The following is a transcription taken from an interview with Jonny Bowden and Maximus Mark Ottobre on health, nutrition and everything in between.
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Mark: This podcast is proudly brought to you by www.maximusmark.com and Enterprise Fitness.
Hey, hey folks! It’s Maximus Mark and welcome to the show that punches you in the face with information but in a good way.
Today I have an absolutely amazing show. This guy doesn’t need an introduction as in my opinion he is the “Michael Jordan” of nutrition. He is the author of some of the best books and programs you’ll ever read including “150 Healthiest Foods on Earth”, “The Diet Boot Camp Program”, and one of my all-time favorite books, “Living Low Carb”.
As a side note, personally, he is one of my biggest influences and inspirations when it comes to teaching and educating people on the topic of health and nutrition. That’s why I have today Jonny Bowden on the line.
Welcome Jonny! Pleasure to have you on.
Jonny: Mark that’s just the sweetest introduction. I’m embarrassed and smiling, and I appreciate it more than I can say. Thank you but you’re too kind but thank you so much.
Mark: Well it’s all true!
So the first question I’d love to ask you is; how did you get into teaching health and nutrition?
Jonny: In a very indirect way. I was a musician, a professional musician for many years. I was – like many musicians – fat, out of shape. I smoked cigarettes. I came from the sex, drugs and rock and roll era so I was pretty much a physical mess. I used to tour a lot with musical theater productions and they get these actors. Actors are always in good shape, and there’s not a lot to do when you’re traveling around the country in these kinds of small towns, so I started hanging with some of the actors and I got curious and said, “Hey you, why do you lift these weights? What is this stuff anyway?”
I had never lifted a weight in my life, I couldn’t run around the block; a typical kind of musician. They began teaching me some basics, and I started hanging out with them, and I went to the gym once and twice and I just got bitten… I’m sure you’ve had this experience yourself, or know many people who have, got bitten by the bug of training…
You see the transformation that takes place in your own life and I started going from being fat, and overweight and out of shape, and unhealthy, and a smoker, and slowly started losing all the weight. I didn’t do it all at once, I continued to smoke while I went to the gym but I did start to see changes. I started to see changes in my energy, and in my sleep and in my body, and in my attitude and I just got bitten by this bug and I just wanted to become a zealot about it.
I grew up in New York City and I was in an overachieving academically, oriented, middle-class family and grew up in a Jewish home. So the first thing I thought of when I got interested in all these stuffs was “I got to get a degree in this!” because the only information available to those who were really interested in this stuff are magazines that we call over here “muscle and fiction” and you would get all this information about bodybuilding and it was all steroid influenced. It was very hard to separate the chaff from the wheat and figure out what was what.
So I wanted to get some kind of education and at the time I was still a professional musician; but I decided to take a course to become a certified personal trainer. That just did it for me. I took that first course and I was head-over-heels in love with this field and I decided that I needed to collect a few more certifications. I ultimately collected seven of them.
I applied for a day job in now a very famous (not at the time) health club called Equinox. At that time, Equinox was one single gym opening its first doors ever in Manhattan in 1990 and I got hired as a floor trainer. Meanwhile I was able to do my music gigs at night and I started working as a floor trainer at Equinox and again with my certifications I just got so interested and so involved in helping people do it, I wanted to know more, and I wanted to learn more so I went back to school for nutrition.
I got, (at that time) what was called a licensed certified nutritionist. Slowly but surely, I kind of transitioned out of the musical career and I started doing this full time. The more interest that I got in nutrition the more I realized what a huge contributing factor that was to people transforming their body and their health, I wanted to learn much more about that.
Truth be told, because I was a little bit older, I changed careers midstream. I think clients talked to me a little bit more and I started to question some of the stuff we had learned in personal trainers’ school about nutrition. I think you probably know that the nutrition education offered to personal trainers is very conventional in our country and comes from pretty much everything that’s sanctioned by the American Dietetic Association which is the probably the most Neanderthal and backwards organization that exists and probably has caused the detrimental effects on the health of America by skewing out that same old tired crap about the food pyramid and grains and all the stuff that they teach.
So we really only have this very standard nutrition information and the mantra at the time was low-fat diet and more aerobic exercise. The key to losing weight is just by cutting the calories and getting on the treadmill more and just eating a low-fat diet…
Except as you know; that doesn’t work for everybody, in fact, it didn’t work for a lot of people. It just wasn’t once in a while that you see an exception, you see these people on the treadmill, year in and year out, jogging along mindlessly not losing any weight, on these low-fat diets; it was all the rage. I began to question some of that and I had the good luck to encounter a man named Barry Sears, who is the author of the world famous Zone books. Barry came to town around the early 90’s and he was speaking at our gym in Equinox; I managed to corner him and he was talking about stuff that was really evolutionary at that time like “eat more fat”. Are you kidding? This is heresy.
I sat him down for a couple of hours and he was very generous with his time and he explained the hormonal connection to food and what really happens inside the body with all calories and how they aren’t created equal and really opened my eyes to a lot of these concepts that we had never ever studied or learned in “personal trainers’ school”.
That really inspired me to go back and get a Ph.D. in Holistic Nutrition. I passed my board exams for certified Nutrition Specialist. I got my first book deal in 2000 and I’ve been kind of preaching the gospel of… they call me the rogue nutritionist largely because many of the things that I teach and talk about, and write about are contrary to the prevailing opinion, although I’m happy to say that prevailing opinion is beginning to change dramatically, largely due to people like you, and to other health practitioners who are starting to question some of the conventional wisdom about low-fat diet, saturated fat, cholesterol causing heart disease and all of the other things we’ve been taught that are turning out to be very, very far from the truth.
Mark: Excellent. So when you went to, I guess, your certified nutrition degree, were you trained formally? Were you trained high carbohydrate, low-fat; were they teaching that as well?
Jonny: I got my Master’s, believe it or not, in Psychology. I didn’t really start studying nutrition wholeheartedly until I got my certified nutritionist license which is not terribly conventional; it’s a little bit more open-minded as far as that sort of stuff goes. I got my doctorate from a holistic place that really did emphasize vegetarianism far more than I was comfortable with; but it was much more broadly based in terms of looking at alternatives, and integrated techniques and traditional Chinese medicine.
So I wasn’t really indoctrinated too much at least in graduate school with the high carbohydrate, low-fat mantra. I’ve attended 8 zillion conferences and I read everything and you still see it everywhere (high carbohydrate/low fat). I just wasn’t… for example, like some of my colleagues who had to go out and do a registered dietician curriculum and they are really indoctrinated with this stuff. I was able to by-pass some of that in school but I certainly have not been able to by-pass it in the media, and in the writings I was exposed to, and the journals and articles and all the other places that this prescription, which I call prescription for disaster.
This prescription of low fat eating and aborting saturated fats at all cost and all of those notions I have not been able to avoid; nor has anybody else who turns on the news or read the newspaper but it’s kind of my mission to try to debunk as much of that as possible and to get people to see that there’s really more not only to weight loss but to health by not only simply avoiding fat and counting calories.
Mark: Excellent. So everyone knows to some degree, people know what’s healthy and what’s not; but why do you think people still choose the wrong foods?
Jonny: If you don’t mind Mark, I’d like to take that question in two parts.
And here’s why; I teach a class on how to become a weight loss coach, it’s a certification for weight loss coaches, and one of the first things I start with is the premise everybody says they know what to do, they just don’t do it.
I start with the premise I’m not so sure if people know what to do. I don’t know that I accept 100% the idea that people really know what to do and they just don’t do it because we have seen time and time and time again, people come into the office, and they come into the gym, they say, “I know what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m supposed to be having a nice breakfast of cereals and bananas and toast and orange juice, I know it, I just don’t do it.”
And I thought about it… Maybe we don’t really know what we are supposed to be eating. Because basically; If you’re trying to lose weight, that’s the wrong breakfast. It’s the wrong breakfast if you’re trying to manage blood sugar, diabetes and obesity.
So I usually back people up before they tell me, “I know what to do but I just don’t do it” Firstly, I really want to find out if they really do know what to do because very often Mark, you’ll find that they don’t.
The second part of the question, very legitimate part of the question, not that the first part wasn’t, but the premise of the first part is the one I want to question because I’m not so sure everybody knows what to do.
The second part is; there are a few who do know what to do but they have this enormous challenge that they have the information but they don’t put it in practice.
So my go-to example for this is cigarette smoking. There’s nobody on the planet whose smoking cigarettes cause they didn’t get the memo about lung cancer. There’s just nobody who’s going, “Wait a minute, nobody told me cigarettes cause lung cancer. Let me throw those cigarettes out immediately.” I’ve never seen that happen.
We definitely have a disconnection between the information and the action; and if I may give a shameless plug to my new program “Unleash Your Thin; that is precisely what that program addresses. Yes, first we need the right information and that’s a bit of a challenge too in this era of low fat diets and 6-11 servings of grains and all of the wrong information we hear. Getting the right information is a challenge.
But the bigger challenge is once you get that information, how do you get people to respond in a toxic environment when they are saturated with advertising for the worst kinds of food, where every cue co-exists to eat, you walk into a food court you smell donuts that are baking and you go into the office and you see these snack bars. There are a hundred different cues from television commercials to fast food courts, all sorts of things just beckoning you to be behave in away that is contrary to your interests and goals. It’s much like an alcoholic trying to stay sober when being exposed in a city like New Orleans where you have drive by Margaritas and there’s alcohol in every corner.
The bigger challenge is, how we monitor behavior and control brain chemistry in a way that we’re not constantly succumbing to these enormous temptations and that’s a very, very big issue. That’s one of the things we really try to tackle in “Unleash Your Thin.
Mark: What do you think is the key factor why so many people seem to struggle with weight loss? Is it as you said? There are just so many impulses to eat all time or there’s something more at play?
Jonny: I think it’s a very multi-factorial kind of issue. By multi-factorial, I mean weight gain or obesity or the inability to lose weight, it’s never caused by just one thing.
There are probably more factors than we haven’t even figured out yet. Genetics probably play a small part, not a very big part, but a part. Hormones play an enormous part, psychology plays an enormous part, for some people, it’s more about comforting themselves and feeling good and kind of trying to manage their depression, or their feelings of hopelessness and just feeling good when they eat certain foods.
For other people it’s just a matter of blood sugar, for some other people, it just maybe a matter of brain chemistry. These things contribute different amounts in each case. But I think some of the main culprits when it comes to not being able to manage weight certainly involves hormones and by hormones, what I mean is when you eat certain foods, your blood sugar goes up, when your blood sugar goes up, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin, which of course you know, and insulin’s job… it has many jobs and one of its jobs is to collect all that excess sugar, get it the heck out of the bloodstream where it can do real damage and feed it into the muscles cells where they can use it for energy.
Well the problem with this system is it breaks down when you overload the body with too much sugar and when you combine that with a sedentary lifestyle, the muscle cells have no use for extra sugar. So now the muscle cells start to close their doors to the sugar and say, “Hey go somewhere else, we don’t need it. This guy’s going to sit around and use a computer all day. What do we need fuel for? Take that sugar somewhere else!”
When you have that kind of situation, you’ve got this hormone, insulin, which is really a fat storage hormone and it’s walking around desperately trying to find a place to put that extra sugar, and guess where it goes… to the fat cells. When you are creating an internal environment in which your fat storage hormone, insulin, is constantly elevated, it is going to be difficult to lose weight, next to impossible. So the hormonal impact of eating needs to be addressed and you just don’t get that by counting calories because a thousand calories of pure fat, will have virtually no effect on your fat storing hormone insulin, (I’m not saying that you should go out and drink a thousand calories of pure fat, I’m simply saying that when you look at it from a hormonal point of view, fat has the least effect on blood sugar and insulin.)
Carbohydrates has the most effect. So, a thousand calories of sugar or anything that converts to sugar quickly in the body has a much more profound fat storing effect on the hormone than, say, a thousand calories of fat. So calories alone, while they are important, are not the whole picture the way we’ve been taught. It’s what those calories are made of and what effect it has on our hormones.
Mark: I 100% agree with that. That’s really well put. So a lot of people feel guilty for eating certain foods. Now I advise my clients and listeners to eliminate all guilt entirely as it relates to food because I don’t believe it’s very healthy for them to feel guilty about eating things. What’s your thoughts on guilt and food, I mean, why do so many people have guilt associated with so many different types of foods?
Jonny: Again, there’s many reasons for that. Sometimes we’re guilty for eating foods that we’ve been taught are bad for us. It’s just like, “I know I shouldn’t be doing this but I’m doing it.” Ironically, many of those foods that we feel guilty about are probably way better than the ones we think we shouldn’t be guilty about because we’ve been taught it’s healthy.
But certainly that’s part of it. I think part of it, is that we humans, always have a conflict between delayed gratification and immediate gratification. Here you got this one thing that you know that if you eat it you’re going to feel good, it’s going to taste good, you know right there what the pleasure’s going to be; but you also know that long term it’s not going to serve you in your best interest.
If your best interest is to live in a healthy, slim, sexy, energetic body that you can be proud of, you know that eating a huge shake and fries at McDonald’s or any of these ridiculously high calorie meals and junk foods, is certainly not in your long term interest but on the other hand you got this conflict because right now it looks mighty good and it’s delicious and you know it’s going to feel good, you got it down and it feels good in your mouth, so we feel a little guilty for kind of grabbing that immediate gratification, know full well that we have to pay the price later on.
It’s kind of like putting something on the credit card that you know you’re not going to have the money to pay for, you feel a little guilty but you’re also overwhelmed by the desire to have the thing. So I think that’s where some of the guilt comes in. The point about guilt is, guilt is only useful to us if it serves as some guide to behavior and it’s just the same as beating yourself up, what’s the point? I mean, if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it and enjoy it!
Guilt is only useful if it gives you cause and you think, “You know maybe this really isn’t in my best interest, maybe there’s something bigger at the end of the rainbow that’s worth striving for like living longer, not being on medicine, not being diabetic, not being obese, being able to have an active sex life in your 70’s. Maybe there’s a bigger picture than this stupid donut that I’ve just got to have right now. So I think if guilt or let’s say reflection causes you to have some ‘pause’ about those action, then it’s a good thing. But if it’s simply a way of beating yourself up, then what’s the purpose?
Mark: Yeah, for sure. Do you think people eat their memories in a sense; like when people drive through McDonald’s they think there’s an association with when they were 5 years old and being loved and having birthdays or events there? Do you think that comes into play a lot?
Jonny: Not only do I think it comes into play, I would say its one of the smartest questions I’ve been asked!
When we did the research for Unleash Your Thin we talked about this. We looked into dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter in the brain, that’s very involved in the anticipation and in the reward system. And there’s very little doubt in my mind that these things are conditioned to come very early on. If you have an association of warmth, and love, and comfort, to say, your mom’s apple pie, you can believe that that association is going to persist for a very, very long time and when you see apple pie (whether your consciousness or not), it’s going to have a profound association to a state in which you were very happy, and very content and you’re going to desire that thing more and it is mediated by this neurochemical called dopamine.
If you can’t manage that kind of association; it’s going to be very hard to stop the thing, the habits, much like cigarettes. You know I was an ex-smoker and I can tell you that there are certain times of the day, certain meals, certain activities that are very heavily associated with smoking and when those things come up, it’s a subconscious act that happens in a flash, you get this surge of desire and it’s very related to those early memories, and I think you’re 100% right in identifying that, and I think breaking that link, breaking that chain of command is one of the most critical things you can do in breaking addictions.
Make no mistake, these foods that we eat that destroy our body and health and make us fat, sick, tired, and depressed are foods we’re addicted to. And I believe very strongly that the same techniques that are used in conquering or working with the challenge of addiction are very, very applicable to working with the challenge of food addiction.
Mark: Definitely. A lot of people say they want to lose weight or they say they want to be lean, however, I believe a lot of people have subconscious or unconscious motivations towards being the way they are. How would you help a client through that?
Jonny: That is a very, very good question and I think you’ll probably agree; it goes a little beyond the pace-scale of the average personal trainer or nutritionist because now you’re talking about some deep-seeded psychological stuff.
For example, when I was still in private practice; we had in the clinic a woman who had been raped as a teenager. Obviously one of the most traumatic experiences you can imagine, just unthinkable. As it turned out, we dealt with the fact that in many ways her staying fat, really fat, in her mind, made her unattractive and therefore less of a target, it was a way of keeping people away.
Now, it may not have been the smartest or the most empowering way to do it but it clearly was a strategy that served its psychological purpose. I don’t know that any nutritionist or personal trainer can really work with that directly, I think that that’s something that needs maybe a team effort, maybe you need a psychologist, or therapist or women’s group or support group or some sort of agency that works with that kind of dynamic in addition to the food and the exercise component of it because here you’re dealing with very deep-seeded, self-images and defensive strategies, so I don’t know if there is one way to deal with something like that but I think that’s the kind of thing you’re talking about where someone gets some kind of reward out of being fat.
Maybe they’re the ‘happy’ person in the bunch, whether or not they feel it subconsciously, it keeps them away from them, it helps them from being a victim. There can be all kinds of things. There can be sexual hang-ups where they feel by staying fat, they are out of the rat race of looking for people as partners. This stuff is kind of deep and it’s a little bit beyond the scope of the average person working simply in health and nutrition; but it’s good for us to know about that so that when we recognize that sort of thing, much like with anorexia.
We were taught as trainers, we had all kinds of courses, largely because of the legal liabilities with anorexia, so that we can recognize someone who’s anorexic and someone who’s going on the treadmill for 3 hours a day trying to do their version of exercise, bulimia and when they are in that danger state, we could recognize it; but we’re not taught to treat it.
We were taught to recognize it so that we could guide these people to more appropriate agencies that can help them with it. So I think the ability to recognize that shows a certain wisdom and maturity; but I don’t know that we are necessarily the right people to be handling it for them.
Mark: Right. So have you ever seen cases, for example that case you just gave, where when someone is trying to do all the right things and they are eating the right foods, they present their food journal but they still have this hang-up about being the way they are, is it almost they think of themselves as overweight or unhealthy, even though they’re doing all the right things?
Jonny: If you’re talking of something like body-dysmorphia where a person; (I used to see a lot of the in New York), you see these models who were pretty thin and they look in the mirror and see themselves fat, is that what you’re kind of talking about?
Mark: No, no. I mean, they don’t actually lose any weight so for example you have a female, she is training 4 days a week, she’s eating all the right foods, yet she still has this hang-up that she needs to be overweight because unconsciously she can’t handle the attention so therefore she puts on the extra weight and therefore she doesn’t get the attention that she might otherwise get and she still training and everything but she’s has this unconscious motivation towards being overweight.
Jonny: Yes, I think that’s exactly what we’re just talking about. Where this is being fed by some much deeper need and its probably an issue out of my pay scale.
Yes, I certainly think that’s true. And I also think, and this is really hypothetical and maybe too much of a granola issue out there for a lot of people, really there’s no studies to prove this; but I do think that on a cellular level, our thoughts and beliefs systems influence everything.
I don’t think it would be impossible although I would never want to go in front of a scientific group and say, “This is my hypothesis, lets test it” because I would be laughed at; but I think between you and me, the wall post and our listeners; There is a real possibility that on some level, thoughts do influence what happens on a the cellular level.
Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was at the height of the bodybuilding world, used to talk about doing shoulder exercises and putting his mind into the deltoids, literally, willing those muscles to grow and actually putting all this attention into it. Now, did that account for his ridiculous growth and amazing body? I don’t know. It’s the hypothesis that makes sense to me.
Mark: How would you describe your health and nutrition philosophy?
Jonny: Well, the first thing would be that everybody’s different. I’m a huge believer in biochemical individuality. We all share some certain things as humans but our hormones, our enzymes, our bones, the size of our glands, the number of beta cells in the pancreas, the size of the thyroid gland, these are very variable things.
And I think the search for the perfect diet is always fault with disaster. What we should be looking for is the perfect fit between this human being and this program. So much like on dating sites, not everybody’s looking for a 6 foot guy with muscles, some people are looking for a short bald college professor; and not every guy’s looking for a blonde who looks like Pamela Anderson, some are look for something else.
So just as we are not attracted to the same kind of people, we don’t respond equally to the same diet. I think that the starting point for any health and nutrition philosophy should be that we need to respect our individuality, that we need to take a diet program (maybe even one of my own) and tweak it, so that it really fits you, just like altering a suit off the rack. So that’s number one.
Number two, going back to search for the perfect diet, people have thrived on diets high in protein, low in protein, high in carbohydrates, low in carbohydrates, high in fat, low in fat, but none of them have thrived on a diet high in processed foods or diets high in sugar.
So when Weston Price, the dentist who wrote one of these seminal nutrition text in the 1920’s, when he went around and studied 15 different indigenous societies, looking at their teeth, their bone structure, and their nutrition; he found this remarkable variation in the diets.
He found small societies up in the Swiss Alps where there’s almost no communication with the cities and all they did was live on fresh cream and milk of these cows in the village. In Greenland, the Inuit; they don’t eat vegetables because nothing grows up there in snow, they eat walrus meat and seal fat, and so it’s a completely different diet.
Yet one after the other of these societies he found remarkable consistency in the health of the people who ate their native diet versus their relatives who have moved to the big city and started to eat processed food. So genetically, these people were identical but as soon as they start eating the processed food diet, their teeth started looking bad, their jaws formation looked different, he has pictures in the book, they were very dramatic, you can really see these differences, they’re not imagined, it’s apparent immediately.
I think if there’s any one basic nutritional truth, it’s that we were meant to eat (I call it Jonny Bowden 4 food groups) foods you could hunt, fish, gather or pluck. So if you are naked on the African savannah on a plane with a stick, what could you gather or pluck or hunt or fish? What could you pull back to the village to eat?
That’s a good way to look at any kind of basic nutritional truth. We lived on the diet that we could hunt and fish and gather and pluck for the 2.4 million years of the human genus has been on the planet. McDonalds came around in 1957.
Where should we look for guidance as to the natural fuel for the human body? I think the answer’s very clear, foods that’s been around the longest and that has sustained the human genus for the longest amount of time, the foods that are in the least processed forms, food that you could hunt or fish, and may I point out, nobody hunted low fat caribou, we ate the whole thing.
So I think that’s probably the core of my philosophy; the closer you can get to the way you would have eaten that way, the better it is. Obviously, we’re not going to go out and hunt our buffalo and gather nuts and berries, but we can try to mimic that style of eating as much as possible. And I think to the extent that we are able to mimic that, we’re going to have huge benefits in our health.
Mark: You spoke a little bit about Weston Price. One of the things that struck me is the stuff that he did with butter, how he drew correlation between the potency, if you will, of the butter and the health of the culture. Can you talk a little about butter?
Jonny: If you don’t mind, let’s just put this in context because I think the bigger question here is let’s talk about saturated fat.
Because if you think about this, why is it that we avoid things or why we’ve been taught to avoid things like butter or coconut oil or any of these things and it’s largely because of our almost religious fear of saturated fat. The fact is, and I believe this is something that is slowly, slowly beginning to shift, the fact is that we have been terribly misled about the dangers of saturated fat.
That has resulted in the wholesale substitution of healthy, saturated fats for very unhealthy, highly processed polyunsaturated fats like corn oil, all restaurants now use and deep fry in; producing all kinds of damaged molecules and carcinogens and all sorts of other things that are really way worse than the saturated fat they replaced.
There’s nothing wrong with the saturated fat, by the way, half of the fat in butter isn’t even saturated, half of it is monounsaturated. But the point is that there’s nothing really to fear from this natural whole food sources like butter and coconut oil and ghee (that is used in Indian cooking) and things like that, because the saturated fat that is found in natural whole foods is a very different fat compared with things like transfats.
Transfats are often found together with saturated fats and which in my opinion, in the early studies, they were all lumped together, and I think much of the bad rap that the saturated fat got was because people weren’t able to make a distinction at that time between transfats and saturated fats. Transfats were doing all the damage and saturated fat was getting blamed.
Mark: What do you think healthy people have in common?
Jonny: Well that’s an interesting question because I did a book last year called “The Most Effective Way to Live Longer” and I reviewed in that book, there’s a fair amount of research that’s been done on long lived societies; places around the globe where there is a disproportionate number of healthy centenarians, these are people living to a hundred, but they are not living in assisted living, they’re out there milking cows at 4:00 in the morning, climbing mountains in Sardinia, shepherding and stuff like that.
Mark: Was that the blue zone?
Jonny: The blue zones are certainly four of those areas, there’s a couple that had been found since he wrote the book “The Blue Zones” but yes I certainly discussed Dan Buettner wonderful work on the “Blue Zones” in my book.
I looked into other studies besides that and trying to find some commonalities among these really healthy people. It’s kind of interesting, we think, “Are they all vegetarians?” No. As a matter of fact, in the blue zones, 3 of the 4 societies he studied were not vegetarians, the only one that is was an Indian tribe and that’s because they’re all Seventh day Adventist and that’s part of their religion, the other 3 absolutely eat meat.
Another question was do they all eat yogurt? Well no, the ones in Okinawa ate a lot of fish and the ones off the peninsula of Costa Rica eat a very different kind of diet. In the “Blue Zones” and in my book “Most Effective Ways to Live Longer” we did find certain things that seem to be a staple in the diets of long lived people. But I don’t think it’s really one food or one thing because the pattern that I noticed and the pattern I talk about is one that goes beyond just diet.
The most common thing about these long lived healthy people is that none of them lived in isolation, they’re all connected. They’re connected to other people, they’re connected to their community, they do volunteer work, they had popup dinners, they see their family… I’m not talking about Facebook, I mean face to face, they see the people that they’re connected to and they make a contribution and they feel they’re necessary and needed and this seems to be one of the best life promoting things you could possibly have. These people are all active, in many of these places particularly on those little corners of the world that we refer to as “blue zones”, they don’t even have gyms, they don’t even know what gym is.
But they’re out there gardening. They’re out there mowing, they’re out there, as I’ve said, shepherding sheep in the mountain in Sardinia. They’re growing things. Whatever they’re doing, they’re moving. They’re active. They’re getting some sunlight. They’re talking to other people. They’re connected, and they’re mostly eating diets of non processed foods. So even though there’s a lot of variety among the diets of the longest lived people in the world, the one stable truth is that none of them lived on processed foods and the sugar content of their diet is extremely low.
So I think if you’re looking for a few basic things that you can hang your head on as far as longevity goes, it would be whole foods, low sugar, exercise all the time, get some sunlight, sleep well and spend a lot of time with people closest to you, make a contribution, get connected to other people, these are the things that really enhance life and longevity.
Mark: One of the questions, one of my friends always asks me and we had a discussion about it, do these societies or cultures eat any grains in their diet? I mean, were grains available, was it really only 10,000 years ago that when we industrialized grains and food supply that we actually had access to grains?
Jonny: As you know, grains are relatively new in the history of the human genus. Agriculture really is only 10,000 years old, that sounds like it’s pretty old. But when you look at a 24-hour time clock and it’s 2.4 million years of the human genus, that 10,000 years ago is half a second on that 24-hour time frame.
There’s a very famous paper on nutrition called “Cereal Grains: Humanities Double-Edged Sword”. It’s a hundred page paper in which he argues very cogently that we would not have civilization if it weren’t for grains. We couldn’t support 6.2 billion people wandering around hunting and gathering. So in order for cities to exist, you needed some form of food and calories that could be grown and processed and kept on supermarket shelves. So grains did probably help build ‘civilization‘ as we know it today, if you think that the planet is in good shape, it’s probably due to grains, but you could argue that either way.
Mark: I had Leah Keith on a couple of months ago, she said eating grains is the worst thing we have ever done in the human history to the planet. She talks about grains drying out the American prairies and wetlands and all sorts of things…
Jonny: Well, but it’s a double-edged sword, there are certainly many things, you could have indigenous people who couldn’t eat them.
But I think we have been oversold their benefits. I’m not someone who thinks all grains are poison and we should never touch them but I’m someone who thinks we can do perfectly well without them. And they do come with a different set of problems that many people don’t really get, one of which is gluten sensitivity which doesn’t affect everybody, but it affects a lot of people.
A second of which is that even whole grain raises blood sugar just as much as the processed kind. If you look at glycemic index and glycemic load tables, those are measurements of how fast a food raises your blood sugar and how quickly it embraces it and how long it keeps it up there. You’ll notice that the difference between white rice and brown rice is only a couple of points.
The brown rice has arguably a few more nutrients than white, but grains as a whole are not nutritional powerhouses. We’ve been taught this load of malarkey that you need fiber and you get fiber from grains. Well, take a look at the label of your bread, maybe you got one gram of fiber in there. Most cereals you’re lucky to get one gram, maybe two. These are not fiber heavyweights at all despite the tremendous lobbying efforts of the agricultural interest that convinces that we must have grains for fiber.
You’ll get ten times more fiber in a serving of beans; and avocado’s got more fiber than bread. Avocado’s a pretty high fiber food. We don’t need grains for fiber, most of the nutrients we get from grains are just stuff they threw back in after they were robbed of it in the processing. So I don’t think that they’re nutritional powerhouses, I think that we could probably cut back from our grains without doing any real damage to our health and for some of us, we don’t need them at all.
Mark: As you got off cigarettes and you reprogrammed your mind for health, what are some steps that people can do today to reprogram their minds for health?
Jonny: I’ll give you just one of the exercises we did in “Unleash Your Thin” in the workbook.
You brought this up very brilliantly earlier when you asked about associations we have to food that go back to age 5, comfort, and memory and even sense memories, the smell, the taste or the look. So if we have all these positive associations to something, it’s going to condition us to want it and to find it desirable.
Now one of my examples is a cigarette. If my association to a cigarette is, “Wow! I’m going to relax,” or “Wow! This comes right after breakfast (or right after sex),” all the times that have been found to be number one association with cigarettes. Those are powerful pleasant associations, how do you combat that?
Well, one exercise we do is to come up with an image to compete with those pleasant ones. So for example, if you ever looked at an x-ray of a diseased lung or if you ever looked at photograph of one of those people who has to talk out of tracheotomy (you know the voice boxes with a hole in the neck)
Well, I suppose every time you thought of having a cigarette that’s what you thought of. Instead of “Wow, it’s going to be relaxing. I’m lying on bed in the Caribbean, after sex, we’re going to have cigarettes”; That’s what you thought of, that diseased lung.
So you can actually reprogram yourself, to condition yourself to these nauseous, horrendous stimuli that is associated with your cigarette and all of a sudden that cigarette is not going to look as good. Now when you think of it, you think about the lady that talks like a robot through the tracheotomy. Now, I’m not saying this is easy to do, no, but this is the way that you can slowly but surely, reprogram your brain to have less positive associations to the things that are now derailing your health. And I think it’s that kind of homework that can really be helpful in demystifying some of these cravings and compulsions to eat the stuffs that make you sick, tired and depressed.
Mark: If you told someone to stop eating one sort of food, what would it be?
Jonny: Sodas and French fries.
I always say with foods, treat them as friends. There are very few foods or people that are all bad or all good. You might have a friend who’s just terrific to go to a sporting event, that you love to go to a basketball game but maybe that’s not the friend you would talk about intimate issues in your marriage, maybe that would be a different kind of a friend.
Well much like food, you take wild salmon; one of the greatest sources in the world, the protein, of antioxidants, and selenium but it has no fiber. You take a high fiber food, there’s no protein, or there’s no Omega-3. No food is really perfect and gives you that you need and likewise most foods are not really all bad either, even something that might be high glycemic might have a lot of nutrients that would be useful.
French fries and sodas are pretty much pure evil, they do not have one good thing on them on any level. There’s no way to say, “Well, it doesn’t have these but on the other hand it has this,” no, it has nothing of any value, all it does is damage to you. There’s not one thing good to say to either one of those two things, so if I were going to take off two things out of the average diet, it would be French fries, potatoes and sodas.
Mark: Excellent. I guess this is the last question, where do you see is the state of the world’s food supply?
Jonny: I have to tell you that that one is beyond my pay-scale.
I’m always in awe with people who study that sort of thing because it really requires knowledge of economics, politics, health policy, international trade, a lot of stuff that I am just not knowledgeable about and to make any kind of statement that would be worthwhile.
I’d be like an actor giving their thoughts on some political policy. I’m just another citizen with an opinion on that, I don’t know enough about it. My niche is in helping the individual make the right choices given what’s available and how to get better things available to more people. I have to leave to people who hopefully are passionate about that and have a lot more knowledge about that than I do.
Mark: You’re right. Now if people want to visit you on the web, your at www.jonnybowden.com?
Jonny: People would like to see my new program, all you have to do is click here and I’d love people to go to my website and subscribe to my free newsletter and stay in touch with me and write me and anything else you want to do.
Mark: It’s great news that I’ve been a part of it, I don’t know how long, but it’s been a number of years.
Jonny: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Mark: How long have you been blogging for?
Jonny: About 10 years.
Mark: Unbelievable. Thank you so much for the call today.
Jonny: Thank you, it’s been my pleasure Mark. Keep up your wonderful work, you’re really one of the leading lights. Honor to do this with you and appreciate you having me.
Mark: Thank you so much. I’m looking forward to having you again soon.
Jonny: You bet. Bye bye.
Mark: Take care Jonny, bye.