This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Adam Kosloff. Adam wrote the wonderful ebook The Black Box and is here to simplify some immensely important and otherwise amazingly complex biochemistry around why counting calories isn’t the key to long-term health and fitness.
PS Enjoy Adam’s awesome guest post digging deeper into this show’s topics.
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Jonathon: Hey everyone, Jonathon Bailor here with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast. Very, very happy to bring you today’s guest, whose name is Adam Kosloff over at Caloriegate.com. The reason I wanted to bring Adam on the show was because he sent me over this Black Box Report he’s put together. It really does an excellent job of taking some of the more esoteric and metaphysical aspects of health and weight that some people in the, let’s call it internet nutrition community, like to talk about, and explains them in incredibly simple terms. I think most importantly on distilling why it’s important to understand that why (??).
We don’t need to geek out and get all metaphysical but understand a little bit more deeply about how the body works. Obviously, we know how important that is to our wellness (??) set point, but Adam’s really taken an approach to this that I really, really like. I wanted to bring him on the show so we can talk about it. Adam, thank you so much for joining us today.
Adam: Jonathon, thank you so much for having me on the show.
Jonathon: Adam, before we get into your Black Box Report, I wanted to hear a little bit about what got you interested in this space in general, because this is not necessarily your day job or something you’re formally trained in, correct?
Adam: Yeah, absolutely. I took a sort of circuitous path to this. I went to Yale. I got a degree in physics. Then I moved out to Los Angeles to work as a screenwriter, and I actually got to write with Mel Brooks and do some stuff like it. To pave my way, I wrote for the internet. While I was doing all this stuff, I read Gary Taubes’ book, Good Calories, Bad Calories. I got so enraptured by sort of the concepts in this that I ended up going online and blogging about it and getting deeper and deeper into this crazy internet nutrition world. So, that’s my circuitous path.
Jonathon: It sounds like, Adam, you noticed, or at least this the way I perceive you as noticing — I wanted to have you on the show — you noticed Gary’s work. Anyone who’s read it, I think, has had their minds opened, let’s call it, but also bent a little bit, because he says things like these metaphysical concepts. It’s not that you’re getting obese because you’re eating too much. You’re eating too much because you’re getting obese. Unless you are trained in, like, philosophical thought processes, you’re going to like, “Ah, what?”
Adam: I know. It’s Yoda, right?
Jonathon: Exactly, exactly. But what you did with this report, which I believe is freely available on your website, Caloriegate.com, was to — in very fun — you actually use some South Park analogies, which I personally love — distill for more of the everyday person why this matters and some of the key distinctions that Gary and people like him are getting at. Is that correct?
Adam: Yeah, that’s correct. You know, my job is, I like to take complex ideas and distill them down for the masses. I love counter-intuitive ideas. My bookshelves are like Nassim Taleb and Jim Collins. I love these. I love looking at old ideas from new ways.
Jonathon: Cool. Let’s just get straight into it and talk about what this — the key. There are a couple key distinctions you draw in your Black Box Report. The two I’d love to dig into are just the concept of the black box in general and why that matters, and the mustache analogy, which is one of my favorite ones. Also, you have some really nice Venn diagrams. Let’s just take those one at a time. First, what is the black box and why does it matter?
Adam: Okay, that’s a great question. I’m just kind of still getting used to talking about these concepts, so forgive me in advance if I ramble a little bit. Here’s a reality. When growth occurs in the body, whether you’re talking about growing a belly or a mustache or a baby, there are two things that have to happen, always. The first thing is that there needs to be a calorie surplus. You need to take in more energy or mass than you burn off. That’s the first law of thermodynamics.
The second thing is there has to be some mechanism or mechanisms — biochemistry — that takes that mass and turns it into your body’s tissues and structures. This stuff is complex, and we can call it the black box. It’s all the stuff that takes the hamburger and turns it into your beer belly. I guess it would be beers turning into a beer belly, but it basically is the stuff that transforms the substrate into you.
When we talk about all the other tissues in our body — growth — we talk about growing a baby or growing a mustache or growing cancer, whatever, we always kind of intuitively know that the biochemistry matters. It’s the black box that’s really important if we want to figure out why something is growing or why something is growing badly. Does that make sense so far, that analogy?
Jonathon: It does. Let me just quickly summarize. There’s a diagram you have in your report which people can get at Caloriegate.com, which I highly recommend them checking out. It’s very, very simple, and I think it really drives home what you just said, which is the traditional way weight regulation is discussed. Step one is calories are consumed. Step two is basically nothing, and step three is weight is gained or lost. What you inject into that process, as you say, there’s step one, then there’s step two, which is this question mark thing. Then there’s step three, which is new — not new, but something we need to pay attention to, which is this black box, which is this, let’s call it biological intelligence, that determines what happens with that caloric surplus.
Whether you’re growing cancer, whether your hair is growing or whether you’re growing fat, different things happen for those forms of growth to take place. Just saying that when you take in more calories, it causes fat gain, is missing something, because there’s all kinds of growth that can happen in the body. Does that capture it?
Adam: If you think about — and the idea is our focus on calories is misplaced. If we thought about other kinds of growth in our body the way we think about fat tissue growth, we’d reach absurd conclusions. If you want to grow a baby, you don’t try to overeat, even though overeating must take place if you want to grow a baby. If you have a mustache that is growing too long, you do not eat less and exercise more. You know what I mean? When we talk about our fat tissue growth, we get it all mixed up.
Jonathon: Adam, let’s just pause right there, because I actually think you just captured that. That’s it. Like, that is the key point. Here’s the question for every listener, myself included, because every time I hear it I get chills because it’s such a profound distinction to make in your mind, and it helps to free you from the eat less, exercise more mentality. If your hair is growing too long and you’d like to save some money and get haircuts less frequently — for your hair to grow, you must have enough calories to fuel that process. You can imagine that actually creating hair must be biologically expansive (??). You’re taking nothing and you’re creating hair, so you’re creating new tissue. But if you want your hair to grow slower or not to grow at all, you don’t think to yourself, I’m just going to stop eating, and I’m just going to exercise more. In fact, even if you starve yourself, your hair will still grow. Your body’s finding a way to get enough calories to trigger that process.
So with hair growth or baby growth or cancer growth, we don’t say, “To stop growth, eat less and exercise more.” But with fat growth, we do. Why?
Adam: We do. Honestly, it’s just this logical error that everyone is making, and it’s become this ubiquitous truth. What’s interesting about it is if you think about what would happen if you’re pregnant. You’re pregnant, you’re growing a baby, and you don’t like this growth and you decide I’m going to eat less and exercise more and starve myself to stop this growth. Well, the baby is kind of in business for itself, right? It will still grow inside of you, but you will have less energy, you’ll be cold, you’ll be very hungry.
If you really, really starve yourself, the baby might not grow as big, but that’s not because the baby’s healthy; it’s because the baby’s sick. If you think about the analogy between the baby growing and a fat tissue growing, it’s very — I think it’s [indiscernible 08:59], because if you look at people who have real obesity and they try to starve themselves to lose weight, the exact same things happen. They get cold, they get tired, they get hungry and they even lose lean muscle mass and organ mass because the fat tissue’s in business for itself, because there’s something wrong with the black box of the fat tissue.
Jonathon: I love that. Even taking it further like the cancer analogy and the preservation — the baby’s in business for itself. If you have a cancerous tumor growing — this is an example that Gary uses in his work. The treatment for cancer isn’t to eat less, although one might think if I don’t take in enough energy, that must stop the cancer from growing. Actually no, because something goes wrong in your body where the cancer growth almost continues at the expense of the rest of your health.
There’s this malfunction in the black box, or there’s this malfunction in your biological processes that say this other thing growing is so important that I will basically sacrifice everything else. They’ve shown this in lab rats, where they will genetically engineer lab rats who, when starved, will actually cannibalize their organs. They will die, because they will eat their organs before they eat all of their body fat because of this dis-regulation or breakage of their quote, unquote, biological black box.
Adam: Exactly. I’m going to get a little bit — I’m not going to geek out too much, but I want to just separate this concept that we’re talking about, the black box, Taubes calls [indiscernible 10:36]. There are other people who call it the neuroendocrine theory of obesity. This is one concept. I want to separate that concept from another thing that’s often tied to it, which is this idea they call the carbs-insulin hypothesis, which is an idea that, for the most part, our fat is regulated by insulin and that for the most part, our insulin is controlled by the quality and quantity of the carbs in our diet. That’s a separate idea. If you think about it, I like to think about it as penicillin for the black box.
I’m going to go on a little bit of a tangent here — you can stop me if you want. Think about obesity as like getting a fever. If you have a 102-degree fever, that’s not healthy. You want it to be 98.6. Fevers usually come bundled together with like a stuffy nose, a sore throat, sneezes and stuff like that. It’s an infection, right? If you go to your doctor, and you say, “Doctor, I’ve got this fever,” and she only treats the fever but not the other symptoms, and she says, “Hey, you know, go home and take an ice bath, and that’s going to fix everything.” Because the laws of physics demand that you will be cooled down when you go in the ice bath, it might give you — fix the fever a little bit, but it’s not going to get at the root problem if you’re sick. What you need to get better is you need to fix the infection or the root cause of the fever.
The point is with obesity, there’s an idea that, as a kind of penicillin for the problems of the black box could be this carbs-insulin idea, which is that when you lower carbs you normalize insulin, and this makes the black box fixed. Does that make sense?
Jonathon: It makes absolute sense. I think actually, Adam, this is — the audience listening to this podcast — the Smarter Science of Slim listeners — I think will uniquely appreciate this. Because my research is right along these lines, which I call a clog, even cog, in your metabolic system. I use this thing called the clogged sink analogy. I love what you’re talking about a fever, because yes, you have a fever. You have this underlying problem, this underlying clog, let’s call it, in your immune system. You can take an ice bath and on the surface that quote, unquote, works, and on the surface you eat less and exercise more. It quote, unquote, works, but we all understand that it’s really not doing anything about the problem. I talk about you can turn off the faucet of a clogged sink, you can bail water out with a teaspoon, but in both cases, the clog still exists.
In your analogy, the fever still exists. In the analogy of the body, you still have this metabolic dysfunction and the thought with Gary’s work and individuals who are really into carbohydrate restriction — by restricting carbohydrate, you can restrict the production of insulin, which helps to clear this metabolic clog, thus fixing the root issue, or the fever, or the clog. Does that make sense?
Adam: Absolutely. I remember seeing your video. When I saw the metaphor about the clog, I’m like, “That’s exactly what I’m talking about.” It’s funny how we came up with these — whatever — brilliant (??) minds…
Jonathon: Great (??) minds? Well, that’s very kind. The other thing I like about your analogy with the penicillin is a couple of things. I think there’s more — at least, my research suggests there’s definitely more going on here, and you capture this in your work — than just insulin. For example, refined seed oils and the dis-regulation in the brain of weight regulation has now been widely demonstrated. It’s more than — insulin is a component, but it’s not all of it, and you talk about that in your work as well.
Adam: Exactly, exactly. That’s the point I want to get across. It’s not like low-carb diets are a magic pill or that there’s nothing else going on. The seed oils — and the other thing that I think is important is that some of this stuff can be non-diet related. We talk about trying to slim down. We’re so focused on diet and exercise, but if this is really an endocrinological problem — the clogged sink thing — other things can clog the sink.
One thing that’s very common is that people gain fat on medications like antihistamines, antidepressants, and these things are probably doing independent things to the black box or the clogged sink that may not be fixable through diet alone. They’re just long-term things. If you’re just focused on calories and not thinking about these deeper issues, you’re never going to fix the problem. If you gain weight on the antidepressant, you might think I’ll just starve myself to fix that problem. That might not work, because it’s not going to fix the clog.
Jonathon: Yeah, you’re literally putting yourself in an ice bath to get rid of your fever. On the surface — you might have a friend who’s like, “Well, dude, just get in an ice bath. I did it, and my fever went down immediately.” Two months later, when they’re still stick — in fact, they’re even worse because the fever hasn’t been taken care of, then they’ll be singing a different story. But it is such…
The reason I wanted to have you on the show and go over this stuff and really — I think we’re saying the same thing over and over again, but we’re doing it intentionally because this is such a profound paradigm shift. Truly, all we’ve ever heard is just eat less and exercise more. It’s not that calorie quantity is irrelevant.
Jonathon: It’s just that it’s only one piece of a much more complicated puzzle. We don’t have to have PhDs to understand the complexity there, but we do need to understand, really, the core distinction, which is there are inputs into the system, and then there’s the system itself.
Jonathon: If you’re focusing completely on the quantity of inputs into the system but the system is what’s broken — like if your car engine is broken, putting less gas into it or more gas into it doesn’t do anything to solve that problem. That’s when we talk about the clogged sink. We talk about an elevated set point in my work. It’s not that the quantity of calories doesn’t matter. If you drink 10,000 calories of butter you will not stimulate any secretion, but you will gain fat.
Jonathon: But no one does that, so it’s somewhat irrelevant. If you do eat the proper quality of food, the quantity of calories will take care of itself and those high quality calories will act almost like penicillin to a fever in the sense that they will help to clear that metabolic clog and fix the black box. Is that accurate?
Adam: That’s accurate. You know, one thing I think we’re both trying to get at here is on some level, this is far more complicated than we’ve all been taught, but on another level, for the most part it’s a lot simpler. I think that’s the, you know, when we talk about all these analogies and metaphors, clogged sinks and black box, people are like, “What?” at some level. But for the most part, most people who figure this stuff out, they realize hey, this is 80% of the problem. If I just eat these real foods, avoid the seed oils — your research, follow your guidance, I’m sure you’re going to solve the vast majority of the problems for the vast majority of the people the vast majority of the time.
Jonathon: Yeah, and the only reason you’d want to understand what we’re talking about here is so that you can do that without cognitive dissonance. Because I still to this day hear people who’ve read my book and read all kinds of books that when they eat a piece of meat that has fat on it or they enjoy some nuts, they feel like they’re doing something wrong or bad. Or if they’re not hungry, they actually feel like they’re doing something wrong or bad, because their mind is still in this calorie quantity world. If you can get your mind out of that world, life becomes so much easier and so much more delicious and so much more healthy. But the only way to do that is to give your mind a reason to leave that world, and that’s what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to say that once you get this baseline understanding of the system is broken; fix the system, and whole, sane foods are what fix that system, then eating them won’t make you feel bad anymore.
Adam: Exactly. I think another thing about is like even if for whatever reason, the sink is clogged and it’s not going to be fixed or it’s only going to be fixed a little bit, the key takeaway, I think, is that when you’re following the logic here and reading (??) the problem correctly — the problem with the black box or problem with a clogged sink or whatever you want to call it — you get away from this moralistic, judgmental idea about obesity, which is that you don’t have self-control. You don’t have willpower. It’s all about you, and we have this puritanical belief that gluttony and sloth caused this problem, and that’s what I really find personally so frustrating because I believed this idea for over 30 years like everybody else. I thought hey, people get fat that eat too much and it’s their fault. That’s just a horrible way, because it’s untrue.
Jonathon: It’s a nefarious — I hope I’m using that word correctly — it’s a nefarious problem because there are two things that happen simultaneously sometimes with obesity. That’s if you eat these processed starches and sweets that contain basically sugar, flour, soy, corn and processed seed oils, they have been engineered such that they make you over-consume them because they don’t satisfy you, and they actually stimulate your appetite. So if you start to eat these foods, you will, by definition, overeat, because consuming a lot of them is the only way to satisfy yourself.
Here we see individuals overeating, and they are overeating; however, they’re overeating because they’re eating foods which require that. It’s not actually that the overeating is causing this to happen. It’s that the consumption of these foods triggers overeating, which then results in obesity, so the answer is not just to eat a 100-calorie snack pack. The answer is to not eat those foods that cause overeating.
Adam: Exactly. The other thing when you think about overeating, we’re not just talking about day-to-day. We’re so focused on my calorie count for the day or my carb count for the day or what have you, that we’re missing the bigger picture which is that obesity is a long-term proposition. Just slight damage or slight dis-regulation can lead to storage of fat. You might say, “I’m just going to eat 100 calories of snack packs of Little Debbie’s snack cakes because I like them, and I’ll just starve myself a little bit.” That might work in a day but over a long time, you’re going to do stuff. You’re going to clog your sink. You might not see it all at once, but it’s going to happen.
Jonathon: That, Adam, is such a foundational point because once we understand that there’s more than just calories taking place here, things like exercise is the antidote to obesity — like jogging — kind of goes away. We already understand, for example, that the problem with smoking is that it does damage to your respiratory system itself, and it cannot be undone via exercise, because it’s damaging the system. If these insane packaged and processed foods are damaging the metabolic system itself, aka the sink, aka the black box, then doing more jogging or just eating less of them doesn’t do anything to fix that. It does to your metabolism what smoking does to your lungs. If you want to avoid lung cancer, you can; you just can’t smoke. If you want to avoid obesity, it’s actually relatively simple if you avoid these foods.
The challenge we face though is that we live in a society today with packaged and processed foods, which is a bit like living in America in the 1920s when everyone smoked everywhere and avoiding second-hand smoke was nearly impossible. So that’s what we need to work to do. We live in a society which makes it very difficult to avoid these what I like to call causal agents in this metabolic dis-regulation. But truly, once we understand that those are the causal agents, we can focus our efforts on eating so much good stuff that we’re too full from that stuff and really solve the problem rather than starving ourselves. It’s simple, but it might not be easy.
Adam: Exactly. Simple but not easy. One of the things I love about your program is the idea that it is kind of simple. If your listeners haven’t yet done your diet or gone on this kind of seed oil-less, sugarless kind of diet, you’d be amazed once you do, because you really do — your appetite changes. Your whole attitude towards food changes. A lot of the psychology changes too. You feel more in control, and I think that’s one thing that a lot of people who are struggling with their weight feel is that they’re out of control. They’re doing what they’ve been told, and it’s still not working. I’m sure it’s incredibly frustrating.
I’ve never been obese myself. At most, I was like 15 or 20 pounds overweight, but it can be hard. I think just any chance to get some control over this and to stop doing things that aren’t working, like jogging, is a step in the right direction.
Jonathon: Love it, Adam, I love it. Well, this is where everyone who’s listening to this podcast, please — and Adam, tell me if I miss anything here — but please go to Caloriegate.com and download this Black Box Report that we’ve been talking about because it will — it has some really — I love the illustrations. Adam doesn’t like these illustrations as much as I do, but I think they’re wonderful because I think they help to add a levity to an otherwise very serious topic. It’s a very quick read. You can read it in 15, 20 minutes, and it will help to distill much of what we talked about here.
Adam also has a wonderful low-carber’s survival guide, where when you do eliminate these processed starches and sweets, it has some wonderful, helpful tips for you.
Adam, what’s next for you, and where else can people go to learn more about what you’re doing?
Adam: Well, you know, I’m blogging at Caloriegate. I actually have a podcast called Escape from Caloriegate, which is kind of along the lines that we’re talking about. I’m writing some more books. I like to be prolific [indiscernible 00:25:20].
Jonathon: Absolutely. Adam, thank you so much for your contribution here because it really is — this understanding, I really think we’re going to look back in 30 years and just say — we’re going to look at the way we treated obesity a bit like before we understood what viruses were and we treated people by bleeding them. Clearly, your blood’s infected so we just need to eliminate the blood from your body, so let’s just slit your wrists and allow you to bleed into this bucket until you feel better. Now we’re saying, “Well, it’s just because you’re eating too many calories, so let’s just starve you to death.”
No. The system is broken, so I really appreciate all the work you’re doing there. Everyone please, again, that’s Caloriegate.com, and check out that Black Box Report.
Thank you so much, Adam. I really appreciate it. Everyone, this week, remember to eat more and exercise less, but do it smarter. Thanks so much, and have a great week.
Adam: Thanks Jonathon.
[Audio Ends 26:19]