Interview: Jonathan Bailor of ‘The Smarter Science of Slim,’ part two

Here’s part two of the interview I conducted with Jonathan Bailor, author of The Smarter Science of Slim.

Fat Head: Based on your definitions of SANE and inSANE foods, what are the three worst foods you see people typically consume?

1. Any beverage with a high concentration of sugar or high-fructose corn syrup (e.g., regular soda)
2. Foods full of processed starch combined with sugar (e.g., cakes, pies, snack cakes, doughnuts, etc.)
3. Foods that are fundamentally sugar or processed starch (e.g., candy, white bread, etc.)

Fat Head: You also state that the quality of food affects our need and ability to burn fat.  I know it’s a complex topic, but as briefly and simply as you can explain it, how does higher-quality food enable us to burn fat more efficiently?

Jonathan: The need to burn fat (distinct from the need to slow down and to burn muscle) means our body has an abundance of nutrition and a shortage of calories. When there’s an abundance of nutrition and a shortage of calories, the body wants to burn fat to fuel itself instead of slowing down and burning muscle.

The ability to burn fat means metabolizing fat for fuel is “easy” given our hormone levels. For example, if we have the hormone insulin circulating in our bloodstream, it is not “easy” for our body to burn fat for fuel. No matter how much we need to burn fat at that point in time, insulin has removed our ability to do so effectively.

High-quality food provides an abundance of nutrition and satisfies us so effectively that we avoid overeating. Additionally, high-quality food creates a hormonal environment that makes it much easier for us to burn fat for fuel. More nutrition plus less overeating and healed hormones enables our body to burn fat rather than slowing down and burning muscle.

Fat Head: The USDA recommends eating nutrient-dense food, but advises against eating red meat.  Isn’t red meat nutrient-dense?

Jonathan: If we divide the nutrition provided in a serving of lean red meat by the calories provided in a serving, we see that lean red meat is nutrient-dense.

Fat Head: Are whole grains nutrient-dense?  Do you ever eat them?

Jonathan: Dividing nutrition per serving by calories per serving, we see that whole grains are less nutrient-dense than non-starchy vegetables, seafood, lean meats, low-fat or fat-free plain Greek yogurt, low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese, citrus fruits, and berries, as well as most nuts and seeds. Therefore, we would be better off eating so much of the aforementioned nutrient-dense foods that we’re too full for less nutrient-dense whole grains. For example, when we’re out to eat, we could easily tell our server, “Please hold the starch and double the vegetables.”

I personally do not eat any whole grains because they do not further my health and fitness goals.

Fat Head: I’ve seen quite a few guidelines on how much protein a person should eat, and they’re all over the place.  According to one expert, I only need about 50 grams of protein per day.  The Protein Power guidelines put me at around 130 grams per day.  According to both you and Tim Ferriss, I should be consuming closer to 200 grams per day.  That’s a lot of protein.  What would be the advantage for me of consuming that much?

Jonathan: Lean sources of protein are very satisfying, positively impact our hormonal balance, are nutrient dense, and are relatively difficult for the body to convert into body fat. Also, we have to eat something, so focusing on protein-rich foods is a great way to satisfy ourselves while ensuring both the need and the ability to burn fat. Put differently, if you didn’t get about a third of your calories from protein, you’d be getting them from foods that are less likely to ensure you have both the need and the ability to burn fat.

Fat Head: You suggest consuming at least 30 grams of protein soon after waking.  I’ve been doing the opposite lately, limiting my meals to lunch and dinner as a form of intermittent fasting, which I presume you’d advise against.  Why should I eat a protein-rich breakfast in the morning if I’m not actually hungry?

Jonathan: Studies show that consuming protein every three to four hours boosts the metabolism (need to burn fat) and creates a hormonal environment more optimized for fat burning (ability to burn fat). I, too, am not hungry when I wake up. As a solution, I’ve found mixing whey protein powder with a big glass of water is a great way to boost the metabolism and help hormones even when hunger isn’t present. I also mix two tablespoons of wheat grass powder into my protein shake to sneak a few servings of non-starchy vegetables in.

Fat Head: How do you feel about intermittent fasting in general?  Do you believe the positive hormonal changes promised by advocates of intermittent fasting do indeed occur?

Jonathan: The research behind The Smarter Science of Slim shows that anytime the body has insufficient nutrition (distinct from insufficient calories), the metabolism slows down (bad), the body burns at least as much muscle as fat (bad), and a hormonal environment is created that will cause fat gain in the long term (bad). However, my research suggests that as long as the body is provided with an abundance of nutrition (including protein and essential fatty acids) insufficient calories could provide a positive result.

Fat Head: The diet you recommend is around one-third protein, one-third carbohydrates from fruits and non-starchy vegetables, and one-third fat.  I haven’t tried to calculate macronutrient percentages lately, but I’m pretty sure my diet is more than 50% fat and probably no more than 15% – 20% carbohydrates.  Is there something wrong with that ratio?   Can you explain why less fat and more carbohydrate would help me lose weight more weight?

Jonathan: As long as you are eating at least ten servings of non-starchy vegetables a day while getting about a third of your daily calories from protein, the rest of your diet could consist of natural fats—ideally, mostly from plants and seafood—without compromising long term health or weight. In other words, studies show that to optimize long-term fat loss and health, we must eat at least ten servings of non-starchy vegetables and approximately a gram of protein per pound of body weight per day (there are exceptions for very heavy individuals). After that, as long as it’s full of water, fiber, and protein, we are good to eat it.

Fat Head: You urge your readers to get their carbohydrates from non-starchy vegetables and low-sugar fruits, and I totally agree with that.  But frankly, I’d find it difficult to consume a third of my calories in the form of, say, green vegetables while simultaneously limiting my fat intake.  For example, I checked the nutrition label on a box of spinach and found that it provides about 90 calories in the form of carbohydrates.  I’ll happily eat that box of spinach, but only if I add at least two tablespoons of butter to the mix, which means I’m already consuming twice as many fat calories as carbohydrate calories, and that’s before I even put any meat on my plate.  So, with that preamble out of the way, here’s the question:  if you’re going to get a third of your calories from non-starchy carbohydrates, how do you make all those piles of vegetables palatable?

Jonathan: Without a doubt, a SANE cookbook is needed, and one is coming this year.

In the meantime, sautéing non-starchy vegetables with a teaspoon of olive oil and various seasonings can make it easy and delicious to consume 3-4 servings of non-starchy vegetables in a sitting. Do this with lunch and dinner, and someone can eat 6-8 servings of non-starchy vegetable with less than a tablespoon of olive oil. Add some non-starchy vegetables to an omelet or scrambled eggs for breakfast and put some sugar snap peas (delicious raw) in a bag to snack on, and it’s relatively easy and tasty to take in more than 12 servings of non-starchy vegetables without consuming over 12 servings of added fat. And that’s what someone would do to achieve excellent health and fitness. If someone’s goals are more moderate, the non-starchy vegetable intake becomes even easier.

Note: The research underlying The Smarter Science of Slim shows that naturally occurring fats found in foods that are rich in water, fiber, and protein are fantastic for fat loss and health. It does, however, recommend we add as little fat to food as possible, as pure fat isn’t rich in water, fiber, or protein.

Fat Head: You cite research in your book to convince readers that despite what we’ve all been told, saturated fat and cholesterol don’t cause heart disease.  But you also recommend consuming egg whites and low-fat or fat-free dairy products.  While producing Fat Head, I was focused mostly on restricting carbohydrates, but I’ve become more of a whole-foods guy in the past couple of years.  Since eggs are a whole food, why should we consume eggs whites instead of whole eggs?  Why consume consume fat-free dairy products instead of full-fat dairy products?

Jonathan: Whole eggs are healthy sources of fats since the majority of eggs’ calories come from fat versus from protein or carbohydrate. I recommend mixing egg whites with whole eggs to even out the ratio of protein and fat. If someone gets sufficient lean protein from other sources and takes in all the non-starchy vegetables necessary to optimize heath and weight, then whole eggs are fine. More simply, if someone eats eggs as a source of fat, whole eggs are fine. If someone eats eggs as a source of protein, he needs to mix egg whites with whole eggs to ensure he is actually eating mostly protein.

The point with the low-fat or fat-free plain Greek yogurt and cottage cheese is similar. If someone eats Greek yogurt and cottage cheese as sources of fat, then the full fat variants are fine. However, if someone uses these foods as sources of protein, she needs to make sure the majority of the associated calories are from protein. Note: Eating reduced fat/low-fat anything is only desirable if the fat is not replaced with sugar. Low-fat food that is chock full of sugar is terrible for health and fat loss.

To be really clear, it’s not about fearing fat. Rather, it’s about maximizing our intake of foods rich in water, fiber, and protein. We should enjoy fat freely, just after focusing first on water, fiber, and protein.

Fat Head: I’ve heard from dozens of readers who lost a lot of weight by cutting sugar and starch, but are now stuck at 20 or 30 pounds heavier than they’d prefer.  What, if anything, can people who reach a plateau do to lower their set-points even more?  What do you tell people who can’t seem to drop that last 20 pounds?

Jonathan: Exercise less—but smarter—as recommended by The Smarter Science of Slim. This type of exercise is specifically designed to work our muscles in a unique manner to trigger a magnitude of “fat-burning hormones” unparalleled via nearly any other exercise technique.

Fat Head: You wrote quite a bit about how hormones drive weight gain in your book.  Once women reach menopause, their bodies undergo hormonal changes that encourage accumulating more body fat.  Is there anything they can do to avoid this hormonally-driven weight gain?

Jonathan: Yes. Eat more and exercise less, but smarter. More specifically, eat so many non-starchy vegetables and so much lean protein that you are too full for starches and sweets. Then exercise your muscles so deeply that it is impossible for you to exercise that way again for about a week.

Fat Head: A couple of other authors who wrote about lowering the body’s set-point claim that we need to engage in aerobic-type exercise for an hour per day.  Do you believe aerobic exercise can lower the body’s set point?  If not, why not?

Jonathan: I did not find any studies that showed aerobic exercise to meaningfully impact the hormones which influence the set-point. Therefore, I do not see how aerobic-type exercise could meaningfully impact the set-point.

Fat Head: You recommend brief, high-intensity exercise instead of jogging or walking on a treadmill.  Why do you believe this kind of exercise is better for weight loss?

Jonathan: What I believe is based on the work of countless brilliant doctors, academicians and researchers all over the world. As I said earlier, biology isn’t a matter of opinion. Consequently, every piece of advice I give is grounded in the research, which has proven that high-force exercise works a specific type of muscle fiber (Type 2b) that triggers a uniquely helpful hormonal response. Think about triggering this hormonal response like trying to move a heavy piece of furniture. You can gently poke at the furniture for one, ten, or even 100 hours, but no quantity of low-force movements will cause you to move the furniture, i.e., the result you want.  Fewer but higher-force movements are how you get the result we want.

Fat Head: There’s a lot of buzz these days about paleo diets and paleo exercise.  I’m sure you’re familiar with the terms, so what do you think of the paleo/primal lifestyle?  Is it healthy?

Jonathan: The eating philosophy I advocate is similar to a paleo type diet, but there are three differences. My understanding of paleo diets is that no/very little legumes or dairy are permitted and fatty meats are encouraged. (My apologies if I am mistaken.) My research shows there are high-quality legumes and a few high-quality dairy products, and that these high-quality foods are both healthy and helpful for fat loss. It also shows that the best sources of fat are plants—nuts and seeds—and seafood. Therefore, if you are looking for the highest quality protein combined with the highest quality fat and given the choice between a fatty cut of meat and a lean cut of meat plus a handful or two of nuts, The Smarter Science of Slim recommends the latter.

Fat Head: How would what you recommend differ from the advice people receive from paleo/primal advocates like Mark Sisson and Robb Wolf?

Jonathan: It’s going to be more similar than it is going to be different. I mentioned the three dietary differences above.

When it comes to exercise, I agree with Mr. Sisson and Mr. Wolf on the “less but higher-quality” angle. However, my research takes this concept one step further and provides a specific type of exercise that can be done at home without any equipment and ensures the highest-quality exercise possible while minimizing impact on joints and ligaments. To my knowledge, the specific type of exercise recommended by The Smarter Science of Slim is not part of the paleo/primal regime…although I suspect Mr. Sisson and Mr. Wolf would not be opposed to it, as they are both scientifically minded individuals.

Fat Head: You don’t have recipes or meal plans in The Smarter Science of Slim, so explain what a typical day’s meals look like for you or someone following your recommendations.

Jonathan: Recipes and meal plans are coming. In the meantime, SANE meals are going to be similar to paleo meals but focus on getting fat from plants and seafood rather than fatty meats and can include high-protein, low-sugar, and low-fat dairy as well as legumes. At the end of the day, it’s about each individual’s tastes and goals because The Smarter Science of Slim is not a set of ridged laws, but a body of knowledge that enables people to most effectively accomplish their particular health and fitness aspirations.

Thank you, Jonathan.



65 thoughts on “Interview: Jonathan Bailor of ‘The Smarter Science of Slim,’ part two

  1. eddie watts

    i eat around 3000 calories a day, 1000 calories of spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts and cabbage would be near impossible!

  2. Pierce

    I went searching online to find it if the previous poster was joking or serious about Dr. Oz recommending washing one’s mouth out immediately after snacking to combat cravings. I couldn’t find that, but I did found his top 100 weight loss tips ( which is astonishing.

    Tip 52 says: Make sure you check food labels and avoid anything with more than 4 grams of sugar, especially high-fructose corn syrup, per serving.

    Tip 53 says: Eat a fiber-filled apple before a meal to help you feel full faster.

    So I checked a few sources and they seem to agree that apples have around twenty (20!) grams of sugar.

    Maybe he meant to say eat 1/5 an apple before a meal? It’s unbelievable that his advice is treated as gospel.

    But he’s good-looking and he’s on television! What other qualifications do you need?

  3. AndreaLynnette

    On the high-veg diet, there is a great TEDx Talk by Dr. Terry Wahls who has MS, but became asymptomatic (in other words, cured herself of an incurable disease) on a strict paleo diet that consists of:
    * 3 cups of dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, parsley)
    * 3 cups of sulfur-rich veg (garlic family, onion family, cruciferous veg like broccoli and cabbage)
    * 3 cups of bright colored veg and/or fruit (beets, radishes, turnips, purple cabbage, berries, oranges, peaches)
    * grass-fed meat and/or wild-caught omega-3-rich fish like salmon and herring
    * organ meat at least once per week
    * seaweed as often as you like

    I don’t remember where I found it, but I embedded it on my little blog and you can watch it <a href=""%5Dhere. It’s an interesting talk, and worth the 17 and a half minutes.

  4. Nickie

    Thanks so much for the replies. I have one question further…does butter count as dairy? I will boohoo over my cup of hot water (no coffee or cream I guess). I really do appreciate it. Trying to lose weight really bites. I hate it.

    Butter apparently boosts insulin in some people, like other dairy products, but it may not be a significant rise. Here are some takes on the issue:

    If you have sensitivity to casein, butter would still be a problem.

  5. Ryan

    I loved the book. I have dramatically reduced the amount of starches, increased flax/nuts, increased protein, and added eccentric exercises. I will test this method to see if it works.

    In reply to the previous posts about the fact that his findings are based on studies: Yes, I understand humans lie and manipulate (even in studies). I also understand that information often conflicts previous info. However, if we can’t trust any data, then what are we supposed to draw conclusions from. It seems like he used many, many studies that seemed very straightforward. Unless others that have done an equivalent amount of research present decide to dig in and present a valid argument against his results, then the opinions above seem to hold no weight. I see a lot of arguments above that seem to be based on beliefs and opinions as opposed to research. I realize that there is the possibility that some of what is written might somehow be incorrect; however, I have heard nothing that suggests that he doesn’t present a compelling argument that is backed up by evidence.

  6. Galina L.

    I recently tried to eat some Greek yogurt 2% at the middle of the day – I was ravenously hungry till the end of the day, no matter what else was eaten! I forgot on LC how unpleasant the hunger is. It inspired me to go dairy free for four weeks and see if it makes any difference. We all have to check all suggestions with our n=1.

  7. Caveman Doctor

    Eddie Watts, I agree. I like a lot of what he is saying in this article, but I am also over 3,000 calories some days and making 1,000 of those, or 200 grams of green leafy vegetables, would be pretty damn hard.

    I couldn’t choke down that much spinach with just a little olive to go with it.

  8. Charlie

    The diet will work but I think all that vegetables with lower fat is all a gimmick to lower the amount of calories ingested. It will be very hard to eat more calories with non-starchy vegetables substituting for fat which is more calories dense. When me and my wife were vegans and eliminated high carbs food we lost a lot of weight and became to look cadaverous like many of those famous vegans. I guess that the high protein will compensate for the muscle loss, so if you need to lose weight it will work. But for me and my wife high fat low carb have works well. We have no need to stuff ourselves with that many vegetables, we now enjoys our meat and fats.

    Sure, the idea is that you eat foods high in nutrient density, you’re not as hungry and eat less.

  9. Marilyn

    @AndreaLynette: (I couldn’t get the link to your blog to work.)

    The Terry Wahls thing is very interesting. I’ll be watching to see if any other MSers get a similar result with her diet. The problem with MS is that it’s such an unpredictable disease, so determining cause and effect is even more of a challenge than with many other conditions. I’ll be interested, too, if it appears that she has actually uncovered a cure for MS with her program, what the response of her colleagues at the university medical center will be.

    As I look over her diet, I feel it would be lots more do-able than Jonathan’s eleven servings of veggies. The servings of veggies are fewer, and her third group allows the variety of some fruit.

  10. Val

    (I apologize if this is a duplicate comment, but it doesn’t look like my 1st one registered…)

    Hmmm, “…getting fat from plants” – I’m drawing a blank here aside from avocados & olive oil, maybe those scant handfuls of nuts one is allowed?

    I always seem to be ADDING fats TO vegetables to improve palatability (like you, Nickie, I would cry real tears if I have to give up all dairy)

  11. EJ

    I’m finding the recommendation to eat 10 portions of fiber rich veg to be dubious…from my understanding fiber is undigestible matter – which your intestines push through your system quickly? if that’s the case how would your digestive system have enough time to absorb the nutrients in the veg along with any of the other food your eating? If it’s high in fiber surely it doesn’t matter how many nutrients are in it if your body doesn’t have the time to absorb them before it gets *ahem*, “ejected” from your body? 😉

    I’m no expert so maybe I’m understanding the whole fiber issue wrong!

    BTW – love your blog Tom!

    Even if the science behind that recommendation is solid, I know I’m not going to end up downing 10 servings of spinach, broccoli, carrots, etc., per day unless they’re drizzled with fat (and probably not even then).

  12. Colin T.

    After about 5 months of eating only meat and eggs, I bought this book and am trying out re-introducing 2% cottage cheese with blueberries, some dried fruit, lemon, grapefruit spinach, sprouts, broccoli, and whey isolate protein powder to my diet. I find I just can’t eat this much, though. To even approach the recommended 10 daily servings of vegetables, I’ll have to include 2 doses of wheat grass and a handful of spinach in a smoothie (+3) and have a sack of green beans or sprouts for dinner (+4). That’s as far as I’ve gotten so far, unless the milled flax seed counts as a vegetable. My plan to get to 10 is to have a couple services of “green bean chips” or similar during the days if I feel like snacking. I’d worry that I’m losing the basis of my diet — animal protein and fat — but I’m still starting the day with bacon and egg, and still eating meat for lunch and dinner. It’s: bacon/egg breakfast, cottage cheese/berry or protein/veg shake lunch, afternoon sausage snack, meat/veg dinner, evening veg snack. Certainly a lot more to manage than the bacon/egg-sausage-beef sequence that used to cover the whole day.

  13. Voni

    I always thought it was 1 gram of protein per lb of LEAN mass, since I weigh 112lbs, that would give me around 90 grams of protein, which is plenty.

    I followed a very similar eating plan for the last year and had to give it up due to HUGE energy slumps. Upping my fat intake (I eat between 60-65% of my calories in fat and I love it) and cutting out things like cottage cheese and low-fat greek yoghurt made me feel and look so much better. The smarter science of slim is how most sports model/body builders eat – just open a copy of Oxygen magazine or Fitness RX – it’s right there, egg whites, veggies at every meal, eat 6 small meals a day, God forbid you skip one, blah, blah blah. No fatty meats allowed, just chicken breast and tuna. Oh, and a small handful of almonds and 1/4 of an avocado. I’ll stop ranting now……

  14. Will

    Voni you are right it IS 1 gram of protein per LEAN mass of bodyweight. A lot of people get that confused and eat way more protein than they should


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