[00:00] About Dr. Cate Shanahan
[03:15] Why Calories Don't Count
[09:39] Deep Nutrition Formula for Weight Loss
[12:24] Why Body Fat Is Essential
[20:17] Distorted Fats
[25:35] Transforming Fat Cells Into Another Type of Cell
[37:07] Factors That Build Fat & Lose Fat
[45:21] Aerobic& Anaerobic Exercise
[53:58] The Three Habits of a Successful Exercise
[1:00:38] End of the Podcast
Ben: Hey folks, it's Ben Greenfield here, and if you're listening to this podcast when it comes out, you may know that just last week over at bengreenfieldfitness.com, I released an article called “21 Steps To Optimizing Your Diet And 11 Foods You Need To Stop Eating Now” and that entire article was influenced by a book that I've recently read called “Deep Nutrition”. Now the subtitle of “Deep Nutrition” is “Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food”. It was written by a physician, Dr. Cate Shanahan, and Dr. Shanahan goes into a ton of extremely interesting and useful and practical nutrition information in this book. She covers from the [1:25] ______ to the Ancient Egyptian to the Japanese and the French, kind of how we can base our diet using the foundation of some of the healthiest components of all these other diets, but it does so in this really scientific way, using a lot of research and physiology and research in genetics.
You'd think that all of this just has to do with health or longevity, but what I like, she actually gets into things like how we can use these concepts to enhance our beauty, like the length of our limbs and the shape of our eyes and even what we're going to talk about today. That is fat loss and the way that your body interprets the food that you eat to either help you to gain fat or lose fat, depending on the choices that you make. So it's really non-run-in-the-mill information when it comes to fat loss, that's why I wanted to get Dr. Cate on the show today to talk about this stuff because a lot of what you're going to learn today when it comes to optimizing your body for fat loss kind of flies under the radar. So Dr. Cate, thank you so much for coming on the call today.
Dr. Shanahan: Oh, my pleasure, Ben. I'm so excited to be on your show.
Ben: So you know I was telling you before we recorded, your book is so jam-packed with information. I'm looking at it right now, there's literally like I think about 40 pages folded over. Things I wanted to ask you, and finally as I got towards the end of the book, I was like man, we got to focus on just one thing here 'cause there's so much, so I decided that what I really wanted to go after today was your excellent chapter. It’s chapter ten in the book “Deep Nutrition” called “Beyond Calories: Using Food as a Language to Achieve Ideal Body Weight”. So I think that a place that would be really, really good for us to start off is your whole talk about this energy balance formula, and kind of like energy versus information because you start off talking about why calories don't count. So let's just jump in there Dr. Cate. Why don't calories count?
Dr. Shanahan: Okay, well you know we're all familiar with the energy balance equation, right? Calories in versus calories out equal weight gained or lost. I learned that in medical school too, and I bowed down to the simplicity of its truth, until in practice I met patients who… I like to talk to my patients and listen, and they told me that they were doing x amount of exercise and eating x amount of calories and still not losing weight, time and time again. So I had no choice but to believe them, but you know I've talked to my colleagues about it. There was just a giant question mark over the whole thing, and some of my colleagues just resorted to well, they're not telling the truth, and that's a real common reaction. It didn't seem right, and so ultimately when I opened my eyes to the reality of what nutrition really does during my great reformation somewhere, right around the millennium. I came across the idea that food was actually information, it's chemical information, and it's chemical information that communicates with our DNA, our genetics and builds us.
And so the idea that you can just turn it into numbers and caloric values, and somehow that translates into a human being is way over simplified obviously. So when we're talking about food as information, what we can then understand is the food that we eat contains instructions for our DNA, and those instructions affect our metabolism to build fat or to reduce the amount of fat and build muscle. In any combination, those things are not necessarily occurring at the same time. So when you look at it that way, you can start to understand how people can do things like train for a marathon, and yet eat 1200 calories a day and still not lose weight. It just boils down to the fact that their instructing their body to hang on to that fat with every ounce of energy that the body has, and so it's all very abstract, so let me give you a specific example.
Back in 1995, a journalist named Joe Robinson was wandering around a medical laboratory, research laboratory, and she happened to strike up a conversation while she was waiting to talk with somebody else, and she strike up a conversation with a scientist who was examining a biologic process called apoptosis. This is a kind of cell suicide, it's a very complicated process in which a damage cells recognizes that it's not working properly, that something's missing or it's just time to shut itself down, and it does so in a really organized way. It very quietly takes itself apart, so that any useful pieces can be recycled by the body. It doesn't cause inflammation, it doesn't attract white blood cells. It's just a very quiet, polite process, and so what the scientist was telling Joe Robinson, the journalist, she actually went on to write a very popular book because the scientist was studying something that we all have heard of now called Omega-3, and he told her that he was noticing that he's studying cancer cells, and he found that when they added Omega-3 fatty acids like what you would get from flax oil or fish oil to these cancer cells, then the cancer cells would undergo the process of apoptosis, and conversely when you fed these cells Omega-6 fatty acids, another kind of fatty acid, the cancer cells would grow. So Joe Robinson was so struck by that, that 10 years later when I had the chance to talk to her in her house, she relived the moment. Tears almost came to her eyes because it was such a powerful thing to see that you can talk to cells, and so the caloric value there of the Omega-3 versus the Omega-6 doesn't play into it at all, right? I mean it's a completely parallel and opposite, non-intersecting thought process to say that the Omega-3 somehow promotes caloric gain that somehow has to do with shutting. You know its caloric gain, yet it kills cells, right? It reduced the number of these kinds of cells. In that sense, it helps you to start to build this understanding of what exactly is chemical information. So it's information that the body interprets and does stuff with it, it is instructions.
Ben: Right, a lot of times, the analogy that you hear are like the difference between an Oreo, Snack Pak and an apple, but I like the way that you lay it out in terms of even going deeper, and looking at just something as simple as Omega-3 fatty acid content versus Omega-6 fatty acid content affecting something like cancer, and obviously we're going to talk more about fat loss than cancer today, but in that section of the book, you go into this idea of getting rid of inflammation that blocks cellular communication and eating foods that enable you to convert your fat cells into healthier tissue. Now converting fat cells into healthier tissue is not something that you hear talked about a lot, but that's what you call the deep nutrition formula for weight loss. Can you kind of go into why you chose that as the formula?
Dr. Shanahan: Because it is the simplest way of describing what happens when people are trapped in this cycle where they exercise all that they can and they restrict their calories, and they still fail to lose the fat mass. What's happened often is they've been in a pro-inflammatory state. Their body has chemicals circulating that are a result of inflammation that can come from stresses, that can come from infection, that can come from a pro-inflammatory diet, from lack of sleep, and those chemicals actually are like static, blocking the signals that the exercise is creating. So when we exercise, we generate all kinds of signal, right? As a bodybuilder, I'm sure you Ben, are very familiar with the fact that you generate growth hormones and there's all kinds of signaling cascades that have to do with fancy segments of genes that we've understood like MTor and stuff like this that turn on. The genes for creating proteins that help build more muscle, we’ll all of that can get blocked by inflammatory chemicals. So an essential first step to being able to actually reduce your fat mass, burn fat effectively, is getting rid of that inflammation, and then only once you've really cleared out as much of the inflammation as possible can the exercise and all the hard work that you do give you the results that you want.
Ben: And I think later on, we've probably going to talk about some of those foods that would tend to really cause inflammation or fight inflammation, but I can tell you for me, from personal experience, I don't know if you're noticed this, but when I'm working with someone who's had a lot of resistance to fat loss and we specifically actually do blood testing to look at HSCRP, kind of a classic marker of inflammation, or cytokines are another one you can look at, or interleukins a lot of times in folks who can't lose weight. These inflammatory molecules are through the roof, and it's just something that people don't even think about. Thy think about, like we mentioned, starting off the calories, but they don't think about that underlying inflammation that can be dealt with, using some of the stuff that I think we're going to get into here.
Dr. Shanahan: Absolutely.
Ben: So before we do that though, something that kind of shocked me as I was reading this chapter of your book was you start off by talking about appreciating what fat does for you and even going as far as to say that you'd never get on Baywatch without body fat. So can you say what you mean by that?
Dr. Shanahan: So for those of you who don't originate from the same vintage and have no idea what Baywatch is, it was a TV show that came out in what was it? The eighties or nineties or something, I can't even remember. They all blend after a while.
Ben: Just the red-swimsuit Pam Anderson running down the beach, that's what I remember.
Dr. Shanahan: Yes, and basically that's all I remember too, and I think it was written and directed by a plastic surgeon 'cause it wasn't much to the plot. So even if you were to deflate Pam Anderson's boobs, you would still appreciate what fat is doing for her visually because she still has those full, feminine, luscious lips. She still has attractive fat pads under her eyes, under her nose, so fat is making us look youthful when we're youthful, and one of the things that happens as we age, we all hear how we gain fat as we age. Well actually, we lose fat under our skin. We don't actually really gain fat, it just ends up in the wrong places, and so what fat does for us when we're young is it sits in places where it goes away when you're approaching my age. So a lot of folks who are getting plastic surgery or collagen injections know the term nasolabial fold, right? It's like the bane of the thirty-something-year-olds where when you smile, instead of having a pretty smile, there's like this droop underneath the cheeks, and that's actually because fat has been lost at the fold there of the nose, just under the cheeks. And when we wake up in the morning, we start to see the wrinkles and puffiness under our eyes, that's because fat has been lost from under the eyes. Another funny example, maybe about five years ago, there was a picture of Madonna, really thin, carrying something, grocery bags and the caption was “Clint Eastwood's Penis Arms” or something like that, because her biceps had no fat around them, and they were overly defined in a wrinkly kind of deflated looking way, and so the fat even under the skin and in between our muscle helps us look youthful and shapely and curvy, but it's not just appearances.
Paradoxically if you don't have enough fat and if you have way too much fat, you get many of the same problems, and we know this because they're bred mice to be genetically prone to fatlessness. That's what they call it. So they call them fatless mice, and these mice develop many of the same problems that mice genetically bred to be obese developed, and that is hyperphagia which is the medical term for eating too much. Weight gain, insulin resistance, fatty liver, high triglyceride levels and glucose intolerance. So all the hormones that fat cells produce help mediate those things, and that when you have no fat, you don't have those hormones and they don't help you balance out your energy, and you end up being sick. Just to restate, it's kind of a little bit weird that how can a fatless mouse develop weight gain. Well what they do, they actually gain weight in other tissues. So they gain weight in their liver, they gain weight in their muscles, so their muscles become malformed. You're not supposed to have fat interlock related with your muscle fibers, they won't contract well. So fat cells help prevent that problem as well as how to keep you look youthful when they’re in the right place, when diet and lifestyle is such that they stay in the right place for longer.
Ben: This reason that body fat is essential and this concept that you don't actually lose fat cells, they just move around, does this relate to why you say that supplements really aren't that effective?
Dr. Shanahan: Yeah, absolutely because supplements are developed often because somebody in the lab discovered something really cool, and they get overly excited and think oh, this is the answer to everything, right? ‘Cause how many times have we heard that oh, they've discovered this new compound, and it's the answer to obesity or cancer. So the example of that, we talked about in our book “Deep Nutrition” is the example of lectin because it was discovered back in 1995 when researchers who were working with a breed of mice that were just naturally overweight discovered that breed lacked a chemical called lectin. So ba-bing, cha-ching, the dollar signs go up. Lectin, that's the answer to obesity, so ten year later, fast forward ten years. It took them that long to do all the more research to figure out why the supplements weren't working. It has to do with the fact that you can't just take excessive amounts of hormone that your body needs when the rest of the house is not in order and particularly when you have that inflammation 'cause no matter how much lectin they give people who are overweight, the body can't respond to it properly, and that's partly because of the inflammation.
Ben: Gotcha, so your strategy shouldn't necessarily be to get rid of all your fat cells. Your strategy is basically to send the right chemical signal to your body to use the energy that's in those fat cells in the right way? Is that kind of where we're going?
Dr. Shanahan: Absolutely, that's absolutely right 'cause there is useful stuff stored in there, and your body can make use of those cells.
Ben: Gotcha, and the only way you're going to send that message to your body to use the energy that's in those existing fat cells that you're actually not going to get rid of, you're just going to burn through some of the energy that's available in them is to make sure that you are not resistant to lectin.
Dr. Shanahan: Right, exactly.
Ben: Got it, and it's inflammation that makes you resistant to lectin.
Dr. Shanahan: Yes, and of course it's not just lectin that you're resistant to. It’s multiple imbalances and multiple resistances. A lot of the folks have heard of the term insulin resistance and that it's related to the diabetes disorder and that many people who are overweight are insulin resistant. So they're also resistant to sex hormones which is why a lot of women who are overweight have polycystic ovarian disease. So all of these resistances come in part from the inflammation blocking the hormones as they circulate, and they don't end up in the right place or for a variety of complicated reasons. They just can't transmit the signal, they never get to the DNA to tell the DNA exactly what it's supposed to do.
Ben: Okay, got it, so unlocking our potential for fat loss once again kind of comes full circle to this inflammation, and one of the things that you talk about, as far as something that is extremely pro-inflammatory, are distorted fats. Can you talk about what you mean by distorted fats and why those, in particular would be one of the most damaging things in this scenario?
Dr. Shanahan: In chapter eight of our book “Deep Nutrition”, we go over good fats and bad, and the simplest way to distinguish good fats from bad is that nature doesn't make bad fats, factories do. And what factories do to make bad fats is they distort natural fats, and so distorted fats is my shortcut term for any kind of a mutated fatty acid that is completely foreign to your body, has absolutely no ability to do anything positive in your body. It's like a toxin, and it promotes inflammation because it confuses the normal natural order of things. I guess if you're running traffic, if you're looking at the nice flow of traffic through a city, inflammation would be anything that would disrupt that like a massive number of pot holes or a couple of bridges being closed. These fatty acids work in the same way, to disrupt the normal order of function in your body at a cellular level and then that extends to the tissue level. So that distorted fats, we know some specific things that they do. One of them, well the most familiar distorted fat probably is the trans fat that we've all heard of. You don't want to have hydrogenated oils in your food or margarine because it contains trans fat. Well what's bad about this trans fat anyway?
It's deformed, it's distorted. It is not something that your body is capable of dealing with, it's not what your body expects, and so when the enzymes that normally modify the fatty acids, either burning them or extending them or changing their shape. Pick them up, these enzymes actually can't let go of them, so it's like a Chinese finger trap for your fat burning enzymes and it takes them out. And having all of these enzymes taken out can actually lead to a very dysfunctional adipose cell. That's going to be producing all kinds of other inflammatory chemicals like tumor and necrosis factor and things that make people who are overweight feel tired and sluggish and sick and depressed, and a lot of it comes from these distorted fats and that harmful interaction with enzymes.
Ben: Okay, gotcha. So basically when you're consuming trans fats, it’s limiting your ability to burn free fatty acids and making the fat cells actually… is it making the fat cells become more full of fatty acids or is it more affecting liver's ability to actually burn fats or both?
Dr. Shanahan: Yeah both, because it depends where they are. You know the trans fats can end up in all of our tissues, even our brain, and so they will cause inflammatory problems in some tissues, and then if they end up in the fat cells, it makes it difficult for those fat cells to burn fat properly when the time comes because of those reasons. The enzymes have been disrupted, maybe there's too much inflammation. The cell is just not working properly, so it makes it very hard to lose weight when you've got a whole bunch of that type of fat in your body. It's a completely different process for eliminating that cell, cell full of these distorted fats, versus just burning calories running and the normal process of weight loss. I think this is a big reason a lot of people go through plateaus actually, where they have a hard time losing weight.
Ben: Yeah, and something you mentioned in the book that I actually wasn't aware of was that vegetable oils, which are pretty much on every package food on the face of the planet, canola oil and safflower oil and sunflower oil and all of these, they can actually deform into these type of distorted fatty acids.
Dr. Shanahan: Yeah, thank you, Ben, for bringing that up because, yeah. There's six very common vegetable oils that everybody should know to look for. I'll just list them out real quick if that's okay.
Ben: Yeah, definitely.
Dr. Shanahan: So it’s corn, cottonseed, canola, soy, sunflower, safflower, and those are definitely on my website as well as in the books, but those are, as you said, in so many processed and packaged goods that it's depressing honestly. When you try to go shopping, once you realize these things are bad for you. So I tell people if they're not in the top six ingredients, then it's probably okay, but if you can't find an alternative because sometimes you don't have time to cook and you got to do something, so it's better than going for Twinkies or McDonald's French fries.
Ben: By the way, we mentioned all of those oils over at bengreenfieldfitness.com in the article I wrote last week that was derived from your book, the eleven foods to avoid. One of the things though that we've kind of talked about is how you can't really get rid of fat cells, but you do talk about how you can transform them into other types of cells and the concept of stem cells and where they fit in with this. So can you talk about stem cells and how those can be used to kind of like coerce fat cells into becoming other, perhaps more helpful cells?
Dr. Shanahan: So cells in the body are a lot more flexible than we used to think, right? We used to think that the sperm, the egg. There's all kinds of potential there, all those are stem cells for a while, and then they start differentiating and as you mature, it's a one-way street. Suddenly you have heart cells, and those are heart cells forever, but it turns out that all kinds of cells in the body can be coerced into reversing that maturing route. In going backwards, in going from becoming a muscle cell or a bone cell or a fat cell and turning into a stem cell, and we're not sure exactly how much of that process occurs before a fat cell can undergo apoptosis, but they actually can. You actually can get rid of fat cells, it's just really been the context of the pro-inflammatory diet. We've all heard that you can't get rid of fat cells, but you can. It's very hard when there's inflammation laying around. It'll block this complicated process, but these stem cells that you can turn fat cells, you can reverse course and have them go back into stem cells, and then from there, they can become much more useful types of cells. Not any type of cell, but it seems like any connective tissue type of cells. So there are four body types that are called connective tissue, fat is one, muscle is another, bone is one and white blood cells is another, but actually you know what? Actually I'm correcting myself.
Ben: Is it nerve cells?
Dr. Shanahan: Yeah, you can actually turn fat cells into nerve cells even though those are not, strictly speaking, connective tissues. So we have to rewrite the whole understanding of human physiology and embryology, and so the fact that we need to do that, sometimes I trip myself up because I forget that. That needs to happen, so let me just give you a real interesting example of what fat cells can do. There's an article entitled “Improvement of Neurological Deficits by Intracerebral Transplantation of Human Adipose”, so adipose is fats. So what they did is they went to a liposuction clinic, I guess, and got human fat cells. They said it was from liposuction, and they treated it with some DNA modifying chemicals which were mostly nutrients for a little while to get it to a certain state of D Differentiation, and then they injected those formerly fat cells into the part of the brain called the ventricle which is the fluidy part of the brain that from there fluid can flow to other parts of the brain, and this was into mice that had been given small strokes, right?
So what these former fat cells did was swim around to all different parts of the brain, including the damaged part of the brain, and we're able actually to improve the physical coordination of the mice where they had lost function. From the stroke, they started to improve, so fat cells can become like anything. So mostly, they could be really put to good use, but obviously mostly what we would want would be let's get rid of some cellulite, right? So it gives me great hope for the idea of when you have that cellulite on your thighs of wherever it is, if you do the right kind of exercise and eat well, what's happening is that you just reverse the process of those fat cells. You turn them back into stem cells, and then they can become pre-myocyte cells, and they do. This has also been shown in a lab, and then those pre-myocytes can become muscle cells. So obviously to do this, and I've seen it happen in my own flabby legs where I had a whole bunch of cellulite and then I really watch my diet and my exercise, it was gone, it was just muscle. It was pretty quick that it happens, and I think it's because you're having this weird transformation where former fat just reverses. You're not really burning them all off, you're just allowing it to turn into muscle cells, and so it's pretty cool.
Ben: Well, I know one of the things that we're going to talk about is the type of exercise that actually can cause fat cells to become other cells, and again I think it's important to differentiate between the facts that we're not saying that the cells disappear. They just take on the characteristics or become cells that are of a different type than the storage based fat cells or the cellulite cells or something of that nature. Before we talk about the type of exercise that can actually do something like that, I know that one thing you say is one of the ways that you don't make fat cells give up all their fat or disappear is lowcalorie diets or extreme amounts of caloric moderation or very small food portions. Why is that approach not a good idea?
Dr. Shanahan: Well that approach, the calorie restriction approach, basically does shrink your fat cells down a little bit, but it doesn't shut them down for good, and the reason that it doesn't shut them down for good is if you were eating a diet that was unhealthy enough to make you gain weight and you just start eating less of that same diet. This is the everything-in-moderation approach that I hear so often, and people are struggling to lose weight, so they're eating the same foods that cause them to gain weight, just a little bit less of them. You're not getting the blend of nutrients that are capable of sending the signals to the fat cell to undergo that complicated process of apoptosis, that very polite cell suicide where it just takes itself apart quietly, it's no longer a fat cell. Or the other possibility is where it turns into a muscle cell. So both of those require a lot of complex nutrients and signaling to be generated, and if you're not going to change significantly, the quality of your diet, you're just going to restrict it. You can't possibly expect to generate different compounds and chemicals than you were when you were eating more of the same unhealthy foods.
Ben: Gotcha, so is there an issue here with caloric restriction and extreme moderation in terms of that potentially having the ability to make you fatter?
Dr. Shanahan: It can definitely block fat loss, like if you are overweight and you are trying to lose weight and you restrict so severely that you block your body's ability to generate these signals that empty out your fat cells. Yes, you will suffer from a weight loss plateau, and whether or not you can continue gaining weight in those circumstances. It's certainly possible, you know, if you have the right or I should say wrong combination of inflammation and from lack of sleep or stress or other factors affecting your health, maybe certain medications and combined with even a low calorie but an unhealthy macronutrient imbalanced diet, lacking nutrients that kind of thing. Your body can be so imbalanced that all it can do is continue to make fat out of the food that you're eating.
Ben: So once you do start eating, like let’s say you go on a calorie-restricted diet and then you start to amp up the calories again or maybe fall of the diet bandwagon like a lot of people do, your body is more likely to put that energy into fat cell storage?
Dr. Shanahan: Yeah, that's very possible, that happens a lot, and that is the explanation is that you've generated signals that make your body panic about energy, and it's like okay. If I get anything, protein, fat, sugar or whatever, I’m going to turn that into fat because I need to have a certain amount of it around because the body knows. It needs to have a certain balance of tissues and if you get to that unhealthy state, you can convince your body that you don't have enough fat laying around even though you do. It can't tell, and this is the role of inflammation that it blocks the signals that your fat cells are trying to send saying whoop, there's plenty of us around. So there's all kinds of different ways in which inflammation can interfere with the process of losing weight, while simultaneously making it very east to gain weight, so getting rid of the inflammation makes all of those potentials irrelevant.
Ben: Yeah, and I think it's very interesting because when you talk about caloric moderation, you mention how your body winds up getting forced when you're just being hungry all the time to mine other tissues for things like vitamins and minerals and protein and essential fats and kind of breakdown everything from muscle to other connective tissue, to even your brain, and I thought that was interesting because that's almost related to something else that you talk about at a different part of the book, in relation to beauty and how women who want to have more beautiful children or who want to kind of increase the symmetrical appearance of their children or give their children really a step-up in life should actually take a couple of years between kids to actually allow their body to restore a lot of those nutrients and vitamins and minerals. So that's obviously a whole different part of the book, but it seems like when it comes down to it, being beautiful, burning fat, etc., it's not really case of depriving the body of all these nutrients and vitamins and minerals.
Dr. Shanahan: You're absolutely right, Ben, and I'm glad you brought up that discussion of making healthy and beautiful children because it does take a complex array of nutrients, just like weight loss does. So the same diet that helps you to lose weight if you wanted to do that before conceiving, it's going to be better for the baby that you ultimately would conceive.
Ben: Yeah, and I know that you lay out, like I mentioned, I talked about some of the foods that you mentioned in the article at bengreenfieldfitness.com. I know you lay out a ton more foods like that, that kind of allow you to get extreme nutrient density with even smaller portions of food in kind of like the ancestral eating parts of the book, and I would encourage people to go check that out. I want to delve now into some of the factors that you talk about 'cause in the book, you talk about six factors that make you build fat and six factors that eliminate fat. Now you already talked about Omega-6 fatty acids as one of the factors that makes you build fat, you talked about insulin as well. Now there were a few others, and you've got an entire table on page 248, but there's one that a common type of diabetes medication that ironically, you say, can actually make you fat. Can you go into that one and explain how that works?
Dr. Shanahan: Prescription medications are called Thiazolidinedione, I love saying it when I get it right.
Dr. Shanahan: Yes, and so this would be Avandia, rosiglitazone, pioglitazone. They actually stimulate fat cell division, and increase fat storage. When drugs get developed, the people developing them really have no clue what the chemical is going to end up being marketed as. They just try to fill around and see what it does, and these drugs were in development early on to be weight loss pills because they thought that they would increase a cell's metabolism enough to burn weight, but it turns out if somebody's insulin resistant, it makes the insulin resistance worse. They've also been associated with a higher rate of heart attacks, and so now some of them, they've been taken out of the market actually. So they're less common than they were when I wrote the book, but they're still very common. I get patients every week from other doctors who are still on them, but one of the interesting things that's come out about these drugs in terms of just how one type of cell can be converted into another, based on information. These drugs have been found to convert bone cells into fat cells, and we know this because people were coming in with unusual fractures, and I actually had a patient who went on a hike. She just had kind of like a slight misstep, and she completely shattered her ankle. Both of the leg bones broke, and it took her over a year to recover, and she had been on this very medication, Avandia. And she herself had come across the research that shows that it promotes fractures. She brought it into my attention that it actually happened back in 2009, and I did some more looking into it, and I found out it was known, it was long known that these drugs actually promoted bone cell conversion to fat cells, and they're still on the market.
Ben: Wow, so six factors that can make you build fat are Omega-6 fatty acids, insulin, sugars, glucocorticoids which in the book you talk about how stress and sleep deprivation are two of the biggest ways to increase those and trans fats which we already talked about, an then ironically, some fat loss drugs which is crazy. Now you also talk about six factors that eliminate fat. One of the factors that you talk about that eliminates fat is conjugated linoleic acid, or what's also known as CLA. How does that help you to eliminate fat and what is it.
Dr. Shanahan: Well, conjugated linoleic acid is actually a fatty acid that comes from the milk of cows fed grass. So if you had pastured dairy products that you're getting, you're getting some of this very special fatty acid. It's a long chain fatty acid, it's a polyunsaturated fatty acid, and it is actually a trans fatty acid. And so just to digress for a minute, there's a lot of spin going on by the vegetable oil industry that there's trans fats. The same word is used to describe the trans fats that we want to avoid from hydrogenating vegetables oils, and they're called conjugated linoleic acid. Now it's also called trans fat simply because it has a certain shaped bond in it but the entire conjugated linoleic acid molecule is completely natural, and it has none of the effects of the distorted unnatural, factory-made trans fat. So it's totally different and one of the effects that it has is this process of apoptosis, so it reduces fat cell number. And the only source of nature, it comes from angulus, right? So it's not just the dairy fat, it's also present in their fat, and that was a misprint in our book. I said the only sources, milk fat, I don't know what I was thinking. It's in all of their fat, so even if you have grass-fed hamburger, the fat in there is going to contain some conjugated linoleic acid.
Ben: Interesting, so like the studies that I've seen lately that I've talked about how people who eat a full fat dairy tend to be leaner than people who eat low fat dairy. Part of that could be due to CLA content?
Dr. Shanahan: Absolutely, because even though that it is not pastured, it seems as though there's enough of the hay or the grass going into these other cows that are also fed grain, where they do get some conjugated linoleic acid. So even regular, off-the-shelf dairy that I don't recommend to anybody, is going to have some, so that's how the studies can show something like that.
Ben: Interesting, so one of the things that I wanted to clarify, and I think I may have said this wrong earlier in our interview was about fat cells being able to get converted into other cells but not ever really disappearing. When you talk about fat cell apoptosis, you really are saying that these cells can completely go away?
Dr. Shanahan: Absolutely, yes they shut themselves down and disappear. It's like they never were there, so we've always heard that you can create more fat cells, but you can't turn down that number. You can't shut them down, that's simply not true. It's just that studies where the scientist concluded that were done on these kind of starvation rapid weight loss diets, and that's exactly what happened is that the fat cell number didn't go down. The fat cells went from being plump and happy to skinny, mean and hungry.
Ben: Wow, so in a state where you've shut down inflammation and you've put the right nutrients into the body and you're also exercising in a way that we're about to talk about, you can actually get fat cell apoptosis or fat cell death.
Dr. Shanahan: Exactly.
Ben: Wow, well you heard it here folks. I actually learned something completely new because I was apparently one of those people I was brainwashed into thinking that fat cells could just get converted into other type of cells but never completely disappear, so there you have it. Apparently, they can actually go away, so cool. I love learning new things.
Dr. Shanahan: That's why I'm so happy to even pick out this chapter because this is one of my favorites. Because it just shows how amazing our biology is and how we've underestimated the capacity of the body to regenerate, to heal, to stay youthful, all these things.
Ben: Well I have a Master's Degree in Exercise Physiology, and they never taught me that about fat cells, so that's really good to know. Okay, so speaking of exercise, go ahead and delve into this. You talk about the type of exercise that works really well for burning fat and the things that you found to really work well from both an aerobic and an anaerobic exercise standpoint. One of the first things that you go into when you jump into exercise is you need to make sure to feel it when it comes to aerobic exercise. Now I know you are not one of those people, I don't think, who are out fitting cross fit sessions everyday. So I don't think you're incredibly masochistic, but when you say you need to feel your aerobic exercise, what exactly do you mean by that?
Dr. Shanahan: I mean, so why do you need to feel it? Well first of all, to get the aerobic benefit, right, and so what do I mean by feel it? I'm talking about the people, we've all seen them at the gym where they're going to the gym and they're all dressed up nice and they got all the accoutrements and everything, and they're sort of sitting in the bicycle. No sweat anywhere, and they're just reading the article and looks like they're having a great time. Could be at the beach except for that their legs are rotating around in circles in the bicycle or underneath them. So that's what I'm talking about because maybe things have change, but the gyms that I go to, I still see a lot of that, and that's really not going to give people the affect that they're presumably looking for when they're doing cardio, which is getting their cardiac system into great shape, where your heart beats efficiently, the circulatory system is so healthy that it invests all of your muscles with enough blood to go and go and go without getting shorter breaths. This is what keeps us healthy and keeps us young. The feeling of it, with the aerobic exercise.
Ben: Yeah, you know I was really nodding my head as I read that part of your book because I know a lot of triathletes and marathoners and folks like that listening to this show, and I've of course, been that person who has ridden a bike while watching a movie, and I think what’s more important to realize is that that type of aerobic exercise, where you're able to zone out and read a book or watch a movie or something like that, may indeed help you if you're going to go, let's say, do an Ironman triathlon where you need to ride a bike for five hours or spend four hours on your feet doing a marathon, but I don't think people should get fooled into thinking that that's the type of exercise that is going to make them look better or burn a significant amount of fat.
Dr. Shanahan: And it doesn't push their envelope open, and that's what I'm talking about with the feeling. You need to feel something to push your envelope, right? To get into better shape, and so you need to be conscious of what you're doing, and there's all different theories, schools of thought that I'm sure you are more well versed than I am about what levels of exercise get you what benefit and need to be accomplished, but the bottom line is what they all have in common is that you're concentrating on it, and that has an effect on your body in all kinds of ways. First of all, the nervous systems becomes invested in those muscles, so that those muscles will now work for you. Next time that you do it, it will be a little more mindless, but you're getting better and better. This latest craze in exercise is minimalist exercise, right? So if you want to get your cardio system into really good shape, it seems, at least this school of thought suggests that you can do a minimum of cardio exercise, but just make it real mindful. Boom, you're getting your cardiac system into great shape without the wear and tear on your connective tissue. You're only like nineteen, Ben, so you don't even have to think about that then at this point. But at my stage of life, I want to do exercise that gets the results I want without making me limp around the next morning when I wake up. So that's what the feeling it comes from, and then you can do less.
Ben: Yeah, and I think one of Jeff Volek and Steve Finney's, they're low-carb researchers but in one of their books, I think it was the low-carb performance book. They highlight a study that even shows that this really long aerobic cardio can, in a similar way that caloric restriction can, decrease your metabolism in some cases by up to 30% as the body goes into that energy conservation mode. So I like how you highlight the fact in the book that aerobic exercise, if it's getting to the point of your aerobic exercise is kind of mindless, it's probably a too low of an intensity. So I think that's really interesting, you also talk about anaerobic exercise, though, and why intensity matters, and you use this concept of high-intensity interval training but you use a specific example in the book for a specific number of minutes per week that are much lower than what I think a lot of people would think. Can you talk about anaerobic exercise, intense exercise and how much you would need to actually burn fat?
Dr. Shanahan: Yeah, believe it or not, if you do eight minutes a week, you can get incredible results. So this comes from research at the Exercise Metabolism Research Group in Canada, in Ontario, Canada, and they actually wanted to do the research because they felt like what you just suggested, that you can get a chronic fatigue from daily training, and they wanted to find a way to avoid that while still being able to improve your level of fitness. So I'll just describe the study here. What they had was the test subject started with four intervals and gradual increase to seven intervals over a two-week period of training, so it's just four intervals a day up to seven. The intervals were only performed three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and they consisted of thirty seconds of all out cycling with a generous four-minute rest period, and so it was just a total of 15 minutes at the beginning over the first two weeks. By the end of the entire trial, I think it was just two weeks, yes, that's right. Okay, on a daily basis, they increased from four intervals to seven, and so after the two weeks, they had increased their exercise capacity as measured by the VO2 Max, by 100%.
What this just tells me as we're all in this ancestral movement is let's go back to why we would have to run that hard. Running for 30 seconds as fast as you can is basically running for your life, and why would you do that? Either to run away from something that's going to eat you or because you were running after something you wanted to eat real bad, and so that is a great way to tell your body we really need to be stronger here, to run for your life because if you made it, if you escaped, then your body wants to make it a little bit easier to do that next time, and it will. That's the best way to get yourself stronger is to do what people did when they needed to be strong back in the day, and presumably, they didn't have to run for their lives that many days a week. Right, it's not going to be a multiple times a day kind of a thing, maybe once every couple of days.
Ben: Right, so every other day, you could do like a thirty-second burst with a four minute rest period in between each burst and do like three or four of those. And just a few times a week, that's adequate. Remember folks, we're talking about fat loss. We're not necessarily talking about you getting in shape for a two-day soccer tournament or something like that. We're taking about what you need to make your body look good. It’s less than what you would think.
Dr. Shanahan: Absolutely, yes. It's really important to point it out, depends on what your goals are, of course, right? It's definitely food for thought, what else can you do by minimizing and concentrating your workouts. What else can be accomplished? So that's why this newest craze in exercise medicine, this minimalist fitness I think is really fascinating. It has a lot of promise.
Ben: Yeah, and in your book, you actually talk about three habits of successful exercisers. Can you give us an overview of what those three habits are?
Dr. Shanahan: Yeah, so the first one is mindfulness, and this is where I was talking about earlier that you need to feel it, right? You want to feel it when you exercise, you want to be concentration when you're learning a new sport or a new skill, so you want to be conscious of your motion, and what that does is it keeps that nervous system in a state of learning and a state of building, right? So you're building new skills, it's actually been shown that when you do a new kind of exercise, certain lobes of your brain increase in mass, and it's carried out through the entire nervous system that you get more robust nerve endings all the way through the muscle, and it also is where you get all of the feel good chemicals from exercises, from that mindfulness. So that's what reinforces your desire to do more exercise, and again it goes to doing new things. So whether it's dancing or learning how to play volleyball or shuffle board. Even just concentrating really hard because you're doing interval work, that is going to give you that benefit, and then the second one is time management because as anyone who works and tries to exercise knows if you want to do a lot of exercise, you know aerobic cardio exercise. It takes time, right? It's at least a 20 to 30-minute workout for most of us who do that kind of workout. You have to have good time management techniques so that you can get your sleep. That's another hugely important aspect, and of course so you don't have to eat junk food all the time and eat on the go, you want to be able to plan out your meals as well.
And then the third one is pushing yourself, so when you want to get this into the anaerobic zone, that's where you really need to be pushing yourself to that point of exhaustion. Now that's not something that you have to necessarily do everyday, but as we've just talked about with interval training, you should definitely do it periodically. So whether it's pushing yourself with cardio or pushing yourself with weights and lifting really heavy stuff, you're going to get those benefits.
Ben: Yeah, that's actually those three habits of successful exercises, kind f like the time management, the mindfulness and the intensity piece. That's why I've liked lately the fact I've been training for obstacle racing because you got to be somewhat intense, but then you also have to really focus as you're doing things like climbing over walls or navigating over a balance beam or carrying a heavy rock. Of course, there's some time management involved with going out and doing the actual workouts as well, so that one's actually been pretty fun for me. And as a matter of fact as we're recording this interview, I've got a huge egg-sized bruise on my left thigh for having not been mindful enough during exercise and slipped off and fell. I fell of a playground. I work out on playgrounds now for this and landed on a big log and kind of messed up my leg, but for the most part, it's actually a good way to train for fat loss.
The other thing I should mention is, of course, everything that you're talking about (a) means that you're not the person watching TV on the elliptical trainer in the gym, if you really are serious about fat loss, and then (b), I think that any of the things that we've talked about with exercise kind of come full circle. You mentioned sleep and stress when you were talking about time management here. It comes full circle to this idea that inflammation basically makes fat cells like cancer, it's kind of how you describe it in your book, and so if you're somehow able to shutdown inflammation, that was the biggest message I got from your fat loss chapter. If you can shut down inflammation, you're going to be giving yourself a huge step-up when it comes to fat loss.
Dr. Shanahan: Absolutely, so the six factors will get you rolling in that direction.
Ben: Yup, and like I mentioned, those are on I think page 248 of your book, those six factors. Everything that we just went over is outlined in, believe it or not, even way more detail in chapter 10 of this book. Definitely I think that anybody who wants to kind of enhance their beauty, their fat loss and also their longevity should add this one to your reading list for this month. So it's called “Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food” and my guest today is Dr. Cate Shanahan, and Dr. Cate, I think a lot of people may not realize this, but you actually are one of the influential folks on the roster of the L.A. Lakers professional basketball team right now, am I correct?
Dr. Shanahan: Yeah, and one of their trainers actually. I'm a consultant, and we got them eating a diet called the PRO Nutrition Program. It stands for Performance, Recovery and Orthogenesis, which refers to building your bone, and so we've got them following a Deep Nutrition kind of diet. The closer they follow it, they're really telling me that they're experiencing a lot of benefits, and they're loving it. They're into it for life, the guys who've really adapted it.
Ben: Awesome, well Dr. Cate has a ton of resources in her book and in her website. I'm going to link to all of that stuff over on the show notes for this episode, and you can always find the show notes if you're at bengreenfieldfitness.com. You could just do a search for Dr. Cate, or you could go to the most recent podcast, if you're listening to this when it comes out. If you are listening to this on the app, just click on the show notes right there on the app, and it'll link you over to Dr. Cate's book and all the other good stuff that we talked about, and you can also visit her website, which I think is drcate.com right?
Dr. Shanahan: That's correct, D-R-C-A-T-E. It's not doctor spelled out.
Ben: Right, D-R-C and not K, D-R-C-A-T-E.com. So Dr. Cate, thank you so much for your time today and for coming on the call.
Dr. Shanahan: Thank you, Ben. It was really a lot of fun, and you have excellent time management techniques 'cause we got through all of your questions.
Ben: Awesome, in exactly one hour. So until next time folks, this is Ben Greenfield and Dr. Cate Shanahan signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com.
Last week, in the post “21 Steps To Optimizing Your Diet And 11 Foods You Need To Stop Eating Now“, you learned about the book “Deep Nutrition” and all about the concept of why your genes need traditional food.
Today, Deep Nutrition author and physician Dr. Cate Shanahan is featured on the podcast to delve into how the way your body interprets the food you eat in a way that you can make you either lean or fat – depending on your food choice.
You're going to discover…
-Why information is more important than energy, and why calories don't count…
-The Deep Nutrition formula for weight loss…
-Why you'll never get on Baywatch without body fat…
-Why supplements don't work…
-The problem with distorted fats…
-Where stem cells fit in…
-Why starvation diets fail and moderation or small food portions are actually not a good idea…
-6 factors that make you build fat…
-6 factors that eliminate fat…
-How inflammation makes fat like cancer…
-Why you need to “feel” your exercise, even if it's aerobic…
-3 habits of successful exercisers…
-And much more!