The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #95 - Jonathan Bailor
Jonathan Bailor is the Founder, CEO, and Chief Scientist of the world’s fastest growing metabolic healing and Diabesity treatment company SANESolution. He founded the field of Wellness Engineering and authored the New York Times best seller The Calorie Myth and The Setpoint Diet, starred in and produced the award-winning movie BETTER, has registered over 26 patents, has spoken at Fortune 100 companies and TED conferences for over a decade, and created the best-selling brain, gut, and hormone supplements Vitaae, Viscera-3, Luminae, and Aamia. 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 daughters Aavia and Keirra.
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6:40 - Jonathan's Personal History
11:35 - Why Do People Gain Or Lose Weight?
13:10 - the global economic impact of diabetes
14:50 - what happens with calories that we eat?
16:45 - the calorie is a measure of energy alone
18:00 - why does the body burn or store calories?
19:50 - dietary induced Thermogenesis
20:00 - N.E.A.T. (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis)
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23:20 - Perceived Rate Of Exertion
24:20 - eat less, move less
24:30 - what is the stress response to a crash diet?
25:10 - long term outcomes of crash dieting
26:15 - yo-yo dieting and the extracellular matrix
27:00 - defining the "set point"
29:55 - How do we get our Set Point? How does it change?
33:00 - obesity as a disease state
34:00 - the quality of the food we eat
35:00 - the overconsumption of food
36:40 - hormone "clogging"
39:35 - parabiotic Studies
40:45 - the communication between brain, gut and hormones
43:40 - the genetic component
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47;55 - the pervasive shame in being "Over-fat" in society
48:30 - SANESolution
50:25 - evaluating foods on a spectrum for optimal health
52:10 - the SANE food groups
55:30 - what about lower fat or lower carb?
57:05 - metabolic conditioning
59:10 - the randall cycle
59:25 - the myth of exercise
1:02:50 - Mechanical Removal of Fat Cells
Melanie Avalon: Hi friends, welcome back to the show. I am so excited and thrilled about the conversation that I am about to have. It is with a New York Times bestselling author. He has two books, The Calorie Myth, as well as The Setpoint Diet. He has a fabulous new movie. It's a documentary called Better, which I had the honor of watching. I'm really excited about this topic. When I polled my audience for questions for you, Jonathan, because I always ask them about upcoming shows and topics. do they have questions. When I mentioned Setpoint, oh, my goodness, I just got hit with hundreds of questions. I think people are really, really going to enjoy this conversation and your work on it is absolutely fabulous. Thank you so much for being here.
Jonathan Bailor: Well, thank you so much for having me, I really appreciate it.
Melanie Avalon: Listeners are likely familiar with you. For those who are not, this is Jonathan Bailor. He is the founder, CEO, and chief scientist of the world's fastest growing metabolic healing and diabesity treatment company. It's called SANESolution. I'm sure we will dive into his SANE method in the episode today, but he's been all over the place. He's spoken at Fortune 100 companies, at TED conferences, a myriad of other places. He's registered over 26 patents. Basically, he knows his stuff. I'm really, really excited to jump in.
To start things off, would you like to tell listeners, just a little bit about your personal history and what led you to where you are today, especially with producing your new documentary, Better?
Jonathan Bailor: My background, it goes way back. I know we have a little bit of time today, so I'll give you the slightly longer version. When I was very young, so let's say five to seven range, I had a very tragic experience with my grandfather, where he had a heartbreaking experience with diabetes, ended up passing away in a fairly disturbing and graphic fashion. That lit a fire inside of me to just not allow things like that to happen. As a child, didn't really know what was going on, didn't want more stuff like that to happen. That ended up morphing into overall interest in human potential. Like the Rocky movie, Rocky III came out around that time, as well as the original Superman movies. I'm known for wearing a superman costume for two straight weeks in my youth, and always wanted to then be like Superman. I also had a much older brother, who was very, very athletic, so I wanted to be like him.
The challenge that I faced growing up is, like many people, I had major issues with my body, but the issue and the shame that I felt was kind of the other side of the coin that most people feel. It was that I was very highly bullied, geeky, tiny, scrawny child, and wanted to prevent that. I wanted to be like Superman, I wanted to be like my big brother, I wanted to be big and strong. I wanted to not only protect myself, but protect other people, so they didn't have the same fate that my grandfather had.
But no matter what I did, I couldn't do that. I mean, I was doing extreme things. I became a personal trainer I was eating, I was literally drinking olive oil, I'm trying to consume like 6000-8000 calories per day in an effort to get bigger, and I couldn't. Now this is all happening over a period of time. I'm 19, 20 now-- not now, but in the story. I was a personal trainer and I was continuing down this journey of just taking all these very unhealthy supplements. This was back when ephedra was legal. I don't know why I was taking ephedra while I was trying to get bigger, but that's a different story. I've taken everything you possibly could to try to change my body and it wasn't working.
There was a moment, though, and this is really the key point of the story, where I was sitting across the table from one of my clients, and I'm 19-20 at the time, and I am promulgating the standard, eat less, exercise more, that all personal trainers are trained, or at least were trained to promulgate at that time. I had this woman-- the vast majority of my clients were women over the age of 40. I believe this woman was an attorney, a brilliant, capable human being. It wasn't like she's an incompetent human being, which is how we paint so many people when it comes to health and wellness as being stupid or incompetent in some ways. She was not in any way shape or form.
However, she was she was eating 1200 calories a day, like I told her to, she was exercising every single day, she was eating five times less than I was eating and she was exercising far more than I was eating. She wasn't seeing the results she wanted, and she broke down in tears. She said, “Jonathan, what's wrong with me?” Literally upon her saying that, I had this flash of some giant meathead man saying to me, “Man, you want to get bigger Jonathan, what's wrong with you?” I said, “There isn't anything wrong with me.” I'm busting my butt. I'm eating to the point of sickness and I can't get bigger. This woman sitting across the table from me is starving herself to the point of sickness, and she can't get smaller. Something about this calorie math isn't adding up. At that point, I really became disillusioned and stopped being a personal trainer.
Both of my parents are college professors, so I had a bit of an unfair advantage in terms of when I brought this to my parents’ attention, they said, “Well, where are you getting your information from?” I don't really have a good answer for that. Muscle magazines and the standard curriculum that personal trainers go through. They said, “Well, why don't you do some research?” I ended up on this 15-year research journey that ended up taking me to collaborations with top doctors at the Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins, UCLA, the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, all these top places because I had these wonderful college professor parents. I didn't really know. I wasn't a nutrition expert. I wasn't pursuing a degree in nutrition. So, I ended up reading over like 1300 scientific studies that spanned from neurobiology, the brain, gastroenterology, the gut, endocrinology, hormones, cognitive behavioral therapy, just anything that could possibly explain or give an answer to a question that, frankly, no one has ever asked, which shocked me or at least hasn't asked publicly.
Which is, why is it that some human beings can eat whatever they want, whenever they want and not gain weight? While other human beings, we're all the same species here, can smell a cheesecake and gain weight? How can that happen sometimes in the same person? Literally, you take a person when they're 50, and if they eat the same way they ate when they were 15, even if when they were 15, they were sitting around playing video games, and whatever, whatever. They could still eat pizza, drink soda, and it wasn't because they were on treadmills all day, not gain weight, but if they do that when they're 50, they gained a tremendous amount of weight.
Well, anyway, after 15 years of research, and all this collaboration, found some answers to this question. It does revolve around the setpoint, this is what the movie is about. What we can finally explain what it is that makes a naturally thin person naturally thin, and if it is possible for people who are not blessed in that way to make their bodies work more that way. In discovering the answer to that question, we've also discovered how to help with the most-- we're going to use the word ‘epidemic,’ but you can't. That word has different meanings now than it was in the past.
Melanie Avalon: I know, you can't use that word anymore.
Jonathan Bailor: We're actually had parts of the movie, because that word was in there, yeah. Anyway, we'll talk about that later. Put it this way, the global health and economic burden of diabetes plus obesity, is on par with the cost of all violence and all drugs put together. There's actually an analysis done by McKenzie, where the global economic burden of diabetes alone is on par with-- it's like a $1 trillion, and war and violence is $1.2 trillion. It's astronomically big. This journey has really provided us with a template where we can finally understand how human biology actually works, and how our lifestyle impacts that and how it's not about this diet or that diet, but the general principles that we can all embody to enjoy our best lives and our best bodies, and that it doesn't mean that you'll have a six pack, but it does mean you will be the best version of yourself possible, and you'll do that fairly easily and enjoyably, which is cool.
Melanie Avalon: I love this so much. I feel like we're so similar. One of my favorite things to do historically, and today, is just read through the studies in the clinical literature. I am not advocating this, but in all honesty, when I first probably lost a lot of weight, it was because I did a lot of research on how different foods-- basically their potential to become fat or not. I realized that if I basically just ate like animal protein and wine, [laughs] that there was very little potential for any of that to actually become body fat. Again, I'm not advocating this at all. It's just to give a different lens to the calories in, calories out model, and how there's so much more going on there than I think most people realize. To that question, when we eat calories, what else can happen to them besides becoming fat? Why is there this idea that people think they're either burned as energy or stored as fat, but it's a lot more nuanced than that? What happens with calories and why is it so wrong?
Jonathan Bailor: The first really important thing to understand because the title of my first book is The Calorie Myth. It's less of an issue now, but back when that book was first published in 2014, and like if it fits your macros was really popular back then. People were like, “I'm going to burn your house down, you're saying that calories don't matter.” I mean, people get angry about this stuff as I'm sure you've seen. I'm not saying calories are like unicorns and they don't exist. They exist, but it's really just important first to define what they are. I'm not going to say [unintelligible [00:10:19]. The point of understanding what a calorie is, is it's a measurement unit.
People want to talk about, well, every five years, some university professor eats only 1000 calories of McDonald's and loses weight. So clearly, a calorie is a calorie and whatever, whatever. Okay, there's a very simple way to never be confused, or just have those people be quiet. If I took an eight-ounce glass of purified water, and I set it on a table in front of you and I took an eight-ounce glass of kerosene, set it down in front of you, I said, “Well, eight ounces is eight ounces. So, drink both.” Because eight ounces, yes. These glasses both contain eight ounces of liquid. what that eight ounces of liquid is chemically made up of has a tremendous impact on your body. It's like a really powerful analogy, when you think about it. Calories exists, they absolutely exist, and they're a wonderful way to measure the amount of energy that something provides you. But that's all it tells you, is how much energy something provides you. It's not even a great measurement of that.
When we talk about a food or a substance, providing you with energy aka calories, the huge distinction, and if you really want to simplify the difference between a naturally thin person and someone who is not as blessed, when a naturally thin person consumes more calories than they need for energy, their body spontaneously eliminates them, either through waste aka the toilet, or by burning them off as heat. Whereas someone who is not naturally thin will take those calories and store them. The question then becomes, well, what causes the body to make one decision versus the other? Maybe that's the next question you'll ask me, but-- [crosstalk]
Melanie Avalon: No, I was just going to comment really briefly on the calories in, calories out model seems so simple, but also the more nuanced approach and the more correct approach is also simple, because if you think about it, you eat something, it's like what you just said, your body could store it, or it could burn it. Some people, they'll burn it, and some people store it. I don't know why people think that that automatically has to be stored, for example. The next question that you just led to, to the why. Who is telling the body to do what it does with these calories?
Jonathan Bailor: Of the thousands of studies that I looked at, there's one study that just really paints a clear picture here. I love this study, because it was done by a researcher by the name of Levine at the Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, this is not some random shanty town. This was done at the Mayo Clinic. What they did in this study was they took individuals and they overfed them 56,000 calories over the course of, I believe, 12 weeks. I could be getting that part wrong, but the 56,000 calories part is correct. That means they actually measured how many calories these people need, according to the calorie in, calorie out oversimplified version of that model. To say, let's keep you at a stable weight, here's how many calories you need to consume. They calculated that and then they overfed them 56,000 calories.
Now, according to calorie math, every single person in that study should have gained about 16 pounds. 15,000 calories divided by the 3500 calories we've all heard is in a pound of fat, 16 pounds of fat everyone should have gained. Nobody, zero, these were men and women of all different ages, nobody gained 16 pounds of fat, zero. Right there, done. It's not as simple as calories in, calories out, disproven. People did gain weight. Some people, the most they gained of any one in the study was 8.8 pounds, but there were some people that essentially gained no weight. From a statistically significant perspective, they did not gain. They gained less than a pound, 0.8 pounds. How can a human being eat 56,000 calories more than they need to maintain a stable weight and gain essentially nothing?
Well, there's many ways, but this study actually measured three of them. It measured something called dietary induced thermogenesis. The amount of calories you spent burning up food. It measured something called NEAT, which is non-exercise activity thermogenesis or the spontaneous-- think of it not only as spontaneous movement of your body, but your body can efficiently or inefficiently use calories for energy. Lifting your arm above your head can be done with more or less calories, according to your body's desires. I know that doesn’t really sound specifically scientific. Maybe there's a rigorous scientific explanation for it. I don't know what that is, but we do know when we have measured that the body-- you can walk around the block, and your body can choose for lack of better terms to burn X calories. Or, you can walk around the block and your body can choose to burn, this is just an example, 2x calories.
What they saw on that study was the individuals for example, who didn't really gain any weight, for dietary induced thermogenesis, for this non-exercise activity thermogenesis and just their base metabolic rate, it's just the natural amount of calories they're burning, it just spiked. It spiked. These things spontaneously increased. Your body can just respond to eating more by burning more. This study done at the Mayo Clinic measured three ways by burning more calories digesting food, by burning more calories through unconscious movement or inefficient movement. Then, just by burning more calories at a baseline called your basal metabolic rate. More calories in can mean more body fat, it can also mean more calories out. This study showed three specific ways the body can do that.
Melanie Avalon: Do you know if they've done any studies on potentially consciously affecting your-- like what you're talking about with the body wanting to burn more? Or, do they think it's completely at a subconscious level? Like perceived rate of exertion, does that affect anything?
Jonathan Bailor: I can answer the opposite question. I cannot speak to seeing research myself that says, if you eat more calories in and of themselves, you will be driven to be more active. However, the opposite is true. It is a scientific fact that if you eat fewer calories, you will be driven to be less active. We know that if you just straight up say, “I'm going to take my current diet that I'm eating, and I'm going to eat half as much.” You will be cold, you will be lethargic, you will lose your sex drive. It will basically be like you turned your body down a couple notches. While I can't talk about the eat more, driven to move more, we do know eat less, driven to move less.
Melanie Avalon: Do some people you think at least in the beginning, especially if they're starting a crash diet or something, temporarily experience the opposite because of the stress response, like the need to find food-- I feel some people experience the opposite, or people who get like really stressed and they lose weight and it seems to be like the opposite effect.
Jonathan Bailor: The body's stress hormone, there's myriad, but your body, yes. If what you're doing is causing your body to release adrenaline or noradrenaline or epinephrine or cortisol, you will potentially suppress appetite, you will potentially have that temporary high, that could be happening for some people in a dietary situation. What I can speak to more definitively is long-term outcomes. I think that's really important because we can all do all sorts of fun stuff in the short term. Frankly, that's kind of a problem. Most people who struggle with their weight, have lost weight. That's not the issue. The issue is keeping it off. That's because the things you do to lose weight in the short term actually elevates your setpoint, actually predispose your body to storing calories instead of burning them. That's why taking that short-term approach to metabolic or body change is counterproductive. It is far healthier-- This is an objective scientific fact. It is far healthier to stay 100 pounds over fat than it is to be 100 pounds over fat, diet down to an ideal weight, cycle back up to 100 pounds over fat, diet down to an ideal weight. You would literally be far healthier just staying at 100 pounds over fat.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, 100%. I actually recently interviewed Joel Green on the show and he was talking about the changes that happen to the extracellular matrix around our fat cells every time we yo-yo and basically, how they just become more and more inflamed, every single time, it can create a myriad of health issues and make it harder, harder to lose weight. It's just really, really crazy. Speaking to that, the actual body setpoint itself, really quick question. What is the typical range in pounds of what weight we see that body likes to defend?
Jonathan Bailor: I want to really quickly define the setpoint to answer this question more appropriately, because your audience is very savvy. I want to be very clear that the concept of setpoint, it's an abstraction of a lot of complicated science. There isn't actually a thing in your body called the setpoint. I know that might sound obvious, but I've gotten questions, like, “Well, where is your setpoint? Where? Physically, where is your setpoint?
Melanie Avalon: Like a number in your hypothalamus. [laughs]
Jonathan Bailor: Yeah, exactly. [laughs] That might not be as silly as it sounds, because the setpoint or the homeostatic regulation of core body functions, there are fixed set points, for example, for body temperature. All homosapiens have basically the same body temperature setpoint, it may fluctuate a little bit, but 98.6 degrees is pretty consistent for men, women, young, old, across the board. If you think of blood sugar, blood sugar also revolves around a setpoint. If your blood sugar gets too low, your body will do things to automatically help bring it back up. If it gets too high, same thing. The same thing applies with even hydration, if you drink more fluids, your body will naturally take steps to eliminate more fluids. If you drink fewer fluids, your body will take steps to conserve fluids.
When it comes to body fatness, it's very difficult to talk about pounds or a range because we vary in body structure. We do know that there is-- so, it's easier to talk in terms of visual appearance because we do all intrinsically know what-- if you look at a picture of a group of people from 1910, 1920, 1930, you will see what normal homosapiens look like. That is generally what homosapiens look like. They range from between five feet tall to a little over six feet tall. Depending on their gender and their age, they range from between 110 pounds to 210 pounds, in general, but that's a big range. It's very difficult to say, it's a 20-pound range, because if you're 5’1”, it's probably not a 20-pound range. If you're 6’5”, it might be a 20-pound range. But it is a small-- I would say it may be think of it better as around 8% range of your ideal body weight where your body is-- so if you think of 150-pound person, you're like maybe 10 pounds, 11 pounds up or down, that's your body's going to work to fight to keep you within, no matter how much you eat, or how little you eat, or how much you exercise or how little you exercise, but as you start deviating from that range, significant metabolic consequences happen.
Melanie Avalon: The setpoint idea, are people born with a certain setpoint? How fast or how easily does it change and can it change between different setpoints throughout your life? Can you raise your setpoint and then lower your setpoint? What are the implications that affect of all of that?
Jonathan Bailor: You can very much change your setpoint, and genetics have a lot to do with your setpoint. Researchers estimate that your genes can dictate upwards of 50% or more of your setpoint. If both of your parents were naturally husky, chances are you're going to have a predisposition to being husky. Much like if both of your parents were over six feet tall, the likelihood of you being 4’11” is much lower than if your parents were shorter. There is a large genetic predisposition to weight much like there is a large-- sorry, and I should say body fat level, not weight. There is a large genetic predisposition to body fat level, much like there is a large genetic predisposition to the height of your body. That said, the setpoint is clearly changeable because we've all seen and experienced a culture now where people no matter how hard they try, it's like their body is fighting to weigh 300 pounds at a height of 5’5”. Clearly, the setpoint has changed in that person. Their body is actively-- Think about this, this is the clearest explanation in the world of how something deeper has to be going on. The deeper thing is an elevated setpoint.
Let's think about a person who is 100 pounds over fat. Notice that I'm saying over fat, not overweight, because the whole overweight thing is a bit of a misnomer but we can definitely say, if an individual is storing surplus fat on their body, that's really what we're talking about here. If someone is storing 100 pounds of surplus fat, not 100 pounds of fat, because you need some fat or you die. 100 pounds of surplus fat. That body-- If we go with the math that people are familiar with, of a pound of fat has 3500 calories within it, that body has 350,000 calories of usable energy already inside of it, like predigested, ready-to-go 350,000 units of fuel to make that body move, but that person is still hungry. How could you possibly be craving food and have your brain had this relentless drive to get energy into your body, when you already have 350,000 calories of predigested energy sitting in your body?
Well, what's happened is a breakdown in the way your brain is working, breakdown of the way your gut is working, the breakdown and the way your hormones are working, and this has caused an elevation of that setpoint. Now, the body is in a disease state. It's literally a disease state. Obesity and diabetes are disease states. The body just like if you have hypertension, that is a disease state, where your body has lost the ability to regulate automatically blood pressure healthfully. What is diabetes? Diabetes is a disease state where your body has lost the ability to regulate blood sugar automatically. What is obesity? Obesity is a disease state where your body has lost the ability to regulate body fatness healthfully. All of those diseases are dysfunctions of setpoints, their elevations, or in other cases decreases in setpoint. We have the ability to change it up, change it down. None of that happens by eating less. It happens by eating differently or manipulating the quality of the food you're consuming.
Melanie Avalon: Actually, to that point, when a person reaches that diseased state where they are storing all of these pounds of excess fat that they can't access for some reason, does it matter how they got there in so far as-- let's say there was one person who massively overate, but they overate “quality foods”, like that you talked about in your book and your work, let's say they somehow managed to you know gain the weight from that route compared to somebody who gained weight from the standard American diet, does the type of foods that created that weight gain play a part in the inability to lose it?
Jonathan Bailor: I will go so far as to say it is impossible to-- you can only gain weight eating a certain type of food. It is not possible to long term become significantly over fat by consuming what we define as high quality foods, it's not possible. I've tried it. I've tried to overconsume non-starchy vegetables, nutrient-dense protein, whole food fats, and low fructose fruits in that order. It's not possible. To be clear, you cannot gain fat unless you are consuming more energy than your body can make use of. That's the whole-- people get into this calorie debate, and they're saying, “You can't make matter out of nothing.” If matter aka fat is to exist on the body, it has to get created from something. You just can't spontaneously materialize matter. The way that body fat gets created is with excess energy, body stores it as fat. There has to be a calorie surplus in order for body fat to be created. A calorie surplus gives you the need to store body fat but having the neurological and gastroenterological and endocrinological issues are what create the environment or the ability for your body to turn those excess calories into fat. One, you do have to be in a calorie surplus to gain fat, but you also have to have an environment that will allow your body to store those calories as fat, and it is not possible to create a huge surplus of calories consistently eating the right quality of food, nor is it possible to create the neurological, hormonal, and digestive environment to store fat, if you are eating the right quality of foods.
Melanie Avalon: Gotcha. Yes, this is so key. You've just mentioned it, but those different aspects that do affect the setpoint, so the inflammation in the brain, the gut bacteria, the hormones-- and I’ll refer listeners to your books and your documentary because you go into everything in great detail. Definitely can't touch on everything now. I was really, really particularly intrigued by something you called it hormone clogging. I was wondering if you can tell listeners a little bit about that, what is happening in our body with clogs?
Jonathan Bailor: This again is an abstraction, it is to help communicate a point, there is not a literal clog in your body. The best way to think of it, I'll give a like a story analogy. First, I'll give a little bit more of a technical explanation. A good example of a hormonal clog, a literal example of a metaphorical hormonal clog involves leptin. When the hormone ‘leptin’ was discovered, everyone-- I mean, it always existed, but when the scientific community was like leptin, it's a thing. Everyone was really excited because they said, “Wow.” Leptin is secreted by your fat cells in proportion to the amount of fat cells you have. It's like your body is trying to secrete a signal so that your brain can know how much fat you're carrying. Holy moly. This leptin is literally secreted in proportion to the amount of fat you have on your body. Therefore, let's make the conclusion that leptin is designed in part to signal to your brain, “Hey, here's how much body fat I have.” People said, “Wow.” If I can give people more leptin, if I could inject you with leptin and trick your brain to thinking that you have 500 pounds of fat on your body, would your brain do things like suppress appetite or prompt you to move more, because your brain is trying to regulate body fatness automatically, just like it tries to regulate everything else automatically? It was like, “Oh, we've solved obesity. Got it. Give people leptin injections.” They failed miserably, horribly, unfortunately, because what we saw was that no matter how much leptin you gave to someone, if the leptin receptors in their brain were blocked, or if there was like a clog in the communication channel between your hormones and your brain, no matter how much of that hormone was secreted, it couldn't communicate or get its message across to the brain.
In fact, they dug in even further and found that in some cases, people who chronically struggle with being over fat would have 25 times the amount of leptin circulating in their bloodstream as someone who is storing a healthy amount of fat. The issue wasn't the amount of leptin in their system, it was that their brain, there was a clog, it was like that communication couldn't happen. If you want, this is kind of gross, but it's science. There were studies done on rodents, and you'll understand in a moment why this had to be done on rodents. These are called parabiotic studies, where they would actually take two rodents and I'm not endorsing this-- it's kind of gross and mean. They take two rodents, and they would literally cut an incision in their side and stitch them together. You essentially have a Frankenrodent. The reason they would do this, is so that the hormones in the blood of two rodents would essentially circulate.
They would take a thin rodent, and an obese rodent, and they would stitch them together so that they shared the same blood supply, aka the same hormones. What happened is that even though you would sort of think like, “Oh, the thin hormones from the rat would change and affect the thin hormones of the overweight rat.” Very unexpected outcomes took place, because the overweight rat’s brain was not able to hear these hormones. It wasn't so much just a hormonal problem, it was also a neurological problem. There's a very complicated conversation going on in your body. Your gut is releasing signals, your hormones are releasing signals. Your brain is releasing signals. There's a two-way communication happening, or a three-way communication happening between your brain, your gut, and your hormones. If at any point in time, that communication breaks down, we've got problems.
I like to call that a clog. It's just like a clog in the pipeline. It's not an actual clog but it really illustrates what happens and why just saying like, eat less food. If you have a fundamental breakdown, a clog in the communication between core bodily functions and someone were to say to you, “Just eat less food,” explain to me the mechanism why eating less food will solve that problem? It just misses the point entirely.
Melanie Avalon: The studies with the rats, what happened? Did they just stay the same? Did the thin rats get fat and the fat rats stayed fat?
Jonathan Bailor: What happened was the thin rats-- so this is very fascinating. The fat rats, part of the reason that fat rats were so fat was because their brain lost the ability to react to hormones. The hormones of the thin rat did not cause the fat rat to lose fat. But the fat rat, essentially, was pumping excess leptin into the thin rat. If you think about it, the thin rat doesn't have inflammation in its brain. The thin rat is going to hear the leptin as saying, “Hey, thin rat, you have too much fat on your body.” The already thin rat was actually starting to cannibalize itself and become even thinner.
Melanie Avalon: My mind's being blown. That's crazy.
Jonathan Bailor: There's even crazier studies with rats. This is why they have to do with the rats, because, again, I'm not endorsing these. They have actually genetically engineered rats where they have so sabotaged the rat’s ability to burn fat, that if they starve the rat, the rat will actually cannibalize its organs and die before it burns fat.
Melanie Avalon: That is upsetting.
Jonathan Bailor: The reason I'm making that-- you're like, what are we talking about this one? The reason I'm saying that is, it's a rat, not a not a person, but the point it makes, and they've genetically manipulated it, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, is if you can take a mammal and diddle with its biology such that telling it to eat less-- metaphorically, it's a rat, you can't tell to eat less, will cause it to cannibalize its liver, before it burns fat, there's something more than just count your Weight Watchers points more aggressively, that we’ve got to start talking about when we're talking about a disease as severe as important as obesity.
Melanie Avalon: How is that even possible? I'm assuming the body does everything it does from an evolutionary perspective, I feel like it's trying to do good things. It's not trying to hurt you. What is the evolutionary benefit to cannibalizing your organs and not your fat?
Jonathan Bailor: Again, these were genetically engineered rodents, so this would not happen in nature. To that point, I mean, there's no genetic advantage to cancer, but it happens.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah. In cancer, we see the same thing. Cachexia, preferentially cannibalizing things that we should not be.
Jonathan Bailor: That's a really good point, though. This is the thing about the movie, this is about all the work that we do here at my company, is that, like, if someone says, “I have cancer,” even if they're like, “I have lung cancer,” and they've smoked for 40 years, we're not like the answer is to smoke less. I mean, it's a disease-- let's have a conversation, this is a big freakin’ deal. We need to look at it seriously. If someone goes into a psychiatrist's office and says, “I'm depressed,” and the psychiatrist was like, “Well, why don't you just frown less and smile more?”, we'd say, “What?” But that that is what the vast majority of the population is still being told when it comes to these severe metabolic diseases, which is like, “Just try harder.” “Frown less and smile more.” “Just eat less and exercise more.” That would be funny, if it wasn't so inhumane and sick.
Melanie Avalon: That was one of the things I really, really loved about Better was the emotional component to it and how you really did break down this pervasive shame in society surrounding weight gain and how it's just rooted. There's a scientific reason behind it, but it does so often become a thing of shame. It comes off like it's your personal fault and it's a moral thing. Like you said, that you're just not trying hard enough, so I really, really thank you for the work that you're doing. While we're in this really deep dark hole, there is some light. You do have your SANE method. Would you like to tell listeners briefly what's going on there? What the different letters stand for and why this is a solution to where we find ourselves with the setpoint?
Jonathan Bailor: One quick point of clarification, because I want to really emphasize how I am just a mouthpiece for the actual experts. In this film, we had the great privilege of working with four of the top medical doctors at Harvard Medical School. When we say my SANE method-- SANE is an acronym for four factors around the quality of calories and their impact on the body that have been well established in the scientific community. I have been very lucky to figure out that if you turn them into an acronym, they spell sane, but like literally that's as far as I've taken it. It's not even a perfect acronym because the acronym stands for satiety, aggression, nutrition, and efficiency. You want to eat highly satisfying, and very nutritious foods, but you want to eat unaggressive and inefficient foods. Even if I wanted to make it like my perfect quick internet magic plan, I failed miserably.
The answer to all of this, this all revolves around food quality, rather than quantity. It's not about eating less, it's about eating better. Okay, high five, yay, up with people. What does that mean? How do I eat better? Does that mean I need to eat more keto? Does that mean I need to eat more paleo? Does that mean I need to shop at only Whole Foods and farmer's markets? What does it mean? Should I be a vegan? Should I be a vegetarian? What it means to eat better, is to eat foods that the scientific community has proven unequivocally have certain characteristics. I know that's not super sexy. There are four characteristics of food that are just objective, measurable facts that we can use to evaluate foods to say, “Hey, on a spectrum of optimal for health to terrible for health, where does it fall on this spectrum?” Those four factors are satiety, how quickly a food fills you up, and how long it keeps you full. Aggression, the hormonal response that's triggered in your body when you eat the food. Nutrition, the amount of essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids, that a food contains relative to potentially toxic and addictive substances. E or efficiency or how easily your body could store food as fat. Satiety, aggression, nutrition, and efficiency are four factors, you could abbreviate them using SANE, which you could look at any food, you could say, let's rank it in terms of satiety, let's rank it in terms of aggression, let's measure and rank it in terms of nutrition, and let's measure and rank it in terms of efficiency.
None of those things are debatable. We can sit here and we can debate 100%, whether or not it is good for the environment to eat meat. We cannot debate how much vitamin C is in 100 grams of spinach versus how much vitamin C is in 100 grams of wheat. There's no debate there. There's also no debate as to whether or not your body needs vitamin C to thrive. What we've done in this film, and what I've worked with all these researchers to do over the past 15 years, is to do that analysis of the satiety of food, of the hormonal impact of food, of the nutritional benefits of food and of foods ability to be stored as body fat. It's extremely complicated but it can be boiled down very simply, and there's essentially four food groups that are the sanest food groups in the world. The sanest or highest quality food group in the world is non-starchy vegetables. These are vegetables that generally grow above ground. I have to say things like potatoes aren't a vegetable, they grow below ground. If you think of vegetables that you could eat raw, you don't have to eat them raw, but you could eat them raw, that grow above ground, these are non-starchy vegetables. Vegetables you frequently find in salads.
Next are nutrient-dense proteins. These are foods that get more of their calories from protein than from fat or carbohydrate. They contain as many essential nutrients as possible. For example, things like salmon would be a wonderful nutrient-dense protein, but even things like oysters, things called mollusks, oysters and clams. These are incredibly nutrient-dense sources of protein. You may have heard things like organ meats. While they're not super popular, eating liver is rich in protein and provides an incredible amount of essential nutrition when compared to, for example, just eating ground chuck. You've got non-starchy vegetables, nutrient-dense proteins.
The next sanest food group or whole food fats. These are foods that derive more calories from fats than they do from carbohydrate or protein. They are found in whole food form. An egg, for example. Nuts and seeds, for example. Oils are not a whole food. While they do contain almost all of their calories from fat, they're not a whole food. We're talking about whole food fats here because we want that essential nutrition in there as well.
Then, the fourth sanest food group are low-fructose fruits. There's a lot of fruits in the world, but there are a lot of fruits that contain a lot of sugar and relatively little nutrition. There are foods that contain a tremendous amount of nutrition and not as much sugar, and those low-fructose fruits are primarily berries and citrus fruits.
If you eat non-starchy vegetables, nutrient-dense protein, whole food fats and low-fructose fruits in that order of volume, it is impossible, it is impossible to not enjoy the best body and best health you possibly can, given your genetic makeup. You can do that kosher, halal, paleo, vegan, vegetarian, it's not a diet. It is a set of characteristics that however you want to eat, you can identify, what are the non-starchy vegetables that are paleo? Or, what are the non-starchy vegetables that are kosher? Or, what are the non-starchy vegetables that are keto? Our goal is not to tell you, you need to eat exactly this way. Our goal is to tell you, here is a true framework. The BS framework is calories. You go into McDonald's, and it says, “Here's our healthy choices,” and they're things that contain less than 400 calories.” That doesn't make something healthy. A cigarette has no calories in it, that doesn't mean you should eat it. It doesn't make any sense. But now you can say, “However I choose to eat, I can eat better by choosing saner foods.”
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, I love this so much. It's really the types of foods that I have gravitated towards. Then, the tweak that I tend to do on it is, I find for me metabolically, I tend to do better if I'm eating a meal, either high carb, lower fat or higher fat, lower carb, just because I feel the metabolic competition between the substrates causes me personally a problem-- Do you find that for some people that do some people need to be lower carb? Do some people do better on lower fat? Is it just a personal thing?
Jonathan Bailor: I think it's quite universal that eating just fat and carbohydrate alone is not a good idea. That's not a great combination at all, for anyone ever. I don't think there's any context in which glucose and fat being dumped into the hum body is not a good thing. The reason for that, your audience probably knows already. But your body can either run on sugar or fat. It's one or the other, two fuel sources. This might not be the actual reason, but it's a way I like to think about it. This is science, what I'm about to say, and then I'm going to sort of give my opinion. Your body can either prefer to run on sugar or fat. The vast, vast majority of people in the world, the reason we have a diabetes and obesity epidemic is their bodies have been trained to run on sugar. If your body's trained to run on sugar, you have a problem because you can't really store sugar. Unless you're eating sugar, you don't have any sugar. This is why you're hungry every two hours because your body burns up the sugar as blood sugar. Then, it's looking around for more sugar, there is none. It's like, “Hey, I've got this 100 pounds of surplus fat chillin’ over here.” It's like, “That's fine. I don't like burning fat. I like burning sugar for fuel. That's what I'm used to doing. That's what I'm metabolically conditioned to do.” But if you're not getting the vast majority of your calories from sugar, and you're getting the majority of your calories from fat, as many human beings did throughout the history of the world, or at least if your body is not in a disease state where it can't switch between using sugar and fat for fuel easily, when your body does run out of energy, it just says, “Oh, look, there's this fat already in my body that I can burn for energy, so I'm going to do that.” Some people call this being fat adapted. This is an ability or a “metabolic skill” that a lot of us have lost due to the excessively high refined carbohydrate diets we have been conditioned to eat.
To your point, and this is more just my theory, I think if you're in this disease state, this metabolic disease state, eating sugar and fat at the same time just confuses your body. Again, that's not like a literal scientific explanation, but it's just like, “Huh, what's going on?” What's really happening from a metabolic perspective is you're spiking insulin while simultaneously taking in the most efficient form of calories in the world, which is triglyceride or fat. Fat is very efficient, the E in SANE. Your body needs to do very little to take fat that you eat and store it as fat. There's not a lot of processing that has to happen. If you eat a bunch of refined carbs while eating fat, you are literally opening the door to your fat cells, literally using the hormone, insulin, which is secreted in excess when you eat refined carbohydrates, you're literally rolling out the red carpet for the fat to go directly into your fat cells. That's more of the metabolic explanation of why combining those two nutrients in-- which is what donuts, cakes, cookies, pies, ice cream, all of the things that everyone agrees are not ideal. What they are, are the combination of sugar or refined starch and fat. That's why I don't care what diet you're on or what guru you listen to, none of them are advocating to eat those foods.
Melanie Avalon: For listeners, if you look up the Randle cycle, you can go down a crazy rabbit hole. I think that's what's literally going on with the fatty acid glucose competition. To your point, just now like with the donuts and all of that is, I think it's really interesting because people opt in, the label those as carbs, but it's always like it's not just carbs, it's carbs and fat together. There's probably something else going on there. I want to be really respectful of your time. Can you briefly tell listeners just a little bit about the myth of exercise and how that might play a role in setpoint?
Jonathan Bailor: Very briefly, the whole conversation we've had so far here has to do with quality versus quantity. We've been talking about, it's not just about eating less food, it's about eating better, or now we've refined that to saner food. When it comes to exercise, it's really important to understand that the mythology of just exercise more is really just a different way of saying, eat less. They're both calorie myths, eating less is saying, just get yourself in a calorie deficit through putting less stuff in your mouth. Whereas exercise more is, just put yourself in a calorie deficit by moving your body more. It's actually way harder to burn calories than it is to eat fewer calories. The advice to exercise more just blanketly as a form of weight management is even worse than telling someone to eat less, because it's basically a very inefficient way to eat less. It also makes you hungry as hell. It's frankly, just counterproductive.
I love Gary Taubes back in the day, he gave an analogy. I think he just came out with a new book. It's probably in there too. Where he just says, if you were going to get ready for the biggest meal of your life, what would you do? Well, the first thing to make yourself hungry, you wouldn't eat and you'd probably go for a really long walk. You'd exercise more because you know that makes you hungry. The problem here with exercise is, exercise is just another way to “eat less.” It's just a really slow and painful way of doing that. It fails for all the same reasons that eating less fails. It doesn't target or do anything about the fundamental underlying cause of excess fat storage, which is inflammation in the brain, dysregulation of hormonal balance, and dysbiosis in your gut, period. Exercise is good for other stuff, don't get me wrong. This is going to sound like a silly analogy, but if someone said, “Hey, I'm really struggling with my weight,” and someone says, “Well, how much nonfiction reading of history are you doing?” I swear, I've none. Nonfiction reading of history is probably a good thing. It develops your mind, it's a wonderful thing to do, but it does not going to help you heal a metabolic disorder. There's all sorts of benefits to exercising.
Some people have said that I'm sort of poo-pooing exercise. I'm not. I'm simply saying that most normal common forms of exercise are about as effective for treating the disease of obesity, as reading nonfiction books is effective at treating the disease of obesity. It's a good activity that helps a lot of people do a lot of things, but it's just not an effective treatment for this disease, because it does nothing for your brain, your gut, and your hormones and that's really what we need to be targeting in a very specific way to address this disease.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, and for listeners, I will definitely refer them to your books. I know you go deep into exercise in The Setpoint Diet and the types of exercise that we should be doing to help reduce our setpoint. Also, your documentary, Better, really, really incredible things. Thank you so much. This has been absolutely amazing. I've two really quick questions. One, I'm just dying to know, I'm not advocating this at all, but I'm just curious, do you know when people get liposuction or CoolSculpting, when they actually remove their fat cells, do you know if does the body like try to-- does it remember that it had more fat cells and try to regain them? Have you seen any studies on that?
Jonathan Bailor: I don't know. The only semi-related science that I am aware of is, when they've done things like gastric sleeves, they have seen that can change the gut composition. People often had sometimes thought that the only reason that those surgeries “work” is because they force people to eat less. But there's more and more research emerging that the impact that it has on the flora in your gut is a major reason why they “work” for the people that they work for. I do know that in rodent models, they have proven in rodent models, that you can take a rat, you can genetically predispose them and do all these things to manipulate their body in the ways we've described here, and then you can suck fat out of their body and their body will preferentially regain that fat. We haven't been able, nor will we ever be able to prove that in humans, because it would never be-- no government or ethical committee would ever allow people to o that. What you're describing has been demonstrated in rodents.
Melanie Avalon: It's really, really fascinating. Then the last question that I asked every single guest on this show, and it actually ties into something else that we didn't talk about in this interview, but which you talk about extensively in your work, which is the role and the power of mindset surrounding everything. What is something that you're grateful for?
Jonathan Bailor: My wife and two daughters.
Melanie Avalon: I love it. Well, thank you, Jonathan. This has been absolutely amazing. I could ask you a million thousand more questions, but I will not. Again, I will refer listeners to all of your work. Thank you. The documentary, I believe, when this airs, it will have just come out, I think. We're timing this right around the release, so where can people see Better?
Jonathan Bailor: The best place to go now or anytime in the future for that film is going to be bettermovie.com. Just bettermovie.com. Then, if you'd like to learn more about-- the other things we're up to, our company's website is S-A-N-E sanesolution.com.
Melanie Avalon: Awesome. Well, again, for listeners, I will put all this information in the show notes, which will be at melanieavalon.com/setpoint. Thank you so much. I would love to bring you back in the future for a part two if you're down for it I could do a listener Q&A, like, so many questions for you, but this has been absolutely amazing.
Jonathan Bailor: Thank you, Melanie.
Melanie Avalon: All right, thanks. Bye.