This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Gary Taubes. Gary is one of my favorite authors of all time, wrote Why We Get Fat, and Good Calories, Bad Calories, co-founded the non-profit NuSI, and is here to share insights that spawned a revolution and inspire me deeply.
The Slim Is Simple.org Non-Profit Nutrition Education Effort
Jonathan: Hey everybody, Jonathan Bailor here with, I don’t know. This might be the single, greatest bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast ever, simply because, if I had to list and I don’t want to go to over the top, here but literally, if I had to list authors who have had the biggest influence on my life. First, this is in no particular order. Aristotle, Viktor Frankl, Stephen Covey, and today’s guest, a man who really needs no other introduction for anyone who’s plugged into the nutrition scene at all, ladies and gentlemen, Gary Taubes is here. What’s up Gary?
Gary: Hey, I’m still trying to figure out who those other writers are.
Jonathan: I’m sure you’re probably a little familiar with Aristotle.
Gary: Yes, I thought you said Eric Stuttle. Okay, we’re ready to go.
Jonathan: No, no, no. You’re right up there with Aristotle, Stephen Covey, and Viktor Frankl, so there you go and probably Mihiley Cheekside, over at the University of Chicago, they guy who did all the flow work so…
Gary: Yeah, I actually interviewed [Inaudible 0:01:38]. I interviewed him in my earlier life [Inaudible 0:01:44].
Jonathan: Oh nice!
Gary: Yeah, I would have thrown Norman Jester into that.
Jonathan: Well then, you’d probably take yourself off the list because I can’t imagine that your own writing has influence you…
Gary: No, absolutely not you’re right. I would have to take myself off the list if you put Norman Jester on the list.
Jonathan: Well, Gary, for individuals who are maybe a little bit less familiar with your work, can you quickly, because I want to just get into it during this podcast and I want people to understand a little about the man they’re hearing from. You’ve had numerous awards, numerous books; can you just quickly take us through your CV?
Gary: CV, okay. Well, I was a Physics writer. I have a Physics degree and I got involved in writing about controversial Science in the mid-80s. I got my first book. I went to live at this large Physics lab outside Geneva, where they recently discovered the [Inaudible 0:02:47]. I thought I was going to be covering a great Physics breakthrough and I turned out to be watching 150 very smart Physicists discovering nonexistent elementary particles and I got obsessed with this subject of controversial science. How easy it is to get the wrong answer in Science and how hard it is to get the right answer.
After doing a couple of investigative articles and another book that touched on this subject, it’s called bad Science, if you get this take. Some of my friends in the Physics field, they said to me, if you are fascinated with bad science you should look at some of the stuff in public health. In the early 90s, I moved into public health and I ended up by the late 90s writing a couple of major pieces for the Journal Science on some of the conventional wisdom, the dogma in nutrition that has very little evidence to support it as it turned out. To justify the term bad science to describe it and that led me to write a legendary New York infamous or famous depending on your perspective, New York Times Magazine story.
What if fat doesn’t make you fat and that lead me to doing two books which is the reason why I am here. One is Good Calories, Bad Calories and the other is called Why We Get Fat and they’re both a subtitle of the First Suggest Challenge With Conventional Wisdom On Diet, Nutrition, And Chronic Disease. I learned an extraordinary amount. I went through much of the same learning process I assumed you did and yet depressing, it means to learn about the evidence based for not just beliefs but what a dietary guideline, what we’ve been told to do for the past 50 years, 40 years.
Jonathan: Gary, what, obviously there is so much that is wrong and bad, but the thing that I wanted to dig into with you briefly is, there is this idea that fat makes you fat. It’s probably the most common myth out there. And the thing that I was talking with actually Dr. Ron Rosedale the other day and he made a point. He says like I don’t this actually isn’t controversial. The idea that in fact, a diet composed of more fat, if anything makes your body better at burning fat because it becomes more of a preferred to feel sores therefore, if you are in a state where you don’t have enough calories your body is like well, I like brain fat and I see this fat already sitting on your hips so I am just going to burn that.
I don’t have excess insulin lying around to block it so, why is the theory that eating fat makes you fat, which is intuitive but wrong stick, while the fact to that eating fat helps you to burn fat, which is just as in some ways intuitive because it’s just your body wants to burn what you eat and if you’re not eating enough of it, it will eat off your body. Why is one sticking and one is isn’t?
Gary: Well, and I am going to challenge you on this, that it is a more pervasive misconception out there that then in turn leads to this secondary misconception that it’s all about dietary fat driving weight gain. The more common and the more problematic in the sort of fundamental pillar of all our nutritional beliefs is that obesity is an energy issue, that caloric balance issue that your body, even you said if you don’t have enough calories, your body will burn fat and I would argue that your body is going to burn fat anyway if you don’t trigger the hormones and enzymes that makes it store fat.
This idea that, the technical term is obesity, is an energy balance disorder but that what we should care about is the calories we consume minus the calories we expend. And, it’s all about eating too much and exercising too little and if you care about eating too much, then caloric intake is what’s driving fat accumulation that fat has intensive calories as a diet. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, when the obesity nutritionists wanted to blame heart disease on eating dietary fat and since obese individuals often get a lot of heart disease, obesity is associated with heart disease, they thought these things had to be caused by the same thing so if dietary fat causes heart disease, it’s got to cause obesity. How can it do that?
Well, maybe it’s just dense calories, nine calories per gram, four calories per protein or carbohydrates. It was in actually until the 1960s, 1970s that people started pushing this idea that it was dietary fat that caused us to get obese and it would coexist nicely with this idea that dietary fat, saturated fat causes heart disease.
The fundamental error in thinking is that it’s about calories anyway as opposed to just thinking of obesity as the kind of gross defect. Any other part of your body started expanding out of control. The doctors would be like, “Whoa, what’s going on here? What hormones and enzymes are out of control here that it got this sort of huge lump of whatever growing out of his forehead or his ankles or his but if it’s your gut, you’re eating too much.
Jonathan: Gary, what I am actually not sure, I literally have a playlist on my phone called Gary Taubes interviews and I think I’ve listened to every interview you’ve ever done, at least the ones that are available on iTunes and the one question that I actually don’t know if you’ve ever been asked directly, well, I am not sure if I’ve heard you answer it directly and I am super, super curious as to the way you would frame your answer. So, are you ready?
Gary: I’m ready, shoot. Just trying to get over your listening to every interview I have ever done, which I have to think of new ways to say the same thing again. Go ahead.
Jonathan: Alright. If, and again the reason I am asking you this is because I get asked this question, I am just curious how your answer compares to mine. When I talk to someone and I say I mean generally, my message is, is the quality of the food you’re eating makes the quantity of food you’re eating irrelevant and then people come back to me and they say “Well, if I were to eat, if I were to just drink, if I went on a butter fast and drink 10,000 calories of butter per day for a week, are you saying that I will not gain fat, and how would you respond to that?
Gary: Go ahead, have a good time. Actually, if you think you can do that…. I actually had this conversation with a very good friend the other day that I can eat 10,000 calories a day, if I could just do 7,000 calories of cashews and 3,000 in heavy cream and I am going to get fatter right? I said “I don’t know if you’re going to get fat. I don’t know what your body is going to do. I know it’s not going to like it and it’s the seven pound interesting choice is cashews because it turns out that it has 20 percent carbs in calories.”
Jonathan: You’re like, so there’s your problem.
Gary: That’s one of the reasons, no, one of the reasons why you can eat 7000 calories of cashews is because you’re going to be creating insulin that will help you store the calorie, get those calories out of your blood stream some more can get in there. It’s a fascinating thing, because that’s a common response. You are saying that if I do X, one of the reasons why obesity research insist that obesity is caused by overeating, they know that you can slim somebody down by starving them, so, you could say to yourself, if I starve myself for the next six months, I am going to lose weight, right, I’m going to lose fat, therefore overeating is an energy thing, I just have to restrict the energy. And yes, that’s true but the fact is you can’t voluntarily starve yourself for the next six months because your body, your biological system with all these compensatory homeostatic phenomena that are going to fight starvation if there is food available.
The problem here is it’s a rhetorical question. If I could force myself to eat 10,000 calories a day of fat, and I kept that up long enough, yes I am sure that you would probably gain fat. Your body is going to have to do something with those calories, so it’s going to stick them in the fat tissue. But, this is a different issue than why and this was actually… Edwin Ashwood, who is an endocrinologists, I quoted him in Good Calories, Bad Calories back in the 1960’s, wrote an article on obesity said sure, we can make geese fat by force feeding them, and I am sure you could do it with people, he said, but that’s not how the circus fat lady got there. The fact is obese people get obese without doing that.
Gary: The questions is “why.” And, then the other side to this is they’re actually have an experiment where they’ve tried to do similar things and I discussed that also in Good Calories, Bad Calories, So back in the late 60s [Inaudible 0:12:49] these experiments to England where he wanted to fatten up subjects and see whether it was carbs or fats that made them fatter and study the fattening process. So it was interesting is, he first started with college students and he tried to get them 20 percent fatter and he couldn’t do it, which makes me think college students in the late 60s are different from college students today, right. They’re the same as freshmen’s 20 or whatever it is which I think is up to the freshmen 30. Anyway, so then he went to convicts at, I always forget if it was Vermont or New Hampshire, I think it was the Vermont State Prison, and the very first experiment they tried to do is to get them fat and they never published so they consider it a bad experiment. They were going to show you could get people fat on an Atkins diet, even though Atkins wasn’t around yet.
They thought it was a pure meat diet, fatty meat and they described these convicts. I interviewed virtually all of his collaborators including himself and his collaborators described these convicts sitting there with plates of pork chops in front of them but they refused to eat. They couldn’t get them to eat enough to get fat on this diet and several of his collaborators said I challenge anyone to get fat on an Atkins diet although this doesn’t mean there are people out on the internet, I’ve gotten emails from people who say this is so I think it can happen. But for the huge proportion of people, you just can’t eat enough to get fatter, so, then what they try to do is they start with the convicts baseline diet and then they would get them to eat carbohydrates and fat and they again tried to get them to put on 20 percent of excess weight with 200 pound and they would get up to 240. With the carbohydrate, they realized that they could get them to eat, they could go from say, 3,000 calories a day to as many as 10,000 calories a day just by adding carbs and then they go to bed hungry, after tripling their caloric intake.
When he tried to add fat to their diet, they have trouble doing it so finally; they tried to get them to eat one extra stick of butter like 800 calories of fat per day. The various articles they published, they were sort of the heroic effort of overeating on dietary fat, even though their baseline diet had been carb setup. So one of the points I am trying to get people to understand is that you can’t divorce the regulation of appetite from the regulation of energy storage, which is what we’re talking about, the hormonal enzymatic regulation, fat metabolism and fatty acid availability for other tissues to burn for fuel. If you try to force to that by say forcing some to overeat, it’s going to feedback on appetite and energy expenditure that is why they’re not going to be able to do it.
Jonathan: Just to bring that home, the concrete example… Actually, one of the experiences in my life that lead me down this path, was I wasn’t a participant in one of those formal experiments, but I was an individual who was naturally thin and I have excel spreadsheets from when I was in university trying to gain weight because I would track what I was eating and I would do double shot of olive oil like six times a day like I would just shoot glasses of oil in addition to my normal diet. I was consuming about 6,000 calories per day and I was actively trying to gain weight and I was not. I went to the bathroom a heck of a lot more but I didn’t actually gain weight.
Gary: This is what I mean, it’s really fascinating, and it’s the kind of experiment you just described is one of the experiments that I would eventually like to see a not for profit [Inaudible 0:17:00]. That’s an extreme example of it but again I talked about this in Good Calories, Bad Calories as one of the leading obesity researchers in the U.K., a guy named Daro, tried in effect the same but he said to himself, I want to see how hard it is for a lean person to gain weight. If it’s hard for a lean person to gain weight then why wouldn’t I expect it to be hard for obese person to get lean? And he tried a lot of varieties trying to force himself to eat I think 1,000 calories and finally he sat on a basically keeping cookies by his side all the time.
Every time he thought about it he forced himself to eat another cookie and he did manage to gain about 15 or 20 pounds over few months of hard, hard work and then as soon as he stopped the cookies, the weight went away. His conclusion was if it’s so hard for a lean person to get fat, then obviously, there is something else happening with people who get fat easily. I have a brother two years older than me. When we were growing up, he was the kind of lean. You could see the pains on his arms, when he was eight years old. He is tall, lean, thin, and I was the chunky one and we both ate as much food as humanly possible. In fact, our dinners would last, this was back when our father was a wonderful cook, if we’d sit down at dinner at 7:00, we’d get on at 7:18 and my brother and I would have each polished off three courses. And if we didn’t eat fast, then he would get to the food before I could. I grew up to be 6’2” and at my heaviest, when I was playing football, I was almost 240 and trying to be to as lean as possible and I don’t think he ever got up to 195 and he was 6’5.” He ran track and was a distance runner, honor roll and I became a football player and Adam is best in sports.
We sort of we just did something different with the food we ate. It wasn’t about how much we ate, and he wasn’t lean because he was an endurance runner and a rower. He was an endurance runner because he was lean and his body wanted that those were the sports for him.
Jonathan: Absolutely, and we forget, we forget about an entire population when we have these conversations. There is an entire population of people who are chronically underweight and are taking weight gainers and, so if it’s just that’s what I don’t get Gary. Some of the stuff, like it doesn’t even seem like it’s controversial, but it remains controversial whereas like at common sense, you can say like if you eat the same way you ate when you were 15 when you’re 55, you will gain weight even if you eat the exact same way, therefore, it can’t just be about calories in, calories out like.
Gary: Although in that sense, the counter argument is the belief that the metabolism slows down, slows down, so you can be 6 foot, 190 at 15 and eat 3000 calories a day but at 50 at 6 foot 190 you got to eat 2000 because the metabolism slows down, that’s the belief. It’s fascinating when I was, we all go through this when we were young, just one of the annoying things by the way when you say criticize by 22 year old self-appointed nutrition gurus instead of 56 year old self-appointed like myself, I want to say don’t you understand, when I was 23, I could eat anything. I had to try to get bigger. You know, it was hard work and now I could do it effortlessly. I could probably get up to 300 pounds if I wanted to.
Jonathan: Oh, and ask a postmenopausal woman. These are the individuals who I work with that literally, we call it side effect fat loss where you’ll have a postmenopausal woman who she will eliminate fattening foods from her diet, replace them with non-fattening foods and she will maybe see some results maybe but her husband who’s just getting the second hand because maybe she’s the one who takes care of the meals in the house, his weight’s just falling off. He is just burning fat. He doesn’t even know what’s going on. He was like “Honey, my pants are falling off” and she’s like “Damn you.”
Gary: My question is what you do with those women, because I hear from those people. And I understand that there is the secreting less estrogen. Estrogen suppresses fat formation, so they’re fighting against hormones [Inaudible 0:21:39] have you found something that carb restrict, boom, what else do they have to do? This should be about me but…
Jonathan: No, no, no. I think it’s actually I sometimes like one of the things I actually like about what Tim Ferriss talked about into his work, he joked this is a joke that first they do it into racehorses. First, they take a technique and they apply it to racehorses, then they take a technique and they apply it to body builders and then if it works you might get a teeny, tiny sliver of it into his popular culture. And I think and again listeners, don’t take this the wrong way, but if we can do things to essentially help a woman’s body to work more like a man’s body and this involves things like very intense strength training, it involves things like the way they manage stress, like traditionally women tend to not compartmentalize as well as men and therefore will have higher chronic levels of stress hormones, whereas like their husband gets home and he just sits down and veggies out. She is worried. If you can like if for example take the exercise related hormones and flip those into more of a male burn fat rather than store fat type of dynamic as well as having your stress hormones shift in favor of being less stressed I think it’s certainly not a magic pill but I’ve seen it helped a lot. And truly that does need and to be very clear none of that matters if the diet isn’t I mean what’s your eating is such a huge component but it’s a bit like if you aren’t a naturally thin person, you essentially have to look at every area of your life and what you can do to make, because again like even how much you sleep you know even how much you sleep affects your hormonal balance so that quality and quantity of sleep, it just gets harder. I mean I …it stinks but it’s just reality, sadly.
Gary: No, some things are unfair. I wonder actually if there is an evolution right now diet to it as well but it stretches, but…
Jonathan: Gary just one of the thing I wanted to dig in to really quick, because certainly when I talk about what we can do to help solve this with what your work with NuSi, but one thing that you do so well is you tackle this problem of causality and that is so, so important and you touched on that earlier where you said for example a person will eat less and they’ll lose weight so then they’ll say therefore, weight gained when you eat too much which is a bit like saying “Okay, I have a fever. I get into an ice bath. My body temperature goes down therefore, the fever was caused by me being in too hot of an environment to begin with.” These causal associations are just ludicrous. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Gary: Well, this is what I mean there is a lot of different ways that you run into this also. One is that the obesity research going on this idea that if you can starve people and make them lose weight therefore, they got fat again by eating too much. I mean, it is therefore that I inserted is completely, logically incorrect but that tends to be how we think. The other way that this can manifest itself is if you go on a carbohydrate rich diet and you both lose weight and eat less, therefore, the eating less was what caused the weight loss.
What we do all over throughout our lives is, we tend to insert causal pathways into observations that we see that’s the worse. Whether they are causal or not, so this happened simultaneously with that therefore, this caused that or that caused this depending on preconception one way or the other. Science is ultimately about to establish and there is something, Claude Bernard, and I’ve been writing about Science for about 25 years when I read this. Claude Bernard was this legendary French Physiologist who lived in the 19th century and wrote a great book called the An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine, the first third of which, I think, required reading for anyone in Science.
Bernard said that basically Science is about trying to come up with causes for the things that we see, so you observe something in nature and you want to figure out what caused this whether it’s the universe in the night sky or the extra fat you got on your body and the way you do that you can’t do it usually from observation. It is something blatant, you see someone fire a gun and the person next to him falls over dead with a hole in him you can imply causality was fairly clear but in most cases, it’s really complicated when you do experiments.
In this sense what I saw detrimental it would be the idea that if you make someone eat less and they lose weight therefore, they got fat that they’re eating but also this idea that it is a diet if you eat less on a diet and you lose weight that means the diet works by eating les and that somehow soften the necessary fat out of your fat tissue. That’s equally as pernicious in this field because you want to know if a diet, if a particular regimen of eating works, why did it work, like why this is an experience virtually all of us have, despite carbohydrate restricted diet.
Someone may spend their whole life, if you are predisposed to be heavy, trying to control it and to regulate it, usually by some form of eating less and even when I was younger I said I dieted often and throughout the 90s. I worked out all the time. Actually, from the 80s to the 90s, my whole life was basically trying to maintain a certain weight that was 10 pounds lower than whatever I was and I was hungry all the time. I hated dieting. I couldn’t stand it. There is just this idea and you think about food constantly. When can I have my next meal? How much could I eat? How slowly should I eat it to make it last as long as possible? What foods can I order that will minimize the calories based on sushi diet.
Somewhere I read that a full plate of sushi was only 300 calories. It was interesting. I was lost like 10 pounds in two weeks and then I’d want to blow my brains out because I would have to have quarter pounder with cheese. Anyway, then you do this and you restrict carbohydrates don’t worry about fat, and you eat all these foods that will supposedly kill you and suddenly the weight just falls off and then I’m hungry. And this experience of losing weight without hunger, that to me is one of the fundamental observations in the field that goes against everything.
All this conventional wisdom is the only way to lose weight, to eat less and exercise more and it creates a negative energy balance. How do you know you’re in negative energy balance because you’re hungry and suddenly here’s this way the way you can lose weight without hunger and it tells you something fundamentally different is going on.
Jonathan: Gary I think that is just so, this issue of causality and what follows what I think that’s what you do is so important to help people to take a step back and an analogy that I try to use, that is so right within the traditional mindset that we’re talking about here is to eat more food and that causes you to have more body fat. Let’s actually take a step back and there is two points to make. One is if you eat more junk, if you eat more garbage, yeah what that actually causes is you’re actually eating more of the foods that causes you to become fat and then you become fat. But, you’re not fat because you eat more food.
You ate more fattening foods and that’s the key distinction there. Yes, people who eat a lot of a traditional Western diet often times are fat but that’s because they’re eating a lot of a traditional Western diet. Like, why is it so hard to get the mainstream to accept the fact that it’s not eating a lot of food, it’s eating a lot of the wrong types of foods and there’s that just step in the middle. It’s eat more food that’s not the problem but if you ate more junk food and that caused the amount of fattening foods you need to go up then body fat is up I get that. The extension to exercise, that I try to use that I think people grock somewhat immediately is people…
Gary: I haven’t heard the word grock used in a conversation since 1984…
Jonathan: My pleasure, my pleasure. Well, it’s pretty cool being, there’s another old being. So people often think you exercise well, let’s say for a man, if a man wants to build muscle what does he do? Exercise. Therefore, exercise causes your muscles to grow but there is another way a man can make his muscles grows, inject steroids. If a man injects steroids into his body and just sits down muscle will grow, so that says then, okay well, it’s actually hormones that are closer to the casualization of muscle development and so what does exercise have to do with this?
Oh okay, maybe exercise triggers the hormones, which then trigger muscle development. People seem to get that, so we say, imagine if food did something similar, meaning food, doesn’t actually make you fat. Food, triggers hormones and those hormones dictate whether or not you’re becoming fat. What do you think about that?
Gary: Crazy! Absolute quackery! Don’t you believe in the laws of thermodynamics? Serious, no, I think it’s a great, I use hikes for the metaphor, it’s the same thing but I’m making the same argument. It solves growing, you’re never gonna say he’s growing he’s eating more than he’s expending. You’re absolutely certain the reason he’s growing is because his pituitary gland is secreting growth hormone that’s stimulating some, like, growth factor that’s telling his cell and everything to grow and he’s eating to compensate, right.
As soon as you get to the fat tissue, it’s got to be about this energy balance thing. Actually one of the things, why you were talking about causality, because one of the reasons we used to believe exercise is a good form of weight loss is because we look at marathon runners and they’re so slender. How is it hard not to believe that if I… I fell for this for decades. I kept thinking if I somehow I ran enough, I would go from being this sort of hippopotamus that my body kind of wants to be, maybe not a hippopotamus, but a basset hound to a greyhound.
If you just do it, literally, I could picture it in my head for decades, that if I could just get my distance up far enough, I would somehow become one of these people who just flew over the road and ran effortlessly and it just, my body didn’t do that. In fact the joke is that I could never get far enough before something would break down, my back, my neck and yet, like I said, my brother could do ten miles, run like it was a walk around the block for me but that’s what his body did. We see, you see these marathon runners and the joke is you could imagine thinking, boy if I only ran 26 miles a day I too would become 5 foot 6, 120 pounds in Kenya.
One of the, actually, the best, I use this in Why We Get Fat but, I started doing it more when I lecture. I lectured a couple weeks ago actually to cancer surgeon in Los Angeles and I got them all nodding but this idea that if you wanted to make yourself hungry well, we could do… If I was having a huge dinner party tonight and I had the 10 best chefs in the, Oakland, coming to cook dinner and I invited you and the invitation said the best food you’ve ever tasted, and it’s one of these top chef dinners, and there’s going to be endless portions and wonderful taste sensation after another and I want you to come and I want you to come hungry.
Bring your appetite. What you do, and the obvious answer is you eat less during the day maybe skip lunch and eat dinner. Certainly skip your afternoon snack and eat smaller portions and you’d probably exercise more too. You didn’t have a workout plan, you do a work out if you had a work out, and you’d make it a longer workout. I’m going to walk to his house it’s only 5 miles…
The exact same things that normal people would do to make sure that they’re hungry are the two things, eat less, exercise more that we tell overweight people to lose weight and that alone should tell you that there’s something fundamentally wrong with how we think about this. And yet, I could have the same conversation with one of the obesity research in the world, and they’ll, they’ll look at me like they’re talking to a creationist or something.
Jonathan: Yeah and that’s, again Gary, that’s exactly what you just said that, the very thing that stimulates appetite the most is the thing we tell people to do to combat this condition and I… The similar, along the similar vein, if you actually look physiologically at what happens to the body when you do starve it, it’s literally like if you describe the analogy of a basset hound versus a greyhound and in some ways I think what we’re talking about here is, is there a, rather than taking the body of a greyhound and trying to make the greyhound run until it turns into the basset hound, like, the body’s different, we need to understand that.
And, I think the more productive approach is to say, is there anything that can be done to take the body of someone who is naturally more predisposed to storing fats and make it work like the body of someone who is more predisposed to burning fat. If you look at what actually happens in the body when you starve yourself is your body shifts more toward the spectrum of an individual predisposed to storing fat and so like, you are literally making your body more into the chronic state… It’s like you’re worsening your fever. The thing you’re doing to try and cure your fever is actually like, compounding the virus in your body.
Jonathan: So stop. Stop, don’t starve yourself. It’s bad.
Gary: It seems simple enough, why is it so difficult for people to understand? You’ve probably asked me this question already but literally I… You know, you talk to a, the large proportion of individuals in the obesity research community and the journalist who cover it can hear this over and over again and it will not stick. It has no effect on their thinking process. They can talk about cognitive dissonance and group [Inaudible 0:38:14] but it’s very difficult. You know, I get tenth graders in high school, who writes me, get it instantly.
And yet, some really smart people… Sometime I try to understand what, a lot of republicans, and there are some really smart republicans. So therefore I should talk to them and understand why we can’t just agree on anything. These are really smart people, what is it that makes it so hard to understand? You’re just talking about, even just not to agree with, just to understand that it’s not the weird, rhetorical game we’re playing and that it’s got nothing to do with whether the laws of thermodynamics are true or not because they’re always true, , and that it’s just that there can be a different causality to this.
About a month ago I was lecturing to cardiologists and I said why is it that obesity in your entire medical career, from the minute you are out of med school to the day you retire, there’s ever one disorder that you ever go to a physics textbook with the means to secure prevention and to understand and that’s obesity. Every other disorder you’re ever confronted with, whatever it is, you go to a medical text book or a biochemistry text book or an endocrinology text book, suddenly, here it’s like a physics problem, it’s crazy.
Jonathan: Well Gary, I think and this is just, I think, it may be a semantic issue, but I don’t know if it actually is. If I go to someone and I say eating less and exercising more, essentially if you could eat nothing and just walk all day long, if I were to say that it is not a, that would not cause you to lose weight of course they would say I’m crazy. In fact, I would be crazy because the statement of, if I ate no calories and walked all day, I would lose weight is true. However, I think, what we’re actually…
Gary: Aside from that, 10,000 calories a day.
Gary: 10,000 calories a day…
Jonathan: Exactly but my macro point is that, I don’t think our goal is just to lose weight. I think the conversation we’re actually having is how do we keep our body from storing excess body fat sustainably for the rest of our life? If you were to say, well the way you do that is just by like not sleeping for the rest of your life; people would look at you and say you’re crazy.
They’d say Gary, I need to sleep, like sleeping is required, I can’t just sleep less like eventually my body will win but that is what people say, well you just need to eat less, but I can’t, yes, eating less will cause weight loss but it will cause temporary weight loss. I’ll get dehydrated; I’ll burn up my muscle tissue. What is it we’re talking about is its weight loss or is what we’re talking about long term fat loss?
Gary: Well that’s it, what you want is long term fat loss, you don’t want to just, you can semi-starve yourself or even starve yourself and force a short term effect from it but even if you could keep it up for life, you would not be healthier for doing it.
Gary: I was just talking to a, e-mail conversation; psychologist today is actually a new anorexia syndrome that’s going to be in the next, what does DSM stand for? But, its women who are non-emaciated but don’t eat. So even there, it’s sort of unethical, the question is, what you want is your body to work like a healthy body. You want it to burn fat like a healthy person would burn, you want it to have a metabolic flexibility in effect, so you can store fat and burn it and be healthy and your risk factors for heart disease are healthy.
Sometimes, the argument against what I’ve been arguing, I think what you’re arguing is that this isn’t just about weight loss, it’s about health. It’s about we’re arguing you give up carbohydrates, yes you’ll be … You’ll look better and you’ll be slimmer but you’ll be less healthy and the point is, you will be more healthy that’s what you want. Starvation is not a means to increase long term health. It’s just a short term, behavioral activity that is going to do more harm than good probably in the short term.
It’s actually one of the reasons, this idea that eating less is the way to cure obesity or to treat it or to treat excess weight, maybe one of the reasons why there’s this observation now that may or may not be true, that overweight individuals are actually, have less morbidity and mortality than people with BMI from 20-25 or supposedly in an ideal weight and it could be that people are trying to starve themselves to get into that. I don’t know if that’s true because it’s hard to [Inaudible 0:43:38] associations but its one possibility.
Jonathan: Oh absolutely, if one assumes that one must eat a diet that contains these fattening starches and sweets, and that’s the other problem, I think here Gary. Let’s assume, like, most the people out there that is truth, you have to eat starches and sweets, like that’s the reasonable thing to do. Well then if you were to eat less of that diet, you would be better off but not because you’re eating less but because you’re eating less of the fattening foods.
Jonathan: It’s just like if we assume that everyone has to smoke, if you were to smoke one pack a day versus two packs a day that would be preferable but why not just not smoke?
Gary: One of the studies that was published in the last few years was on calorie restriction, calorie restricted diets and primates was done on rhesus monkey.
Jonathan: Oh yes, yeah. The life extension one?
Gary: Yeah and it was fascinating because I was talking to the fellow who did the research, Eric Winder, and he pointed out. So one of the interesting things you calorie restrict these monkeys and they couldn’t show that they lived longer but they had less diabetes and cancer, they still got diabetes and cancer so, for me, in my book, if there’s reasonable evidence that diabetes and cancer diseases that Western diets of civilization and that population is eating their traditional diet, absent sugar and white flour and maybe vegetable oils didn’t get these diseases.
I was curious why these calorie restricted primates would still get diabetes and cancer and I asked Winder if what the diet was. And it turns out that these diets are about 30 percent sugar and I think it was 20 percent cornstarch. This was the diet that some organizations decided would be the diet for which these monkeys thrived in captivity, but which probably meant they looked plump and healthy and. When you’re calorie restricting a diet that’s 30 percent sugar, they’re getting significantly less sugar.
That could explain why they’re healthier. But if they didn’t get any sugar and any cornstarch and just ate their natural diet they might be able to eat as much as they want and not get diabetes and cancer at all but those studies don’t get funded.
Jonathan: That is why you exist sir, so let’s transition the last part of the interview into you have done an amazing job, arguably better than anyone else in the industry of exposing the problem here and now you’re focused on helping to engineer a solution with your nonprofit organization. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Gary: Ok. Well, this is with Dr. Peter Satia in San Diego, he deserves as much credit or more. We met a couple years ago after he had gone through his own learning experience with his own way and much of the research that we did and then had read my books and we decided that we were gonna do something about this. We didn’t know what it was. The easiest thing to do, one of the ideas I always had, there were some simple experiments that could be done, that could demonstrate, again, that weight loss on a carbohydrate restricted diet is a different phenomenon than weight loss on a calorie restricted diet and you can in effect disassociate the weight loss from calorie restriction.
I thought that if you could do that, you can do it in animals, but people don’t pay attention to these animal studies, so I thought that if we could do this in humans we might get the obesity research community to begin to understand something they’ve never wanted to study. So, their perspective towards this carbohydrate restricted diet is they’re fads, that just sort of fool people into eating less, maybe people eat less ’cause they’re bored or they just can’t buy enough non carb food to eat as much as they used to and so yeah sure, people lose weight but they do it because they eat less and they don’t stay on diets anyway so it irrelevant.
They never saw these diets as relevant to the question of why we get. And I thought their particular experiments could be done, well controlled experiments which needed the mechanism of funding the experiment which was incredibly naive. Peter and I with the help of some wonderful friends of Peter started doing the legal work to start this nonprofit that we call the Nutrition Science Initiative because one of the things we wanted to do, the ultimate mission is to reduce the burden of obesity and diabetes but the strategy to doing it is through getting really good nutrition. Nutrition Science on this is rigorous and iron clad as the science and the field, like physics I grew up in and it’s much harder to do in nutrition because you’re dealing with a real human being and well they’re different creatures’ for instance elementary articles or circuits. We were doing this on nights and weekends. I remember a year ago in November I did a podcast called Econ Talk with Russ Lambert who is an Economist at EW University in Virginia, Washington DC. A couple days after this podcast, I got an email from a fellow named John Arnold who says he runs a foundation in Houston who don’t do obesity research but their interested in getting into in it, or obesity funding, that I had mentioned a couple of experiments on the air and one thing led to another. It turns out that John Arnold is a very wealthy philanthropist and his foundation is doing some amazing things and after a long, many conversations and meetings, they agreed to support the Nutrition Science Initiative.
We now have offices in San Diego and we have this staff and they’ve also committed a significant amount of money to experiments that we want to fund and we’ve put together a consortium of researchers, influential, thoughtful, obesity researchers who’ve been in the field for a long time, who without exception, I thing I’m wrong, but acknowledge that their belief that it’s all about calories and energy balance is not demonstrated unambiguously in the literature. That there’s a lot of room for this alternative hypothesis that obesity, hormonal regulatory defect driven by, triggered by the carbohydrates content of the diet.
So we’ve, they’ve designed an experiment, beginning with a pilot experiment that will directly test this hypothesis. I can’t give details yet because, until contracts are in place everybody is very hesitant about this being discussed publicly but experiments should really, like I said, be able to disassociate weight loss from eating less or exercising more. The laws of thermodynamics will still hold, because they’ll always do, but you’ll change the macro nutrient composition of the diet dramatically in an inpatient setting.
One of the key problems we’ve identified with all, much of, obesity research…
First of all, done in the context, every thinks it’s all about what diet works best because it’s clear that we get fat because we eat too much. It’s clear that we get that. That’s the underlying function and so if you’re studying dietary manipulations, it’s only saying something about what diet works best and then they do a, it’s called a free living experiment, when you get 500 subjects if you’ve got a lot of money and you randomize them into two or four groups and you give their group different diet books and different counseling and put them off into the world and then you let them, and then they come back in three months six months and then in two years and you measure them and do blood tests and look at heart disease risk factors and then you say which diet is better or worse and then this, even in this scenario, the low carb diet always ends up doing better than the others but it’s equally clear that nobody stays on the diet.
My metaphor for this, imagine if you wanted to know whether cigarettes causes lung cancer and the way of doing it was to take 500 people and randomize into four groups and put one group on the nicotine patch and one group on the nicotine gum and one group get nicotine nasal spray and the fourth group had to try and quit cold turkey, the fifth group continues to smoke. You follow them for two years and low and behold at the end of the two years virtually everyone was still smoking and then you concluded from this that cigarettes don’t cause lung cancer. This is pretty much what they do. They say look, at the end of two years everyone is falling off of their diet, they’ve all lost four pounds on average, it doesn’t matter what diet we put them on therefore, this demonstrates that obesity is all about calories and that you’ve got to eat less if you want to lose weight.
What we want to do is put people in a metabolic ward in an inpatient setting and they get fed a particular diet. This is the simplest way to think of it. You figure out how much energy somebody expends, which is relatively a straight forward process and then you put them on a diet and say no carbohydrates, or a diet with a lot of carbohydrates, but you make sure what they’re eating is the same amount of energy that they expend every day. They match intake to expenditure or you could even increase it and take over expenditure. You could do your olive oil experiment at that and then you see what happens to fat mass and energy expenditure when you know exactly how much they started expending and if you know exactly how much they’re giving them, you know, they’re eating because they’re locked in this metabolic ward, they can’t cheat and you watch them eat it, you monitor them.
They’ll be in a very rigorously, well controlled experiment, the kind of thing you’re taught to do in 8th grade science, which is control your variables, then you pick one where you can’t only pick one variable to change and diet because if you change the carbohydrate content you’ve got to replace it with something, so you might replace it by adding fats or protein but you try to minimize the number of variables that are changed. You try to control everything and by doing this we should be able to resolve these controversies. It’s expensive, a lot expensive than we imagined when we started this but it seems like we’re going to have money to pay for these so it should be interesting. Hopefully within three or four years we’ll have pretty conclusive evidence one way or the other.
Jonathan: That’s awesome Gary. I’m really, really looking forward to that research because I think if we can add that to the pretty unambiguous at this point research, for example that just exercising more does not lead to fat loss, which again, even you’re, organization, you’re associated with the New York Times, seems to report on this at least four times a year. All this research showing that exercise isn’t really important for fat loss and that no good study have ever really shown that it does but they’re like, well you should still exercise. I’m [Inaudible 0:55:54] we’ll be able to then take the Science, which is relatively unambiguous because they’re plenty of areas where it is unambiguous but then, get people to, again, like you said, these arguments seem pretty straight forward. I am hoping this will set it over the edge and I applaud you for getting the funding and doing the research. I’m very excited to see it.
Gary: Yeah, it’ll be, it’s interesting. It’ll be a, it’ll be interesting whether we can get people to accept these studies for what they are. One of the issues we talk about a lot is, you talked about the New York Times every week they have two, four diet nutrition health stories or exercise stories, so the question is, if you do the best experiment ever done of this magnitude, how do you get the press and research community to understand that this is the best experiment ever done and that it trumps what’s been done since.
It’s one of my nightmares, they do this experiment, they get the results that we would expect, they might not, this is science you never know, we could be wrong but the sooner they get the experiment and then they publish it and it shows up in the New England Journal of Medicine and then it’s, it’s on the front page of New York Times, one hopes that this dramatic result, contrary to all conventional wisdom and then two days later there’s another story. There’s a piece about the new animal experiment and then there’s a piece about some grad student’s poster sect and the conference in Montana and, everything just keeps rolling along in this huge establishment that’s grown up to generate nutrition news.
It’s almost as if it can’t be a right answer, right, because then, what are we going to say? How are we going to fill the pages of these newspapers? There’s got to be a in [Inaudible 0:57:56] anyway, but it’ll be interesting and one of the things that’s so great about the Arnold Foundation is part of their strategy as a philanthropy is to make sure that the ways they invest money have, it’s not just not like throwing a book in the ocean, that it has an effect. We talk to the journalist, we talk to the research community, we talk to the policy makers, so they know why this is being done.
What the goal is and what this means and why it’s different from other experiments and why it conceivably trumps the other experiments and what makes it such a game changer, assuming its end results do actually change the game.
Jonathan: Which if you’re previous work is any indication of what will be your future work, I have all the confidence in the world that it will Gary, because you’ve certainly started changing the game already so I’m very excited to see the results here.
Gary: Yeah, it’ll be interesting, it will be. I just keep my fingers crossed.
Jonathan: I love it, I love it. It will be interesting, the question is what type of interesting will it be. There’s no, there will be an exciting ending to this movie, we just don’t know what the ending will be.
Gary: That’s a good way to put it.
Jonathan: Thank you so, I know you’re extremely busy man and I appreciate you sharing your time with us today and I literally have a half page of notes here so if you be so willing I’d like to have you back on the show in a few months.
Garry: Yeah, you know I’d love to do it again. Thanks for having me and I maybe coherent if I do it again.
Jonathan: Well everybody if you haven’t checked out Gary’s work, please do check out Good Calories, Bad Calories. I’m a little bit more ambitious of a text. Don’t be intimidated by it though, it will change your life and if you need a little on road on to that book, read a second book which is called Why We Get Fat and I know he didn’t want to include this part in the title but, And What We Can Do About It.
I remember when we did that interview and you were like, I didn’t want to add that but my publisher made me and please do check out NUSI or nusi.org and help support them. Share it, Facebook, Twitter. Keep the momentum going, I personally think we’re at the right position at the edge of a tipping point and I think Gary’s organization, Nusi, is going to be a bit of a roll into tipping us over the edge, so thank you again.
Gary: Ok, terrific, thanks. Take care.
Jonathan: Hey everyone thank you so much for tuning in this week, hope you enjoyed the show and remember this week and every week after, eat more and exercise less but do that smarter. Talk to you soon.
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