I am excited to welcome Dr. Sylvia Tara today as my guest for the show! Dr. Tara was driven to research fat, science, and lifestyle after she finally got fed up with eating less and exercising more than her slimmer friends throughout her life. Her experiences told her there was more to weight loss than just “calories in, calories out.” As a biochemist, she was driven to get to the bottom of fat’s mysteries and the reasons it vexes us. In her best-selling book, The Secret Life of Fat, she reveals the complex biology of fat, how it resists loss, and what to do to remove stubborn fat.
Dr. Tara holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of California at San Diego and an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. After trying dozens of different diets and failing with all of them, she started using every tool at her disposal, talking to researchers, and reading as many research papers as possible to learn the truth about fat and find out why she had so much difficulty losing weight. What she learned was surprising, and it answered all of her questions. Be sure to listen in today to find out what Dr. Tara discovered about fat and the way it functions.
“It is really about understanding your own fat and your own body, why it might be easier or harder for you, and what you can do about it.”
Dr. Sylvia Tara
IN THIS EPISODE YOU WILL LEARN:
- Dr. Tara talks about her book, The Secret Life of Fat, and discusses her motivation for writing it.
- The most surprising aspect of fat.
- Dr. Tara talks about leptin and the communication between fat tissue and the brain.
- Why it is so hard for some people to lose weight, and what you need to be mindful of to be a successful dieter.
- Dr. Tara shares some strategies for maintaining weight loss.
- Dr. Tara has recently launched a course to help people navigate through the science of fat.
- There are reproductive differences that women experience as they age that impact their ability to lose weight.
- The many benefits of exercise for women as they age.
- The importance of maintaining a healthy layer of fat as you age.
- Certain viruses can be correlated to fat and can cause a higher risk of obesity.
- Navigating your way around the endocrine-mimicking chemicals that we are often exposed to environmentally or through food.
- Some of the genetic propensities that make some people more susceptible to gaining weight.
- Dr. Tara talks about the bacteria in the gut biome that can impact the ability to gain or lose weight and what you can do to control it.
Connect with Dr. Sylvia Tara
The Secret Life of Fat Website
The Secret Life of Fat on Amazon
Connect with Cynthia Thurlow
- Follow on Twitter, Instagram & LinkedIn
- Check out Cynthia’s website
- Check Out Dry Farm Wines: www.dryfarmwines.com/cynthiathurlow
About Everyday Wellness Podcast
Welcome to the Everyday Wellness podcast with Cynthia Thurlow! Cynthia is a mom of 2 boys, wife, nurse practitioner, and intermittent fasting and nutrition expert. She has over 20 years experience in emergency medicine and cardiology, but pivoted to focus on food as medicine. She loves to share science-backed practical information to improve your overall well being and is grateful to be interviewing leaders in the health and wellness field. Her goal with Everyday Wellness is to help her listeners make simple changes to their everyday lives that will result in improved overall wellness and long term health.
Presenter: This is Everyday Wellness, a podcast dedicated to helping you achieve your health and wellness goals, and provide practical strategies that you can use in your real life. Now, here’s your host, Nurse Practitioner Cynthia Thurlow.
Cynthia: Yeah, today I’m excited to have Dr. Sylvia Tara. She was driven to research fat, science, and lifestyle after she finally got fed up with eating less, and exercising more than her slimmer friends throughout her life. Her experiences told her there was more to weight loss than just calories in, calories out, and as a biochemist, she was driven to get to the bottom of fat mysteries, and the reason it vexes us. In her bestselling book, The Secret Life of Fat, which I loved reading, she reveals the complex biology of fat, how it resists loss, and what to do to remove stubborn fat. She holds her PhD in biochemistry from the University of California at San Diego and an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Welcome, Dr. Tara. It’s so nice to connect with you.
Sylvia: Feels great to be here.
Cynthia: Well, I always think the backstory behind the impetus for writing a specific book is really interesting. As we were talking about before we started recording, this is not about dietary fat. This is talking about the amazing organ that is fat. Let’s talk a little bit about what was your initial impetus for writing the book? I know it was some of your own life experiences and frustration with antiquated dogma, which really doesn’t give us the full clinical picture of why it’s challenging to lose weight.
Sylvia: Yeah, that’s right. I always noticed I gained weight very easily. There’s a lot of people, all different, there are people who can eat whatever they want and nothing bad happens. They were skinny as a rail, and other was me. I felt I had to count every calorie, I have to exercise, be on top it. Even then, I had an extra layer of fat compared to other people. You try all these diets. You’re always lured in by lose weight fast, and of course, this is an obvious diet, it’s based on science. You go down these paths. But even then, I had real challenges losing weight. I got very tired of this. After, I don’t know what, maybe 25, 50 diets in my life, I thought, “Okay, I have to understand my fat. There’s something going on in my body. It’s not typical. Other people aren’t having this experience. But I’m going to understand this.”
I’m a biochemist by training. I’m a PhD in biochemistry, and I just used every tool at my disposal. I pulled every possible research paper on fats, and learned what was being research in fat. I picked up the phone, I talked to a bunch of researchers about their research on fat, and I found out things that were so surprising. It answered all of my questions about why I was having difficulty losing weight. I thought I have to publish this, because I bet you, I’m not alone. I’ve known other people like this. It’s really about understanding your own fat, your own body, and why it might be easier or harder for you, and then, what you can do about it. Those answers aren’t always easy, but at least you know what the answer is now. That’s what fat is about.
Cynthia: Well, I think it’s really critically important for acknowledging as I know you do about bio individuality. What works for your best friend or your mom or your spouse, men seem to have a little bit of an easier time in many ways of losing weight than women do, and that really speaks to the hormonal piece that you’ve read about in the book. I’d love for you to touch on– Initially, what was the most surprising aspect of fat when you were digging into the research, and really looking at what others had done. I know a lot of it was done on rodent models, which is– For anyone that’s listening, that’s really where it starts. It starts on animal-based models before we do anything with humans. One of the things I found really interesting was this particular gene that was found in a mouse that was the basis for what ultimately became named leptin. But I’d love for you to touch on some of the science behind what was being done to really look at this problem.
Sylvia: This was fascinating. I think to answer your first question, what was most surprising to me, it was the fact that fat is not just fat the way we think about it. We like to think of fat as just a plain old repository of calories. It’s this age-old [unintelligible [00:04:11] was famine in the world, your body needed a way to store calories, so, you can get through famine, but it’s a vestigial relic. We don’t need it anymore, we should be as thin as possible. What I found out that is so untrue, that is such an old-world way of thinking about it. You know that, really fat is critical for your body, and not just as a reserve of calories, but it actually is an endocrine organ. It’s releasing hormones that your body depends on. Think of it as really not different than your thyroid gland, your adrenal gland, your pituitary gland, any organ in your endocrine system that’s releasing a hormone that your body needs to survive. Fat is doing the same thing. It has multiple functions, not just to provide calories at a time of need. It’s also releasing some of the hormones, leptin. It releases estrogen.
In fact, women, once they go through menopause and their ovaries stop producing estrogen, they start depending on their fat for estrogen. Adiponectin is another one, and there’s a whole host of others. There’s resistin, there’s tons, and all this research is fairly new, because there wasn’t a lot of investment in fat research until around the 80s or so. When obesity started happening, people were getting worried, it’s like, “Okay, we have to understand what fat really is.” All of a sudden, there’s funding put into fat research, and diabetes, and obesity. What we’re finding out about fat is still very new. There’s a lot more to find out. All these other hormones that they’ve identified, they don’t exactly know what every one of them is doing. But we’ll find out in time, and I think we’re going to find out more and more the fat is this very complex organ in our body. I know sometimes people have trouble getting their head around an organ, what do you mean? Think about it like skin. If you have a square inch of skin, it’s just a piece of skin tissue. But your skin in its totality is an organ. Your fat’s the same way. Just like a biopsy of fat means nothing, it is a piece of tissue. But in its totality, all around your body, it’s acting like an organ that’s actually secreting hormones.
Cynthia: I think what’s really interesting is, I trained back at a very large research institution in the 90s. We didn’t think about fat being this very sophisticated organ. It’s only really been, you mentioned, the 80s was when the research is really being generated, but oftentimes, when you’re at an academic center, that will lag in terms of what educational content is shared with you. For me, it was really fascinating, if you start to dive down the rabbit hole of the hormonal piece, and you really think about what leptin does, it explains a lot about behavior. Communication between that fat tissue and the brain, and I would love for you to talk about this because leptin resistance very often belies insulin resistance. Since we have a population that is increasingly overweight, and obese, and insulin resistant, if not diabetic, really critically important to talk about this discovery, which as you mentioned, was not all that long ago.
Sylvia: Yeah. Leptin has a lot of functions in your body. Your fat releases this leptin. It goes into your blood, it circulates throughout, and once it starts circulating throughout your circulatory system, it has a lot of effects on the tissues that it’s circulating to. One area that goes through this is your brain or your hypothalamus. Leptin will bind with the cells in your hypothalamus, and when it does, your hypothalamus is at signal satiation. If you have a healthy level of fat, you have your normal amount, you overall feel satisfied. Of course, you get hungry at mealtime, you eat something, but overall, you feel pretty good. When you start losing fat, you start having less leptin. That delta, that difference in your leptin level, when you start losing your fat, it’s a signal to your brain. It senses a little bit less leptin and it’s like, “Okay, something’s wrong. We’re losing fat. Something’s wrong in our environment. There’s a famine coming. [crosstalk]
Sylvia: We’ve got to look for food.” People, as you start losing weight, you get hungrier actually. Your brain gets much more attentive to food. In fact, they do fMRI images on people’s brains that have lost 10% of their weight. Their brains light up. These excitatory centers of the brains light up wildly when they look at food, compared to people who’ve not lost weight. Our minds change. In a way, fat is controlling your brain, and how you think, and how you live. It’s making you want to react to food, look for food, and load up your plate more. That’s really interesting. Then, the other thing is that leptin also binds to skeletal muscle. When we have lower levels of leptin, the muscles sense this too, something’s wrong with the world. Once again, let’s conserve energy. You start going to more efficient ways of burning energy in your muscles. You burn 22% fewer calories when you start losing weight, it’s been studied at about 10% weight loss. Somewhere in there, so, you’re a lot hungrier, and you’re burning less calories. There’s a caloric penalty.
What it means is, someone who say is 170 pounds and lost 20 pounds to get to 150, if you compare them to the person who’s 115 naturally without having to lose those 20 pounds, the person who’s at 150 naturally can eat more, and they’re less hungry, than the person who’s lost weight to get there. A person who’s lost 20 pounds has to eat 22% fewer calories than the person naturally at 150, and they’re a lot more hungry all the time. What was enlightening to me is that there’s so many diet programs out in the world that will say. “Oh, if you follow this diet, you will never feel hungry, or lose 20 pounds right away, you’ll have no problem.” By the way, “If this isn’t working for you, you’re doing something wrong.” It leads to dieting failure, makes you feel like a failure. Because you are hungry when you lose weight. It is harder. You lose at a slower rate when this happens. Having this information, some people think it is depressing. I found it enlightening. It was like, at last, I have found my problem. This is why I have trouble losing weight compared to other people. I have yo-yo dieted so much in my past, I’ve gained and lost, my body is responding. It’s now very smart. My fat’s smart. It is sending out signals to my brain and my muscles saying, “Look for food and burn fewer calories.”
You have to pick a diet that you like, because you’re going to have to be on it for a long time. That effect that I mentioned, that caloric penalty, it has been studied for up to six years, and it doesn’t go away for everybody. For some people, for the long term, they are hungry and burning fewer calories. It’s just something to be mindful of, and it’s the key to being a successful dieter.
Cynthia: I think it’s really critically important for those that have been yo-yo dieters their entire lives, and if you look at the research behind yo-yo dieting and how people are more likely to gain the weight back, and then some, it really speaks to whatever you’re doing needs to be sustainable and a lifelong choice. I think sometimes the word diet gets misused, because people think, “Oh, I just have to do this for four to six weeks. Then, everything magically will remain that way for the rest of my life.” Our bodies really like homeostasis. They like this setpoint that I know you talk about in the book. I see so many women in particular, they get frustrated, because they’ll lose the weight they’re looking to lose, and it may not be the point their body wants to be at. It might be way less. What will their body do? It’s almost like that rubber band. You can stretch the rubber band so far, and then the rubber band wants to come back and be centered again.
What do you typically do if you’re talking with women who come to you? I’m sure they probably do, saying, “This yo-yo dieting, I think it’s really messed up my metabolism.” I would imagine that you probably providing some of the information that you just shared with our listeners. But what are some of the strategies people can do if they’re trying to be very mindful of the fact that, now, they’ve lost this weight, they have to be even more cognizant of what food intake they’re utilizing, recognizing that their muscles are not burning as many calories, so they’ve effectively slowed their metabolism down by this, weight loss effect?
Sylvia: Yeah, and I’m one of those women. I’m right in there with them. This is my problem, and I wrote the book. What I learned to do, which I write about as well, there’s just certain tricks you have to learn. One is that pick a diet that’s going to work for you forever. Don’t pick one like you said. You’re not really going to be able to come off. But diets, there’s all different reasons to go on. One is effective, you’re losing weight, that’s a good diet but also one that works with your lifestyle. There are some diets like very low carb diets like the Atkins diet, they’re effective. People lose weight. They can’t stay on them, because psychologically, it’s too much to bear. They want some carbs in time, they want to have a dinner with their family. You have to pick a diet you personally can stay on for a long time. It works with you psychologically, socially, and you’re losing weight on it. That’s your first step, is know that this is going to be a lifestyle like you said.
Now, the second step is that there’s certain things you can take advantage of. Use science. What knowledge empowers you rather than depress you? The science of it is that our hormones slow as we get older, it gets harder to lose weight. With yo-yo dieting now, we’re very hungry a lot, we have a lower metabolism overall, women are in a whole different category than men. I have a whole chapter on women versus men. [laughs] You have to look at that one. Age, and even your microbiome, genetics plays a part. For all these different obstacles we have, you can still lose weight. One is you have to be really persistent. It’s going to take you longer, maybe years longer to lose weight. I get emails from people who said, “It’s been like a month. I’ve only lost a pound.” I have been there. That has been me before. It takes a lot longer for your setpoint to change your body to want to get out of homeostasis. Admit that things are different now, and I have to change. Stay the course. Just stay with it. Even if it takes you six months to lose five pounds, stay with it. Eventually, it’s going to come to, it’s going to break and you will lose the weight. But the more you yo-yo dieted, the older you are, the longer that takes.
Now, the other thing that I really adopted is intermittent fasting for all kinds of reasons. It takes advantage of growth hormone. Growth hormone is one great fat busting hormone. But as we age, we have less of it. Growth hormone levels peak at night. But when you eat close to that peak, it actually mitigates the effect of growth hormone. If you can elongate that overnight fast, either stop eating dinner earlier, eat your breakfast later, whatever, and make it longer, you actually activate more of that growth hormone so it’s more effective. Also, you invoke glucagon which is another good fat burning hormone. Take advantage of things that we can know. Leptin levels are higher when we sleep adequately as well. Make sure you’re getting your sleep in there.
Then, keeping a log. I think you’d be surprised in our modern times how much filler is in our food. I have to cook everything, because I don’t know what’s in the food. I notice if I go off when I go out to lunch, I gain a pound that day. I thought I just had a chicken sandwich but it’s not. It’s got gelatins in there. There’s all kinds of filler and sugars, and you don’t really know what you’re eating. Those are some of the things. I think salads are really good too. You have stretch receptors in our gut. Salad, you can fill up on fiber, they also help soak your microbiome, the one that actually loses more weight and keeps you full for longer. There’s just a whole host of tricks we have to learn. There’s a lot of science in the book. I actually just put out a course now as well just to help people navigate through that science, which I think makes it little bit more digestible, but endless tips in there.
Cynthia: I love that you touched on my favorite strategy, which is intermittent fasting, as well as touching on how critically important sleep is, and if you’re following the chronobiology, the way that our bodies are designed to thrive, we shouldn’t be eating within three to four hours of that, and preferably, really stopping when it gets dark out, this endless amount of eating 16 to 17 times a day, which was one of the recent statistics I read, which was astounding, between sugar sweetened beverages and food, it’s no wonder if our bodies are secreting insulin all day long. We’re never going to get into this fat burning methodology.
Now, one of the things that I’m not sure how many of the listeners understand, but certainly women that are transitioning from cycling to perimenopause and menopause, and really talking about how fat is a source of estrogen and of itself, this whole process of aromatization, where a body will actually make estrogen from testosterone, which is– yes, women have testosterone as well as men have estrogen. The net impact of estrogen on our appetite, and fat loss, and the way that our abdomen, whether we’re gaining or losing weight in our abdomen. Can you speak to a little bit about the reproductive differences that women go through as they’re getting older? Obviously, there’s a whole lot that goes on when we have teenagers that are going through puberty, but as women are aging, what are some of the changes that occur with their sex hormones that impact our ability to lose or gain weight?
Sylvia: Yeah, there’s a lot. Clearly, when you’re going through puberty, you’re having a lot of these hormones, more estrogen, your body’s changing, and you start packing on fat. Girl babies, even from the time of birth, they have more fat than boy babies. It’s been studied in thousands of babies, which actually means even before birth, we have more fat. Our bodies just partition more nutrients into fat tissue compared to men’s bodies. Women’s bodies interact with their fat differently. When we’re fasting, our bodies will actually reach for fat, for calories, whereas men’s bodies will reach for glycogen, which is a chain of glucose in their muscles. We interact with our fat very well. But we also store fat at two to three times the rate that men do. We get fatter as well. So, we partition more into our fat. Hormones play a part. As we get into puberty, then we start to get more fat. Our bodies are wanting more. Estrogen as obviously has to do with reduction. So does leptin. Fat has a more important role, you could say, for women versus men.
Teenage girls, their bone strength is dependent on their fat. If they get really thin, they actually have more porous bones. There’s a link with fat and women that’s important that doesn’t seem to be there as much for men. Women start losing a lot of fat, say, ballerinas or runners, they start to have irregular cycles, or they lose their cycle overall. Not only that, their bones start to get in danger. You can even lose brain volume. People with anorexia, they start losing volume in their brain. There’s a lot more for women with regard to reproduction, with bone health, brain health, all those things with fat.
One thing I tell them is, even though, you tend to be fatter than men, we also tend to be healthier. One part of storing fat away at two, three times the rate is that, that fat is not circulating in our blood and depositing in our liver or heart or anywhere else. It’s going into fat, where it’s supposed to be. It’s not supposed to be in other places. So, although we’re a tad fatter, we also tend to be just a little bit healthier. Everything is all good and fine through your 30s and 40s, and then, of course, as you start aging, those hormones start to ebb. We have less estrogen, less testosterone. Even though, we’ve always gained weight easy, it’s now even easier in old age.
Where it distributes changes, too, which is interesting. We have receptors on our fat cells for estrogen, and testosterone, and growth hormone, and as we get less of that hormone for whatever reason, our fat distributes a little differently. It used to distribute preferentially to a buttock area, our legs, our arms, and we now start getting more belly fat too, on top fat in other areas. It becomes a little bit more difficult from that aspect. But then again, our body’s going through menopause like I said, it will start to depend on that for that estrogen. Again, fat has a special role for women. If you want to stay fit, you want to keep your fat in check, you can. I don’t want to make anyone depressed. You just have to work at it more.
diet. Exercise can be a real help here, and not just 20 minutes a day, but really trying to get in 45 minutes to an hour and a half. You have the strength building, the aerobic part of it, not just for burning calories, but building the right tissues in your body. Increasing levels of brown fat is another thing we can talk about that exercise does. Offsetting the risk of dementia, so many benefits to exercise with age for women.
Cynthia: Absolutely. I always think about the value of strength training as you touched on, mitochondrial health, thinking of our muscles as glucose reservoirs, and how critically important that is. It’s interesting in my neighborhood, I live in a fairly large neighborhood, and I see the cardio queens that are out jogging, and I just think maybe in your 20s and 30s that serves you well, but as we’re getting older, we need I would say working out smarter, not necessarily harder. In that way, really wanting to make sure that we’re picking strategies that are not over taxing the endocrine system that are allowing us to sleep well, allowing us to live a happy, healthy lifestyle.
The strength training piece is also good for our bones. What I found really interesting, and I’d forgotten from studying this many years ago is that, it’s actually interesting that weight is a better prediction of bone mineral density for women than age. People that are really fixated on I have to remain the weight I was when I was 18 years old or whatever limiting beliefs we’ve set for ourselves, how really important it is to maintain that healthy bone as well as a healthy weight, because that can have a catastrophic effect. I worry a great deal about some of the very, very thin women that I interact with on occasion, and I think my goodness, when you make that transitional period into menopause, you can really set yourself up for osteopenia, osteoporosis, sarcopenia is a natural function of aging if we don’t do enough to maintain our lean muscle mass.
Sylvia: Yeah, absolutely. It’s interesting you say that, because I was just speaking to a woman and her doctor told her to gain weight. She’s in her 70s, going through her 70s, but very thin. I think not more than 80 pounds and has been so–
Cynthia: Oh, wow.
Sylvia: –thin all her life naturally, not anorexic, but I just think very thin. But it has an effect, and I think doctors are seeing some more of this. Reproductive doctors a lot I interviewed a few. They have to get some women to gain weight, to have children. That’s one thing. But then with age too, you’re absolutely right. A healthy level, it’s somewhat protective as a matter of fact. I’m not pushing obesity. I just want to make that clear. That’s not healthy either. But a healthy level of fat is the right thing to have, and you have to almost respect and love your fat, and not see it the way we have seen it historically, which is it’s something bad, and should be gotten rid of at all costs. We should have 10% body fat. That’s not a goal, you want to actually healthy layer.
Cynthia: Now, and I think that so much of this is propagated by what we see in the media, and I’ve teenage boys, that I always think about how challenging it is for some of my nieces to be growing up in this time period where everything is, every filter that’s on, every social media platform, and all of the technology that goes into making people who probably are beautiful to begin with that make them look extraterrestrial. There’s just no way that someone in the real world actually looks like some of these people we see on print ads or on TV, it’s stuff that’s really not sustainable or healthy at all.
Sylvia: Yeah, there’s a bit of body acceptance you have to have. I write about this too. You can actually be overweight and be healthy. I read about a lot of wrestlers which of course, we do not want to look like sumo wrestlers, but there were very interesting cases of fit but fat. Adiponectin is another hormone that our fat will release, and adiponectin has an interesting role in our body of guiding fat in your blood to fat tissue, by pulling it out of your fat and guiding it to the right fat deposits. We have different kinds of fat. There’s subcutaneous fat, like the fat right underneath your skin. That’s the healthy deposit of fat. If you’re going to have extra fat, you want it to be subcutaneous. You don’t want it to be visceral fat, that underneath your stomach wall, unhealthy fat that gets inflamed. Adiponectin actually helps guide fat in your bloodstream to subcutaneous fat. When we exercise, fat will actually release more adiponectin than usual. Sumo wrestlers, they exercise six hours a day. They’re super fat. They eat a ton. They eat 5,000, 6,000 calories, but then, they also exercise for six hours. They have very healthy levels of adiponectin. All that fat you see on sumo wrestlers is actually subcutaneous, and they don’t have metabolic disease the way a lot of other obese people do. So, they’re fit but fat. All that fat you see on their belly, it’s right underneath their skin and not on the stomach wall. That’s not to be overweight or obese, but if you’re going to be, as long as you’re keeping your subcutaneous fat, you can live with it.
Cynthia: That’s absolutely amazing. Now, one of the things that I really enjoyed reading in your book was talking about how viruses can impact– how easily we can become obese or develop more fat on our bodies. There was actually a really interesting discussion about the rooster.
Sylvia: [laughs] That really scares people sometimes.
Cynthia: I read that, and I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I should remind myself I’m ever around barnyard animals to avoid the rooster.”
Sylvia: Oh, no one’s ever determined if that’s how– I read about this patient, Randy. That’s what we’re talking about here. There’s a patient Randy– Let’s back up completely.
Sylvia: There are viruses that are correlated to fat, and it’s not completely new, because it’s actually been known about in animals for some time, that canine distemper virus caused fatness in mice, [unintelligible [00:25:45] associated virus cause fatness in chicken, that this link of certain viruses causing fat has been known about, but they have found one that’s also linked with fat in humans. It’s AD 36, and it’s been studied. If you’ve been exposed to this virus or have this virus, they find that people have had it, have about 30% more fat saved and people who haven’t. They have a certain propensity for that have a higher risk of obesity as well. AD 36 is adenovirus. It functions a bit like insulin if you will. It helps your body absorb glucose, and then, it helps your body create more fat molecules, and ultimately more fat cells. They’re actually studying this virus as a substitute for insulin, because it can help you for people who have trouble with insulin and absorbing glucose. Can this help you absorb glucose?
But anyway, you can be exposed to this. The virus is also found in chickens, some kind of sister virus that was found in chickens. The patient I write about his name is Randy. He’s an interesting one, because he had struggled with his weight for his whole life, and he finally got to this point of absolute obesity and he was frustrated. Because again, he felt, he was eating very little, yet he would be fatter, and the second he would just eat normal, he would get even fatter. He got very frustrated, landed in the hospital, the doctors at the hospital said we’ll go to this research program at University of Wisconsin. They might be able to help you here. He goes there and he gets tested for this virus, AD 36, and finds out he’s positive, and they explained to him what that means to have this virus, and how it can lead to fatness, and it’s a lightbulb going off for him like he finally understands like, “Oh my goodness, this is why I’ve had such a problem, because I have this virus that can cause fatness. This is why I can’t eat the way other people eat.” He takes all this knowledge and he uses it to his advantage where he exercises a lot. He watches everything he eats now. He calls it part of the eating world. He’s not part of the eating world. There’s like the eating world, and then people like him, and probably people like me. We just can’t eat as much as other people.
So, knowledge is power. Even though, at first it might be depressing, it’s like you found out you have a disease or something, but now you know what to do, you know how to manage it, you know why you’ve had that problem. He’s been going on fine. He’s actually really thin now. He’s in his 60s, he’s 130. He runs every day, he watches– [crosstalk]
Sylvia: At least he’s found a way to manage it. But coming back to the chicken, I think he thinks he got it, because he got scratched by–
Sylvia: –a rooster. Of course, very hard to verify. You’d have to test the rooster to know for sure, but it was an interesting story [laughs]. So, don’t be afraid to chickens.
Sylvia: How transmissible the virus is, and how it transmits [unintelligible [00:28:19], but just know that this is another way, another path of fatness that we have to watch out for as well.
Cynthia: I think one of the other ones that you really shined a light on in the book is talking about endocrine-mimicking chemicals or obesogens that we’re exposed to in our environment, or food, or personal care products. How can men and women navigate this? I think it’s unfortunate that here in the United States, there’s so little legislation that’s done to actually protect consumers. Comparatively to other countries like the EU or Canada, when you look at what’s banned, here in the United States, it’s not nearly as many chemicals. What was some of the research that you were looking at, and how pervasive is this problem?
Sylvia: Yeah, we’re exposed to things all the time. It’s very hard to avoid everything. But really, it’s the four Ps you have to watch out for, which are plastics, preservatives, and pesticides which are found on produce. They have to watch for certain produce too, that can be estrogen mimicking as well. Organic foods is something you could do. Stay away from some of those pesticides. If you wash your fruit really well, you might be okay, and preservatives as well. BPA in [unintelligible [00:29:32] and things like that. Not drinking out of plastic bottles or at least drinking on BPA-free plastic, not microwaving food in plastic containers. Again, if you do this once in a while, it’s not going to be a big deal. But for people who do this a lot, and I write about one of the patients who started gaining weight and he couldn’t understand why he was active and all of a sudden, he felt sluggish, he started gaining weight. The doctor had to go through this whole path of trying to understand what was different in his life. It turned out that he’d recently got married, his wife used to cook food, put hot food in a plastic container, he would take it for lunch the next day, microwave it in the container. Every day, he would go through this. He was getting a lot of plastic and the system, which then caused weight gain. Again, if you’re doing this in small amounts, I don’t think you have to worry a lot, but if there’s something you’re doing [unintelligible [00:30:23] you’re getting a lot of exposure to pesticides, or plastics, or some of these things you should worry.
It’s just another thing to look at. I don’t know that this is a main giant contributor to weight gain. I think in places where they’re using pesticides in your fields that you might live in, this might be a more of an issue for you. But in most people’s everyday life, it’s a washout, and that not a really big, I think, factor in the kind of obesity epidemic that we see right now.
Cynthia: I always look at it as multifactorial. There’s so many reasons that contribute to the fatness quotient that you’re referring to, and how much of it is genetics. We talk a lot about epigenetics and now, over the last 20 plus years, we’ve mapped out the whole human genome. But what are some of the propensities, certain things, epigenetics, or SNPs that make us more susceptible to gaining weight or becoming more obese throughout our lifetime?
Sylvia: There’s a whole lot, and again, this is new research. I feel like we’re finding out more all the time. I do write about the genotype, which is just these cluster of genes that work in certain races, say, throughout history. If they’ve been exposed to a lot of family, that’s part of their ancestry. I read about the Pima Indians, who faced that and they developed a genotype that enables their body to absorb a lot of calories and store them. They have this want to store calories, because their body’s anticipating famine. In the case of Pima Indians, they came from a race that had endured a lot of famine through desert. Their bodies were very– They had this thrifty genotype. As long as they were gardening and raising their own livestock, and eating fresh vegetables and exercise, that was okay, but there was a time then were say in the early 1900s, more Caucasian settlers were coming, living nearby then, they got introduced to western food like flour or bacon, lard, sugars, all these things. They start working in factories, and these Pima Indians started becoming obese and the Caucasians, who lived nearby were not. That’s how this was discovered, or this whole theory was put out there about the thrifty genotype of those can be bodies of people that just from their ancestry, from what they’ve inherited, and they’ve inherited very thrifty genes that want to save every calorie and pack it on, whereas there’s others who don’t have this, and they can eat more and get away from it.
There’s specifics, also, under specific genes. There’s one called FTO that affects appetite. People who have a certain variation of the FTO gene that [unintelligible [00:32:54] very high on food. They tend to have a propensity for high-density foods such as cookies and chocolates, the cheeses, things like that. Of course, it can be controlled. You just have to be aware that you might have this, and you just have to watch out for it. There’s also other genes, IRS-1 is another one. Certain variations in that gene will cause more fatness, almost like the AD 36 molecule, will cause more absorption of glucose and more creation of fat molecules. Those people tend to be a little healthier, because fat’s coming out of the circulatory system. There’s just a lot we’re finding out about different variants, the genetics of it. You could have a genetic test, you can also just look around your family and see– it’s almost noticeable if you have one of these. Again, it doesn’t mean you have to be obese. It just means you have a propensity to put on fat easier than other people, you have to watch your calories more. Exercise is great attenuator of those types of genes. Even gardening or bike riding, any of those will help mitigate the effects of that genetic disposition.
Cynthia: I think it’s really fascinating. The whole concept of evolutionary wise, there are certain groups of individuals that their body is acclimated to food scarcity, and in essence, the very thing that protects them now, when they’re not in food scarcity is what contributes to their propensity for gaining weight.
Sylvia: Yeah, that’s exactly it. I feel like I have a thrifty genotype, and I joke with my family that could live four[?] years without food, nothing bad would happen to me [crosstalk] because we’re very efficient at using calories and storing calories.
Cynthia: Absolutely. There’s even some research to identify that there are certain distributions of bacteria in the gut microbiome that can impact our ability to gain or lose weight. I would love for you to touch on that, that in particular, because we talk so much about leaky gut, and the gut microbiome, and the health of our gut microbiome, how critically important it is, and yet, this is an area that I just find utterly fascinating.
Sylvia: Yeah, we’re not alone, I guess, when it comes to cells in our body. They’re not all human. There’s a great deal of cells in our body, a good percentage that our microbiome. It’s just bacteria that live on us, that live in our gut, and that actually constitutes what we are. Depending on the bacteria in your gut, you could be absorbing more calories out of your food versus less. This is really interesting. They’ve done these interesting studies where they will take your fecal matter. They have a twin pair, one twin’s obese and one’s lean. They’ll take fecal matter, they put it into germ-free mice, who have no bacteria. What they see is the one that’s transfected with fecal matter from the obese twin gets fat, the one who’s transfected with fecal matter from the thin twin does not get fat. There’s something in our guts that can cause this.
The good part is you may have control over it. What they do find is the greater diversity of foods you eat as far as fruits and vegetables, you start tilting towards a microbial distribution that’s associated with leanness. It absorbs less food out of your gut. If you eat more raw fruits and vegetables, not only are you eating fewer calories and getting more full because of fiber, a lot of that is going to pass, and not get absorbed into your body. It’s going to get passed as waste, and your microbiome is now going to tilt towards one that absorbs less calories. It’s fat loss, you get fat loss, eat healthier, you eat calories that are more food that’s more filling and less calories. Then, also you change your body to be thinner. Then, the foods associated with higher energy like flour, sugars, that type of thing, it tilts your microbiome to one that’s very efficient at absorbing calories out of your gut.
When you eat a bowl of Cheerios, say, it says 100 calories on the box. Depending on your microbiome in your gut, you could be getting 120 calories, or you could be getting 80 calories. It’s another factor. Throughout the Secret Life of fat, I write about this a lot. Fat gain begets fat gain, fat loss begets fat loss. The more things you do that help fat loss, so you eat healthier. Eat more leafy greens, eat a lot of raw vegetables. It makes you full. You pass more as waste, you tilt your microbiome to be one that lets a lot of calories go. The more you exercise, you’re going to burn calories, number one. Secondly, you’re building tissues like bone and muscle that also burn more calories overall. Also, exercise is associated with more brown fat. We have different types of fat. Like I said, there’s white fat, brown fat, beige fat. White fat is what we think about when we want to lose fat, but there’s brown fat that actually burns calories. It’s totally opposite of how we think of fat. There’s beige fat. Beige fat can turn brown, and it does so when you exercise. Exercise is a trigger. Exercise, you build up the right tissues, you burn calories, and you build up more brown fat that also burns calories. Again, weight loss begets weight loss.
These are the things that especially if you have stubborn fat, you have to be really savvy about, because you start to need every trick in the tool bag. It’s not just enough now to eat less and exercise a bit like some of your thin friends might do. If you come from a genetic predisposition, where people gain weight easier, if you’re older, your hormones, the fat-busting hormones like testosterone, growth hormone are ebbing, you need more in your toolbox. If you’re dieting, you’ve got this very clever body now that knows exactly how to get us fat back, you also need every tool you’ve got. The book and the course is really for people with very stubborn fat. Now, you need to be smarter. You need to understand your body better, needs to dig into some of these tools. Just rest assured that it can work. It can work for you. It might take a lot longer, you might have to be much more diligent, but you will start to see that weight loss if you stay with it.
Cynthia: You’ve left the listeners with so many things to unpack and apply to their personal lives, and I would love to have you back. Let us know how it is easiest to connect with you on social media, your website, and what you’re doing next. I would imagine you probably have another book or idea in the pipeline.
Sylvia: [laughs] I’ve too many ideas–
Sylvia: Yeah, I’d love to connect with readers. You can find me on Facebook @sylviataraphd. The book itself is on Amazon, The Secret Life of Fat. I also have a website www.thesecretlifeoffat.com. On that website, you can find some of the articles and the media I’ve done, and also the course. The book is a really good read. I tried to make an easy read. I tell science to the stories of patients and doctors, researchers. It’s very easy to digest. At the same time, it’s really packed with a lot of science and facts. The course takes you through it a little bit slower, kind of day by day. It’s a little bit more how to rather than just a science education. That might be helpful for people if you want something paced like that. You can find that course on the website, www.thesecretlifeoffat.com. My emails on there too if anyone wants to get in touch and so on.
My next ideas, what I’m really interested into now is mind over fat. I have a chapter in the book called Mind Over Fat about how getting into the right mindset. It really enables people to lose weight. Depending on what’s going on in your life if there’s a lot of stress, getting serious about weight loss, exerting discipline is like exerting muscles. There are times where it’s right to change your life and exert all that willpower. There are times where it’s not. You have to treat your willpower like it’s a muscle. You have to give it breaks in between to recharge, and I’m finding that fascinating and especially with COVID, we just saw a lot of people gain weight. It’s often correlated with stress–
Sylvia: –like a depression, or recession, or job loss, or divorce, people gain weight. With COVID, we absolutely saw it. We feel out of control, we’re at home, There’s uncertainty in the air. There’s quite a bit of weight gain. Again, it’s just a testament to the right mindset is really important to start that journey. There’s research on people, the National Society for Weight Loss, they do a lot of research on people who lost weight, and been able to keep it off. There’s lots of tips and tidbits we can learn from them on how to get there, but you have to be in the right mindset first, then all of this stuff becomes not so hard.
Cynthia: Oh, I so agree and as they say, what wires together fires together. The mindset piece is without question, absolutely critical. Thank you so much for your time this afternoon. I definitely will want to have you back, and for listeners, this is one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. I read it and have lots of earmarked pages. My team was laughing, because they said, earmark pages for Cynthia is a sure sign that it’s going to be a recommended book. So, thank you again for your hard work, and effort in this book. It does not go unappreciated.
Sylvia: Thank you for being here.
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