Short Version: Primal has been proven right.
Longer Version: Endorsed by the world-wide scientific community including top doctors at the Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins, and UCLA, and approved as curriculum for registered dieticians (RDs) by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the single largest meta-analysis of health and fitness ever conducted shows that conventional “eat less, exercise more” approaches are far less effective than going Primal, harm our health, and lead to fat gain 95.4 percent of the time.
Much like Mark, my journey into the science of wellness started because I was fed-up with the counterproductive nature of conventional wisdom. Over a decade ago I worked as a personal trainer and spent my days helping people eat less and exercise more. It didn’t take long for me to see the now proven fact that this conventional wisdom fails long-term over 95% of the time. Sure, as long as my clients paid me to “force” them to starve themselves and exercise obsessively, they’d lose weight. Then life would happen and 19 out of 20 of them would gain it all back and then some. Worse off than before they trained with me, they were disappointed and I was frustrated. Everything I was taught as a trainer said that I was doing the right thing. But how could this conventional wisdom be right if it was failing 19 out of 20 times?
Determined to help rather than hurt my clients, I decided to leave my job as a personal trainer and spend my time researching a sustainable approach to health and fitness.
Having exhausted conventional wisdom, I turned to the only resource I had left: Raw science. Not what magazines published. Not what the news reported. Just dense, dry, and difficult to acquire academic studies from all around the world. If an academic researcher didn’t write it in a peer-reviewed journal or in an email to me or explain it to me over the phone, I wasn’t interested in it. I wanted to know what the actual experts—aka scientists/researchers…people who spend their lives in labs vs. on television—had proven about long-term fat-loss and health.
Ten years of collaboration with top medical researchers around the world, over 1,100 studies, and more than 10,000 pages of scientific research later, I realized—to my surprise and delight—that the proven key to practical and permanent wellness is to eat more and exercise less—but smarter. I then picked up a copy of The Primal Blueprint and realized that a gentleman named Mark Sisson had also discovered this smarter science…and here we are today.
In my experience, those who go Primal know it’s right since the results speak for themselves. What I hope to do here and in future posts is to reinforce your resolve with massive collection of science previously unavailable to the public. As an added bonus, we’ve been fortunate enough to receive endorsements from world-wide scientific community including top doctors at the Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins, and UCLA, and have been approved as curriculum for registered dieticians (RDs) by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, so let’s just say that you’ll be quite equipped to assist those who haven’t yet seen the science.
Let’s get started.
Mark and I may use different words, but our about eating and exercise findings are essentially the same. Here’s a quick overview. I’ll dig more into the science in future posts.
Mark speaks to the body’s wisdom and desire to keep us healthy automatically. We didn’t evolve to be heavy and sick. My research confirms this by digging into the endocrine and neurological signals of the metabolic regulatory system that control how much we eat, how many calories we burn, and how much body fat we store. It also shows that when we “eat poisonous things,” this system gets clogged up and begins to regulate us around a higher set-point weight. Thus, long-term fat loss has nothing to do with counting calories and everything to do with restoring our body’s natural ability to regulate our weight appropriately.
Consider a study done at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Researchers examined both heavy and thin people to see how their metabolism behaved when they were given no calories. As expected, everyone’s system slowed down and everyone burned body fat, but here’s the kicker: Thin people burned off nearly 50% more body fat than heavy people.
Think about that for a second. Despite having more body fat, the heavy people burned less body fat. In the words of the researchers, “Obese patients could not take advantage of their most abundant fat fuel sources but have to depend on the efficient use of…the breakdown products of body protein [muscle].”
Where Patients’ Metabolisms Got Energy
The heavy people needed to burn body fat, but did not burn body fat effectively. This is just one of many clinical examples of losing our natural ability to regulate weight appropriately. The researchers put the problem like this: “Profound metabolic disturbances exist in the obese state that constantly interfere with normal hormonal responses [the ability to burn body fat].”
We don’t have to manually regulate breaths in and breaths out, nor do we have to manually regulate calories in and calories out, as long as we adhere to the ancient wisdom of our ancestors and modern wisdom of the most rigorous metabolic research available: Eat more—but higher quality food and do less—but higher quality exercise.
[The simplistic notion] that weight can be controlled by ‘deciding’ to eat less and exercise more…is at odds with substantial scientific evidence illuminating a precise and powerful biologic system that maintains body weight within a relatively narrow range.
– Dr. J.M. Friedman, Rockefeller University
Millions of naturally thin people and millions of years of evolution demonstrate that our body can keep us thin automatically. The key question is how can we “reprogram our genes” to make our bodies work more like the bodies of naturally thin people? There’s a lot of science showing us exactly how to do this. We just haven’t had access to it…until now.
Mark has soundly debunked the myth that “a calorie is a calorie,” and shows that food quality matters immensely. There’s no shortage of studies supporting this. The academic research community has long proven that the quality of a calorie depends on four factors:
Satiety is how quickly calories fill us up. Aggression is how likely calories are to be stored as body fat. Nutrition is how many vitamins, minerals, amino acids, essential fatty acids, etc., calories provide. Efficiency is how easily calories are converted into body fat. SANE—or high quality, fat burning, and health promoting foods—are rich in water, fiber, and protein and are the basis of a Primal lifestyle: non-starchy vegetables, seafood, meat, eggs, berries, citrus, nuts, seeds, etc.
More good news: Study after study confirm that we can achieve what Mark calls “effortless weight loss” by eating more of these SANE Primal foods. For example, in all of the studies that follow, everyone ate the exact same quantity of calories, but one group’s calories were of much higher quality (aka more Primal, more SANE):
We all know about the importance of hormones when it comes to long-term wellness. We’re not alone. The most brilliant minds in the research community have proven that the sooner we heal our hormones, the sooner our body will do what it’s designed to do: keep us healthy and fit. Dr. P.J. Havel from the University of California presents the scientific explanation of how hormones handle our love handles:
Short-term signals are primarily from the GI tract (e.g., CCK and GI stretch receptors) and are involved in promoting sensations of satiety that lead to meal termination. These short-term signals by themselves are not sufficient to regulate energy balance and body adiposity. The long-term signals insulin and leptin are produced and circulate in proportion to recent energy intake and body adiposity. Together, the short- and long-term signals interact to regulate energy balance in that insulin and leptin appear to determine the sensitivity of the brain to the satiety-producing effects of the short-term signals from the GI tract.
In other words, our digestive system, muscle tissue, and fat tissue are constantly communicating with our nervous system and brain via hormones. As long as we do not interfere with this communication, millions of years of evolution ensure that our weight and health will take care of itself.
“Insidious fat gain,” as Mark calls it, occurs when we lose our natural ability to stay slim, that is, when our hormonal system breaks down. J. Le Magnen in the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews puts it like this: “Humans that become obese gain weight because they are no longer able to lose weight.” Le Magnen’s statement is brilliant. Gaining body fat because we lost the ability to burn body fat thanks to straying from our primal blueprint and creating hormonal havoc is totally different than gaining body fat because we eat too much or exercise too little. And if we are gaining body fat because we’ve veered away from that blueprint, the solution is not to eat less or exercise more. It’s to move back in line with our ancestry by eating more and exercising less—but smarter.
These three primal words summarize thousands of pages of exercise physiology research. The science is clear: When it comes to long-term fat loss and health, we do not need to exercise more. We need to exercise smarter. We need to increase the quality/intensity of our exercise, not the quantity of our exercise. In fact, the higher the quality of our exercise, the less of it we can do. But more on that and resistance training in a later post. For now let’s focus on high-quality brief cardiovascular exercise…aka “sprinting once in a while.”
University of Virginia researcher B.A. Irving took two groups of women and had them do conventional low-quality cardiovascular exercise or high-quality brief cardiovascular exercise. The two groups burned the same number of calories exercising, but the high-quality brief cardiovascular exercise group spent significantly less time exercising while losing significantly more belly fat.
McMaster University researcher M. Gibala separated people into high quality brief cardiovascular exercise and traditional cardiovascular exercise groups. Over the course of the two-week study, the brief cardiovascular group exercised for two-and-a-half hours while the traditional cardiovascular exercise group exercised for ten-and-a-half hours. At the end of the study both groups got the same results even though the high-quality brief cardiovascular exercise group spent 320% less time exercising than the traditional cardiovascular exercise group. The researcher put it like this: “We thought there would be benefits, but we did not expect them to be this obvious. It shows how effective short intense exercise can be.”
Many more studies show the same encouraging results and further prove that hours of conventional exercise per week are not needed. Consider this small sample:
Even day-to-day cardiovascular benefits like not being out of breath after walking up a few flights of stairs are achieved faster with high-quality exercise. Edward Coyle’s research at the University of Texas found: “Interval training in untrained people can markedly increase aerobic endurance…. This serves as a dramatic reminder of the potency of exercise intensity…. Interval training is very time efficient with much ‘bang for the buck.’” Old Dominion University researcher D.P. Swain adds: “Vigorous intensity exercise has been shown to increase aerobic fitness more effectively than moderate intensity exercise, suggesting that the former may confer greater cardioprotective benefits.”
There’s a famous quote along the lines of dissatisfaction is the mother of innovation. Mark’s dissatisfaction led to The Primal Blueprint. My dissatisfaction led to The Smarter Science of Slim. Take our collective dissatisfaction with convention and add in Primal wisdom, modern science, the support of the world-wide scientific community, and a growing percentage of the mainstream dietetic community, and we should all be proud to be part of a movement that will leave a legacy as vital as the ancestral legacy we’re living.
Genes provide the blueprint, modern science confirms it, and now we get to live a life that will keep us healthy and slim practically and permanently. As we “honor our genes,” we can smile even bigger and let our eyes shine even brighter knowing that we have the single largest meta-analysis of wellness ever conducted supporting us, and that the mainstream will be along shortly.