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The Secret Life of Fat with Sylvia Tara

Sylvia Tara3

Fat Facts You Didn’t Know

Think you know about fat? Think again! This is fat as we have never encountered it before. Dr. Sylvia Tara PhD presents us with astonishing information about fat that everyone needs to know in order to truly take their weight and health into their own hands, naturally.

Fat Is An Organ

Fat is so much more than an annoying by-product of too many donuts, contrary to popular belief. Likewise, losing it is not just about counting carbs or increasing your weekly exercise. Yeah, that got our attention too! Fat is a metabolically active organ: it produces hormones, tells the fat in your blood where to go, responds to the toxins in your environment and even controls the way you think about food. Bit scary, right?

Discover Your Unique Best Diet

Dr. Tara stresses that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to fat loss. If we really want to lose weight and be healthy, we must be our own guinea pigs. Experimentation, documentation and keeping an open mind will get you much further than the next explosion of diet pills onto the market ever could. She also highlights that there could even be bizarre outside influences that you may need to take into account…such as a virus transmitted by chickens that could lead to increased weight gain as we age!  

Fat Is Your Friend

Landing one jaw-dropping truthbomb after the next, Dr. Tara helps us understand that fat is not only a fact of life, but a highly necessary one. Lusting after a bikini body may not be the best way to think about your health goals (even though we are ALL guilty). Being honest with yourself and thinking realistically is the way to go. Do you really need to lose those last few pounds? Or are you competing with Vera Wang models again?  

Even Though We Don't Value Fat In Our Bodies, Nature Is Trained To Protect It. - @SylviaTaraPhD via @PedramShojai

Interview Notes From The Show:

– Hey welcome back to the Urban Monk. I am live in studio, yay, real people, with Sylvia Tara, who is local as well, and so welcome, welcome, welcome.

– Thank you.

– You are, there’s a book called The Secret Life of Fat. I’m really excited to talk about this because she went on a journey to discover what all the stuff is about with fat. And so you are a researcher by trade. Give us a little bit of your background.

– So yeah, I’m a scientist by training. I have my PhD in biochemistry. I studied actually neurology, an Alzheimer’s degree as a graduate student. I then got an MBA and I went to the business side of biotechnology and the business side of science, and I’ve been there for probably around 16, 17 years now. And I became very interested in fat just because I gain it actually quite easily, and my fat acts a little bit differently than other people’s do. I gain easier, it’s a little softer, I don’t get rid of it very easily, and I had this experience of going on diets where I would lose a few pounds, not much more. Sometimes I could even gain weight on a diet, and I got really tired of this and I thought, I have to understand fat once and for all. I have to know why it’s acting this way, why my fat acts differently, and I went on a five year mission to research fat. I pulled a lot of scientific articles, about over a thousand, researched dozens of researchers around the world about what they were finding out about fat. And what I found out was so astounding that I decided I’m gonna capture it all in the book and share it with everybody.

– It took five years. You interviewed the who’s who.

– [Sylvia] Of the who’s who.

– You went through all the pub med–

– [Sylvia] Yes.

– And we talked about this offline right before we got going. It’s like there’s so many of these young, 23 year old meatheads talking about, here’s what you gotta do to lose weight. It just doesn’t apply to everybody.

– Right.

– So what have you found?

– What have I found? Well the first thing to really know about fat is that fat’s not just fat, it’s not just sitting there. It’s not just a reserve of calories, and you don’t wanna get rid of all of your fat. And this was the most surprising thing to me, is that fat is actually an endocrine organ, meaning that it makes hormones and it releases them into your bloodstream and it has a vast impact on a lot of different organs in your body. For example, fat affects your immune system. If you get too low of fat, you’re not as strong with your immune system. Fat affects reproduction. Women with too low of a body fat actually can’t conceive, they can’t get pregnant. You can’t even go through puberty if you don’t have enough fat. Our brains are linked to fat, brain size, brain weight, it’s linked to how much fat we have. So through the hormones it emits, fat’s having a great impact on our body and because fat is so important, nature wants to protect it. So even though we don’t value our fat, we wanna get rid of our fat, nature doesn’t, and our bodies don’t. And fat has ways to fight back, and this is what people really need to know. It’s actually a very clever organ inside of us. So through one hormone it makes, leptin, fat can affect our satiation, our appetite, and it affects our metabolism. So we have normal levels of fat, we’re pretty satiated overall and our metabolism is strong. When you lose fat you lose leptin, and with less leptin your appetite really increases, your metabolism goes lower. You get a preoccupation with food, and in that way, fat is fighting to come back. Nature’s trying to protect fat, trying to keep it at the set point that we have. So the effect doesn’t really go away, as far as people can tell. It’s been studied for up to six years, and people have that effect for six years. So anyone who has yo-yo dieted, lost some weight, they actually have to eat less, fewer calories than someone who is naturally at that weight to begin with because their metabolism is affected, probably around 22% fewer calories than someone naturally at that weight to begin with. So really fighting obesity, fighting fat, it’s a life-long endeavor. Losing it is not easy and staying at that weight will take chronic effort.

– Well yeah, and as witnessed by the gajillions of people who are dieting every day of their lives. It’s hard. Okay, so we have this thing called visceral fat, which is bad, I think we can all agree it’s bad, yes?

– Yes, it’s bad, the fat that’s underneath the stomach wall, nestled next to your internal organs. It tends to get very crowded, it gets inflamed, it sends out inflammatory signals, and that interferes with insulin and insulin-signalling. And it’s that type of fat that’s really linked with cardiovascular disease and diabetes and a number of different health issues. There’s subcutaneous fat, that fat that’s right under your skin. That is a healthier fat deposit, away from your belly. There’s all kinds of other fat. There’s brown fat, right, that’s another type. Brown fat’s very interesting. Instead of storing energy it’s burning energy, and so we have brown fat around our heart, around our neck, around our spine. And then there’s a newly-discovered beige fat that can turn brown, and it turns brown when we exercise, that’s a stimulator for that, and even cold exposure. So we have fat all over. There’s fat in our brain, myelin, which I’m sure you know is wrapping parts of our nerve cells to help signal conduction, primarily made of fat. So really fat is a critical component of your body and there’s different types.

– So too much of a good thing? Sounds like the era that we’re in. So we have good fats. I was telling you before we even started the show, I actually feel better wearing about five, 10 extra pounds. You know, when I was under 10% body fat I was a little, just a little more anxious, a little bit more hungry all the time. I just wasn’t as settled, and you know I just, I’m very at ease having a couple of extra pounds on. So it’s less sightly I guess, but I don’t care because I can still beat guys up and down the basketball court. So at what point does it matter? At what point does it become pathology? At what point do you have to worry? I know for men they say if your waist goes past size 40, there’s always those numbers people throw around.

– It’s very different for everybody. There’s the case of sumo wrestlers that I write about in my book, and these are people who are 300 and 400 pounds. And metabolically they’re healthy, believe it or not, and it’s because they exercise seven to eight hours a day. And what that does really is it increases another hormone that fat releases is adiponectin. When we exercise, actually fat will increase more adiponectin. And adiponectin, it’s a guide for fat in your blood. It tells it to come home, come home to fat. It helps clear your blood and puts circulating fats in subcutaneous fat tissue. And so because of all the exercise they do these sumo wrestlers are actually quite healthy. They don’t have metabolic disease at least.

– Because the fat in the bloodstream is the real dangerous side effect.

– Yeah, and that’s where if you let it roam around your blood, it’s gonna deposit in other places. It will deposit in your heart, it will deposit in your liver, places it’s not really supposed to be. You want your fat to be in fat tissue. In fact there’s some genes were people are predisposed to having more fat cells, and they thought they would be less healthy. Well what they found, they’re more healthy, because their blood is very clear. It’s just a sign that their bodies are clearing fats out of the blood and they’re putting them in subcutaneous tissue. So you know, it depends on where your fat is. If it’s a lot of visceral fat that’s going to be more of a problem. But fat in itself is not necessarily a sign of health. That being said I’m not promoting obesity with my book. I think that is an issue not just for metabolic disease, but for your bones and the stress on your body. But I think 10 extra pounds like you say you have, I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as your fat’s in the right place.

– So that’s the question. A, okay, where is fat in the right place? How does one determine that? Like do I go to my doctor and say hey, what’s my visceral fat versus my straight fat? Like how do I know this?

– So one way to test for visceral fat is you lie on your back and you look at your belly. And when you’re lying down if your belly is still protruding like this, then that’s probably visceral fat under your stomach wall. If it flattens when you lie down, then you’ve probably got subcutaneous fat there and it’s not as bad. So that’s one way to test for visceral fat. You can see where it is too on your profile. If it’s more in your hips, your thighs, your buttocks, that’s safer deposits to have. You might still wanna reduce it just for the way you look and how you feel about how you look, and those are different issues than where is it really dangerous fat for your body or not.

– Okay, so if it’s dangerous, it’s dangerous, and you’ve gotta do something, but as we mentioned earlier, for you weight loss is very different than it is for me, which is very different for, say, Sean or Laura. Everyone in this room as a different kind of set point.

– [Sylvia] Right.

– Age, genetics, all of it. So how does one look at weight loss, given this milieu, right?

– Yeah, well I think it’s a number of things. Any diet, anything you do, it has to work for you biologically. Your body has to feel good with it, it has to work for whatever biological profile you are. It has to work for you psychologically. There might be things you want to eat or refuse to eat, and they can’t be in your diet profile, and it has to work for your lifestyle. Some of these very complicated diets where it’s special ingredients, you have to shop, you have to prepare, it’s not gonna work for someone who is busy. All those things really have to come together for you, and depending on where you are in your life and with your body, you know, if you’re middle-aged you’re going to diet very differently than someone who is 22 and has tons of testosterone and growth hormone that’s burning up fat all the time. So figuring out where on the spectrum you are, there’s a number of things. One is, how is your health? Do you have metabolic disease? Do you have to get rid of some fat? Get rid of dietary fat and make sure you exercise so that it’s deposited in the right place. What size do you really need to fit into? Part of it’s just being realistic about the goal. Do you really have to look like you did at 22? Do you really have to look like a bikini model or an athlete? And just being realistic about where it is you belong. I think that will help too. I do think the diet industry gives us unrealistic goals and unrealistic promises. You’ve heard so much about eat this and lose 10 pounds, do this and lose another 20 pounds, and if you do you’ll look like this, and they put this up. It is a great way to sell diet books. It’s something everybody wants and is led to believe they should have, but in truth, your lifestyle, your level of fat in your diet have to work for you in so many ways. And like we said, you can be 10 pounds, 15 pounds over and it might not be the end of the world for you.

– Your overall health markers are fine. Let’s talk about resting versus active metabolic rate. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of research on that. If your RMR drops and it’s lower, you’re not metabolizing as well, if your VO2 Max doesn’t get there, so I’d love for you to just kinda tease this out a little bit because this is where the ex phys guys really hang their hats, right? It’s just getting it to that fat-burning zone, living there, just kinda staying there to maximize the fat burning.

– Yeah, you can, and again it depends on how much fat you want. If you’re really a body builder, you’re performing, you want very low fat, all those things are gonna be important for you. To be honest I don’t go into that level of detail when I diet. What I have learned and I really like is intermittent fasting, I find works really well. That’s a way to extend the growth hormone release and burn fat. It also releases testosterone and other things that you get, you know, from overnight, and exercise is a very good way to do it as well. So HIIT, high, uh–

– [Pedram] Intensity Interval Training.

Fighting Fat Is A Lifelong Endeavor. - @SylviaTaraPhD via @PedramShojai

– Thank you for that, yeah. So that’s another one where you can burn a lot of calories really in a short time, and certain exercises, like strength-building exercises, actually release growth hormone and testosterone and help you burn some fat. Long bouts of aerobic exercise will help as well to release growth hormone. So I’m not actually as technical on it as that. I don’t feel like I have to be, but I think if you’re really competing and you want 8% body fat or something like that, then you would want to into that level.

– And that’s different math. So we mentioned HIIT, we mentioned intermittent fasting. These things have become very vogue, right? And I know people that have very challenged adrenal profiles that are water fasting, and their blood sugar is not that stable and so, and at some point it starts to be a law of diminishing returns. It’s like you’re to minimize calories but you’re elevating cortisol. So let’s talk about cortisol and what it does.

– Okay, so cortisol is a stress hormone. Having too much of it is linked with visceral fat, you have more fat. It gets in the way of other hormones as well, which is an issue. A lot of things we do in our life release cortisol. Driving in traffic releases cortisol. So I don’t know if it’s realistic to say I’m gonna try to really minimize cortisol. We have stress in our life. But what you said about fasting and being right for people, again, that’s where the psychological and does this diet work for you socially, for your life work for you as well? It works for me and that’s because I don’t like to be so careful about what I have to eat. I’m not gonna someone who eats only 20 ingredients and won’t eat anything else. I find with intermittent fasting I can more or less eat what I want around lunchtime, maybe a snack at three, and as long as I don’t eat I don’t accumulate fat. So if it stresses you out though, and talking to other trainers who advocate intermittent fasting, they say the same things. Don’t do it, if this isn’t right for you, don’t do it. There’s a lot of other ways you can diet and eat that hopefully don’t produce that kind of stress. So another method is you take smaller meals during the day. If that works for you, that’s fine. I work and I’m busy, that doesn’t really work for me. I like to eat, be done, but that’s another way to spread it out. You can do fasting at different times of day. Skip your morning, skip until lunch and then eat at night if you need to. So I think the diet has to work in all dimensions and if one is causing stress, it’s too hard to be on, clearly it’s not going to work for the long term.

– And that’s usually where we’re at, is people will diet, get to a goal or not, and then be like, look at me, here’s my selfie, and then go back to life as normal because you can’t live that way, so it’s unsustainable. So you know, it’s like, oh man remember back in 2002 I looked so damned good!

– [Sylvia] Yeah.

– What good does that do if you can’t live there? So let’s talk about some sensible approaches. Caloric restriction, how much calorie counting is necessary?

– Yeah, that’s a good question, especially with all the talk about fat and the satiation factor of fat, and so that was always given a lot of calories on the calorie count but it’s not so bad to eat it anymore. So I think, again it depends on your body type. It’s hard to say for anyone. I know for me, I do a very low-calorie type of diet, so it’s usually around 1200 calories or lower, and that seems to work for me. And I think the way to take it is you do your own analysis, treat it like you are a scientist. You have a spreadsheet, this is what I do. I have a spreadsheet. I write down what I eat and when, about how many calories, and I have an idea of the protein and carbohydrate content. And I use that over time to hone that, and I could notice what was making me gain or making me retain weight versus when I could lose weight. And I did this for months at a time. This is how I honed in onto fasting really works because I could see when I ate later in the day, after six or seven, I didn’t lose weight and I would gain weight. I also noticed there’s some things I can eat and it doesn’t bother me, I don’t gain weight. It’s supposed to make me gain weight, I can eat chocolate, surprisingly, and I actually don’t gain weight off chocolate. I could have a cookie and I will gain a pound and a half the next day. And so these things, it’s very different for everybody. In fact there’s very good research that came out of Israel at the Weizmann Institute, where Eran Segal did this study where he had people eat various foods. He would test their blood for a blood sugar spike. And he noticed some people could eat a muffin, some people have liquor, and they were fine. There was no blood sugar spike. Other people couldn’t do that, their bodies would react. So that’s where the individualization of a diet is really important. What works for me, I could give people my formula, but I’m hoping not everyone has to do it as hard as I do, has to be as restrictive as I do. I think you just have to hone in, what diet works for you? The more you know about what’s in The Secret Life of Fat, what I’m hoping it allows people to do is tailor a diet plan for what works for them. So if there’s a certain diet you like but you’re not losing weight, the knowledge that’s in the book hopefully helps you figure out why that might be, why you’re gaining more, where you are in your life, and what things you can do to ratchet back and make that diet work. Oftentimes it’s to do with, you know, carbohydrates, it has to do with sugar, it has to do with the time of day that you eat and just how much you’re eating in general.

– Which means you have to kind of step in and be accountable for your own life, and so the challenge with most of these diets is, tell me what to do. Just tell me what to do, oh that worked or it didn’t work, I’m a winner or a loser, and it’s a very binary system and it’s very disempowering. So you’re actually asking people to think, how dare you? Oh my goodness! So when I hear this, I know that there are a lot, so you’re saying okay, so bringing up growth hormone, bringing up testosterone are also ways to bring up metabolic rate, burn more fat, make you more efficient.

– [Sylvia] Right.

– And so immediately what I hear is, especially where we live, all these Newport Beach doctors that are like, “I got testosterone!”

– Ah yes, yes.

– Right, it’s like, don’t worry about it. I have this injectable that’s going to, so let’s talk about what that does to the cells and what that does to us then having to be dependent on external testosterone supplementation.

– First thing I’ll say about that is it’s a viable source.

– It works.

– Right, if we’re gonna use diet pills or we’re gonna do bariatric surgery, well then hormones are just another way of medical intervention around your weight. It does work, and in fact I write a couple profiles of people who’ve taken it and the results they have is pretty good. It is not sustainable for the long run, because after awhile the risk-benefit profile doesn’t really work. They start to have some health risks as you go on with age and you still take those. There’s also ways to do it naturally, and that’s what I opted for. And living in Southern California, I’m always tempted to walk in and get a dose of growth hormone or some such thing and not have to worry about it.

– It’s around every corner, yeah. The nail spa has it, you know, it’s everywhere.

– Right! But really, I chose for some pretty harsh exercise, and I feel it, I feel different. If I do strength type of exercise, strength-building exercise three times a week, my energy is really high, right? Libido is even higher, and the things, I can feel that there’s a difference in my hormone profile. So it’s expensive to use hormones in that way. If you go to a clinic there are some risks to doing it. There are ways to naturally do it. But I think if people get to a stage where they’re overweight, it’s really hard, and they want a medical intervention, there’s all kinds of things you can do and hormones are one type of those things.

– So the elephant in the room is stress, because I know people that will go get testosterone and still aromatize and have higher estrogen and higher DHT and not really be reaping the benefits there. Stress is really hard to not have in a conversation around weight. What did you find with cortisol? What did you find with stress?

– Yeah, so stress, I don’t know. Like I said, I don’t know that we avoid stress in our lives. I mean, if you’re raising kids or you have a job or you’re paying your bills, whatever it is, we have stress. I think stress does really factor into our self-control and willpower, and I do write about that. Managing stress, people who have chronic stress, they tend to eat more and they have less self-control. You do not manage stress as well when you have an overwhelming amount. In fact there was an article in the New York Times where candy sales went really high around the recession. In fact, every big company was losing money except for candy companies, they were actually selling. So people want to give into stress. You know, clearly if you can reduce some stresses in your life or even learn to manage stress better, that’s gonna help you through. I know even though I’m careful, if I really have a deadline, if I’m going up against something or I’m high-stress, I’m not as careful those times as I am in other times. The other way to do it is if your stress goes up and down, is you might give in while you’re around a lot of stress, you know, just get back on it right afterward. And this is one of the things successful dieters do very, very well, is that they tend to not go off their diet much ever, not on holidays or ever. I have a tip in there for the five tips of successful dieters, but that’s one really strong component. They have really strong willpower. It becomes habit. And that’s another thing you can do. The more you ingrain something, the more you do it every day, it becomes non-stressful. It’s now a habit and you’re not thinking about it as much. So it’s hard at the beginning, but the chapter on willpower I think will help because there’s ways to make stress less. One is temptation bundling, where if something is hard to do you pair it with an activity that’s really fun to do. And people going to the gym, they had them go to the gym a number of times and they were allowed to have a novel of their choice, an audiobook of their choice. And other people, they were allowed to go freely one group, and one group it was restricted, they could only have that novel if they worked out. And the group that could only have it when they worked out, they actually lost more weight, they stayed at the gym more, and they actually opted to continue doing it afterward. It was that much of a lure for them to do this. So try that, try pairing good with bad. Give yourself a break. Chronic stress is much harder. If you actually put in fun, engineer fun into your life and release a little stress it’ll help you with the ebbs and peaks and just help you get a break from constant stress.

– What about, there’s a lot of new information coming out, a lot of old information coming new, around using heat, like hormesis and things that are kind of stimulators. They get the body to kind of react and get into kind of a safe crisis mode, to then, I don’t know if that was in the fat literature, if you looked at any of that.

– I haven’t, what I did look at was cold exposure.

– [Pedram] Which is a hormetic stressor as well.

– Okay, which is producing brown fat, then getting your brown fat active, and that’s actually turning some of your beige fat into brown as well. So that’s one of the things that’s used, in fact there’s all kinds of fun things going on with brown fat now, even injecting brown fat into white fat to try to get it to take and burn more calories. So yeah, some of that I looked at, and I think those are interesting and probably work and can maybe even replace exercise at some point if you just get enough of those stressors and get your fat to get active.

– How much of it is sedentary lifestyle? I mean, it’s hard. We’re sitting right now. It’s hard to not sit in the world we’re in, like I’m on a plane tomorrow morning. I can’t walk around.

– Yeah, now that’s a big factor for your health overall. I know so many benefits to exercise. It’s not just the amount of fat you have, it’s how much brown fat your get, how much lean muscle and lean mass that you get, in addition to the hormones that exercise produces. It’s probably something that ages us, is being very sedentary, because we have hormone decline naturally with age and then even more so because we’re not moving. And so we have an unnatural life. It’s certainly not the way it was intended to be. We were probably supposed to be walking around and exercising more, but it means you have to be more disciplined about putting exercise in. Even after I get off a plane I will go to the hotel gym and I’ll work out. And so we have this artificial life where we’re sedentary for 12 hours, and then we have a really, really active space for one hour or an hour and a half while you work out. You just have to engineer that in. It’s the life we have and it’s not gonna change.

– Yeah, it’s really hard to change. I know people that, like, moved to Montana, but not everyone can get to do that. Montana doesn’t want everyone, right? And that’s also a big piece of it. You know, I do a lot of travel, I try to stay as active as I can, hotel rooms and all that. You just take a hit by slowing down your metabolism, you take a hit by not having access to the foods. I mean, you get salad most places nowadays, but what have you found for successful dieters that has been a habit that has been kind of consistent across the board with busy people?

– Yeah, so I think what busy people do, the fasting approach actually works quite well and I know a lot of people who do that. They’ll just not eat very much during the day and they’ll go home and have a dinner with their spouse or something like that. But for really busy people, it is putting in exercise, having a routine as much as you can. It gets disrupted all the time because we travel and we have deadlines and presentations and things like that but every one of them that I know, they fit in at least three times a week they’ll do an hour of exercise. That keeps them quite active. They’re very good about staying away from too high of carbs. They’re educated, they’re more educated about fat in their body and the foods that they’re eating and that seems to work. Some of them, they’re just more attentive to it, so when they see their weight creeping up, they’ll quickly pull it back into order. For a lot of people it gets to a point where they see a picture of themselves as a trigger that causes them to be really serious about their weight. They see a picture and they look very heavy, heavier than they ever have in their life. There might be a diagnosis, something like that happens, or they just get to a point where they don’t want that. To me that happened more or less, there were just clothes hanging in my closet, they were a smaller size than I was at the moment and I thought this is a now or never moment. They’re either going to fit me again or I’m going to throw them away.

Exercising Keeps Fat Out Of Your Blood Stream. - @SylviaTaraPhD via @PedramShojai

– [Pedram] They gotta go, right.

– They gotta go! Life’s not forever, and I have to make a decision about where, how in control do I wanna be? Do I want these to fit? And so it’s a similar moment with, I’m going to get back in control. I want those to fit and that’s the life I want to have. So it’s kind of a control over your life, feeling empowered to take on your fat, and when you feel that and it becomes important to you, you have a whole different motivation in your life. There’s a lot of controversy over food companies and are the acting responsibly with the groceries we see in the grocery store? I have a little bit of a different take on that. I think once you have the motivation to lose weight, you’ll go into the same grocery store and you’ll pick the foods that help you lose weight and stay in shape. The Cheerios and Trix are always going to be there. In fact if you go to Whole Foods, the kind of Holy Grail of healthy food and–

– It’s filled with junk food.

– You could get fat at Whole Foods! So the foods always going to be there.

– Gluten-Free fat.

– Yeah. And so it has to start with the motivation. You have to have a strong desire to keep the weight off and most people I know who stay that way, they do, either for they wanna look a certain way, they wanna be healthy. They have good control on their behavior and they can make decisions on the food they’re going to eat. And I think that is really the key for people who are busy, you know, professionals or whatever your story is, that’s the way you really stay on it. You have to have the motivation first.

– The old story of the thirsty man who starts to dig a well and then doesn’t hit any water, so then starts over here and starts over here, that’s what I feel like a lot of these diet plans do as well. People don’t give them enough time to become a habit, to become a lifestyle, so it’s like, you know, the click-bait marketer said that if I do this crap I’ll lose 10 pounds in 10 days, and here I am, I’m only down three pounds, forget about it. So how much consistency and just kind of staying the road and understanding that it’s a long game is important in this?

– That is really an important point, and that’s a lot of what I write about in The Secret Life of Fat. In fact, The Secret Life of Fat is best as a companion to a diet than it is a diet book unto itself. It’s like, first understand your fat, now try a diet and hopefully you’ll understand why it is or is not working for you. Because what you just said about it, you might lose weight slower, that’s the story of my life. I always lose weight slower. It takes me a lot longer to lose it. It’s because of where I am, right? It’s because of my genetics to some extent, it is probably because of the microbiome issue, and it’s because of age and the hormone level that I’m at. I’m not going to lose weight like a 25 year old is going to lose weight, and so again, having realistic expectations. Where are you in life biologically, right? There might be reasons you are losing slower than somebody else. You know, a woman will never lose as much weight as a man. Testosterone’s a major fat burner. One great study where they had people, men who exercised three times a week and those who didn’t, but they took testosterone supplements. The ones who took testosterone supplements had lost more weight and gained more muscle mass than the ones who were exercising. So hands down, you guys are gonna lose weight more. All those different components have to come in. When you start a diet, understand your fat, understand the body, understand the ways we’re getting fat, and that will help you stay on a diet. Hopefully it helps you after a few months if that’s not working, understanding why not and why it might not be a good diet for you. What I have learned from talking to dieters and talking to some physicians, too is that it’s harder. Some people take very drastic measures, and so much of the diet literature tells you that you’re not supposed to have to do that. This is supposed to be easy, you’re supposed to be full all the time and if you’re not, you’re doing something wrong, you’re not following the plan right. The truth is, not everyone can do that. Some people have to be hungry. Some people have to really restrict longer, they have to exercise more. Luckily we do reset after awhile so if you’re able to stay on that for some months it does get easier with time. The habits form and your body gets used to it, but these one size fit all diets, they just, they don’t work. It makes for great selling of diet books, it’s an easy message, you can get it out there, you’re making these promises, people want something easy. But it doesn’t do a lot for really solving obesity and overweight, and we see that. We spend 60 billion dollars a year in the U.S. on trying to fight fat and we’re not really winning, and it’s because a lot of these easy tricks just don’t really work.

– No, well, it’s a great business. Arms dealers need wars, right? That’s the dark side of the health industry. The other dark side is almost every health guru I know, not almost but, but a lot of them, male and female, they’re all taking testosterone. Do my diet, look like me, right?

– Yeah, that’s right.

– So there’s a lot of that kind of dirty laundry that people aren’t talking about, is that they’re on hormone replacement and then, you know, they gotta stay on it and they get all the problems and the fall-out. It’s really, it’s not pretty, so what we wanna do is just bring on this conversation for normal people who are tired of the crap, right? There’s a lot of talk about obesogens and so the endocrine disrupting hormone compounds that are found in household cleaning products, XYZ. What’d ya find?

– That’s a great story, and I do cover that in The Secret Life of Fat. So obesogens, especially proestrogen, the mimic estrogen in a way, and when we get too much of that our body produces a protein called sex hormone binding globulin, and that clears out the proestrogen. The problem is that it also clears out testosterone, too. And so we have less testosterone, we are burning less fat and we get heavy. I tell a great story of a man named Jerry, who, he was a thrill-seeker, a thrill-seeker athlete, and he used to jump out of helicopters and just have this great exciting life. He came into a doctor’s office and he was just feeling down. He had gained weight. Even though he ramped up his exercise he was gaining some weight. And through a series of tests the doctor noticed that he had proestrogen in his blood, and they had to go through his life, a whole life questionnaire. He had recently gotten married and his wife was cooking hot food and putting it into plastic containers, and plastic has some of these proestrogen and obesogens in it. And then he was taking it and microwaving it in the container the next day, so he was getting a lot of BPA and different things in his blood that was affecting his metabolism. He changed to glass containers and he started feeling better. He started losing weight again. He was able to go out bungee jumping and do all the things that he does. So in large amounts they can have an effect. And you know, some of the cosmetics, some of the parabens, the preservatives in there, certain plants, plastics, pesticides, all these have that in, so you do have to be careful about how you’re making your food, how you’re treating it, and what you’re eating. But it’s pretty interesting.

– But so here’s what I’m hearing right now. This is what people in our live audience and people that are listening are going to be hearing selectively, is, oh, proestrogen, I’m going to swap out my Tupperware and then all of the sudden all my problems go away. It’s like, no, you probably still need to exercise, eat right. You know what I’m saying? It’s like, oh there’s the one thing, and it’s kind of the everything is what I’m hearing. You have to have a comprehensive approach.

Fat Itself Isn't Bad. We Need TO Stop Shaming Ourselves  - @SylviaTaraPhD via @PedramShojai

– You have to. You have to think of all different components of what’s making you gain weight, especially as you get older because there’ll be more of them in your life as you get older. Stress, we talked about a lot, we’ve talked about hormones, we’ve talked about just how life changes, and that’s what’s different about The Secret Life of Fat. A lot of these books, they’re very one-dimensional. So much is low-carb, right? If you haven’t learned by now, you know, carb is something that actually makes you gain weight through insulin, and that’s kind of an old story. There’s so much more to it than that, and this is very comprehensive. It takes on not only insulin, but it takes on the different hormones. It takes on the bacteria that we’re getting, even viruses we’re getting, the genetics of fat. And just how fat behaves in itself, what fat is in our body, and it’s not just sitting there, it’s not just this empty reserve of calories. It’s doing things, it’s active, it’s metabolic, it has hormones, it knows how to fight for its survival, it knows how to control our thoughts about food, even, through leptin, it is clearing our blood of adiponectin, sorry, clearing it of fats through adiponectin, and so it’s very complicated, it’s very sophisticated. There’s other ways we get fat. Think of all these things if a diet’s not working for you, if you have stubborn fat, if you’re just feeling frustrated that you’ve tried a bunch of things and they’re not working. Once you know all this though, there’s not a substitute for the work, right? You still have to watch what you eat.

– [Pedram] Sorry.

– Yeah, but at least you’ll know why things aren’t working and you can ratchet up or down depending on what it is you’re finding out.

– You mentioned a couple things that I think are just starting to surface, or at least in the popular literature starting to surface, is the role of bacteria and virus. Fascinating. Let’s get a little bit of that.

– All right, so we’re surrounded by bacteria. From the time we are born we start getting bacteria on our skin, in our gut, and any kind of opening that we have in our body. And so, they have a function. We actually have more bacterial cells than human cells in our body, so we’re more bacteria than we are human in some way. They have a, it’s a symbiotic relationship, so in our gut they actually help us extract calories out of our food, they help us digest things that we normally could not. And depending on the microbiome you have, you might be getting more calories out of your food versus less. So a bowl of cereal, it might say 100 calories for the bowl, but depending on what you’ve got in your gut, you could be getting 120 or you could be getting 80 calories out of that. The good news is that it can change. It’s not static. So when we eat different things, if we eat a lot of fats and carbohydrates we have one type of microbiome, which means a collection of bacteria in our gut. If we start eating a lot more fruits and vegetables and fiber, we have a different kind of microbiome. And it’s that microbiome, that’s with fruits and vegetables, that actually is more of a leaner profile of microbiome, so it’s associated with more leanness. So we can change it. So it’s almost like fat begets fat. It’s like the more of the high-calorie fats that you eat the more your microbiome extracts all that out and puts fat on you, versus when you’re eating more fibrous foods that are hard to digest, even bacteria can’t necessarily get at it and extract those calories, and that tilts towards a more lean kind of profile of microbiome in your gut.

– But if you, okay, so if you start to shift the math and you start getting more, you know, fruits and vegetables in your diet, you start gaming towards more of those bacteria, then when you eat fat are those bacteria as efficient at breaking down that fat? So they help with the fat absorption as well, or are they just like, hey, we’re on this side of the fence, we don’t know what to do with you?

– We have a spectrum of bacteria, you never just have one. In fact, the more diversity you have, that’s also associated with leanness, a great diversity of bacteria. And so you’ll always have the ones that can do fat, but as you get more fibrous, those ones that like fiber and deal with fiber, they’re going to grow. And those types of bacteria are associated more with the lean profile, the lean body type. But viruses are another interesting thing and I touch on this, is that I think this really worries people because viruses are harder to control. But viruses associated with fat have been known about for a long time. So in mice, canine distemper virus caused fat, and that’s been known about since the 80s andvirus causes fat in chicken. They found one that causes it, it seems to be correlated with humans as well, it’s Ad-36, and what they find is people who have ever had this virus have a three or four-fold greater risk of obesity than people who haven’t had it. And so this virus, the way it works is it actually produces more fat molecules, and it produces more fat cells. And I actually profile somebody who had this virus, he tested positive for having carried it, struggled with his weight a lot, and he’s one of the people who’s a little bit like me, can’t eat very much. He calls himself not part of the eating world, he has to really restrict his calories, he has to exercise a lot, more than most people around him, and he’s like a six foot one guy, right, who has to run and do a lot of things. So the little critters that are all over the world, we accumulate them, they come onto us, and they affect how we metabolize food, they affect what we do with fat when it comes in or how much fat we even create. And all these things you have to know about to understand why you might be getting more or less fat than somebody else.

– Yeah, well, and the plot thickens, right? We’ve got a question that Sean’s been waiting on from our audience, go ahead.

– So I have one from Weston. He says, “What was the most surprising case study “from all of your research that you did?”

– Yeah, that’s a good one. I think it probably was the Randy character with the virus. That was a really interesting one. So he had gotten scratched. The story is that the man who started to really elucidate Ad-36 and what it does to the body was actually from India, and he noticed this in chickens, that chickens were getting really fat after they got this virus called SMAM-1 in India. And he got, he was an obesity doctor and he got so interested in this he decided to quit his practice and just research this full-on. He decided to come to America because that’s really where the research was happening at the time. He started looking for the SMAM virus, they didn’t have it in America. He got the Ad-36 virus, it seemed to do the same thing, and through a lot of obstacles he was able to get the virus, research it, and during this time he’s researching it there’s this man Randy who’s struggling with his fat the whole time. He had grown up in the Midwest and he had gotten scratched by a rooster when he lived on a farm, and about around that time he started noticing he was really hungry all the time and that he was gaining more weight than he did in the past. They had these parallel lives for awhile with one doing the research on the virus and the other one getting fatter and fatter and not knowing what to do, and they finally intersect because one of his doctors, Randy’s doctors, learns about this research going on at University of Wisconsin and sends Randy to this doctor. His name is Nikhil Dhurandhar. And they finally test him and they find he’s positive for this virus. After he learns this, life starts to make sense to Randy. He’s like, this is why. This is why I gain weight–

– Damn rooster!

-You know, it’s not just me, I’m not just this loser, like there’s reasons for this, and he learns about set points, he learns about all the biology around fat, and it empowers him. He finally realizes what he has to do, that he has to just exercise in droves and he has to eat a lot less than other people, and he gets his life under control in a way, but he understands that this is a change that happened in his life, and this is probably the reason why he’s got such a higher risk of obesity, and he’s just gotta work at it much harder than anyone else.

– And this isn’t a virus that you can just annihilate. It’s something that kind of stays with you, so there’s no cure for this virus.

– That’s right, I mean there could be a vaccine in the future to prevent it, but the people who have it–

– [Pedram] Carry it.

– Yeah, they carry it. And it’s not, it might not be that rare. I think there was one study done with 1500 people and they found that around 20% were positive for having carried the virus.

– Are these people who have probably a history of, say, rural agricultural, you know, life? Or is it not necessarily just out of chickens?

– Not necessarily. In fact, the transmission from chickens to humans is not completely known, it’s not totally studied yet. So whether Randy got that from the rooster or not, it’s not completely verified. These people, it was actually done in the Air Force. It was a study in the Air Force personnel. They took 1500 people, they tested them for the virus, and they followed them for 10 years. Over the 10 years people who had tested positive had gained more weight than the people who weren’t by about three or four-fold. And so it does have an effect on your life and the ease with which you gain weight.

– How do you test for the virus? Is it common?

– No it’s not. It’s actually, it’s not a commercially-available test. I think Richard Atkins and one of the doctors that I write about has this test but you have to, it’s cumbersome. You have to give them the blood sample, they’ll test it and send it back, but it’s not widely available right now.

– If you do have it then the same kind of general immunology hygiene that applies to anything applies, which is do things that keep your immune system healthy so your viral load is controlled and all that, but at the end of the day, you’ve got it.

– Yeah, and it’s not completely known how it’s transmitting. So, you know, can you get sneezed on and get fat? No one really knows. Is it like getting a cold? It’s not the end of the world, so I don’t want to scare people into thinking oh my goodness, I might get obesity from a virus! If you have it, you just, you work a little bit harder, that’s all, and you have to be aware that you have it, be careful. One of the most important things I learned in the book, as I wrote the book as well was that getting fat is much harder than never being fat, right? One is that once you lose fat, your metabolism is lower, you seek food more, you’re eating about 22% fewer calories than before that. In a way it’s like cancer. Like once you have a tumor, you’ve gotta throw a lot of things at it to get it to go away. It’s always wanting to come back. And so even if someone tested positive for a virus, it means really don’t gain weight, be very careful, watch it all the time. Once you gain it, you know, coming back is much harder than just never having had it to begin with.

– Yeah, anyone who has gained weight can pay testament to that. You know, after your 20s, all bets are off. It’s way harder to lose the weight, so it’s much easier to avoid gaining it, absolutely. I love this conversation. I think that it’s a sensible, refreshing one, and it’s not like you’re in here, you know, kind of snapping your suspenders, saying I’ve figured out my super diet, just follow my thing. It’s hey, you gotta think about it, you gotta know what’s up, and you have to rationally understand what your odds are against whatever, and then you have a tool to then go into whatever dieting regime that you need for you. So I really appreciate that, that’s great perspective.

Educate Yourself About The Food You're Eating.  - @SylviaTaraPhD via @PedramShojai

– [Sylvia] Great, thank you, thanks.

– The book is called The Secret Life of Fat and you’re a PhD, Doctor Sylvia Tara, who lives locally here. And I think that this is the kind of research that needs to be done. It’s just kind of like that non-partisan, I’m looking at this for myself, not some company getting me to research their stuff.

– Yeah, I know it’s very comprehensive. I hope people get a lot out of it.

– Wonderful, thank you so much.

– [Sylvia] Thank you.

– This has been great. Let me know what you think in the chat threads, and I will see you next time. Check me out at TheUrbanMonk.com. Let me know, wherever you’re listening, give me some comments.

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