Managing Multiple Sclerosis on a Plant-Based Diet Podcast

A new Meal Mentor Co-Pilot Podcast is now available on iTunes and Simplecast!

On this episode of the Meal Mentor Co-Pilot Podcast, Gary shares his experience coping with Multiple Sclerosis and how he’s taking the initiative to be stronger than his diagnosis.

Gary explains how the meal plans and exercise have improved his health, what it’s like to be a plant-based man, and he gets honest about how he finally stopped weight cycling.

Don't miss this episode!

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Hidden Persuaders that Hijack Your Hunger (+ How to Stop Overeating)

(This post is also a podcast episode! Listen here.)

In episode 6, I discussed Dr. Panda’s theory that artificial light led to an artificial extension of our feeding times, which he believes is a contributing cause to obesity and diabetes.

There’s plenty of correlation and regression analysis, as well as qualitative human research and mice studies that support Dr. Panda’s theory.

You’ll have to listen to episode 6 for the full scoop, but even if (for arguments sake) lightbulbs and subsequent delayed feeding times were or ARE a contributing cause to our obesity problem, the fix seems easy enough: eat sooner (and batch cooking your meal plans on the weekend can definitely help with that)

...but accepting, or even just considering Dr. Panda’s lights theory, opens up an even bigger can of worms:

What else in our environment is a contributing cause to obesity?

How much you eat is largely determined by your surroundings.

We’re nudged far more by our eating environment than by our deliberate choices.

Subtle influences like friends and family, names, numbers, colors shapes, smells, labels, packages, plates, and yes, lighting too, can make us overeat.

And although I buy into the whole “knowledge is power” thing, and I think it’s incredibly important to understand the underlying science of how and why (that’s why the Shortcut to Slim podcast exists!), I don’t think education or knowledge by itself is all that effective.

I see this every day with Meal Mentor's members. They have the education. They know EXACTLY what they need to do and why, but it’s not happening. They know an apple is better than a bag of potato chips… but they eat the potato chips anyway.

They’re failing with their follow-through and I was in this boat too. I still am in some ways because I still live in the real world and not a bubble.

Point is, while it’s great to understand nutrition and science, real, lasting weight-loss comes primarily from behavior modification and environmental changes that help you make better choices without thinking about it.

What signals us to eat eat EAT has been the study and life work of Brian Wansink PhD. (If the name sounds familiar, it’s because I fangirl out on him in pretty much every episode of the STS podcast…)

Wansink’s research shows us how as all these seemingly innocuous things (like lightbulbs) make us overeat, which I admit is depressing, but it’s also hugely empowering when you realize that the smallest change (like not leaving cereal on the counter) can make you lose 21 pounds! Or at the very least, these little changes can set you up to be “naturally thin.”

You might remember from episode 5 when I talked about “naturally” skinny people. That they don’t have a higher metabolism. Some may have higher N.E.A.T. (little movements like twitching that burns more calories) but mostly, “naturally skinny people” restrict their eating to some degree and we just don’t see it. Wansink’s research adds to this.

In fact, Wansink + team have an expression in their Lab:

“If you want to be skinny, do what skinny people do.”

But before I dig into Wansink’s research further, I have to share something.

I’d written this episode several weeks ago, long before the Biggest Loser article came out. I figured, no biggie, I’d slide this episode down to the 8th slot, deal with the NYT and proceed as planned.

I was all set to record, when I realized I was missing a book quote. I opened my copy of Slim by Design, and my eyes caught two words “Biggest Loser” -- in the introduction. (Here is where I admit I never read introductions because I lack patience).

The stars aligned, wait until you hear this:

Wansink writes, “One sentence summarizes 25 years of my research: Becoming slim by design works better than trying to become slim by willpower. That is, it’s easier to change your eating environment than to change your mind… while there are many solutions to mindless eating, most of them will go undiscovered because we don’t look for them. Instead, we’re too focused on the food and not our surroundings. We’re too focused on eating less of one thing, more of another thing, or on launching into the new “Yeast and Potting Soil Diet” we read about on the Internet."

I recently spoke at a convention in Washington D.C. along with a winner of the TV show The Biggest Loser. During his season, he’d weighed in at over 400 pounds and weighed out at half of that. During this over-the-top-drama, he lost half his weight--200 pounds--by visualizing, sweating, and starving himself thin. Fun times."

After our speeches, we grabbed a speedy buffet lunch before heading to the airport. He’s a funny, positive, interesting guy, who it seemed strange that he’d sometimes stop his animated conversation in mid sentence to say things like, “Hey, did you notice that I picked out the smallest piece of chicken?” or “Look, I didn’t take any bread!” AFter a while, it became clear that he wasn’t making these comments for me. He was making them for himself. He was reminding himself that he was full-time Willpower Man. But it took so much concentration that each time he made the right choice, he wanted to announce it."

I told him I was doubly impressed with his willpower around food because I have none. For me an “all-you-can-eat” buffet is an “eat-all-they’ve-got” buffet. So instead of relying on willpower, I have to change my eating environment so it helps me eat less. I take the smallest plate, serve myself salad first, and so on. Easy actions that help me eat less. He changed his mind. I changed my eating environment.

And to think.. I was genuinely worried how I was going to string these episodes together…

The heart of this episode is what I think the Biggest Loser article wanted to say “it’s not your fault” but I have the actual science.

That is, obesity is not caused purely from inactivity, bread, rice, gluttony, weak willpower, a bad childhood, etc. It is caused by overeating, mindless eating, and a tsunami of triggers making us eat more than we should.

Weak Willpower

“Willpower alone won’t conquer bad eating habits for 90% of us” writes Wansink “Fortunately there are a lot of small, innovative, and proven solutions from behavioral economics and psychology that will help make us become slim by design.”

If you’re a member of Meal Mentor, you’ve heard me bash willpower dozens of times. I get that from Wansink. He’s right, though. Our willpower is too wimpy. The solution is to make changes that don’t require willpower at all. One of my strategies (I teach this as part of the Slim Team Program) is to create a rule. “I do or I do not.” Having a rule bypasses the need for willpower altogether. The decision is already made. You know exactly where you stand on the issue. Most of us have implemented lots of rules. Matrimony for example, or veganism, for a lot of my readers.

Restaurants, supermarkets, workplaces, and even our homes have made it easier for us to overeat.

You’re probably nodding along thinking about the giant servings restaurants offer us or how candy bars are so oh-so-conveniently located at hand level in the check-out line. That’s all true but it doesn’t stop there.

Hidden persuaders--cues that cause you to overeat--are everywhere and most of these clues short-circuit your hunger and taste signals, which means you’ll eat even if you’re not actually hungry or the food doesn’t taste very good. (Damn!)

We believe our eyes, not our stomachs

Short of eating until it hurts, most of us rely on external clues to tell us we’ve had enough.

And can you guess what the most popular sensory feedback clue is?

A clean plate or an empty bowl or bag. EAT UNTIL IT’S ALL GONE.

My two favorite studies that illustrate this point were Wansink’s popcorn study and soup bowl study.

In the popcorn study, Wansink + team gave moviegoers 5-day-old stale popcorn. (It was so stale it squeaked when you ate it). The moviegoers didn’t know it was stale initially, only that it was free. Every moviegoer got their own bucket so there would be no sharing, though some moviegoers got a medium size bucket while others got a larger bucket.

Now, you’d think after a handful or two the moviegoers would realize it was 5-day-old-nasty-stale-popcorn and stop eating it, but they didn’t. Throughout the movie they would eat a few handfuls, put it down, then pick it up a few minutes later. The popcorn wasn’t good enough to eat all at once, but the moviegoers couldn’t stop themselves.

Here’s the even crazier thing: Those with the large buckets ate 53% more. That is roughly the equivalent of 21 more dips into the bucket… OF 5-DAY-OLD STALE POPCORN.

Wansink + team ran other popcorn studies in different cities with different variables and the results were always the same:

People eat more when you give them a bigger container.

It didn’t matter if the popcorn was fresh or 14 days old, or the moviegoers were hungry or had just had lunch right before the movie.

Wansink wrote, “Did people eat because they liked popcorn? No. Did they eat because they were hungry? No. They ate because of all the cues around them--not only the size of the popcorn bucket, but also other factors such as the sound of people eating popcorn around them, the eating scripts we take to movie theaters with us” and so on.

Wansink explains why we like to do this by using the analogy of a jogger.

He said, “If [a jogger] decides to jog on a treadmill until she’s tired, she constantly has to ask herself, “Am I tired yet? Am I tired yet? Am I tired yet?” But if she says, “I’m going to jog to the school and back” she doesn’t have to constantly monitor how tired she is. She set the target, and jogs until she’s done."

Considering we make some 200 decisions about food per day, it’s no wonder our brains take this jogger mentality with food. A clean plate or empty bowl is our food finish line. We can dish it and space out, eating until it’s all gone.

Realizing just how powerful the “clean your plate” notion is, Wansink decided to test it with a bottomless soup bowl. The subjects didn’t know it was bottomless--unbeknownst to them, the soup bowl automatically refilled itself, but at such a slow rate that the people eating the soup would believe they were making progress, even though the bowl never completely emptied. They also sat at a table with people who didn’t have bottomless soup bowls, so they could see a perceived end.

After 20 minutes, the subjects were asked questions which made them stop eating. Those with the bottomless bowls ate 73% more, which equated to more than a QUART of extra soup! (MORE THAN A QUART!!)

Here’s the most shocking part: when asked how many calories they ate, they estimated the same as the normal bowl people.

Both groups underestimated--the normal bowl folks estimated 127 calories when it was really 155 calories, but the bottomless folks also estimated 127 calories when they really ate about 268 calories).

Wansink also conducted other, similar studies with identical results. I especially liked the one dealing with chicken wings. The waitresses left the discarded bones on some tables, while other tables were constantly bussed clean. No big surprise that people at the bussed tables ate more wings.

Which brings me to the good news. One strategy that’s helped me overcome my overeating is a maintaining a food log. Not just for accountability but when I’m feeling hungry and know I shouldn’t be hungry, I take a look at my log to remind myself what I’ve just eaten. “Just look at that big, healthy dinner you had an hour ago. You aren’t really hungry, something else is going on -- what is happening with your emotions?

Wansink recommends pre-plating your food, that is--putting everything you want to eat on your plate BEFORE you start eating. “We find that when people preplate their food, they eat about 14% less than when they take smaller amounts and go back for seconds or thirds” he wrote.

Now for the big, stinky caveat that pops up in every episode.

While SEEING your food helps you eat less, it can also make you eat more.

For example:

Wansink’s research shows that the average woman who keeps potato chips on the counter weighs 8 pounds more than her neighbor who doesn’t.

This makes sense. Chips are irresistibly tempting and you can’t eat just one.

I think we can all agree potato chips make you fat, but potato chips aren’t the most dangerous food to have out...

Can you guess what that food is?

Breakfast cereal.

Wansink’s research show that if you have even ONE open box of breakfast cereal anywhere in sight, you’ll weigh 21 pounds more than your neighbor who does not.

Why? The first thing you see when you walk through the door is yummy, convenient food.

We also can’t forget about the rat study using puffed pellets (like cereal flakes) from episode 4.

Circling back to the stale popcorn study, you’ll remember that the bigger the bucket, the more stale popcorn people ate...

Wansink + team saw the exact same results with different foods--even foods people had to prepare themselves like spaghetti.

In the spaghetti study for example, people who were given the larger package of pasta, sauce and meat typically prepared 23% more (150 extra calories) than those given the medium packages.

Ultimately Wansink + team concluded that the bigger the package, the more people served and the more they served, the more they ate. (You eat 92% of what you serve yourself, btw.)

It didn’t matter what the food was--popcorn, dry spaghetti, or M&Ms, if it comes from a bigger or larger package, you’ll eat 20 to 25% more.

The M&M study was especially dramatic. People who were given a half pound bag ate an average of 71 M&Ms during the 1-hour movie while those who were given the 1-pound bag ate an average of 137 M&Ms, almost twice as many (264 more calories).

Wansink conducted this study with 47 different items by the way, including non-foods like shampoo, laundry detergent, and pet kibble. It was always the same result: The bigger the package, the more people used, poured, and/or consumed.

But there was ONE exception: liquid bleach. People didn’t overpour that.

So why does this happen?

Wansink says we look for cues and signals that tell us how much to eat (or use). One of these signals is the size of the package. We use that as a sort of baseline to figure out what is an appropriate amount by comparison---by percentage of the original size (even if it’s jumbo).

If it’s any comfort, even professionals were tripped up by these optical illusions. Professional veteran bartenders for example, were unable to pour a standard (1.5 oz) shot of alcohol straight out of the bottle. Nutrition PhD students bombed too--with ice cream. People who eat, sleep, lecture, and study nutrition were totally tripped up by the size of bowls and ice cream scoops. The bigger the bowl or ice cream scoop, the more they served themselves.

Here’s a data point from another one of Wansink’s studies: People sitting within two tables of the bar drink an average of 3 more beers or mixed drinks (per table) than those sitting one table farther away.

Wansink isn’t ready to draw any conclusions about this yet, but he thinks that sitting next to the bar might make you think it’s more normal to order a second drink because you see so many more drinks being made and poured.

What does all this mean? Do we have to forfeit our Costco memberships? Not quite. The lesson here is:

#1 never eat directly out of a package or box, put your snacks in a separate dish #2 if you are going to buy the jumbo size, repackage it into smaller containers. #3 for the love of kale, use small plates, small bowls, small spoons. ALL THE SMALL THINGS

One last warning note about shopping at Costco: You’ll not only SERVE more out the the jumbo containers, you’ll also eat what you buy at twice the normal rate the first week. This is especially true for easy-to-consume foods like cookies, crackers, juices, and microwave popcorn.

In one study, people who filled their cupboards with chips, juices, ramen, and so on, ate HALF of everything they bought within the first week.

So #4, if you buy 200 of something, put 3 or 4 in the pantry and leave the rest in the basement.

AND if you’re starting to think an empty kitchen is the solution a la you can’t boobytrap yourself if it’s empty... emptiness is it’s own boobytrap. Empty kitchens make you fat because they cause you to overeat elsewhere.

Bottom line: In sight is in stomach. Make the most visible foods those that you want to be eating, whether it’s your meal plan meals in clear containers, front and center in the fridge, or apples in a bowl on the counter.

Store the foods you’re trying to limit or avoid out of sight, and father back in the cupboard while you’re at it because Wansink’s research says you’re 3x more likely to eat the first food you see in your cupboard than the 5th one.

There are so many wonderful tips in Wansink’s books Mindless Eating and Slim By Design that I could talk about them all day and all night.

Not having food ON the dinner table, for example, has made a huge difference with my overeating tendencies.

His research is always a constant reminder and explanation of why the meal plans have worked so well for me and other members. Portions are already decided for you.

You don’t have to guess or eyeball or fall victim to external clues that force you to overeat or over serve. Pre-portioning your servings helps you create boundaries while boosting satisfaction.

Even things like food color can make you overeat or leave you not feeling satisfied, which is something we’ve been taking into consideration with the meal plans too, thanks to Wansink’s research.

To close out this episode and string it back to the previous ones: we know a calorie is not a calorie and changing WHAT you’re eating can definitely help you along (just like it’s a lot easier to run a marathon if you quit smoking first) but having a perfect diet works best when paired with behavior modification and appropriate environmental changes like portion control (my overeating episode is a testament to that!)

The perfect diet is the diet you don’t know you’re on. As Wansink says, make it easy on yourself so you make good choices without all the thinking… create an environment so you make healthy decisions on autopilot.

Download your free research-based 7-day meal plan at and leave the guesswork and science to me.

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Finding Balance in Diet and Social Situations

A new Meal Mentor Co-Pilot Podcast is now available on iTunes and Simplecast!

On this episode of the Meal Mentor Co-Pilot Podcast, member Ali describes her experience managing her eating disorder and how she's learned to handle social situations on a plant-based diet.

Don't miss this episode for more on using the Meal Mentor forums for support and finding empowerment in making healthy decisions!

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“Biggest Loser”, Biggest Lie, Biggest Myths. Shame on the NY Times!

(This post is also a podcast episode! Listen here.)

Last week my inbox and Facebook feed was flooded with links to the NY Times article about Danny Cahill and the show The Biggest Loser.

In case you missed the media hoopla: Danny, and most of his fellow Biggest Loser contestants, have been unable to maintain their weight-loss.

A group of researchers has been monitoring them and came to a “conclusion” (can you feel me doing air quotes?) that the body fights back against weight-loss, blah blah, metabolism myth, blah blah.

I don’t want to get in the habit of podcasting about yesterday’s news, but talking about this article does give me the chance to bring up a point I’ve been dying to make, and it allows me to circle back to a few topics from the last two episodes that I’d wanted to elaborate more on so here it goes:

#1 The news is an entertainment business.

It’s not all that different from scripted television or movies. They need to sell headlines and airspace and earn high ratings, but we somehow forget that and treat the news like it’s a non-profit public service. I assure you that’s not true.

Advertisements and commercials are their lifeblood, so they will say or do whatever it takes to grab your attention.

The news is in the business of feeding us exactly what we want to hear, so we love them, tune-in, and click more.

The sensationalizing I can get over. I’m not happy about it, but it doesn’t boil my blood nearly as much as the blatant lack of transparency.

Like most lawyers, I’m all about Freedom of the Press. I buy into that whole “the media is a checks and balances on the government thing”, but the press is not perfect. While they love whistleblowing on a politician’s conflict of interest, they do not report their own.

Most “news” stories bolster the BS one of their sponsors is selling, or it’s designed for a “viral effect” so they can make money on clicks and advertisements.

The other thing that bothers me is that news stories are almost always cherry-picked pseudo-science. They present reasonable-sounding arguments, but their evidence is a quote from a study paid for or that benefits their sponsor, or their evidence is a quote from a professional so-and-so who is either on their payroll or the payroll of one of their sponsors.

Closing this thought out, please remember that everyone has an agenda (including me, I welcome your doubt).

My breakdown of the NY Times article:

Before I dig in, I want to make one quick point: the fact that most of the contestants on The Biggest Loser gain their weight back isn’t new news. The media cycle seems to circle back to this issue every 18 months. “We are all Fat again” was a big story in January 2015.

This article says Danny and the other contestants started the show with a normal metabolism, but that their metabolism slowed down dramatically and never went back up to “normal.”

First, I take objection with the use of the word “normal” here, especially when they say “normal for their size.”

What do they mean by size? Their weight?

Three men can be the same height, the same age, and the same weight, but have a completely different fat to muscle ratio. For example, one guy might be 20% body fat, another 12%, and another 35%. And although they are the same size (meaning height/weight), because their body composition of fat and muscle is different, they would have different metabolisms. Point is, there can be no normal or average here, there are just too many competing variables.

But fine, fine, I’m splitting hairs. Let’s assume that Danny (and the other contestants), had a COMPARABLE metabolism to other people of the same height, the same weight, the same age, the same sex, and also had the exact same amount of muscle and body fat.

The article then says that after the show was over, the contestants had slower metabolisms than when they started.

I’m not sure why this is surprising. Of course it slowed. Several contestants lost 150 or more pounds, which is a whole other person. Being surprised their metabolism slowed after that kind of loss is like being shocked a mini cooper burns less fuel than a 16-wheeler Mac truck.

Danny, specifically, lost 191 pounds. He was 430 pounds when he started, meaning he, quite literally, lost half of himself. He was TWO Danny’s before. Of course two Danny’s are going to burn more calories than ONE Danny. Of course ONE Danny will not burn as much gas.

To be fair, the NY Times article agrees that the contestants reduced metabolism post-weight-loss isn’t all that shocking, but what they say IS shocking is that their metabolism is now “slower than it should be for a person of their size.”

Again I have to take objection with using the words like size and normal, but for argument’s sake, let’s again assume the constants have slower metabolisms compared to the metabolisms of other people who are the same height, the same weight, the same age, the same sex, and have the exact same amount of muscle and body fat.

In episode 5, I said “Research shows that your metabolism won’t slow down unless you’ve consumed less than 50% of your required calorie intake for several weeks but even if one does get to that point” (I think it’s safe to assume the contestants got there), “your metabolism would only decrease by 10% AT THE MOST so you would still lose weight if you maintained a deficit, just at a slightly slower rate.”

Because the NYT article is being so loosey goosey with words like “normal” and “size” it’s impossible for me to tell if the decreased rate they are sensationalizing is this 10% decrease.

Whether it is or is not would certainly be fascinating, but it can be set aside for now because the real heart of the article, the big volcanic explosion, isn’t about a temporary metabolic decrease.

In episode 5, I also said that “numerous other studies confirm that once your weight has stabilized, your metabolism, goes back up to expected levels

The first keyword here is “stabilized” meaning the person has to maintain the same weight.

Unfortunately, this is not true for the contestants. Most of them reported gaining 15 to 30 pounds immediately after the show ended, partially because they were forcibly dehydrated, or they literally starved themselves before the final show.

Ryan Benson (winner season 1) admitted to starving himself, only drinking water with maple syrup, lemon, and cayenne pepper for 10 days before the finale. He also jogged on the treadmill in a rubber suit and sat in a steam room 24 hours prior to his final weigh-in. Benson admitted he was urinating blood at that point but he was that desperate to win. Benson lost 10-13 scale pounds in 10 days. I say “scale pounds” because he GAINED 32 pounds in FIVE days after.

Similarly, Kai Hibbard (season 3 finalist), who has since become a spokesperson against the show, (“I participated in a myth that hurts people”) admitted that leading up to the finale, she was only eating sugar-free jello and asparagus.

Hibbard has also stated she was dehydrated AT the Biggest Loser Ranch to manipulate the scales on the show and that her losses weren’t always as advertised.

We also can’t sidestep the painful fact that most contestants left the ranch ill equipped for life after the show. Some of the contestants admit this in the NYT article. Danny specifically says he sometimes blacks out only to wake and realize he ate an entire bag of potato chips.

I guess my question is, did stabilization ever happen long enough for their bodies to correct their metabolism (if it’s possible)?

Which brings me to my next issue…

The metabolic studies I referenced previously were done on people who lost weight primarily due to lack of food. Physical movement (i.e. exercise) might have contributed to the total caloric deficit. For example, Many POWs were forced into labor camps and many anorexics still exercise, but overall, the bulk of their deficit was caused primarily from lack of calories consumed.

This is quite a contrast to The Biggest Loser contestants who were starved while simultaneously being forced to endure extreme exercise for 6 to 8 hours per day for several months. Danny, specifically, was tracked at 8,000 to 9,000 calories PER DAY on the show.

Less we forget the Rachel Frederickson controversy in 2014. Rachel (winner season 15) lost 60% of her weight, which amounted to losing ONE POUND PER DAY EVERY DAY for several months. Rachel’s rail thin appearance put the show under scrutiny, especially when Jillian Michaels quit a few weeks after.

Image credit: People magazine

Even more disturbing are recent reports of contestants going to the hospital for dehydration and/or heat stroke.

And before I forget to mention her, Suzanne Mendonca (2005 contestant) is now also pre-diabetic, which is important to keep in mind when I talk about insulin later.

Point is, I think we can all agree that while the show is supposed to be inspirational, in reality it is misleading and dangerous to the contestants participating.

But what about their metabolisms?

The NYT article says Danny’s metabolism has slowed so much that just to maintain his current weight of 295 pounds, he has to eat 800 calories a day less than a typical man his size. Anything more turns to fat.

Again I have to take objection with words like “typical” and “size” but I’ll assume they mean Danny has a slower metabolism compared to other men of the same height, same weight, same age, and have the exact same amount of muscle and body fat as Danny.

But wait, did these other men lose and regain too?

And if they did lose weight, was it “Biggest Loser-style”?

Probably not. So we can’t compare Danny to them because the side effects from losing and gaining, as well as the manner in which it occurred, creates dozens of other variables!

But let’s hold off on that for a hot second while I get fussy over the fact that we aren’t getting a breakdown of Danny’s diet.

Where is his food log? Where are the food logs of the people he is being compared to?

If episodes 1-3 of this podcast taught us anything, it’s that a calorie is not always a calorie and that weight-loss isn’t a straight math formula.

And since when does Science ever have such perfectly round numbers like 800? Bioavailability anyone? This stuff isn’t quantifiable down to such exactness.

AND since I’m already riled up, how could the researches possibly know “anything more turns to fat.”

While, yes, it is true that consuming in excess of what one needs can lead to stored body fat, but not every excess calorie consumed will be.

I’m not just talking about bioavailability but the scientific fact that sometimes the metabolic cost is too high to store the excess.

For example, dietary fat is very easily stored as fat, but calories from carbohydrates are not. They tend to be burned off as heat (a process known as facultative dietary thermogenesis).

Humans are very inefficient at de novo lipogenesis, which is the process of turning sugars into fats. It takes extreme conditions for this to happen in the first place, and when it does, the metabolic cost is around 30%, meaning even if someone’s body was converting 100 extra calories of sugars to body fat, it would take at least 30 of those calories just to make the process happen.

I’ll stop here. See episodes 2,3 & 4 of this podcast for more info.

For arguments sake, let’s accept that the contestants have slower metabolisms than other people now. Why are the researchers only blaming the weight-loss?

Why are they ignoring the possibility that the extreme conditions on the show had extreme physiological consequences?

One point I make on every one of these podcast episodes is that we can’t cheat or out math nature and anytime we try to, we pay a consequence.

As your body loses fat, your hormones change, and hormonal changes cause all kinds of variables and problems, especially when it comes to your body weight.

This I don’t contest.

This is also a medical and scientific fact: Rapid weight-loss can cause a weakening of the heart muscle, which could set a person up for cardiovascular problems. This also means weight-loss could affect how the heart pumps, and that alone would change someone’s metabolism.

Rapid weight-loss can also cause dangerous reductions in potassium and electrolytes, as well as key nutrients if they are starving themselves…

All of these things create a million other variables that create a million other variables that could all have long-term metabolic consequences as well as long-term health consequences in general.

Anorexia in males also decreases testosterone. While I’m not calling the contestants anorexics, their prolonged starvation at the hands of their coaches puts them practically in the same boat, and there it is a scientific fact that decreased testosterone causes all kinds problems, especially in men (although this was mysteriously not in the NYT article either).

The NYT also made a big fuss about leptin, which makes me wonder who is paying these researchers.

Let me explain: Leptin came to fame twenty years ago -- literally, in 1996. For a hot minute leptin was going to be the cure for obesity (and highly profitable for whichever company produced a pill form), because administered synthesized leptin caused weight loss.

But then something unexpected happened: More research revealed that obese people had an EXCESS of leptin rather than a deficiency. The more body fat someone had, the more leptin was present, leading researchers to conclude that obese people are “insensitive to endogenous leptin production.”

That then became the million-dollar question in obesity research, “why are obese people insensitive?”

Researchers at UCSF medical center cracked the code, sort-of. They figured out that insulin was causing widespread leptin resistance.

It would take dozens more podcasts to talk about insulin and how diet, particularly fat and animal foods, affect insulin, but for now: changes in insulin create a million more variables.

There are just too many variables at play here to blame or pinpoint one thing or five things and the researchers fail to acknowledge this basic fact.

The reality to this reality TV show is that the producers and coaches are doing something to people nature had never conceived of and we aren’t even close to beginning to understand the causes and effects of that short-term and long-term.

What we do know is that there is a medically healthy rate you can lose weight, which is 20 to 25 pounds per year, about half a pound per week on average.

I know that most medical professionals will say 1 to 2 pounds per week, but studies of people who actually keep it off? They tend to only lose 20-25 pounds per year.

And Looking back at Meal Mentor data… for members who have lost 75lbs or more, and then kept it off, almost all of them lost about 25 pounds per year.

It really is a marathon.

One last quick note about Leptin: With healthy, slow weight-loss, sensitivity to leptin returns to normal if it drops.

But with the contestants, their loss was radical, and then they regained all the weight, which is a double whammy.

Some obesity researchers believe BL contestants end up with pseudo Cushing's due to the rapid fat loss on the show, which is mostly irreversible.

Cushing’s (also called hypercortisolism) is caused by either excessive cortisol from a medication or from a tumor that produces or promotes the production of excessive cortisol. (Cortisol is a steroid hormone). One of my best friends has Cushing’s and knowing what I know about her situation and diagnosis, this explanation makes complete sense to me and curiously, was also left out of the article.

Then there are also the psychological consequences.

I haven’t had a chance to cover this on the podcast yet, but there are mountains of evidence that when we feel we have suffered we reward ourselves, consciously and unconsciously.

I can’t imagine how the mind would react to the suffering on The Biggest Loser, or what kind of PTSD contestants might have from all the screaming or media attention afterwards.

I keep thinking about Ali Vincent’s heartbreaking post last month. Ali, the first woman to win (winner season 5), said she recently joined Weight Watchers and is now almost back to her starting weight on the show. She went on to say “I feel ashamed. I feel embarrassed. I feel overwhelmed. I feel like failure." which breaks my heart.

Then, too, as I mentioned a million years ago, there seems to be no effort of teaching behavior modification on the show.

In working with hundreds of people through Meal Mentor I can attest real, lasting weight-loss comes mainly from behavioral changes, with having support at home or online through a community as a very close critical second.

Do the contestants have that? Hard to say.

I think it’s also safe to assume that the contestants are losing muscle in addition to fat. Considering their grueling workouts and lack of calories eaten, they would have to lose muscle--the body would have to literally eat itself to stay alive in those conditions.

That in and of itself would change their metabolism, and quite dramatically, especially if they regained their fat but not the muscle loss.

I do find it curious that the show measures based on a SCALE and isn’t measuring actual fat loss. They must know their contestants are dehydrated and losing muscle. There is no other explanation.

Finally, from my own personal journey, I have to say that maintaining has been a thousand times harder than losing.

This is something I said last week to the Meal Mentor Slim Team: weight-loss is not a finish line. Whatever it takes to get you over the finish line, is what you have to keep doing to maintain it. Nothing you do is temporary, unless you only want your results to be temporary.

Losing weight has to be a marathon and not a sprint.

Other beefs I have with the article and/or study:

#1 There is no control group. This alone will set any researcher's hair on fire.

#2 The article says, “There is always a weight a person’s body maintains without any effort. And while it is not known why that weight can change over the years”

So much nope. We already know why weight changes over the years, change in body composition. See the last two episodes.

As for “set weights” there is some research that suggests they exist, but that same research says if you maintain your new weight consistently for a few months, then that weight becomes your new set weight. This applies with gains and losses.

#3 The NY Post added this little lie to their version of the article, “This finding wasn’t surprising... when people skip breakfast, your body automatically conserves energy.” Which is blatantly not true, see episodes 5 and 6 for research.

#4 The NYT article also talked about how people on a diabetes drug who starved if they tried to cut back on 200 calories.

I don’t deny they feel hunger, but one look at the satiety index can explain that. 200 calories of doughnuts isn’t going to fill you up like 200 calories of potatoes.

Finally, there were a lot of great comments to this article in our private member community and I wanted to read a few:

First is Natasha, who herself has lost over 115 pounds and kept it off. Natasha wrote:

“As I read this, I was thinking, ‘because a plant based diet is high in fiber and allows people to eat a relatively greater volume of food, it would help with feeling satiated.’ Weight loss and maintenance seem like very complex subjects. I wonder if similar metabolic studies have been done on people who have lost weight on high-carb diets.”

I couldn’t find any studies but Natasha makes a great point.

You can read Natasha’s story here.

Karen wrote, “The scientists who came up with this ask a lot of questions throughout the article that other scientists have already answered. I think this study is not complete. And they don't say what any of these people's metabolisms are, just that they are "lower than expected". Expected by whom? Someone who is an expert in metabolism? My metabolism is way lower than I expected it to be, but it's exactly what Shortcut to Slim’s research said it should be. The contestants go on extreme diets and do extreme amounts of exercise to lose the weight very quickly. Maybe they now have adrenal issues. I don't think the stats are scary for normal, slow and steady weight loss and eating whole foods...".

Lastly, Skylar, “The Biggest Loser is well-known for its abusive and dangerous weight loss techniques. They induce a severe starvation state for seven months or more. No wonder that might screw up your body permanently. Some people have heart conditions now from it. Saying this applies to anyone who loses weight is stupid and not supported by the science. And they are irresponsible for portraying their study this way because now what point is there for the person who reads this to clean up their diet and exercise regularly? Until there are a lot more studies on normal, non-starvation weight loss, don't take this to heart.”

Exactly MY sentiments Skylar.

This article is full of BS.

The Biggest Loser contestants are made a spectacle on a show that is all-out deplorable and breeds unrealistic expectations while harming the contestants. And while this article exposes THAT truth, it turns around and does the huge disservice of spreading more myths despite volumes of compelling evidence to the contrary, all to feed lots of desperate people exactly what they want to hear, "it’s not your fault. There is absolutely no personal responsibility but one day we’ll sell you a new leptin diet pill, so hang tight!

If any of the contestants end up hearing this podcast, please email me. If for no other reason so I can apologize, because someone should apologize to you.

As a final sort of conclusion: What we all know but sometimes don’t want to believe is still true: losing weight gradually is the best way. You slowly and steadily gained your weight and that’s exactly how you need to lose it.

Don’t rock the boat. Lifestyle change matters more than anything else! Take it a MAINTAINABLE step at a time.

Losing weight is hard work, but keeping it off is harder.

If you’ve been enjoying this podcast please leave a review on iTunes and share the podcast with your friends.

I’ll be back next week talking more about how your ENVIRONMENT causes you to overeat. To get notified when we post it join our email list.

Download your free research-based 7-day meal plan at and leave the guesswork and science to me.

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Planning for Success on Vacation Podcast

A new Meal Mentor Co-Pilot Podcast is now available on iTunes and Simplecast!

On this episode, Siri returns to the Meal Mentor Co-Pilot Podcast to reflect on her recent trip to India. Siri shares how she planned for successful eating habits on her vacation, including being active in the forums and observing her behavior in simulated conditions.

Siri also shares exactly what she ate on vacation, and how the meal plans have helped her learn how to balance her meals and understand appropriate portions.

Don't miss this episode!

Read more about Siri's trip here.

P.S. Do you love listening to the podcast? Show your support by leaving a review on iTunes.

P.P.S. Join the Meal Mentor newsletter (it's FREE!) Click here to signup!

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Intermittent Fasting: The Science of Cellular Metabolism (+How a Light Bulb Makes You Fat)

(This post is also a podcast episode! Listen here.)

I know I promised I would finally get to sugar cravings and gut bugs, but after the last episode a lot of emails came in asking about the science behind IF, so here we are in (another) unexpected part 2…

(If you’ve hit a plateau with weight-loss or you still think breakfast is the most important meal of the day… read on)

So what is intermittent fasting?

Fasting intermittently--voluntarily going set periods without food on a specific schedule.

Most IF’ers eat for 8 hours a day, fasting the other 16. This is called the Leangains method. It doesn’t matter when you start your window, just as long as it’s the same window each day.

I first blogged about IF back in October 2012 when a bodybuilder suggested it to me. (I’d plateaued for the second or third time.) I ignored him, rattling off conventional wisdom about how breakfast was the most important meal of the day, you have to eat within an hour of waking up, you need 6 small meals, not eating was bad, blah blah blah

(NONE of that is true, btw. See STS episode 5.)

Noel didn’t offer a scientific rebuttal, just a simple “well, I do it and look at me.”

And sure he was gorgeous.

Ripped, 6-pack that looks airbrushed. Lean! Gorgeous skin too.

But since I liked science, and excuses, I figured well, he’s a dude, and he probably has a superpower metabolism or special DNA that I don’t… so that explains it.

Then The 8-Hour Diet was published in 2013. As much as I wanted to poke holes in another “fad” diet book -- when I read the actual science, I couldn’t. Not completely anyway.

Remember when I was talking about the “slow metabolism” myth last week and I said the question shouldn’t be: “what can I do to speed up my metabolism” but instead:

“what can I do to make my body burn more fat?”

This is where intermittent fasting comes in. It’s not a perfect cheat. You still can’t eat all you want, all calories still count and all that...I’m getting ahead of myself.

How does fasting work for promoting fat burning?

In two ways.

First, it powers up your mitochondria--the “battery packs” in your cells that form the basis of your metabolism, and second, intermittent fasting promotes fat burning.

The Science of Cellular Metabolism

Most of the cells in your body are a caboodle of organelles, mini organs called mitochondria. This is where the biochemical processes of respiration and energy production occur.

Zinczenko, the former Editor-in-Chief of Men’s Health (magazine), and author of the 8-Hour Diet, compares mitochondria to dimmer switches, garden hoses, and home generators, because they increase and decrease energy flow, and act as our own personal power plants.

Basically, these guys are the engine in my Prius vs. Hummer metaphor.

And Like all engines, mitochondria will burn fuel more efficiently, produce more energy, and throw off less waste, if they are properly maintained and not overused.

Except when you eat all day, your mitochondria never get a break from processing calories.

It’s like driving your car all day and night and never stopping to change the oil.

So what does this have to do with fat burning? Wouldn’t an inefficient engine be ideal if weight-loss is the sum game? Don’t we want to be a gas guzzling Hummer?

If only it were that simple...

Your body stockpiles calories in 2 ways: in glycogen in your muscles and liver, and as fat, which is stored in all the places you can pinch.

The glycogen calories are quick-burning and always ready, while your fat is the slow-burning, saved-for-a-rainy-day calories.

Using your groceries as an example: You’re glycogen is a bowl of fresh strawberries--instant food, while you’re fat is a can of dusty chickpeas in the back of your pantry.

So how do you get your body to use the stored up fat?

The same way I get you to use the can of old chickpeas, by taking all other energy sources (food options) away.

That one beautifully simple constant to weight-loss--creating a caloric deficit, is accomplishing that. When your body needs more energy than it’s been given, it starts tapping into your storage, burning your fat for energy. Intermittent fasting simply gets your body to do that sooner.

Let me explain: When you wake up, your body starts looking for energy to burn to power up your arms and legs, so it goes straight to all the quick-energy ready and waiting in your glycogen. (You store about 1500-2000 calories there.)

But then you eat breakfast--oatmeal, a bagel, smoothie, whatever.

And now your body has a NEW source of glycogen to burn--breakfast!

So it stops using what’s stored up and switches to this new stuff.

Your body is thinking, “Why would I eat this dusty can of old chickpeas if there’s fresh fruit available now? That fruit’s going to go bad sooner too so let’s eat the strawberries and stick these chickpeas back in the pantry. What’s another few days or months? It can wait.”

By eating, you basically ran out to the store to buy new groceries, rather than suck it up and eat what was in your cupboard.

And if you don’t completely zero out your pantry before you go shopping, or take care to only buy EXACTLY what you need down to the last tablespoon of tomato paste, that’s exactly how you end up with an overflowing pantry, or excess body fat.

Your pantry and belly are the same here: it’s all food you took in and didn’t use yet.

To lose weight you have to stop the overbuying and duplicate purchasing.

Day after day you do this with eating all the time. Yikes!

Here’s the good news: By intermittent fasting, you can burn more glycogen and consequently, use up the fat stores sooner.

It’s like deciding you’re not going to the grocery store and immediately replace the food you used. Instead, you decide you won’t buy anything until exhausting what’s in the fridge and then use up whatever is in the pantry.

Now maybe you really appreciate the futility of a pantry challenge!

And you’re wondering about snacking late at night, yes, it is also refilling the supplies. It’s the literal midnight run to the convenience store down the street. The more research I read, the more I realize it’s not the time of day that causes the weight-gain. It’s the constant resupply. It also doesn’t help that the foods people eat at night often tend to be high calorie bombs that are more easily absorbed because they’re super processed.

Now I get to be controversial: A lot of people assume I’m anti-exercise. For the record, I’m not against physical movement in and of itself. I simply recognize that it’s a lot easier to control caloric input for weight-loss than it is to create deficiency with caloric output.

Zinczenko has a great statement in The 8-Hour Diet about this (he agrees with me). He says

“It would would take a 155-pound man 15 minutes of jogging to burn off a Twinkie. Which is a lot of time to burn off something you ate in less than a minute.”

It’s too difficult to create the necessary caloric deficit required for weight-loss with exercise, especially if you are overeating, eating highly absorbent foods, and/or have stored calories a.k.a. Excess fat already.

It’s so much easier to create that deficit via your diet, and IF can help you double down on that investment!

And if you still need more convincing that eating less frequently is a good idea, consider this: It’s only in our very recent history that humans have had such glorious access to an abundance of food. Eating three meals a day is a habit exclusive to the developed world and in a lot of developed countries, like France for example, “snacking” is still not really socially acceptable. That’s a very American thing, which I’m sure we can trace back to marketing endeavors.

There’s also new revolutionary research (beyond Wrangham’s energy theory of cooking), that says humans are evolved to eat only a few hours per day, AND that all this constant eating is yet another reason why we’re so obese.

How a Lightbulb Makes you Fat

Take a look at a NASA-NOAA satellite night map. Most of the map is dark, but you see big, bright lights in cities like New York or Tokyo. While looking at these maps, Satchidananda Panda PhD realized where there are more lights, there is more diabetes.

Dr. Panda doesn’t just mean more diabetes cases, because that makes sense. There’s more people in cities so there is more of everything.

Dr. Panda means more in proportion. More risk.

His theory is that the advent of artificial light led to an artificial extension of our feeding times.

For most of human history, humans didn’t have light. We had fire, true, but most humans couldn’t afford to use fire after sunset because it exposed them to predators. It’s only in the last 50 years that we’ve had light at night.

Now, I know what you’re thinking… only 50 years? That can’t be right. I thought so too and fell down a rabbit hole on this history of the light bulb. There were lamps and bulbs in the 1930’s, but it wasn't until the 1940’s that fluorescents entered the picture, and this matters because fluorescents lasted about three times longer which promoted more usage.

The rapid adoption of linear fluorescents can be attributed to the need for energy-efficient lighting in American war plants. Then another energy shortage, the 1973 oil crisis, caused lighting engineers to develop a fluorescent bulb that could be used in residential applications.

In 1976, Edward Hammer at General Electric figured out how to bend the fluorescent tube into a spiral shape, creating the first-ever compact fluorescent light (or CFL). After few design changes, early CFL’s hit the market in the mid-1980’s.

(I’m just old enough to remember the big and bulky bulbs of the 1990s and how often they didn't fit well in our lamps. Now in 2016 we have LEDs and all kinds of super bulbs.)

I’ll stop myself here. If you want to learn more about the history of the lightbulb, go here.

So 50 years of night lights...

...and interestingly, 50 years ago is when first saw rise of weight problems.

Dr. Panda theorizes that artificial light led to an artificial extension of our feeding times, which interferes with our circadian rhythms.

If you’ve ever been camping, that was probably the only time you’ve ever been truly in tune with your circadian rhythm… if you got up and went to bed with the sun, that is.

There’s a natural stop sign with eating built into our circadian rhythms, but most of us run through it every day by eating later because we had to commute home, or workout, etc. before we ate.

Delayed eating, he says, throws off our digestive system as well as the hormones and enzymes that manage it, which means you don’t process and use the consumed energy as efficiently, which means more storage.

Dr. Panda believes not following our circadian rhythms, and reducing our fasting time between meals, is a contributing cause to obesity and diabetes.

If you’re looking for another reason to batch cook the meal plans, I think this is a good one.

It’s too tiring to cook after a long day anyway, but the sooner you can eat, meaning the sooner you can start that fast, or the closer you can live to your circadian rhythm, the better. So batch cook your meal plans guys!

Dr. Panda also does a lot of research with mice. In one study, one group of mice were given the freedom to eat anything they wanted 24 hours a day. The other group had the same freedom, but only for 8 hours. The study lasted 100 days.

The 8-hour mice looked normal but the 24-hr mice were practically twice their size.

This makes me think back to what my husband said in the last episode. He believes IF works simply because your head isn’t in the trough as many hours per day, and I do think that is definitely part of it.

Closing the window of opportunity to take in calories does make it easier not to overeat and create that deficit needed for weight-loss, though now I’m wondering about appestat.

Remember? from the first episode? When I talked about how I became an overeater simply because I developed a habit of eating a lot of volume?

This next part is for my fellow overeaters:

Dr. Panda further divided the mice, giving some of the mice a diet that was higher in fat. The mice who ate a healthier diet stuck to their normal eating pattern but the mice on the high-fat diet tended to expand their eating time, nibbling all day and night.

And just to throw a human study in the mix, in 2011, researchers followed the eating habits of 100 normal-weight and 280 obese participants for 2 weeks. In both groups, the more calories someone ate at breakfast, the more total calories they ate for the rest of the day. If they ate a smaller breakfast or no breakfast at all, their total intake was less.

{Side bar: Have you ever thought about the word “breakfast”? It’s literally break-fast.”}

I’ll end this post with one of Zinczenko’s analogies that brings all this information to life.

He compares the human body to an office building, saying:

“Most people go into the office during the day, work for 8 hours, and go home. Then, at night, the janitorial staff comes in to clean up the trash and repair the damage. The human body operates most efficiently on the same schedule; we just don’t let it… A huge part of food isn’t just nutrition; a lot of it is toxic, things our body doesn’t need. And our stomachs and liver have to break them up and send them out. It’s a huge amount of work, and it’s causing a lot of damage to our system. The stomach lining has to regenerate once a day, and that happens in the middle of the night.”

I’ll be back next week talking more about how environmental changes, such as our light bulbs, have led to obesity and what we can do about it.

{Side bar: I’ve been dying to say this since I started this new podcast: your brain is a pig. A total glycogen glutton. Although your brain is only 2% of your body weight, it demand 20% of your BMR.

If you ever got really hungry writing a book report or felt hungover after a big exam, now you might understand why. If this fascinates you, I’ve included a link to an article titled, “Does Thinking Really Hard Burn More Calories” by Scientific American in the show notes on}

Download your free research-based 7-day meal plan at and leave the guesswork and science to me.

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