Ep. 330 Body Image, Training and Nutrition in Middle Age with Sal Di Stefano

Your trusted source for nutrition, wellness, and mindset for thriving health.

Today, I am privileged to connect with Sal Di Stefano. 

Sal is a sought-after fitness and health expert with a straightforward and uncomplicated manner of communication. He is also a co-host of the immensely popular Mind Pump Podcast.

In our discussion, we explore why the scale is an ineffective measure of success in our culture, particularly for women. We dive into the effects of body image and dysfunctional relationships with our bodies, contrasting self-hate patterns with self-love patterns. We look at ways to train differently in middle age with the challenges of perimenopause and menopause and consider the impact of physiological changes during pregnancy and the postpartum period. We also cover signs of overtraining and intuitive nutrition and address many listeners’ questions about reverse dieting, hormetic strategies, and authenticity. 

I am sure you will love this conversation, and I look forward to having Sal back on the show in 2024.

“To build muscles, speed up the metabolism, teach the body to burn more calories on its own, get leaner, and get a nice hormone profile, most people are looking at about two days a week of maybe 35-45 minutes of appropriate strength training.”

– Sal Di Stefano


  • The limitations of relying solely on weight as a measure of success in health and wellness
  • Why we should focus on the full scope of fitness and diet rather than a specific number or metric
  • How patterns of self-hatred can lead to unhealthy behaviors 
  • How to practice self-care with exercise and a healthy diet
  • Why exercise routines should be founded on factors like sleep, stress, fitness levels, and diet
  • The importance of starting with small, manageable steps toward self-care and weight loss
  • Why strength training is the most effective exercise for women in perimenopause and menopause
  • How high-performing athletes prioritize recovery and rest to prevent burnout and injury
  • Post-pregnancy muscle recruitment patterns and exercises
  • Diet and nutrition for improved mental clarity and physical performance
  • The benefits of strength training for muscle growth and hormone balance

Bio: Sal Di Stefano

Sal started as a professional in the fitness industry as a trainer at the age of 18. His passion for fitness, combined with his love of people, quickly propelled him into big-box gym management by the time he was 19 years old. During his career in gym management, he grand opened some of the largest gyms in the California Bay Area and was often recognized as a top performer in sales, production, and team leadership, earning him accolades from top industry leaders. 

At the age of 24, he left the commercial gym industry to open his own fitness and wellness studio after he became dissatisfied with the big-box gym approach to health and fitness. He wanted to bring a wellness-based and well-rounded approach to people. In his small studio facility, he brought in hormone and nutrition specialists, acupuncturists, gut health professionals, and meditative/bodywork providers, along with fitness trainers. 

This well-rounded environment formed the voice that Sal is often lauded for. During his time in his wellness studio, he figured out how to solve the hardest and most persistent problems with fitness, health, and wellness. His approach led to long-term success with his clients, and he developed a behavioral-focused approach towards health and fitness. 

After a decade of running his studio, he met Doug Egge, the current producer of Mind Pump, and shortly after, he met Adam Schafer and Justin Andrews. They quickly hit it off due to their different backgrounds but similar approaches to fitness and health, and they decided to start a fitness and health podcast. Mind Pump was launched and quickly became the number-one fitness and health podcast in the world. 

Currently, Sal is one of the most sought-after experts in fitness and health, with his effective, grounded, and easy-to-understand communication style. He has been on hundreds of top podcast shows and frequently speaks at trainer and health practitioner events. His passion for fitness, health, and people is unmatched, and he is steadfast with his goal of making the fitness industry one that is a force for good, with long-term health being the focus and not one riddled with diet pills, crash diets, and false promises. 

A quote that Sal often gets credited for summarizes his approach to fitness and health. “Exercise and eat right because you love your body, not because you hate your body.”

Connect with Cynthia Thurlow

Connect with Sal Di Stefano


Cynthia Thurlow: [00:00:02] Welcome to Everyday Wellness podcast. I’m your host, nurse practitioner, Cynthia Thurlow. This podcast is designed to educate, empower and inspire you to achieve your health and wellness goals. My goal and intent is to provide you with the best content and conversations from leaders in the health and wellness industry each week and impact over a million lives.

[00:00:30] Today, I had the honor of connecting with Sal Di Stefano. He is one of the most sought-after experts in fitness and health with his effective, grounded, and easy to understand style of communication. He is also one of the co-hosts of the massively popular Mind Pump podcast. Today, we dove deep into why the scale is a poor metric of success in our culture, especially for women, the impact of body image, dysfunctional relationships with our bodies, self-hate patterns versus self-love patterns, how to train differently in middle age in terms of perimenopause and menopause, but also the net impact of the changes our bodies go through, not only in pregnancy, but also in the postpartum period, signs of overtraining, intuitive nutrition. Many listeners questions that encompassed reverse dieting, hormetic strategies including cryotherapy, red light therapy, peptides, CGMs, and last but not least, authenticity. I know you will love this conversation as much as I did recording it. Sal will definitely be back in 2024.

[00:01:41] Sal, it is such a pleasure to connect with you. I’m so glad we’re able to make this interview happen. Welcome to Everyday Wellness.

Sal Di Stefano: [00:01:48] Thank you so much for having me on, Cynthia, I appreciate it. 

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:01:50] Yeah. And I know that you have obviously extensive experience in the health and wellness industry, but why is the scale, as a sole metric of success in our culture such an issue for women? Why are we so preoccupied with the number on the scale and why is that not representative of what’s going on? 

Sal Di Stefano: [00:02:08] We’ve given the scale far too much power and we’ve placed far too much value on the number that the scale shows us. So, if we take a step back and we’re just objective for a second, let’s try and take our emotions and preconceived notions of what that number may mean. The scale really is just measuring body weight or weight, that’s all it is. So, I used to use this example all the time with clients when I would have this conversation. Typical client would come in and say they would want to lose weight. We would talk about, well, what kind of weight, is it body fat or– We’d have this conversation and then I’d make the joke and say, “Well, we could cut your leg off and you would lose weight,” and [Cynthia laughs] it would immediately convey the silliness of how much value we place on the scale. 

[00:02:47] Your body weight can fluctuate on a day-to-day basis based off of your hormones, sleeping patterns, stress, water intake, carbohydrate intake. And that doesn’t reflect body fat, muscle, it doesn’t reflect health, doesn’t reflect performance or mood or attitude. Again, it just literally tells your weight. And if you’re so tied to the scale or you place so much value on the scale, that that’s how you measure your success. What tends to happen, what almost always happens is you ignore all the other signs and signals that your body’s telling you in terms of whether or not you’re moving in the right direction, and this is the path towards an unhealthy relationship with yourself, with diet, and with exercise. It tends to almost always move us in a direction where we start to exercise inappropriately, in ways that are not effective, that are also not sustainable, and the same is true for diet.

[00:03:38] But to give you another example, I’ve talked about this many times on my podcast. In fact, I was just contacted by this particular trainer because she said, “I’ve heard you tell this story so many times.” [Cynthia laughs] I used to manage gyms early in my career and these were Big Box facilities. And oftentimes when potential members would come in that were women, we would have this conversation. I’d walk them through the gym and I’d show them the free weight area or the machine area, and they’d say, “I’m not interested in that, I just want to lose weight,” So we’d have this conversation around the benefits of muscle, the metabolism boosting effects, the hormone effects, etc. 

[00:04:09]: But to really nail at home, when I would take them back into my office and we would start talking about potential options for memberships and personal training and such, if I noticed there was a challenge or struggle there, I would say, ” I’m going to invite one of my female trainers in here and if you can guess her body weight within 15 pounds, I’ll give you a free membership for the next three months, you want to take that challenge?” And they’d say, “Yes.” They’d always say yes. So, Lynn would walk in, this particular trainer who I would use all the time for this example, and she was very petite. She is like 5’1, very small waist fit, the whole deal, and they would guess her body weight, and they would always guess between 90 to 105 pounds. And then I’d have her step on the scale, and she was 130 pounds, and they couldn’t believe the scale. And then I would say to my trainer, tell her what you eat in a regular day. And then she’d go through her diet and it was just so much food the person I was talking to couldn’t believe that anybody would eat that much, especially not someone that looked that small. 

[00:05:01] And I would show them muscle is very dense. It would be like measuring– Imagine weighing 5 pounds of lead versus, let’s say, a 5-pound wood block, they would look very different. Even though the scale would say 5 pounds in both instances, obviously, the metal block would be much smaller. Now, with muscle and fat, it’s not quite that dramatic, but muscle does take up maybe three-quarters or a little bit more of the size that body fat would take up for the same amount of body weight. In other words, if you were to lose 10 pounds of body fat and replace it with 10 pounds of muscle, the scale would say the exact same thing, but you would lose close to about a quarter of the size of your body. And then, of course, it goes even further, that muscle is active, increases mobility and strength, it’s hormone sensitive, meaning it tends to promote a more youthful hormone profile. It also is more metabolically active, meaning you can eat more food and stay leaner. So, it also feels different, and it doesn’t just look different. And so, the scale doesn’t tell you any of that. The scale just says, well, you weigh this much? 

[00:06:06] And to be quite honest with you, one of my most effective strategies that I would employ with, in particular women in this particular category and again, I think women have just been hammered with this type of advertising much more than men. But I would tell them to take their scale, throw it away or put it in the closet, and I wouldn’t let them weigh themselves for three to six months. And we would use metrics like performance, strength, energy, libido. And then I would use other metrics, like skin, hair, nails, digestion. And then we would wait, and we would wait, and we would wait, and then I would get these comments from, typically, this was almost very predictable. You know 30 to 60 days into it, they’d come up to me and say, “People have been asking me how much weight I’ve lost, can I weigh myself?” And I’d say, “No, don’t weigh yourself just yet, but they’re asking you that because things are shifting and you’re sculpting and you’re strengthening.”

[00:06:52] And then they would start to attach their performance to their success, “Wow, I’m stronger. Oh, my gosh, I feel so much more energy. My clothes are fitting differently. This is very interesting. My jeans feel a little tighter around the butt, but a little looser around the waist.” Your butt is muscle and that’s lifting. And obviously, the body fat around your waist is probably going down. And then we would weigh them 90 days later and they would be shocked oftentimes to find that the scale moved a little bit, maybe 4 pounds. Then I’d test their body fat and show them that they lost more than that in body fat, but they did gain some muscle, and then a shift would happen. They would notice and realize, like, “Wow, this is a lot different than I thought. And I think I’d like to continue going down this path.” And then it’ll really help us develop a better relationship with their body and with exercise in general.

[00:07:35] But the scale, it can be used as part of a holistic set of metrics, but oftentimes that’s not the case. Oftentimes, if a client is looking at all the metrics that we need to look at, they place so much value and weight on the scale. It’s like, “I feel better, I’m stronger, everything, my performance is better, I have more energy, libido is better. My spouse is commenting that I look differently.” And then they’d weigh themselves and be like, “Oh, my God, I didn’t lose a single pound, this is not working.” So, it’s like we needed to separate ourselves from that for a while before we could reincorporate it. And what’s funny is most of them never brought the scale back, which is pretty funny. Most of them said, ” I just stopped weighing myself because it just messed with my head so much.” 

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:08:15] And that’s such an empowerful realization, because for many women, they have spent their entire trajectory of their lives living and dying, if you will, by that metric, that number every day. They have a good day when they’ve lost weight, “Bad day when they’ve gained weight or they haven’t lost weight.” And it’s interesting, in listening to the conversations that I’ve had with patients over 25 years, how many women are just really, they’re hampered by this relationship with the scale, and they’re hampered by this over fixation on calories. And you and I both know that it’s not just about calories. Obviously, calories are important. But I think in many ways, the toxic diet culture has really done women a tremendous disservice in terms of helping them understand the nuances of weight gain, weight loss, metabolism, muscle versus fat. And so, I’m so grateful that you’re here today to have some of these conversations to help bring greater awareness to a big problem.

Sal Di Stefano: [00:09:14] I’m so glad you do and you communicate the way you do. When the scale becomes our God and it does to a lot of people like– You literally, listen, you said it so well, the scale will dictate the rest of my day whether I had a good day or a bad day. And I know it’s resonating with a lot of people right now. By the way, I’m not just speaking as a trainer who trained lots of people in the situation. I dealt with body image issues myself. And I know that’s not common for a man to say, but I had some– That’s what got me into fitness for my body image issues. So, I know what that’s like to have a metric dictate the rest of your day. But what happens when that is so powerful that every other thing that you do starts to become tyrannized by that scale. What does that mean by tyrannized? It literally rules over you. So, my diet now shifts according to making that God happy, the scale, “Okay, I got to eat less. Oh-oh, I got to overwork myself.” Everything, how I feel, how I interact with others, do I go out? Do I meet up with friends? Do I enjoy that meal? Or do I give up and say, I can’t deal with this self-hate anymore, let me just distract myself now with this overindulgence, and then, “Oh, now I’m starting to cycle again” type of deal. So, I say to people, throw that God away, get rid of that value that we’ve placed on this arbitrary number, and let’s start paying attention to the full scope of how fitness and diet and health really affect us. 

[00:10:35] You know there’s that famous– I know you’re familiar with this, I’ve talked about this on my show, and I love it so much because it illustrates so well with what I’m about to say. There’s this old video experiment, I first saw it in high school in my psychology class and I love it and you can find this on YouTube. There’s a group of I think like seven people passing a basketball around to each other. And what you’re supposed to do in the beginning of the video, the instructions are to count how many times the basketball is being passed around. And so, you’re paying very close attention to the ball being passed, and you’re counting and you’re counting, and you’re counting, and you’re counting, and at the end of it, the researcher says, “Okay, great, did you get the amount of times that the ball was passed? Oh, yeah, by the way, did you see the gorilla walking through the group?” And you’re like, “Gorilla, what?” They rewind the video. You can find this on YouTube. Now that I’ve given it away, it won’t work, but they rewind the video, and literally, a person in a gorilla suit walks through the people passing the ball around, and you literally don’t perceive it even though it’s going right in front of your eyes. 

[00:11:32] Now, that perfectly illustrates what happens to us when we try to improve our health or become more fit, become so hyper fixated on either the mirror or the scale that we completely miss all the other incredible values that a new, appropriately applied exercise routine or activity routine has provided us, that, even the small changes we’ve done in our diet has affected us, or our sleep, or even just the self-awareness that we’re trying to improve our health. So, what ends up happening is, we don’t even realize, we feel a lot better. We don’t realize, “Wow, I’m less anxious, I feel happier, this is interesting, I feel more capable and stronger in my body, I have less pain.”

[00:12:19] So, and this would literally happen to me and I’m sure this has happened in your practice. People will come in and I’ll ask them questions like, “How’s your energy in the morning?” They’ll say, “Oh, I think it’s the same.” I’ll say, “Okay, tell me about yesterday.” And they’ll say, “Well, I got up and this and that, and the other.” And what about the day before? And they’ll say, “You know what? Weird, I’ve been more energetic, I’m getting up a little earlier, and I feel better.” It was like out of their vision and then they started to kind of like, “Oh, this is interesting, yeah, I am noticing those things.” And I would point lots of things like that out. In my initial assessment, I’d say things like, “Do you have any areas of pain?” Typically, they’d say, “No, I don’t.” Then I’d go down the body. “How’s your neck? How’s your shoulder?” And of course, they’d be, “Oh, yeah, my shoulder hurts. Oh, yeah, my back hurts.” And then later, I’d ask the same question and they’d say, “Oh, my God, this is so weird, my neck pain is kind of gone, I don’t feel it anymore.” And then they would start to connect all the dots to the values that what we’re doing is starting to provide them. 

[00:13:03] Now, why is that important? Because when you have a complete picture of this journey and what it’s providing you will approach it more appropriately, you’ll value it more appropriately, and you develop the kind of relationship with it that will last you the rest of your life. If your relationship with this is based on just the scale, even if you’re successful at getting the scale to move down, at some point the scale is going to stop, right? What are you going to do? Lose all your weight? You can’t do that. So, even if you’re successful at getting the scale to move down and you’ve sacrificed everything else for that, at some point the scale stops, and now what value you’re doing providing it, and maybe people watching this or listening to this knows what that feels like, “I did lose that 30 pounds, and then all of a sudden I don’t want to do this anymore, I saw no more value in it.” So, what I’m talking about and saying, in my experience, is literally the only way that I found to be able to do this in an effective and sustainable way. I’ve yet to find any other approach that’ll do this. And by the way, I’m not referring to the orthorexics that you see represented so heavily on social media and in my space, the health and fitness space, I’m going to be very clear, you’ll find more dysfunctional eating patterns and body image issues in the health and fitness space than you will in the regular population. So, buyer be warned, when you’re going through Instagram or social media, a lot of the messaging that you see will be coming from people who they haven’t figured out how to really do this in a healthy way as well. 

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:14:23] Well, and it’s interesting, as you were speaking, I was thinking in the context, I have teenagers, I have boys, but talking to them about images that they see on social media, I have one that weight trains very, I wouldn’t want to use the word aggressively. He’s very dedicated to weight training. He really enjoys it. He used to be a competitive swimmer. And he’ll have conversations with me. I need to be bigger. And so, trying to explain to him that, show me what it is that you’re looking at, and we’ll look at people, and I will explain to him that even from my perspective, a lot of what you see on social media is false. A lot of what you see on social media is very cued lighting. It could be that someone’s posed in such a way that they would look very different if you saw them in real life. There’s a lot of photoshop that goes on, I don’t even know how to do that, but it’s fascinating to me just how sucked in, not just adults, but even our teens, our young adults, get really sucked into this imagery. And a lot of what I’m known for is intermittent fasting and I think it’s been my experience clinically that many of the individuals I see that are proponents of intermittent fasting on social media, they use it as a way of hiding their eating disorder.

Sal Di Stefano: [00:15:31] 100%. 

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:15:33] So, it’s interesting to me to make sure that what we’re saying and what we’re stating is this is not what we’re supportive of, that be very conscientious and clear about who you follow, what you’re engaging with, and making sure that whatever you’re doing, it is sustainable. It’s something that is paramount in messaging. We want this to be sustainable and the way to make it sustainable is to be reasonable, to not be going out there doing self-flagellation. We’re not advocating that you overtrain, that you overfast, that you overexercise, and yet that’s a lot of what we see on social media. 

Sal Di Stefano: [00:16:03] So, Cynthia, you hit the nail on the head, by the way, I was that boy that you’re mentioning here with your son. So that’s a challenge. The poor relationship or dysfunctional relationship with your body, it can look different, it can look a lot of different ways, but in my space, it’s so prevalent. You mentioned the bodies that you see on social media. Look, I managed gyms for almost two and a half decades, so there’s already a self-selection bias of people who want to work out. When I’m in that gym, okay and there’re, I don’t know, 150, 200, 300 people working out, these are 30,000 square foot facilities. Rarely, rarely, remember, there’s already a self-selection bias, rarely would you see someone with six pack abs, that’s how not common it is. And yet, when you go through social media, it would appear as if every person looks this way. 

[00:16:48] Now, why is this important to communicate and understand? Your brain is wired to compare yourself to your surroundings because there’s this hierarchy that you’re always constantly trying to place yourself in. Am I going to be competitive for resources? Am I going to be valuable? Where’s my role in society? All I ever do is go to NBA basketball games. All I ever do is sit in professional basketball games and watch 7-foot men running up and down the court, you know I’m over 6ft tall, I’m going to feel like, “Man I am really short, I am tiny.” The reality is, how often have you seen somebody in the real life that’s 7-foot tall? Maybe once, you probably remember. I remember it, one time at an airport, I saw someone 7-foot tall, and it was like they stood out. 

[00:17:28] So, number one, it’s not an accurate representation of the real world. Number two, to accomplish those extreme pursuits, and I don’t care what category we pick, extremely successful entrepreneurs, extreme athletic performance, extreme body composition changes or presentation or whatever, they all come at a cost, they all come at a cost. And so, when you see those people on social media, what you’re typically seeing is some form of dysfunctional relationship or orthorexia or obsession, body obsession. Okay? 

[00:18:03] Now, if you think to yourself, “Well, yeah, but I want to look like that because that’s super valuable.” The data is clear on that, it’s not. Arthur Brooks, good friend of mine, is an expert on happiness. He uses this wonderful example and he says, “Well, let’s just hypothetically say on a scale of 1 to 10 of beauty, you’re a 6. And then you take all your time and money and you move yourself up to a 9, he goes your happiness won’t even budge because that’s how little value it has on your overall happiness.”

[00:18:27] Now, if you think to yourself and you’re honest, you say, “Well, what I want is, I want to be healthy. I want to have vitality, longevity, I want to feel good, I want to have balance.” What does balance feel like? “I’m not stressed about my diet. I’m not counting everything that I put in my mouth. I’m not stressed about my workouts, where they have to be absolutely perfect, where I feel like I have good relationships with the people around me. And this just feels good, it just feels good.” Then it comes from a completely different place. That comes from a place of selfcare, not self-hate. Dysfunction or body dysmorphia comes from a place of self-hate. And, yes, that can fuel you in some pretty extreme directions, but it’s unsustainable for most people. By the way here’s the pattern, so I’ll just paint the picture, so people are like, “Oh, crap, I’ve done that. “The self-hate pattern looks like this, you’re not working out, you’re not paying attention to your eating, something happens, I don’t know, the new year or you see a picture of yourself, or somebody says something, and you feel this overwhelming feeling of, like, “I need to do something about this. I hate the way I look or something like that.” And then you’re like, “I got to do something,” so you make these huge changes, “I’m going to overhaul my diet, I’m going to go to the gym, I’m going to beat myself up because I don’t like me, I don’t like the way I look, I’m not attractive, I’m not good enough or whatever.”

[00:19:31] Now, that self-hate model feels like this. Exercise is a punishment, which, by the way, feels cathartic at first. So, if you’re like, if this is you, what will probably happen is you’ll do your first few workouts, you’ll get super sore, feel like you’re throwing up, you’ll come home and you’ll say to somebody, “Wow, I had a great workout. I had a great workout because I could barely walk out of the class or something like that,” right? Diet will feel restrictive, so somebody offers you something off your diet, what do you typically say? “No, I can’t have that,” which is a really strange thing to say, like, who’s telling you you can’t? 

[00:19:58] And then this is what it looks like. At some point, hating yourself becomes unbearable. That tyranny that doing over yourself causes a rebellion. And why am I using the word rebellion? Because this is why, you don’t just kind of go off your diet, you go in the opposite direction. You don’t just have one cookie, you have a box, you eat until you feel ashamed. You don’t just miss a couple of workouts, you stop completely. So that is an unsustainable model. And the relationship you’ll build with exercise and diet is not one that’s going to paint a picture that you’re going to want to maintain. Who wants to keep punishing themselves forever. Unless you fuel that hate for the rest of your life. Who wants to feel like they’re restrictive with their diet, that’s not going to last very long. I mean, let’s be honest about food. Food isn’t just fuel. I don’t care how many people in my space say that. Food represents connection, celebration. Palatability has got some value, enjoyment, of course, it’s also fuel. 

[00:20:50] What if we do it from a self-care perspective? Okay, I need to take care of myself like somebody I care about, then the gym or working out is taking care of myself. What’s it look like now? It’s going to be appropriate. If I go to a workout and I feel like throwing up, that’s not right, because that was too excessive for me, I’m not really taking care of myself, that was a little too much, let me scale it back. Sometimes it means an easy workout. Sometimes it might mean taking a day off because I didn’t get good sleep or something like that. My body needs to rest right now.

[00:21:17] Well, what does diet look like? Well, it looks like nourishment. Look, you have children. If your kids asked you for candy every single day, most days you’ll say no, but some days you’ll say yes. It’s not going to be no every single day. Sometimes you might be like, “Yeah, here you go, enjoy a little candy.” Most of the time, you are like, “No, this is necessarily not good for us.” So, your diet starts to look like that. So, somebody offers you a piece of cake or something like that, you’re probably going to say something like, “No, thanks, I don’t want that,” or “Yes, I’d like to enjoy that slice of cake.”

[00:21:45] What won’t happen are these rebellions where you go off so far that you feel ashamed of yourself. I used to experience this. I’d like, work up to a vacation, then on vacation, it was like, this is my rebellion time, and I would eat. I remember one time I caught myself, it was really interesting. While I was eating, and I’m like, “Oh, yeah, I’m going to eat whatever I want, I’m on vacation.” I was more concerned or focused on what was on my fork and not what was in my mouth. So, I wasn’t enjoying or savoring the food, it was about the wanting, and I said, “Oh, wow, this is different.” I’m not even enjoying this, because then I’d have a stomachache afterwards and whatever. 

[00:22:23] Savoring food is very different, it’s like you’re eating slow, you’re enjoying it, maybe even talking about it with the people around you, so it’s a completely different approach. And the approach of self-care will direct you and move you towards the ways that are most effective and appropriate for you.  Now, why am I saying most effective and appropriate? Okay, we’ll get into the nitty gritty a little bit. Exercise serves as a stimulus for the body to change. It’s actually a stress on the body. So, an appropriate stress tells the body, “Hey, let’s heal from this stress and then let’s prepare ourselves so that next time, that is not a stress anymore.” So, imagine handling a rough object and your skin gets slightly damaged, your body senses it, it rebuilds the skin that was maybe worn down a little bit, and then it builds a callus to kind of prepare for the next time around. Now, if I handle an object too roughly, I’ll just tear my skin apart and I don’t build a callus if I just keep repeating that all my body’s trying to do is heal, so this happens when you train inappropriately with too much intensity, too much frequency or whatever for your body. 

[00:23:18] So, exercise is a stimulus and it must be applied appropriately. And the context is what’s happening in your life, how much sleep you’re getting, how well your body’s able to deal with the stress, your current fitness level, etc. The appropriate dose will get you there the fastest, more than the appropriate dose will get you there slower and less than the appropriate dose will get you slower. There is no more is better with this. It’s like literally the perfect amount. And the context is where you’re at now? So, like, you don’t do any exercise now, you haven’t worked out for a while, you’re under a lot of stress already, a little bit is enough, more than that is probably too much. And you probably shouldn’t get sore after your workout or if you do, it’s a tiny bit. 

[00:23:59] Same thing for diet. What would be appropriate with diet? Well, probably smaller steps. I mean, not this massive overhaul with diet as so much is tied to food that it would be silly for us to think that we’re going to completely change everything and be able to maintain it without any severe consequences. Like, if you use food like all of us do, celebrate, distract, deal with emotion, whatever. Okay, well, you cut all that out, suddenly there’s going to be some consequences, so maybe a slower approach, maybe a bit of a slower approach. So, what I’m explaining and what I’m talking about really is the root of how. And then we can talk about, okay, what are the steps and what are the most effective ways to do this? But if you don’t start like that, you will fail. And the data is clear on this, not just my experience, the data shows that weight loss isn’t an issue, keeping it off is the issue and about 85 plus percent of people rebound and get worse than they were when they first started, even if they successfully achieved their goal. So, we got to talk more about how do we maintain this, not necessarily what’s the fastest way to make this happen.

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:25:00] There’re so many different avenues I could go down talking about those patterns that you’ve been able to recognize both of self-hate and self-love, the role of hormesis. So, this beneficial stress in the right amount at the right time and perhaps this is the segue into talking about women in middle age because what works for us at 20, 25, or 30 does not work for us at 40, 45, 50 and beyond. And I’m not suggesting that we stop taking care of ourselves. I just know the intensity with which I exercised when I was younger is not what I do most days now, I don’t do as much. I rarely do HIIT, I do strength train, I do Pilates, I do a lot of walking, but it’s being very cognizant of what was my sleep like last night? What’s my stress pattern like? What is my stress pattern encouraging me to do? Is it telling me to get on the PEMF mat and go for a walk? Or is it telling me it’s okay to go to the gym, but you’re not looking to have a high-performance day. You’re going to get through your routine, you’re going to challenge your muscles, but it’s not the day to push your workouts. In your experience working with lots of women, women in perimenopause and menopause, what are some of the differentiators that you have seen in terms of helping women navigate these times in our lives? Because strength training becomes very important, especially as women are losing muscle, so sarcopenia is a real thing, which impacts metabolic health, insulin sensitivity, etc. 

Sal Di Stefano: [00:26:27] Yeah, first off, I’ll make the statement and I’ll back it up with data in my own experience. But strength training in a time for time basis is the most effective form of exercise for hormone balance, longevity, mobility, fat loss, the data is clear on this now. And just overall effectiveness in terms of the time you spend doing it and what you get in return. But let’s back up for a second, okay? I want to be very clear. Even high performing extreme athletes. So, let’s forget women in perimenopause or menopause. Let’s talk about high level, insane, genetically gifted all the time in the world professional athletes, this is all they do. They don’t even have other things– Like your job is to be a top athlete. They don’t even train at the highest intensities all the time. They have an in season and they have an off season for a reason. Athletes that apply too much intensity too often burn out and injure themselves. Coaches know this, professional team trainers know this, athletes know this. If you look at the amount of time and money and energy LeBron James spends on recovery, rest, and injury prevention versus high intensity workouts, you would see a ratio that looks something like 50:1. Now we think otherwise because nobody posts their recuperative posting sessions on social media, that’s boring, I don’t even do that, I’m not going to show you 90% of my workouts on social media, I’m going to post the 10% where I’m sprinting. So, even those people train appropriately, okay. 

[00:27:50] So now let’s talk about what happens as we all start to get old. I’m 45 myself and so men also experience the changes as we get older, although not as abruptly as I would say women. But for a second, let’s take out the age component, the hormone change component, let’s take that out for a second. Let’s just look at lifestyle, so you were 20 something years old and now you’re, I don’t know, 40 something years old or 50 something years old. Do you have the same responsibilities that you did when you’re in your 20s? No, not even close. I had no responsibilities in my 20s in comparison. Just having kids alone, it’s funny you talk to parents. I remember distinctly feeling that. I have four kids and I remember feeling this after my first. I remember thinking to myself, holy Toledo, I was invincible before, like, nothing scared me before. I thought there were things that scared me. But now I got a kid and all of a sudden, it’s like, “Oh, man,” like I could worry myself silly because my heart is outside my body type of deal. So, you probably have kids, you probably have a career, you have a spouse or a partner, you got a mortgage, you’re more aware of the world, like, your responsibilities and stresses are infinitely higher than they were in your 20s. 

[00:29:03] Does that have an effect on your body’s ability to deal with physical stress, exercise and that kind of stuff? Of course, it does, absolutely. You also, because you’ve been around longer, the potential for accumulated poor movement patterns or injuries is just higher. So, if you walk for a week, your potential for injuring yourself is lower than if you’ve been walking for 10 years. Okay? It’s just time. Even if you haven’t injured yourself, we don’t move perfectly all the time. Our bodies, there is an ideal way to move, perfect way to move, and that relies on muscle recruitment patterns and the shoes we wear and how we sit and whatever. And if you move suboptimally, which all of us do, you do that for 40 years, it can accumulate or the potential for it to turn into problems is greater than when you were 20 something years old. Okay, so now you’re dealing with more when you work out. I have a shoulder that hurts, my back starts to bother me, what’s going on. Maybe you had kids. Does that change recruitment patterns? Unbelievably so. In fact, let me just stay there for just a second and I won’t stay here for too long, but one of the most undertreated, undervalued, or underappreciated changes that go through a woman’s body in terms of muscle recruitment patterns is during and post pregnancy. So, muscle recruitment patterns are how muscles fire and activate. So, if I get up out of this chair, all the muscles in my body have to operate in synchronicity in a way to get me out of the chair. If I have an injured knee, the synchronicity changes so that I can still accomplish my goal of getting up out of the chair. And this happens subconsciously, your body will just move in a way it doesn’t think to itself, activate calves, soleus, hamstrings, abductors, adductors, quads, glutes, core. It doesn’t think like that, it just thinks like a bunch of notes in an orchestra, make this work and so I get up. So, if I have a muscle or an area that isn’t moving or strong or the way it’s supposed to, then the rest of my body organizes itself to accomplish this goal. 

[00:31:03] So, when you get pregnant, just the obvious, because I can go into the weeds with this, but let’s just get obvious, you have a growing baby inside of you, your muscles inside your body, your core muscles, your pelvic floor muscles shift and change in their recruitment patterns. So, an obvious one is like your rectus abdominus, your abs, those have to stretch. Your transverse abdominus, which go around your core like this, has to stretch and actually has to deactivate to an extent in order to make room for growing baby. Well, you still need stability, so what happens? Well, hip flexors like the psoas and the low back and other areas of parts of the body activate more to compensate. So, this is why you’ll start to see things like hip pain or low back pain or whatever during pregnancy. And then post pregnancy, this is a travesty, I think this is a huge gaping hole in our medical system, we rarely ever get any exercise or physical therapy targeted towards post pregnancy. And I understand why, postpartum, it’s like, “I don’t want to go to a physical therapist, I have a newborn.” Thankfully, today, what they’re starting to offer now is a PT will come to your door covered by insurance, which I think especially for this, amazing. 

[00:32:06] Now, why is that important? Well, your muscles have been working and firing a particular way in order to get them to move and fire now in a different way, because now you don’t have a growing baby inside you. You actually have to train those new recruitment patterns. You have to relearn those patterns so they can change, so this is why women will experience pelvic floor issues for decades after having a baby until they address them or core stability issues, they can’t figure out what’s going on. Even if they work out afterwards, if they don’t know how specifically how to target these areas, then things will happen or they won’t happen. So, they’ll start to notice all these different things. So, physical therapy or exercise that’s targeted to getting these recruitment patterns to go back to what they were before post pregnancy, very important. 

[00:32:43] So anyway, all these things can add up. And now here you are and you’re like, “I want to start working out again.” Now, and also to throw on top of that hormone changes that obviously occur. So, what we’re dealing with is a different context. So now, at the risk of minimizing what I just said, your context is always going to change, so what does that mean? Whatever you’re doing now that’s working may not work for you next time. So, then the question is, “Well, what do I do? How do I know? What to do?” Well, this is how you start to learn your body, you start to learn how to apply exercise, and you start to learn how to apply your diet. This is what I mean by applying it appropriately.

[00:33:22] So, to speak broadly, exercise or activity and diet should be used as multifaceted tools to improve the quality of your life regardless of the context of your life. So, to give you a couple of examples, I’ll use some personal examples. I went through a really, really tough period over a decade ago. I had somebody very close to me who had a long battle with cancer. I was very close with them and it was very, very tough and very stressful, and I still worked out. But my workouts, the goal wasn’t to go lift a new personal record or build more muscle or burn more body fat. My workouts were tailored to stress relief. They were tailored to help me in this particular context of my life. So, what’d they look like? “Gosh, the intensity was 1/10th. A lot of it was mobility, sometimes it was just walking, sometimes it was just breath work. 

[00:34:12] Okay, well, what about diet? I’ll give more personal examples. Sometimes I do these podcast circuits or I’m speaking on multiple podcasts. The kind of performance I need for those is more of a mental sharpness and clarity. By the way, disclosure, there’s a very wide individual variance to how people respond to diet. So, what am I about to say may not apply to people watching. So don’t take this and say, “Oh, this will work for me,” you can try it, but. For me, I’ve identified that I get more mental clarity when I eat a very low carbohydrate, kind of higher fat, higher protein type of a diet. And when I don’t eat very frequently, I just get more mental clarity. That also happens to be for me the diet that is not the best for physical performance. So, if I know I’m going to go do a tough physical pursuit, if I’m going to go try to accomplish some new goal in the gym or work out with friends and perform or do some long hike or something like that, my diet doesn’t look like that instead it looks like more of a higher carbohydrate type of a diet, because I get better physical performance. I also know how to eat when my digestion tends to be off. I tend to struggle with gut health issues on and off, so I know what that looks like for me. So, if you do this and you follow this path, and you start to learn about yourself, and there are some general guidelines and rules. I don’t want to make this sound super fluffy and formless, there are general guidelines and rules that I’ll go over that seem to apply to most people. But if you do this the right way, then this is how your workouts and your diet will start to look. So, yeah, of course what you did in your 20s isn’t going to work for you now. 

[00:35:37] Is your life and are you identical to how you were before? Of course not. By the way, even in scientific studies, when they’re trying to see if a drug works, they have to control everything, because everything has an influence on whether or not that drug is going to work. Context makes a huge difference, but I’d like to leave your listeners with some general guidelines. We’ll start with diet. Generally speaking, it’s probably better for the most part, and all the data supports this. I’ve seen this pretty unanimously to avoid heavily processed foods. Across the board, you will notice improvements in most metrics by simply avoiding foods that have a long shelf life and have long ingredients lists on them. Now, why? Generally, they’re not as healthy as whole natural foods, but really the main reason is this. Ultra-processed foods, the energy, time, and money and research that goes into them, 99% of it goes into making them hyper palatable, okay? 99% of everything that goes into a processed food goes into making it so hedonistically enjoyable that it actually bypasses or hijacks the signals of your body, so you end up eating more than what your body needs, you end up eating differently, you end up eating faster, and you end up developing different relationship with food than you could develop. In fact, some of the best studies on nutrition and I say the best studies, because a lot of diet and nutrition studies are survey based, which are kind of like, “How many tomatoes did you eat last Wednesday type of stuff.”

[00:37:01] Some of the best studies are done on ultra-processed foods, where they take two groups of people, put them in a lab, literally control everything. This group, ultra-processed foods, this group, whole natural foods. They’ll even make sure that the macros are similar, proteins, fats, and carbs. Then they’ll take those groups and switch them. And across the board and all the studies that I’ve seen on this, people will eat 500 to 600 more calories a day by eating ultra-processed foods just naturally, so avoid them that’s one good general guideline. 

[00:37:28] Here’s another one, for most people, not all, but a majority, a high-protein diet seems to work better. So high protein tends to produce more satiety. In calorically controlled studies, where they have two groups of people eating the same calories, the high-protein diet version tends to burn more body fat and build more muscle. Protein, whole natural protein-containing foods or foods that would be considered high-protein foods also tend to be very high in nutrients, so there’re a lot of downstream effects, so that’s another one that tends to work with pretty well. 

[00:37:59] Fiber tends to be another one that works for majority of people. Make sure you have adequate levels of fiber. Hydration tends to be another one. But you know, the first one that I said, Cynthia, it is interesting. It took me seven years to figure this out as a trainer. I would tell clients– Initially, I would give people diet plans and all kinds of meal plans and all that stuff, and then I would do this because most people want to lose weight, that’s the most common goal, right? So, I would say, here’s what I want you to do, eat as much as you want, don’t count anything, just avoid heavily processed foods. And then people would look at me like, “Really eat as much as I want?” “Yeah,” Eat as much as you want, but avoid heavily processed foods. And every single one of them would get leaner and feel better after doing that. And then it would blow people’s mind and they would come to me and say things like, “I’m eating a lot. I feel really full. Like, how am I losing weight? Is there something magical to this?” And I’d say, “No, you’re eating less calories I thought you would realize it.” So those are some good takeaways with diet. 

[00:38:46] What about with exercise? With exercise, strength train, one to two days a week. Strength training of all the forms of exercise, it is a proactive tissue form of exercise, it is an anabolic form of exercise. Whereas other forms of exercise tend to be catabolic or anti tissue, okay. Now, why is that important? in order for your body– So, strength training’s goal is to make you stronger, the side effect of which is build more muscle. When your body is trying to build more muscle, what it does, so long as it’s fed appropriately and it’s an appropriate amount of strength training, what your body starts to do is organize its hormones in a way to do so. What are the pro-muscle hormones? Testosterone. First off, very important in women. It’s labeled as a male testosterone, that’s wrong, just like estrogen is not a female hormone, both estrogen and testosterone are extremely important for both men and women. Women with low testosterone or with low androgen receptor density, let’s say, where testosterone doesn’t have a place to dock, have the same symptoms as men with low testosterone, so low motivation, low drive, low libido, depression, anxiety, etc. So, testosterone, a balance of estrogen and progesterone, so there is an interplay between the two where there’s a balance that provides, that makes you feel good, and then there’s an imbalance that makes you feel not so good. So pro-muscle balance of estrogen and progesterone feels good. 

[00:40:11] Growth hormone, growth hormone tends to rise. Insulin, you start to become more sensitive to insulin. In fact, one of the most insulin sensitive tissues in the body is muscle. So, building muscle, I become more insulin sensitive. What about cortisol? Well, if my body is primed to build muscle and strength and I’m feeding it appropriately and I’m getting adequate rest and all that stuff, I start to get an appropriate cortisol profile. What does that look like? High in the morning, tapers off during the evening. And I needed to say that because people are being advertised constantly that cortisol is this evil hormone. If you had no cortisol, you would not feel very good, you need it. The problem is that we tend to have this inverted profile where it’s low in the morning and then spikes in the evening, or it’s high all the time, or we get cortisol resistance where it keeps going up. So anyway, a cortisol profile that’s pro, that helps build muscle. By the way, what I’m naming right now, you could also loosely label as a youthful hormone profile. So, you go to a hormone therapist and they give you hormones to make it look more youthful. You do that naturally by telling your body to build muscle, by feeding it appropriately, to do so, and by getting adequate rest. So, you actually, through strength training tell your body, I want this hormone profile that is more youthful. 

[00:41:24] Now, the beauty of strength training is you don’t need a lot of it to do that. In fact, you need very little. In fact, the data shows that if you’re aging and you’re not trying to build muscle, let’s say you just want to keep it, you don’t want to lose muscle. As little as one strength training session every two or three weeks will probably do it. Now, that’s not what I’m advocating for, but what I’m trying to illustrate here is how powerful of a signal strength training can provide. Now, if you want to build a little muscle, speed up the metabolism, teach the body to burn more calories on its own, get leaner, get this nice hormone profile. Most people are looking at about two days a week of maybe 35, 45 minutes of appropriate strength training. And within that is, of course, you can modify intensity and exercises and all that stuff. Okay, you want to get super sculpted and you want to take it to the next level, all right, three, four days a week is what you’re looking at. But the average person, two days a week of good, appropriate strength training, most people, most women will get where they want. And what does that look like? Body fat percentage range that is between 21% to 25%, good mobility, good balance, good health. I did this for half of my career. You can’t do that with other forms of exercise. 

[00:42:34] Now, other forms of exercise, they all have value if applied appropriately, so I’m not saying don’t do them. I think it’s also very important to stay active every day, although I love walking, I think that’s the best, most applicable form for most people. But if you just did two days a week of cardio, you’re not going to get the same effects. In fact, you may notice some negative effects in some of the ways that I mentioned. Like you may actually promote muscle loss, you may promote calorie efficiency rather than faster metabolism, and you may actually send a stress signal that is less than appropriate. So that’s it, that’s really it. Strength training two days a week, avoid heavily processed foods, maybe eat high protein, and then watch what happens. And people would be shocked at how consistently their body responds if they apply those things. 

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:43:16] I think it’s one of the big messages from your content is making things sustainable, and that all sounds sustainable. I think when we get into the minutiae and we start getting so granular, I mean, it’s very different. If I’m working with someone and they need 30 g of protein with your meals, that’s a good starting point, and then people start with how many grams of carbohydrates and what else should I be including? And how much fat? And it’s, so bio individual and I love that your message is something that most people can experiment with. I love that you’re not encouraging women in particular to be lifting weights five days a week in the gym. In fact, I have a lot of women that I’ll say to them, “You’re working out too much, you’re working out too intensely, you’re over fasting,” and that becomes a greater concern. So, one to two days a week with 48 to 72 hours off in between, I think is sustainable. And certainly, you’re the expert here. Do you feel like you need two days off in between strength training or do you feel like it’s really dependent on the individual and what’s going on in their personal and professional life? 

Sal Di Stefano: [00:44:19] Look, of course it always goes back to the individual, but I’ll give some more takeaways I think that’ll help people better identify the appropriate amount for themselves. Here’s how you should feel after your workout. Immediately after your workout, you should have more energy than you did going into it. So, if you’re finishing a workout and you feel spent or exhausted or like you survived, it was too hard. If you’re within the first two or three years of your strength training journey and you’re not relatively consistently noticing improvements in control, stability, and strength, then there’s something that’s off. And I say relatively consistently because it’s not every workout, but if you look at your path and you’re like, “I’m able to do more reps and lift more weight than I did before or I can go a little lower in my squat where I feel stronger and more stable.” Like, if you’re not seeing that definitely the first six months, but for the first two or three years, then there’s probably something off. If you feel excessively fatigued, if your sleep is disrupted, if your libido is lower, then something is off. Most women who do the five days a week who you’re talking about, we talk to them all the time. I get them from five days a week, I make them do two days a week, you know what happens? They get stronger and they get leaner. 

[00:45:28] We’ve done a terrible job of communicating this in the health and fitness space. Healing is not the same as adapting. So, healing means your body has recovered or healed from the stress. Adapting is above and beyond that. It means you’re adding to or changing so that your body can withstand that stress next time without it being a stress anymore. So, here’s what the other one looks like, you go to the gym, you work out real hard, you get real sore, soreness goes away, you go back to the gym, you work out real hard, you get real sore, soreness goes away, you go back to the gym. Meanwhile, zero improvements, no strength increases, I’m just– You know “What weight do you use for your dumbbell shoulder press? 15s.”

[00:46:14] Like, I know when women or men are doing this, because I can ask them what they use if they’ve been training the first few years and they know their weight, “Oh, I always use this.” You haven’t improved, so what you’re essentially doing is you’re stuck in what I have labeled “The breakdown recovery trap.” Breakdown, recovery, breakdown, recovery, breakdown, recovery. What you should do is “Breakdown, recover, adapt, I come back a little better. Breakdown, recover, adapt, I come back a little better.” If you’re noticing those improvements, then you’re not doing something right. And if you’re noticing you’re getting really sore and tired and exhausted, you’re probably doing too much. And one thing I’ll add to that is don’t base the intensity, volume, frequency of your workouts on what you used to be able tolerate, because I get that a lot. I’ll get people who will say, “But, gosh, I used to be able to do this, and I felt great.” So, “Okay, well, for whatever reason, things are different now, but let’s go into it like, what’s different now? Oh, I have a job now where I commute longer, ooh, I just had a kid, or I’ve got more stress in my level.” 

[00:47:11] I just talked to a professional water polo player. She got drafted, went to Spain. So, this is a young female athlete, high level. And she was talking to us and she said “You know I just don’t have the energy, my strength is going down, I don’t understand, I haven’t changed anything, everything’s exactly the same.” So, we backed up and I said, “Okay. When did you move to Spain for your pro contract?” “Oh, six months ago.” “Do you have any friends or family there?” No, I left all my friends and family.” “What was that adjustment like?” “Oh, it was kind of tough. It was really difficult.” “How’s your sleep been?” “Oh, it’s been a little off because of it.” And so went down the path and I said, “Well, it’s not the same, there’s a lot more stress on the body, and so you’re probably already training at that line to begin with because you’re such a high-level athlete, you added this additional stress, what you did before is now just too much, so back off.” And what I’ll expect is she’ll back off and start to improve again. The right dose is the right dose is the right dose. 

[00:47:57] So, no, and what I mean, again, to be very clear, the right dose will get you there the fastest as well. Adding more will get you there slower. So, if you’re doing a two-day-a-week routine and you feel good, this is what always happens. It’s like, “Okay, I listened to Sal. I did what he said. Oh, my God, I feel amazing. Oh, my God, I feel so strong. I’m going to add another.” No, no, no, it’s working just fine, [Cynthia laughs] keep doing what you’re doing. You’re totally, totally fine. Not only can you get far, most people would never need to do more than three days a week of strength training. Who would do more than three days a week of strength training? Like competitors, people who sacrifice relationships, works, and life for physical performance, I guess. But three days a week is like, man, you could go far with three days a week. And consider there’s a lot you can change within the workout. Adding a little bit of weight is something that you changed. Doing an extra rep is a little change. Changing your rest periods is a little change. Pausing your reps or slowing down the reps is a little change. The exercises you do is a change. So, before you add days, before you add intensity, before you add all this other stuff, work with what you’re doing, and that’s what I would do again as a trainer. I trained people for years and years and years and there was one person that I trained, literally one person in over two and a half decades that I trained more than three days a week and they were like a high-level competitor, and we would only do it preseason to get them into their particular competition, so huge myth.

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:49:16] Such an important message, because I would imagine most people are overdoing it. They’re either underdoing it, like not doing enough, and then on the other side, there are the overachievers who are trying their darndest to push their workouts every time. Now, I did have a couple listener questions. One was around reverse dieting, is this something that you believe in? If someone has as an example, I’ll use the intermittent fasting community. Sometimes people get themselves to a point where they are literally eating one meal a day as a sustained effort, and they acknowledge that they need, as an example, more protein, they’re trying to work on building muscle, they’re trying to work on recovery, and they’re trying to add back in a little bit more macros here and there, is this an approach that you used or use when you are working with women that have been perhaps chronically under fueling, perhaps not even realizing that they’re chronically under fueling their bodies? 

Sal Di Stefano: [00:50:09] One of our most popular episodes that we ever did was an episode titled Why Women Should Bulk. That bulk is a term used in the fitness industry that means you go in a calorie surplus in order to try to gain muscle. And that episode exploded because it resonated, especially with so many women. Do I use reverse dieting all the time? All the time, I use reverse dieting. Now, why? Let’s talk about the metabolism for a second, because there’s going to be these– I often get pushback from these research fanatics who say things like, “The data shows one pound of muscle only burns this many calories or it’s calories in versus calories out or whatever.” Let’s be very clear, nobody will dispute this. The most complex thing that we’ve identified in the universe is the human brain. The second most complex thing we’ve ever identified is mammalian metabolism. It’s so complex, it’s not even funny. It shifts and adapts and moves all the time based off of what seems to be an infinite number of inputs. In fact, they think, we’re only going to figure this out when AI gets so advanced that it can really put things into place. So, your metabolism adapts. When you drop your calories and you drop your calories, you drop your calories, your metabolism adapts and slows down in order to compensate. Especially, if you don’t send a signal that says, “We need muscle, which is active tissue.” When you increase your calories, your metabolism actually starts to speed up a little bit, especially when it’s in combination with proper strength training and proper rest. Evolutionarily speaking, it’s sending the signal that says resources are plentiful. 

[00:51:37] Look, if I had a hyper advanced vehicle that could mold and shape itself based off of how I drove it, if I got into that vehicle and I only gave it a gallon of gas every day, and I drove all day long, going 10 miles an hour, let’s say, mimicking long, steady state cardio, like, I’m going for long runs and I’m very barely fitting myself, how would my car look? It would turn into an energy efficient, low horsepower machine. What if I got into that car and I gave it a full tank of gas, and I just did the quarter mile every single day? The engine would grow, and it would develop all this power to try and get me there as fast as possible. So that’s like strength training plus feeding myself. 

[00:52:12] So, if you want to speed up your metabolism, reverse dieting is part of the equation. That’s why when I was talking about strength training earlier, I said, feed your body appropriately. It also tells your body, “Hey, we can be fertile. Hey, we don’t need to be under so much stress. Hey, we can be warmer.” I say that one because people experience that one all the time. You cut your calories down, you may notice you’re kind of cold all the time. Your body’s like, “We can’t generate heat. We got to save calories type of deal.” Your body may say, especially if you’re still menstruating, may say, “Don’t have sex because God forbid you get pregnant. You’re not going to be able to sustain this child and take care of yourself.” So, you might notice your libido go through the floor. Your body may cut other resources. Your hair might fall out. You might notice your skin starts to not look as good because your body’s saving, so reverse dieting is a huge, incredible tool that I use.

[00:52:59] It’s also, look, here’s the deal like, a really fast metabolism, 15,000 or 100,000 years ago might have been a liability, but today it’s an asset. If you live in the modern world surrounded by all this food, fast metabolism will save you and reverse dieting is part of that. What does that look like? It looks like a slow increase in calories in combination with proper strength training, with a high-protein diet, with foods that are healthy. And when you do that over time, what you’ll see is that your metabolic adaptation starts to move upward. You burn more calories, you might gain a little bit of weight, but then all of a sudden notice like, “Wow, I gained 3 pounds or 4 pounds on the scale, I’m way stronger in the gym, I feel different. I’m eating 800 more calories a day, this is crazy.” Also, it feeds this strategy when I would take people to get them leaner. In order to get leaner, you have to eat less calories than you’re burning. But how many calories you’re burning, I can change quite a bit through modifying your metabolism or affecting your metabolism.

[00:53:52] By the way, the approach of trying to burn calories off through moving more, terrible approach. Although movement is healthy, so I’m not discouraging movement. I think it’s important to every hour of the day get up and move for five minutes or go on three small walks a day, tremendous health benefits, especially after meals. Trying to burn calories through movement, your body learns how to burn less calories by doing that over time. In fact, there’s this study that I’ve quoted in the book that I wrote where they studied modern hunter gatherers. It was a Hadza tribe in northern Tanzania and they studied their metabolisms. How many calories are they burning every single day? Remember, these are hunter gatherers, so they don’t have TV, they’re not sitting on couches, they’re hunting their food, which is typically throw a spear at animal, wound it, now run after it for 15 miles till it gets exhausted, then drag it back type of deal, so they’re moving a lot in comparison to us. They burned right around the same amount of calories as the average couch potato because their bodies– if our bodies burned 6000 calories a day because we’re hunting and gathering, we wouldn’t be here. So, trying to burn calories manually, terrible approach. But you could speed it up through building more active tissue, like what I’m saying, so that should be the approach. Build the metabolism, reverse diet, then when you get your caloric intake to a point that feels like, “Wow, I’m eating a lot. Wow, I feel very satisfied and satiated, now I can drop my calories from there to burn body fat. And then where I’m going to land is sustainable.” 

[00:55:07] So, if you’re a woman and you want to lose 30 pounds and we figure that you’re averaging about 2000 calories a day, where are we going to end up at the 30-pound weight loss mark? 1200 calories, maybe and then what? You got to eat 1200 calories for the rest of your life, good luck, that’s tough. What if I can reverse diet you, build some muscle, get you to get to burn 2500 or 2700 calories a day and then cut from there, now where are you going to fall? 1900, 2000 calories. By the way, it wasn’t uncommon for me when using this approach to have people lose weight whatever their initial goal was, and eat more than they did when they first started, that was a relatively common thing. 

[00:55:41] Now, what does this look like in practice? It looks like a snowball effect. The body fat loss starts off slow, but then starts to accelerate. And then you start to get into this, like, “Wow, this is weird, what’s happening, I feel like my body’s just getting lean and I’m not really doing much like, this is awesome.” But it does start off a little slower. The other approach tends to initiate fast weight loss, 10 pounds and then a hard plateau, and then you need to cut calories more or move more to get the scale move more, and then you end up in this really unsustainable place where it’s like, “I’m running five days a week, I’m eating 1300 calories, I still have 15 pounds to lose, this sucks, I’m going to stop.” But, yeah, reverse dieting, huge fan, huge fan. 

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:56:14] And such a beautiful explanation and certainly one that I think a lot of listeners can really appreciate and understand. A lot of questions around hormetic stressors. So, things like cryotherapy, cold plunges, red light therapies, infrared sauna. Are you a fan if your clients already dialed in on all of the kind of foundational approaches that you emphasize? 

Sal Di Stefano: [00:56:36] Yeah, if the stresses you apply are appropriate, they’re great. But do I put cold plunge, red light therapy, do I place those in the same category as like getting really good, adequate sleep, eating an appropriate diet, being well hydrated, and exercising appropriately? No, it doesn’t even touch, like what I just said is like 98%, like the other 2% are all these little things.

[00:56:57] Now here’s the deal, the problem is that our industry, the health, wellness, fitness, is an industry. And industries only maintain themselves through profits. And there’s nothing wrong with profits, but profits can skew what the consumer believes to be valuable, so if the way that we make money is by selling supplements, then you may get the message that supplements are way more important than they actually are, because I can sell supplements. But if I talk to you about nutrition and diet on my podcast, well, you got that information for free. The reality is, all those tools there’s some value, but in comparison to sleep, diet, exercise being applied appropriately, like it’s tiny, it doesn’t make like– I don’t add that stuff until somebody’s like they’re really in it and they’re feeling good and like, “Hey, I want to do this other thing.” It’s like, “You could try these other habits.” Most of the value, by the way, in those things is really in the downstream effects. Like if you wake up in the morning and you intentionally have a cold shower, I believe very strongly that most of the value is in the intentionality and how it affects the rest of your behaviors. You started the day with this, like, “I’m doing this thing.” We see this with exercise too. When people exercise in the morning, it tends to affect their behaviors later on. So, I think that the values are a bit overstated even from that perspective.

[00:58:13] For example, try this. Here’s one that you could try. Don’t go on social media for the first two hours of the day and that’s it, just do that. You know what will happen? People will notice improvements in their fitness and health from doing that and they’ll think to themselves, well, why? You started your day with better intentionality and it tends to set the frame for which you’re viewing the rest of your day. And I think those other practices tend to do that more than what the actual practice itself provides. Not saying there’s no value, but it’s been overstated. 

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:58:39] Yeah, it’s interesting because I think that I look at them as kind of the icing on the cake. If everything else is dialed in, there could be value. But I think many people, they’re bright, shiny objects. Like, “Oh, I have a thing. I have an infrared sauna, I have a cold plunge, I have red light therapy,” all of which have health benefits, but if you’re not doing the foundational approaches that could be, you know, it’s a disconnect. 

Sal Di Stefano: [00:59:02] It’s like putting a racing sticker on your car without making the engine bigger or something to try and go faster. It’s like, “Okay, that’s great, you have a spoiler on it, but it didn’t really affect your 0 to 60 or whatever you’re handling.” You know what’s also interesting, by the way, those devices and tools can also be used and they often are inappropriately. What I mean by that is the over trainer, the fitness fanatic who works out too much over diets, that’s the last person I’m going to have do a cold plunge. You’re just going to push yourself into a higher state of stress and that’s going to make things worse, not better, and that’s funny because I often have to communicate that more often than the other because the people who ask me those questions are the ones typically overusing everything. It’s like, “Hey, can we take that cold plunge out, but I thought it was healthy.” Well, in your case, right now, way too much, let’s scale things back and then watch what happens. 

Cynthia Thurlow: [00:59:48] Yeah, it’s an important message. And what are your thoughts on GLP-1s? I think that this is a very hot topic and I will just objectively state that I see a lot of my colleagues that are already thin using GLP-1s as an adjunct to and they’ll tell me, “I’m using this because I want to take the edge off my appetite.” And I’m like, “But you’re already very thin.” 

Sal Di Stefano: [01:00:09] Yeah, there’s a bit of a self-selection bias with all these tools, isn’t there? It’s like the people who shouldn’t– You know, it’s funny, we sell workout programs here with my company and the advanced hardcore workout programs that we put out that we specifically say, “This is for like 10% of you.” Those are the ones that the people who abuse exercise tend to get. And then they call in and we ask them, “What program do you have?” And they tell us. And I’m like, “Damn, I knew it. I knew the wrong people would get this,” because it’s the wrong workout for you.

[01:00:36] GLP-1s are interesting. So, I’ve had a few experts. I had one of the lead researchers on my podcast talk about them, Dr. Seeds, and we work with a company that works with peptides. Peptides are interesting because they’re not like drugs. They kind of naturally occur in the body or they mimic naturally occurring signals in the body, which puts them in a different category, but it’s interesting. Is there potential value in a GLP-1? Yes, when used in an appropriate setting in combination working with behavior modifications, proper exercise, diet. If it’s used as a tool to put you on a sustainable path to do the work, then yes. 

[01:01:13] You know what it reminds me of? Have you seen the research on psychedelics and trauma? It’s remarkable. Could you also just go use a bunch of psychedelics and develop this bad relationship with them where you’re escaping? Yes, absolutely. So, in the context of these studies where they’re doing it with therapy and they’re tackling difficult challenges and they’re working through them, very valuable, people just going to get high on LSD or psilocybin like no value, in fact, probably the opposite, so GLP-1s are in that category. They are fascinating, they are the first intervention that have been shown to be consistent with weight loss, although, muscle loss seems to be right along with it, because just eating less will cause muscle loss and that’s what’s happening. The GLP-1s aren’t making you lose muscle, but you’re just eating less. If your diet is this and then you eat less of what you’re eating and you’re not strength training, that metabolic adaptation I talked about will happen, your body will lose muscle to slow your metabolism down to meet the lowered energy intake, your energy requirements will drop. 

[01:02:06] There’s also some interesting data showing that it’s reducing impulsivity, so people are drinking less, smoking less. There may be an interesting effect in the brain where the way that it’s reducing appetite are not through the traditional methods where, like you boost, let’s say, catecholamines, like norepinephrine, epinephrine, stimulants will make you eat less. GLP-1s don’t seem to be doing that. It seems to act on the part of the brain that seeks out escape or that seems to work on impulsive actions, which is why people are smoking less and drinking less on it as well. I even saw something showing people were biting their nails less and all the impulsive kind of behaviors. So, I personally– it’s my own personal opinion, this is not my wheelhouse, but my personal opinion is I believe GLP-1s at some point will be used in combination with therapy and other professionals as a multifaceted approach towards– Just like CGMs, continuous glucose monitors, I think will fall in this category, of tools that can help people become more self-aware of their own behaviors, but on their own, they’re not the panacea. On their own. what you’ll get with a GLP-1 is weight loss, muscle loss, go off, weight gain, and so you’ll just have this thing you got to take all the time and not really improve your fitness, necessarily your health as a byproduct. So, I think if you apply it right, it could be valuable, but it’s not a panacea. 

Cynthia Thurlow: [01:03:22] And to your point about CGMs, I think that– And I take a lot of heat. For full disclosure, NutriSense sponsored an ad on social media. And the amount of heat, I always say, “I try to stay noncontroversial on social media from physicians telling me, you’re harming patients, why would you make them neurotic?” And I said, “Why would you not encourage and empower your patients to be able to differentiate between the impact of sleep, stress, nutrition, and exercise on their blood sugar when we have a nation of grossly metabolically unhealthy individuals.”

[01:03:50] Lastly, I would love to just touch on, very briefly, authenticity. You seem to be someone in the health and wellness space that is really revered for being very authentic, very transparent, very honest, very forthright. If there are people listening that are looking to work on mindset in 2024, I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, I’m a fan of a word to focus in on. So 2024, my word is alignment. But when it comes to authenticity, what are some of the things that you do in your personal life that you feel help keep you in alignment with your personal and professional goals?

Sal Di Stefano: [01:04:28] Okay, what a great question. Let me back up for real quick and just want to say something about CGMs real quick. NutriSense is a great company because they don’t just get people to wear CGMs, they combine it with a nutritionist that works with them. As a trainer, I was never a fan of gadgets that gave you data unless you had a coach connecting that data to how you felt so that you could make those connections and then modify behaviors. So, if I could see, well, “My blood sugar is high, I feel like this; when it’s low, I feel like this. Oh, when I eat this thing, I react this way, that’s why I get irritable, that’s why I feel cravings, then it becomes super valuable.” If I just wear a CGM and read my numbers, complete waste of time, so I just wanted touch on that. In combination, just like I said with semaglutide, those peptides or other tools in combination with a coach, that’s good, very valuable. By themselves, complete waste of time, in my opinion, or maybe even potentially harmful. 

[01:05:17] All right, authenticity. Well, I tell you what, this is a blessing looking back. I initially got into fitness because of my own body image issues. I was a very insecure, skinny kid. Probably could have put me in the category of reverse anorexia or just body dysmorphia in general. And so, I got obsessive about fitness because of that. Then I became a personal trainer. And the blessing is that I really do love people. I really, really love people. I love being around people. I love connecting with people. And through that, I was able to question my methods and identify the most effective ways to help people become sustainable with their health and fitness. It wasn’t for me. In fact, I’m still a better trainer for other people than I am for myself, although I’ve gotten a lot better. But in those early days, I abused myself, but I was a darn good trainer because I really loved people.

[01:06:04] And you know what I found? I remember there was one turning point in particular. I had trained a woman who had referred her daughter to me to train and her daughter had dealt with anorexia, so she had some eating disorders. And I remember I had talked to my manager at the time. I was young, I was maybe 19. And I said, “What do I do?” And they recommend that I talk to therapist first and so I got on the phone with therapist and therapist gave me some great advice about focusing on performance. Don’t weigh them, don’t test their body fat, etc, etc. And I remember when I was training them and that first session, I was working with her and halfway through, I don’t know, I might have a characteristic of being an overshare, I don’t know, but I said, ” I kind of know what this feels like.” I have some body dysmorphia, it’s in the opposite, though. But I always think I’m too skinny. And halfway through the session, this closed off woman opened up, it was such a shift. She automatically opened up and was telling me more and I could see that, “Wow, I just became much more effective what I’m trying to do,” because looking back, trying to influence her, she’s looking at me probably either consciously or subconsciously thinking, “He knows nothing about me, has no idea what this is like or whatever.” So, then I said, “Hey, I know what this is like.” And I went into detail of some of my struggles and she immediately was like open.

[01:07:17] So, I learned to be authentic because it was effective. My clients could connect with me and then believe me and trust me. And when I had their trust, then when I would give them advice, they were more likely to take it versus where they didn’t trust me and they saw me as someone that they couldn’t connect with, type of deal, and so, I worked on that for 20 years with clients. My co-hosts came from the same background. They were trainers and coaches, and they figured out the same thing. And so, what you hear on the podcast or through social media, I’m not a media guy, I was a trainer and a coach and so what you hear, in fact, don’t do this, I’m not encouraging you to do this, but if you did go back and listen to my early episodes, you know what I’m talking about, I was not a media guy, there’s a lot of growth with my media presentation [Cynthia laughs] through that period, but the authenticity was there because it’s just how I learned how to communicate health and fitness, and I’ve learned to value that. And then having kids really hammered that home.

[01:08:12] All right, so what are my practices? This is going to sound funny. It’s going to sound like I’m pandering to your audience, but I listen to my wife now, it’s because we have a good relationship and I trust her. So, she’ll see things that I don’t. So, she’s not always right, but she often is and so she’ll say something that I’m doing or whatever, and my immediate reaction is to be defensive, but I’ll try to sit with it and think about it and say, “How can that be true?” So that’s one way. So, I think listening to the people that you trust around you, the people that celebrate your victories and mourn your losses, the people that you really, really trust, I think they’re good because, you know, like, “Okay, I can trust so and so to be honest with me.” So, that’s one of them. 

[01:08:44] I think a self-reflection practice is really important. For me, it’s prayer. So, these days I pray three times a day. And when I pray, I’m being as open and vulnerable as possible. And what comes with that is a lot of self-reflection, so that makes a pretty big difference. I seek out therapy, so I see somebody on a semi-regular basis because I don’t know what I don’t know. And they are trained in being able to help people see what they don’t see. And it’s been very valuable in that sense. I learned to value therapist through training clients. At one point, I owned a wellness studio and I had this really holistic approach and I had people in there that had very different approaches than me and this was back when I was a meathead trainer. Like, I knew exercise and I knew macros, I didn’t know anything else, but I saw how effective they were. And then I saw how effective it was when we would work with a client together and I could see value and so through osmosis, I just learned, like, “Oh, wow, okay,” I could see how effective they are at communicating these things. And wow, I didn’t know that there was so much value in, let’s say, body work and meditation and those types of things, so that’s helped a lot. 

[01:09:48] And then I think being recorded, maybe you can comment on this, but recording yourself, especially long form on a podcast, when you listen to yourself, people would know this. You listen to your voice like, “Oh, I can’t stand the way I sound or whatever.” If you listen to yourself in long form, you can start to hear and see certain patterns and be like, “Oh, that sounded arrogant, or okay, maybe I communicated that wrong.” So that’s been a pretty good self-reflection tool as well, but I’m just trying to connect with people, I think. I learned that mostly through training people, and I’m far from whatever the ideal is, but I’m constantly searching. I get to meet really smart people like you too and get to ask them questions, which is selfishly pretty awesome. 

Cynthia Thurlow: [01:10:24] Yeah, no, it’s interesting because I think the trajectory of our experiences are largely influenced by the internal work that we do. And I speak very openly on the podcast that I will probably always be in some form of therapy, Reiki work, energy work. I will always have a coach. I do listen to my podcast, but solely to make sure that there are things I’m working on. Sometimes I’ll use a phrase and I’m like, “Oh, why did I say that?” Or I should have delved more into this. I really do love the ability to connect with such bright minds in the health and wellness space, so when I reflect and listen to a podcast, it’s like, “What could I have done better next time or next time I connect with that person,” so I value that in you as well. 

[01:11:05] This has been such an amazing conversation. Please let my listeners know how to connect with you on social media, how to listen to your amazing podcast, which I highly recommend. I listen to many episodes over the weekend to kind of get a better sense of your interview style. But I’d love to have you back in 2024 if you’re open to it. 

Sal Di Stefano: [01:11:22] Yeah, I’d love to. So, my podcast is called Mind Pump. That’s the best way to hear and see kind of what we’re doing. You can find it on YouTube, Spotify, any podcast app. We do provide a lot of information, but there’s also an entertainment component. This was something else that we learned when we train clients was the experience is very important. And so, when you listen to my show, you’re going to be entertained, you’re going to laugh, and you’ll also get informed and we did that on purpose. We’re trying to attract more people and not just be pure information. So, it’s kind of the style of the podcast. There’s three of us, there’s three guys, we’re all fathers, and so you’re going to hear us talk a little bit more broey, you’re going to hear a lot of father talk, you’re going to hear a lot of talk about marriage as well in the podcast. But our expertise is in health and fitness, so, yeah, come find us there. 

Cynthia Thurlow: [01:12:04] Awesome. Thank you so much. 

Sal Di Stefano: [01:12:07] Thank you. 

Cynthia Thurlow: [01:12:10] If you love this podcast episode, please leave a rating and review, subscribe, and tell a friend bye.