SANE Fat Loss – Carbs, Fats and Calories with Jonathan Bailor

Content By: Ari Whitten & Jonathan Bailor

In this episode, I am speaking with Jonathan Bailor – founder of Wellness Engineering and the SANESolution, as well as the bestselling author of The Calorie Myth, and producer of the award-winning movie Better. We will talk about the SANESolution for fat loss, and how carbs, fats, and calories really factor into body composition.

Table of Contents

In this podcast, Jonathan will cover:

  • Why you can stop counting calories and macronutrients, right now.
  • Count this instead.
  • Understanding how calories affect your weight loss.
  • Not all calories are equal!
  • The different types of calories explained. Why feeling full is incredibly important.
  • A new approach to fat loss. 
  • The truth about whey protein.
  • How it really affects your health.
  • Fat and carbs 101: How they work and how they’re stored in your body.

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Ari:  Hey, there. Welcome to ‎The Energy Blueprint Podcast. I’m your host, Ari Whitten. Today, I have with me my friend, Jonathan Bailor, who is a fat loss expert and best-selling author, he’s a filmmaker. So, I’m going to read you his official bio here. He’s the founder of Wellness Engineering and the world’s fastest growing metabolic healing and Diabesity treatment company, SANESolution. He authored the New York Times bestseller, The Calorie Myth and The Setpoint Diet, starred in and produced the award-winning movie BETTER, has registered over 26 patents, and has spoken at Fortune 100 companies and TED conferences for over a decade. His work has been endorsed and implemented by top doctors from Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins, the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic and UCLA. Jonathan lives outside Seattle with his wife, Angela, and daughter Aavia Gabrielle. Welcome my friend.

Jonathan: Thank you, sir. You pronounced everything correctly. Oftentimes, the way my bio was read is, “Jonathan has registered 26 patients,” and that doesn’t make any sense at all, but people say it so that’s all right. [laughs]

Ari:  Well, there was one part I got thrown often but I have to say, I think this is your spelling error.

Jonathan:  Is it?

Ari:  Starred, it’s supposed to be starred in, in terms of your movie, but it actually says, “Stared.” It’s only got one “R” in there.

Jonathan:  There you go.

Ari:  I’m pretty sure the correct pronunciation is stared for that- for the way that it’s spelled. But I’m so good that I read your bio in the way that you intended despite the spelling error.

Jonathan:  You see, that is very impressive, kind sir.

Ari:  [laughs] It’s a pleasure to have you on. I even pronounced your daughter’s name correctly. I know because we were just hanging out a couple of weeks ago, and there were so many people mispronouncing your daughter’s name that I picked up on the correct pronunciation because I heard you correct people like five times. [chuckles]

Jonathan:  Yes. I appreciate that very much. It is Aavia with the soft A.

Ari:  Yes. Yes, it’s a beautiful name.

Jonathan:  Thank you.

Ari:  So, you’ve done a lot. You’ve been around for– When did The Calorie Myth come out? That came out in what? 2013/2014, something like that?

Jonathan:  I believe it published like January 4th of 2014, and then the book that preceded it that was independently published by me, I think came out maybe a year before and that was called The Smarter Science of Slim, which had similar- it was the basis for The Calorie Myth.

Ari:  I remember in 2014, because I was coming out with my book, Forever Fat Loss, and my book came out just a few months after yours. I remember seeing videos of you promoting your new book and actually being annoyed that you were talking about a lot of the same concepts that were in my book, like the body fat setpoint system. I was like, “Man, this is–” I thought it was going to be like the first main major book to bring this kind of conversation to the market, and there were other people before us that had talked about it a bit but I think- I honestly think both your book and my book- and your book was a bigger success than mine, though both were pretty successful. I think ours were instrumental in bringing more awareness to this body fat setpoints to the mainstream. So with all of that said, tell me about how you got into this whole fat loss space.

Jonathan:  My personal experience was I grew up very ashamed of my body. I was almost obsessively ashamed with it, in the sense that I did very destructive things in an effort to change it. Now, the one wrinkle is I was ashamed of my body for a different reason than many Americans nowadays. I was ashamed of my body because it was too small, not because it was too big. I use that language intentionally because I honestly think if we started talking about body in terms of big and small versus fat or skinny, it is a lot more truthful and really recalibrates the conversations.

So, I wanted to be bigger. A lot of people today want to be smaller and I couldn’t become bigger despite with literally almost crazy efforts, taking substances which are now illegal. I never took anabolic steroids but I took just about everything you could take. Barring anabolic steroids, I was eating upwards of 6,000 calories a day, literally drinking olive oil out of a double-shot glass to try to get bigger and I couldn’t. I would just use the bathroom uncontrollably, to be candid, and I was getting sick and it was definitely an obsessive-compulsive type disorder around food. A moment came– At the same time, I was a personal trainer, really engrossed in the bodybuilding kind of gym culture. I was very good at football growing up. I played at a private Catholic school, and we won the State championship two out of four years, and I wanted to play in college so this was really the motivation to make my body larger. Not to pursue health but to have a larger body. I had this moment as a personal trainer- it’s the way I paid my way through college- where I was sitting across the table from one of my clients. This was- I’m 18, 19, 20, at the time, not much life experience at all, and I’m sitting across the table from this brilliant woman. She was probably in her 40s, I think she was an attorney or a doctor. She had a family. Obviously, this is an individual who is good at life. She is sitting there and crying and saying, “Jonathan, what’s wrong with me?” Just sobbing in her hands because I had her on a 1,200-calorie diet. I was having her workout more, I was monitoring her food logs, I knew what she was doing and she’s sitting there saying, “What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with me?” And to see somebody who I respected so much and who was so good at life, sincerely believing– I mean, it almost like she regressed to being a 13-year-old girl that was not in with the cool kids, just so hating herself and so disappointed in herself, it broke my heart and led me to a flash of insight, which was; what if there is some big muscular guy somewhere who is just like, “Jonathan, what’s wrong with you, man? If you would just eat 12,000 calories a day rather than 6,000, maybe you could have the body you want. You just need to try harder as well.” And I said like, “This just doesn’t make sense. I don’t think there’s something wrong with me. I know there’s nothing wrong with her. She’s eating 1,200 calories a day, can’t get smaller. I’m eating 6,000 calories a day and can’t get bigger. Something other than these calories in- just eat less exercise more mythology that I was taught as a trainer has got to be going on.” I was very fortunate to be raised by two college-professor parents, so a very academic household. We very infrequently discussed sports or movies. Most of our dinner conversations were like, “Immanuel Kant believes this, what do you think?” Or kind of esoteric conversations like that. I had a conversation with my parents. They very much encouraged me to consider the source of my information, which I discovered was like, the big guy at the gym rather than actual science. Then I went on and had access to– Because of my parent’s research libraries. I’m a geeky person by nature, I worked at Microsoft for 10 years, I like technical things. So for fun, on nights and weekends for 15 years, all the way up through my career at Microsoft, I did a tremendous amount of research for fun around neurobiology, gastroenterology, endocrinology, science of motivation, cognitive behavioral therapy, Things way beyond the scope of just nutrition to understand fundamentally, why is it that some people can’t seem to get smaller, even if they eat less and exercise more, and why some people can’t get bigger, even if they eat more and exercise less? I ended up discovering that essentially, everything I was taught as a personal trainer, barring a few exceptions, is either incomplete or flat out wrong.

Why the theory of calories in and calories out is incomplete

Ari:  Got you, and so all this led to you writing the book, The Calorie Myth. Let’s go to the next layer of this story, which is; in all that research, you’ve set this frame-up of the calories in, calories out theory either being wrong or incomplete. So, what is wrong or incomplete about it?

Jonathan:  There are essentially three underlying problems. The first thing I want to– Before I say any of this because there is a syndicate of people on the internet called, “If It Fits Your Macros,” and they’re going to flip out about everything I’m about to say. Because they’re going to say, “Every five years, it’s been proven some college professor is going to go on an all-McDonald’s diet, and he’s going to lose weight and they’re going to say, ‘See, I told you. If you just eat less and exercise more, it doesn’t matter what you eat, you’re going to lose weight.’”

Ari:  Well, I will interject here. That there are lots of metabolic ward studies that test very different macronutrients at the same level of calories that do, in fact, show the exact same amount of fat loss. Or overfeeding studies; high-carb, low-fat diets versus low-carb, high-fat diets that show the exact same amount of fat gain when they’re overfed at equivalent levels of calories. So, I think we need to shoot for some sort of reconciliation of all of this data here, rather than– To be totally blunt with you, I think it is wrong to say that calories don’t matter. So, I think we need to shoot for some sort of reconciliation of calories matter, yet it is incomplete to say only calories matter or the calories in calories out, just eat less exercise more is incomplete and is not a very good path for how to lose fat.

Jonathan:  Yes, you hit the nail on the head, Ari. In fact, I think it’s the first 20 pages of The Calorie Myth, there’s that actual grey box called out. Where I may quote, it may be a researcher named Fineman, not 100% sure, or someone from Duke. Anyway, he put it best when he said, “Calories count, but you don’t need to count calories.” I think that is the best encapsulation of the truth that I’ve seen. No one is saying that calories are sitting next to unicorns in fantasy land. Calories exist and if you drink 10,000 calories of butter, chances are you’re going to gain weight. The idea, however, that calories should be our sole focus and if we don’t count them, our body will inevitably over-consume them, is not only wrong but I think destructive, both physically and emotionally to a large part of the American population. Calories absolutely count, they matter. Just like vitamin C matters, just like vitamin A. Calories- I would argue just have a fun, definitional, semantic type discussion- I would argue that by the definition of an essential nutrient, if you define an essential nutrient as something that the body cannot produce- so if you don’t consume it you die- calories are an essential nutrient because the body cannot produce them. You have to consume them or you’ll die and if you over-consume them [crosstalk]–

Ari:  Unless you’re a Breatharian.

Jonathan:  You stay in ketosis all the time. Yes, so obviously, you’re right. Calories count. The position stated by The Calorie Myth book and all my subsequent work is that the myth is three parts. One, that a calorie is a calorie. Two, that all calories are created equal and basically, I’ll just stop at that. And three, that you must count them in order to be healthy or to achieve the body you desire. You’ll notice that none of those stated the myth is that calories don’t count.

Ari:  Okay, so– And I know you actually- you took quite a bit of flack from this from some of the evidence-based communities. Some of the people that were preaching a lot of the If It Fits Your Macros stuff back in 2013/2014- I guess it was 2014. Because based on the title of your book, it seemed to be suggesting calories don’t matter, calories are not really anything that matters when it comes to fat loss or fat gain, which is not what you’re saying. So-

Jonathan:  What I am saying, just to be clear because I’ll stoke fires if they need to be stoked, I think that if my daughter, who’s one-year-old, never knew what a calorie was ever, if that word did not exist for her and she ate food found directly in nature, she would have a wonderful experience of life and a body of her dreams. So, I do think it is a myth that you need to have any knowledge of what a calorie is to achieve health.

The SANE approach to fat loss

Ari:  Yes, so I agree with you completely that it is not necessary to have knowledge of calories to either lose or gain weight or be healthy. Certainly, hunter-gatherers and much more recently than hunter-gatherers but basically, all humans for all existence up until, let’s say the last 100 years roughly, had no knowledge of calories. Obviously, they were doing just fine. So, I think there’s no compelling argument of someone saying it is necessary to learn about calories and count calories to be lean or healthy. One of the other layers of this is not all calories are equal. What is it about different kinds of calories that make them not equal? What are they doing in your body differently?

Jonathan:  I think it’s really important also to couch the fact– If we really want to get– And if we get too esoteric, cut me off. But your show is one where we can geek out a little bit, so I’m going to geek out if that’s okay.

Ari:  Please.

Jonathan:  A calorie is a unit of energy. I really want to be clear here that no one goes to the grocery store and buys calories, ever. So in some ways, it’s just– I used to really, really care about the academic conversation and then I started to try to actually help people. [chuckles] It’s wonderful to sit in message boards and talk about our theories about calories and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, while the world dies and gets worse over time. We all know that food does different things in the body and it’s pretty difficult to eat food without eating calories. So, when we talk about calories, we got to talk about the food sources that they’re found in. What I found in the research, and you found in the research as well, is that there are objectively-measurable things that we see in food and food contains calories. For example, different food has different levels of satiety, for the same level of calories. For example, if you eat 200 calories of Pringles that company will tell you, “You’ll probably be hungrier after eating 200 calories of Pringles. Once you pop, you can’t stop.” If you eat 200 calories of protein and vegetables, you will be more satisfied. Nobody [crosstalk]–

Ari:  To your point, just to emphasize it further, we don’t see broccoli manufacturers coming out and saying, “I bet you can’t eat just one head of broccoli. You won’t be able to control yourself. You’ll just have to keep on eating that broccoli,” right?

Jonathan:  Exactly.

Ari:  But it is explicitly the goal of manufacturers of processed food products, especially in a capitalistic society- and I’m not bashing capitalism here. But in an environment where you are in business and your business is to sell people on a particular product, and have them buy as much of it as possible and be as addicted to it- addicted; I’m using that word loosely- as possible so they keep coming back forever and ever as frequently as possible, that is ultimately the objective of processed food manufacturer. They’re literally engineering their foods- knowing what they know about the human brain and human biology, they’re engineering their foods to do that as well as possible because that’s what maximizes their profits.

Jonathan:  100%. To your broccoli point, I want to add on to that because people might say, “Well, of course, you’re not going to keep popping broccoli because it’s disgusting.” The same thing applies to– Just think about a chicken breast, a lovely, marinated, delicious chicken breast. When you eat a chicken breast, you’re like, “Okay, I’m good,” and that’s probably sub-300 calories. Very few people are like, “Oh, God. Man, I just ate six chicken breasts. I couldn’t stop myself,” right? So, there’s a natural satiety point. That’s why again, I want to poke the bear a little bit and just say, anyone who’s sitting in a message board who wants to get like fired up about It Fits Your Macros or whatever, I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in talking about the things that actually help people and make a difference in real life. If anyone anywhere wants to disagree with the fact that certain sources of calories, calorie-for-calorie, are more or less satiating than others, that seems undebatable to me. That’s a [crosstalk]–

Ari:  It is undebatable. I want to add one more example that’s maybe even a more perfect example of this. We used Pringles as the example of the thing you can’t stop. Pringles are potato chips. What if we just compare that to boiled potatoes, which are actually one of the most satiating foods per calorie? Believe it or not, a lot of people think of potatoes as like– There’s a lot of potato products that are not very satiating. Certainly, french fries and potato chips are not satiating per calorie, but if you eat boiled potatoes, they actually are extremely satiating per calorie. Now, the more you pile on butter, and cream, and sugary sauces and things like that and make it taste really delicious, it will be less and less satiating per calorie. But you can compare potato chips, potatoes processed in a particular way with added oil and added salt in just the right proportions to light up that reward center in the human brain, versus just plain boiled potatoes and get dramatically different satiety per calorie.

Jonathan:  It’s profound, Ari, and I’d like just to take it to even the next level. I would argue, and I bet you would agree, that you could eat more. 300 calories of french fries that are salted are less satiating, probably, than 200 calories of boiled potatoes. So, you can actually eat more and be hungrier.

Ari:  I completely agree with you and I would even go so far as to say that’s probably the single biggest contributor to the obesity epidemic, but maybe I’m jumping ahead. I don’t want [inaudible] away from you.

Jonathan:  Satiety, right? Satiety is a key factor. Folks know I run a company called SANE and the “S” in SANE stands for Satiety. The second factor, which I love– What we’re talking about here is what some people call first principles, where they’re like the baseline where if we can agree on these principles, a bunch of other stuff will fall out. A lot of the conversation- just as a quick sidetrack- that happens about nutrition or even like politics, basically everything in the world, people are arguing about stuff like 17 levels above where they should be arguing because they’re not even talking about the same stuff. Like if you and I are playing a sport and I’m like, “We’re playing football,” and you’re like, “We’re playing basketball,” we’re going to continuously disagree about the rules because we’re playing two totally different sports. So, we got to understand and agree on the playing field first. I’m defining, in some ways, the playing field for the discussion about nutrition. Satiety; the “A” stands for Aggression, or the hormonal impact or the hormonal response that your body has to certain forms of calories. Again, this cannot be debated. What happens to your insulin levels- so when you eat a 100 calories of coconut oil is not the same as what happens to your insulin levels if you eat a 100 calories of boiled potatoes, for example. I’m not going to say anything good or bad, I’m just going to say there is an objectively-measurable difference in the hormonal response to certain sources of calories. I call that aggression. Is there an aggressive response of your hormones? Do they swing wildly? Or is there an unaggressive response of your hormones, meaning they stay more moderate? A lot of folks might know this as glycaemic load or glycaemic index, blah, blah, blah, blah. The caveat I will give here, and one of the things that I really like about the SANE framework for eating, is a lot of people will get hung up on any one of these four elements we’re going to talk about and they’ll predicate their entire way of eating around one of them. For example, the keto diet is predicated around just this element in some ways. Like insulin is bad and if you eat keto, you will have less insulin and that’s good. Now if you eat keto, you will have less insulin. Whether or not that’s just kind of a modified version of The Calorie Myth in the sense that now insulin is the problem whereas before calories were the problem, it’s an oversimplification that misses the broader picture, is a separate topic. But again, just like we said, there really is no debate that different sources of calories are more or less satiating. There is no debate that different sources of calories provide different or lead to different hormonal responses in the body.

Ari:  I agree to a large extent with what you said about keto. I would say it’s actually most true for the original conceptualization of the low-carb path as formulated by Gary Taubes in Good Calories, Bad Calories. The basic idea of which is that insulin regulates body fatness. By eating a low-carb, high-fat diet you are lowering insulin levels and therefore, you’re lowering this key regulator of body fatness, therefore driving fat loss via this hormonal pathway. We can tag this topic and come back to it because I think we probably have some degree of disagreements here, but I’ll let you complete the framework, the N and the E.

Jonathan:  Sure, so the “N” is nutrition. Again, it’s not debatable that certain sources of calories have more or less essential nutrients than others. When I say, “Essential,” I mean essential, meaning your body can’t produce them. So, essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids. I am considering essential amino acids and essential fatty acids as key components of nutrition. They are essential. You die if you don’t eat them so I do think they should be considered essential. Certainly, I don’t think anyone disagrees that certain forms of food are more nutrient-dense than others. The “E” is efficiency or just how easily your body could store an excess of certain macronutrients as body fat. Protein, for example, is not an energy source. If you overate a 100% protein diet, you would inevitably- if you overates a 100% protein diet, you would store fewer calories as body fat, as compared to an isocaloric diet with the same number of calories came from fat. That doesn’t mean that fat is bad and protein is good. It just means that protein, fat and carbohydrates are processed, in terms of fat storage, more or less efficiently by the body. This is why a lot of studies when they show an isocaloric substitution of protein for other macronutrients, often result in a change in body composition because the affective calories the body is getting is lower because protein is processed less efficiently than other macronutrients. Again, this is something which is not debatable and just gives us a framework; satiety, aggression, nutrition and efficiency, where now we can evaluate foods according to those metrics, versus whether or not they’re organic, or whether or not they’re from plants or animals, or whether or not they’re keto, or whether or not they’re paleo. There’s all these other markers or labels- or even whether or not they’re healthy. Like what does that even mean? If you ask 10 different people if a banana is healthy, you’re going to get 10 different answers. But we can tell you objectively, is a banana more or less satiating than rice? Is a banana more or less aggressive than rice? Is a banana more or less nutrient-dense than rice? Is a banana more or less efficiently processed by the body than rice? And now we can have a more meaningful conversation.

Ari:  I completely agree that protein is really the area where a calorie as a calorie doesn’t hold up to your point that if you consume lots of protein, it is less likely to be stored as fat compared to carbs or fats. However, I feel that a lot of people invoke this idea of a calorie is not a calorie, not all calories are created equal, in the context of carbs versus fats. There it becomes not very accurate at all. Because the studies- as I alluded to earlier- the studies that have precisely controlled for calories on equivalent protein diets that are either high-carb, low-fat or low-carb, high-fat have actually shown equivalent amounts of fat loss. On the opposite side, overfeeding studies, again, have shown equivalent amounts of fat gain on low-carb versus low-fat diets. So, it does actually seem to be largely the case in that context of the carb to fat ratio that for the most part, a calorie is a calorie.

Jonathan:  It is definitely the case in what I’ve seen. That the discrepancy between fat and protein and the discrepancy between carbs and protein is monumental and undebatable in terms of the impact on body composition. When you combine aggression and efficiency, one would argue that carbs are more– I’m speaking in gross oversimplifications right now. Assuming that a carb is a carb- which it’s not but let’s assume that it is- if you assume that a carb is a carb, carbs are more aggressive than fats and they’re slightly less efficient than fats. Fats are less aggressive but slightly more efficient. I would argue that that might be sort of balancing one another out and that might account for the– In those isocaloric studies you mentioned, the reason why swapping fat for carbs or carbs for fat doesn’t really have an impact because of those two factors put together. But obviously, protein has that wild swing because it is so much less efficient than either.

Ari:  I agree with you. I want to come back to the A; the aggressiveness and the hormonal aspect. I think you gave the example of coconut oil versus boiled potatoes. The potatoes would certainly be more insulinogenic, would release more insulin. What is the meaning of that in terms of what actually happens in the body over time? Maybe coconut oil is not a great example because it’s uniquely metabolized, so maybe we can swap it out for olive oil, or macadamia nut oil, or avocados or something like that. But let’s just say a fatty food; a steak, a glass of milk or something like that, some kind of fatty food versus boiled potatoes- a carb-rich food- the carb-rich food is going to produce more insulin. There’s this narrative of insulin as a fat-storing hormone but as we just said, at equal levels of calories, we see the same exact amount of fat loss. So in other words, a 1,500 calorie diet that’s rich in boiled potatoes that causes lots of insulin secretions throughout the day, compared to the same calorie diet that’s rich in nuts, and seeds, and avocados, and cream and butter, causes much less insulin secretion but you’ll lose identical amounts of fat on both. So what, in your view, does those different deviations in hormones- like why do they actually matter?

Jonathan:  The only reason they matter- and this is a really important point- is not because insulin is bad and we want to minimize. The only thing that we can say here with scientific evidence is just like what you said, a boiled potato will cause more insulin to be released, calorie-for-calorie, than an equivalent number of calories of, say, butter. That’s it, that’s all we can say. That’s not good or bad, that is. Now, what we want to keep in mind- and this is really important- is the reason the fat isn’t releasing any insulin when you eat it is because your body doesn’t need insulin to put it in your fat cells. This is, again, why– Sometimes I get a little bit lonely, Ari, and here’s why. I don’t fit in either of the camps. I literally was on a podcast with Gary Taubes, who I think is brilliant and I love him, and I was like, “Man, I’ve listened to everything you’ve ever done. I’ve read everything you’ve ever done. If you drank 10,000 calories of butter, are you saying you would not gain fat because very little insulin would be released?” And he wouldn’t answer the question. I was like, “Gary, come on. You got to answer it-” [crosstalk]–

Ari:  To interject, I think, undebatably, Gary is high- he’s of high IQ. He’s an intelligent person. However, this commitment to his own dogmas and lack of willingness to go where the evidence goes, but to just keep insisting, “I’m right no matter what the evidence shows and no matter how much evidence accumulates showing that I’m wrong,” that made me lose respect for him.

Jonathan:  What I will say is look, if you eat 100% fat, you don’t release insulin. That’s because you don’t need to. That’s it. If you 100% super starchy carbs, you’re going to release a bunch of insulin because your body needs that insulin to process stuff. Let’s also keep in mind that you’re always storing or burning fat, period, always. If you didn’t store fat- this is an oversimplification- if you didn’t store fat, especially from carbs, you’d have a potentially fatal disease called Type 1 Diabetes. It will kill you and it killed a lot of people before the discovery of insulin therapy because you would just excrete out calories that you do need in your cells, and you do need your fat cells. You do need the ability to store calories so that you don’t have to constantly be eating. The amount of either blood sugar or ketones circulating in your bloodstream at any point in time is very small. So, if you have no way to store calories, you’re in a bad spot. Again, people are like, “Oh, insulin–” Ari, I get beat up because I’m a fan of whey protein. People are like, “But whey protein causes an insulin release. How could you possibly-” [crosstalk]–

Ari:  I was just going to bring this up. I think a couple of myths that need to be debunked here or layers to this story that are important that most people are not aware of. One is as you alluded to a minute ago, fat can be stored in fat cells. A lot of people have been talked into this narrative of, “Fat doesn’t make you fat, only carbs and sugar makes you fat.” It’s a nice little catchy thing that’s caught on. However, it’s, unfortunately, totally disconnected from the actual evidence, which shows very clearly that fat can very easily be stored as fat [chuckles] in our body fat tissues. If you’re going to make an argument of any kind from a biochemical level, you could actually make the argument that dietary fat is more easily stored as body fat than carbs are. Carbs have to be converted through a process called de novo lipogenesis, which is not particularly efficient. But at the end of the day, it’s mostly a moot point because at equivalent levels of calorie excess, whether you’re eating a carb-rich or a fat-rich diet, you end up storing the same amount of body fat either way.

Jonathan:  Ari, to that point, when we look at the same acronym, fat is the most efficient macronutrient, period. If you look at the actual way of eating I recommend, it is not out-of- the-box ketogenic for this. Just like it is very easy to take the low-carb– The low-fat diet dogma got taken to an extreme and as human nature has it, then we swung the other direction. The truth, as Aristotle taught us thousands of years ago, is probably somewhere in the middle, that golden mean, and I think we share that opinion.

Ari:  Yes, we do. I want to talk about what the truth is in that regard. Specifically- well, from my perspective, I think you agree- in fact, I know you agree- why the focus on macros has been misguided and what we should focus on instead. The one other myth that I want to just mention here as you pointed out with the whey protein, people think that only carbs and sugar cause the rise in insulin. Most people don’t realize that protein and, in fact, many kinds of proteins, for example, beef, many types of fish, whey protein as you said, many other types of protein actually cause a huge amount of insulin to be secreted that’s on par with many carb-rich foods. We know- just to add one more layer- we know that consuming those proteins is decidedly associated with moving people in the direction of leanness rather than fatness. So, this is another layer to the story that’s really hard to account for- I would dare say impossible to account for, if you’re being intellectually honest- in the model where you say insulin is the central driver and regulator of the entire body fatness of the human organism. I think it’s just very clear that that is just not true. It is one of many different biochemical pathways and compounds that are needed and are involved in fat storage, but it is not the thing that is regulating the entire system.

Jonathan:  I think it’s funny- and I love that you said intellectually honest- because when you really look at it, even the human pursuit of, “My one–” There’s this thing of like, “My one thing is the one thing.” “No, this is the one thing.” That sounds so much like my dad can beat up your dad. It really does. Like, “No, my dad is the strongest.” This one thing is the most important and it’s better than all the other things. What if it wasn’t that way? What if it wasn’t that way [crosstalk]–

Ari:  My theory can beat up your theory, Jon.

Jonathan:  [laughs] What if it was a little bit more multifaceted than that?

Ari:  No, it’s got to be only one thing. You said a moment ago the truth lies somewhere in the middle. You’ve already talked about these principles of saying– I said that I think this focus on macros, this whole thing, “It’s low-fat. Fat is the devil.” Then, “No, we got it all wrong. Really carbs and sugar is the devil, and insulin is the devil.” I’m putting words in your mouth because I think you agree with me. Why do you think that whole frame of searching after the answer via carbs and fats as a proportion of the diet, is misguided and what should we be focused on instead?

Jonathan:  It is misguided for all the same reasons, I would say -1%, that counting calories is– Counting macronutrients is counting the source of your calories. It is the same basic logic just with, “I’m going to count macros instead of counting calories.” What we need to focus on, if you want to count anything, just count servings of various- count food, count how many servings of non-starchy vegetables you eat in a day. Count how many servings of nutritious sources of protein you eat in a day. Count how many servings of whole food, fatty foods you eat. Count how many lower-sugar fruits you eat. Count how many legumes you eat. I know it might sound crazy and too simple, but if you count the actual food you eat, pretty soon you won’t need to count, and you’ll be thin and healthy and have a lot of energy. But that doesn’t provide enough fodder for discussion groups on the internet. It’s too simple, it breaks everything down, but it’s the truth, right? Nobody in the world who eats primarily– If you eat most of the food that goes in your mouth from vegetables, and you eat protein at regular intervals, and you eat a decent amount of calories from whole foods that have most of their calories coming from fat, like nuts, and seeds and eggs. And if you eat fruit, you eat the lower-sugar, non-GMO garbage kind, maybe you throw some legumes in there, pretty hard to be unhealthy eating that way. It’s delicious and you can do it anywhere. If you really want to have a community, you can do that. You could probably be keto, you could do that. You could probably be vegan, you could do that. And probably be South Beach, you could do that and probably be paleo- you can tailor it however you want and you can have friends on the internet now.

Ari:  Or more in real life.

Jonathan:  Or in real life, but people don’t– Ari, you’re so old school. What are you talking about real life?

Ari:  Or you don’t have to have relationship-ending fights with your family over what your dietary dogmas are.

Jonathan:  Yes, exactly. That’s what we talk about when we say there was a beautiful universe moment. I didn’t intend for this acronym to spell out an actual word that describes the dietary philosophy but it does. Satiety, aggression, nutrition and efficiency spells out the word SANE. That’s really what we try to do, is we’re trying to restore sanity to this nutrition conversation because frankly, it’s just insane. Most people are talking about things that are completely irrelevant and completely esoteric, while more people are dying from this issue that we’re talking about right now than literally any other issue. This has actually been studied. McKinsey did a study and there is more suffering in the world from incorrect food consumption and production than there is from violence. It’s shocking and you can measure it from an economic perspective too, I believe. The study is probably three-years-old at this point, but the global economic burden of all tobacco was something like a trillion dollars. Then all forms of violence was 1.2 trillion. Then just obesity or diabetes- forgive me, it’s one or the other- was 1.2 trillion. So, if you combined obesity and diabetes, we don’t have time to argue about this anymore. We just need to eat better. We can agree on what better is. We can fight about perfect all day, but we can agree on what better is, and we need to move forward and support each other on that front.

The most important factor in fat loss

Ari:  Yes, 100%. Well said. I want to say, I think the “S” in SANE is the single most important thing. I think if somebody just focused on designing their diet around whole foods, unprocessed foods, which we’re going to arrive at anyway, if you’re actually paying attention to satiety per calorie. That is one of the fundamental differences, is processed foods and hyper processed foods are almost universally less satiating per calorie. That is the fundamental reason, along with basically lighting up our food reward center- our reward center in the brain and pleasure center in the brain, and shifting us away from homeostatic eating, from eating in line with what our body actually needs, where these hunger cues are actually intelligent cues from your body telling you when your body needs more fuel. It’s shifting us out of homeostatic eating towards hedonic eating where we actually eat more for pleasure than we do because our body actually needs fuel. So, we get totally disconnected from these cues, these homeostatic eating cues, end up eating more and more for pleasure and simultaneously, are consuming a diet that is way less satiating per calorie. So, we end up passively over-consuming way more calories before we actually read [sic] a point where our body tells us, “You’ve had enough food, you can stop now.” There was a recent study even showing that eating a processed-food diet can lead to [chuckles] about an increase in 500 more calories consumed per day. If you just do the math, we know that’s roughly 4,000 calories per pound of body fat, so it takes eight days to pile on. [laughs] If you’re eating that kind of diet, it takes roughly eight days to pile on an additional pound of body fat through this basic math. Obviously, if that’s happening over eight days, imagine what happens over 365 days. Imagine what happens over a decade. It becomes very easy to account for gains of body fat of 30, or 50, or 80 or 100 pounds over the years. So, I think that that fundamental shift from a processed-food diet to an unprocessed-food diet is the single most important step that a person can take. Well, I’ll let you add what you think is necessary to add on there. I’m assuming you agree with all or most of what I just said there.

Jonathan:  I do very much. The only distinction that I’ll add to it is I think it is very different to describe– For instance, I know you just had a baby girl as well. If our daughters started eating a certain way, what would lead them to be at a healthy body weight with robust energy in their 40s and 50s is different, I would say, maybe. Then if I’m 50 today, and I’m 150 pounds overweight and I’m completely sedentary, I think people sometimes– This idea that there’s one right way of eating, I think you really do have to look at where the person is starting from because that matters a lot. So, if I’m already diabetic, and I have borderline eating disorders, and I have a tremendous amount of shame involved in how I’m eating and blah, blah, blah, blah– That stuff matters a lot. So, the types of dietary recommendations we make to someone who is 50, highly-medicated, depressed, has an eating disorder, has body image issues, is very different than saying, “Just eat whole foods.” They do need a more almost therapeutic grade of, “Eat these whole foods,” in my opinion, to treat the disease of obesity and diabetes.

Ari:  So, what does that look like? I want to wrap up here in the next five or ten minutes. But in this span of time that we have left, I would love for you to get real specific and practical about- as far as what you’ve just said- what does that look like to designing your diet with very specific therapeutic foods in mind?

Jonathan:  The most therapeutic foods in the world are subcategories of the four basic SANE food groups, in my experience. The four basic SANE food groups are non-starchy vegetables, these are vegetables you could eat raw. You don’t have to eat them raw but, for example, people think corn and potatoes are vegetables, they’re not and you can’t eat them raw. So, we like to say vegetables you could eat raw but you don’t have to. Things you often find in salads. Non-starchy vegetables, nutrient-dense protein. Nutrient-dense protein of foods that get more calories from protein than they do from fat or carbohydrate. For example, beans are not a nutrient-dense protein. I’m not saying beans are bad, I’m just saying if the food gets 80% of its calories from carbs, it’s not a dense source of protein. [chuckles] It’s a dense source of carbs. Might be fine, but it’s not a good source of protein. Non-starchy vegetables, nutrient-dense protein and then whole food fats. So these are whole foods that get the majority of their calories or more calories from fats than they do from carbs or protein. Then finally, low-fructose fruits. Then just trailing after low-fructose fruits are legumes. We can subdivide those categories to get into the most satiating and most nutrient-dense foods within each of them. For example, within non-starchy vegetables, I’m going to– We only have five minutes. Generally, deep green leafy vegetables are going to be optimal vegetables. For example, a carrot is not going to be as nutrient-dense or as satiating, calorie-for-calorie, as kale. Again, we’re not going to get too far into the weeds but there are optimal non-starchy vegetables; deep green leafy vegetables. There are optimal nutrient-dense proteins. For example mollusks, oysters, clams, those types of things, as well as organ meats, are radically more nutrient-dense than, for example, conventional meats or just like curd, for instance. When it comes to whole food fats, even when we look at nuts and seeds, there are things like macadamia nuts, avocados, cocoa, cacao, coconut, that contain therapeutic fats. That are not just not bad for you but, for example, EPA DHA, some of these Omega-3 fats ideally from sea food sources, but you can get ALA in plants [unintelligible 00:49:03]. Point is, these are literally therapeutic, meaning that you can get a prescription for certain fats from a psychiatrist, and we want to, for example, eat foods that have a lot of those therapeutic fats. Then fruits, if you compare grapes and apples to berries, there’s a radical difference there so we can optimize the fruits we consume. So that’s just kind of a quick overview of non-starchy vegetables, nutrient-dense protein, whole food fats, low-fructose fruits, some legumes. If you are sick right now, we can therapeutic dose them by sub-categorizing them and then as you start to heal, we can expand those categories so that you have a little bit more selection.

Ari:  Beautiful. Very well explained, Jon- Jonathan. I know you prefer Jonathan rather than Jon. Such a pleasure to have you on, my friend. This was great. I know you have a new movie that is about to be released on no less than Netflix. You’re stepping it up a notch. Compared to the typical health documentary that’s just released online, you’re going through Netflix here. Tell us what it’s all about and why people should tune in.

Jonathan:  The movie is called BETTER. Some very exciting distribution plans in store, so we got to stay tuned for the big release but it is quite exciting. We’re really excited. We shot this on location at the Harvard Medical School, some of the top researchers in the world are in it. Really, I think- I want to say more importantly- but there’s 18 real-life success stories in the movie. It’s a movie. Like it has a script, it has a plotline. It’s an actual movie. [chuckles] It’s not just a series of interviews, and I think it really helps to– So many people that I’ve found that have found their way to health and have found their way to enjoyable and sustainable lifestyle, have an emotional, deeper reason why they’re doing that. It’s not vanity. It’s often almost like a religious fervor, or a belief that they are worth this or- anyway, there’s a deeper why behind their decisions. With this movie, we really tried to bring the urgency and the emotion back to eating better, and defining what that is and not eating this diet, or that diet, or perfect or anything like that. We all know vegetables are good for us but no one is talking about that. That’s what matters and we all know that protein, calorie-for-calorie, makes a difference. We can eat some protein. You can eat vegetarian sources of protein or not, we could talk about that separately but look, we can all do better. Frankly, we must do better because our world cannot exist, it really can’t- and we could have a whole separate conversation around that- if we don’t do better in terms of not only what we eat, but how we source our food and things like that. So, it’s a big movie, I hope it makes a big difference in the world and I hope it saves a lot of lives.

Ari:  Beautiful. I’m super excited for you, my friend. You also have two books we’ll mention here again; The Calorie Myth and The Setpoint Diet. People can get those on Amazon. We’ll have a link to them on the podcast page;; B-A-I-L-O-R. If you guys want to link to those or you can get them straight from Amazon if you wish. But if you want to dig into some of the specifics of the categories Jonathan was talking about there at the end, these different categories of better and worse foods– Better, you like that? How I incorporated the name of your movie? Jonathan, such a pleasure to have you on, my friend. Thank you for coming on the show. This was a lot of fun to have this conversation with you.

Show Notes

Why the theory of calories in and calories out is incomplete (8:40) 
The SANE approach to fat loss (13:38) 
The most important factor in fat loss (42:09)


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