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Shawn Stevenson on How to Eat Smarter | Wellness Mama Podcast


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Hello and welcome to “The Wellness Mama Podcast.” I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com, and wellnesse.com, my new line of completely natural personal care products, like, toothpaste, hair care, dry shampoo, and now hand sanitizer. I am so excited to chat with today’s guest again, because not only is he one of my favorite previous podcast guests and one of the smarter people I know, he’s also just one of my favorite people in general along with him and his wife, I love them both, I love their family.

I’m here with Shawn Stevenson who I’ve had on before. He’s the author of “Sleep Smarter,” which is an incredible book all about sleeping. And it really revolutionized the field of sleep hygiene and sleep health, has some incredibly valuable tools. And I’ve had such incredible feedback from that first episode. You guys really, really liked Shawn. And he’s back now talking about his most recent work, his new book which is called “Eat Smarter,” which really goes deep on the science and what we actually know about food. I feel like every book, every line of this book, every page of this book has practical information and just is absolutely applicable and he makes such a strong case for so many often overlooked but really important points about nutrition.

And in all of his work and all of his research, it lines up with what I found in my own health journey and losing now 90 pounds over the last couple of years. I think his approach is sustainable, it’s doable, it’s not daunting, and he really backs it up with the science. I mentioned it in this episode but he’s so incredibly smart that when you listen to him, you might think he’s somehow reading from notes or has a teleprompter because he just is pulling in the studies and tying them all together and quoting everything. And I can now having recorded in-person with him vouch for the fact that he just really is that smart. I think this episode is so helpful, so practical, and really dispels some of the myths especially for women when it comes to diet and nutrition. This is a topic I have researched for 14 years and I still learned a ton from Shawn’s book, and from this episode, and I know that you will as well. So without waiting another second, let’s jump in. Shawn, welcome.

Shawn: Happy to be here.

Katie: I’m actually in your house, so thanks for having me.

Shawn: I’m happy to wake up and you know, walk downstairs.

Katie: Well, I’m so excited to chat with you because besides you and your wife Anne being a couple of my favorite people on this planet, you are also one of the favorite previous podcast guests already for your episode about sleep which you are indisputably one of the experts in the country on. And I love the work that you’ve done there, you’ve helped so many people. And I think sleep is a huge issue for a lot of people. And I love your new book which I got to read early because we’re friends, and I’m very grateful. And I think you’re gonna equally change the game there. And I think it’s exactly the time that we need to change the game here.

I’ve had my own journey with that in learning some of these lessons that you talk about in the past couple of years. But to start off, can you kind of walk us through first of all, what led to the impetus for you writing this, and maybe what some of the common misconceptions are when it comes to eating? Because you dispelled all these myths about sleep, and I’m excited to do it about what we eat.

Shawn: Oh, this is so good, thank you, it’s such an honor. You know we love you very much. And just all the work that you’ve done in creating so many great resources for everybody, it’s just so awesome.

And so becoming a sleep expert was not intentional, that was not what I set out to do. It was really born out of necessity. I’m a nutritionist, I am obsessed with food, but not in the conventional sense. Like my opinion of food has changed dramatically even in the last few years. And I’ve been in this space for almost 20 years. 19 years that I’ve been doing this work and working with countless people from all over the world. And, of course, the best-selling books and the shows, and speaking on all these stages. I’ve really just gotten back for myself.

I think that the path to wellness, there’s many roads to that goal and you know this like your path was different. For me, it really was food. Food was transformative for me, it was like my bridge. Because it’s not just the fact the food changing your physical appearance, but food isn’t just food, it’s information. So it started to really change my brain which I didn’t know. It started to change and make me more receptive to new ideas. It started to change me and make me more receptive to the changes I needed to make in other areas that were affecting the food that I was eating, you know.

So food really did work on me, it really changed my body, and helped me to recover from a very trying circumstance. When I was just 20-years-old, I was diagnosed with the so-called incurable spinal condition. And about five years earlier, actually, I was at track practice just doing a sprint, time trial and I broke my hip from running, you know, because my bones were so brittle. And I was kinda like…you know, it’s like “Forrest Gump” situation or like “Mr. Glass,” you know? And little did I know, like, I had this superhero in me.

But these kind of epigenetic influences and programs were turned on and had me accelerating my aging process. You know, to the degree when my physician at the time when I was 20, put the MRI up, he was like, “I’m sorry, son, this is incurable, you have the spine of an 80-year-old man, and there’s nothing you could do about it.” And of course, I relented, we talked about this in our conversation recently, the nocebo effect, you know. And hearing that, I went from a nuisance of a pain to chronic debilitating pain within a matter of weeks because he said that this was just something I was gonna have to live with. And I believed it, you know, but it took a while, you know.

But two years later, I started to ask different questions, you know. And it’s something else we talked about. Instead of asking why me? All the time there was just a chronic question going on in my mind. I started to ask, okay, what is it I need to do to heal? And I never thought about that, because I’ve been outsourcing my health to everybody else. And so long story short for folks that, you know, might not know the story, but I was able to completely reverse the condition. And not only that, it wasn’t just my body that changed but everything in my life changed.

And I just became on fire from being somebody who grew up in a very volatile situation, you know, a lot of just crazy activity, a lot of violence, you know, a lot of fighting, a lot of struggle and poverty. You develop this sense of, kind of like, you don’t want to be this way, but you become self-centered. And it’s like a protective mechanism, to totally that thing turning on its head and being so focused on helping everybody else. I became on fire to help other people to feel like I felt.

You know, you gave the analogy before when we talked about having this headache, just like a residual headache going on all the time. And once it’s gone, your whole life is different, you’re just like “I didn’t know I could feel this good.” And that’s really what happened for me. And I knew that people weren’t reaching their potential with doing the things that they said they want to do in their lives because they didn’t feel good. And so that led to the passion of studying food.

And now circling back with the success of “Sleep Smarter,” and we really…Katie, I’m gonna say this as many times as I can. Even though like, it became an international bestseller, the inception of it came out around 2013 shifted the entire conversation in health and wellness. Now, it’s integrated into so many things like there’s sleep coaches now, you know, this entire industry. This was the first book to actually popularize this subject matter. And, you know, it’s endorsed by other people who’ve written sleep books, you know, Dr. Michael Bruce, and Arianna Huffington.

But I didn’t until this year, really understand how powerful I am, and how powerful we all are. Like I literally changed the world. That book is on books store shelves in Japan, and in Slovenia, and in Germany, you know. And I’m from St. Louis, Missouri, you know, I’m from Ferguson, Missouri, and to have that kind of impact, like I really get it.

And I know that “Eat Smarter” this is the book, I really feel like I was born to write this. Because it’s addressing so many of the issues that have come to the surface right now at this time in human history. And so to get to the, you know, main kind of heart of this matter with “Eat Smarter,” and why I wrote it, food has been minimalized. It’s been put into this pithy little box. We tend…the vast majority of us right now in our Western kind of paradigm have taken food and we relate nutrition to weight loss, that’s the main thing it’s connected to.

We connect diet to body composition and weight loss that’s the main link up in our minds mentally, which is a huge mistake. Because even though that’s true, there’s an aspect of that, that’s true, how has it served us? We’ve only continued to become the sickest nation in human history. We have over 200 million people here in the United States who are overweight or obese. We can’t even understand like it’s unbelievable. Over 130 million folks are Type 2 diabetic or pre-diabetic, here in the United States alone. Unbelievable. These are these hidden epidemics that should not be hidden, we should not be brushing these things under the rug.

About 115 million Americans are regularly sleep-deprived. We’re finally starting to put a little dent in it, then COVID comes around, just like sleep has become more sporadic. But on top of that, you know, about 70% of the population is also on pharmaceutical medications which is primarily to treat symptoms and not addressing the underlying causes. Which is largely according to the Journal of American Medical Association, finally published this data, very big meta-analysis, affirming that poor diet is the number one cause of all chronic health diseases that we’re facing. The heart disease, the obesity, the type 2 diabetes, poor diet. Which we know this already but now got the data.

And so this book is addressing not just the metabolic side which we need to know this, of course, we’re gonna talk about folks are gonna be blown away. But also how food…This data is gonna shock people when they understand all the clinical evidence showing how food affects our ability to relate to each other, to have empathy, to perspective take. Even our proclivity towards violence is affected by what we eat. And the data is thick, and it’s just shocking to me it’s never been put in book form before.

And also our cognitive ability, our ability to even right now verbal recall, as folks are listening to me, your ability to retain more of this information is dependent on certain foods and nutrients. And once you find that out it’s like, oh, that nutrient does this? I want that. And it helps my metabolism too, I’m done like sign me up.

So it starts to give more legs to our belief system about food instead of just like, I gotta eat this so I can get skinny, you know. Which is just this very vanilla approach, which a lot of people out there like swirl, they like strawberry, they like sprinkles, you know. So it’s to enlivens this conversation because it is one of the most important conversations of our time.

Katie: I absolutely agree. And I love the order that you wrote these books because like we talked about in our first conversation with sleep, you know, even just a couple nights of disrupted sleep, change your hormones. They change your metabolism, they change how your body is gonna digest food. So I think it is important that you started there with you’ve gotta dial in the sleep because without that you’re gonna struggle in every other area period, we know that.

But you’re so right. Right now we’re seeing this incredible data coming out. I’ve read some of these studies that you mentioned in your book. And I’ve also read now, recently, I believe it’s 88% of Americans have some marker of metabolic dysfunction. So to put that the other way, only 12% of Americans don’t have a marker of metabolic dysfunction. Like this is the point that we are, and that includes children. And a lot of people listening are moms. And I know you’re a parent, you have two boys that I’ve met here and they’re amazing. And like this part just shocks me.

And I know, we hear these headlines now, there’s thankfully a growing awareness about this. I think that also can lead to an overwhelm because it’s like, what do we do about it? And it’s certainly not…you know, I think character gets pulled into this thing as well, you’re right, nutrition gets tied to weight loss, and weight gets tied to character. And like, people get judged, you know, for their character based on their weight. When, like you mentioned in the very beginning, food is also information.

And so as I learned very much the hard way too, there’s so much that goes into this besides calories, so much of the conversation gets stuck in calories. So let’s just start dismantling this now because there is so much misinformation. And I love in your book, you just like line by line, you take it all down. But let’s recap some of that.

Shawn: Yeah, absolutely. I made sure every single page is gonna be an aha moment. But the calorie paradigm is also tied to the connection with food and character, ironically, and it’s just like, where did these ideas come from? I’m always asking questions and just what’s the inception point? Where did this idea come from? Because when you look at the stored cultures of like, the ancient Greeks and Romans, and the Egyptians, there wasn’t any, like, thick people on the pyramids, you know, on the pictures, you know. And they had a very physical culture, you know, we have the statutes and all the art that was created, and people marvel at that, you know.

The movie “300” for example, like look at this Spartan, I wanna be a Spartan, do the Spartan workout. They didn’t count calories. It wasn’t even invented yet. It wasn’t a thing. And in fact, when calories were “invented,” the scientists weren’t even looking for anything having to do with nutrition. It was used as a metric in physics and engineering. This had nothing to do with food. And so just for folks, basically a calorie, the most simple understanding of it, it’s used as a measurement of the energy in food. So it’s a unit of measurement, just like a meter is used as a measurement of distance.

Now, what’s different about a calorie…so a distance is gonna be the same, right? Unless there’s an earthquake or something and it changes the dynamics of that. But measuring from here to there that’s gonna be the same. Digestion of energy, from food, from that foodstuff becoming you stuff is incredibly dynamic and is always changing. This is not taken into consideration in that calorie conversation.

So when I talked about the connection between food and character, this is when the calorie made a jump from engineering and physics to nutrition. Which was first by Wilbur Atwater, who there’s the Atwater system of caloric measurement. But he starts to use that as a measurement in finding out the amount of calories in food which is initially done by a bomb calorimeter. Which you basically take the food, you put it into a container, and he put that container into another container that’s filled with water, and they use electrical energy to basically incinerate the food that’s in there.

And however much energy was used to heat that food up and to completely incinerate it to warm that water up then you know how many calories are in the food, you know. Kind of complex thing that by the way, it’s not done now, they just use the Atwater system, which is like, basically just doing some math and throwing that up on the calorie label, which we can come back to.

But what I wanna really get to for folks is like this inception point of the calorie hit the scene, it made the transition into popular culture thanks to a massive bestselling book in the early part of the 1900s from a physician named Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters, all right Lulu. She wrote a nutrition bestsellers sold over 2 million copies. At this time, it’s basically like everybody had this book.

And in this book…and I went back and actually read these old-fangled writings, and I was shocked at some of the stuff that was in here. And so this was the first time that food went from being this dynamic entity to being thought of in terms of numbers. So food became numbers. And she made one of the statements that we’re no longer going to think about food, we’re gonna start thinking about this in terms of calories. So you’re no longer going to eat a slice of bread, you’re going to eat 100 calories of bread. You’re no longer going to eat a piece of pie, you’re gonna eat 350 calories of pie.

And she also, in this book, began the widespread indoctrination of connecting food to morality using the terms like sin and punishment. And that being overweight was more of a character defect and was not a result of the system in which she was operating, which her battles with her own weight, were a big part of her writing, continuous battles. And so she essentially asserted that a woman of her height could eat whatever she wanted, as long as it was within the 1,200 calorie allotment that she gave herself, right. So just punishing herself over and over and over again.

And also being that this was around the time of World War I, she tied it to patriotism, she like leaned into that. That every pang of hunger you feel, you should have a double joy, knowing that you’re helping to release the pangs in a starving child. You know, to help to absolve them of their punishment. You’re helping to, you know, show devotion for your country by eating less. And it’s a hell of a deal you know, like you could show your patriotism by starving yourself. But also a very important thing that I don’t want people to look past, tying hunger to weight loss, which is an incredibly dangerous metric that we’ve unconsciously just evolved to think that that’s normal, right?

So shout out to Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters, she’s definitely a pioneer, and her intentions were good. But something like that integrating in a culture, nobody stopped to ask where did these ideas come from you know? And it starts to sprout legs and become this endless web, where now we have weight loss professionals who just focus on weight loss. You know, weight loss specialty physicians and whole industries that have continued to fail.

Like, just look at the data, look at the numbers, nobody is cracking this and it’s because the system is flawed. And what I wanna do if we can is talk about some of the overarching things that actually control the calories instead of understanding how calories control your metabolism.

Katie: Yeah, I think there is so much freedom in that and that boggled my mind to think of. And you pointed out so well but when we started thinking of foods as good and bad, and certainly as people who are based on different weights as good and bad, that became a very dangerous paradigm. And what was so interesting to me about this is at their base unit, like you explained calories are fuel, we’re giving our body energy. But rather than take that to its logical conclusion which to me means we should think of food in terms of how can we best fuel our body, we did it the opposite way and said, like, oh, we should avoid calories.

Like, can you imagine saying like, “Oh, we should avoid gas in our car, because you know, too much fuel is a bad thing.” Like we got it totally backwards. So yeah, let’s go deeper on this and what things actually…like what can we learn from this? Where did the science go wrong and what can we learn from this? Because certainly, I have talked publicly about it as well. I had weight struggles for a lot of years and I know we’ve even talked about on your podcast. I had to learn to eat more because it wasn’t just about calories…

Shawn: That goes against everything, Katie.

Katie: I know, it’s not just calories in, calories out. So let’s break that down.

Shawn: Yeah, and this is again…the overarching theme of this is that the metric of calories completely ignores the complexity of human digestion. And the miracle of taking a food and turning it into you, what you see in the mirror, it’s amazing. And so a good analogy that I like to give folks it’s a little acronym, is that the calories impact on your body you can use the acronym, THE DM, it goes down in the DM. All right now, I know you don’t know about going down in the DM, Katie, this is after your time. But some folks out there like “It goes down in the DM” it’s a song.

All right, so the T for THE DM is the type of food itself. So a lot of folks have said over the years that the quality of the food matters. It’s not just the calories, it’s the quality of food. Okay, sounds fancy, sounds good, but do we have proof? Yes, we do. Absolutely and these are the things that are highlighted in “Eat Smarter.” So the type of food itself, this was an incredible study. And this is really trippy, I want people to stay with me on this and understand this. So this was published in the Journal of Food and Nutrition Research.

And so what they did was they took study participants, and they gave them a meal of what they deemed to be whole foods. And they gave them a meal…another set of folks, what they deemed to be processed foods to see what the effect would be on their rate of calorie burn and calorie absorption all right. So the whole foods meal was whole grain bread and cheddar cheese, which was deemed to be the whole food. For the processed food group, they gave them white processed bread and cheese product, that’s Kraft all right. They can’t even legally call it cheese, it says cheese products on the cheese package, or cheese product package. So the other set of folks got the processed food sandwich.

They compiled the data. So this is what’s so cool about it is they’re actually measuring what’s happening with the energy in their bodies. And so after they compiled the data, they found that the folks who ate the processed food sandwich, which was the same amount of calories on paper, same amount of proteins, fats, carbohydrates all on paper. But the folks who ate the processed food sandwich had a 50% reduction in calorie burn after eating that sandwich than folks who ate the real food sandwich.

All right, 50% reduction. Those calories they consumed were being processed differently. And the body suddenly became very aggressive and hanging on to that energy. Something went wrong and it was the type of food, all right. So the type of food you eat matters. So that’s number one, it starts to turn this whole calorie paradigm on its head. When these experts are just “Are you in a calorie deficit?” Type of food matters. So that’s number one.

To go to the H and goes down in THE DM. It goes down to the DM is how the food is prepared has a massive influence on your rate of calorie absorption and utilization. One of the most amazing things is that most experts agree that it was the advent of fire and cooking that really created this like quantum leap in the evolution of the human brain. Because we were now able to procure and absorb more nutrients and food from our food, the density of those calories available.

And not to say the raw food isn’t good that’s not…I’m down with that okay, but we have to keep this all in context. We need to know these things for the calorie assessment of meta-perspective of it. And so to give a good example of how it’s prepared is if you take the example of like some kale. Kale, just like none on kale, it’s pretty difficult to do. Even if you buy a few bunches of kale, it’s like a lot like if you bought three bunches of kale it’s very difficult to put in a little stingy bag they give you by the way. And when you cook it down, suddenly, these three big bunches become like this tiny little kid-sized bowl full of kale.

And what happens is, number one, the kale itself, the cell walls, as the leaves get more mature, become harder to break into, and actually absorb the calories from. So when you cook them, that cell wall gets broken. Also if the leaves are younger, by the way, just a little fun fact. So like baby spinach is more bioavailable as far as the calories than more mature spinach. But when you cook it, all bets are off, you get more calories from it.

And so I want people to be aware of that, just how the food is prepared. And also mentioning how that massive amount of kale becomes this tiny little Baby Gerber amount, the sheer volume that you can eat now when the food becomes more concentrated, and the density of the food changes, you can eat a lot more of it if it’s cooked.

So does this mean only eat raw kale? Absolutely not, this just means be aware, maybe you might wanna eat a little bit more raw spinach. And you know, when you’re having to cook spinach take into consideration that the energy exchange is gonna be different, not good or bad but you need to know this. So that’s the T-H. E is energy exchange. It costs calories to digest calories. And this is known as the thermic effect of food. Many people have heard this term. I was taught this in conventional university setting but not like this. Not in a way that actually applies like make it stick for people.

And this is one of the transformative things that happen for you whether you are aware of it or not. Whether…this is the thing about food is that it doesn’t care what you know, it’s just gonna do what it does, you know. So it costs energy to chew your food, to secrete enzymes in your mouth, to secrete stomach juices, to swallow, to churn the food in your stomach, to move it throughout your gastrointestinal tract. To take the food, your body needs energy, to take that food and pass it through your intestinal lumen into your blood supply and getting into your brain, and to your toes. Like there are so many dynamic things. To remove metabolic waste products, it costs calories to digest calories that not on your food label, all right.

And a basic barometer for folks is that proteins require an incredible amount of energy just to digest the protein. So about 20% to 30% of the calories in the protein you just ate are used to digest it. Because it’s taken those very tightly wound proteins and unraveling them to get the amino acids that we need to actually do stuff in the body. So if you eat 100 calories of protein, you’re really only gonna absorb maybe around 70 of those calories. So that’s the power of protein and your body needs protein for so much. But that’s the thing that’s left out of the conversation so often in the infighting with fats and carbs, and proteins like Rodney Dangerfield, you know, it’s like, “I get no respect.”

So you got proteins with carbs, it takes around 5% to 10% of the calories to digest those calories. And with fats around zero to maybe upwards of 5%. And so there’s a thermic exchange, there’s an energy exchange that takes place. And just to drop a little nugget for everybody, a little walkaway tip. There was a study that was done and it was actually titled Atwater Discrepancy, essentially, because Atwater is what’s used on product labels for measuring the calories. And basically, they’re just doing math, companies are just doing math.

Okay, this has 25 grams of protein in it, there’s 4 calories in every gram, just multiply that stuff, you know, it’s 100, you know, and slap that on there. And they do the same thing with carbs, you know, it’s 4 calories per gram of carbs, 9 for fats. And so they’re just doing math and slapping on the calorie label and they’re completely ignoring all the stuff that happens. But this study found that almonds are really amazing. First of all, it has all these benefits. And by the way, if some folks are just like, “Well, I can’t eat almonds I have nut allergy.” There’s so many other things so please do not be dissuaded but this is just a really interesting example.

And they found that 170 calories of almonds consumed, the body’s net gain of calories was only around 120, 125, upwards of 129. So it’s like 50 of those calories, just. But you’re not counting for that in conventional calorie settings. There’s something shifting with your metabolism when you eat those almonds. So that’s the T, E and the H is the energy exchange. The DM, now we’re in the DMs, Katie, and I know you’re like I don’t know what the DMs are. This is when…Do you want me to tell you what the DMs are, Katie?

Kate: Yeah, give us the background.

Shawn: Because there are some folks who are just like…they’re just minding their own business. But the DMs is where you…you know, social media, you know, you drop a note in somebody’s DM you’re trying to hook up. All right. So I know Katie’s like she’s…you know. And now me too, I’m not in nobody’s DMs except replying to healthy questions. So don’t send me…never mind.

So the D is digestive efficiency, your digestive process has never been seen before in human history, and will never be seen after you, and even your digestive process tomorrow will be different. It is one of the most evolving things in the entire universe. And our digestions are very different from each other. And even different from when you were 20, 30 years younger, or 20, 30 years older. This is not taken into consideration. You know, so your ability to produce the enzymes necessary to take those calories and do things with them and to produce the digestive juices.

Like this is one of the other hidden epidemics is what’s called heartburn, you know, is that kind of conventional traditional name. And what that really is, it’s an inability to properly digest your food. And that’s not necessarily a good thing. That’s not like, okay, I’m just not absorbing as many calories. It leads to all these other downstream, terrible side effects, you know. An inability to absorb certain important nutrients to keep your metabolism doing anything. So the digestive efficiency has a huge impact on how many calories you absorb, and how much you burn.

And then finally, the M and this is where a lot of the conversation needs to be focused is your microbiome makeup has a massive impact on the amount of calories you absorb and how your body uses them. Your microbiome, your gut bacteria, and the other cascade of microbes, the viruses, the fungi, the archaea, that’s in your gut, all of these things have a major impact on digesting your food. Your microbes are really deciding what calories are getting in you and what isn’t, all right.

Now, we got data on this, this is really cool. So this was published in a peer-reviewed journal so very prestigious. They discovered that there’s specific bacteria that they found in mice that actually blocks their intestine’s ability from absorbing as many calories from their food. Not with an unhealthy…the mice are lean and healthy. But there’s a specific bacteria present that it just didn’t absorb as many calories, it seemed to just kind of absorb what it needed.

Now, couple that with recent human studies, one of these was the Weizmann Institute. And they found that…which is pretty well-known at this point. But folks who are in a state of obesity, their gut bacteria, their cascade of bacteria is very different, it changes. And by taking this human, “fat bacteria,” and transplanting it into lean mice, caused the mice to gain more weight rapidly, decrease their insulin sensitivity and gained more body fat, by changing the bacteria. Versus when they took the bacteria from healthy human subjects and put it into the mice and they just continued to be lean mice. So our gut bacteria is really like the final frontier.

And there’s another study feature that looked at twins, these are twins, identical twins, and the gut cascade, the bacteria cascade, eating the same amount of calories led one twin to gaining weight, and the other didn’t, just based on the bacteria that they’re carrying. And this is an incredibly dynamic conversation. But I want people to know that the health of your microbiome is literally the most important thing for us to start to consider. Because that cascade of microbe is gonna determine, first and foremost before anything else, what your body does with the calories you consume.

And with all of this dysbiosis and different gut problems that are just skyrocketing, it’s leading to all these metabolic dysfunctions. And if we can get folks gut healthy and in practical, simple fun ways, which is what I really…and you know, this is what I do. I just make it fun and entertaining for people to learn these things, is gonna transform everything.

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. And I think there’s such a freedom in that because when you understand that it’s certainly not as simple as basic math, which is what they’ve tried to boil calories down to. And there are people like Gary Taubes, who have made the argument that you know, even if it was math, which you’ve made a case it’s not, it would be literally impossible to try to actually calculate it within a small enough margin of error, that you could actually account for weight loss, knowing all of…even just calories.

But like you just said, it’s not even as simple as math. I mean, we’re talking like…these are huge calculations that are literally impossible and constantly changing. So even if we wanted to, we couldn’t specifically try to quantify it down to direct calories. But the beauty of that is on the other side is that these are messengers that we can use to then signal these things we want to happen in the body in a beneficial way.

And I learned this firsthand in my own journey of the freedom that comes with changing our mindset when it comes to food and the inputs. And me having to learn how to eat more and especially more protein, which you mentioned the thermic effect of food. And I would even actually feel that at first, I would feel warm after eating a lot of protein and not having gotten enough for so long. Got to see that firsthand. But let’s give…I mean, first, I’ll say you guys gotta get the book because every page literally does have a takeaway, every single page.

But let’s walk through some of the ways that we can use this knowledge the freedom that comes with it for one, and then use that to our benefit, to not just lose weight, but to signal our body to have more mental energy and to be more alert. Because I saw that firsthand when I started optimizing for fuel and for nutrition, versus caring about calories or deprivation, the amount of energy and focus, it was just incredible. And I wanted to work out like crazy because I had energy to work out like crazy, I didn’t have to make myself do it. So how can we use this knowledge to start signaling our body and working with it instead of against it?

Shawn: Yeah, this is such a great question. And what’s so fascinating is it can literally be as simple as shifting our ratios of things. So not necessarily trying to overhaul and, you know, do a completely low this, high that diet, but just shifting ratios a little bit. As you mentioned, the overlooked, you know, entity here is like the Cinderella of the story is protein, you know. Protein has just been left out of the conversation. And partly because there’s this big misconception that Americans are consuming way too much protein and just these astronomical numbers. When in…and I went and I actually just looked and I studied this data for a long time to find the holes in it because I’m always also asking how am I wrong? How am I wrong?

And I came into it with the misconception as well that we were eating more protein as a whole. But the reality is this is based on the RDA, which is really just above not having a deficiency of protein. And you die like developing disease because you’re not getting enough. Well, we’ve got studies showing that…and you found that like 120 grams which you were…and you’re so far from that you didn’t realize, to actually see incredible metabolic changes.

And there was a great meta-analysis that I put into the book that tracked…it was like a five-year study, studying the cardiometabolic factors and looking at increased protein. Like we tend to think that more protein leads to all of these potential issues, you know, with heart health and cholesterol, and all these different issues and you know, blood fats, but it was the opposite. They found the opposite, a higher ratio of protein in the diet actually led to lower risk of all these cardiometabolic diseases. Lowered their risk of heart disease, lower their incidence of obesity, and decreased things like visceral fat, you know.

And by the way, in the book, which is something very special that it hasn’t really been done in book form as well. I take people through the entire process of how your metabolism actually works. Like how does your body actually burn fat? How the hell does it happen? Where does the fat go? And taking people through it in a way that’s fun that makes sense, and you just feel more empowered, like I didn’t know that. And then we dive in on what specific foods and nutrients make this process happen, make this enzyme unlock that door so that it can do this thing.

And so protein is a major player in this. And one of the funny things is…so of course, like shifting…I’m not saying to eat a high protein diet. But just shifting that ratio for most folks, is going to have some positive effect. And the quality of protein matters, too. We just dive in deep on that too. But I wanna share an example.

Researchers at St. Louis University, which I’m from St. Louis, so shout out. They did a really interesting study, they wanted to find out how does your first meal of the day affect your rate of weight loss? Oh, my goodness, gracious, this was crazy. So they had folks on a rather conventional carb-based breakfast, which is pretty much how I grew up. You know, it was carbs for breakfast, bagels, cereal, donut, pancakes, you know, like, who…how did it become socially acceptable to eat cake for breakfast? They’re thin and we just stack them up so it’s like some kind of mental illusion.

But not to say that you can’t have pancakes, either, you can absolutely have pancakes. But even just shifting some of these things around, even when you have them can matter. So they had folks on a high carb breakfast, which in this case was a bagel, which a lot of folks do, versus a high protein breakfast of a couple eggs. And they tracked them and I’ve got the data right here. And this is what’s so interesting is that they did have them…put them in a caloric deficit. So not saying the calories don’t matter. This is important too, but they’re things that control what calories do. Because both of these diets have the same amount of calories, they reduce their caloric intake by 1,000 calories.

And here’s what happened in an eight-week study. The folks in the lower-carb breakfast showed…and this is…so high carbohydrate versus protein. So the higher protein/fat you know, because the egg yolk, the folks who had the egg breakfast, show there’s 61% greater reduction in body mass index, a 65%, greater weight loss. Calories the same. Please hear these calories are the same. 34% greater reduction in waist circumference and a 16% greater reduction in actual body fat. Simply by changing what they had for their first meal of the day, that macronutrient ratio.

This is a great example of the type of food mattering a lot. This is not to say you can’t eat a bagel but maybe you don’t wanna have a bagel for the first thing that you eat. Maybe that’s just been holding you back is that high carb breakfast, maybe you’re doing the oatmeal, right always got the protein. Oatmeal is still the carb dominant, very carb dominant food. Not to say that it’s bad, but we need to take these things into consideration because this can be a game-changer. 61% greater reduction in body mass index, 65% greater weight loss, calories the same, simply shifting the macronutrient.

And also this speaks to which of those foods are actually real. You know, like what is the closest to natural. And some folks might be thinking, well, I hate eggs, you know, I’m doing a vegan approach or I just like I don’t even like the way a chicken looks like they’ve got funny eyes, like they make me nervous, whatever. It doesn’t have to be eggs. It can be a different high protein, a more dense source of protein, especially to start your day.

And also I shared some study like so where do we partition our carbohydrates, you know, like, how does that revolve around workouts? In my culture…and of course, like, I grew up, you know, being athlete is like you’d carb load, you know, like, we’re gonna go put this work in, you carb load. What’s the goal, it’s not to say that you can’t do that. If your goal is fat loss, your body tends to work on this hierarchy. And a talk with the top experts in the world in this subject as well, like Dr. Sylvia Tara is one of those incredible researchers.

But that hierarchy is your body tends to go for the…it’s like accounting class. When I went to college is LIFO and FIFO. But LIFO is last in first out. So the carbs that you bring in, or the food that you bring in last, is the first thing to get used. It’s like glucose cash on hand, your body’s gonna spend that quickly. The glycogen is like a checking account. So all the surplus gets stored as glycogen, but also your body will go get that glycogen after burst of the cash. Then it’ll get to burning fat, which is like a certificate of deposit.

And it has to go through that hierarchy. And if you’re bringing in carb, if you’re carb-loading and your goal is weight loss, and you’re not about to go and train for you know, a triathlon or like to play an NFL game, you might not need to carb load before you work out, you know, before you, you know, start your day. But by the way, I also show how you can bypass that process and get to the fat stores quickly, your body is very intelligent. We just talked about this on using different fuels, it’s not just this linear thing, it’s dynamic and beautiful.

So we can partition our carbs to certain times of the day, which I talk more about in the book. I know we don’t have time in to get all these things, it’s so incredible, but you can eat things that you love. Of course, this is one of the things that you’ve been teaching folks is like upgrading the ingredients of these foods. But they’re also some specific foods and nutrients and ways of eating that can revolutionize all of our metabolism.

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. And then it’s not just about eating less but it’s about the timing, and like the type of food and all these signals that you’re sending to your body. And I saw this firsthand, I mentioned it a little bit. But in losing 90 pounds I’m eating more. In fact, I was sending some wrong messages to my body by not eating enough. And especially that protein equation, because I figured I was getting enough because I would have some kind of protein with most meals, and I was getting a quarter of the protein I actually needed. So by drastically increasing actually the amount of protein to a healthy level, not to a high protein level, but to a normal healthy level, that alone made such a drastic change.

And then I saw firsthand these things you talked about, like eating protein for breakfast. I’m a big fan of data and self-quantification, so I’ve worn a glucose monitor at different times. And when I would eat enough protein at that first meal of the day, even if it was at lunch, if I didn’t eat breakfast, my glucose levels would be much more steady the whole day. And my fasting glucose the next day would be so much better because of having that stable fuel source. And we think of it as a fuel source instead of a bad thing gives us this whole different freedom.

Same thing within the same meal, if I eat protein first, instead of carbs, I can eat the same amount of protein and carbs. But if I eat the protein, before I ate the carbs, my glucose stayed a lot more stable than if I ate the carbs first. But in you know, America, we eat the bread at the table first, we eat the chips at the table first. So just these little changes, it’s not that we have to give up these things. It’s we have to be conscious of how and what order and when.

And I love that you give…I mean you make it so clear. And I actually love…I should say this getting to interview you in your home because you’re so well-spoken. I always think like there’s gotta be notes on the wall but there’s not. I can attest to this, there’s no notes on the wall, you just know that your stuff so well.

And I think there’s a lot of freedom in that for women especially because guys seem to get the protein part better. I think women are afraid to eat enough sometimes, and certainly to eat enough protein. And it probably does go back to some of that, you know, like the associations that we have with those things.

Shawn: Yes, absolutely the conditioning. And you just said something so profound even in the meal itself this is not equated for on calorie labels. By you consuming the carbohydrates to start the meal, you’re changing the hormones that are being released inherently. And a really cool study that I mentioned in the book, too they actually did fMRIs and it’s like looked at the brain when you eat proteins or eat carbohydrates. And they found that simply by consuming protein, looking at the brain, it actually lowered the signals for hunger and cravings and all these things that are active in the brain when you eat other types of food, when you eat carbohydrates, for example.

Not to villainize any of these things. All of these things are wonderful used in an appropriate like natural human way. But we’re just so not natural anymore. We’re living in a very different time right now where even as one of the things that you’ve talked about too, with fasting your fat doesn’t give a rat’s patootie…I’ve never said patootie before. I was trying to keep it clean as long as I can.

But a rat’s patootie…shout out to Rosie O’Donnell that’s where I heard that from. Doesn’t give a rat’s patootie that you’re trying to lose fat. Fat is incredible, it’s incredibly intelligent, it has evolved, its main priority is to keep you alive, it’s doing what it’s designed to do. And so we go to this war with our body fat, and not really understanding that it’s hanging on and doing the storage job that it’s designed to do, certain types of fat. And we talk about other types of fat as well in the book, even your beige fats, you gotta find out about beige fats.

But we’re going to war with our biology and not understanding the principles that are really governing these things because our biology is gonna continue to win out. And it just kind of goes back to the programming that we’re giving it. So that great example that fMRI seeing, okay, I eat this type of food, or when folks everybody tested, they have this heightened activity, for cravings. And to eat more when you eat this certain type of food. Oh, and by the way that study was done specifically, looking at the first meal of the day, that’s after your “fast,” you know, as you’re breaking your fast, your breakfast. And that matters, you know, these small things could move huge levers for people.

And what I do is I stack conditions, this one on top of this one, but also there are small changes, you don’t have to turn your whole thing upside down. Because in my practice, over the years, and working with you know, all these incredible people, I know that people want change, but we don’t really wanna change that much. You know, we want change but we don’t want to change that much. And so what are the small things we could do that are clinically proven to be effective, and add those simple things in? Because another big problem I think with dieting, I know for certain is this concept of deprivation.

And you’ve also shared this and struggle with this and I know that I have too of basically trying to fight your body into health. You know, going to war with your body and your metabolism to make it do the thing you want it to do and suffering your way into health. And if you even listen to those things, they don’t even go together. Suffering…how can suffering equal health? Those things are like polar opposites you know. So what really is effective is adding in instead of taking away.

Matter of fact, we don’t like stuff taken away from us as humans, especially if we didn’t ask to give it, you know. So a great example is like we learn in math very early, like in math like Jimmy has one apple, and you have one apple. Jimmy gives you his apple, how many apples do you have? I have two. Okay, then we learn subtraction later. Jimmy has one apple, you have one apple, Jimmy takes your apple, how many apples do you have? Jimmy better give me my damn apple back you know what I mean?

Like, we want the ability to kind of manage our own stuff and to add things in. We go to war with ourselves when we tell ourselves we can’t have, right, and then we get into the thing of self-deprivation and restriction. And the human mind is really wired up against that, you know, even though we think…many of us we follow rules. You know, we have these obliger tendencies, you know, talking with, you know, one of my past guests, Gretchen Rubin. But even within that, we still want to have freedom. And if we could start to add more of these things in it just really crowds out all the negative stuff.

So I make it a mandate instead of these fancy sayings, like, you know, you need to eat more vegetables, fruits, and vegetables. That was one of the most shocking things in the data that is right there but nobody knows it. So why do vegetables work? And we get into…One of the studies found that the consumption of non-starchy green leafy vegetables led to this heightened increase in one of our body’s major satiety hormones GLP-1, right.

So it’s really helping to make your body do the thing because it’s not just the metabolism part, it’s also managing hunger. If you’re hungry and trying to diet like you’re setting yourself up for failure. It’s not an indication that your diet is working, it’s indication that something is off, your body’s giving you feedback. You might be deficient in nutrients that’s trying to get back in there. We can get into conversation about addiction, of course. However, for the most part, our bodies are hardwired to keep us alive.

And so that’s one part but also, a really great study found that for every serving of vegetables, non-starchy vegetables that you consume each day, the test subjects lost one-third of a centimeter off their waist. For every serving of vegetables, you lose one-third of a centimeter off of your waist. All right, how many vegetables are we really eating each day? You know for most of us, breakfast would be a great opportunity for that. So we’re not saying like no carbs, vegetables are carb dominant, you know, so let’s add some of that into that morning meal. But we have to revolutionize or change the way we see breakfast too, you know, because again, I said eggs, but there are so many different protein-based foods.

And I also go through all the different vegetarian sources. And we get honest about it too, like nuts, those are fat dominant. So we have to be mindful on the caloric impact, the thermogenic effects, just the sheer amount like of comfortability. Like, how are the nuts prepared, all of those things we address so that…I literally leave no stone unturned so that if you got a question the answer is there.

Katie: Yeah, I love you touched on the psychology side, both in what you said at a previous question about how you challenge things, you challenge your own assumptions constantly. I think that’s one of the most valuable things we can do on every level, in business and in life in general. But also touching on the psychology and how we don’t…like as humans, we’re wired not to lose things. But yet we use this language of I need to lose weight, and everything in your psychology is gonna go…

Shawn: I gotta find that weight.

Katie: That’s a stupid thing, don’t do that. And I actually think guys have this a lot better. I’ve been hanging out with these athletes as I’ve been training, and they use so much better language. They say, like, “Oh, you’re looking lean or you cut weight.” I’m like, see, that’s a way better way to put it than you lost something. That you…I think we can stop battling our brains too.

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But then to touch on those hormones you mentioned, and to loop back to the hunger idea you know, hunger is associated with weight loss, which doesn’t even make sense, to begin with. Because for me, personally, I lost the weight never feeling hungry. I actually felt satisfied and full and that made it possible.

But I think that’s a shift that we have to make. Because if you think that you can just consciously battle the very hormones that were actually necessary for the survival of the human species for all of these generations, so that we didn’t die. Like you are not gonna consciously do battle against all of human biology and win. Which is what I love so much about your book, because you’re like, yeah, you’re not gonna win like that let me show you the roadmap because it’s actually possible, and you don’t have to be starving the whole time.

Shawn: Exactly. They feed into each other, too, you know. When we’re talking about this feeling of hunger, we tend to relate it to like an emptiness feeling in our bellies but it’s very psychological too. You know, like, even when you use the term I’m starving, are you really starving? Like, do you know what that really is, you know? But these are also…if we can use these things in a more loose conversation, is not that you can’t say, “I’m starving,” like it needs to be more fun and not like actually, like, I’m starving, I’m going to kill somebody.

These are all things I’ve said, as well, you know, and changing the language, but it’s understanding that the right foods also change your brain and your balance, and your ability to manage those things and to have that emotional stability. Because a lot of times when we use this language, and we make decisions that we normally wouldn’t, or that we tell ourselves we don’t wanna make is when our brains get compromised, and our emotional stability gets compromised. And food has a huge impact.

And this is the great crossover effect is that same green leafy vegetables we just talked about, Rush University did a phenomenal study. And they found that…it was a great meta-analysis. That folks who consumed two or more servings of green leafy vegetables, every day, actually ended up…over the course of the study period…these are folks who were, you know, in their senior years. Having brains that were 11 years younger, than folks who were not consuming at least two servings of non-starchy vegetables each day. Wow like this is…it’s literal brain food, you know, and this gets into conversation about the macronutrients that are there. I’m sorry, the micronutrients that are there.

You know, everybody, macros are super important. But the micronutrients are like magic, you know, and all the different things that they do. Your body literally can’t do certain things if the micros aren’t available, you know. And one of the popular ones, of course, is magnesium, it’s responsible for over 350 biochemical processes. If you’re deficient in magnesium which it is likely the number one mineral deficiency because it also has a lot to do with stress and managing modulating the stress processes and pathways in the body.

Oh, my goodness, so many people are walking around with bodies and brains that aren’t even doing the cool things they’re capable of because their deficiency is one mineral, you know. And what’s the best way to get it? You know, what are the food sources? So, these are all things we address. But just leaning into…for me the most important topic, you know, the…it’s kind of like what happened with you, you know. Like, the body transformation was like a side effect but it was like all these other amazing things start to happen.

And one of those things that folks are gonna see and I really want to highlight was changing the way that we eat changes how we relate to other people. And I think that our biggest challenge right now, as a society is a lack of communication and a lack of understanding. There’s a lot of infighting, and we have a lot of unhealthy people who are fighting and arguing against other unhealthy people. And it’s not that you can’t communicate, or that you can’t have compassion and empathy it’s just harder. And I know this firsthand, like, I grew up in that environment very volatile situation. And I know that when I feel good it’s much more easy and graceful for me to have patience.

And my wife can tell you, like, she’s right over there. When she met me, like, I was probably the most impatient person she’s ever met. I grew up in an environment where it’s just constant volatility and yelling, and just like, you better hear, you better take action kind of environment, you know. And sometimes it’s literally life or death, you know and so I was very impatient, you know. And I love my kids so much, but the way that I was…my oldest son, Jordan, you know, he’s in college now but he’s still…you know, he’s with us living with us. He knows as night and day, you know, my patience.

And it wasn’t that I wanted to be that way it’s just that, man, my body was just hard-wired, psychologically but also what I was eating, you know. And one of the really cool studies, it was done by the Ohio State University they looked at what happens with couples if they have a problem, you know, they have an argument, how much more difficult is when they’re nutrient deprived. And what they found was that those unstable blood sugars and, you know, a lot of times we eat, you know, the wrong stuff, and we get hypoglycemic then we have blood sugar crash. What they essentially found is that the ability for the couples to reconcile was just absolutely tanked versus when they had a much more healthy blood sugar level.

So how often are we getting in conflict just because we’re hungry? Like hangry is like this funny term now, but now you got real science on it. And also, when we’re sleep-deprived, right, when we’re stressed, these are the times we get into arguments over the stupidest things, you know. Like, “Where did you leave the shoes, you know, pick your socks up?” Whereas before, it’s just like, “Hey, honey.” Like, I brought my wife, her socks yesterday, it was like “Hey, these are little cutest socks.” But another time, you know, if I’m sleep-deprived and hungry, or whatever it might be like, “You’re always leaving your socks around,” you know. I’ve never said that but I might, you know.

And so being able to tune in to ourselves is the ultimate guidance system, you know. And that intelligence to look within the bridge to that is through food. And this is really one of the most important messages that I want folks to get. Because once we can get folks healthier we can start to have healthier conversations. And we have data to affirm it and we know exactly what needs to be done to make it happen. And now this is the time for us to do it, you know.

Like so much as just been discombobulated and turned upside down but it’s wonderful because when the systems are shaky, we can change them easier. When they’re stable business as usual, as they’ve been, everything has continued to get worse. Everything, every freaking year, heart disease goes up, cancer goes up, Alzheimer’s goes up, dementia, obesity, type 2 diabetes, everything. And we’re not just like, okay, this is not working, the conventional system of medicine is not working, let’s just be honest about it so we can fix it.

And at the end of the day truly is gonna be…it’s up to us, Katie, you know, it’s up to us, everybody that’s listening. We can change this, you know, it starts with ourselves and within our homes that’s where transformation really takes place, is cultivating help within ourselves so we’re more capable, you know, to have the conversations. Like you mentioned, you found like, I want to exercise now, you know. We can do the things when we start to fuel ourselves from the inside out.

So I’m really excited about this time right now. I’m grateful to be here. I’m grateful to be alive right now and to have created something like this. Because if anything, I really feel like this is my shot you know, this is why I’m here. And 200 years from now, folks are gonna be looking back on the 2020, you know, happenings and it could be like a revolutionary time like that was the Renaissance, you know, for health and wellness? Or that’s when humans went into the dark ages, you know, like it’s really up to us.

Katie: Yeah, I think you’re so right. And I think…I mean, you lay it out so well. But severing that idea of food and weight being the most important part because it’s like you said such a small part of the equation. And when you get the other aspects of that figured out that part works itself out. And that patience component. And then the mood and mindset piece for moms especially is I think so important right now with all the increased demands on parents right now. And moms in general, I’ve said are some of the most incredible people in the world, we have so many demands on us. So things that help us to operate from a place of patience that’s a game-changer.

And certainly, what the world I feel like needs right now is an epidemic of kindness and patience and the ability for people to say you know, we may not share all of the same viewpoints, but yet I love and respect you anyway. Let’s be an example of that. And that starts with nourishing our bodies and not being sleep deprived, hungry people. The micronutrient side for me, choline was a big one finding that out because I don’t tolerate eggs well, so I had not really consumed enough choline, and getting that fixed felt like turning my brain back on.

So I think like, you give people the tools to figure it out. And I know you share the sentiment that at the end of the day, there’s so much personalization in this and you lay it out as a roadmap. You don’t just give people a prescription, you give them the tools to figure out how to do it themselves and that’s what makes it sustainable. It changes over time where you’re not fighting your biology, and you’re not fighting your mind and your psychology and you just lay it out so clearly.

So I’m so grateful for all the research that you’ve done in this and especially for you right now and speaking up through this. And I 100% agree with you I think this is an incredible, beautiful time for change. And I hope that we’re gonna look back on it before too long as that. But right now you’re such an encouragement and a light to so many people who are struggling with this and I’m just really grateful for you and for your work.

Shawn: Thank you so much, Katie, that means a lot, really.

Katie: And definitely encourage all of you guys, check out the book, there is so much more in it that we couldn’t even get into today. It would take up 10 podcast episodes at least to start scratching the surface. But just like your first book, brilliantly written, very, very grateful for it. I’ll make sure there’s a link in the show notes, wellnessmama.fm, of course, it’s available anywhere books are sold. But, Shawn, thank you for being such a light and for sharing your wisdom today.

Shawn: It’s my pleasure, thank you.

Katie: And thank you as always for listening for sharing your most valuable resource, your time with both of us, we’re so grateful that you did. And I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of “The Wellness Mama Podcast.”

If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.



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