 percent the biggest challenge.

By doing that, what we can end up doing is we contribute to creating the environment for our body to, if it has weight to lose, relax into its settled the weight. Instead of if we’re on a daily basis freaked out that we weigh what we weigh, that’s just adding to stress and that’s not contributing to weight loss if our body needs to lose weight.

Laura: I feel like what you were saying before about getting into the why is so important because you can say that I want to lose weight because if I lose 10 pounds I’ll be more attractive to the opposite sex. Maybe that’s a place somebody could get stuck. But then if you asked what do you get from being attractive to the opposite sex? I know obviously that’s a general human desire, but I think the deeper desire there is to have a relationship with another person. It’s like maybe it’s that they’re not happy with their relationship status and they feel like they can control the way their body looks and that’s a way to then get at that relationship status.

I find that in a lot of my clients too where they’re kind of hung up on the weight thing. It’s not that they shouldn’t lose weight from a health perspective or that they’d be causing problems if they lost weight because a lot of times they do have like 10 20 pounds that if they lost they’d still be within a healthy weight range. But I feel like what you’re saying before about that that anxiety about the weight, and stressing about it, and doing things with their diet and exercise that might actually be counterproductive because they think that’s the way you lose weight, that’s where the problem ends up not only becoming something that is distracting you from the real issue but then also like maybe not even working to help you lose that weight.

I think this is probably a good segue to talk about some of the things that you write about on your blog. One of the things you had mentioned before we got on the call was that you have some ideas about prevalent toxic nutritional beliefs that are taken as common knowledge but aren’t actually scientifically true. Let’s talk about those because I think that’s a really important thing to cover in this episode because I want to know what you think is some of these prevalent toxic beliefs and then what the evidence actually shows about those beliefs.

Tessie: One of them came to mind as you were talking which is that the typical weight loss client, want to lose weight because I want to feel attractive, I want to be loved, they’re given this equation of increase your exercise and decrease your calories equals weight loss. So increase exercise plus decrease food intake equals weight loss.

Why I claim this is a toxic belief…and this is again something I learned from Marc David who’s the founder of the Institute For The Psychology Of Eating and my teacher in eating psychology…is short term, yes, if any person goes from sort of moderately to sedative lifestyle, they start moving their body, they start working on a healthier diet maybe the macronutrient balance, the getting more whole foods, might they lose weight and might it stay off when they stick with those habits? Absolutely. That is what I would still consider a sustainable weight loss and a sustainable change that whatever happened within them, that inner shift….and this statistic I’m sure has been said on your show to where 95 to 98 percent of diets fail within a year and people gain it back. So when you look at that 2, 3, 4 percent or whatever of people that they actually have that story of like hey, yeah, I lost 20 pounds, and it’s been 3 years, and I’ve kept it off, they have some sort of inner shift that happened. They have a life event that happened, they have a change of heart that happened, they have something in their mindset that happened to support them through that too. It’s habit change and that’s hard when we’ve had 20 to 30 to 40 to 50 years of one habit, and belief, and thought process and then we are trying to switch it.

The decrease food, increase exercise might be short term. It might be sustainable for a small percentage of people. Going down the road, if someone’s doing that in a in an unsustainable way really restricting and they’re getting below where our body of course has that set point, has that point at which it’s happy…. I’ll always get a sense of a client what they’ve weighed, what they weighed when they were younger, what they weighed when they were a teenager, any fluctuations to try and get a sense of…like we have no idea how much any one human body should weigh. Science, we can come up with some great guidelines and that sort of thing, but just saying because someone weighs 160 and is 5’5” or something…and of course it depends on her body composition, but they could have a little more fat on their body, they could be heavier, and they could feel great, and they could have all their bloodwork come back normal.

The weight itself just depends on the body. If someone is restricting to the point where it’s out of whack with what their body wants to be and they become underweight for where their body wants to be, the longer they do that they might just become malnutritious, they could lose hair, they could have immunity issues, they could have hormonal issues. Actually what they thought they were doing to become “more healthy” they’re destroying their health. It stresses out the body. Sometimes they’ll hit a plateau and be like this diet worked for years. I’ve been eating 1,500 calories and I always could lose weight and control my weight, and now it’s not working.

That’s one toxic belief is that just across the board always increasing exercise and decreasing food equals weight loss. That kind of leads into and connects to another equation which is my calories in versus calories out equal weight control. Anyone can go online and Google their daily caloric needs, their basal metabolic rate there, get a sense of how much to be eating.

For a client who maybe has, they really have no idea, maybe they have no nutritional knowledge of like okay, what do I eat? I will go through that with them and be like hey here’s what these meals for throughout the day would look like for caloric needs that your body needs just to survive and function, not even to do exercise or this and that. That can at least give people the picture.

Why I say calories in versus calories out equal weight control is a toxic belief, that’s not always necessarily true… and all these come with a caveat, like is having a general guideline for my caloric needs bad and wrong? No. Can it lead to me thinking that’s the only way I control my weight and that’s bad? Yes.

Because there’s such thing as non-caloric weight gain, non-caloric weight gain. Something can be out of whack with my hormones and it causes me to gain belly fat, my cortisol could go up, and there could be environmental toxins that are causing weight gain in my body. As we all get older we have metabolic changes that when our metabolism changes, it doesn’t matter maybe how much I change my calories, my body is just changing. And even different health conditions where I might not even change what I’m eating and all of a sudden I have unexplained weight gain. That’s why that general equation of calories in versus calories out equals weight control is not always necessarily true.

The other thing is a lot of foods and this this idea of calories is that we all burn calories differently.  And this gets into the stress stuff too. So say you and I are sitting side by side and we’re having a salad, a healthy salad. It’s got maybe some nuts on, it maybe some hard boiled egg, and mixed greens, some carrots, some tomatoes, like all this stuff it’s within our diet that we like, and it’s “healthy.”

As we’re eating the salad, you are sitting there, you’re breathing, you’re enjoying the view. We’re out to lunch, it’s a beautiful day. You’re eating slow, you’re just like savoring every bite. You’re so grateful for this food and this healthy salad. Meanwhile I’m sitting right next to you. I’m so stressed out, I’m scarfing down the salad. I’m thinking oh my gosh, this is this is 400 calories! I shouldn’t be eating this 400 calories! Oh my gosh, what if this makes me fat? Is this too much egg? Oh my gosh! I’m eating really fast and I’m in this stressed state. I’m completely mindlessly eating.

After that meal you would probably feel, like maybe 20 minutes later, that’s about the time that it takes the brain in our belly and the brain in our head to communicate that we’re full, or satiated, or we’ve had enough…most of us do not take that 20 minutes…you would feel satiated, you’d feel energized from your meal, you would feel full enough to go about your day. I potentially would still feel hungry because I never even allowed my mind and my body to taken that I was eating because I was so stressed out that I was eating.

Being in that stressed state, even if it’s a low level, those negative thoughts that we have can literally just create a low level of fight or flight response in our body, especially when we say you can rest and digest, meaning you digest when you’re relaxed. So if I’m the opposite of that, especially when I’m eating in a non-relaxed state, stressed state, even if it’s just stress because of my thoughts, but my body is reacting as if it’s in fight or flight, literally kind of acting as if I’m getting chased by a tiger. The blood is going away from my digestive system. The nutrients I just assimilated, that is not my body’s priority because my body thinks that I’m in some sort of panic, life threatening state on some level, so I might not even assimilate the nutrients that I just had from a healthy meal. I would excrete more of those nutrients. My cortisol would go up, my adrenals would be going.  I would metabolize those calories differently than you would metabolize those same amount of calories from the same meal.

That’s the toxic belief of just saying that every body is the same or there’s one diet for everyone. No. Your emotions are connected to how you’re digesting and metabolizing. Your beliefs, your life story, everything else that’s going on in your life, it’s part of the picture.

A few of the other ones, and one I think is going by the wayside because there’s just prevalent information on healthy fats, but some people believe the fat in food equals fat on my body. There’s still zero fat, low fat like yogurt and sour cream, so I get that occasionally. I still have a hard time finding full fat sour cream or full fat yogurt. It’s like you have to search for it because there’s zero fat everything. It’s not as close to the whole food state. It is more processed. Our body will metabolize healthy fats and even more natural fats than dairy like avocados, and nuts, and olive oils when someone who’s very calorie restrictive will often be cutting the fats with that fear of eating this fat means fat on my body. That’s just not how it’s first and foremost metabolized in our body.

Laura: Right. I feel like what you were saying before about that tide is shifting, something that Kelsey and I talk a lot about on our show is kind of the unanticipated consequences of that tide shifting seem to be more of the carbs equals fat on my body belief. We work with people who say they’re afraid to eat more than half a banana in a day because they’re worried they’re going to get fat from eating too much fruit.

It’s either end of that spectrum of too much fat…or I shouldn’t say too much because obviously if you’re over eating, it’s going to probably lead to weight gain for most people. But just in general, eating fat or eating carbs does not by nature lead to gaining body fat. I think both of those ends of the spectrum… I have yet to see somebody argue that eating protein, or actually I feel like there are people that argue that eating protein makes you fat. So I think any nutrient, you could find somebody out there is saying that’s what makes people fat. Definitely the X macronutrient equals fat gain is probably not ever going to be accurate from any angle that you’re looking at it.

Tessie: Yeah absolutely. I totally believe in the bio individuality and there’s definitely no one diet for everyone. If there were some things I’d agree with, scientifically like we need macronutrient balance. That’s why we call it balance because we need all of them in balance. And the other guideline given what I do with my clients when we do get into working on the diet and the food stuff is working with macronutrient balance, working with meal timing, and also food quality.

Again I’m kind of working with the mindset stuff first and they’re coming to me, I won’t touch on the diet stuff. That’s what they’re going to…like write me a meal plan, tell me what to eat. It’s obvious they need to work on the body image first. But I’ll still give them little practices. Like if they’re emotionally eating and they’re like I always go get this one chocolate cake, I’m like okay, well how about this? Still have a piece of chocolate cake, of course I tell them to start to eat it slow and enjoy it. They will actually metabolize it differently. They will naturally eat less of it and they’ll be conscious and aware while they’re eating it. But I say go get go get that piece of chocolate cake from Whole Foods or a health food store and look at the ingredients. Get that that chocolate cake that it’s organic chocolate cake. So even just increasing our food quality as a first step, it can have a profound effect on our metabolism, our weight, and our body.

Laura: What do you do when you have somebody who you’re working with that really wants to lose weight, and they just want you to tell them what to eat to lose weight, and then you see that they have all these other areas in their life that are probably contributing to these negative toxic beliefs? Do you just ignore the food and just totally approach it from a more emotional and kind of deeper life needs perspective? Or do you balance it with some changes in the diet and some changes in the emotions at the same time?

Because I feel like for me being a Dietitian, most of the work that I do centers around helping people find an appropriate diet that works for them, and is sustainable, and makes them feel their best. The mindset stuff is a part of it, but it’s not like we just talk about mindset. Do you ever go into this type of client situation and just do mindset first? Or do you combine it with the other aspects of eating and exercise? What’s your general approach with these types of clients?

Tessie: I would say the general approach is definitely a combination. In the first few sessions of course I’m trying to get as big of a picture as I can about what their biggest challenge is, where it potentially comes from, and what their ideal is; how they want to feel, where they want to be.

I have a recent client who she said she has had weight issues her entire life, she’s had an injury where she was kind of sedentary for a while and gained weight in the past few years to more than she ever has. She has a mom who has in some ways influenced the beliefs where mom was basically anorexic or always making some sort of comment about not liking her body. From eating psychology I also learned there’s a metaphoric mirror between a woman’s relationship with food and a woman’s relationship with her mother. We can all think of our habits, beliefs, and tendencies, and our relationship to mom, and our relationship to food that will kind of give us some breakthrough, give us some insight of like oh, that’s why I do that.

Knowing the whole picture with someone, by doing both….I’ll keep with this client as an example. She wasn’t eating breakfast, she wasn’t eating dinner. She was like really, really eating very, very little. She was overweight and had even from my perspective had some weight to lose. I believed that based on what she shared, her body had some weight that it could lose. She felt out of balance. She had just started working with a personal trainer. I was like, great, that’s good. We came up with some goals around how many times she was going to be active.  She had a treadmill at home that she wasn’t using, so I gave her some workouts to do on the treadmill to hold her accountable for that, two workouts a week additional walking.

How I approach it with clients that I can tell are in the mindset and the emotional belief of the last thing they want to be told is to eat more, I frame it as an experiment. I say will you try something for me? For the next four weeks, let’s just practice adding in breakfast. Super baby step. And I say tell me what you like to eat for breakfast. I don’t tell them what to eat. I say tell me the things that you like. Let’s make a list of foods that you would potentially eat for breakfast.

She gave me her list of foods that she liked, and of the healthiest, most whole foods, we came up with a designed breakfast. The first few weeks…and it’s great when the clients are honest, she said I didn’t do it, Tessie, I couldn’t, and I feel skinnier when I don’t eat breakfast or whatever was behind that. And then as she started to practice it, it became she noticed she had more energy. She was less hungry in the afternoons, of course she would tend to sometimes like binge or overeat at dinner.

I don’t want to say I’m tricky with clients, but in a sense sometimes I’ll go along with what they want to hear because it’s true and because it’s also helping them work towards their highest health ideal potential. For example, her eating breakfast: Hey, you know what? If you eat breakfast, this might mean, yes, you’ll have more energy. You also might eat less at night. It might help balance out your weight. Although I’m the coach who’s saying like love your body as it is, it’s still framing it to the client.

While we’re working on the mindset, I’ll also give them mirror work, so working in front of the mirror with as little clothing as they feel possible and just looking at their body. It starts just for five minutes a day. It can be very uncomfortable. They’re just supposed to look at every part and then they can get to the point where they’re just noticing the thoughts.  So maybe they don’t have the thought come up like I hate my belly and that like ruins their day that they did the mirror work. But the goal with that practice is to get to the point where it’s like a game of, oh, I’m having that interesting…it’s just an awareness, like an outside perspective awareness. That’s like the emotional intelligence stuff is I’m just starting to instead of experience and letting my emotions take over, I’m just noticing. Like, oh weird, that’s the thought that comes up every time. Like when did that start? Weird, it’s always with my belly.

Then it transitions into, alright, we don’t have to love our bodies 100 percent, 100 percent of the time. Right? We’re human. We’re going to have our little insecurities. We’re going to have our days when we don’t feel as good. But it’s a practice. If you’re at 40 percent of the time, let’s work you up to 80 percent of the time.

So start then doing the mirror work, and looking in the mirror and giving your body some love. Hold that belly and be like, you know what? Thank you, belly, just thank you for being there. Thank you for keeping me alive. Thank you for giving me a body that’s here on this earth and capable of what it’s capable for doing That practice alone, it’s super uncomfortable and super challenging, but just committing to that practice can then turn into almost a daily affirmation that that supports the whole process.

So framing it as an experiment of course, and then they get to see the result. They get to see like, oh, I do feel better in my body. Or my body might not be changing, but I’m proud of what I’ve been doing so far.

Laura: Right.

Tessie: This approach of sustainable weight loss, it is baby steps and if your body is going to change, it’s going to change slowly and over time and you still have to celebrate the things that you are doing along the way.

The other thing I’ll switch up is meal timing. I have some people who are super busy, they skip lunch. I say for a lot of us, for most of us, we have bio circadian rhythm which is similar to like our circadian rhythm where we have a sleep/wake cycle. As the general human body feels a little bit sleepy and a little bit more energized at certain points the day, our metabolism can work the same way where it’s building up in the morning, that’s why it’s good to fuel the machine in the morning, and it can peak at kind of midday.

Between 12 and 1:30, I usually give my clients that time frame, like try to not only eat lunch, but try and make that a big meal. Make that a bigger meal.

Again, it’s an experiment. It might not be something that lands for everybody. But a few clients I’ve had recently that have done that, they’re again noticing a difference in their afternoon energy, they’re noticing a difference in not eating as much at night when the metabolism is slowing down. Generally, it works for them.

So food quality, not skipping meals, working on food timing, and then going into also macronutrient balance. Depending on their challenge, I will also sometimes ask a client to not weigh themselves. That will also be an experiment, like hey, let’s just step away from the scale for a month. You’re weighing yourself every day. It’s not your actual weight when you’re seeing yourself fluctuate a pound a day or whatever. So let’s just go by how you feel. Again, the mirror work helps with that because you can kind of see differences in your body, you can feel in your clothes if your body is changing. Even if it’s not, you can learn to step into owning your body.

Even if someone, they have these weight loss goals, they’re working on the mindset, their body doesn’t actually change, but they learn to love their body, that is a success. That is a win. They’re stepping into what I call stepping into their queen where they can be like Queen Latifah, and Ellen, and Oprah. They walk into a room and they own the room. They might have different body shapes and sizes, but they have a glow about them, they have a presence about them, they have an attraction about them. That’s what we’re all seeking no matter what we weigh.

Laura: These are all really great, sounds like not too challenging. I mean as far as the actual implementation, yeah, the mirror thing I’m sure is pretty challenging. But it’s not like running a marathon or something. Standing in front of the mirror just looking at your body for five minutes, it’s definitely doable. Sounds like there’s a lot of these somewhat simple techniques that people can start implementing for changing some of these toxic beliefs about their bodies, about nutrition.

Do you have any other ways that people can get more information from you either on your website, or do you have any books or anything? How can people get more of this information?

Tessie: Yeah, absolutely. You can get more information on my blog and I have a stress reduction checklist on TessieTracy.com. You can also follow me on social media. Instagram that’s @TessieTracy and I’m on Facebook as well. I do have a book and I can share this link with you. I give away a free e-book that’s Sustainable Fitness Goal Setting. It walks you through steps if you’re someone who feels like you are really on and off about your fitness habits. I have an e-book that helps walk you through that, get an accountability partner, and start to make it a sustainable practice. That’s TessieTracy.com/workbook.

Laura: Awesome! We’ll put those links in the show notes for this episode if people want to check that out. But otherwise, it was really great to have you on, Tessie. I feel like we could have talked about this for a long time. There’s a lot of different things that come up when you’re a health and body image coach just because it is such a part and parcel with wellness where you have the actual physical needs that your body has, but then there’s also that mental and emotional component that plays a role too. So it’s really cool to see people doing the work to help others really look at the whole picture and not just think about calories in/calories out equals weight control and those kind of maybe not so accurate beliefs. Thanks so much for joining us and we hope to have you on in the future.

Like I said, if anyone wants to check out Tessie’s work, we will have the links in the show notes. But thanks for joining us, Tessie.

Tessie: Amazing! Thanks so much, Laura!

PODCAST: Skinny Fat: Nutrition And Exercise Strategies To Build Muscle

Thanks for joining us for episode 116 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are answering following question from a listener:

“Can you give me some advice on being skinny fat? I’m 5’7” in my late 30s and weigh 115 to 120 pounds. I went through your Paleo Rehab program and have some HPA axis dysregulation as well as high estrogen and low progesterone and testosterone. I tend toward orthorexia and can easily go down to about 1,200 calories a day when I’m not tracking.

Here’s where I need help: Even though I’m thin, I have no muscle and I’m very fat and flabby with increasing cellulite on my quads and thighs. I just can’t seem to burn fat and build muscle. What’s the best macro ratio for this? I’m about 15 to 20 percent protein and 40 to 60 percent fat and carbs currently. Would a higher protein and lower fat help burn fat and build muscle?I currently walk, do yoga, and a little PiYo, but can’t afford a trainer for strength training. I’m scared to eat more and just get fattier. Help!

P.S. Just to add to my question, I basically want some help knowing what would be a good macro breakdown for my particular issues as well as exercise ideas to burn fat, reduce cellulite, and build muscle. Perhaps you could also speak to the hormone imbalance. Would it be dumb to take testosterone to build muscle? I already do all the dietary and lifestyle for estrogen reduction as well as Cal D Glucarate. Don’t need DIM because I already metabolize down a protective pathway according to DUTCH. Thank you!”

The term skinny fat may seem like an oxymoron of contradictory body types, but it is a real dilemma to those who have low muscle mass and can’t seem to tone the excess flab that can occur even in thin bodies. If this sounds like you, you’ll definitely want to listen today as we share what to focus on to see results in your physique and body composition.

Join us to learn why it’s important to direct your effort into building muscle instead of burning fat and come away with effective nutrition and exercise strategies to reach your goals. You’ll understand why strength training along with appropriate calorie and protein intake leads to muscle gain and improved body composition while even helping with hormone balance.

If strength training doesn’t seem possible for you, don’t throw in the towel! We’re also sharing options and recommendations on how to begin to strength train in a way that fits your lifestyle and budget.

Here’s what Laura and Kelsey will be discussing in this episode:

  • [00:05:26] The importance of strength training to focus on muscle building instead of fat burning
  • [00:06:29] How eating in a calorie deficit can hinder muscle gain
  • [00:10:44] How the goal of getting toned can be achieved by building muscle even if body fat levels stay the same
  • [00:12:54] Options and program recommendations for how to incorporate strength training while on a budget without working one on one with a personal trainer.
  • [00:20:03] How beginning a strength training program with in-person feedback can prevent injury and increase likelihood of consistency
  • [00:25:52] The importance of getting adequate protein to build muscle while strength training and the recommended percentage of protein to aim for
  • [00:28:22] How the ratio of carbohydrate and fat can be adjusted to individual preference and needs
  • [00:35:01] How appropriate caloric and protein intake with strength training can help in hormone recovery and balance

Links Discussed:

  • This episode is sponsored by Paleo Rehab
  • The Ancestral RD’s Podcast: How To Choose A Gym And Personal Trainer (Part One and Part Two)


Kelsey: Hi everyone! Welcome to episode 116 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Kelsey Kinney and with me as always is my cohost Laura Schoenfeld.

Laura: Hi everybody!

Kelsey: We are Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence-based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me at KelseyKinney.com, and Laura at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com.

Over the next 30 to 45 minutes, we’ll be answering your questions about health and nutrition, and providing our insights into solving your health challenges with practical tips and real food. At the end of the show, we’ll be sharing some personal and business updates, so stick around if you’re into that kind of thing.

Laura: If you’re enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that way you never miss an episode. And while you’re in iTunes, leave us a positive reviews so that others can discover the show as well. And remember we want to answer your question, so head over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a health related question that we can answer on an upcoming show.

Kelsey: Today on the show we’re going to talk about being skinny fat and strategies for gaining muscle using appropriate nutrition and effective training. But before we get into our question for today, here’s a quick word from our sponsor:

This episode is brought to you by Paleo Rehab, a five week online program designed to help you recover from HPA axis dysfunction, also known as adrenal fatigue. Is your perfect Paleo diet and lifestyle leaving you exhausted? Now is the time to start feeling the health and wellness you know you deserve. If you’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, and are ready to take back your health, then head over to MyPaleoRehab.com to get your free 28 page e-book on the 3 step plan for healing from adrenal fatigue. That’s www.MyPaleoRehab.com

Kelsey: Welcome back, everyone. Here’s our question for today’s show:

“Can you give me some advice on being skinny fat? I’m 5’7” in my late 30s and weigh 115 to 120 pounds. I went through your Paleo Rehab program and have some HPA axis dysregulation as well as high estrogen and low progesterone and testosterone. I tend toward orthorexia and can easily go down to about 1,200 calories a day when I’m not tracking. Here’s where I need help: Even though I’m thin, I have no muscle and I’m very fat and flabby with increasing cellulite on my quads and thighs. I just can’t seem to burn fat and build muscle. What’s the best macro ratio for this? I’m about 15 to 20 percent protein and 40 to 60 percent fat and carbs currently. Would a higher protein and lower fat help burn fat and build muscle? I currently walk, do yoga, and a little PiYo, but can’t afford a trainer for strength training. I’m scared to eat more and just get fattier. Help! P.S. Just to add to my question, I basically want some help knowing what would be a good macro breakdown for my particular issues as well as exercise ideas to burn fat, reduce cellulite, and build muscle. Perhaps you could also speak to the hormone imbalance. Would it be dumb to take testosterone to build muscle? I already do all the dietary and lifestyle for estrogen reduction as well as Cal D Glucarate. Don’t need DIM because I already metabolize down a protective pathway according to DUTHCH. Thank you!”

Kelsey:That’s a lot of information, which is great. Sometimes we feel like we don’t have enough information on somebody to answer some of these questions that you guys send in. But this is very thorough which is wonderful.

The first thing to me that comes to mind for this is that I would really, really recommend that this person does some strength training because honestly it’s the best way to get less skinny fat and build more muscle. More cardio is not really going to do that. This person was kind of saying that….she’s walking, doing yoga, and a little PiYo. Just for those of you who don’t know what PiYo is, it’s kind of a mix between Pilates and yoga basically. To me that sounds like a lot of cardio type things, and a little bit of relaxation, maybe a little bit less intensity from the yoga depending on what kind of yoga she’s doing.

Definitely the first thing that I think of in terms of becoming less skinny fat is that you really have to incorporate some kind of strength training because otherwise I think it just very difficult to build muscle. This is something that I’ve seen personally in my own body as I’ve started to do some strength training. It’s just a night and day difference to me.  I don’t know, Laura, if you felt the same way.

Laura: Yeah. Just looking at this person’s question, really to me none of her plan sounds like a muscle building plan to me. I think part of the problem is that she wants to burn fat and build muscle at the same time. Honestly I feel like her best interest would be to just focus on the muscle building part, not worrying about burning fat, not worrying about losing fat at all because honestly for most people it’s really hard to burn fat and build muscle at the same time. Some people can do it. It’s usually a pretty slow progress if you’re going to do both at the same time.

But with building muscle, if you’re in a calorie deficit most of the time, and again not everybody, but most of the time it’s actually very difficult to put on any muscle at that calorie level if you’re at a significant deficit from what you would need even just to maintain your diet. A lot of people actually need to eat in a surplus to actually put muscle on.

And then with the weight training thing that you were saying, that’s definitely going to be the most important factor for whether the weight that came on from eating enough or even eating in a surplus whether that weight was actually muscle weight or primarily fat weight.

You were asking what my personal experience was. It’s funny, I had been pretty consistently weight training for about two years up until recently when I had my wedding, my honeymoon, some traveling, some illness, just a bunch of things, my trainer was out of town. Actually today is my first training session that I’m going to be having since probably about five or six weeks ago.

It’s funny because you would think that if you’re not exercising, and for me I’ve been eating a lot more than I was before because of vacationing and just the different types of food I’m cooking for what my husband needs, and I have actually lost about four or five pounds since my wedding. I don’t actually think I’ve gotten thinner. I actually just think I’ve lost muscle and kind of turned…I don’t want say turn muscle into fat because it’s not an accurate way of describing what’s going on. But I think actually physically my body is either the same size or a little bit larger than it was when I got married, but the scale weight is actually lower.

I think when you’re overly focused on losing weight or losing body fat as part of the plan, you’re going to be hindering your ability to actually gain muscle. And when you’re trying to gain muscle, your whole program has to be really designed to be a muscle gaining program. Like I said a few minutes ago, being in a calorie deficit and doing mostly cardio with a little bit of body weight training, which I think is what PiYo tends to be is mostly body weight, it’s not going to actually be a muscle gaining program. I think there’s a lot of things we can fix for this person.

Like you said, the strength training is kind of the first thing that if all she did was eat a little more and do strength training a couple of times a week, she’d probably see a lot of progress in the area of putting muscle.

Kelsey: Definitely. I think the other thing to remember here is that even though it might sound a little scary to potentially be at a calorie surplus and like Laura was saying have this muscle building type of program and not focusing so much on losing fat, the way that your body will change, it’ll feel like you’re losing fat, it’ll look like you’re losing fat. Just because that’s not the actual focus of the type of programming in terms of calories and types of exercise that you’ll be doing, the end result I think is still what this person is looking for which is to lose that extra fat I think she was saying on her legs, and she’s got some cellulite, she just feels like she’s skinny fat.

But I think what ends up happening when you start to build muscle, especially if you start out very thin like this person saying she is, that’s going to have the end result of changing your body composition in a way that I think this person is looking for.

Laura: Honestly, I don’t even feel like based on what she said with her height being 5’7” and her current weight being 115 to 120, it sounds to me like honestly she wouldn’t need to necessarily lose any fat and she would still be able to get the physique progress that she’s looking for. Let’s just say 5’7” getting up to like 125 to 130 pounds would probably be a slightly more appropriate weight for her. If she put on 5 to 10 pounds of muscle, she would probably look a heck of a lot different than she looks right now and she’d probably feel a lot more confident in the way that her legs and just in general what she’s saying about her quads and her thighs having a lot of cellulite.

Again, a lot of times I think people assume that if their physique is somewhat soft or not very toned looking, everyone uses that were toned all the time to describe what they’re looking for, a lot of times people think I have to lose fat to see that. But oftentimes if you’re just building muscle, you’re going to get that look even if the fat stays totally the same because you actually have some definition that is developing.

That’s kind of just what I want people to keep in the back of their minds when we’re going through this question because I think you’ve probably had a similar experience as me where just focusing on building strength and building muscle and not really worrying about trying to lose body fat actually led to positive physique changes and probably some body fat loss that even wasn’t on purpose but it just happened by nature with eating appropriately and exercising in the way you and I have been exercising in the last couple of years.

Kelsey: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s honestly surprising.  I guess it’s not surprising because I think we both know that that will happen. But I think when you see that happen to you personally and your body changes in that way when you’re really not even focused on fat loss, it can it’s a little surprising.  I was pleasantly surprised, I’ll put it that way.  Considering that I wasn’t focused on that fat loss piece of it from the beginning, I was very happy with the progress that my body composition went. So I think this personal me very happy with how her body changes once she starts strength training.

Laura: You don’t even need to do that much to see the progress. For me it was an average of two maybe three times a week that I was doing it and that was like all I was doing and I was getting that progress. It’s one of those things that I think people look at strength training they’re like I don’t want to do CrossFit five days a week or something. Honestly, if you have two heavier lifting days per week, even one day, one a week if you’re not doing any of it right now, it’s going to show progress, you’re going to see positive changes.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: I think you were about to talk about the concern that this person has about not having a trainer to work with, which you and I are fortunate that we both have trainers.  I’m working one on one with someone. Are you still doing the group, or are you doing one on one at all?

Kelsey: Yeah, I do group.

Laura: Both of us are using the different levels of trainer use, but that doesn’t mean that stuff is necessary to get this progress.

Kelsey: Yeah, absolutely. What I was going to say, because I totally get the financial concern, it can be very expensive to join some of these gyms where maybe you’re getting personal training, or even the group training can be fairly expensive depending on what your budget is. I want to make it really clear that you can do strength training on a very low budget. You don’t even need to work with anyone necessarily to do this kind of thing.

One of the things that I typically recommend for beginners, like for some of my clients who they’re in remote areas, they don’t have a lot of gym options and definitely not a lot of trainer options, or they just really can’t afford that. One thing I really like to recommend is a program called StrongLifts 5×5. Basically it’s just a program, it’s aimed towards beginners, but a lot of people will end up doing it for quite a long time before they change to something else. Basically it consists of three workouts per week. Again like Laura was saying, it does not have to be a lot to make progress, and even three is probably more than you actually truly need to make progress. I think 3 is a good place to get to if you want to really put in that consistency and see some results.

It’s three workouts per week and an alternates between two different types of workouts. One of the workouts has squats, bench press, and barbell row. And then the other workout is squatting again, the overhead press, and the deadlift. Those terms might be completely nonsense to you at this point. If you’re totally new to this and that means nothing to you, the cool thing about StrongLifts is that their website has all these blog posts, and these videos, and everything going through the lift guides for each of those different lifts telling you exactly how to do it, showing you how to do it, talking about the different types of mistakes that a lot of beginners might make.

I think it’s a really great way to get started. That programming is free, which I think is great. It’s something I recommend to a lot of people in my practice when they want to get started with strength training but again, they either don’t have any good trainers near them or they can’t afford it for whatever reason. I mean this is something that as long as you have access to a gym with real barbells, meaning not like a Smith machine for squatting or things like that, as long as you have barbells that you can use, you can do this program and it’s really, really great for beginners.

Laura: Yeah, I use this program a lot with my clients, too. It’s funny, you mentioning people living in remote areas or not having access to a gym. I have a client who lives in a part of Alaska that you literally have to take a plane to get to the town from another part of Alaska. It might be an island. I think it has to be because you can’t drive there, so it’s an island. And it’s funny because she’s very active because she works at a camp and so she’s already pretty active. But she was feeling a little less happy with her physique because she felt like she was losing some tone as she was getting older. We had her start this StrongLifts program. I think she’s doing twice a week at this point and she’s already feeling like she’s making physique progress.

It’s not that she was overweight, or super not-fit, or whatever. Like I said, she’s very active. But just the fact that someone who’s already pretty active adding this in twice a week could see noticeable progress in both her strength and her physique, I just think that’s a sign that if you’re starting from scratch, you’re guaranteed to see progress with this kind of program.

For me, I mean the program that I’m doing with my trainer, I think most of it is like basically what this StrongLifts actually has you do because a lot of what we do is we have the basic powerlifting moves like the bench, the squat, and deadlift. Some variations on those, but those are our primary lifts that we focus on. That’s at least half the workout and then we do some accessory stuff. Honestly, at this point I feel like I use my trainer more for accountability than actual programming. But I mean not that I don’t appreciate him programming for me as well, it’s just this StrongLifts app and program that’s available, like you said it’s free and so the fact that it’s basically designed to get you as much progress in your strength and musculature as possible in a short amount of time, it’s actually a really good resource and I’ve had a lot of really good results with clients that do it consistently.

Kelsey: Yeah, me too. The other thing to think about too is that there are some online trainers as well. Again, if you live in a remote area or you just can’t afford working one on one in person, a lot of trainers will do some sort of online programming where you can get hooked up with a trainer, they’ll program your…I guess they’ll do your programming would be the right terminology here, and then you just get sent that programming and you implement it on your own. So it’s of course a little bit different than having someone there to watch you, but if you’re just totally overwhelmed with how to set up your programming and maybe you’ve done a 5×5 type of program or something that’s completely the same for everybody who does the program and you want something a little bit more personalized, that’s a great way to get a little bit of that personalization without the full cost of working one on one in person with somebody.

For example, my coach, he has an online option that he does where I think it actually takes you through the same programming that we do in the gym. You can join the powerlifting team or the weightlifting team at my gym elsewhere and you get the same programming. And then what he does is he has a Facebook group for all of his virtual clients where you are supposed to post a few videos of you doing your lifts every week and he’ll critique them. He’ll say okay, make sure you’re doing whatever, like focus on pushing back when you’re doing a squat to kind of keep yourself more upright, or something like that giving you a little bit of personalized advice to get your lifts looking better.

Again, that’s a happy medium as well where it’s not going to cost you nearly as much as working one on one in person, but you’re still going to get some of that more personalized advice than you would get from something like StrongLifts 5×5.

Laura: I also feel like even if you don’t want to do programming from a coach, it may make sense to get a couple of sessions with a trainer to at least get started with some of these lifts so that way you can help or get help with like just basic form. Because one thing I think there’s probably a little bit of a barrier to entry with this type of lifting because there’s some fear, there might be some concern that you’re going to hurt yourself, or that you’re going to do it wrong.

Again, there is a decent risk for injury if you’re doing these things wrong. It’s not just about like dropping the bar on yourself. It’s also about if you are pulling deadlifts in a bad form, you could really hurt your back, that kind of thing. I feel like for anyone who’s serious about getting into a lifting routine, getting at least some basic one on one, or not even one on one, but just I mean in person maybe it’s like a group class where you can get some feedback from a coach in person so they can see what you’re doing and make some critiques as it’s happening.

I know the videos are helpful, too, but I think there’s something about being in person where that trainer can maybe either show you what you’re doing wrong and then do it better themselves, or maybe put you physically in a different position to make sure the position is correct.  There could be a benefit to even just getting a couple of sessions with a coach either one on one or in a group so that way you can get some feedback when you’re first getting started so you have some general understanding of what these moves look like and how you should be doing them properly. And then you can use the strong lifts program to actually follow the programming so you don’t need to necessarily be paying ongoing for programming, if that makes sense.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: Those are kind of two different options. What Kelsey just mentioned is more if you want someone to do the programming online, that definitely exists. I know my coach does that somewhat, too. I think what he does more typically is like a hybrid program where he’ll do like once a week as an in-person session and then he’ll give the person the rest of their workouts for the week to go do on their own. That’s a way to save money on personal training.

I would just say if there’s any trainers in your area that you feel like you’d be interested in working with, just ask them and see what they can do for you if you tell them you’re just getting started with lifting and you want to just get some help with your form and getting some basic form instruction, or if you want them to do that hybrid model you’re like seeing them in person once a week and then they do the rest of your programming, or if it’s a 100 percent online. There’s a lot of different options and you might be surprised to see what trainers are willing to do and they don’t necessarily require you seeing them every single time you’re working out.

Kelsey: Yeah, definitely. I would just add that along the lines of what you’re talking about with seeing a trainer just a couple times in person to get started with the stuff, for me one of the biggest barriers to entry for weightlifting was just that I felt totally intimidated by walking into a gym and feeling like I knew what I was doing. Even if I had programming that I knew I was supposed to do I was like, okay, how does this squat rack work? Like what little peg am I putting in what hole?

I know it sounds kind of silly to me now, but that was like a really big fear that I had and I just didn’t feel comfortable in the weight room. Seeing a trainer for even just like two or three sessions and going through each of the moves that you need to do for a program like StrongLifts, it’ll just make you so much more comfortable walking into that room and knowing what you’re doing that I think you’d be more likely to stick with it. Because again, that comfortability factor at least for me was huge and once I felt like I knew what I was doing, I was just so much more likely to continue with it.

Laura: We have a pretty in-depth two part podcast on how to pick a gym and a trainer if you’re listening and you’re like well, maybe I should get a trainer and you want to have more information about what to do to find the appropriate gym and trainer, so we probably shouldn’t go too, too far into that since we’ve covered it pretty in-depth. But I think we just wanted it to be very clear that that’s probably the biggest change she could make for this program is just changing her current workout routine to be more of an anabolic, which means building type program.

We should go over the diet side of things because like I said a few minutes ago, if you’re in a deficit unless you’re like kind of genetically gifted, you’re probably not going to put on much muscle especially if it’s a big deficit. If she’s accidentally getting 1,200 calories a day when she’s not paying attention and she may need closer to like 2,000, that’s enough of a deficit where she’s going to really struggle to put on strength.  Even to just tolerate those heavier training sessions if she’s underfed, it’s going to be difficult.

Since what we were saying was that this particular person should really be focusing primarily on muscle growth and not worrying about losing fat or losing weight at all, she needs to be eating at a minimum to her maintenance. Again, that might be like for her smaller size maybe that’s 1,800, maybe it’s 2,000 if she wanted to be in somewhat of a surplus to really encourage muscle growth and also hormonal recovery since she said she has high estrogen and low progesterone and testosterone. Low testosterone especially is really common when you’ve been under eating for a while. I would say that going  200 or 300 calories above what her estimated maintenance needs are and then also doing that three times a week strength training would be the best way to put muscle on in a more effective and noticeable manner.

Kelsey: Yeah, absolutely. I think that in terms of macronutrient ratio, I would definitely recommend increasing her protein intake. Let’s see what she said here.

Laura: She said 15 to 20 percent.

Kelsey: Which is not bad.

Laura: But I think we have to keep in mind that that’s 15 to 20 percent of how many calories?

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: Because if it’s 1,200 calories and she’s doing let’s say even 20 percent, which is the higher amount…we’ll do a little quick math, but that would be 60 grams of protein which honestly is like just enough to maintain her body’s normal functioning.

What I was saying before, if let’s say she’s eating 2,000 calories a day which may be more of either a maintenance or a surplus amount and then also getting 20 percent of calories from protein, then she’d be getting 100 grams. So a hundred is a lot closer to what would be enough to not only supply her daily needs to just like turnover proteins, create enzymes, that kind of thing, but then also have a little extra to boost the protein synthesis in the muscles.

At the end of the day, if you don’t if you don’t have enough amino acids to build muscle, you’re not going to. I mean your body can kind of repurpose them and recycle them, but if the goal is to put muscle on, going higher protein is kind of a really easy way to change your diet if you’re also doing the strength training. Just eating more protein isn’t going to magically turn into muscle, but high protein plus strength training is like kind of the sweet combo for putting on muscle.

Kelsey: Yeah, definitely. I would say probably that 20 percent area would be good if she’s at maintenance or definitely if she’s at surplus, and potentially even going up to 25 if she really wants to see maybe a little bit faster progress. But anywhere from 20 to 25 would be fine I think. And 25 is definitely on the higher end there.

Laura: 25 might be a little tough if she’s prone to under-eating.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: For me I think if somebody is already struggling to eat enough food, I don’t go too high in protein since protein tends to be pretty satiating. But that’s kind of a side note for this particular person.

Kelsey: Yeah, definitely. I would say do the 20 percent if you’re eating at maintenance or even if you’re eating at a higher calorie level, which probably might make sense for this person to do.

And then in terms of other macronutrients to decrease, that 5 or 10 percent that you’re going to be changing other things, it’s not going to matter a whole lot in terms of what you’re taking it out of. For me with a lot of my clients, I find that depending on the person, and we do some experimenting to figure this out if they haven’t figured it out previously, they’ll tend to either feel better on a lower carb higher/fat diet or then lower fat/higher carbs. Depending on which way your body just feels better, that’s what we will tend to go more toward.

That 5 or 10 percent can come out of either your fat or your carbs, I really don’t think it’s going to matter too, too much. She seems like she’s pretty well balanced across her macronutrient ratios, so she’s not tending towards any type of extreme. So I think she can take it out of either one or she could kind of alternate depending on if there’s a day where she feels like she needs some extra carbs, you can take it out of your fat instead of taking it out of your carbs.

I think that little bit of percentage isn’t going to make a huge, huge difference. I would just kind of pay attention to which macros you feel a little bit better on. If you feel better on higher fat, fine. If you feel better on higher carb, you can tend toward that. But it’s not going to make a huge, huge difference I think.

Laura: Right. It might be a day to day thing, too. Like on the days that you’re training, you may feel better if you do higher carb. And then the days that you’re not, lower carb might work fine. And when we say higher versus lower, we’re not saying like ketogenic versus like very low fat or anything like that. It’s probably talking about the difference between like going down to the low to mid 30s for carbs and then up to the 40s or maybe 50 percent for carbs. That’s maybe like a 10 to 15 percent shift in that macro amount.

And honestly with this particular person based on what she told us where she’s currently at, I don’t even know if worrying about the carbon fat ratio is even important for her right now. Because ultimately, if she’s eating enough, and if she’s eating high protein, and she’s strength training, I’d be willing to put money on the assumption that that would be enough to start seeing progress.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura:  Trying to play around with carbs and fat I’d say is a little bit more of like an advanced, It’s not super advanced, it’s not very complicated. I know you and I do it a lot with our clients all the time who are trying to figure out the right macro balance for their needs. But when you’re kind of starting at a place where there are some obvious major changes that need to be made in both the exercise and the diet approach, I feel like getting super in the weeds with the fat and carb balance is probably not really worth the attention at this point.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: Not to say it’s a bad idea. Maybe she gets to the point where she’s like, okay,  I’m putting on muscle, and I’m training regularly, and I’m seeing some strength improvement, but I want to see a little bit more leanness now that I put some muscle on. Then yeah, maybe then she wants to go in and play around with that carb and fat ratio. But in the beginning, I would hesitate to be over concerned with that carbon fat ratio as long as the calories are appropriate. For her it probably doesn’t really matter and kind of fall on either side and however she feels the best. She doesn’t necessarily have to be aiming for any specific number. She might just want to try eating a little more carbs on the days that she trains and maybe not worrying about it so much on the days that she doesn’t. Or she can eat high carb all the time, that’s totally cool, too. You don’t have to worry about that if you feel better always on a higher carb amount.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura:  I just wanted to be clear about priorities because I think sometimes this whole macro thing can get a little overwhelming for people because they’re like, well should I be high carb? Should I be low carb? I’m like really as long as you’re eating enough protein and enough calories and you’re lifting two to three times a week, you’re going to get like at least 50 percent of the progress just from doing that, if not higher.

Kelsey: Absolutely.

Laura: So I don’t like to over complicate it.

Kelsey: Yeah, definitely. Since it sounds like she’s already tracking because of that tendency to under-eat if she’s not tracking, she will see those numbers for carbs and fat. Just like Laura said, don’t focus too much on it. You can kind of look at the trend that you’re tending towards without aiming for certain numbers. That’s what I think I would like to say at this point is don’t aim for certain numbers for the carb or fat. Just kind of eat what feels right and see what those numbers look like because you’re going to be tracking them anyway.

And then from there as Laura said before, once you get that maybe 50, 60 percent of improvement from just focusing on these big things, the calories, and the protein, and the exercise, then that’s when you can dive in. But then you’ll have all that data from these last few months of just focusing on those things and eating intuitively for carbs and fat that you can see, okay, here’s what I tend to do, maybe let’s try this because you’re seeing that you’re eating more fat normally and that you can try eating higher carb versus higher fat and see if that changes things for you.

But I completely agree with you, Laura. At this point in her journey, just focusing on the calories, the protein, and the exercise is going to get her so far. It’s not worth you know bothering with the other stuff at this point.

Laura: Right. I just feel like if there’s too many things to be focusing on, it can be a little overwhelming.  With the carbs thing, most people tend to feel better lifting when they have some carbs in their system. That’s just the typical experience. That’s why I mentioned eating more carbs on the day that you train.

Which personally at this point with my diet, that’s kind of the main thing I’m paying attention. The days I’m not training, I’m kind of like just eating to appetite and not really worrying about it. But then on the days that I am training, I’m like alright, I need my carbs, I need to get this many cars before the training session.

I’m not saying that’s the optimal way to do it by any means, but from like a minimal attention perspective, that’s I think the bare minimum. You kind of just want to pay attention of fueling yourself prior to the workout.

Kelsey: Yeah, definitely. So I want to answer just before we wrap up here, she says, “Would it be dumb to take testosterone to build muscle?” I just want to answer this real quick because I don’t think that’s necessary at all. In fact just eating at either maintenance or a caloric surplus you’re going to help your hormonal balance. Plus adding in strength training, that’s a natural testosterone booster. Eating more protein is going to help too.

I think again, just these three big things that we want you to focus on is going to go a long way toward helping your hormonal recovery as well. I wouldn’t worry about all these other supplements and all these other things. You’re not there yet. You’re not at that place where you need to focus on the little things. You want to focus on the big things because it’s going to get you so far.

Laura: Right. I think that’s a really good point about where she’s at in her journey because it’s not like we’re saying that testosterone replacement wouldn’t help with muscle building. Obviously it’s a very effective muscle increaser because people wouldn’t use it otherwise if it wasn’t. But like you said, she’s definitely not at the point that that’s even something she should be considering.

Because it’s kind of like what I said before about eating more. Yes, eating more is going to help with putting muscle on. But if you’re not lifting weights, you’re not going to just magically add muscle, especially if your testosterone is low. The same goes with testosterone. You’re not going to just magically start putting muscle on because you’re taking testosterone. You really need that muscle breakdown stimulus and the repair function that happens after that breakdown that adds more muscle tissue to the muscle itself to actually see that muscle gain.

So really what we talked about in the last 30 minutes of the conversation, all of that is the basic foundational muscle building recommendations. If you’re not doing that, then there’s literally nothing else you should be focusing on right now except for that.

Kelsey: Right, exactly. Well, I think that about sums it up, I would say. Those three things, that’s it. That’s all you need to focus on.  I hope that simplifies this for you because I know that it can be confusing when you’re reading all this stuff online and you’re seeing all these supplements and people talking about these kind of smaller things. But if you’re missing those big things, you’re going to have a hard time. Focus on the big things that we talked about today and I think you’ll see a lot of progress.

Laura: Yeah.

Kelsey: Let’s jump in to our updates. Thank you guys for joining us and we’ll see you in the next section!


Kelsey: Welcome to our updates section. Hopefully you guys are still enjoying this at the end of the show. Laura, what’s been going on with you?

Laura: Where do I start?

Kelsey: A lot!

Laura: I know. The current episodes that are live as we’re recording these…because we tend to do these pretty far in advance, not crazy far. We try to stay somewhat current, but we’re usually a couple weeks in advance recording. It’s funny to see some of the episodes that come out and say like this one’s talking about getting ready for my wedding. Now I’m one month after the wedding. It’s just kind of funny. So for me just a lot of traveling and kind of reorganizing my entire life.

Kelsey: All kinds of little stuff.

Laura: I know, just little things like learning how to have a healthy marriage. I was in Colorado last week, I think. I’m trying to remember. Oh gosh this weekend was crazy. I was in Colorado last week.

Kelsey: I think it was last week.

Laura: Yeah because I got super sick last week, so I feel like whenever I’m sick I just like blackout the whole week like it just doesn’t even count for real life. So anyway, last I guess a week and a half ago I was in Colorado for a combo business and personal trip. We had originally planned to be there longer, which I was sad that we had to leave early. But it ended up working out because my husband was super sick in the beginning of the trip and then by the end of the trip he had kind of passed along to me. And then when I got home, I got super sick.  I was glad we had left when we did because the last couple of days would have been me just being like dead.

But the first half we were just kind of there for pleasure. My husband used to live in Colorado for about eight or so years, so he hadn’t been back in a couple years.

Kelsey: I didn’t know that.

Laura: Yeah he actually was there a pretty long chunk of time. He had a bunch of friends and kind of like old neighborhood haunts that he hadn’t been to in a while. We did kind of a bit of a whirlwind tour of a lot of Colorado. I wouldn’t say like the whole state. I know it’s a huge state, but a lot of the highlights I would say.

We flew into Denver, drove to Vail from Denver. We stayed at one of his friend’s house who ironically was out of town, so we just used their house to stay at. But it was Fourth of July when we flew there so we ended up going a Vail for the Fourth of July holiday and watched fireworks there, which was really cool because we were up in the mountains and they were shooting it off the mountain.

Kelsey: That’s awesome!

Laura: It was like a lot closer than I think normally you would be. They were awesome! They were really good fireworks. I was kind of surprised. I feel like I’ve seen decently good fireworks being originally from the New York area. And then having lived in Australia, I saw the fireworks for New Year’s there in Sydney. I’ve seen good fireworks so I was actually really surprised how good these ones were.

The next day we drove, like we were driving through a lot of the mountain area, so part of the driving was somewhat of a sightseeing type of drive because you’re going pretty slow and it’s actually really pretty. I always knew Colorado would be pretty, but I’d never been there so it was just cool to actually be there.

Then we went to Aspen, which again we met up with some of my husband’s friends that couldn’t come to the wedding. So I got to meet some of his friends from the area that he was really close with when he was in Colorado. That was nice because I don’t get to meet a lot of his friends.  I’ve met most of his family, but friends-wise, most of his closer friends are around the country. Other than our wedding, I haven’t really had a chance to meet them.

Kelsey: Yeah, it makes it a little tough.

Laura: We met some friends and I guess just drove around and kind of had again a lot of sightseeing type driving. We ended up going to Glenwood Springs which is a cool area where they have these like hot springs. It’s the biggest hot spring pool in the world so it was kind of cool.

Kelsey: Wow!

Kelsey:  Yeah, it was this just long kind of rectangular shaped pool that one side was the actual hot springs and the other side was kind of like I don’t know, room temperature version of the water so you could kind of cool off if you needed to. That was cool and it was like right around the mountain so it’s kind of like a really awesome environment. What else do we do? I’m trying to remember. It was such a crazy whirlwind trip.

Kelsey: That’s a lot!

Laura: Yeah, and that was the first part of the trip. And then we drove to Boulder. Boulder was where the business meet-up was happening. Boulder is cool. I don’t want to offend anyone who’s in Boulder, so I obviously not want to say anything…And I liked it, I just was really shocked by how many kind of hippy dippy street performer, I couldn’t tell if they were homeless or just like begging. Because some of the people I saw that had these cardboard signs asking for money were like dressed really nicely, like dressed cooler than I look. I was like, I don’t get why you’re begging and wearing these really nice, expensive looking boots.

It was kind of like a weird environment where it was like super health conscious, very like….I mean it was cool, it was definitely cold to be there. I just was a little overwhelmed by literally you’d have on one half of the street somebody doing a magic show and then 20 feet away on the other side of the street somebody was tap dancing and playing a trumpet.

Kelsey: Wow!

Laura: It was like literally they were kind of overlapping in each other’s performance space and it was every block there was different performers.

Kelsey: I would not suspect that, you’re right.

Laura: I know and I just kind of got to the point where I was like, oh my gosh, you need to just kind of spread out so it’s not just this huge… it was like a circus, that’s the best way to describe it.  I know we are in the more, what’s the word?

Kelsey: Like touristy type of area.

Laura:  Touristy areas, yeah. And I know that with like weed legalization, they have a lot of like weed tourism, which that was another thing. I didn’t go into any of the stores. I was curious, but I didn’t end up going in because I feel like my husband has like a little bit of like a negative viewpoint of weed. I’m totally neutral about that. I don’t smoke weed, but I’m like I don’t really care what people do. It’s kind of like the same way that alcohol is. Like I don’t go out and get trashed, but if people want to do that, that’s fine, they can do whatever they want.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: I was more just curious. I was like I wonder what a weed store looks like. That’s just such a weird concept to me. We didn’t end up going into any. I did think it was kind of funny that some of the weed store placements were really funny. There was one that was right under a Ben & Jerry’s. I’m like that was a good combo.

Kelsey: Genius.

Laura: Yeah. I don’t know if it was Ben & Jerry’s picking that place or the other way around, but I can definitely see that would be a good business promoter for Ben & Jerry’s. But anyway, I mean like I said, Boulder was cool. I don’t know if it’s a place that I would want to spend a ton of time in just because again, it was a little just out there. I like somewhat of a hippie vibe, but not like commercialized hippie vibe which I feel like that was the experience I had.

Anyway, it was fun and the business mastermind was awesome.  I’m doing a business coaching thing with Jordan and Steve from SCD Lifestyle so this was like our meet up mastermind with everyone else that’s in the program. Not everyone, not everyone could come. But whoever was able to come was there. It was pretty intensive as far as like digging into our businesses and seeing where we can start to put our attention to grow. Which a lot of the stuff I already know, but it’s like sometimes you need a little bit of extra clarity about things to be able to actually take action. That’s usually where I struggle is like I have so many ideas and so many different people that I want to help. It’s like when you’re trying to pick a topic to focus on, it can be a little hard if you’re not super clear about who you’re actually trying to help.

That was helpful to have that and to meet some people there that I hadn’t met in person before. One example is Jen Fugo from Gluten Free School. I had talked to her online a lot, but I had never met her in person. That was fun to get to meet her and just kind of network.

I’d say the most interesting thing was just when we were doing deeper dives into individual people’s businesses was to just see the spectrum, like where people are at. Because some people are like, they’re making like multi six figures income…not their income, I should say like sales in their business. And it’s just interesting to see what that looks like behind the scenes. Whereas my business, I’m a lot lower than that. But it’s not that I want to be making multi six figures as an income, but there is just the growth progression that you could see. So that was kind of cool to see how you how you make a business that makes that kind of sales. And again, that’s like gross income, it’s not what their take home paycheck is.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: So that was cool. And it was just a good experience to be in person with people. Because sometimes I think in Raleigh, like we don’t have a huge health and wellness entrepreneur climate the way something like Boulder or I would imagine New York City, like you probably have the opportunity to meet up with people that are in this general wellness sphere. In Raleigh, I mean I haven’t done a great job of networking with other people, but it’s not as obvious as far as there being a big group of people that are doing the online health entrepreneurship thing. It was kind of cool to be able to meet people in real life that are doing it. It was it was a good experience. Definitely a fun trip, really liked Colorado in general.

Kelsey: I was going to ask you, what was your favorite place in Colorado? Because I’m hoping to go there sometime next year.

Laura: Well, I’d say it probably depends on what time of the year you go because obviously summer in Colorado is totally different than winter. Josh and I will I’m sure at some point go back during the winter because he’s a big snowboarder and skier. I can handle skiing. I haven’t done it in a while, but I can still do it.

Kelsey: You can handle skiing.

Laura: Yeah, I can physically do it. I don’t love it the way he loves it. In that sense there was areas that probably would have been better if there had been snow. I thought Vail was really cool. It kind of had a nice in between Denver and Aspen vibe where it was a little bit, nicer but it wasn’t like over the top fancy. I felt that Aspen was a little…again, I don’t want to offend anyone. I’m totally just being honest about my experience. Aspen was beautiful, but it just felt a little too fancy for me.

Kelsey: Yeah, I can understand that.

Laura: It’s not a bad thing, it’s just what I was experiencing. The restaurants were super expensive. There was a ton of like super high fashion stores. So even just shopping there, I wouldn’t buy anything. I would potentially buy stuff in Vail, but not Aspen. Aspen was like, it was cool to be there, but I wouldn’t necessarily be like, yeah, we have to go back to Aspen. Whereas Vail I feel like I could see us going back for a trip. Not that Vail is cheap or anything, but it kind of felt more approachable.

We did go into this really cool distillery, which I feel like any time I see a distillery where we are, I’m like we have to go in there! So there was this like whiskey distillery, or maybe I think they had a couple of different spirit options, but they kind of build themselves with whiskey and bourbon. It was called 10th…was it 10th Mountain? I’m trying remember exactly what it was. If people are familiar with Vail I’m sure they’ve seen it. But it was a really cool laid back, it was technically a liquor store, but they sold cocktails and it was just a really fun atmosphere. So we hung out there for a bit, so I liked that.

Vail I would say it was a really cool spot with the caveat that I think it would be cooler to go in the winter when we could do some outdoor sports and stuff. Even though the fireworks were awesome, I still feel like we would have had more to do if it had been snowy out.

Kelsey:  It makes sense.

Laura:  For the summer, we did go to this hiking spot outside of Glenwood Springs. Glenwood Springs was cool. Definitely would check it out if you can.

Kelsey: Okay.

Laura: And then there’s a hiking spot outside of Glenwood Springs called Hanging Lake that was pretty nice. I have some photos in my Instagram from that place. That was a cool hike. It wasn’t overly strenuous. It was definitely pretty high elevation, so I mean it’s not an easy hike, but it wasn’t something that was really hard to do. There was an area that got pretty steep that I was like sliding on my butt to get down because I was scared. But it wasn’t dangerous because there was a handrail. I just get freaked out when it’s super high up.

But it was a cool hike so that would be an area to go. But yeah, I would say if we’re going to go back, which I’m sure we will, I would love to do like a winter trip to Vail in the Vail area.

Actually we didn’t we didn’t spend a ton of time in Denver, but just driving through and stuff, it looked pretty cool.Denver seems like a city that maybe isn’t a touristy type city, but it would be a cool place to live. That’s how I kind of look at Raleigh. I wouldn’t say come visit Raleigh for the tourism because there’s really nothing to do as far as like a tourist is concerned. But it looked like a cool place to live and it doesn’t hurt that they have like every single type of sports team there. I’m a big football fan. I wish we had a team like the Broncos like 20 minutes from the house.

But anyway, I thought Colorado was awesome. I don’t necessarily see myself leaving North Carolina anytime soon, but it was definitely an area that I could consider as being like a cool place to live and I know my husband really loved living there. So I was glad we finally got to go.  I’ll definitely be back and like I said, maybe go for a winter trip so we can do some winter sports.

Kelsey: Yeah, that’s awesome! That sounds like fun. Like I said, I’m hoping to get out there sometime next year I think.

Laura:  I didn’t mean to go on and on about Colorado. And again like I said, if anyone’s like horribly offended by me saying I didn’t like Boulder, I mean I liked it, I just was kind of glad we weren’t staying there much longer. It was a little intense.

Kelsey: That’s fair.

Laura:  Like I said, everyone’s going to have their different experiences and I’m sure there’s people that think Raleigh is like the most boring town ever. Just from my experience, I like the mountains and I like doing stuff outdoorsy when I’m there so I feel like the Vail area and the Glenwood Springs area had the most opportunity to do that kind of stuff.

Kelsey: Awesome. Good to know. I’ve been traveling a ton lately, too. For fun also, no business side in there for me.  I’ve been away, I just got home last night after I think it’s been like two and a half weeks of being out of my house, which is a long time.

Laura: Wow!

Kelsey: I felt like I was gone for longer than that. It just felt like forever. But my husband and I first went to Martha’s Vineyard, which is in Massachusetts, an island off of Massachusetts. His parents have a house there so we try to go there every year at least for a weekend or something. We were there for I think like four or five days. And then we drove from there all the way to Quebec in Canada for a music festival which was like 11 days or something like that, which is always really fun, but also very exhausting because it’s like I feel like my circadian rhythm just gets completely off because you stay up late going to all these concerts and then sleep in and eat your first meal at like noon. My whole schedule is just completely messed up.

It would have been nice actually to do the trips in the opposite direction because whenever we go to Martha’s Vineyard it’s like really pretty remote. There’s not a ton to do so like everybody goes to bed at 9 or 10 o’clock, wakes up pretty early. You just get your circadian rhythm reset in a good way. It would have been nice to do that after going to Quebec for the music festival I think. But yeah, we did it the opposite way, unfortunately. When we got to Quebec we were like on this very great sleep schedule and then just completely trashed it, unfortunately.

But it was fun!  Both were fun. We go to the Quebec music festival, or we have gone to that festival for the last like two or three years, I think it’s been three years. It’s a pretty cool place, like meaning the festival. The festival takes over the whole city. Quebec is a pretty small city to begin with, so it doesn’t take a lot I guess. But it’s really interesting to see that whole city just be taken over by a music festival. You can go to, there’s probably six different stages I think across the city and they’re all fairly close together so you just can walk to any of the venues.  I saw Backstreet Boys, which was a fun experience.

Laura: Oh my gosh!

Kelsey: It was hilarious. It was like one of the funniest concerts I’ve ever been to because it’s just so produced, like it literally was a Broadway show. That’s what it looked like. There was choreography, and backup dancers, and of course they wore their iconic white suits. Nick Carter had his frosted tips still.

Laura: Oh my gosh!

Kelsey: Very nostalgic. I’m sure he must have done that for this concert. Apparently they’ve been doing this residency in Las Vegas for I think the whole year. So they’ve been doing this show for a while.

Laura: Wow.

Kelsey: It is very reminiscent of a Broadway musical or something just with all Backstreet Boys songs. It was fun.

Laura: That’s funny.

Kelsey: They have some big bands that go there. I’m trying to think if I would, I guess Backstreet Boys is a big band but an old band at this point.

Laura: It depends on how old you are. If there’s listeners that are under the age of like 25, they might be like who’s that?

Kelsey: Yeah, I know. It’s pretty funny because it was all women my age, our age wearing shirts that are like “I was supposed to marry a Backstreet Boy.” And they have these big video screens because where they played was a huge, huge outdoor stadium. I think they can fit like 100,000 people in there, so it’s really big. At one point they showed the screen of this woman singing of course along to the songs and she’s crying.  And everybody just is laughing because it’s just so hilarious to see this woman who’s like 30 years old crying over the Backstreet Boys, singing all the lyrics. That was probably the most memorable concert.

They have a lot of other great bands. It’s just fun to kind of experience the new bands which I wouldn’t have normally found out about other than listening to their music to see if I want to go to their concert and then ending up going to their concert there.

So it’s a good time, but very exhausting and probably not great for my body overall. But now I’m in recovery mode.

Laura:  Yeah, I feel like combination of getting sick and being on like Mountain Time, just I’ve been sleeping in so much more than I normally would. It’s like I have all this work I want to do and I can’t get out of bed until like…I mean not that 8:00, 8:30 is such a sleep in. But when I’d probably be better off getting up at like 7:00, it does make a big impact. I feel like I’m still kind of stuck on Mountain Time because of being sick and not really, I don’t know. It’s just weird.  I feel like my husband’s getting up at 6 now for his job and I’ll just wake up and be like, wow! He’s already been at work for like an hour and a half at this point. My goal is to hopefully start transitioning in that direction.

The only tough part is, and this is something I’m learning being married, he has a very different sleep schedule or sleep need. Sometimes he’ll go to bed later than me and still get up at 6:00 in the morning. I’m like I can’t do that. So if I’m going to be waking up earlier, I have to go to bed earlier. So these are all the fun things that we’re still working out with being married. I mean I’m very happy to be married and it’s definitely 100 percent positive. It’s just funny because he’s out of town this week, I’m like oh my gosh, I get to like go to bed on time and wake up when I want.

So anyway, it’s all good. But I’m glad you had fun and it sounds like we both are kind of recovering from travel modes. Are you going to be in town more consistently over the next couple of weeks?

Kelsey: For the next couple of weeks, yes. But then in August, I think I’m going in Nashville towards the end of August. That’s my next big thing. I travel a lot over the summer.

Laura: Have you ever been there before?

Kelsey: No, I haven’t. I’m excited to go.

Laura: Nashville is cool. I really liked it when we were there. I went there for a bachelorette party last year.

Kelsey: Oh yeah.

Laura: Josh and I had extended the trip and met up there when he was still living in Ohio. I definitely really liked Nashville. I mean I probably just tend to like southern cities a little bit better. But if you like random live music, Nashville is really cool because literally you can just walk into like any bar on Broadway or even just around the area and there will be somebody playing live music. So I really liked that.

Kelsey: I’m in. That sounds great.

Laura:  Awesome. Well that was an extra update. But if you guys are still listening, thanks for joining us. Hopefully this stuff is interesting to you. We’ll be back next week with an interview that will be really fun. But otherwise until then, enjoy your week and we’ll see you around next time.

Kelsey: Alright. Take care, Laura.

Laura: You too, Kelsey.

PODCAST: Staying Lean In Our Modern Food Environment With Dr. Stephan Guyenet

Thanks for joining us for episode 115 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are thrilled to be interviewing Dr. Stephan Guyenet!

Dr. Stephan Guyenet is an obesity researcher and health writer whose work ties together multiple fields of science to offer explanations and solutions for our global weight problem.

He received a B.S. in biochemistry at the University of Virginia and a Ph.D. in neurobiology at the University of Washington.

He’s the author of the popular health website StephanGuyenet.com, formerly called Whole Health Source, and he is a frequent lecturer on topics of obesity, metabolism, and diet history.

The classic prescription for weight loss and maintenance is based on the basic principles of eating less calories and moving our bodies more. Seems simple, right? But we know that in reality there is more to the equation.

Dr. Stephan Guyenet is here to explain the science behind how the brain’s influence on hunger and satiety can affect even our best of intentions for healthy eating and weight loss.

Join us for the conversation as Stephan shares his insight into obesity, weight gain, and factors that affect the brain’s appetite system. As you hear the details of the major contributors to weight gain in our modern world, you’ll recognize the significant impact the interplay between our brain’s hardwiring and our food environment has on eating behavior and weight regulation.

We’ll also examine the validity of common dietary theories perpetuated by the Paleo community, discuss why you might want to rethink liberally adding butter and other fats to your diet, and share new research that sheds light on the low carbohydrate versus low fat diet debate.

Here is some of what we discussed with Stephan:

  • [00:05:45]  How Stephan got interested in the topic of obesity and metabolism
  • [00:14:31]  Why it’s difficult to determine the root cause of obesity and translate the research into practical applications
  • [00:19:49]  Major contributors to weight gain in our environment related to the brain’s influence on hunger and satiety that can be adjusted for successful weight loss
  • [00:40:14]  Insight into the validity of common dietary theories perpetuated by the Paleo community
  • [00:46:39]  The truth about the nutritional value of butter and what is the better dairy choice to increase nutrient density
  • [00:50:20]  Why you should consider reducing added fats in your diet
  • [00:55:07]  The implications of new research comparing low carbohydrate versus low fat diets for weight loss
  • [01:00:51]   The lack of evidence to support the fear of sugar as a cause of weight gain

Links Discussed:


Laura: Hi everyone! Welcome to Episode 115 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Laura Schoenfeld and with me as always is my cohost Kelsey Kinney.

Kelsey: Hey everyone!

Laura: If you don’t know us, we’re Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real nutrition, and sharing evidence based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me, Laura, at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com, and Kelsey over at KelseyKinney.com.

We have a great guest on our show today who’s going to discuss his viewpoints on weight gain, obesity, and how the modern food environment affects our brains drive to overeat. His ideas are well supported by science, yet he’s created a bit of a stir in the Paleo and ancestral health community in the past. We’re really excited to chat with him today.

Kelsey: If you’re enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that you never miss an episode. And while you’re there, leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well!

And remember, we want to answer your question, so head over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a health related question that we can answer or suggest a guest you’d love for us to interview on an upcoming show.

Laura: Before we get into this great interview for today, here is a quick word from our sponsor.

“This episode is brought to you by Paleo Rehab, a five week online program designed to help you recover from HPA axis dysfunction, also known as adrenal fatigue. Is your perfect Paleo diet and lifestyle leaving you exhausted? Now is the time to start feeling the health and wellness you know you deserve. If you’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, and are ready to take back your health, then head over to MyPaleoRehab.com to get your free 28 page e-book on the 3 step plan for healing from adrenal fatigue. That’s www.MyPaleoRehab.com.”

Laura: Welcome back everyone! We’re really excited to have with us today Dr. Stephan Guyenet, an obesity researcher and health writer whose work ties together multiple fields of science to offer explanations and solutions for our global weight problem. He received a B.S. in biochemistry at the University of Virginia and a Ph.D. in neurobiology at the University of Washington. He’s the author of the popular health website StephanGuyenet.com, formerly called Whole Health Source, and he is a frequent lecturer on topics of obesity, metabolism, and diet history. Welcome to the show Stephan!

Stephan: Thanks! Good to be here.

Laura: It’s so funny, as I was I was reading your bio, I know how to pronounce your name and we had this whole conversation beforehand. As soon as I started to say it, my brain was like oh no! Am I making a mistake? I know I didn’t, but it’s just kind of funny because I got all nervous.

Stephan: You did great.

Laura: For those of the listeners that don’t know who you are, I’m really glad to be introducing them to your work because I feel like your influence is always really helpful. I’ve been following your work for, gosh, I want to say since like 2011. I think the first time I met you was at that year’s Weston Price Conference. I want to say it was in Philadelphia, but I’m not 100 percent sure. Or maybe it was like King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Does that sound right that you did a talk at one of those?

Stephan: Yeah absolutely. I did a talk about Pacific Island cultures’ diet and health.

Laura:  I just remember that was before I started my RD program so I was like brand new into all this stuff, barely knew anything about nutrition beyond just like generally what people learn through Women’s Health magazine or whatever.

I have this vivid memory of us, and when I say us, it was my mom, me, Chris Masterjohn, and you sitting at a table eating the leftover buffet from the Weston Price Conference on…I want to say it was like Monday morning or something, or right after the conference was over. And you and Chris were having this conversation about probably, I don’t know, palatability research or something like that, talking about mice studies, that kind of thing, getting like insanely scientific as people can imagine. I remember my mom was kind of like cutting in a little bit to have a somewhat balanced conversation. I was just sitting there like, what in the world are they talking about?

So that was my first experience of your research just kind of sitting there being like I have never heard about any of this before. I don’t know if you remember that meal at all, but it was like my first foray into the ancestral health community and networking like that.

Stephan: That’s cool. Yeah, I think I do. I think I do remember that meal.

Laura: Maybe a little less momentous for you than it was for me.

Stephan: I certainly remember the conference.

Laura: Like I said, for those listening that don’t know who you are, you I would say are one of the more prominent obesity researchers in the ancestral health community. How did you get into the topic of obesity and metabolism?

Stephan: It was kind of a convergence of a couple of different interests for me. I’ve always been interested in nutrition, and health, and fitness. I think there’s certain things that people are just kind of constitutionally directed towards. And for me, that was it.

I’ve always been interested in how to eat right, and exercise, and stay healthy, and healthy aging in particular. I’ve also been very interested in the brain from a young age, always been very scientifically oriented, and very interested in the brain in particular because it’s a very, very complex organ and it is also the organ that probably more than anything else makes us who we are in terms of generating our behaviors, and our thoughts, and our feelings, and all that. And it’s also because of its complexity something that we still have a lot to learn about. That’s perhaps a bit less true today than it was back when I initially developed my interest in the brain, but we still have a lot to learn about the brain.

It’s this really interesting scientific frontier for me. I went to college and got a B.S. in biochemistry with the idea that I would form a foundation for myself to then go into neuroscience for graduate school, and that’s what I did. In graduate school I studied neurodegenerative disease and I was studying a relatively rare, very rare actually, neurodegenerative disease. I kind of ended up thinking I wanted to study something that was more impactful.

Scientific research uses a lot of resources. You’re using a lot of money, tax payer dollars for the most part You’re using a lot of plastic, you’re using a lot of different chemicals, you’re using animals lives. And so for me it had to be something that I really felt was worthwhile to be worth all the costs that are involved in that research as well as my own time and effort of course.

Eventually I started learning more, on the side I was I was learning more about health, and nutrition, and body fat and then I started to see this very powerful convergence between eating behavior and obesity, the science surrounding that, and the science of the brain. I saw this as an opportunity for me to kind of shift gears to study something that was, A- more impactful. In the modern world today is hard to imagine, there’s not a whole lot of things related to health that are more impactful than obesity, or I should say excess body fatness in general. And second, it was something that brought together my own personal interests, A- of brain, and B- of health and fitness. To me this was like a great opportunity to take my research into a direction where I believed I would be able to help more people and also do something that’s a little more interesting to me.

As a post-doc, I joined the lab of Mike Schwartz, who’s a guy who’s been doing research on the neuroscience of obesity for decades. He’s really one of the architects of that field. Basically very quickly I realized that we were studying the right organ. I mean it’s really kind of common sense if you think about it, which is what kind of blows my mind that more people don’t see it from this perspective, don’t see eating behavior and obesity from this perspective.

The brain is the organ that generates all of our behavior, right? You believe in science, you believe that the brain is the organ that generates all of our behaviors, and all of our feelings, all of our thoughts, all of our cravings, all of it, how we react to things in our environment, how much we’re going to exercise or not exercise, how much sleep we’re going to get. All of that is generated by the brain. In addition to that, in addition to generating our behaviors, and thoughts, and feelings, and impulses, it also regulates a lot of our physiology.

We’re coming to understand that a lot of the physiology in the body is actually directed by the brain, not necessarily controlled in great detail, but kind of like nudged in one direction or another by high level control circuits in the brain. And that also applies to body fatness, and regulation of blood glucose, and body fat distribution, and those things are all influenced by the brain. Actually body fatness is very strongly influenced by the brain. We’ve known this for about a hundred years and now we know a lot more about it than we did. But we’ve known that it was very important for about 100 years.

To me, this brain centric perspective was a real revelation. In that post-doctoral work we were studying…by the way, we were studying brain regulation of body fatness, and we were studying how that changes over the course of the development of obesity, and how that causes obesity to be maintained once it develops, and why is really hard to lose weight. Basically it was kind of a revelation to me that the brain was kind of the central node for understanding this condition of obesity and of excess body fatness as well as the things that are downstream of it like diabetes, and to a large extent cardiovascular disease, orthopedic problems, all the many, many things that are downstream negative consequences of that.

And then the other thing I realized is that this was really not a perspective that was very common. This was one of the things that really motivated me to write in my blog and later on in my book was trying to educate people about this brain centric perspective that really it doesn’t take much more than common sense and thinking through it a little bit to see how important this perspective is.

I consider myself very, very lucky to have had the opportunity to write the first general audience book that really focuses on, takes a brain centric view of eating behavior and obesity. It’s kind of like one of these things that once you think of the idea, it’s obvious and once you write the book, it’s obvious. But it just wasn’t a niche that had been filled yet so I feel very lucky to have been able to fill that with my book The Hungry Brain which came out in February.

Laura: We’ll link to that book in the show notes because it’s a really interesting book and like you said, it’s kind of a different angle to the obesity and weight gain topic. I feel like the obesity topic in general is really complicated because on one hand there’s a lot of people out there that would say it’s very simple, it’s a calories in/calories out issue, and if you want to lose weight if you’re obese, you just need to eat less and move more.

I’m sure as an obesity researcher you have come to the conclusion that it’s not that simple for a lot of people. I feel like there’s about a million different theories about what causes weight gain and how to cure obesity. There isn’t really anything that’s been, I guess we haven’t really come to a scientific consensus on the topic yet. Because obviously if we had, we wouldn’t have at least a third of the western population being obese. In your opinion, why is obesity research so difficult to not only kind of pin down what the root cause is but also to translate into a practical application?

Stephan: To go back to what you started with in this question, I mean it does come back down to calories. And if you can eat fewer calories than you’re burning, you will lose body fat. In that sense it actually is very simple, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Just because it’s physically possible to eat less calories and lose weight, doesn’t mean that is the most effective strategy in real life to take if you want to regulate your body weight.

The reason for that that we can get back to is basically that body weight is not passively regulated, it’s actively regulated by the brain. Your body fights back so you can’t just make conscious, rational decisions to eat less calories without meeting resistance from these physiological systems and these appetite systems that are governed by the brain. It’s simple, but it’s not easy basically, the basic concepts of it.

I think that HIV is a really good analogy here because we understand HIV really well. We know what causes AIDS, it’s the HIV virus. We know the sequence of the HIV virus, we know how it gets into cells, we know how it inserts into the genome and goes dormant and comes back out. We know so much about the HIV virus, but yet AIDS is still a persistent problem.

I the situation is very similar with obesity. I mean we really do have a lot of information about obesity and I think a lot of that information is reliable about how people become obese, about how to not become obese. But I think that it’s just in the real world actually applying that information is very challenging because the things that cause obesity are deeply woven into the fabric of our modern lifestyles. It’s the same situation where it’s like we actually understand, I believe we understand the problem really well, but that doesn’t mean that solving it is easy or even realistic in the current context of the modern world.

With HIV for example, even barring a miracle vaccine or a miracle drug, if every government and every individual in the world behaved in the optimal way for preventing HIV transmission, we could have it eradicated in two generations, completely gone. But that’s just not realistic because it’s not realistic with human nature is what it comes down to.

I think the situation is the same with obesity and this is what my book is all about. We have these impulses, we have these desires that are generated by our brain and those are not things that are very easy for us to control. There are things that influence our behavior in a direction that causes us to eat more than is optimal or eat types of food that are not optimal, cravings and things. They are very difficult for us to really maintain this kind of like iron willed command over because our brain is not really set up to do that.

Laura: Right. I was just going to say I’m sure just like the HIV example, there’s a lot of different factors that will affect a person’s ability to listen to more conscious control as opposed to what their brain’s impulses are sending them.

Stephan: Yeah, absolutely. There are different ways to attack the problem. You can try to reinforce conscious regulation of behavior or you can try to modify the things that are governing the impulses. For example with your food environment, you can change your food environment. You can change the types of foods you expose yourself to and you can actually reduce these impulses, like the cravings that would drive you to do unhealthy things.

There’s a couple of different lines of attack that you can take toward the problem, but I tend to think that changing the cues that you’re giving your non-conscious brain that are driving your impulses, I tend to think that that is going to be the more productive strategy, but it’s not mutually exclusive.

Laura: I want to talk about something that you were just mentioning where it comes to changing your environment to be able to make positive changes in somebody’s weight. Like we were saying, yes, calories in/calories out is the basic biochemistry of what causes weight loss, but a lot of times that actual process requires more than just the conscious decision to eat less and move more. What would you say are some of the major contributors to weight gain in our modern environment that can be adjusted for successful weight loss?

Stephan: There are a couple things that I think are really important, and these relate to different brain systems that feed into your drive to eat, and your satiety, and your hunger. One of the things that is most influential of our eating behavior is our food environment, so the foods that are around us. Basically brain is set up intuitively, instinctively to highly value and to motivate you in situations where you can get easy calorie dense foods. The brain evolved over more than 600 million years and one of the main things it does is try to get you the food that your ancestors needed to survive.

In the context of our ancestors where food was pretty tough to get, the brain had to basically motivate us to get calorie dense, easy foods whenever they were available. So the easier, the better and the more calories, the better. We’re still kind of wired that way even though it’s not good for us in our modern context. If you’re in a situation, like imagine yourself at a buffet or imagine yourself in a room with like free pizza, and ice cream, and pastries.

Laura: I’m laughing because I literally just got back from an all-inclusive resort, so I’m like I was literally just there about five days ago.

Stephan: Yeah, so you understand. It becomes kind of hard to restrain yourself to a healthy calorie intake when you’re in that kind of environment.

There’s actually a really interesting study that I talk about in my book where a researcher named Eric Ravussin and his team locked some people up in a metabolic ward, which means they were basically locked up without being able to go in or out for a week, and put them in a situation where they had an unlimited access to free calorie dense, tasty foods.

This was not a weight gain or weight loss study. These people were not told to eat any particular amount. It was just kind of a pilot study to see whether they could accurately measure food intake in a free choice type of setting. The people ended up gorging. They ate almost twice as many calories as they needed and they gained five pounds in just one week.

They repeated this in men and women, in Caucasians and people of Native American descent, and it was the same in everybody. When you put people in an environment where there is calorie dense, tasty, easy, cheap food, they will tend to overeat and they won’t even realize they’re overeating.

That’s the scary part about it is that you don’t even feel any different. You don’t feel like you over ate presumably because your brain is kind of facilitating that consumption for you because your brain views that situation as desirable. It views those foods as desirable and the situation as desirable.

To get a little bit more specific to get outside of generalities and make it a little more practical, one big factor is calorie density. The number of calories per unit volume or weight of a food is one of the big determinants of total calorie intake. So if you eat food that’s very, very calorie dense, it takes up less volume in your stomach and that sends fewer signals to your brain that promote satiety.

Per calorie that that food contains, if it’s more dense, it’s more rich, it will make you less full. And so if you eat foods that have more water and more fiber in them, things like fruits, and oatmeal, and vegetables, and fresh meats, and things like that that have a lot of water content or fiber, those things are going to create a higher level of fullness than things like crackers, and pastries, and really, really fatty meats, and things like that. Bacon I think is a great example.

If you think about this, if you think about the properties, if you think about the types of food that have properties that don’t make us feel full because they’re very calorie dense, they’re very palatable, They’re low in fiber, you think of all the junk foods. We’re talking about ice cream, we’re talking about pastries, we’re talking about donuts, candy, all that stuff, pizza, stuff that we know is fattening, we intuitively know is fattening. One of the big reasons is because it doesn’t make us as full per unit calorie because of its physical and chemical properties and the way that those interact with our brain’s satiety systems.

That’s a big one; calorie density. And another one is palatability, or I should say food reward, which is the motivational, and pleasure, and learning value of food. This is basically a measure of how much your brain values a particular food. Basically the rule of thumb is simple, or I shouldn’t say rule of thumb, the principle is simple. The more your brain values of food, the more it’s going to promote the consumption of that food. Something tasting really, really good is a sign that your brain intuitively values the food. The better it tastes, you’re going to have a tendency to eat more of it.

When you eat things that really make you crave things that really are like over-the-top enjoyable when you eat them, like really, really decadent ice cream, or brownies, or pizza, those types of things because of that value that your brain intuitively places on them…and if you want we can talk about the mechanisms why that happens… but just on a practical level, those things will tend to drive over consumption.

And then another one is how much work do you have to do to eat that food? So if we lived in a world where everybody ate nothing but pizza, and hamburgers, and soda, but you had to walk five miles and climb a tree to get that food, I’d be willing to bet that there would be a lot less obesity than we have today. There are two reasons. It’s not just the physical activity level, it’s the fact that if you have to go through that effort to obtain the food, you’re not going to do it unless you’re genuinely hungry.

Laura: Right.

Stephan:  You’re not going to passively eat French fries that are right in front of you. If you have to if you have to do work to get those French fries, then you won’t do it until your level of hunger motivation and therefore low energy status has motivated you sufficiently to overcome that effort barrier.

This is very relevant to hunter gatherer situations. Like if you imagine a hunter gatherer, there’s no easy food in their environment, or at least not a lot of easy food. If you want to eat an antelope, you’re going to have to work really hard. And they do eat it, they do eat antelopes. And when they get it, they’ll eat large amounts of it. But I mean to achieve that, you have to do a lot of work, usually days of tracking and hunting, if not weeks.

Even just like picking fruit, getting honey, I mean hunter gatherers will chug honey. They love honey. But how do you get it? You have to climb up into a tall tree and like stick your hand in there, and make a fire, and smoke them out, and then get stung a bunch of times. I mean it’s a lot of work and effort. You have to really want that honey.

Laura: Right.

Stephan: And they do want that honey if they don’t get it, they don’t survive and they don’t have kids.  It’s easy to imagine this and visualize it in a hunter gatherer context, but that same cost/benefit calculation happens in our brains everyday even in the modern world. Convenience of food is a major factor in our intake.

If you’re sitting at a desk all day and you have food within arm’s reach of you, something tempting like let’s say a bowl of M&Ms, or donuts, or something like that, it’s highly likely unless you have the will of steel that you’re going to eat more of that stuff than if it was across the room, or let’s say it’s across the street and you have to pay for it. Those are going to generate very different levels of intake of those foods that pretty much everyone knows are not good for you, and knows are fattening, and knows will contribute to excess calorie intake, ill health down the road, etc., etc.

I think that if you can create small effort barriers for yourself in your own food environment such as having a screw top lid on your jar of nuts so every time you want nuts you have to unscrew it, or even better having your nuts be in the shell so that you have to actually crack those nuts to eat the nuts. Or like peeling an orange as opposed to having something that you can just grab and put in your mouth without any effort. Those are really trivial effort barriers. We’re not talking about hunter gatherer level effort barriers.

Laura: Climbing a tree for your Kind Bar or something.

Stephan: Exactly. I mean this is really trivial stuff, but it matters, it really matters in the way that our brains work. It’s enough to mean that we have to have a certain minimal level of motivation to clear that effort barrier and to eat that food. And that can be enough for a lot of people to help them match their calorie intake to their body’s true calorie needs.

Kelsey: I’m always amazed at like just the visual aspect. Like for me, if I have something that I know it for me is very palatable and I just put it in a cabinet, even that little barrier…and maybe it’s just out of sight out of mind, I’m not sure exactly what psychologically is going on there…but that little step that I have to take to like remember that something is in the cabinet and I can eat it makes a huge difference for me and how often and then again how much I will eat of that food, too.

Stephan: Yeah, absolutely. There’s basically two things going on there. One is you’ve created a small effort barrier. And the second one is that our cravings, and a craving is a food specific motivation, our cravings are triggered quite often by visual cues. Another way of saying that is that our motivation to eat specific foods is triggered by the sight of those foods.

This is very simple Pavlovian conditioning, for people are familiar with Pavlov’s dogs. Basically we learn to associate the sensory properties of a food, such as its appearance, and its smell, and its taste, as well as its location and many other things, everything about that food we learn to associate that with the fat, and starch, and sugar, and all that good stuff that it delivers to our bodies that our brains intuitively value.

When you eat that pastry or whatever it is, or let’s say a brownie. When you eat the brownie, your gut starts sending all these signals up to your brain that are saying essentially this is an awesome source of starch, and sugar, and fat and your brain registers that and it says whoa this is this is awesome! And not awesome today, but it would have been awesome for our ancestors who are always working for their calories.

Our brains are wired like that. Your brain is like whoa! On an instinctive level, this is the hardwiring we’re born with. Your brain is like whoa! I’m going to remember everything about this brownie. I’m going to remember the appearance. And this all happens because of dopamine spiking, by the way. That’s how it works, dopamine spiking in the ventral striatum and other related parts of the brain. Your brain remembers the smell, and the appearance, and where you ate it, and the taste, and all that stuff.

And then when you encounter that again, when you encounter the smell or the sight, then that triggers, that fires your dopamine back up and it triggers your motivation. Because it reminds your brain, it says, oh wow, I know that the visual appearance of a brownie is associated with this awesome source of sugar, and starch, and fat that I remember from last time.

It tells your brain, when you encounter those sensory cues, it tells your brain, this is an opportunity for you to get all of this stuff that you’re hardwired to want to get. And so it ramps up your motivation, your instinctive, your intuitive craving level gets ramped up as soon as you experience that visual cue or the smell cue of the brownie or whatever it is.

But if you don’t have that, like if I were to tell you behind this wall there’s a brownie, but you can’t smell it or see it, that’s very different than if I piped the smell the brownie in and you could smell it, or if I let you see it through glass. Those sensory cues are the things that really start to trigger our motivational level to eat that food. In other words, our level of craving to eat that food.

Kelsey: I think that companies, I experienced this with two different companies: Subway and weirdly Dunkin Donuts where you walk by their store and I swear they’re like pumping out the smell of the food. I would never think, oh I’m walking by Dunkin Donuts or I’m walking by Subway, I should go in and get something. But that smell is such a strong, like it’s a pull to get you in there. I swear it must be like a fake smell because a lot of these places, I mean I think the Dunkin Donuts that I happen to smell it at, they’re not cooking the donuts in there or anything that would actually create that smell.

It was just a weird experience and exactly what you’re talking about here. It just makes such a difference in how strong that instinct is to go and get something.

Laura: In high school we used to call that “Subway stink” because if you went to Subway for lunch, everyone could smell it on you when you got back to school.

Stephan: That’s funny.

Laura:  I wouldn’t be surprised if it was fake because it really would linger on your clothes for just hours.

Kelsey:  Yeah!

Stephan: I took a trip to France not too long ago and outside of the stores that sell pastries, it smells really strongly of croissants. I can’t even pronounce it in English. It’s hard for me to pronounce in English. I’ve heard that they pipe that smell out and it’s like, it’s so tempting. I mean that smell is so tempting.

But I mean it is how they get you. Advertisers have long known that these sensory cues, and they may not think about it in these terms, but they understand this principle. These sensory cues drive consumer purchase and consumption behavior.

And it works for visual cues, too. This is one of the main reasons why advertising works on TV for food. Like what is Coca-Cola? It’s sugar water. How do you get people to drink sugar water? There’s basically two things, you show it to them on TV, people pouring an ice cold glass, and then it’s aspirational. They’re like young people, they look cool, they look like people you might want to hang out with, and they’re having fun and good feelings.

But it’s sugar water. The product is not something where like with a car you can advertise the quality. You can say well this goes 0 to 60 in whatever, and it gets good gas mileage, and it’s got a great finish. But it’s sugar water. How do you sell it? You have limited options for selling sugar water and so you rely on these cues, this dopamine reinforced motivational behavior that’s triggered by cues. And so you show people billboards, and TV, and whatever with Coke, and hamburgers, and whatever it is.

People spend tens of billions of dollars doing this. In the United States alone more than $10 billion a year they spend showing us pictures of food. And the reason is that they make more than that back by driving our purchasing consumption behavior. I mean it’s got to be insanely effective, otherwise they wouldn’t be spending billions of dollars on it.

The smells and the visual cues, all of that stuff is part of creating a food environment that promotes consumption of whatever the product is. But the net result is we just eat too much of everything.

Laura: I want to take this and pivot a little bit because I’m sure a lot of the people listening to our show are fully aware of the weight gain issues surrounding things like Coke, and ice cream, and pizza, that kind of thing.

I think one of the things I love about the work that you do, Stephan, is that you’re kind of like one foot in the ancestral community and one foot in the more conventional obesity research community. I feel like you bring a lot of balance to what the Paleo community is talking about when it comes to things like weight gain, and food reward, and low carb versus high carb diets, that kind of thing.

I know it’s easy to imagine how this all applies to somebody eating McDonald’s every day, but what about people eating a Paleo diet? Are there things in the research that you’ve discovered that actually go against what a lot of the ideas and theories are perpetuated by the Paleo community? Are there theories that you just think are flat out wrong based on the research that would be helpful for people to know about?

Stephan: Yeah, that’s a good question, good pivot. First of all, I think that there’s a lot of diversity in the Paleo community and especially in the broader ancestral community. I think there’s a lot of value certainly to the ancestral concept and also to the Paleo concept. I think it gets applied in different ways by different people and some of them I would say are better aligned with mainstream scientific thought and some of them are less well aligned.

But some things that I see that are less well aligned, again these aren’t necessarily things that all people in the Paleo community believe or adhere to, but I think probably the lowest hanging fruit for me is bacon. I mean come on people, bacon is not healthy. Give me a break! It’s like deep fried meat. It’s like the fattiest, saltiest, most palatable…

Laura: Sometimes sweet too because there could be some sugar on it.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Stephan: Yeah. It’s got nitrates, it’s got preservatives, it’s probably carcinogenic. I’m not saying strongly carcinogenic, like you can probably eat it sometimes and it’s not a big deal. But it’s not a healthy food. l don’t understand how bacon got associated with the Paleo movement. I think it’s just this kind of like macho pro-meat kind of thing that went along with Paleo.  I mean honestly, I think there’s there’s a section, there’s a portion of the Paleo community that’s basically like young men who want an excuse to eat tons of meat, honestly. I’m not saying that is representative of the community as a whole, but that’s a piece of it.

I think bacon is the low hanging fruit, and just generally the idea that it doesn’t matter how fatty or calorie dense a meat is, it’s all good for you. I’m not anti- fat and I’m not really anti-fatty meat either. But I think there’s a moderation principle here that is valuable and I think that if you’re eating very, very fatty meats, you’re going to be increasing the calorie density of your diet and it’s just going to be easier to over-consume calories.

I think there are still some questions that remain around red meat as well. Red meat is a very highly nutritious food and I do eat it sometimes. But I don’t know, there’s been enough research questioning it particularly on the colon cancer issue. Eating lot of it probably does increase the risk of colon cancer somewhat. I think that there are still some open questions, still some uncertainty that remains about how wise it is to eat large amounts of red meat.

And again, I think red meat can be a healthy food. I think it can be part of a healthy diet. I just wonder once you’re eating large amounts of it, there’s a certain amount of uncertainty that starts to enter into my understanding of how healthy that is based on some of the research that I’ve seen.

And just in general, I think there’s a lot of contrarianism in the Paleo community. Basically I think a lot of people are drawn to it who are like the type of person who have the attitude of you can’t tell me what to do, I’m not going to listen to the authorities, I’m not going to listen to The Food Pyramid.

Laura: A little rebellious.

Stephan: Yeah, there’s a rebellious attitude, personality that tends to go along with that.  I think that sometimes that can be taken a little too far where people maybe discard some things that don’t need to be discarded or feel very highly confident that mainstream nutritional science is wrong when maybe the truth is that nutritional science, maybe there’s some uncertainty around this question or maybe it’s not as certain as we thought it was originally, but it’s doesn’t necessarily mean that we can say for sure that it’s A-Ok.

Like salt for example. For me, the salt issue, I’ve looked into it some, not really deeply. But, man, the more you look, the more uncertainty there is. I mean there are pretty compelling arguments on both sides and I’ve kind of concluded I’m just not really going to write about it and not really even worry about it too much in my diet because it’s so unclear whether it’s bad for you or not. There are people who say, no, we definitely know for sure that salt is good, we should be eating tons of salt. I just don’t think we have that level of certainty right now, and about other things as well.

Laura: Yeah. Just on that vein, one of the things I wanted to ask you about…because I thought when you were saying low hanging fruit, I thought you were going to go for like butter in the coffee as a low hanging fruit topic.

Stephan: Yeah, that’s another one.

Laura: You recently wrote a blog post about your thoughts on butter in general and how they’ve changed recently. I think butter is kind of an interesting food where eating some is probably fine, but putting tablespoons of it in coffee in the morning, maybe not. So what do you think about butter?

Stephan: Yeah, I agree. I realize that posts probably didn’t win me any points with the Weston Price crowd. If you look at butter, if you really look at the nutritional value of butter, it has a little bit of nutritional value, but not much. I mean it’s got a little bit of vitamin A, it’s got a little bit of vitamin K, and particularly K2 which might have some nutritional significance. It’s got some short chain fatty acids. It’s got some other things that may well have benefits. But you know what? All of that stuff is in whole dairy too. All that same nutrition plus a lot more is in whole dairy.

The problem is right now for most people…I’m saying generalities here but there could be people who have different priorities. But for most people, we’re already eating too many calories. So why are you going to concentrate the calories in a food, and concentrate the palatability, and create a scenario where you make it even easier for yourself to eat too many calories when you’re already eating too many?

I mean because butter, let’s be honest, it’s a refined food.  It constitutes about three to four percent of the weight of milk as it comes out of the cow. You’re basically concentrating the fat in that milk and then adding it to other foods as a partially refined ingredient.

I’m not saying butter is going to kill you. I’m not saying don’t ever eat it. I think if you’re making some vegetables and you want to put some butter in, that’s fine, that’s normal putting some fat in vegetables. It’s not necessarily as a whole dish going to be a calorie dense item, but you put enough fat in it to make it palatable so you want to eat it. I don’t see any problem with that. But yeah, when it gets to larger amounts where you’re putting in your coffee, and you’re putting on your bread, and you’re using it liberally in all these different ways, if you’re trying to just make your diet as delicious as possible, then you’re doing a great job. But if you’re trying to maximize the nutritional value of your diet, then you’re not doing a great job.

What you should be doing is eating whole sources of dairy.  I think yogurt is a great, great way to eat dairy. It’s got everything that came out of the cow, plus most of the lactose is gone and you get probiotics. Plain whole milk yogurt I think it is a great food if you eat dairy. I realize some Paleo folks don’t. It’s certainly not essential. But I think if you eat dairy, that’s a great way to eat it. So it’s not that butter is toxic. If you really want to maximize the nutritional quality of your diet, you’re better off eating other forms of dairy than butter.

Laura: And maybe would you say using different fats? Or do you just think that in general isolated fats are kind of lower on the spectrum of nutrient density?

Stephan: Yeah. My absolute honest opinion is I think we would be much better off if we used no isolated added fats at all. I honestly, genuinely believe that and I think the evidence pretty strongly supports it.

That said, and again I’m not saying that fat is bad. I think if we eat fat as part of whole foods that have physical and chemical properties that make us feel full at the appropriate times, things like fresh meats, and eggs, and avocados, and nuts, whole foods, I think that’s a different story. But when we’re isolating fats, and I mean fats are insanely concentrated in calories. Isolated fats are much more calorie dense than any other food that we eat. It just makes it very easy to over consume I think is the bottom line.

I genuinely think that we would all be better off if we didn’t eat any of it. That said I think it’s a pretty hard sell for people to completely cut out isolated fats because we really like them, we’re accustomed to them, they’re deeply ingrained in our diets. And I eat them too. I eat them too, but I don’t claim that it is nutritionally optimal.

The primary fat primary added fat that I use is extra virgin olive oil. I think that there’s more research than for any other fat by far suggesting that extra virgin olive oil from a chronic disease perspective at least is better, or is healthy relative to other added fats. There’s actually a fair amount of research that seems to be pretty good for cardiovascular disease, and metabolic diseases, and some suggestive evidence it might be better for weight gain because of the monounsaturated fat. I think if you’re going to use added fats, extra virgin olive oil is a good way to go for the majority of your added fat use.

But again, I think if I really had a problem with fat gain, and I was really susceptible to it, and I really wanted to kind of optimize around losing weight and keeping it off, I would not be eating any added fats at all.

Laura: It’s interesting because when I work with clients who are on more of like that moderate carb Paleo, actually maybe even a higher carb Paleo diet… I mean high versus moderate, it’s so hard to define carbohydrate percentages…but I find that for a lot of those people if they are struggling with some fat loss and they’re pretty active and just generally eating a pretty whole foods diet, taking out or at least reducing the added fats, like cutting the amount of oils they’re using, butters, that kind of thing is a really easy way to actually promote some weight loss without having to make any major changes to the diet.

It kind of covers a lot of those environmental factors that you were talking about about calorie density and palatability. Because when you cut the fat out, like the added fats, it’s not like you’re going on a crazy low fat diet because you’re still getting things like you said egg yolks, avocado, fatty meats, that kind of thing. But it’s that palatability factor of adding things like butter, and olive oil, and coconut oil, and that kind of thing that I think you lose a lot of that when you remove it and it doesn’t make a huge difference in the satiety of the meal.

Stephan: Yeah.

Laura: It is something that I think is pretty impactful for people that are already following like a more Paleo, whole foods kind of diet that are struggling with extra weight.

Stephan: I was just going to say I don’t think people really understand. Most people, I don’t think they understand how many calories are actually in added fat. I mean one tablespoon, which is really not that much added fat, is 120 calories. If you have one tablespoon with each of your meals, again not a huge amount of added fat, you’re having 360 extra calories. So yeah, I mean I totally agree.

I have one thing I want to add because I think you’ll find it interesting and I think your audience will find it interesting is that one of the things that we’re coming to realize…so there have been all these studies done, I’m sure you’re familiar, comparing low carbohydrate to low fat diet interventions for weight loss. We see that in general the lower carbohydrate diets tend to promote more weight and fat loss than the lower fat diets up to about a year duration.

For a while the idea was, well okay, reducing carbohydrate is more effective than reducing fat. But one thing that’s been coming out lately that I think is really fascinating is that when you really look at these low fat diets that are the comparison diets to the low carb diets, they’re really quite wimpy. Not only are they not very low in fat, but they’re kind of processed. It’s like sugary, there’s no focus on quality. It’s like sugary refined starch, like kind of junky diet.

Laura:  SnackWell’s cookies and that kind of thing.

Stephan: Yeah, and white rice and just things that I don’t think any nutritionist would really… maybe I shouldn’t say any, but I don’t think a wise nutritionist would look at a diet like that and say, yeah, this is a really slimming diet.

There are these studies that are coming out now that are focusing on high quality and they’re saying we’re going to we’re kind of run these studies again and we’re going to try to get people on high quality diets that are either low in carbohydrate or low in fat and then we’re going to see what happens in terms of weight loss.

There was one actually conducted really recently, it’s not even published yet, just the abstract was published at a conference, which is how I know about it, by Chris Gardner. This was a study that was funded by NuSI recently. The idea was to get people to adhere better to the diet program than ever before and to really get quality high and compare low carb versus low fat diets.

What they found was first of all, when you have people eating a higher quality diet, you get better weight loss and better fat loss. They got pretty good results. And second, there was basically no difference between the two diet arms. They both lost approximately the same amount of weight. And so I think kind of the conclusion that… and I’m not saying this is like completely set in stone yet… but the conclusion that seems to be emerging from the research recently is that actually when you when you have a high quality diet, it can be restricted in carbohydrate or it can be restricted in fat. For the “average person,” it could differ by individual, but for the average person either one of those could be equally effective.

Laura:Which I feel like for the Paleo community most of the messaging getting put across is that carbs are inherently fattening and that if you want to lose weight you have to avoid carbs.

Stephan: Yeah, and I don’t think that’s true as a generality, but I think that we have to acknowledge where a lot of these people are coming from. I think a lot of these people are people who tried the kind of like low quality, low fat diet and it didn’t work well for them. Some people respond better to low carb, others respond better to low fat, and whether they’re just constitutionally not responsive to a low fat diet, or whether they just didn’t use a high quality version of it, either of those things… if you try a diet and you’re putting all this effort into it and you’re not seeing results, and then you try a low carb diet and you see results, you’re going to be like this thing that people were telling me is baloney and the opposite is true.

I think that’s a lot of what you see in this community is people who were kind of failed by the traditional weight loss advice and who sought an alternative and found it to be more effective. But I think that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s more effective for everyone. But I think this is a community of people, many of which it is more effective for.

Laura:It’s funny because I’m sure for every person that had that experience, there was like a 30 bananas a day vegan person that got the exact same experience where they’re like eating meat was so bad for me and now I feel so much better. So it’s just crazy to see that the diversity that exists.  I feel like trying to come up with any sort of one size fits all recommendation is essentially impossible.

Stephan: Yeah, I agree with that. At the same time, I think that there are some things that we can say that tend to work more often than not. I think that coupled with an attitude of being willing to do some personal experimentation and tweaking, and perhaps working with a dietitian to help facilitate all of that, I think those two strategies together is probably a good way to go.

Laura:Definitely. Well, I feel like we could talk about this forever basically, which I guess Kelsey and I technically do all the time. But we really appreciated having your input, Stephan. There’s a lot of topics we could have covered. I was hoping to ask you about sugar, but I feel like I’ll just send people to your critique. Was it Gary Taubes who wrote something about sugar?

Stephan: Yeah, The Case Against Sugar.

Laura: Right, and you had a bit of a rebuttal there about sugar not being necessarily like this evil just 100 percent weight gaining food. I mean obviously high palatability and combining it with fat, probably not a great idea. But a little bit on its own, probably not the end of the world especially when it comes to fruit.

It amazes me how many people that I work with that are still so afraid of eating fruit. Like bananas for whatever reason just tend to be this really, almost like a gateway food into a higher carb diet. It just kind of amazes me that people are fine to put four tablespoons of coconut oil in their coffee in the morning, but they’re afraid to eat more than half a banana because they’re worried the banana is going to make them fat.

Stephan: Yeah.

Laura: I feel like there’s a lot to be said about the kind of people that feel this way as far as body image issues, that kind of thing. But just the amount of confusion that’s in the Paleo community because of this war against carbohydrate, it’s kind of gotten us to this point where it’s like science really isn’t being paid attention to in a lot of places where people are afraid to eat a banana, but they’re totally fine eating like I said coconut oil and butter just by the spoonful.

Stephan:  Yeah, I totally agree. I have to share an anecdote on this.

Laura: Okay.

Stephan: I was on a panel one time for a TEDx conference that I went to. I was on a panel with Rob Lustig. One of the guys, I think it was either, it must have been Walter Willett or David Ludwig asked Lustig… Rob Lustig is the big anti-sugar guy by the way in case people don’t know in the audience. One of them asked him, they said do you have any evidence at all that fruit is fattening? You think sugar is fattening, do you have any evidence at all that fruit is fattening? He thought for a second and then he cited this study where they had looked at orangutans in the jungle who had this seasonal fruit binge. They would like binge on fruit when all the fruit got ripe in the jungle and then they would gain weight. And that was his evidence that fruit was fattening.

I think the point is there’s literally, as far as I know there is zero evidence. This is like just pure ideology and repeating something until it becomes true.

Laura: Or like isolated fructose feedings in lab mice that, oh well, that must mean that fructose in fruit is bad for you. And it kind of just goes from there, which it drives me nuts because I feel like fruit is an actually really healthy food. All the research that has been done shows that it actually prevents or at least is associated with lower weight, and less disease risk, and lower risk for diabetes and all that.

Stephan: Yeah.

Laura:  It amazes me that people are so afraid of it, like literally afraid of it to the point where if I tell them to put a whole banana in their smoothie, they’re just like I can’t, that’s too much! It’s amazing.

Stephan: The ironic thing is that even refined sugar is not very fattening in experimental animal models. Fat is way more fattening than sugar is in a variety of different animal species. There’s a lot of belief that goes into there that’s not necessarily evidence based. Not to say that it doesn’t have a grain of truth, more than a grain of truth.

Laura:I think everything is in context. Like we saying, butter is not necessarily bad for you. But if you’re trying to lose weight, then using lots of butter on your food, probably not a good idea. The same goes with if you have diabetes you probably don’t want to be drinking Coke, but having a banana may be okay. I think there’s just so much like we said, context on all the environmental, but DNA, and genetics, and historical diet. It gets really, really complicated.

When people wonder why nutrition degrees take so long and so much effort to get, it’s because there is so much you have to learn and it becomes more of an art sometimes than a science when you’re working with people individually.

But we really appreciated your time, Stephan. It was awesome to have you on the show and hopefully we’ll be able to have you on in the future to talk about some more interesting topics. In the meantime, where can our listeners find your work?

Stephan: My blog is at StephanGuyenet.com. Or if that’s hard to spell you can go to WholeHealthSource.org and that’ll take you to the same place. I’m also pretty active on Twitter. A lot of what I tweet is pretty technical, a lot of papers and things. But if you’re interested in the science side of it, my handle is @whsource.

My book is The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting The Instincts That Make Us Overeat. That’s available online. And then besides that, I just appear periodically on podcasts, and guest articles, and conferences, and that sort of thing.

Laura:  Great! We’re going to link to all of that in the show notes. If people want to check that out, they can go to TheAncestralRDs.com and this will be episode 115, so you can find all that good information there.

And again, we really appreciate your time, Stephan, and like I said, hope to have you on in the future.

Stephan: Okay, thanks. I’ll look forward to that.

Laura: Awesome, take care!

Stephan: You too.

PODCAST: “The Secret Life Of Fat” With Dr. Sylvia Tara

Thanks for joining us for episode 114 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are excited to be interviewing Dr. Sylvia Tara!Tara S, Author Photo, Credit to Joshua Michael Shelton

Dr. Sylvia Tara is the author of the book The Secret Life of Fat. Dr. Tara holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of California at San Diego and an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She was a consultant with McKinsey & Company and has worked with the world’s largest biotechnology companies. She lives in the Los Angeles area.

When we think about body fat, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the areas of our bodies that we would like to shrink and how difficult it can be to do so. But did you know that body fat is much more than a storage site that contains evidence of eating too much and exercising too little?  This episode is a must for anyone open to a new understanding and appreciation of fat and the differing proportions of it on people’s bodies.

Today Dr. Tara dives into the science of fat and shares the many surprising roles that fat plays in the body. You’ll come away with insight into why people gain fat differently and why it can be so difficult to lose.  As we discuss factors involved in body fat regulation such as genetics, gender, and hormones, you’ll also learn about the microbiome’s effect on obesity and hear specific tactics women can use to approach weight loss.

Here are some of the questions we discussed with Dr. Sylvia Tara:

  • How did you get into the world of weight regulation, obesity, and the very interesting topic of fat?
  • Can you explain how fat is an endocrine organ?
  • What is your opinion on a body weight set point?
  • What factors play a role in our body’s tendency to gain weight?
  • What tactics do you recommend that women incorporate to help address the difference in the way men and women gain and lose weight?
  • Can you tell us a little bit about the microbiome and weight gain?

Links Discussed:


Kelsey: Hi everyone! Welcome to episode 114 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Kelsey Kinney and with me as always is my cohost Laura Schoenfeld.

Laura: Hey everybody!

Kelsey: We’re Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence-based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me at KelseyKinney.com, and Laura at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com.

We’ve got a great guest on our show today who’s going to share her insight into why our bodies store fat, why fat is so hard to lose, and she’ll be busting some common myths around body fat. This is going to be a very interesting episode and we’re glad to have the opportunity to chat about this topic.

We had some technical difficulties with this episode, so the audio quality is not quite up to our usual standards. But we hope you’ll look past the unfortunate sound quality and still listen to this great interview.

Laura: I do believe that the sound quality may have been my fault. It’s hard to tell, but I was running the backup audio and somehow it didn’t get muted. That’s the theory. Thanks guys if you are still going to listen it because like Kelsey said, it’s a great interview.

If you’re enjoying the show, sound quality aside, subscribe on iTunes so that way you never miss an episode. While you’re in iTunes, leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well! And remember, we always want to be answering your question, so head over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a health-related question that we can answer or suggest a guest you’d love for us to interview on an upcoming show.

Kelsey: Before we get into the interview, here’s a quick word from our sponsor:

This episode is brought to you by Paleo Rehab, a five week online program designed to help you recover from HPA axis dysfunction, also known as adrenal fatigue. Is your perfect Paleo diet and lifestyle leaving you exhausted? Now is the time to start feeling the health and wellness you know you deserve. If you’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, and are ready to take back your health, then head over to MyPaleoRehab.com to get your free 28 page e-book on the 3 step plan for healing from adrenal fatigue.

Kelsey: Welcome back everybody! We’re very excited to have with us today Dr. Sylvia Tara, the author of the book The Secret Life of Fat. Dr. Tara holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of California at San Diego and an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She was a consultant with McKinsey & Company and has worked with the world’s largest biotechnology companies. She lives in the Los Angeles area. Welcome Dr. Tara!

Dr. Sylvia Tara: Thank you, great to be here.

Kelsey: So good to have you. I’d love to hear a little bit about how you got into this whole world of weight regulation, and obesity, and just that whole idea of fat as kind of this very interesting topic. Tell us a little bit about your journey.

Dr. Sylvia Tara: I had a lot of trouble with fat myself. I gain weight very easily and I have since I was a child. It felt like everyone around me could eat what they want and stay thin, and I really couldn’t eat much of anything and be thin. Even though it seemed like normal diet, not that many calories, 1,600 calories, I could actually get fat. I went on a number of diets, I tried different things, I worked with personal trainers. Some people would lose a lot of weight on these things, people who were dieting with me, and then I would lose a few pounds.

I finally just got very frustrated with this issue and I thought I’m a scientist and if anyone could understand fat, I can. I went on a journey to understand everything there is to know about fat, a five year mission where I read over a thousand articles about fat. I talked to over 50 thought leaders around the world about the research on fat. But what I was finding out was so astounding, so surprising that I thought I have to capture this in a book and tell people what I’m learning. The Secret Life of Fat is that book.

The most interesting things I found out are that fat is not just fat. It’s actually not just a reserve of calories. It’s doing so much more in your body and it’s actually an endocrine organ. Researches have known this for some time. But the public, this news isn’t really reaching the public. Writing the Secret Life of Fat was part of that journey for me of just taking everything I had learned about fat and communicating it to people and letting them know why it’s so hard to lose and why individuals lose, and gain, and store fat at different rates. There’s genetic component. There’s even viruses, bacteria play a role. Hormones play a role, age and gender do.

If someone is like me where they feel like they gain easily, they can’t understand it, they go on diets, they work a little bit, but not the way they do for other people, this is actually a really good book to read because it explains why and it explains what you have to do if you do want to manage your fat.

Kelsey: Great, amazing! You just mentioned that you discovered that fat is an endocrine organ. Can you tell some of our audience maybe who don’t really know what that means, what that actually means for them and what that means if fat is doing something other than just kind of being there?

Dr. Sylvia Tara: Fat is actually producing hormones that your body depends on. Just like our adrenal gland or pituitary gland, it’s part of the endocrine system. They’re both producing hormones that circulate throughout our bodies and have vast effects, so is our fat. Fat produces really quite a few hormones. Adiponectin is one, leptin is one that we’ll talk about. It even produces estrogen. In fact older women after they go through menopause, they depend on their fat for estrogen.

In addition to storing calories, which is a very big function for fat, it also is producing hormones, it’s interacting with different organs and tissues in our body. For example, our brain size is linked to fat. When people get gravely low fat, like people with anorexia nervosa, they actually start to lose some brain volume. If people’s fat is defective, it’s not producing the hormones it’s supposed to produce through some genetic issue or other issue, they start to have problems too.

For example, one hormone, leptin, that’s a hormone that fat produces, it’s directly linked to our appetite. So when we lose fat, we lose leptin. What that does is it drives our appetite through the roof because leptin controls appetite. When we normally have sufficient amounts of it, we’re fine and we’re overall satiated. Of course you get hungry during meal times and things like that, but overall we’re not overly aggressive or eager about food. But when we lose fat, say 10% of our body or more, our leptin levels really go down and that causes an overall drive to eat.

I do give the example of The Secret Life of Fat of one young girl named Lela and she had defective fat. She had a genetic defect where her fat wasn’t producing leptin. She had an enormous drive to eat. She couldn’t stop eating. Her parents to blame for this for overfeeding her, she was blamed for this. Nobody understood her problem. Finally it turned out that they did actually a test just to see if she had some of these deficiencies because they were researching this in mice. They found that yes, she’s not producing leptin. This is why she has this huge drive to eat. It’s not a normal drive where you’re just hungry all the time. She would actually go through the trash looking for food if her parents wouldn’t give it to her.

Kelsey: Wow!

Dr. Sylvia Tara: She got caught breaking into a freezer to eat raw frozen fish. I mean it was this insatiable drive she couldn’t stop that actually put her in the hospital at one point to control her eating. She just stopped gaining so quickly, but she was still gaining.

The other thing that leptin does is that it decreases metabolism when it goes down. We’re normal, we’re eating, our appetite is overall pretty good, but our metabolism is pretty high too. When we are low in leptin after we’ve lost some body fat, we have a serious to eat and our metabolism is lower, 25% lower during exercise and about 10% lower during rest periods.

If you lost some fat, you actually have to eat less to maintain the same weight as someone who is naturally at that low weight to begin with. For example, if somebody is 150 pounds naturally, but someone was 170 and they lost 20 pounds to get to 150 pounds, then the person who’s lost that weight to get to 150 pounds has to eat about 22% fewer calories or 450 calories or so less than that person who is naturally at that weight to maintain that low weight.

There’s all these tricks and secrets around fat that your really have to know about if you want to maintain weight loss. A lot of it really explained my problem to me. I understood why I have to try harder and why certain diets aren’t working for me versus other people. It’s because yo-yo dieting, it plays a toll on what you have to do and how hard you have to try dieting going forward.

Kelsey: That brings a question up for me. This idea of a body weight set point, what do you think about that?

Dr. Sylvia Tara: I think that’s right. That’s what this is, is that there’s this set point. I don’t know how long it lasts. I think it varies for people. But I know when you do lose fat right away, you do have to try harder and you are a little hungrier all the time. I can tell you from my own experience that it lasts for a while. It lasts for at least a year for me, possibly more.

I don’t think it’s impossible to get to a different weight. I think people just have to be really patient with it. It really does take years before your body adjusts to it and gets settled at the new set point. I think once I did, actually there’s benefits to it. Even though it was really hard to lose weight, I had to eat less, I had to exercise more, I had to try much harder at it, after about a year or so, I kind of reached it. The good side of that is my body didn’t want to gain weight either. It reached a new set point. When Christmas time came around the second time, I actually didn’t gain that much weight even though I went off my diet here and there. There’s a good side and bad side to having a set point, but you do have to work hard to break through and lose weight given your set point.

Kelsey: Right. Basically if you gain weight, say you’re a naturally 150 pound person as your example you were saying before, then you gain weight up to 170 pounds, you essentially are going to have to try very hard to get to 150 again. But once you get there and once you create that as the new set point, it becomes obviously easier to maintain that. Is that kind of what you’re saying?

Dr. Sylvia Tara: I think so, yeah. It might not be as easy as a person who was naturally at that weight to begin with.

Kelsey: Right.

Dr. Sylvia Tara: My guess is that person is always going to be able to eat a little bit more, but your hunger and your cravings, things like that start to come in line They’re not so bad anymore. If you can stick with it, and this is what people don’t realize I think is that you have to stick with it than longer than you think. A lot of people, if you’re not aware of that you get frustrated, you come off your diet. It’s not working, I’m too hungry, it’s too hard. Stay with it for at least a year and things will start shaping differently. You’ll stop being so hungry, you’ll respond to exercise a little bit better too. It’ll just become more natural. And then your body doesn’t want to really gain either. You’re at a new plateau there.

Even during my diets I would reach certain plateaus where you get set points along the way. That would happen, I don’t know, maybe every five to six pounds where I had to try really hard again to break that plateau. There was like a mini set points along the way.

Kelsey: Gotcha.

Dr. Sylvia Tara: Just don’t despair with it. It is harder than people think to lose weight in some permanent way, but you can do it. You just have to really go at it. You have to be really determined. It’s worth it in the end. You feel like you got control of it. You get smart about your fat is really the key thing to do so that you know how to manage it.

Kelsey: Got it. That whole idea of set point and leptin, those are things that are playing a role in somebody gaining body fat or just how our bodies lose weight. I’d be curious to know what other factors you think play a role in our body’s tendency to gain weight.

Dr. Sylvia Tara: There’s so many of them. In fact the whole middle part of my book is about the weird ways we gain weight that people don’t really think about. Usually when we get heavy people assume it’s gluttony and sloth, people are overeating and they’re not exercising. It’s certainly a component for a lot of people, but there are other ways that even if you feel like you’re eating pretty normally, but you’re getting fat, there are lots of reasons that might be.

One of them is genetics. I do write about genetics. There’s even population of people, they gain weight easily on a Western diet. I talk about the Pima Indians, which is a story that’s been told where they were American Indians settling around Arizona. They were pretty normal weight until westerners started coming through for the gold rush and just throughout history. They started adopting more of a Western lifestyle where it was a little less exercise, eating different foods now. And they started becoming obese. But the Caucasians around them were eating this same diet, largely had the same lifestyle, and they weren’t becoming obese. When they compared them to the same Pima Indians in Mexico, this group had diverged and some groups went to Mexico, the group in Mexico largely had the same ancestral life they did when there were more active and they were eating more natural foods and farming. And they were thin.

We all come in from different racial backgrounds and different genetic profiles. A normal diet of plenty of carbs or even a certain amount, it doesn’t work for everyone. There’s really nothing, something like a normal diet. There’s no one size fits all. Even the Food Guidelines that we have, it works for some people, not for others. I couldn’t eat as much as what the Food Guidelines tell me. I would really be obese. I have to modulate. It’s not right.

I think that’s where we’re going with things is that there’s going to be individualized diets. It’s not one diet fits all. You have to really understand your body type and then modulate a diet that works for you. In addition to genetics, you have to think about gender. I have a whole chapter on the difference between women and men. Women just preferentially gain weight compared to men. It’s not a surprise I’d say for most women, they realize that.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Dr. Sylvia Tara: I had to find the reasons why. Girl babies, even at the time of birth, they have more fat than boy babies. We are predisposed to put it on, we put it on at higher rates. The interesting thing is women actually burn more fat than men, like say during a period of fast, an overnight fast, or while exercising. But for all the other times of the day, we are storing fat at a higher rate. We respond differently to exercise. We get hungrier after exercise compared to men.

It’s all these things that you have to understand. Once you understand, it’s like knowledge is power. You can then figure out this is probably what’s happening and this is what I have to do with it. Genetics, and not only genetics, but bacteria and viruses play a role here. Then hormones is something important to think about too that as we age, our fat busting hormones like progesterone, growth hormone, estrogen, they start to decline and then you naturally put on weight because you’re not burning the same amount of fats as you were when you were young. That requires a little bit more exercise and it requires eating less. We just change, our bodies change with time and we have to change with them as well.

And then there’s the whole issue of the microbiome, bacteria in the gut, viruses that can cause fat. A lot of stuff in the middle section of the book. Again, it’s what I had to know because I do, I gain weight very easily. People are usually kind of surprised that I eat as little as I do, but we’re not all the same. My guess is that there’s a genetic component for me, age, in my 40s, and being a female, they all really played into giving me this kind of composition where I just gain weight quickly. But then after I did the research, I did understand what to do and I was able to control it. I do have to work harder at it, but at least I know that now, so I’m not feeling like I’m failing on a diet. I know what I have to do.

Kelsey: Just to go back to that idea of the difference between men and women for a second, if you‘re a woman and you’re trying to lose weight and you know inherently that the cards are kind of stacked against you in a way, what tactics do you recommend that women incorporate to help kind of get the cards in their favor again?

Dr. Sylvia Tara: I think the first thing you have to do is you have to understand you’re meant to be a little heavier. Unless it’s easy for you to do this, don’t try to be one of these hard bodies like you see on the cover of “Fitness Magazine” or whatever, any of these women’s magazines that always have these six pack abs or some very lean women in a bikini. I actually think these models come from Scandinavia, they come from certain parts of the world where it’s not that hard to look that way. I’ve traveled to these places and they can eat plentifully. You are individual and you don’t have to be that thin to be healthy.

First of all, psychologically get yourself to a place where some progress is good, it doesn’t have to be perfect. I do write a whole chapter on the psychology of losing weight also. One thing I learned is that women are more given to something called dichotomous thinking. That’s where if you don’t get an A, say you get a B instead as a grade, you feel like you failed. If you’re not perfect, or if something’s not quite right, you feel like you failed and then you give up all together. Even interviewing personal trainers that work with people all the time, they mention this.

Women have a different response to food. It means something more emotional to them and they respond different to when they’re trying exercise and lose weight. If they go off and they eat something they weren’t supposed to, or if they don’t have a perfect day, they want to give up more and they take it harder on themselves. They feel more guilt about it.

That kind of thinking actually leads to a lot of failure in itself. People who have that thinking give in to more depression, eating disorders, addiction, all kinds of things. Get out of that way of thinking. A lot of the good weight loss coaches I interviewed for the book, they say that’s one of the things they work on with their patients a lot is that when they come off their diet, they just coach them back on.

We all come off the diet. In fact, you should. There’s another part of the book where I talk about the need to actually give yourself a break once and a while. Once you do, you just have to get back on very quickly and understand you don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to look perfect. Any progress is good. So that’s one part for women.

The other part is that we do respond to exercise differently. We do burn more fat during this time when we’re exercising compared to men who are using more glycogen for energy. But when we actually burn off quite a few calories, say 600 calories or more, like a strong bout of exercise, our ghrelin level goes up. ghrelin is a hormone released from the stomach that causes hunger. Women have 33% more ghrelin after exercise compared to men, so we get hungrier after exercise. Even after we eat, we still have 25% more ghrelin. We have a long lasting hunger response to exercise.

Actually more moderate exercise might be better for women. Don’t overdo it really fast because it is very hard to control that hunger spike. Start off slowly. Add exercise in when you can take it, when you feel like your regimen is down pat, you’ve got your discipline around your eating, and then you add the exercise in slowly so you can control the response to it.

And then even during menstrual periods, women…it’s funny, this has now been scientifically studied…but we crave sweets during our periods. And it’s because the hormone changes actually cause a lot of the glucose which has to be cleared from our blood pretty quickly after we eat, so we have cravings to replenish them more around our periods. Also best not to start a diet right before your period. It’s harder to control and you want to have that regimen and discipline down pat pretty good.

Kelsey: Right.

Dr. Sylvia Tara: Because women store fat more readily than men, I think at 2 to 3 times a rate compared to men, try to do one of these diets where you don’t eat too much at one time. Eat less every time because we are storing it faster so anything that’s extra, women will surely put it away in their fat compared to men. They’ll just circulate more or they’ll pass more, but women will store it. What it comes down to is less eating during any meal time, smaller meals overall perhaps a little bit more frequently, don’t over exercise, and then don’t start a diet during a period. And then also just behaviorally, just make sure you give yourself a break. Don’t over penalize yourself it you do go off your diet, which everyone does from time to time.

Kelsey: I think that’s such an important point, both that and that idea of dichotomous thinking and just that women are meant to be a little bit heavier. Especially depending on maybe your genetic background as well, you may not be meant to be stick skinny your whole life. I think that’s really important to realize, and just recognize, and not feel like you need to look a certain way and just listen to what your body is telling you.

Yes, you could be at a certain set point right now and you can potentially get that a little bit lower by using some of the tactics we’re talking about. However, at the end of the day if your body is at a certain point and that is easy for you to maintain and that’s within a healthy weight range, I think that’s something that both Laura and I often talk to our clients about just that you may not need to lose weight and you don’t need to be this version of a body that you see in magazines and on TV to be healthy. I think that’s something very important to recognize and just appreciate about your body as a woman.

Dr. Sylvia Tara: That’s a great summation. I think women are just bombarded the most with different images of how you’re supposed to look, and how you’re supposed to be, and what makes a successful female. It sells a lot of books, it sells a lot of magazines. Everyone wants it. And if you can sell people something that why want, they can’t quite attain, they’ll keep on buying it. Once they obtain it, they don’t need you anymore.

It’s very hard and I think women have to be a little bit tough about this and be little bit more I guess just defensive of their own selves and their bodies. We are what we are and you don’t have to be perfect. I write also about being fit but fat, and that’s also possible. Being healthy is the main thing, so don’t worry about perfection and don’t worry about every image you’re ever sent.

I even write about some of the celebrities that are held up as this great body and great figure. What they do to get there is actually a lot harder than what you might think. I write about Patricia Heaton. She’s often talked about just full days of fasting just having water all day because she also gains weight easily. Just too look what we call normal, she has to work enormously for that. Cindy Crawford, the same. There’s a lot of celebrities when they get honest for a moment talk about what they really do, you might not want to do those things. It’s really hard. They’re working out a lot, they’re eating very little. Some of these models will dip a cotton ball in orange juice just to fill their stomach because they’re not eating.

Kelsey: Gosh!

Dr. Sylvia Tara: The truth of how people get there, it’s not all just oh yeah, I just don’t gain weight and I just look like this naturally. It’s really hard and we have normal lives. Real women have children, they work. I couldn’t do a life like that.  Just be forgiving of yourself and just know that everyone’s different.

You can be a little bit heavy and be healthy. That’s all around where your fat is stored. The fat that’s under our skin is subcutaneous fat. The fat underneath the stomach wall is visceral fat. It’s the visceral fat that really is blamed to diabetes type 2 and heart disease and all these issues that we have. If you can move that fat to other areas, to your buttock or your leg area away from your visceral area, you can actually be healthy.

I write about sumo wrestlers that do just that. We know that they’re obese, but another trick about fat is it releases a hormone called adiponectin. Adiponectin actually helps move fat out of your blood and into subcutaneous tissue where it belongs, that tissue away from your visceral area. Although they’re really obese, sumos exercise 6 to 7 hours a day and that actually helps promote the release of adiponectin. They actually don’t have visceral fat. It’s all underneath their skin. That big belly fat that they have, it’s not underneath the stomach wall. They’re surprisingly healthy, they’re metabolically healthy. When they come off that regimen and they get back to normal life, they quickly become metabolically unhealthy because they’re not exercising that much anymore.

Just know that even if you are 10 pounds overweight, it’s okay. It’s not the end. You can still be healthy. Just make sure you’re exercising quite a bit and you’re eating healthy food too.

Kelsey: Yeah, I love that. I think that’s great for people to hear because I love that idea that you don’t have to be extremely skinny to be healthy. I think that those two things are often equated, skinny equals healthy, but not necessarily true as you just described and it can lead people to do kind of these extreme things like you were talking about with it being cotton balls in orange juice. To me, I would argue that that sort of behavior is unhealthy. I mean eating that low calorie, I would consider it a stressor on the body and it’s probably not a great thing to be doing over a long period of time either. Would you agree with that?

Dr. Sylvia Tara: Completely! I don’t think women are designed to be that thin the way we show them in magazines. Like I said, women are designed to have more fat than men, to be a little bit softer than men. Part of that is because our bodies are keeping us healthy.

I write about genetics in the book. There’s this one gene, it’s called IRS1 and some people have a certain mutation of it. They actually are thinner, but they’re not as healthy. There’s another group with a different variation of it and they have more fat, but what they find is they’re more healthy. What’s happening is their bodies are really efficient at storing away fats out of their blood so their bodies are constantly clearing out their blood of triglycerides, glucose, extra things and it’s storing in their fat. Although they have more fat, they are actually healthier people.

Women, like I talked about, we’re more efficient fat stores so our body is cleaning out our blood more, it’s storing fat. We’re fatter, but we’re actually a little bit healthier than men. I interview a doctor at the Mayo Clinic and he says he tells this to his patients that although men often think they’re doing real well, they’re thin. As we get older, they have more heart disease than we do. They have more issues because of these triglycerides. Women don’t have the same because their body has always been clearing out fat.

Take some solace in that that although we’re a little softer, we tend to be healthier. It’s not a bad thing to be softer. It’s actually a good thing. It means that our bodies are efficiently storing away things that would be in our blood and depositing in our arteries, depositing in other areas. We’re putting it into subcutaneous fat.

Kelsey: Interesting!

Dr. Sylvia Tara: Take some solace. Everyone should just take comfort. Every woman should take some comfort. Although we gain easier, there’s a reason for it. It’s actually keeping us healthier.

Kelsey: Right. That’s great to know. I want to go back for a second to one of the other factors that you mentioned when it comes to weight gain which was the microbiome. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Dr. Sylvia Tara: We all have bacteria in our gut. That’s the area of our body that has more bacteria than any place else. Depending on your distribution of bacteria, you’ll either have bacteria that can really harvest calories out of food. They really help absorb our food and they convert it to glucose, which then turns into energy for the body and it can get stored as fat if eat more than we need at any given time. There’s some bacteria that are more resistant to that. They allow more food to pass out of our gut and pass as waste. Depending on your distribution of bacteria, you could be getting more or less calories out of your food.

The good news about that is that we can change our microbiome. What they noticed is people who have more fruits and vegetables, more fibrous foods, they tend to have a bacteria that’s tilted more with those bacteria that allow food to pass. And they do, they tend to have more waste. People who eat a lot of high carb food, they have a different set of bacteria. They have more of that bacteria that extracts more calories out of food and distributes it to the body as glucose.

It takes a long time to change your microbiome. It’s not instant, but things like eating prebiotics, artichokes, legumes, things like that and eating more salads actually helps not only helps you get less pure calories, it also tilts your microbiome to one that won’t absorb as much out of your food. You’ll pass more as waste.

I know for me at least what I learned is that a big salad in the middle of the day is almost my staple of dieting. It fills you so when you have a lot of fibrous food, there’s stretch receptors in your stomach and the more you stretch it, you actually have less hunger from that. The fiber will pass more, the microbiome will tilt a little differently, it’s a little bit more nutritious. There’s so many reasons.  For me at least, that became a staple of my diet after I got educated about that is more fibrous foods and less carb food.  Of course for insulin too, you don’t want to have a lot of carb so much….your hormones too when you eat more natural and more healthy.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Dr. Sylvia Tara: In addition to the bacteria, there are viruses. I do write about viruses that they seem to cause more fat. There’s AD36 virus that I talk about which is actually contagious. They’re not quite sure how yet, how people get it. But people who have this virus, they have double the risk of obesity.

Kelsey: Wow!

Dr. Sylvia Tara: I write about one man named Randy who contracted this virus, it was some time in his teen years. He just struggled with weight. He ended up gaining weight very easily, had really hard time. He felt hungry all the time and got to the point where he was about 350 at one point. It wasn’t until he got to the University of Wisconsin where they were studying this virus that they gave him this test that he learned that he had this virus, he leaned what it does.

People who have the virus, actually they store more glucose. They create more fat molecules and they create more fat cells. In a way it’s like people who clear their bodies more of glucose and fats and they store it more as fat. They tend to just get heavier. I know Randy has to eat much less than he used to before. He’s about over 6 feet, he’s in his 60s now, and he runs every day and eats about 1,200 calories a day. But he’s thin. He finally realized what it takes for his body to lose weight and he calls himself not part of the eating world. But he just has to eat a lot less than everyone around him. But at least he knows that now. Even though that might sound like a really terrible ending, he got control of it. It wasn’t until he got educated about his fats that he was able to do that.

Kelsey: Interesting. I’ve written a little bit about at least the microbiome, the bacteria in the large intestine, and how they play a role in obesity. One of the things that I thought was really interesting about that, which I’m not sure if you’ve done any research on this part of it, but basically if you have a dysbiotic microbiome so you’ve got too much bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria, essentially you have a lot of bacteria that produce lipopolysaccharides, which are heavily inflammatory. And then you get leaky gut because of those in the gut and then the LPS goes into the rest of your bloodstream, through the rest of your body, creates inflammation elsewhere. The research is showing that that may be a really important factor in why dysbiotic flora in the microbiome can really lead to obesity and metabolic dysfunction.

Dr. Sylvia Tara: That’s great and I’ve read the same things too. In your research, do you find also that eating the right foods changes that microbiome overtime and people can fix that problem a little bit?

Kelsey: Yeah, absolutely. I think also it’s important to treat any sort of course parasites, or pathogens, or things like that. But if you just have low good bacteria for example, doing exactly what you were just saying like eating more prebiotics or supplementing with prebiotics, that’s going to go a long way to balancing out your microbiome and getting you to have much lower levels of those really inflammatory particles.

Dr. Sylvia Tara: There’s so much we’re learning now. I think medicine throughout, we treat with drugs, we treat with basic advice like exercise and eat less, but there’s just a myriad of ways that people gain weight. I think we’re starting to get smarter about it, but I feel like we’re just at the tip of the iceberg with this that there’s so much science there. Hopefully my book is I think is a start to brining it all together, but I just think it’s going to get so much better with this.

We’re also learning about time, the time that we eat makes a difference like intermittent fasts where people restrict their eating to certain times of the day like a 12 hour period or so, or actually less, about an 8 hour period. You can eat the same amount of calories in that period, but as long as you have that period of fasting, people can lose weight. It has to do with hormones, it has to do with a number of things. I don’t even know if we’re completely sure why that is.

But we’re getting smarter. It just feels like a lot of these things are coming out. What’s hard to do though is pick the science from the fads. There’s a lot of fads out there, too. I read some of these and I don’t what the science is behind it all. It doesn’t seem to make sense. That’s what’s hard for the consumer I think is figuring out whether there’s real science behind it versus this is just another fad.

Kelsey: Right.

Dr. Sylvia Tara: I think read from a reputable source, start with that. But we really are just learning more. There’s a lot of interesting research coming out from the Weizmann in Israel where they’re testing blood sugar responses in patients. They’ll have people eat various foods like a muffin, alcohol, chocolate, different things, and they’re seeing that not everyone has the same response to it. Some people can eat say chocolate and that their blood sugar doesn’t spike at all. They have almost no reaction to it. Other people they’ll have a big spike in their blood sugar and insulin levels. Some people can eat these sweets and eat junk food and stuff and they’re actually quite okay. Other people, their bodies are really responding and creating an insulin spike and storing away more fat, etc.

We really are different and part of that is genetics, part of it is probably hormones, and who knows what. We’re just starting to understand how different people are. Some of these labels I have really just come away from fat slob or someone is just lazy. I don’t assume things anymore. The answer right now, the solution to it, it is still diet and exercise right now just because we’re just still learning and so we still have the kind of rote ways we handle it which is changing what you eat, exercising more.

But then you can get smarter too, and I write about some of these tricks. It’s just understating the time in which you eat is a big factor of it, understanding hormones. We’ve been focused on insulin in the dieting world for a long time and eating lower carbs, which is a great start, but there’s other hormones you can work with too such as testosterone, growth hormone.

Part of why intermittent fasting is thought to work is because it prolongs the release of growth hormone which peaks at night. If you don’t eat around that time, you actually extend the release of growth hormone or keep the presence of growth hormone in circulation for longer. That’s a great fat buster, growth hormone. It gets rid of visceral fat and just helps you break plateaus as well.

But again, that’s pretty rudimentary. I feel like there’s so much more to learn. We’ll get more of that in the coming decades especially since obesity has become a health crisis. It’s gotten more research funding over the years and so there’s a lot more say in the last 30 years that have come out about studying obesity. That’s how we learned about leptin, and adiponectin, and these different types of hormones, and what fat’s actually doing is because more research dollars have come into it. I think a lot more interesting things will come as well.

Kelsey: Yeah, I’m on the same page. I’m very curious to see where all of this goes because like you said, I really do feel like we’re just at the tip of the iceberg right now and there’s going to be so much that we learn over the next couple decades I think. Obviously people can start at the tip of the iceberg with you and read your book The Secret Life of Fat. But where else can people find you?

Dr. Sylvia Tara: I’m on Facebook and I’m on Twitter @SylviaTaraPhD. I’m on the web www.TheSecretLifeofFat.com. You can find me there. Some of my appearances and things will be on there too. The book is available on Amazon, it’s on Barnes and Noble, it’s at airports as well. Lot’s of ways to hook in. I know on Facebook I post stories quite a bit and different news topics that I think are helpful for people. You can follow along all kinds of ways.

And maybe in another few years I’ll write another update to The Secret Life of Fat of what we find out with research as it keeps on unfolding. It’s just become so interesting. I think what it tells us too is that truly incumbent upon people to educate yourself. Don’t just follow something because your friends lost weight on it. I mean really understand your fat. And once you do, you’ll be happier, you’ll be more accepting of yourself, and you’ll understand some tricks of what might work for you. Although The Secret Life of Fat isn’t exactly a diet book, I don’t have meal plans, it is an explanation of fat, the variations of fat, and things that you can do to try to break through if you have really stubborn fat like I have. Hopefully it helps people.

Kelsey: Awesome, Dr. Tara! Thank you so much for joining us today. I think this was a really enlightening episode and I’m sure our listeners will enjoy this. We’d love to have you back on. Maybe next time when you write your latest book on the update of all this research, we’d love to have you back to learn more about that.  We’ll link to all of your website, and your Facebook, and your Twitter, and everything in the show notes of this episode. But I just wanted to thank you for your time today and thank you so much for joining us!

Dr. Sylvia Tara: Thank you! It was great to be here.


Kelsey: Let’s get into our updates section of the podcast. This is a very exciting update section because Laura was just married! Let’s see, it was two weeks ago at this point you went on your honeymoon as well?

Laura: Yeah, a little over two weeks ago. It feels like it didn’t even happen.

Kelsey: Fill us in! How was it?

Laura: It was really great! Like I said, it kind of as everyone told me was over in like half a second. But everyone had a really good time. I’m like trying to think of where to even start. I don’t want to go into like an insane amount of detail. But the wedding itself was awesome. It went really smoothly.

It was funny because the caterer told me that I was way more involved in the planning and execution than most brides are. I’m like alright, well that makes sense. I developed this insane type A personality through this process. I think you kind of start to get a little like that as a business owner. You almost have to kind of tap into that area of your capabilities. But the wedding planning definitely took that too an insane level that I never expected.

But it was just really funny because I kept thinking okay, if anything goes wrong, I just don’t want my day of coordinator to even tell me. I just want to have it dealt with and nobody say anything. I just want to enjoy this. I think it actually nothing serious even happened.

Kelsey: That’s good!

Laura: I mean there might have been some tiny little things that happened. Like for example, we had some candles on the table and I guess when they got blown out as they were getting to the end, they smoked a decent amount. And then at the end of the night when people were blowing their nose, there was like black in the tissue paper. But I’m like hey, that’s just like if you’re living in London or something. It’s not that big of a deal.

Kelsey: Right. That’s funny.

Laura: But yeah, it was really fun. Like I said, it went so fast. We had a great time and it was basically exactly what I wanted. The ceremony was really nice and everyone was saying how much fun they had. I talked to a couple friends from church yesterday and they were like it’s like the most fun we’ve ever had at a wedding.

Kelsey: So good to hear!

Laura: Yeah, friends of mine were like I never dance at weddings and I danced! I’m like well, good, because the whole point of this thing was so that people had fun. It was funny because my pastor even talked about the wedding in his sermon on this recent Sunday. He was joking about how he never dances and by the end of the night he had most of his shirts off, like his tie off, jacket off, all these things were like off and he and a bunch of the guys from church were just like dancing like idiots. It was really fun.

Kelsey: That’s cute.

Laura: Yeah, so we had a really good time. And then we took a day in between the wedding before going on the honeymoon, which highly recommended if anyone is thinking about going on a honeymoon.

Kelsey: I know. That’s what we did too and I was like, oh my gosh, I couldn’t imagine trying to get to the airport the day after.

Laura: Oh yeah. I mean I could have used an extra day probably before going. We had a day in between to just kind of recover and get packed and everything, and then we went to Mexico for our honeymoon. Noelle Tarr of Coconuts and Kettlebells had set us up with this sweet honeymoon package at this resort that her and her husband are members at. They had gotten married there and they became members and they got us this really sweet honeymoon package in a really nice room and it was all inclusive. We had a butler service and an infinity pool on our balcony.

Kelsey: That picture of your pool on your balcony, I was like oh my gosh, that looks amazing!

Laura: I know. The sad part is we only used that pool like twice because we kept going to the beach because all the beaches had these private cabanas that you could lay in and they were basically like these beds on the beach. We had a beach butler that would come around and ask us if we wanted anything. We didn’t really do that much in the pool. I think we had like two times in our balcony pool and then once I made Josh go to the swim up bar because I was like we have to use the swim up bar once while we’re here! Even though like I said, we had a butler bringing us drinks on the beach, that wasn’t really necessary.

But yeah, it was a ton of food. The food was really good. I’m kind of at the point where I don’t even want to look at food anymore because literally every meal I was like rolling out of my chair afterwards.

Kelsey: I know. I saw your Instagram stories and I was like, man, this looks amazing!

Laura: I know. By the last day for lunch they brought the dessert menu and I was like, okay fine, I’ll have ice cream I guess. It was just crazy. But we had a really great time. It was super relaxing. I feel like I slept every afternoon. We would get a beach cabana and I would have a mojito or something and then just like pass out.

Kelsey: Sounds epic.

Laura: It was super relaxing. It’s just been like a whirlwind two weeks and I kind of dove head first right back into work when we got home. I mean I had a day off kind of. I had like a thousand emails to catch up on so it wasn’t totally a day off. My husband had to go back to Ohio and get more of his stuff. So it was like basically we were home for a day and then he left and he was gone for four days. I’m like alright bye, go back to Ohio, I’ll be back in a long distance relationship.

It’s just been kind of like nonstop doing stuff since I think the beginning of the month. I’m just looking forward to things settling down a little bit. I kind of overloaded my schedule this week, which I may regret. I was like I need to catch up on work! I had two weeks off! Now I’m like I probably didn’t need to do that. But we’ll see what happens.

But everything is great, we had a great time. I’m just really looking forward to the photos. I think I’m supposed to be getting a preview pretty soon. Once I have some photos to share on social media, maybe I’ll make a little blog post about the experience. I will share some. I feel like if nothing else, even if nobody cares about what I did on my wedding and honeymoon, I feel like it’s nice to be able to go back and see those kinds of things for yourself.

Kelsey: Oh yeah.

Laura: I feel like I’m already forgetting like 80% of the details. I feel like I should write them down so I can remember. It’s just crazy how, I don’t know, I feel like weddings tend to go fast regardless even if you’re a guest. But I feel like as the bride, it was so go, go, go the whole day. I feel like I was getting ready from 10am, I guess maybe more like 11. But I got to the venue at 10. I was like setting things up and then started getting ready, showered at the venue, was getting ready for like I don’t even know, several hours. I hardly got to spend any time with my bridesmaids. I was like oh my gosh, I feel like I just hired these people to show up and stand next to me for photos or something.

Kelsey: Well it sounds like everything went well and it was awesome.

Laura: Yeah, the weather was really nice. It was a little hot so we were going to have an outdoor ceremony, but we moved it inside, which I think it was good call. The rest of the evening was pretty pleasant. It wasn’t too hot, it was just too hot for people to be sitting out for a ceremony comfortably. But we had a custom cornhole board that people were playing, and we had this live band that was amazing, and we were dancing basically until 10:30 which doesn’t sound that late, but lately that’s been a bedtime for me. Everything was really fun.

Kelsey: Are you guys all moved in now?

Laura: Close. We have a spare bedroom that’s basically like a bomb went off in walk in closet. My husband’s clothes are in bags everywhere. The cat feels very moved in. She’s already taken over the living room and my poor dog is like terrorized because he’s so afraid of her, but also wants to be her best friend, so he’s very conflicted. She’s just like totally chill because she’s met him before, so it’s not like we’re worried about him and her fighting. But she’s kind of mean to him, but just like occasionally.  She’ll walk over and then just smack him in the face.

Kelsey: Poor little guy.

Laura: I know. He’s kind of scared. But we’re working on moving in. We’ve have a busy couple of weeks coming up with some trips. Josh has to go to Virginia for some training for about a week and a half for his new job. It’s just like by the end of July things will be hopefully somewhat normal.

Kelsey: Nice.

Laura: Check in with me then about life is because right now it still feels like everything is just crazy. But everything was great! Like I said, as soon as I have some photos and stuff to share, I’ll definitely write a blog post about the day and share some more details since I’ve been talking about it nonstop for the last 9 months.

Kelsey: Yeah. That’s awesome! Let’s check in after July.

Laura: Yes!

Kelsey: I feel like you’ll have a better idea of how life is as a married couple finally living together. I’m curious to hear how you enjoy that. But yeah, life needs to settle down first.

Laura: Yes, for sure.

Kelsey: I’m glad that you guys had a great time and congratulations!

Laura: Thank you. Yeah, super happy. I mean part of me is sad it’s over. I was walking by the venue the other day and I literally almost started crying because somebody was having a wedding there. I’m like, I want to do it again! I want to do it again and go as a guest so I can actually take advantage of the event. I am glad the planning stuff is over because I swear my brain was like, I mean I still feel a little bit nonfunctional. Interviews over the next couple days might be a little bit interesting. I feel like at least I don’t have this big event looming over me that’s totally taking up all my brain power. Part of me is sad it’s over, the other part of me is like glad that we can kind of move on with the next chapter of our lives.

Kelsey: Right. Well, awesome! Thanks, guys, for listening. We are keeping our updates until the end of the episode for the time being, so I hope you guys are enjoying that. Of course if you have any questions that you’d like us to answer on the show, just head to TheAncestralRds.com to submit your question. We’ll talk to you guys next time!

Laura: Alright, take care everybody!

PODCAST: Factors That Can Prevent Weight Loss

Thanks for joining us for episode 113 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are answering following question from a listener:

“Hello, and thanks for the great show on your approach to weight loss. I found it extremely valuable. On a related note, I was wondering if you could do a show discussing plateaus or problems reaching one’s goals. I have implemented the advice you give, but I’m not seeing any results. I’m going for a similar moderate weight loss as discussed on the weight loss episode, maybe about 15 pounds or so. I’m 5’1” and currently at about 125 pounds. For a few weeks I’ve been eating about 1,850 calories per day and my weight hasn’t changed one way or the other. What would you think are some potential issues that might be causing the problem? I’m okay if weight loss doesn’t happen, but I’m wondering if it’s a sign that there’s something I need to pay attention to just for the sake of my health.”

While we provided a strategy on how to begin working towards healthy weight loss in episode 91, today we go beyond the basics and give you an action plan of what to do when all of your effort to reach your weight loss goal seems futile. Join us for fresh insight as we dig deeper into multiple factors that can be at play when weight is at a standstill.

You’ll learn how to determine if your thyroid health is a concern and hear the significant role your microbiome plays in weight regulation. We also give you insight into often overlooked factors such as consistency in your healthy habits, why you’ll want to resist the common advice to increase intense exercise in your workout routine, and the importance of your mindset around the weight loss process. Be sure to tune in to hear even more!

Here’s what Laura and Kelsey will be discussing in this episode:

  • The importance of a calorie deficit for weight loss
  • How over exercising can stress the body and affect the HPA axis
  • The effect of elevated cortisol on weight and accumulation of abdominal fat
  • The importance of rest and recovery after exercise
  • The connection between a history of yo-yo dieting and HPA axis dysregulation
  • The test we recommend to check HPA axis function and thyroid health
  • How subclinical hypothyroidism can affect weight loss
  • The impact that your microbiome has on your weight regulation
  • The two tests to get to assess gut health
  • The ways that mold exposure can affect weight loss
  • The effect of a constant calorie deficit on your metabolic rate
  • The importance of consistency and time in your diet and workout routine
  • The significance of cultivating good habits that lead to weight loss instead of focusing on the number on the scale
  • How tracking progress in other areas related to the healthy habits you implement can ensure consistency

Links Discussed:


Kelsey: Hi everyone! Welcome to episode 113 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Kelsey Kinney and with me as always is my cohost Laura Schoenfeld.

Laura: Hey everybody!

Kelsey: We’re Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence-based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me at KelseyKinney.com, and Laura at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com.

Over the next 30 to 45 minutes we’ll be answering your questions about health and nutrition, and providing our insights into solving your health challenges with practical tips and real food.

Laura: If you’re enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that you never miss an episode. While you’re in iTunes, leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well! And remember, we want to answer your question, so head over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a health-related question that we can answer an upcoming show.

Kelsey: Today on the show we’re going to discuss what to do if you’re having trouble losing weight despite feeling like you’re doing everything right. But before we get into the question for the today, here’s a quick word from our sponsor:

This episode is brought to you by Paleo Rehab, a five week online program designed to help you recover from HPA axis dysfunction, also known as adrenal fatigue. Is your perfect Paleo diet and lifestyle leaving you exhausted? Now is the time to start feeling the health and wellness you know you deserve. If you’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, and are ready to take back your health, then head over to MyPaleoRehab.com to get your free 28 page e-book on the 3 step plan for healing from adrenal fatigue. That’s www.MyPaleoRehab.com.

Kelsey:Welcome back everybody! Here’s our question for today’s show. Hello and thanks for the great show on your approach to weight loss. I found it extremely valuable. On a related note, I was wondering if you could do a show discussing plateaus or problems reaching one’s goals. I have implemented the advice you give, but I’m not seeing any results. I’m going for a similar moderate weight loss as discussed on the weight loss episode, maybe about 15 pounds or so. I’m 5’1” and currently at about 125 pounds. For a few weeks I’ve been eating about 1,850 calories per day and my weight hasn’t changed one way or the other. What would you think are some potential issues that might be causing the problem? I’m okay if weight loss doesn’t happen, but I’m wondering if it’s a sign that there’s something I need to pay attention to just for the sake of my health.”

Kelsey:Great question. If you guys haven’t listened to episode 91, our first podcast about weight loss which this person is referring to, I would definitely recommend checking that out before you pop into this episode because we do discuss sort of the things to start with for weight loss, and then of course we’ll jump into things that might be preventing you from actually losing weight in this podcast.

But the first thing that comes to mind for me, and I think, Laura, this is probably similar to what you would think about this as well is that at 5 ‘ 1” and 125 pounds, that 1,850 calories per day sounds a little bit high to me because in doing calculations I’m not getting 1,850. Granted we don’t know her exercise level, so she could be doing a ton of physical activity in which case she would maybe need 1,800 calories. But if she was trying to be on let’s say a 15% calorie deficit, she would need to be doing like 6 or 7 days of pretty intense exercise for her to need 1,800 calories per day.

Basically if she is doing a normal amount of exercise, like maybe 3 to 5 days a week, moderate intensity, or maybe some days that are a little bit more intense, some days that are less intense, I would calculate that she probably needs more like 1,650 calories or around 1,600-1,700 calories, somewhere between there. That’s the first thing that stands out to me and I would imagine that that is probably why she’s not losing weight.

Now again, if she is exercising a lot, she’s doing that pretty much every day and it’s fairly intense exercise, then yes, she cold need that amount of calories. But that much exercise actually could be preventing her from losing weight, too. I’ll jump into that in a second. But Laura, do you kind of get the same calculations when you’re doing this?

Laura: Yeah, I mean like you said we don’t have specific details about her exercise routine which can definitely affect your calorie needs for weight loss. Obviously if you’re just say walking an hour a day versus if you’re doing Cross Fit 6 days a week, that’s going to affect that. But as you said, generally for most people they’re not going to be doing 6 to 7 days a week hard exercise. If they are, that could be something that’s preventing them from actually losing weight.

I think to figure out her calorie needs for a deficit, we would need more information. But like you said, a good guess would probably be closer to that 1,600 to 1,700 for a larger deficit. It could be even lower depending on what her exercise levels are because if she’s not training a lot, she could actually have even lower needs for a deficit. Now that’s not necessarily she’d want to continue on indefinitely, but when you’re trying to lose weight in the short term you do need to be in a deficit.

Kelsey:Yeah, absolutely. That’s my first thought. Definitely if you are doing moderate to intense exercise 3 to 5 days a week at 5’ 1”, 125 pounds, your needs are going to be more in the 1,600 to 1,700 range. I’d give that a shot. I would think that that is what is preventing your body from losing weight provided that you’re doing that amount of exercise.

But if you are actually doing this much exercise, you’re doing 6 to 7 days per week of intense exercise and that’s where you got that 1,800 number from, then I would actually recommend cutting back on your exercise a little bit. Because what can happen with too much exercise, and I think we’ve discussed this a few times on the podcast previously, basically you’re essentially stressing your body out a little bit too much. Your HPA axis can get a bit out of whack when you’re doing that much intense exercise.

So yes, it sounds like you would be fueling it appropriately, but you’d still be in a deficit which could just be a little tough when you’re doing that much exercise because your body is just going to be kind of wiped out and it’s going to have a negative impact on your HPA axis, which is your stress control center.

If your HPA axis is constantly getting activated, let’s say you’re doing this much exercise, maybe you work a full time job that’s fairly stressful, you’ve got other emotional stressors in your life, I mean that’s a lot of stress heaped onto your body. What can happen is that will raise your cortisol levels potentially. For a lot of people, that higher cortisol level can prevent them from losing weight. Sometimes they’ll notice that you get more of that belly fat or fat in the abdominal area that just seems to stick there, it doesn’t really go away. Potentially you may not have ever really had fat accumulation in that area before, but all of a sudden you feel like that’s where you’re fat is going. That’s a sign that you might have too much cortisol hanging around in your blood because your body is overly stressed.

If you’re doing that much exercise, I would definitely recommend reducing it. I know that can sound a little bit counterintuitive to some people because a lot of us think that of course more exercise is better when it comes to weight loss, but sometimes that’s not true. In fact I’d probably say often times that’s not true because you don’t need to be stressing your body out that much by exercising so much. You just need to be consistent with your exercise whether that’s twice a week or 4 times a week. But somewhere between that I’d say 2 to 4 I would say is my ideal in terms of how much intense exercise you’re doing. Walking and that sort of thing, you can do every day. I wouldn’t necessarily consider that exercise. But anything more than that, so if you’re doing a Cross Fit class, or you’re doing powerlifting, or weight lifting, somewhere between 2 and 4 times a week I think is probably a good place to aim for.

Laura: Yeah. I personally have been consistent with honestly like 2 days a week for the last 2 years most of the time. Some days I’ll do 2 days a week and that’s been plenty for me to see pretty sustainable weight loss. I’ve combined that with appropriate nutrition.  We can obviously talk about what appropriate nutrition is, but I feel like that whole idea of exercising more if you’re not losing weight is really prevalent. Like you said, it’s not only maybe not necessary, but can actually cause problems.

Even if somebody’s not holding on to body fat from that, I find that a lot of my clients, and I’ll put myself in this category too, that if I’m over exercising…or I don’t even want to say over exercising. There’s just a balance of how much training you can do before you start seeing the negative impact on cortisol. With cortisol…cortisol is weird because some cortisol in short spurts does help with body fat burning, but if it’s chronically elevated then that’s going to prevent you from burning body fat and it’ll actually induce stored body fat around the midsection particularly.

But the other difficult thing that cortisol does with weight loss is that cortisol does act on the aldosterone receptors in the body. Aldosterone is our body’s primary hormone for controlling blood pressure by affecting fluid balance. If your blood pressure is low, you hold on to more fluid to bring it up. If you’re blood pressure is high, you can excrete fluid by urination to bring it down. That’s one of the main roles of aldosterone.

But cortisol actually has somewhat of an effect on those same receptors and if you have high cortisol, the time can actually cause you to hold onto to more water in general which isn’t necessarily a bad thing on a short term basis. I know for me and a lot of my clients after a hard workout the next day you might be up a couple pounds because you’re holding on to more water if you have some inflammation from the actual breakdown of the muscle or just if the workout was kind of harder, it’s normal to hold on to some water. But the problem is if you’re training 6 days a week, you’re basically going to just be holding onto that water all the time and that can mask any sort of weight loss that you’d be seeing and it also makes you feel a lot bigger than you might be if you weren’t training that hard.


Laura: That was something that I personally experienced in the last couple months with my getting ready for my wedding. I wasn’t necessarily trying to lose weight, but I was like maybe I’ll just like increase my training frequency to 3 to 4 four days a week instead of 2 to 3, just going a little bit more. Honestly, my weight started to go up.  I was like, umm, alright, well that’s obviously not something that I want to be doing. I didn’t need to lose weight necessarily and if I gained some weight it wouldn’t have been the world, but I’m not going to work harder in order to gain weight.


Laura: I was like, okay, let’s go back to what I was doing because that clearly is not working well with my body and I think just the stress of that was too much for me to handle. I dropped back down to 2 a week and then my weight went back down and it has been pretty stable over the last couple months. It’s like that was a very strong signal to me that even 4 days a week doesn’t sound like that much, but it was just too much for my body.

Like you said, that doesn’t count things like walking, or hiking, or low intensity cardio that doesn’t necessarily stress your body out. But any of those more intense activities that would potentially would be a stressor on your body, if you’re doing that too frequently for your particular I guess either needs or I guess…how would we describe it? Physiology I guess. You tend to be someone who is more sensitive to stress or has other stressors going on that could compound the exercise stress, then training a lot actually can be very counterproductive and could prevent actual weight loss from happening.

That might have been a little bit more detail than this person needed, but I think it’s really important to talk about that just because there is so much of this myth out there that if you’re not losing weight, that you need to exercise more. Some people do. I mean obviously if there’s people out there that aren’t training at all or all they’re doing is low level of cardio, then adding some more stressful type activities like weight training or high intensity intervals could be helpful. Because like we said, a little bit of cortisol is helpful for burning fat, but most of the people that we work with are not in that camp of not exercising enough.

Kelsey:Yeah. I would also throw the other way around in here too. Sometimes I have clients that they’re doing 2 to 4 days a week of high intensity exercise, but then the other days or outside of those times where they’re exercising intensely, they’re just sedentary entirely. For those kind of people I think it’s really great to add some of this low level, non stressful activity like walking, hiking, gardening, really anything even just like random household chores where you’re moving around but you’re not doing anything super intense. I think that can a long way to help somebody lose weight too. If that sounds familiar to you as well, you may want to consider adding some of that low level activity if you’re exercising consistently and you’re doing that a few days a week, but outside of that you’re not really active, that could be a great thing to add too.

The other thing I would say to think about with exercise is just that if you are somebody who is exercising a lot like this, or let’s say you have a really physically intense job so it’s hard for you to really cut back on that exercise necessarily, you need to make sure that you are resting like an athlete because you are training like an athlete. We’ve talked about this before in the podcast as well, but I just want to make that clear here too, just that if you are doing that much activity, you really need to take your resting seriously because otherwise you’re really going to over activate that HPA axis, your cortisol is going to shoot up, it’s going to stay there consistently and be problematic at that point. To prevent that from happening, you really need to make sure that you are getting adequate rest depending on how much exercise you’re doing. We just wanted to throw that out there to start with because this person sounds like either they calculated their calories a little bit wrong, or they’re doing probably too much exercise unless they’re resting a ton.

We just want to throw that out there before we kind of dig into the other causes of weight loss plateaus because there are some people out there, and I’m sure there’s some of you listening that this really resonates with you, that you have probably tried a range of caloric intakes, you listened to our first episode, you tried to calculate your calories, maybe you started at one calorie intake that didn’t work for you, so you did another one, maybe you went a little bit lower or a little bit higher. You’ve kind of been all over the place with your caloric intake. Same thing with exercise, you tried exercising less, you’ve tried exercising more and nothing is working. We definitely understand that that can be a frustrating situation. We do want to talk about some of these underlying health issues that might be playing a role because that’s sort of what this person was asking about saying I don’t need to lose weight and I’d be okay if I don’t lose weight, but I do want to make sure that if I’m not losing weight because of some underlying health issue, I want to know what that health issue is so that I can address it. I think that’s really smart way to approach this.

I’d like to talk a little about some of the things that I start to think about when somebody isn’t losing weight.  One of those things of course is the HPA axis like we just discussed. If you are exercising a lot or you’ve got a really stressful life, you maybe you moved recently, I mean that’s a huge stressor. It’s one of the biggest stressors actually for people. You need to keep those things in mind and say okay, even though it doesn’t necessarily feel super stressful for me, I know that it’s really stressful for my body to be exercising this much or to be going through this process of moving or I have a lot of work. Anything like that is going to put a toll on your body and you need to keep that in mind. That may absolutely be part of the reason why at this point in your life or reasons of all these stressors in your life that you’re not losing weight right now.

You need to give your body a break, calm down that stress in your life, give yourself some time to settle in if you just moved, or if you have a really busy season at work, wait for that to die down a little bit before you try to lose weight. Because adding a caloric deficit on top of so many other stressors is just, it’s frustrating first of all because you’re not going to lose weight which is the end goal and it’s just of course another stressor on top of all the other things going on.

You definitely need to make sure that you’ve addressed your HPA axis. One other thing you can kind of think about if you are wondering if HPA axis issues is something that’s going on for you is if you are a historical dieter. If you’ve been yo-yo dieting for a lot of your life, I find, and I’m sure this is true for you too, Laura, that the clients that this history of dieting that they most often have HPA axis issues as well.

Laura: Especially the majority of the yo-yo dieters that I work with are kind of in the chronic calorie deficit. They just never take a break from dieting. When we say yo-yo dieting, there might be some periods of time where they stop caring and they’ll just eat whatever and a lot of times that’s when they gain a lot of the weight back. But then they’ll start dieting again and maybe not seeing results they’ve seen before. It’s rare for me to work with someone who has a history of weight cycling that isn’t under eating at the moment.

Kelsey:Yeah, absolutely. If you have a history of dieting, or just chronic caloric deprivation I guess, you’ve got a stressful life, or you’re doing lots of exercise and you’re potentially not recovering like an athlete, and you’re having trouble losing weight because despite trying a lot of different ranges of calories, you should definitely consider that your HPA axis might be dysfunctioning.

What we do both in our practice and in our Paleo Rehab program is we recommend a test called the DUTCH test which is a urine test that looks at how your HPA axis is functioning. You can also add sex hormones on top of that if you think there might be some hormonal issues that are playing a role into this as well. That would be something to just check on. Do a DUTCH test, see how your HPA axis is functioning, and then you can at least rule that out or know that it’s an issue and start to work on that.

Another thing that I tend to think about when weight loss plateaus is hypothyroidism. This is honestly probably the first thing that I think of if somebody’s having trouble losing weight because it’s such an easy thing rule out most of the time that I just want to make sure that it’s not playing a role in everything that’s going on.

If you have trouble losing weight, seemingly no matter what you do, that would honestly be the first thing I would recommend checking. That’s really easy. You can just ask your doctor for a full thyroid panel. That includes TSH, T3, reverse T3, and thyroid antibodies. Sometimes you may see on some of your older blood work that maybe your doctor’s only testing TSH. That’s okay, it’s not ideal because we can get other information from those other levels so I do like to see everything. But if your doctor is only testing TSH, that can at least give you a sense of whether things might be going okay or not.

With TSH, the normal lab value that you’ll see on most lab reference ranges, it usually goes up to 4.5 or 5. But actually the latest research shows that anything over 2.5 or even 2 in some of the studies I’ve seen should probably be considered subclinical hypothyroidism. That means that while you may not necessarily have super high levels of TSH, meaning that you’re quite hypothyroid and everything like that, it’s not in the really functional range, it’s not in the ideal range that you want TSH to be in.

If you’re somebody who only has maybe 15 pounds to lose and you’re still potentially in a healthy weight range, your doctor’s, if they see something that’s still within the normal range, usually it’s your thyroid is fine, your body just wants to stay at this weight, nothing’s going on, you’re fine. While yes, you’re probably overall fine and you’re probably healthier than a lot of people, your thyroid is not doing super great. It’s not in the ideal range. You want to see that below 2.5 or potentially 2.

If you see it over that and your doctor is telling you that there’s nothing going on, honestly I would recommend seeking out a second opinion, somebody who is maybe more in the functional medicine world who keeps up on the research with TSH and with all these functional ranges because you can definitely have trouble losing weight if you’re at 2.5 or higher. If that’s you, if you’re looking back on your old TSH ranges and you’re seeing that your consistently above 2.5, I would definitely seek out somebody to work with on that.

Laura: The other thing to keep in mind is that the TSH can also be normal in the functional range and that doesn’t mean your thyroid function is optimal. I recently had a patient who her TSH was 1.6 something, and if she had just tested TSH her thyroid would have looked perfectly fine even from a functional range perspective. But she had the full thyroid panel done and her free T3 was low, like clinically low, and her reverse T3 was clinically high. She had other symptoms of hypothyroidism like high cholesterol, she was having a hard time losing weight, she had fatigue. There’s just a lot of symptoms of the hypothyroidism that again, if they had just looked at TSH they would have said it’s not your thyroid. But getting that full thyroid panel done showed that it clearly was at least partially involved, maybe not the whole story, but definitely something to address.

It was interesting because she wanted to know if she should kind of pursue medication for that. I told her that actually if the TSH is normal, and the free T3 is low, and the reverse T3 is high, then taking medication can actually make that worse potentially because the problem is not that she’s not producing enough T4 hormone, it’s that the T4 hormone is getting converted into reverse T3 instead of the normal T3. Taking extra T4 hormone and even extra T3 hormone wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem and could potentially make it worse.


Laura: That was a good example of a case where the thyroid we believe is involved for sure, but the treatment for that isn’t necessarily thyroid hormone. There’s a lot that can go on with thyroid dysfunction that can affect weight loss and getting a full thyroid panel done will help identify is it that I’m not producing enough hormone? Is it that my conversion is low? Am I over converting to reverse T3? All of those different labs will guide the way that you approach that. Because for her if she took medication, it could make things worse and we’re really attacking it from more of a chronic dieting/gut infection perspective with her which is why we believe her reverse T3 production is high.

I know we could do a whole show on thyroid and we probably should at some point, but I think it’s just important to remember that even the functional TSH doesn’t necessarily tell you the whole story.

Kelsey:Yeah, absolutely. Another thing to consider if you’re having trouble losing weight is your gut health because your gut health is a really important factor when it comes to weight regulation. It specifically comes down to your microbiome in your large intestine because that plays a really big role in how your body stores fat. If you guys haven’t seen one of my recent blog posts, I would really recommend that you check it out. It’s called “Can Your Gut Bacteria Help You Lose Weight?” We’ll link to that in the show notes. But I go over the impact that your microbiome has on your weight regulation in a lot more detail than I’ll talk about today.

But to simplify it a lot for the sake of the podcast, basically what happens is that when you have dysbiotic or imbalanced bacteria in your gut, you end up with a lot of inflammation because when you’ve got those bad gut bugs hanging around in your gut, it leads to a high level of a toxin called lipopolysaccharide, or LPS. If you’ve got a lot of LPS in your gut, that’s going to cause a lot of inflammation in the gut itself which leads to leaky gut. And then once your gut is leaky, that LPS, and other antigens, and potentially problematic things kind of slip through those spaces between the gut cells that really should be a lot smaller than they are right now. That LPS goes through the blood stream, gets to other places in the body, and causes a lot of inflammation. Essentially you end up with body wide inflammation and that high level of body wide inflammation is highly associated with a lot of metabolic conditions. That includes obesity, it includes insulin resistance, all those things that kind of go in the same category and are grouped together like that, highly, highly associated with high levels of LPS.

If you’ve been doing everything right, you’ve maybe ruled out hypothyroidism or just any sort of thyroid dysfunction, you’ve checked on your HPA axis and it’s at least doing okay and hopefully doing fine, and you’re still having trouble, I would definitely consider looking into your gut health and testing your gut bacteria. You do not need to have digestive problems to have imbalanced flora. I want to make that really clear because this is something that you can very easily overlook if you’re somebody who doesn’t have any sort of digestive issues, like you have totally regular bowel movements, you don’t get bloated, you never have abdominal pain or anything like that, you just really never even think about your digestive health because it’s perfect, you can absolutely still have imbalanced bacteria. Just because you are the picture of perfect gut health, or digestive health I suppose I should say, does not mean that your gut bacteria is also perfect.

This is something that you can only really determine by testing. What would I recommend doing is getting both a SIBO test probably and a stool test. A SIBO test is going to look at the bacteria in your small intestine and check for something called SIBO which is small intestine bacterial overgrowth. It’s essentially just looking to see if you’ve got too much bacteria growing in your small intestine, which again can cause that body wide inflammation to happen. A stool test is going to look in your large intestine, which is where your microbiome is housed. That’s going to look at more of the balance of good and bad bacteria in your microbiome, make sure you don’t have any parasites or pathogens, anything like that.

But I definitely have seen this to hold people back from weight loss. It’s those people that have been through everything. They’re like what the heck is going on? I can’t lose weight. I actually really need to lose weight. I’d say this is probably more for people who are significantly overweight, however I think it can still happen if maybe you’re still within a normal BMI range but it’s higher than you’ve historically been in your life for whatever and you can’t figure out why. I think gut health can play a role there too. But I will say that I think it’s definitely more correlated with significant amounts of weight. If you’re obese or you have maybe pre diabetes or some degree of metabolic dysfunction, really, really common to have gut issues.

You definitely want to check these things, get tested for this stuff. You can do that with a practitioner. I do also offer both of these tests actually in my Build Your Biome program. If you haven’t checked that out yet, definitely get on the waitlist for next time we open that up because you’ll be able to do that testing and then obviously I kind of walk you through what to do if things go wrong in those tests. Either work with somebody or do a program that can walk you through this stuff. But it’s absolutely just so important to just check on not only for metabolic health of course, but your gut health plays a role in pretty much every other part of your health as well. It’s really good to just make sure things are going okay in your gut.

Laura: Yes! Nothing to add from me about the gut side of things.

Kelsey:Alright, cool. The last thing I’ll mention here is that I start to think about with trouble losing weight is mold exposure. I’ll admit that I’m possibly a little bit biased on this one because I’ve gone through this myself and I think it’s a lot more common than people think. We don’t know exactly why mold exposure causes people to have difficulty losing weight, but I have to think that it has something to do with the fact that it’s a really big stressor. If you’re living in a place that’s got a lot of mold, your body is not going to be happy about that. It’s going to be a stressor on the HPA axis. And of course we just talked about when you’re consistently chronically stressed or you’re HPA axis is being consistently chronically activated, that’s going to cause a lot of problems.

The other piece of this is that being exposed to mold is going to cause a lot of inflammation. We can think about it kind of like what we just talked about with the gut health where if you’ve got this body wide inflammation going on, that really messes with the way that your body regulates your weight and the way your body regulates fat accumulation, and fat storage, and fat breakdown. All of those things get affected when your body is hugely inflamed which definitely happens when you’re chronically exposed to mold.

If this is something maybe you’ve never heard about or never even considered, you do want to start to think about it. Like problems with gut health, being exposed to mold can be silent in many ways. You don’t have to see mold in your house, or smell mold, or anything and it can still be there. I can tell you that that was the case for me. I had no idea that there was mold in the house that I was living in, but it was there. You can do some of these tests. Nothing is perfect, there’s no really great way to figure out 100% if your house has mold other than if somebody rips your wall open and finds it.

The testing can be kind of a screening thing in combination with some symptoms that may also lead you to believe that you are being exposed to mold. Some of those symptoms include things like fatigue, brain fog, concentration issues, lightheadedness or dizziness, headaches, skin problems, lots of static shocks, shortness of breath, light sensitivity, and night sweats.  I mean that’s first of all just a small clip of how many symptoms can go along with this, and of course these symptoms can go along with a lot of other conditions as well. Don’t assume that if you have fatigue and brain fog that you definitely are being exposed to mold. You certainly want to look at other things in your life that could be causing those kinds of symptoms. But if that sounds like you, and you’re having trouble losing weight, and you really addressed all these other things, then it’s definitely worth looking into if that’s you.

If you’re exposed to mold and you know that it’s in your house, you’re going to have to have someone either remediate it or move. Because both of these things can be really stressful and expensive, I do kind of like to wait to address this stuff as the last piece. Which I know even in my mind it doesn’t make total sense because I think about it like well, if I’m exposed to mold, I need to get out of there asap, which is absolutely true. But because the testing isn’t perfect, it’s really hard to know 100% if you are being exposed to mold unless like I said somebody rips through your wall and finds it, which that’s going to typically be fairly expensive and kind of a nuance obviously if somebody is ripping through your house, I like to leave that as one of the later things that I start to address with somebody.

I want to make sure their HPA axis is doing well, that their thyroid is doing well, that their gut is doing well. And then if we’re still having trouble, we’ve tried a bunch of different calorie ranges, we’ve tried a bunch of different amounts of exercise and everything and we’re still just not seeing any progress, that’s when I’m going to recommend that we start to go down the mold road.

Laura: I think the mold issue, like you said, it’s a lot more common than people might think and it’s easy to miss. Like you said, it’s kind of very general symptoms that don’t necessarily point exactly to the mold thing. Fatigue and brain fog obviously could be related to anything so it tends to be a little harder to find in the beginning. But as you’ve experienced, it makes a big difference if that is a trigger or a root cause that once that’s dealt with, things definitely improve significantly.

Kelsey:Yeah. I would say this might be more your scenario if you have a lot of other health issues going on. For me, I gained weight during that process. I think we talked about it on previous episodes that I had gained probably like 15 pounds in a year or two and really randomly and didn’t really know why but I felt horrible otherwise too. There was a lot of other health issues going on that I couldn’t really figure out. It ended up being related to both mold and I think gut issues possibly related to the mold too, like fungal issues potentially. I do think that with mold it’s not going to be just that you can’t lose weight.

Laura: Right.

Kelsey:Keep that in mind. You’re going to have a lot of other kind of weird symptoms going on if mold is an issue. Don’t just assume because you’re having trouble losing weight that mold is something you should absolutely pay attention to.

Laura: Definitely.

Kelsey:Anything else to add here, Laura?

Laura: Yeah. I think this was something we were chatting a little bit about before we got on the call today. Weight loss is really hard for a lot of people. There’s some people that they do these tricks and tips that we talked about in the first episode and everything works, and it’s fine, and it’s great, and all they need is to just keep doing that and it is successful. And then there’s a lot of other people and a lot of times people that end up in our one on one consulting that these kind of tips don’t work for.

It can be really hard because like we were saying across this entire episode, there’s a lot of different things that can affect weight. One of the hardest things I would say is to find the right balance between exercising enough, but not too much, and then also being enough of a deficit, but not too much of a deficit that it causes problems. Sometimes finding that spot for your body can take a long time.

And then there’s also the concept of with weight loss you don’t always want to be working toward weight loss because if that’s the case, you’re going to be causing your body to make metabolic changes to hold on to calories more efficiently. If you’re always in a chronic calorie deficit, your overall metabolic rate is going to drop and then you’re just going to maintain your weight at a lower calorie intake. That’s often times what makes weight loss so hard for people is that as the more they try to lose weight, the more their body will fight to keep the weight the same.


Laura: There’s two things that I think are really important for weight loss that when you’re struggling I think can get kind of hard. One is consistency. Consistency is I’d say one of the most important factors for weight loss for the average person. Sometimes it really just takes a while for your body to respond to the changes that you’ve made in your diet and exercise routine. If you’re not seeing progress after a couple of weeks, like I think this person said they’ve been doing it for three weeks, right? Or they said a few weeks, I’m sorry. I don’t know what a few is. I don’t know if it’s two, or four, or whatever, but I’m assuming it hasn’t been months. We already established that 1,850 calories might just be a little high for them and that cutting it down a little bit might start to see more progress there. But I also think that sometimes it really just does take some time of consistency in your workout and your diet routine to actually see progress.

Just using myself as an example, I was working on training and eating to support my training for I want to say like seven or eight months before I even saw any significant weight loss from that. That weight loss came from a period of reduced calorie intake, so essentially I had been building this six to eight month process of building muscle, working on my strength, all that stuff. Weight was pretty much staying the same, maybe a three to five variance across that time. And then when I was in a calorie deficit for a couple months, that’s when I lost 10 to 15 pounds total. The consistency over that time and even just continued consistency over the last two years in my case, that has allowed my weight to settle at an amount that is normal for me. It doesn’t take a lot of thought, it doesn’t respond extremely to any sort of variance. If I go out to eat and have some alcohol on the weekend, yeah, maybe I’ll go up a couple pounds, but it comes right back and it’s not stuck like a lot of people will experience.

The consistency piece is huge and I think sometimes we live in this Biggest Loser culture where people expect, like if I’m not seeing a pound of weight loss a week, then something’s not right. It doesn’t always work that way, so we need to definitely give a couple of weeks at the specific calorie intake and the exercise frequency that you’re doing before you assume it’s not right for you.

With this person, definitely drop down a little bit because again, we’re fairly confident your calorie intake is too high for weight loss. But once you go down to that 1,600 to 1,700, give it a month and don’t look at it after a week or two and say my weight’s not changing, so this obviously isn’t right.


Laura: Consistency over time is super important. And then the other thing that we were discussing before we got on the call was the mindset piece, which again could be its own podcast definitely. But we find in our clients that a lot of times the people who are the most stressed about their weight and the most, I don’t even know how to describe it. I hate to use the word negative, but it’s almost this kind of mindset where any change in the wrong direction will totally tank their mood for the day. Or they have so much anxiety around picking food, or the workouts that their doing, they hate and they don’t want to do it. Those kind of negative thoughts around the weight loss process is I think something that really does stall progress for people because if you’re so stressed about your weight and you gain a pound over the weekend and you flip out about it because you’re like oh my gosh, it’s took me two weeks to lose that and I just gained it back in a day! That kind of really all over the place mindset around weight loss – and it kind of plays into the consistency piece to – but I feel like that tends to affect success for whatever reason.

We were saying we don’t know if it’s a chicken or the egg thing where it’s like maybe the people who have a harder time losing weight are the ones that tend to get more upset about it. But I really do find that the people who I work with that are the most successful are the ones that don’t let these little blips in the radar totally derail their mood and their positivity about the process. They don’t take it as seriously, which I know sounds a little counterintuitive to say relaxing about it is going to make you gain weight because I’ll just eat whatever what I want. I actually feel like the relaxation around the weight loss process helps because you don’t swing back and forth between super restrictive eating a perfectly “clean” diet and then the minute something goes wrong, you’re just like screw this, I don’t want to do this anymore.

The consistency comes from a little bit more stability as far as the emotions are concerned and not letting a little bit of weight regain or a little bit of slowed progress totally derail how you feel about the process. Because for whatever reason, I don’t know if it’s stress or that anxiety tells your body that something’s wrong and holding on to weight is a safe thing for it to do, or it’s just that the emotional swings around the weight loss process affect the actual behavior around diet and exercise. I honestly don’t know, but I really do feel like keeping weight loss as enough of a priority that you’re being consistent with your food and exercise, but not so important that like I said your whole day, the mood of the whole day is affected by if your weight has gone down or not. I feel like that’s something that is another somewhat challenging balance to strike. But if you’re able to strike that balance, the weight loss process is a lot easier over the course of 6-12+ months.

Kelsey:I absolutely agree and I think I have a little bit of a theory on why that might be. I think what I tend to see and what I have personally experienced myself as well is that when you’re less tied to that weight, like the actual number on the scale, you tend to be more tied to the consistency of your habits. Really putting most of your effort into making sure that you’re cultivating the right sort of habits that will eventually lead to weight loss and you know that that’s true, so you’re not as worried about the weight right now, today, in this moment because you know that the habits that you’re putting in on a regular basis are going to get you there eventually and that’s more of your focus.

I have definitely seen that to be way more helpful for people because then of course you’re more focused on the habits so you are more likely to do them consistently. Whereas somebody who is more focused on the number on the scale, they’re going to potentially, at least what I see a lot of the times, they are like, everything I’m doing is not working. Nothing’s working, so why am I even bothering? They tend to go through these phases of being really perfect with their diet like you were saying before, and then being really not great with their diet. That sort of swinging all around the place I think is not very helpful because again, it’s not very consistent.

I think the key here is to of course make sure that there’s no other health issues going on that are preventing you from losing weight. But if everything looks good and you’re having a little bit of trouble, try to focus more on the habits that you’re trying to cultivate that will eventually lead to weight loss rather than focusing on that ultimate goal of weight loss. Because sometimes just focusing on that can make it very elusive and it’s not going to actually work out a lot of the times because you’re not putting the effort and the focus on the habits.

Laura: Right. It’s also important to remember that scale weight is just one way to measure progress. Sometimes your scale weight isn’t changing at all, or could even be going up, and you’re still technically making fat loss progress. I’m not saying that’s always the case, but I feel like that’s an area where people can get really discouraged because all they’re looking at is their actual scale weight and that’s either staying the same or going up even. That’s enough to like we said, kind of derail somebody’s consistency because they’re like well screw it, this isn’t working, I’m just going to do something different.

Tracking other things can also help. It doesn’t necessarily only have to be physique related. I mean certainly you can do something like a DEXA scan or body calipers to estimate your body fat percentage and retest over time to see if that’s changing. Or if you’re clothes are fitting differently, that can indicate progress.

I think it’s good to track other things are affected by these habits. I really like seeing progress in the weight that I can lift at the gym. That’s something that I think does drive a level of consistency for me at least that doesn’t have anything to do with my weight. Being able to see progress there even if my weight is staying the same, it’s not like the only reason I’m working out is to lose weight and if I’m not losing weight, I say screw it. Having a reason to work out beyond the weight loss or body composition changes is always a good thing as well.

But like I said, it’s possible that you can have some changes in your body composition without that being tracked on the scale. I think that’s something else I’ve been noticing in my own fitness journey or whatever we want to call it because I honestly haven’t been trying to lose weight so I wasn’t intending on seeing weight loss progress. I was trying to keep my weight stable because with my dress for my wedding and all the fittings and stuff, I really didn’t want to significantly change size in any way. I was like, alright, let’s just stay constant. But ironically even though my weight’s been pretty much the same for the last three to six months or something, my dress still seems to be getting a little bit loose on me. And then people keep asking me if I’m losing weight. I’m like, no, I’m not. I’m not doing anything…I’m like I said training twice a week, eating pretty consistently, not dieting or anything. I have dessert, I have alcohol sometimes. It’s like I’m not doing any sort of crazy restrictive dieting. But I honestly feel like it’s that consistency over the last two years,  I mean it’s really been that long of a process to get to the point where I’m at with my physical fitness.

With the weight loss, it’s like as far as I’m aware, I’m not losing any weight. But the dress fitting differently and people asking me if I’m losing weight, I think indicates that I’m probably am actually still having body composition changes that I’m not aware of or tracking. That’s not to say that my goal is to lose body fat, but I think it just goes to show that that consistency and kind of more laid back approach can really work well for people.

It doesn’t have to be this white knuckle, oh my gosh, I’m always dieting and I never get to have anything that I enjoy eating! I feel like everyone thinks weight loss has to be horrible. And for a lot of my clients and myself included, the process was not that exhausting or awful. It just was a matter of being patient, and being consistent with habits, and not using food as an emotional…I guess crutch is the way to describe it.Weight loss is a fun topic.


Laura: I know. Everyone is different. Obviously I’m only 30, so I’m sure when I’m in my 40s my weight won’t respond as quickly to the changes that I make. I’m sure once I have babies, that’ll probably affect my ability to be as fit as I am right now. There’s a lot of things that will play into that. But I think it’s just really important to remember that the consistency piece and the stable emotions around it is something that is super important and I don’t think people appreciate how important that is because they’re so used to everything being “eat 1,000 calories a day, and work out seven days a week, and dieting should be hard, and blah, blah, blah. It’s just like I don’t think that’s really helpful for most people.

Kelsey:Yeah. And the patience piece I feel like is just super important especially if you do have something else going on, some of these underlying health issues that are playing a role too. Those things do not go away overnight. Sometimes especially with something HPA axis dysfunction, once you have that, yes, you can get better, but there’s always going to be some degree of a propensity towards HPA axis dysregulation. There will be periods of your life where you’ll notice that stressors start to creep back in and then maybe it becomes harder to lose weight at that point.

You do really have to keep that in mind too that if you’ve ever had any of these underlying health issues, they’re to a degree going to…I don’t want to say stick with you, but it’s something you’re always going to have to keep in mind at the very least. That patience piece is really key because if you just are beating your body up trying to lose weight when there’s other health issues going on or other health issues that you’ve dealt with in your past, your body is not going to be happy with you and then you’re not going to be happy with your body because it’s not doing what you think it should be doing.

You just have to be patient, you have to be kind, and you have to just trust the process and just be consistent with everything. Eventually you’re going to see the results that you want. Sometimes the results aren’t what you think you want. You might realize that those results are down the road as you are patient and consistent with everything. I just want to make that really clear and drive that point home that the patience piece of this is really, really key if you’ve got any other sort of health conditions going on as well.

Laura: Well, I think that’s a good place to wrap up the conversation about this. Obviously we can talk about it for probably another five episodes and still have things to say. But we appreciate this person asking because again, the original podcast covers the basics, but there are obviously a lot of different factor that can affect weight loss for individuals. We’ll see everybody here next week!