“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.

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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.

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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 getmealplans.com 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.

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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.

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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 https://www.getmealplans.com/podcast.}

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

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Is your belly fat the last to leave?

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Ain’t that the truth…

Here’s the deal:

WHERE we store fat is determined by our body shape and genetics.

One area (i.e. belly, thighs) is not universally more difficult than others…

It’s just that that one area may be harder FOR YOU.

Take a look around at your coworkers, friends, or people in a crowd.

You’ll notice some people have fuller bellies but leaner legs, others have larger thighs but flat stomachs. Some people may appear even across the board…

Wherever YOU store the most of your fat...

THAT is the last place you’ll see results.

AND since that bulkier area tends to be the place we focus all our attention on…

We often miss the reduction happening in other areas.

For example, I carried the bulk of my weight on my back (under my bra) and in my thighs.

All my focus was on those areas.

I was practically obsessed with pinching my thighs and stare at my back in the mirror looking for some kind of proof they were reducing.

Point is, because I didn’t hate my arms, or think they were “fat”, I never paid attention to them.

It wasn’t until I put on a jacket that used to be very tight and fitted in the arms, that I realized, “Holy smokes! This jacket is sooo loose! My arms shrank!

I had a similar experience with the butt part of a pair of pants.

I was surprised each time, but secretly frustrated.

Why there and not my thighs?

Meanwhile my husband had super lean legs after losing just 10lbs. It felt so unfair until I realized he had his own “trouble area” and that was a spot where I’d lost weight easily. GENETICS.

Here’s the good news: No matter where you store fat, the prescription is still the same.

You have to reduce your OVERALL body fat.

Just remember that where you gain weight first will likely be the last place to go.

Likewise, the last place where you gained weight (which in women is often the boobs), that id usually the first place to reduce.

(Yes, I KNOW. Nature can be cruel to our egos sometimes.)

The best way to reduce body fat is through your diet.

Create a deficit from the “input” side.

Unfortunately, you can’t “spot train” or target one specific area.

Genetics don’t play that way.

This means if you carry most of your fat in your midsection, you’re not going to have “abs” until you reach a very low body fat percentage and all OTHER areas where you store fat (i.e. hips, legs, butt, back, arms, so on) are very lean. It doesn’t matter HOW many crunches you do… you’ll build muscle, sure, but it won’t SHOW until you pull back the curtain of fat.

One (small) caveat: Sometimes our midsections appear bigger or “fatter” than they really are because of bloating, often caused by eating salty or junky foods, though if you have IBS or food allergies, bloating could be caused from contamination with the allergen.

Here’s a picture of our VIP members posted during the March Madness challenge:

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This happened within ONE WEEK of her eating “clean” specifically, following the meal plans and quitting her habit of chips and sugary vegan treats.

I found that as I lost weight, my bloating was a lot more noticeable. Even “overeating” on healthful foods would make my stomach look so much bigger.

If you think this could be you too, I recommend doing the Detox meal plan or the Elimination Diet plan (available in the member library on your dashboard) to see.

Cutting back on salt (or at least being more mindful of my use of hidden salts, like hot sauce) has also made a DRAMATIC difference in my midsection. In fact, it was the only way I could get my washboard abs.

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Final note: If your have reached a healthy weight but don’t like how you look, or like me, you still had a lot of excess body fat even at a “goal weight”, your focus needs to be on CHANGING YOUR BODY COMPOSITION.

Meaning reducing your body fat percentage (BMI), so you are literally “leaner.”

This all came down to diet for me, but exercise to increase muscle mass can help.

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Overcoming Disordered Eating 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, member Jill opens up about her eating disorder recovery story. Jill shares her experience completing eating disorder treatment, how she's learning to reconcile veganism with restriction, and the many ways she's had to cultivate inner reflection to find healing and nourishment.

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Jill also opens up about her autoimmune disease, identifying true hunger, and what "progress not perfection" has taught her about health.

Don't miss this episode!

We'll have another podcast episode next week. To get notified when we post it join our email list.

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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The MYTH of Slow Metabolism, Starvation Mode (+ Intermittent Fasting)

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

I know I promised to talk about sugar cravings and gut bugs at the end of the last episode, and I assure you I still will, but today’s topic comes up so frequently among our members that I wanted to cover it before we move on to bugs.

If you’re a member of Meal Mentor, make sure you download the weight-loss guide from the member library for more information.

Welcome to your metabolism.

If you’ve had difficulty losing weight, chances are you think you have a “slow metabolism” or you somehow broke your metabolism from past dieting.

Neither is true.

Before I jump into all the science and research that backs me up here (I can feel your skepticism) let me first explain what metabolism actually is.

Metabolism is the process by which your body converts the food you eat (or drink) into energy. Even when you’re asleep, your body needs energy for basic life functions like breathing and circulating blood. The number of calories (how much energy) used for these basic functions is known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Think of your BMR as the number of calories (energy) you’d burn laying in bed all day.

Your BMR is determined by your body size and composition (meaning the percentages of fat, bone, water and muscle), as well as your sex and age, which brings up another false belief: that your metabolism slows as you age. This is half true, but also half false!

As you get older, your muscle mass usually decreases, which consequently slows down the rate at which you burn calories. It’s not the passing of time and getting older that slows your BMR, it’s the change in your muscle mass.

Interestingly, my muscle mass has been totally unchanged for the last two years, but I because I have decreased my body fat, my BMR has changed.

I’ll give you the exact numbers here so you can get a good picture of this.

Sidebar: I used InBody body composition testing to get these numbers, which is the gold standard for determining true body fat and BMI. These machines use Direct Segmental Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA) which is a fancy way of saying they send electrodes through the body. It’s totally painless but incredibly accurate while calipers and water tanks are not.

Here are my numbers and I’ll post the scanned reports on getmealplans.com/podcast for your viewing pleasure.

In December 2013 I weighed 133 total pounds. 32 of those pounds were fat. The rest was lean body mass meaning water and muscle. My body fat percentage was 23%, My BMI was 20, and my BMR was 1360.

I should note quickly that I had already been strictly using the meal mentor meal plans for a year at that point and it was the lowest maintainable weight I’d ever been at in my adult life.

I had another professional set of tests done last month (March 2016), three years after using the meal plans.

My lean mass is literally identical. I have the exact same muscle mass and water as I did in 2013, but I decreased my body fat from 32lbs to 18lbs. I literally only lost fat. 14lbs to be exact, almost half.

My body fat percentage is now 15% (down from 23%) my BMI is 18.4 (down from 21) and my BMR is now 1343 instead of 1360.

First, big thanks to the meal plans and meal mentor. That is incredible. 15% body fat is a real testament that abs are made in the kitchen!

Second, my BMR went down only 17 calories, a reflection of the fat loss and not muscle loss. I’m 5’7” so 1343 is a sobering reminder how efficient our bodies are and how little food we really need even if we are muscular and active. My 6-foot husbands was 1629 and a friend who is about 5’2” came in at 1150.

These numbers inadvertently bring me to another myth.

While men tend to have a higher metabolism than women, it’s not purely because they are male, but because men tend to have less body fat and more muscle mass. They also tend to be taller and bigger overall.

If a man has a higher BMR than a woman of the same age, height, and weight, it is only because he has more muscle than she does.

This next part is simple, though hard to accept about ourselves and what it means for weight-loss: The more you weigh, the more calories you burn, even at rest.

We can all agree an idling mac truck is using more gas than an idling mini cooper.

I can hear it clicking together for you now… but in case it isn’t:

People who weigh more tend to have a faster metabolism (not a slower one).

And as much as we don’t want to believe this, obese and overweight people tend to have a greater energy expenditure than people who are not obese or overweight.

Skinny people do not have a higher metabolism and that whole “high metabolism” thing is a totally false myth too.

While there are some individual variances in metabolism, those who seem naturally blessed with thinness despite their dietary choices aren’t gifted with superpower metabolism.

These people either have a higher total energy expenditure per day due to increased Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT for short) — little movements like twitching, fidgeting, or tapping throughout the day OR they restrict their eating to some degree.

Meaning, they sometimes eat smaller portions or choose healthy foods even though they’d prefer something else. Truth is we don’t see them at every meal. We’re only seeing them at the party or the restaurant and assume that is how they always eat. We underestimate how much they might restrict themselves at other times.

For example, I had a coworker who was very thin. Everyday she went out to lunch and brought back McDonalds, Burger King, Chick-Fil-A, and so on.

It was a mystery how she ate that and stayed so slender.

It wasn’t until I stayed with her for a few days that I got the entire picture. I realized she almost never ate breakfast and if she did, it was a few almonds. Her dinner was a bowl of cereal or a protein shake.

Her diet wasn’t the healthiest, but she wasn’t going over her calories, hence her thinness.

Quick sidebar: new research suggests some people absorb calories more easily than others, so that can be another explanation.

For now, let’s take a breath to recap what we’ve learned so far: There is no such thing as a “slow metabolism” save for exceedingly rare medical conditions that temporarily cause a slow metabolism, but this can be tested for and treated.

You also can’t blame your age or your sex. You can’t really blame your metabolism at all, as it turns out because the one and only beautifully simple thing about weight-loss is what? That’s right, there has to be a caloric deficit.

Thus, even if it is a little bit slower than it was 20 years ago, it’s still not “slow,” or broken, or the reason you’re not losing weight.

If you’re like me you’re thinking, okay I don’t have a slow metabolism, but I probably have a slowER metabolism, what can I do about that?

This is the fun part where I get to disprove “starvation mode” AND turn the worst advice you’ve even been given about metabolism on it’s head.

Raise your hand if you’ve been told that in order to lose weight, you need to eat 6 small meals a day.

That’s wrong. And it’ll actually make you gain weight, probably. More on that in a second.

“Starvation mode” doesn’t exist and intuitively you get that. You might not want to accept it, but the idea that if you don’t eat enough food you won’t lose weight is... hilarious.

But this wouldn’t be a science-backed research podcast if there wasn’t a giant, steamy caveat in every episode, so here’s today’s: Your metabolism will only slow down if you’ve consumed less than 50% of your required calorie intake for several weeks or months AND even then only by 10% AT THE MOST.

So you’re still going to lose weight even if you reached that point.

To be clear, I’m not encouraging you to do that, I’m just making a point to show you that even if you did “screw up” or “slow” your metabolism, it does not matter. You’ll still lose and lose steadily if there is any deficit. PLUS, numerous other studies confirm that once your weight has stabilized, your metabolism goes back up to expected levels.

No deficit = no loss. Broken record on repeat.

Here’s the super fascinating part: New research is showing that fasting, meaning not eating, can encourage the body to burn more fat and not muscle.

And there goes another myth! That weight-loss or dieting or not exercising means you’re losing muscle instead of fat. Not true, but I’m getting ahead of myself and I’ll get more into this later when I talk about Intermittent Fasting.

Let’s back up for a second and finish debunking “starvation mode.”

Research shows there’s no point at which your body stops burning fat, even during prolonged low-calorie diets or fasting.

As long as a caloric deficit exists, you will lose weight no matter if that deficit is small, moderate, or extra-large.

This is why people suffering from eating disorders such as anorexia, or POWs held captive with little to no food, will continue to lose weight, even once they are already underweight.

Shows like Survivor and Naked and Afraid are other good, real world testaments that “starvation mode” is a myth. If “starvation mode” existed, they would not thin out before our eyes. They would look and weigh the same on Day 22 as Day 1.

To be clear, I’m not encouraging or recommending an extremely low calorie “survivor” diet as they are nutritionally inadequate, I’m simply making a point.

Back to the big question: Is there anything you can do to speed up your metabolism?

Unfortunately there is little you can do to change, “jump-start” or speed up your BMR since it’s driven by the demands of your vital organs.

I know, wah. Wah. wah.

This is one reason why that “eat frequently” or “eat 6 small meals” is such crap advice. You can’t “stroke the metabolic flames” AND eating with such constant frequency has a massive downside when it comes to fat burning and weight-loss.

Which brings me to the real question we all should have been asking from the beginning.

The question isn’t “what can I do to speed up my metabolism?” But “what can I do to make my body burn more fat?”

Enter intermittent Fasting.

The premise behind IF is that by fasting you’re finally creating a situation where the body can burn fat as fuel without breaking down your muscles.

It’s all incredibly complex but here’s the best example I’ve come up with. Let’s say you stack up on canned chickpeas because it’s 10 for $10 this week.

There you are, with your 10 cans of chickpeas in your pantry, waiting for the great chickpea shortage of 2016 or the zombie apocalypse to come.

Now let’s say you’re out of all other food so you eat a can of chickpeas. Great! That’s exactly what those chickpeas were there for… But then, an hour later, you go out and buy another can of chickpeas to replace that can.

So your inventory never actually has the chance to go down.

That’s what happens with your body when you eat all day. You fat is the can of chickpeas. You have all this stored up energy for a rainy day but it never ever rains. You never go without food. Your body never has a chance to clear out the pantry.

There are a number of different strategies and I’ll post a link to the methods on getmealplans.com/podcast, but the one most people have success with, which is the one I tried, is the 8-hour window approach. Meaning, you’re eating during a consecutive 8-hour window every day, fasting the other 16-hours.

Here are my thoughts:

Experimenting with intermittent fasting helped me find a better relationship and awareness with my true hunger.

It helped me see that I don’t need to eat all the time, or all day, and that if I’m hungry, it’s not an emergency.

Other MM members that have tried IF have said fasting taught them that hunger is like a wave, which ebbs and flows, but never gets bigger. They now know they can ride the wave if they have to and not eat out of fear of it getting bigger and “out of control.”

Intermittent fasting also forced us out of the habit of eating just because it was a certain time, rather than eating strictly because we were hungry. IF also broke our habits of fussing constantly about when I was going to eat and worrying about if I need to eat before I do this or that.

Fasting basically stops clockwork-systematized eating while simultaneously creating boundaries which did wonders for my “I’m bored” snacking habit. (It also made me realize I basically conditioned myself to feel hungry at certain times.)

If you think about it — it’s only in our recent history that humans have had such glorious access to an abundance of food. Our three meals a day habit is exclusive to the developed world, too. This is not the norm in underdeveloped nations.

Perhaps what surprised me the most about my experiment with IF was the noticeable increase in clarity and productivity, especially in the mornings. I expected to feel foggy or have low energy having not eaten, but I was more alert.

I also used to suffer from horrible bouts of “hanger” — feeling angry from hunger. I would frequently wake up in the morning or middle of the night ravenous. I also had days where my stomach seemed like a bottomless pit. I was insatiable. All of that went away when I began IF consistently. There is an adjustment period and a few people have said when they go off their schedule, the insatiable hunger and hangriness comes back.

My best explanation is that eating all day long created a lot of shifts and ranges in my blood sugar, which led to those unpleasant feelings. By eating larger meals less frequently, I stayed more level.

The New York Times also ran an article on the benefits of having a shorter eating window (proposing a 12-hour period) citing ample new research that eating less frequently can help cure and prevent obesity. I’ll include a link with the show notes on getmealplans.com/podcast

This approach isn’t for everyone and does make your social life a bit challenging sometimes, but if you’re having trouble losing weight, you’re stuck at the last 10-15 pounds, you think hunger is an emergency, or you want to experience greater clarity and productivity, and you don’t have a medical condition or eating disorder that might be affected by this, IF could be a good experiment for you.

Lastly, since I’m sure you’re all wondering, what does IF look like with the meal plans? I tend to have my breakfast at 11, my lunch at 1 and my dinner at 6. My husband basically merges his breakfast and lunch into one gigantic meal. You’ll find your stride.

My husband says the reason IF works so well is because your head isn’t in the trough as many hours of the day, which is a fair point. Closing the window of opportunity to take in calories does make it easier not to overeat and create that deficit.

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

For next week's post I’ll be back talking about gut bugs and sugar cravings. To get notified when we post it join our email list.

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