How we really burn calories and lose weight with Dr. Herman Pontzer

Apple Google Spotify Overcast Youtube

We have always thought that the more active we are the more calories we burn each day. Dr. Pontzer has discovered that that is not the case. We discuss how we really burn calories and lose weight and more as we go through his book, Burn: New Research Blows the Lid Off How We Really Burn Calories, Lose Weight, and Stay Healthy.


Let's Say Hello

[00:02:09.900] – Allan
Raz, how are you?

[00:02:11.220] – Rachel
Great. Allan, how are you today?

[00:02:13.290] – Allan
I'm doing ok, I'm doing okay. I went out for a good long walk this morning and I think my electrolytes are a little low so I'm going to have to start working on that and make sure that I'm doing what I'm supposed to do. And so I think in a few minutes here, when we get off this call, I'm going to fix myself some of that Ucan Hydrate, their electrolyte product. And I might do a little Facebook video, a little video of that so people can see what it is.

[00:02:48.480] – Allan
I forget the flavor I have in my pocket right now, but yeah, I think I'm going to do that because I just feel like my electrolytes are low. So my energy might be a little low today. And I apologize if that's the case. But…

[00:03:00.510] – Rachel
Nice. I like Ucan. It's a really tasty product. Is that too sugary sweets and flavor. And it sits well in my stomach too.

[00:03:09.630] – Allan
Well it actually has no sugar in it. That's the other side of their hydrate product. And even their other products. It's a super starch. The energy. It's a super starch. So it doesn't spike the blood sugar. And it's not a lot of calories either. That's side of it. You know, the standard you can powder was like eighty calories. But it's enough that it kind of feels like it is, you feel that energy going into a workout and then with the electrolytes, it's just a good tasting flavor.

[00:03:39.090] – Allan
I love the lemon lime. I think I've got a different flavor here today. But anyway, it's. Yeah. So it's real good. It just gives me what I need. Really easy. Just put it in my little shaker bottle. Go and nice. There we go.

[00:03:52.650] – Rachel
That sounds awesome.

[00:03:54.270] – Allan
All right. Are you ready to get into today's episode?

[00:03:57.420] – Rachel
Yes, that sounds great.


[00:04:40.140] – Allan
Dr. Pontzer, welcome to 40+ Fitness.

[00:04:43.080] – Dr. Pontzer
Thanks for having me.

[00:04:45.330] – Allan
I was reading your book and I looked over at my wife and she was sitting on a couch and I said, “I love reading books by anthropologists.”

[00:04:57.180] – Dr. Pontzer

[00:05:00.230] – Allan
Even if you didn't tell some of the stories about lions and fires and all the other things that are in this book. So I'm not going to let the dog out of the bag right now. You guys need to get this book to read those stories. But if you even if you didn't have those Indiana Jones moments, if you will, this was just a fascinating book.

[00:05:22.630] – Dr. Pontzer
Thank you so much. It was really fun to write.

[00:05:24.880] – Allan
I read a lot of books. I just got into this and I'm like, OK, OK, OK. And now I get why he says that. OK. And I'm like, wow, I didn't know that. And holy crap!

[00:05:42.530] – Dr. Pontzer
That's great. That's really great.

[00:05:44.410] – Allan
When you said blows the lid off of how we really burn calories because the little book rack is actually going to talk about is called Burn: New Research Blows the Lid Off of How We Really Burn Calories, Lose Weight and Stay Healthy. And you did. You blew my lid off anyway.

[00:05:59.680] – Dr. Pontzer
Cool. Thanks, man. Thank you.

[00:06:01.540] – Allan
OK, so let's dive into this because I, I will go on to My Fitness Pal and I'll go in there and key in I'm 55 years old and I'm five foot 11 almost and I weigh about two hundred and five pounds and I'd like to weigh 190. And so it'll spit back a bunch of numbers at me and say, OK, you need to eat twenty-one hundred calories per day in these proportions. And then I go in, I do my thing and I'm like I got on an elliptical machine and elliptical machine I like because it says 750 calories per hour versus the one that said six hundred calories per hour.

[00:06:39.610] – Dr. Pontzer
That's right.

[00:06:40.160] – Allan
And then I eat what I eat and I put it in the app. I'm like, OK, yeah, I had this, I had that. And I have one serving of nuts. I had one serving of that. And then it tells me in six weeks you'll reach your goal, because you're eating this way.

[00:06:57.310] – Allan
And somehow every day it's like chasing the end of a rainbow. It's just. It's on the next horizon, it's on the next horizon. Can we talk a little bit about these things like the Basal metabolic rate, BMR, our activity level, and why that math? What's going on there when we're trying to figure out our expenditures, trying to figure out how we can burn calories to lose weight, why that's not quite working out for us.

[00:07:26.170] – Dr. Pontzer
Yeah. Gosh, where to start. So, you know, I think it boils down to the way that we think about our metabolism. Right? So the way we've been taught to think about our metabolism, it's nobody's fault unless you're in this line of work, in which case it is your fault, I suppose. My line of work, I should say. But we've been taught to think about our bodies like simple engines engineered and built to be a rational and easy to understand.

[00:07:53.200] – Dr. Pontzer
And you can rev your engine higher with exercise and burn off more fuel. And, you know, that kind of really simplistic I like to call like an armchair engineer's version of how your body ought to work. Yeah, but by that logic, by those assumptions then everything you just said is totally sensible, totally within its own logic. Totally true. And you can't fault the internal logic of it because it's the story that's been told for decades.

[00:08:18.280] – Dr. Pontzer
And so, of course it kind of holds together. The problem is that our bodies aren't engineered. Right. They're evolved. And your metabolic engine is not some simple thing that you can just you can step on the accelerator or step on the brakes. You don't have a lot of control over it, actually. Instead, your metabolism hasn't been evolved to help you fit into your bathing suit better.

[00:08:45.010] – Dr. Pontzer
It's been evolved to make sure that you survive and reproduce. And so, your body is doing your metabolism is doing all the sort of sleight of hand behind the scenes that you're completely unaware of. Right? From how well you can take how you track the food you eat to how well you can get a handle on the energy you burn off. And so all of those complications that are mostly unseen to you because your metabolism isn't really about just diet and exercise, about everything makes the story that you told just totally fall apart.

[00:09:16.570] – Dr. Pontzer
And I think that's that's the experience that people had. Like you say, oh, I'm going to do this. I'm going to expect these results and gosh, why isn't it happening? And it is because the the the way you thought it was going to work to begin with was not accurate.

[00:09:32.290] – Allan
So there was this like really smart guy called Isaac Newton that wrote these laws and to the day they stand. And so there's the law of conservation of energy. And so the thoughts are whatever you put into the system has to come out of the system where it stays in the system. And then I guess to some extent, my math anyway was then, of course, you've got Einstein saying energy equals mass. So if you're putting extra energy in your body, then it becomes mass at some level until it becomes energy again.

[00:10:07.660] – Allan
So, it's not that we're broken. Yeah, and I think the way you kind of put it in the book and you got into this concept of constrained daily energy expenditure.

[00:10:20.940] – Dr. Pontzer

[00:10:22.010] – Allan
And that's really what's holding us up. Right? Because we are burning the energy or at least we feel like we are because, the machine said seven hundred fifty. But even if I say, OK, then I'll just I'll go with the lower number. Six hundred. Yeah. Which again might not be the right number, but it's a number I burn that I did that I got on there and I pushed myself. I know I had to burn calories to do it because I couldn't do it without burning calories. Where's the math going. Wonky.

[00:10:50.810] – Dr. Pontzer
Yeah, right. So what you're describing is the way that people even in the field of metabolism have been thinking about this for over half a century. And it's based on this idea that the all the the tasks you do every day we can to add them all up together. And that's going to give us like your bill at the end of a shopping trip, going to give us the total calories that you burn that day. But what it doesn't tell you, right, because it's completely missing from that equation is the fact that the more exercise you do, your body's response to that and goes, oh, OK, so we've got we spent this much on exercise or it's not really a day to day kind of adjustments, more like over weeks or months, kind of just, oh, I'm going I've changed my lifestyle now.

[00:11:33.200] – Dr. Pontzer
I'm exercising this much now I'm spending this much energy on activity. I'm going to spend less on all the other tasks. So most of what your body does every day, even if you're an active person, is not exercise. Most of what your body does every day is immune function and brain function and reproductive function and digestion and all these sort of unseen tasks. And so you reduce those a little bit and you basically make room for the six hundred calories you just spent on on your elliptical.

[00:12:01.010] – Dr. Pontzer
And so it doesn't actually bump up the total number of calories you spend every day instead of your body's working to keep the total calorie you spend every day within a narrow range, kind of like in the same way that, you know, your body keeps body temperature within a narrow range. If you go out on a cold day, you don't know. You're not a reptile. You don't drop to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. No, your body works hard to keep you warm.

[00:12:22.700] – Dr. Pontzer
And if you just keep it right at ninety-eight point six or thirty-seven degrees Celsius, whatever you prefer, your blood sugar levels are kind of the same way. They can fluctuate up and down. But they're kept in a narrow range, unless you're unless you have diabetes. And so, you know, that that kind of homeostatic we call it maintenance of your daily energy expenditure within an area. And that's one of the really kind of exciting things that's come out of the work over the last ten or so years I've been doing and some other folks as well.

[00:12:52.970] – Allan
Yeah, we used to measure calories when we wanted to kind of do it scientifically. You either had to be in a room where they could they pretty much could measure all your breathing or at least some level have an apparatus on your face. So you're breathing into it so that they can measure the cardio, the carbon dioxide. And that's another little tidbit you had in the book that I actually knew beforehand. But when we lose fat, we're losing most of it through our breath.

[00:13:20.810] – Dr. Pontzer
from carbon that you ate. You lose, you lose it all through your breath. Mostly breathing it out as carbon dioxide.

[00:13:26.000] – Allan
But they've updated the science. And that's where you were a big part of actually executing that in some really remarkable situations of how we actually burn, how our actual metabolism works. Can you talk a little bit about this? Got double you call it double,

[00:13:41.600] – Dr. Pontzer
Doubly labeled water.

[00:13:42.770] – Allan
Doubly labeled water. Okay it sounds like Evian almost got a challenger.

[00:13:47.830] – Dr. Pontzer
I wish it was as cheap as Evian. That's actually super expensive. But yes, as you said, I'm an anthropologist. I'm trained in the field of human evolution and how our bodies evolved. And, of course, know humans have been evolving for two million years since before we Homo Sapiens as hunter-gatherers. And so from my perspective, if you want to really understand how the body works and you want to understand how humans are in a lifestyle that's similar to the ones that we used to live, of course, we don't have a time machine, but you want to find a culture that hold on to those some of those same traditions.

[00:14:20.240] – Dr. Pontzer
Right? And so we wanted to go and look at energy metabolism in a hunting and gathering population. This is back about 2007 or 2008 that we were putting this together first. And we were sure that we were going to find exactly what, you know, what you were saying before, that if they're more active, they're going to burn more calories. And we just we're trying to document how much more. But nobody had at that point.

[00:14:43.370] – Dr. Pontzer
Nobody had ever measured total energy expenditures, total daily energy expenditures in a hunter-gatherer group. For exactly the reason you described. You have to have somebody typically have somebody in a laboratory to do that. But what the study labeled water measurement, you can use this really cool isotope tracking technique. Some of the hydrogen to replace the deuterium. Some of the oxygen is replaced with this isotope called Oxygen 18. And you can use those to sort of trace your body's flow of water through your body, as well as the production of carbon dioxide that you breathe out because some of the oxygen that flow through your body actually come in as water and leave as the Os in the CO2 that you breathe, that we actually track that over about a week or 10 days of time. So it's a really cool technique. It's been around for a couple of decades, but it's expensive. There aren't many labs that do it. And nobody had ever done it for hunter gatherer group before.

[00:15:34.070] – Dr. Pontzer
So we were so excited when my colleague Dave Raichlen and Brian Wood and I went to northern Tanzania to do this with the Hadza community there. And they're a modern community like any other group on Earth right now. But they are hunter-gatherers. And so they cut a whole lot of these old traditions that are way to to sort of see what that lifestyle is like, how it affects our bodies.

[00:15:54.260] – Dr. Pontzer
And, you know, we know they're super active and they get about five times our physical activity every day than a typical American or typical European or anybody in an industrialized, urbanized setting. And we were so sure that we were going to see really high energy expenditures with them, with this doubly labeled water technique. We just kind of wanted to document how much higher it was. And in fact, when we got the samples home without them analyzed, it turns out that even though there's really, really physically active, they're burning the same number of calories every day as folks in the US and Europe and other industrialized countries.

[00:16:27.590] – Dr. Pontzer
So that was a total totally mind-blowing to me and has sort of shaped my research over the last 10 years trying to ollow that weird finding and find out. Actually, it's not so weird that you see other places. Do we see it throughout and just try to understand what that means and how your body can possibly adapt to lifestyle like that and to keep energy expenditure the same.

[00:16:51.200] – Allan
I would tell you as a personal trainer, I would say 99.9% percent of my colleagues love the calories in calories out model because we sell exercise. You know, for the most part, someone says, I want to lose weight, I'll exercise you. And so it's an easy sell because they believe they need to exercise more to lose weight, but the body is going to adjust because of it.

[00:17:11.450] – Dr. Pontzer
Mm hmm.

[00:17:11.960] – Allan
And so you've actually proven that scientifically now that that's what happens to our immune function, maybe down regulates our reproductive system down, regulates maybe even the size of some of our organs go down as a result. That's not something necessarily measurable in weight, but it kind of is what it is. Our body adapts to what it needs to eat to stay alive, just to be here tomorrow when when food is scarce or when you're overworking, it needs to be able to keep you moving long enough to get that next kudzu or next to antelope or whatever. Or chase off some lions so you can have what they just killed.

[00:17:53.660] – Allan
So you brought up a term in the book that I thought was really important because the other side of the argument, I'll get a lot of people, doctors and nutritionists and everything and and I've seen it work. I was I mean, at some level is they'll say, we could be a carnivore, we could be a vegetarian, we could be a vegan, we could be whatever. And people will tribalize on those on those terms, on those ways of eating.

[00:18:17.990] – Allan
What you found with the Hadza is that they are effectively operating opportunistic omnivores. They're going to eat what they're able to get because, you know, it's not like they go open up a fridge and say, we got some zebra in here. I think I'll cook that up tonight.

[00:18:37.670] – Allan
It might be it's going to be easier for us to go get some honey today and we're going to eat a meal of honey. Which anyone who's keto would say, oh my God, you're going to die. You're going to have diabetes. They don't have diabetes. They don't have heart disease

[00:18:53.170] – Dr. Pontzer
They're incredibly healthy. I mean, wonderful models of health. You wake up in the morning and you get you're out there getting food out of the wild landscape. They don't have any, I should say. They don't have any crops, any machines, any domesticated animals or plants. So any way to store their food or electricity. Right. So they're off every morning to get plants or animals to eat. And, you know, women rack up like twelve thousand steps a day. Men get like nineteen thousand steps a day. It's an incredible amount of physical activity. But yeah, the diet is sort of what they are not, they are not tribal in their diet. The way that sort of you know, it's become fashionable to be here in the industrialized world where you have this, you're spoiled for choice, you know, and you have the opportunity to be tribal if you like to. They don't have that opportunity. There was ever is available.

This episode of the 40+ Fitness podcast is sponsored by UCan. On the podcast, we often talk about low carb and ketosis as a way of managing your metabolism and how managing your blood sugar is key for weight loss and avoiding metabolic dysfunction. But how do we fuel a hard, long workout?

I remember having a conversation with my trainer about low carb, keto, and fast workouts. He was skeptical. I was getting stronger. But on my heavy days, especially when I was doing more than six reps per set, I would get winded and need longer rest than programed. Had I known what Ucan Superstarch does, then I would have performed better and likely gotten even stronger. Most pre-workouts have sugar and stimulants that give you a big boost, but that is inevitably followed by a crash. Ucan's patented a superstarch, which is different. Superstarch has the remarkable ability to provide a steady release of energy without spiking blood sugar.

Ucan energy powders and energy bars are delicious and provide all the energy I need to make it through an intense training session. I wouldn't touch a pre-workout, but Ucan superstarch checks off all the boxes to give me the energy I need without the downsides. I'm also a fan of their electrolyte powder, Ucan Hydrate. Go to 40plusfitnesspodcast.com/ucan and use the code 40plus to save 20% on your entire order. Make Ucan superstarch your competitive advantage at 40plusfitnesspodcast.com/ucan.

[00:21:21.780] – Allan
And so it's like then and they're not walking nineteen thousand steps just to get to the 7-Eleven, right? They got to do something. When they get there, they climb a tree or they got to dig up some roots. They eat a lot of tubulars. They eat honey. They eat animals that they kill or that they can scavenge off of other people and other kills. So it's just kind of fascinating that they eat what's there and they still stay relatively healthy because, I imagine zebras are red meat. It's a leaner meat than a cow. Yeah. Because they don't fatten zebras up for any particular reason.

[00:21:57.180] – Dr. Pontzer
Right. The Hadza diet is great because you get to make everybody upset when you talk about their diet. They're not vegans for sure. They love to eat meat and they eat it when they can get it. And they like fat for that matter. They can eat it, but they eat a ton of plants, too, and eat sugar. Right. We've done the analysis. The sugar is that, honey. It's just water and sugar, like it is like when you buy it at the store here. So it's a real mix and it changes day to day and it changes month to month.

[00:22:26.310] – Dr. Pontzer
And there they are. Not the exception that we look in the ethnographic record at other hunter-gatherer groups, too, that most of them, of course, sadly now are in villages, that kind of stuff. But we have the historical records of what these people were eating. And it's no surprise it's just like cuisine around the world is diverse today. Cuisine around the world is diverse for these traditional folks as well. You know, paleo folks love to point out Arctic populations, the Inuit and yeah, that's right. If you live up where no plants grow. That's right. You make a living without eating any plants. And if you live in places that are warm and temperate and have lots of plants to grow and honey, you eat that, so everybody can you can cherry pick anything if you want to say, oh, this is my model of a paleo diet and just tell me, well, that's fine. You do that.

[00:23:16.020] – Dr. Pontzer
I can find you a group that eats all plants, you know, and that's what they do. And they're all equally healthy. So the idea that they're sort of just one paleo diet or one natural diet just drives me crazy. As an anthropologist, one of the things I love about studying people all over the globe is this sort of the yin and yang, the sweet and salty of the differences and the similarities. Right?

[00:23:40.200] – Dr. Pontzer
We're all the same. We're all humans, we have all the same motivations going on. And yet the way that we meet all those needs is so different and the cultures are so different. So to have to kind of rewrite some history of us that says, oh, it was only one way or only this way or it just doesn't, just such a disservice to how cool humans are, I think. And how diverse we are.

[00:24:00.720] – Allan
Yeah. But we wouldn't have survived if we didn't have that capacity at some level.

[00:24:06.300] – Dr. Pontzer

[00:24:06.810] – Allan
To go for periods of time without food and not die. To not have a blood sugar crash and go into a coma because we went two days without actually being able to find food. We have to be able to go without food for a period of time and still function. Yeah. And we have to be able to go ahead. And when it's time and we find the food, we eat what we got, we eat what's there. So if you're climbing up a tree and your lunch is made, it's just honey and honeycombs.

[00:24:33.930] – Allan
I mean, that's that's your lunch. You know, it took a lot of work. It took time. It took effort and a lot of calories getting there. And then you're there and then you enjoy the honey and. Yeah, then I guess you take some home so, you can trade or do something with it, but and someone's going to come home. And that's another thing I really kind of liked about their culture. One of the reasons they're probably so healthy is just their attitude and the social bonds they have with their kinfolk and the people around them in their tribe. And so they're just there and they're they're taking care of themselves or taking care of each other. And they recognize where they are in the world, at least from the perspective of if they don't help each other, they're screwed.

[00:25:18.870] – Dr. Pontzer
Yeah, sharing that community ethos is so strong. And, you know, and it's one of those things that make us uniquely human. Right? I mean, no other species. You can't find any other species where half of the animals get one kind of food and half the same animals get another kind of food and they come together at the end of the day and share it doesn't happen. Doesn't exist at all. So hunting and gathering, which was what now that is the human strategy for millions of years, is so interesting and so key.

[00:25:46.500] – Dr. Pontzer
And it at its core is that we're going to be these socially connected people. Right. I think that's what's so hard about Covid. For example, konbit is just such a killer because it says you can't be a social as you'd like to be in it just now. It's really hard.

[00:26:00.660] – Allan
And I've said this many, many times. I wish, I wish, I wish. And I know it's a scientific term that came up with and they're using it. But socially distancing was not what we need to do. We need to physically distance.

[00:26:13.170] – Dr. Pontzer
Yes. Yeah. And a really good point.

[00:26:15.420] – Allan
And so I know, but I actually went back and I saw where they had started. Using the term social distancing as a strategy many, many decades ago, this is not new. I mean, it's been in the books. That term has been in the books for a long, long, long, long, long before anyone thought of Facebook or anything like that. But we don't need to socially distance. We need to physically distance when it's appropriate and hopefully now with the things that are going on, we're going to move past all that. But we've got to keep our immune system healthy and we've got to do the other things that are necessary for us to thrive as humans. One of the things that's going to come up is like, OK, if my personal trainer making me exercise these do this stupid HIIT workout or the stupid, he's going to say, OK, I need you to do I want you to do 30 minutes of cardio, four days a week.

[00:27:06.310] – Allan
There's other benefits to that. And we can get into that for sure. But if it won't help me do what I want to do, which 90 percent of the people approaching a personal trainer, the first thing on their head is I want to lose weight, or at least I want to lose body fat, don't necessarily want to lose weight, but I call it weight because that's what everybody calls it and that's what the scale calls it. And that's the easiest measurement tool I have available to me, the most cost effective tool I have. So we'll just say I want to lose weight. Why should I still do exercise?

[00:27:36.370] – Dr. Pontzer
Yeah. So all those adjustments your body makes to exercise, to take, to spend less energy on everything else, to keep your energy expenditure the same. Turns out that those changes are we think and this is really this is kind of bleeding edge science right now. I don't think we're working on right now to know exactly how this all works out. But it seems like those changes that down regulation of other stuff is the one of the big reasons exercise is so good for you.

[00:28:03.830] – Dr. Pontzer
And so it helps actually put together a bunch of phenomena that people have noticed over the years and it kind of knits it all together. So we know, for example, that if you exercise a lot, people who exercise a lot tend to have lower levels of inflammation. But what is inflammation? Inflammation is your innate immune response to an attack, to a pathogen or to a cut or something like that. And you need some of it.

[00:28:25.480] – Dr. Pontzer
You need some immune response or you'll do very well. But too much is too much. Right. You want to you want the fire department to come when you call them, but you don't want it at your house all the time. So that's what inflammation, chronic inflammation is like. Stress reactivity. You need some stress reactivity to be normal and healthy. You don't want to have big surges of cortisol and adrenaline every time you know something happens.

[00:28:52.720] – Dr. Pontzer
Reproductive hormones. Yes. You want to have met a healthy level. Nobody wants any kind of dysfunction, of course. But it turns out that the levels that we typically have of testosterone and estrogen in places like the US and Europe in industrialized societies are much, much higher than they are in groups like the Hadza that are physically active. And by the way, they had to have just a fine time having getting pregnant, having families. That isn't an issue. So we're not talking about where you supposed to where there are issues. We're talking about just having it at a healthy level.

[00:29:24.880] – Dr. Pontzer
All of those individual phenomena have been noticed before. And what I think the constraint energy expenditure does nicely is say, oh, OK, this is the framework. Right. It's an energy framework because I'm spending more on activity, on exercise, because I'm doing the HIIT workout, I'm getting stronger. My heart's getting stronger. That's all great. I don't maybe see the number on the bathroom scale change very much. But what I also don't notice. But what is really good for me is all the other amazing stuff is doing for me because of that adjustment. Right. So this isn't a don't bother exercise in story. This is a here's why you have to keep exercise story even if you're not getting the weight change you wish you had.

[00:30:02.080] – Allan
Yeah. And I think that's just really, really hard for people to wrap their head around is, I want this thing and yet those other things sound great, but I think

[00:30:14.230] – Dr. Pontzer
It sounds great. But I'd really like to look.

[00:30:16.330] – Allan
I'd like to look better in my casket. Again, it's just one of those things of saying this. And the other thing I found is really interesting is the people who exercise are healthier.

[00:30:32.800] – Dr. Pontzer

[00:30:33.760] – Allan
Not necessarily that they've lost the weight, but it's sort of that kind of that backwards to the energy model is they never really had a need to store extra energy anyway. And so when we get on the other side of that, then this is kind of one of my takeaways. And I may be reading a little bit too much into it, but is if it if it took me three decades or even two decades to put on that extra 30 pounds.

[00:31:01.150] – Allan
And I try to say, OK, I'm just going to just kind to bless that elliptical every day of the week. And I'm going to you know, I want to keep seeing those 750s just plop, plop, plop. And initially it works. You know, I'm eating better and I'm seeing some some things or at least I'm eating less. But then I get three weeks and I'm hungry. And I'm like, OK, so now I'm hungry and I'm fighting hunger and hunger, it wins. So that's always it always wins that argument.

[00:31:31.360] – Allan
So for the folks that are fighting that struggle, to me, it seems the solution that you've kind of based on what you are finding, we really need to ratchet up the patients with our body.

[00:31:43.390] – Dr. Pontzer
Yeah. Yeah.

[00:31:44.620] – Allan
To let it do the things it needs to do. And if we're eating natural things like because they're not calling a Pizza Hut now at ten o'clock at night and saying, you know, deliver two pizzas there, they're eating real food.

[00:32:00.430] – Dr. Pontzer
Yeah, that's right. I mean, you know, the stuff that gets us into trouble and this is some really cool work by a guy named Kevin Hall and other groups have worked on this, in the lab, when you can control people are eating and really watch what they're doing. What are the foods that get you into trouble? It's it doesn't seem like there's any particular nutrient that's the villain, okay, eating too many carbs.

[00:32:20.080] – Dr. Pontzer
Yeah, sure. Too many of anything's bad. Too much fat is also bad. So what we did eat too much. Well it seems to lead people to eat too much is when they eat these really ultra-processed over-engineered foods. Right? That are literally built in the laboratory, in focus group tested to make sure that you eat too much. Right. That's how they make their money. And actually, that's a pretty cynical take on it. I'm not trying to vilify food industry, for that matter.

[00:32:44.950] – Allan
We should now. It's more than the model. They're blatantly telling you this now. I mean, I remember a Super Bowl commercial. And it was a Pringles commercial, which is just processed potato flour. I mean, it's just… Anyway, so they had one that was pizza flavor, OK? And then the guy says he had another one.

[00:33:05.440] – Allan
His friend had chicken. Yeah. So they put the chicken one on the pizza one and they ate both of them at the same time. And the chicken pizza and barbecue had barbecue and they put all three of them. And so they've gone beyond the you can't eat just one, bet you can just one to eat three, stack them up, find multiple flavors that you like paired together or triple together. They're not even hiding. They're not even hiding them.

[00:33:34.270] – Dr. Pontzer
Yeah. And I mean it is delicious but it gets into trouble because you know what we're finding is that, that and I should say we, I mean we literally there this is people who are looking specifically at diet. But your brain does an amazing job regulating how many calories come in and how many calories go out, even if you're gaining a couple of pounds a year, which is the kind of that is the American obesity epidemic is a couple of pounds a year.

[00:34:03.700] – Dr. Pontzer
Even if you're doing that, you're still matching your brain is still matching (think about this) intake to expenditure to within like point zero five percent. I mean, an incredibly amazing amount of precision there. So then how does it get even a little bit off track, because that's what obesity is. Your brain's going a little bit out of whack matching intake and expenditure. And, you know, it looks like it's these ultra-processed foods that completely blow up your reward system. Right? And your brain is like, oh my God, this is amazing. They don't have fiber. They don't have protein because that's expensive. So they just are full of sugars and fats, oils usually. And and so they don't have any of the of the indicators that your brain usually uses to tell you that your full like fiber and protein, they reward you like crazy. And so you want to bring in more. And so guess what?

[00:34:56.860] – Dr. Pontzer
Your brain is just a little bit just a little small error all the time, more and more and more. If you're eating that. Those are the big killers. And what I love about this is one of the best pieces of evidence that that's what's going on here, is that if you look at the hundreds of genes that have been associated with high BMI, with obesity, nearly every one of them is active in your brain. Right?

[00:35:22.060] – Dr. Pontzer
So it isn't your your fat cells that are out of whack or your liver cells that are out of whack or your stomach. It's your brain cells that are not out of whack. They're poorly, they're a poor fit to this weird modern food environment we've made, so that's the crux right there. Like you're saying, how do you lose the weight? Well, if you just crash diet, your body's going to respond.

[00:35:44.270] – Dr. Pontzer
If you hit the gym like crazy, your body response, you basically had to take these foods, engineered them back out of your life. And that's pretty much how you have to do it.

[00:35:52.400] – Allan
And then have the patience to let that play out. Because, again, like you said, that fractional difference is your brain and your body start to recollect and say, hey, I got way too much me here. This is actually not good for me to keep going. I need to get rid of some of this. Your brain will originally eventually turn on and say, okay we're getting what we need, we're full, and in your body will then respond. But it's going to be that gradual, have patience with the process.

[00:36:22.820] – Dr. Pontzer
Yeah. And some folks are going to find know the trick is, can you find a diet that you're eating healthily, you're getting all your micronutrients, your weight is either where you want it to be or go in the direction you want it to be. And you feel full because you say hunger is always going to win. So if you're feeling hungry, it's not going to work. And so, it's not a diet book. I don't feel to get the impression this is the next diet to eat.

[00:36:48.200] – Dr. Pontzer
You know, that's not the idea here. The idea is what are the principles? How does your body work? What's the owner's manual look like? So you can take charge of this thing? And, the principles seem to be if you eat more fiber, eat more protein, you know, those are ways to feel full on less. And some people are going to find that in a Carnivore diet where a lot of the protein is what saves you. Some are going to find that a plant based diet where the fibers let's say you you know, I mean, there's lots of ways to do it.

[00:37:11.570] – Allan
Yeah, well, I think it could be a diet book. So go to Africa, make your own make your own bow and arrow. Make your own stick. They've got roots and tubulars. And and then. Yeah. Walk nineteen hundred steps per day to go kill. I don't know a giraffe.

[00:37:29.080] – Dr. Pontzer
Yeah. Right, right.

[00:37:31.310] – Allan
That'll do.

[00:37:33.250] – Dr. Pontzer
Yeah. Or cook your food with no seasoning. That's another thing. Right? I mean have they got a little bit of salt. That's it. You know they don't really they're food sadly their food is not delicious. I kind of wish it were. Honey is delicious. The honey. How much honey can you eat my lord. You know. Anyway.

[00:37:51.470] – Allan
Oh perfect. So Dr. Pontzer, I define wellness as being the healthiest, fittest, and happiest you can be. What are three strategies or tactics to get and stay well.

[00:38:02.810] – Dr. Pontzer
That's a great question. I would say get outside because if you're outside, you're probably moving. You're probably breathing clean air. It lifts your mood. So get outside, stay connected. Because I think that's the social aspect of this. The social connections are really important and then don't trade diet for exercise or vice versa. Those are two different tools or two different jobs. And so you got to kind of do both. So I got a squeeze in for I did.

[00:38:30.800] – Allan
That's perfect.

[00:38:32.150] – Dr. Pontzer
That's what I'd say.

[00:38:33.200] – Allan
OK, if someone wanted to learn more about you, learn more about the book Burn, where would you like for me to send them?

[00:38:39.920] – Dr. Pontzer
Well, the book is a good place to start. You could also check out what we're doing in the sponsor lab here at Duke. Look us up on the Duke website, or if you want to find out more about the Hadza and for that matter, if you want to help the Hadza, because one of the things that we really try to do with our work is to give back is check out the Hadzafund.org, you can find out more about their culture, more about our work and ways you can donate and help give back if you like.

[00:39:08.120] – Allan
You can go to 40plusfitnesspodcast.com/478 and I'll be sure to have those links there. Dr. Pontzer, thank you so much for being a part of 40+ Fitness.

[00:39:17.660] – Dr. Pontzer
It was so much fun. Thanks a lot.

Post Show/Recap

[00:39:24.330] – Allan
Welcome back, Raz.

[00:39:26.160] – Rachel
Hey, Allan, what a fascinating interview. I have to say that this whole theory about calorie expenditure kind of blew my mind a little bit.

[00:39:36.330] – Allan
Yeah. I just love anthropologist's. I just do. The ones that go out there, the Indiana Jones kind, because he had some really cool stories and in the book about his adventures, particularly in Africa with the Hadza tribe. But he just saw some things there that, you know, you wouldn't you wouldn't see anywhere else and you would experience someone else. And so just to really cool experiences.

[00:40:02.220] – Allan
And then, yeah, when he sat down with them, they went in with the hypothesis and he did real science, which is crazy, real science, where you have a hypothesis. And when your hypothesis is wrong, they acknowledge it and say, hey, we were wrong, this is what's actually going on. So, yeah, the hypothesis was that these guys were burning thousands and thousands and thousands of calories every day. And as a result, that's why they were so freaking skinny. But the reality of it was, no, no, they're not. Their body is is finding equilibrium at a lower overall BMI. I mean, I'm starting at BMI, but basal metabolic rate BMR.

[00:40:48.630] – Allan
And so basically what happens is that your body slows down other functions, eliminate some of it needs to for periods of time. And so, we've seen this someone who starved for a long period of time, they start losing muscle mass. But you see it, if a female athlete, particularly one who does endurance running, gets her body fat too low, keeps her energy levels too low, she stops menstruating.

[00:41:15.180] – Rachel

[00:41:16.200] – Allan
And one of the fascinating things that he talked about in the book was that the size of a person's spleen will go down. So you're quite literally using energy from your spleen and that's your immune system. And so therefore, you're not your immune system isn't functioning as well as it should. So your reproductive system can slow down and stop your your immune system can slow down and stop. And all because it wants to keep your brain alive, your heart alive, your liver alive, and you alive. And so it's a requirement. It's necessary if you can't get enough calories. No matter how hard you need to work, your body is going to find balance.

[00:41:58.030] – Rachel
Yeah, that is incredible. It's amazing to think that a hunter-gatherer tribe like the Hadza that he studied and people here in the United States even have similar caloric expenditure where you can only go so far. You can like he said, you can't crash diet and you can't hit the gym hard enough. I mean, there's a point where it doesn't make sense.

[00:42:22.510] – Allan
Yeah, but but one of the core points to take away from that is not so much just what our bodies are doing, but to understand that the calories that we're burning are not for the right reason our immune systems are overactive. Our systems are over. We have many systems that are overactive because of how we treat our bodies, what we put in them, and so, we are burning a lot and we were burning more calories, but we're burning it being sedentary.

[00:42:54.900] – Allan
So it's not that we're exercising to have those extra calories burned. That's not where his average is coming from. It's just coming from the fact that our body is going to burn about the same, whether it's doing it for the right reasons or the wrong reasons.

[00:43:10.260] – Rachel
It's just an incredible experiment.

[00:43:12.930] – Allan
And so for me, the core takeaway and, we've talked about this a lot lately is that you. Yes. You can't lose weight relatively quickly. If you go on on a diet, the diet's probably going to work for a period of time and then it might not. And when it doesn't, then there's the frustration. Usually there's the retaliation. So, oh, that didn't work. Well, I'm go ahead and just have that bottle of wine I didn't have last weekend because my diet stopped working.

[00:43:42.630] – Allan
And then there's the other part of this is just the dealing with hunger. And we just we don't deal with hunger very well because food's just everywhere. And, you know, I think one of the core things for me, and you see it you see in the commercials is they have the Snickers commercial where, you know, someone's starting to get what they call hangry. And as a result, they're kind of angry and hungry and it all comes together.

[00:44:12.250] – Allan
And what's the solution? The solution is to throw sugar at it, throw throw a Snickers bar at it, and that's going to solve your your hangry problem. But, that's not how this works. And as a result, I think one of the core takeaways for me was that if we really want to do weight loss responsibly, we've got to look at weight loss as a slow, long process and so slowly whittling away by eating whole foods, nutritious food, being hungry sometimes and maybe not eating as often as we do, those are all going to be strategies that will help us lose the weight we want to lose.

[00:44:53.130] – Allan
But it's going to take time. You just have to be patient. If you if you want to lose weight, you can't out exercise a bad diet. And it's really also not in your best interest to under eat what your body requires.

[00:45:06.780] – Rachel
Absolutely. There's a point where you need a fuel for…

[00:45:11.340] – Allan
All right. Well, it looks like Rachel has some connectivity problems today, so she's dropped off. But I'll talk to you next week, Rachel.


The following listeners have sponsored this show by pledging on our Patreon Page:

– Anne Lynch– John Somsky– Margaret Bakalian
– Deb Scarlett– Judy Murphy– Melissa Ball
– Debbie Ralston– Leigh Tanner– Tim Alexander
– John Dachauer

Thank you!

Another episode you may enjoy


Share because you care.


Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Leave a Reply: