The Body Fat – Fatigue Link (And How To Fix It) with Alex Leaf

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Content By: Ari Whitten & Alex Leaf

In this episode, I am speaking with Alex Leaf — a nutrition expert, researcher, and teacher of nutrition at the University of Western States. We will talk about the little known link between body composition and fatigue, and how to fix it.

In this podcast, Alex and I will discuss:

  • What is fatigue? The most common symptoms associated with fatigue
  • The three ways inflammation cause fatigue
  • The role of sleep in your body composition
  • The number ONE biggest factor that ensures weight loss
  • The link between excess body fat and fatigue
  • The critical role of hunger signals

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Transcript

Ari Whitten: Hey there, this is Ari. Welcome back to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. Today, I have with me for, I believe, jeez, the third at least, maybe fourth time, Alex Leaf who is a good friend of mine and now partner in the Energy Blueprint, someone who works with me, who is the co-author of my upcoming book On Sunlight, which is going to be an epic book by the way. I’m sure Alex can attest to that. He’s someone that I hired because he’s just absolutely brilliant at what he does as a health researcher and writer.

As far as formal credentials, he’s got a Master’s in nutrition. He’s a former lead researcher on examine.com’s team, which is one of the top websites, if not the top website on the subject of compiling scientific research around specific nutritional supplements. He’s been an amazing boon to the Energy Blueprint as far as sharing his knowledge, helping me to co-create programs, and co-write the next book. Welcome back for the fourth time Alex, it’s such a pleasure to have you.

Alex Leaf: Thank you, Ari. I really enjoy being on these podcasts. It’s always fun to chat with someone who is able to actually have a stimulating conversation.

Ari Whitten: Yes, thank you. I’ll take that as a compliment.

Alex Leaf: No, it definitely is.

Ari Whitten: We’ve been doing a lot of these lately, we’ve been doing about a billion live Q&As for the members of our Fat Loss Blueprint program that we released a couple of months ago. It seems like we’ve been seeing a lot of each other virtually even during COVID, but let’s get into it. That was probably why it’s so hard for me to keep track whether this is your third or fourth time or 25th time because I’ve done so many of these calls with you lately. Today, we’re going to be talking about a really really important subject, and one that admittedly, I have somewhat neglected to talk in-depth on.

Partly because it has not really been studied formally in that many studies, and it’s something that’s really important, but it’s something that in general, there’s no official body of knowledge on this particular topic. The topic is the connection between being overweight, increased levels of body fatness, and fatigue. How body composition factors into your energy levels.

Like I said, this is really something that the actual formal body of scientific evidence hasn’t really explored that specific topic in great depth. We can’t refer to 25 studies that have specifically and explicitly tested that relationship, explained it, and outlined all the mechanisms. What this involves is really more of piecing together lots of bodies of data that are somewhat disconnected then piecing together the physiological mechanisms, and understanding the relationship in the context of overall metabolic health and human physiology.

This is something that Alex and I have done in great depth over the last couple of years now. He in particular has amazing levels of expertise on the subject of body composition, body fatness, and fat loss. I asked him to take that body of knowledge and together, we connected the dots around how all of those elements of metabolic health that relate to body fatness connect with physical energy levels, mitochondrial energy production, and so on. He’s done an absolutely brilliant job of that, and I wanted to bring him on the podcast to talk about that.

The prevalence of fatigue in modern day society

First of all, Alex, let’s just talk about the prevalence of fatigue, and I guess, the prevalence of obesity and overweight in the general population, and just overarching context that you want to present to people as the big picture framework to understand this discussion.

Alex Leaf: I think that a really good place to start with this is to just have everyone listening right now just picture fatigue in your mind. What comes to mind? Maybe you caught a cold or you got a bad night of sleep or maybe you had to take some medications or something that just killed your energy levels. When you think about fatigue, fatigue itself is a symptom, but what are all of the associated symptoms that fatigue itself encompasses? I don’t think a lot of people appreciate it.

Whenever you’re feeling weak, whenever you have difficulty being active, whenever you have difficulty concentrating or you have memory problems or you have emotional instability, all of these things are considered fatigue because, in essence, fatigue isn’t just about being tired, it’s not just about physically not being able to do things, it’s also not having the mental capacity to sustain mental work or emotional control.

I think when we put fatigue in that expanded spotlight, we start to realize, “Well, this is actually something that probably affects a lot more people than I think.” If that’s what you think, then you would be right because surveys of the US population have shown that only one in four adults in the US has no symptoms of fatigue whatsoever, and you can guarantee that it’s going to mostly be younger adults.

Once you hit middle age and older, you start to see that one in every three men complains about having fatigue, and one in every two women, literally half of all middle-aged and older women in the US complain of having fatigue problems. This isn’t temporary fatigue either, this is literally like chronic fatigue. Like, “Every day I wake up, and I just feel tired, I can’t concentrate. What do I do?”

Ari Whitten: By the way, just to add to that, I’ve seen a study specifically in adults over the age of 65 that showed that one in three suffers from severe debilitating levels of fatigue, one in three. It’s extraordinarily common. I like how you grounded that in the age gaps. It’s unlikely for a teenager to be expressing tons of chronic fatigue, but the older you get, the more that these issues at the nutrition and lifestyle level tend to add up, and that ultimately degrade and cause dysfunction in your physiology that ends up leading to fatigue.

Alex Leaf: Just as another data point I find interesting, about 25% of all office visits involve fatigue as one of the complaints.

Ari Whitten: Doctors office.

Alex Leaf: Yes. When people actually finally decide, “Hey, I should go to the doctor’s office,” 25% of the time it’s because of something that involves fatigue. You end up then having of all the people that go into a doctor’s office, one in five people, so 20% of people end up meeting the diagnostic criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome. I think that one of the issues with this is that people– There’s this thing about relativity where if you feel really crappy for a long period of time, you become accustomed to it.

I think this is a huge issue with fatigue because I think people start to feel fatigued, but they don’t do anything about it. They go so long feeling fatigued that they don’t even remember what it’s like to not be fatigued. They think that how they feel is actually normal when it’s anything but normal.

Ari Whitten: To add to that, the external cues also are reinforcing that because so many other people are also chronically fatigued. We’ve almost glorified and made it a badge of honor to say how little sleep we’re getting, how hard we’re working, and how busy we are. We tend to brag about those things, but those are the very things that are major contributors to fatigue. Many people external to us are also fatigued, that it’s easy for people to end up thinking, “Oh it’s normal for everybody to be just chronically low energy and burnt out, struggling to wake up in the morning and so on.”

Alex Leaf: Frankly, the environment outside of the people also facilitates it because somebody’s fatigued yet all they do is sit around all day, drive in a car to get to work, they take escalators instead of stairs, they just sit all day. It’s like they never actually really have an opportunity for their body to show them how fatigued they really are because they’re not doing anything that really requires energy. Between what you said with other people making it seem normal because, “Hey, I’m just like them so I’m normal,” and then dealing with it for long periods of time, then having an environment that facilitates it, I think that it’s really no surprise a lot of people have fatigue. They probably don’t even know.

The link between excessive body fat and fatigue

Ari Whitten: Yes, 100%. Let’s jump into the overweight and the body fatness part of it. In this big picture of causes of fatigue and obviously the Energy Blueprint really revolves around the work that we do, revolves around building out this paradigm of what are the causes of fatigue? What are the factors that influence the regulation of human energy levels and that cause fatigue or that we can manipulate to get our energy back, to optimize our energy levels, to achieve superhuman energy levels?

That’s what we do and obviously, that story is very complex looking at it from multiple layers, as far as the nutrition lifestyle factors to the physiological mechanisms and how mitochondrial function and brain function and inflammation and gut health and the microbiome and liver function, all these different layers to the story, how light ties into it, the subject of our next book, how hormesis ties into it, all of these different factors, how they regulate this complex mix of physiological variables that influence our energy production. Within that very complex spider web of interrelationships, where does body fatness fit into this picture?

Alex Leaf: I think if I had to put body fat somewhere in the picture, I would probably roll it up into a little glob of paint, and then just throw it against the wall and watch it splatter. I say that because being overweight or obese has a very bi-directional relationship with both chronic fatigue and a lot of factors that contribute to fatigue. At a very high level, think about mitochondria.

If you have mitochondrial dysfunction, that’s going to contribute to fatigue and that could contribute to energy imbalances and weight gain over time. If you are overweight or obese, that creates an internal environment that is damaging to mitochondria which then contributes to fatigue. It’s the same with circadian rhythms. People with obesity have difficulty sleeping because of structural changes that happen with their airways due to the excess fat pads.

That interferes with circadian rhythms. It interferes with mitochondrial function and all of those things feed back into perpetuating fatigue and obesity. I think the first thing to understand here is exactly what you mentioned earlier, which is this is a very complex web of relationships. That’s what I would like people to understand first, is that when we talk about overweight or obesity, it’s going to be touching on a lot of things that all feed back into itself and then also feed into energy models.

Ari Whitten: If you were to quantify it– I’m curious what your answer to this would be. If you were to quantify how common this is, poor body composition, excess levels of body fatness as a contributing factor to fatigue, how prevalent it is as an explanatory factor among the portion of the population that’s experiencing fatigue, would you have any thoughts on that? This is, I’m sure, speculative, but we have data on what proportion of the population is overweight and maybe there’s some extrapolation here. I’m just curious what your general sense is.

Alex Leaf: Amusingly enough and while I understand and that this is a little fallacious in terms of logic, three-quarters of the population complains of some form of fatigue, and three-quarters of the population is either overweight or obese. We do actually have meta-analysis that have studied tens of thousands of adults. They show that being obese is associated with a 40% greater chance of suffering from fatigue than if you were to be at a healthy body composition and that people with overweight or obesity on average suffer from about a 10% reduction in their feelings of vigor and vitality. 10% might not seem like a lot. I wish I had something off the top of my head to quantify this.

Ari Whitten: The problem with a stat like that is it’s based on subjective ratings by [inaudible 00:14:34] rating their energy levels. It’s heavily influenced by the factor you mentioned before that people normalize to their energy levels. People in general just think whatever their energy is. Unless they’re severely debilitated in terms of their fatigue, they tend to think that whatever their level of energy, is relatively normal.

Alex Leaf: If anything, it’s likely that these values are under-appreciating the true impact overweight and obesity has. The first, and in what in my opinion, is the strongest argument for this position isn’t based in any research. It’s actually just based in common sense. For everyone listening, especially if you are someone who is interested in fat loss and who currently has some extra weight to lose, let’s say that you need to lose 50 pounds.

I want you to imagine the flip side of that situation. I want you to imagine being at a normal body weight, and literally having to wear a 50-pound weight vest for the entire day no matter what you do. Every step you take, every movement that you make, you’re going to be bogged down by 50 pounds of extra weight. That alone is going to make you tired. I feel like that alone really helps illustrate at a high-level how big of an impact weight loss would have.

You spend years wearing that 50-pound weight vest and day after day. This is one of the reasons why you want to sit down so much by the way and why you want to be less active is because you have all this excess weight on your joints and it’s uncomfortable. Then suddenly, one day you just take it off. Imagine how light you would feel, how energetic, how much desire to move you would have after being bogged down after all of that. Yes, we have a bunch of actual research that supports this obesity fatigue connection. Just that more high-level logical way of looking at it, I think is really the best way to just picture how good you would feel after some fat loss in terms of your energy levels.

The role of NEAT in body composition

Ari Whitten: There’s an interesting confounding variable there that’s worth mentioning that is linked to with both, you can argue fatigue as well as that linked with increased-risk or susceptibility to gaining fat. That is genetics as it relates to NEAT, Non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Dr James Levine has been instrumental in his work, his research around this subject, but one of the interesting things they’ve done and I’m sure you’ve seen this study or we’ve maybe talked about it in the past, the twin study where they’ve done around intentional overfeeding.

Basically, they found that certain people are genetically more susceptible to gaining weight, and a big portion of what explains that is some people are genetically wired to respond to periods of a caloric surplus of overconsumption of food relative to what their body needs. By unconsciously or non-consciously I should say, expending more energy through fidgeting, through getting up, through moving your body.

That concept very much relates to energy, that drives energy is like to move your body to get up off the couch and move as opposed to stay seated on the couch. Anyway, it’s worth mentioning that just genetically, some people are predisposed to not getting obese because of that increased energy and drive to move their body as opposed to people who are more susceptible during periods of overfeeding to just storing the excess of calories as fat on their body and not moving and burning it off. Anyway, I just thought it was an interesting side point, may be worth adding to the mix. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Alex Leaf: Yes, I definitely think that’s an interesting side point that’s worth consideration. I would throw into that also consideration that that could be a contributor to fatigue in and of itself too. This continues our theme of complexity here, but like you had just said, when you just chronically overeat, some people will fidget it away and they might just be more revved up people. They might have more desires to move, but a huge component of NEAT is doing things like shaking when you don’t realize that you’re shaking or twitching your legs and your muscles because these are just like unconsciously controlled mechanisms. Rather than desires to move, it also involves those little things.

In people where the surplus is small and where their level of NEAT is so high, it could siphon away energy and almost make it like they’re in a chronic energy deficit, so to speak, to where in order to resolve their fatigue. Somewhat ironically, maybe all they need to do is eat more food. That’s just because the way that they’re wired up genetically, makes them waste a lot of energy doing pointless movement and it doesn’t leave a lot of energy for other things or it just makes them tired more than they would be otherwise.

How body fatness affects energy levels

Ari Whitten: Interesting, good stuff. If we were to outline the mechanisms of how one’s body fatness relates to energy levels, what would you say are the key mechanisms at play there?

Alex Leaf: I would argue that the fundamental mechanism involved, is the promotion of a state of chronic low-grade inflammation. In that, it is through this mechanism that other aspects either then feed into that inflammation, for example, sleep disruption, or that mechanism itself, the low-grade inflammation, is what causes things like mitochondrial dysfunction, which then amplify fatigue.

I would argue the centerpiece with obesity is, being in the state of chronic low-grade inflammation. The reason that I believe that is because, we have numerous studies and a bunch of different pathologies; cancer, type 2 diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and even people that have dysbiosis of their microbiome, studies that associate fatigue severity with the extent of inflammation they’re dealing with. Even in people that don’t have chronic low-grade inflammation, whatever amount of inflammation they do have is an independent predictor of their level of fatigue.

Then you have investigations and you have questions to ask. Then if this link exists, how does inflammation cause fatigue? There’s really three main ways that it does it. One, it alters the neurotransmitter and reward pathways in your brain, which controls all behavior. It causes mitochondrial dysfunction and it disrupts sleep, which then feeds back into it. This first one is the most important because this is the one that comes from our evolutionary history. It’s something called sickness behavior.

A lot of you listening probably have a pet or at the very least you’ve witnessed this with yourself or a family member because whether it be one of our pet animals or another human, it occurs all the same. What happens when you experience some form of physical trauma, like you injure yourself, or you get an infection like the flu or the common cold? What happens to your energy levels? They disappear, you just naturally get more fatigued. Your animals move around less, you just want to stay in bed or you can’t really work like you would prefer and you just mope around the house. That’s called sickness behavior.

It’s the result of inflammatory cytokines from battling and infection or working to heal an injury and fight off any pathogens that are trying to get in through the injury, those cytokines pass through the blood-brain barrier and bind to specific receptors on the brain that cause this alteration of your behavioral state that is called sickness behavior. Where your brain then just tells the rest of your body, “Hey, we might have a fever. We’re not going to eat. You’re going to demonstrate some symptoms of anorexia. We’re just going to waste away with a little kukicha. We’re going to be fatigued and lethargic. That’s because we need to take literally every resource we have and focus it on healing, regeneration, battling pathogens, that type of thing.”

We’ve had this throughout evolutionary history. Inflammation hits your brain and causes you to be fatigued for good reason, but that was always short-lived throughout evolutionary history. The number one reason why being overweight or obese–

Ari Whitten: Before you jump there, why was it short-lived? Just explain that layer so people–

Alex Leaf: Oh yes. Short-lived because if you injured yourself, that wound is going to heal and if you got an infection then either you resolved the infection and you were no longer sick and you went on to continue your life or you died, it wasn’t something that just stuck with you forever. Now, in the modern environment, people with overweight or obesity, have a state of chronic low-grade inflammation.

That means that they have elevated levels of inflammatory cytokines that enter into their brain and give them a subclinical form of the sickness behavior, where they become more lethargic and fatigued because their brain thinks that it needs to divert resources elsewhere when in reality, the individual just needs to lose a little fat mass.

Ari Whitten: It’s the equivalent of if you had some kind of chronic injury, you had a gash open by some wild animal that attacked you, and now you’re healing this wound and you have elevated levels of systemic inflammation as a result of that. Instead of that wound just healing in a week or two and then you getting back to normal, now you have that chemical milieu in your bloodstream, basically, all the time on an ongoing basis. Your brain’s getting the signal, you need to rest, because we need to divert energy to healing what’s wrong in the body. I was going to say, nothing’s wrong in the body, but that’s also a misnomer. Something’s wrong, it’s just not something that heals on its own easily.

Alex Leaf: Exactly, you summed it up perfectly. I’m going to skip over mitochondrial dysfunction and come to that one last because I think that this is really the perfect time to actually jump into sleep. There’s some really, really fascinating research, in my opinion, on sleep. We know that being overweight or obese also disrupts sleep. People with obesity are at a profoundly greater risk of having sleep apnea. One reason for that is because structurally, they have excess fat on their throat that interferes with their breathing airways. The second one is that state of chronic low-grade inflammation inflames their airways. It constricts the airway and makes breathing more difficult.

Obesity is one of the most powerful, independent risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea. If you ask anyone that has obesity, “How’s your sleep?” Most of the time they’re going to tell you they don’t sleep well and that’s why. The reason that that’s fascinating when it comes back to the sickness behavior that’s induced by inflammation entering into the brain, is because we have research showing that sleep deprivation and just getting regular poor-quality sleep, increases the permeability of the blood-brain barrier, which means that, at any given amount of inflammation you have in your blood, more of those inflammatory signaling molecules are going to be able to get through and binds the receptors on your brain.

The inflammation and the obesity contributes to sleep disruption, which in turn contributes to an amplified fatiguing effect of the inflammation that’s always there.

Ari Whitten: There’s so many other mechanisms occurring simultaneously that are also influencing energy levels. I was going to jump to mitochondria, but we’re going to save that one. How sleep connects to energy in other ways, you have this connection of, for example, how sleep relates to hormones. Hormones like leptin and thyroid hormone, testosterone, and cortisol and it’s influencing the regulation of all of those because many of those hormones are diurnal and impacted by the circadian rhythm. We know that sleep deprivation or poor sleep, is going to influence now the hormonal milieu. It’s going to influence neurotransmitters in the brain.

It’s also going to influence things like autophagy, basically cellular renewal, the repairing and recycling of damaged, worn out, broken down, cell parts and the rebuilding of new ones, that occurs during the sleep period. If you’re not sleeping enough or your sleep is not high enough quality, it’s going to impair that process. It’s going to impair the clearance of toxins from the brain. We know there’s this recently discovered glymphatic system that purges toxins from the brain. Now you have all these other different layers to the story and then, of course, sleep is vital for mitochondrial health, but I think we’ll maybe save that one.

Alex Leaf: Well, I think we’ll get to that one here in pretty quick, but I also want to add to that sleep is vital to not just mitochondria, but to a healthy body composition. Like in the Fat Loss Blueprint program, we have an entire module on sleep and circadian rhythms, just like you have an entire one in the Energy Blueprint program because it’s so essential for both energy levels, but also body composition.

In that vein, we have research showing that under completely identical conditions, get sleeping for five to five and a half hours per night causes two-thirds of your weight loss to come from lean tissue, compared to two-thirds of your weight loss coming from fat mass if you get seven and a half hours per night, and this is under otherwise identical conditions in people living in a laboratory as the experiment’s being conducted.

Ari Whitten: Right, so what you’re getting at here is there’s a vicious cycle taking place, which is having increased body fatness is likely to disrupt your sleep. Having disrupted sleep is therefore then likely to contribute to further increases in body fatness because of the mechanism you just mentioned. I also mentioned one other mechanism apart from disrupting the hormonal environment.

This is related actually to the disruptions of the hormonal environment, sleep disruption is linked with disturbance in leptin, and leptin is a key hormone in the regulation of body fatness as well as ghrelin, which is a key hunger hormone, and also dysregulation of the endocannabinoid system which also impacts on food cravings and appetite regulation.

The end result of those alterations in those different systems is there’s research showing that sleep disruption dramatically increases overall appetite for food, and also specifically increases cravings for sugar and fat-rich processed food, and there’s even research showing that a night of sleep disruption, led people to consume, I think between three and 500 more calories. At the same time, you have the mechanism that you just mentioned, increased loss of muscle mass, increased loss of fat mass, you now have increases in appetite, and all these alterations in the hormonal environments that are predisposing you to eat more and move less.

Alex Leaf: Yes, exactly. Again, when we’re talking about these topics, and you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, “Well, where do I start?” Pick whichever one that you’re doing the worst on, because they are all interconnected. If you are overweight or obese, but you’re also a really horrible sleeper, it’s going to take you a lot more effort to get yourself down to a normal body composition than it is to just start facilitating healthy sleep practices, and a healthy environment for getting adequate sleep. Just start sleeping better, and you’ll start to see that repayment in lower body fat and higher energy levels, but they are all interconnected.

How mitochondria are affected by body fat

Ari Whitten: Yes, absolutely. Let’s jump to mitochondria at this point. Explain the link between obesity and mitochondrial function. By the way, I just want to quickly mention the previous podcast that I did with Alex maybe two months ago, something like that, was on the obesity immune function link, and we explored a lot of fascinating research around how increased levels of body fatness, mainly through this mechanism of increasing chronic inflammation in the body, contribute to immune senescence and basic human system dysfunction.

Of course, we know from research all around the world now that increased body fatness is a major predisposing factor to increase susceptibility to COVID. That’s an interesting other podcast for people to explore if you want to explore the immune side of things and how that relates to body fatness. Let’s now jump into the mitochondrial piece and how that relates to the energy and body fatness connection.

Alex Leaf: Yes, coming off the heels of this idea of sickness behavior. On the one hand, you have your brain literally telling your body to stop moving around, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, then you have these mitochondria throughout your body, in your muscles, in the things responsible for moving you around that are saying, “Hey, we’re a little broken right now, we can’t do what you want us to.” That stems primarily from this, again, low-grade state of inflammation. We have a mountain of data showing that chronic low-grade inflammation leads to mitochondrial dysfunction and reduced energy production.

It really is as simple as it sounds in that regard, in the sense that obesity causes mitochondrial dysfunction. Mitochondria are the primary energy production plants of your body. They’re what are used to meet the energy needs of almost every cell in the body, especially at rest. There are exceptions when you exercise at high intensities. If your mitochondria cannot make energy efficiently, then you are going to be at a deficit of energy, and your body is going to start compensating for that by downregulating energetically costly processes.

That includes movement because if your mitochondria can only pump out just, let’s say five energies every minute, and your body can get you down to four energies per minute, just by making you want to take the escalator instead of the stairs, then your bodies going and then that’s what you’re going to do, and you’re not even going to be consciously aware of this. You’re going to suddenly stop fidgeting, you’re not going to be burning off several hundred extra calories each day by shaking your hands or twitching your leg when you’re not even aware of it because your body is suddenly going to realize, “Hey, we can’t put energy towards those processes, so we’re going to shut them off.”

You can fix all this by restoring mitochondrial function, and there’s a lot of different ways to do that, obviously, losing fat now being one of them. This comes back into your Energy Blueprint program, as well. I’m not as well versed in that literature, but with chronic fatigue and mitochondria as you are, Ari, but I feel I almost never see it talked about outside of the circle of individuals, including yourself.

I feel this link is so well known. If you look at people that have diseases of their mitochondria, like actual genetic mutations of their mitochondria that cause mitochondrial dysfunction, and you compare them to individuals with chronic fatigue, you see almost identical patterns of fatigue scores. I feel the mitochondria are a very underappreciated contributor to fatigue and that it should be talked about more, but I never see it talked about more. Why is that?

Ari Whitten: Yes, the old paradigm around mitochondria was really mitochondria are these mindless energy generators that just take in carbs and fats, and then pump out ATP, cellular energy. In that paradigm, that is your conception of energy, then how would we increase energy levels? We’ll take in more carbs and fats, and yet we know that doesn’t reliably increase energy. We know that this story of mitochondria is more complex than simply just take in more food and that leads to more energy, and in fact, taking in too much food more than what your body needs actually leads to lower energy levels.

What’s going on there is very complex, but the best way to understand it is this shift from viewing mitochondria as the mindless energy generators, as we learned in high school and college biology courses, to the new paradigm, which is largely built out thanks to a brilliant researcher named Dr. Robert Naviaux, and the cell danger response. In his words, mitochondria are the hub of the wheel of metabolism, and they are actually regulating. They’re not just mindless energy generators, but they’re actually environmental sensors that are regulating energy production in response to the signals they’re getting from the environment.

When the body is under threat, it initiates sickness behavior, and part of that is the brain mechanism that you’ve brilliantly outlined so far. The other part of it is mitochondria are also sensors that are regulating energy levels and energy production in response to that. These signals from the environment are translated into, whether it’s sleep deprivation whether it’s psychological stress, whether it’s a crappy diet; eating too much McDonald’s and soda and French fries, or whether it’s circadian rhythm disruption. Whatever the source, whether it’s toxins, whatever the source of stress is, all of that gets translated into some kind of biochemical milieu that is sensed by the mitochondria.

That might be, let’s say, you’ve got poor gut health and leaky gut, now you’ve got increased LPS, lipopolysaccharide, leaking into your bloodstream, which has been shown to damage mitochondrial function and cause decreased energy production at the mitochondrial level. This toxin is literally being essentially sensed by your mitochondria and translating that to basically saying, “Oh, there’s a stress present, there’s a danger present, we need to shut down energy production and shift into defense mode.” These are, as Robert Naviaux has explained, these are two sides of the same coin.

Mitochondria can either be doing one or the other, but they don’t do both at the same time. To the degree that you have danger signals present in your environment, whether it’s from poor gut health, whether it’s from a poor diet that is translated into increased inflammatory cytokines, whether it’s increased psychological stress, toxin exposure which translates often into the same kind of biochemical milieu of increased immune activation and inflammation or whether you have increased body fatness, which as you said, increases chronic levels of inflammation and inflammatory cytokines. Those inflammatory cytokines are literally being sensed by the mitochondria and then the mitochondria are going, “Oh, we’re under threat. We need to shift into danger mode, into fatigue mode, into sickness behavior,” these are all kind of synonymous, ” and out of energy mode.”

To the degree you have that stuff going on, your mitochondria will turn down energy production and switch more into defense mode.

Alex Leaf: You summed it up really well. The one thing that you jogged my memory on, I want to add here at the end too, is that researchers have actually done the link between mitochondria and fatigue in literature regardless. I don’t think that that link is prevalent out on the interwebs or certainly not in conventional practices. I didn’t even really know about it until I met you and started following your work and conversing with you about it. I’m incredibly surprised with, you think about how few people are aware of it and how little it’s acted upon in conventional medicine and then the extent of research that’s on it. You search on PubMed and there are thousands and thousands of studies on this thing.

Researchers have systematically reviewed studies that look at mitochondrial function in people with chronic fatigue and relate it to their fatigue severity. They show that people that suffer from chronic fatigue have consistent deficits in things like; carnitine, which they need to shuttle fatty acids across the mitochondrial membrane, CoQ10, which is not only an antioxidant but is an electron transporter in the energy production chain, lower concentrations of mitochondrial antioxidants and higher levels of oxidative stress. They have had changes in gene expression in the functional pathways for energy production, such as those related to protein transport and mitochondrial morphology.

There’s, in my opinion, a very, very clear link between mitochondrial dysfunction in all the ways it can present and fatigue. There’s also a very, very clear link between low-grade chronic inflammation and mitochondrial dysfunction. There’s also a very, very clear link between being overweight or obese and having chronic low-grade inflammation. Then it all circles back, because then there’s also a very, very clear link between mitochondrial dysfunction and fatigue with overweight and obesity.

You can see like we had talked about with sleep a little earlier, this vicious cycle where you’re overweight or obese, it impairs mitochondrial function, which makes you tired, which contributes to being overweight or obese, which perpetuates the problem. It’s almost like you have these dualities going on, where on the one hand you have the chronic inflammation, mitochondrial cycle and on the other hand you have the obesity, chronic inflammation, sleep loss cycle. Then you even have a third one actually, where it’s then the sleep loss, mitochondrial dysfunction cycle.

It’s like they all just spin together. As soon as you become overweight or obese, all these cycles start spinning and feeding into one another and you really need to take steps to address each one.

Ari Whitten: Absolutely. With all that said, I think that’s probably adequate explanation of the mechanisms behind what’s going on, to explain this link between body fatness and fatigue. At this point, let’s go practical. What is the solution? It should be fairly obvious at this point– Well, let’s just say it, what is the solution to all of these problems and all of these vicious cycles that are occurring?

Alex Leaf: There’s a lot of solutions that you can take, but at the fundamental level how we started this, losing fat is going to positively impact everything else. It’s going to lower inflammation, which will improve mitochondrial function. It’s going to improve sleep quality, which is going to improve mitochondrial function. All of that’s going to improve energy levels. You’re finally going to be able to take off that 50- or 100-pound weight vest that you’ve been lugging around for the last, who knows, couple decades. Your energy levels are going to skyrocket by losing fatness. Now, that’s the simple answer. The question above and beyond that is, how do I do that?

Ari Whitten: Obviously, we’ve built a program recently, the Fat Loss Blueprint, that we just launched a little over two months ago for the first time, which is an epic program and we’ve had amazing feedback on it. Having said that, the Fat Loss Blueprint is really more of an advanced program. In fact, I was originally planning on titling it, Advanced Fat loss Strategies to specifically explain that this is not the basics, this is not the same old stuff that everybody’s heard before. This is really once you’ve got foundational fat loss strategies dialed in, you’ve got a basic diet plan and good nutrition in place and an exercise regimen, and so on, what are the advanced level strategies to take your results to the next level?

That’s what that program is all about, but let’s give a practical tour into what are the key strategies for fat loss.

Alex Leaf: This is for people that have the fundamentals down. That being said, we do have– Right after we introduce what the program’s all about and what you can expect to benefit from it, our second lesson plan does actually touch on those fundamentals we expect you to have. The reason it’s advanced is because we don’t spend a lot of time on these topics. That doesn’t mean we’re just going to leave you high and dry, we do expand on them. Out of a high level, for everyone listening, if you needed a place to start, I think it’s rather simple.

First and foremost, you need to acknowledge that you need to be in a chronic energy deficit. Now, how you achieve that, million different ways you can do that but you need to acknowledge that that chronic energy deficit needs to exist. The 18 lesson plans we have in the program, outlines these more advanced strategies you can use to hack that energy deficit and make it easier to obtain and larger than it wouldn’t be otherwise, without added effort on your part.

Easy fat loss fundaments to implement into your day

Ari Whitten: Well, Alex, let’s forget the program itself for a second and let’s just talk practical strategies for fat loss right now. What do those fundamentals look like, if you were to quickly summarize that? I also want to ask, though this is something that we delved into in great depth I think in the first podcast we did, on the subject of energy deficit, calorie deficit. There are some people out there promoting, right now and for the last several years, all of the calories in, calories out stuff is nonsense. Really, calories don’t matter, really, it’s about hormones

and it’s about insulin and not model of things. Again, we covered that in depth in the first podcast, but do you have any quick words for anybody listening to this who is thinking along those lines and saying, “Oh, this guy believes in calorie deficits. Clearly, he is not up to date on the latest research.” What would you say in response to that?

Alex Leaf: I would say that I think people confuse theoretical models with practical applications. From a theoretical model standpoint, it’s rather clear that you need an energy deficit to lose fatness, but that doesn’t mean that just telling people that eat less and move more is an effective practical strategy, because it’s not. Not even close. On the other hand, just to appeal to all the people that think that things like insulin are the drivers of fat loss. From that theoretical perspective, insulin is irrelevant. People can lose fat eating high carbohydrate diets, they can. That’s been shown consistently in the literature, but a low carbohydrate diet may be the ideal diet for you.

You find it lets you obtain an energy deficit in an easy way, by reducing your hunger more than other dietary patterns, or by increasing your energy levels more than other dietary patterns, or maybe it’s just the one dietary pattern you are able to adhere to and enjoy. I think that people get those two things mixed up.

The fundamental theoretical tenant of fat loss is you need a chronic energy deficit, but there is a lot of different ways to practically implement that theory. Just telling people, again, to eat less and move more doesn’t work, but telling them maybe to stop eating carbohydrates, that does work. That doesn’t mean that insulin was preventing your fat loss. It just means that you needed a different practical approach to achieving that energy deficit.

Ari Whitten: Just for the sake of argument. What if, let’s say, I burn off 3,000 calories every day, what if I was to consume 3,000 calories on a diet that has lots of carbs and my insulin levels are high, versus the same 3,000 calories, but on a diet where my insulin levels are very low. It’s a low-carb ketogenic diet. What kinds of differences would it make to my weight loss, by having insulin be higher or lower after my meals in those two states?

Alex Leaf: At a simple level, it wouldn’t make any difference. At the slightly more complex level, you would actually probably do better on the high-carb diet because carbohydrates stimulate increases in energy expenditure more than fats do. If your maintenance was 3,000, then you ate mostly carbohydrates, then your new maintenance might actually be 3200 calories instead of 3,000, which means you would actually be in a deficit despite eating that 3,000 calories you thought was your maintenance, because your body adapts and it shoots off a lot of those carbs as heat, but for all intensive purposes it doesn’t matter.

Ari Whitten: Now, add a third layer to that, which is, if what you’re saying is true, then how can we explain how people can consume low-carbs and keto diets and lose lots of weight and have an experience like it’s a great weight loss diet?

Alex Leaf: In the first week or two, all of that weight is mostly water because they are losing glycogen. Every molecule of glycogen requires, at minimum, two and a half grams of water to store it. If you lose several hundred grams of glycogen, that’s two to five pounds of water that leaves your body in the first week. After that, it’s just a chronic energy deficit. Low-carb diet squashes your appetite, makes it easier to adhere to the diet, cuts out a bunch of junk food because a lot of junk food’s high in carbohydrates. If you’re not eating carbs, you’re not eating the junk food, which means you’re eating less calories than you might think you are.

Ari Whitten: At equal levels of calories, high carb versus low carb, zero difference in fat loss basically?

Alex Leaf: Yes.

Ari Whitten: In at least some people, consuming a diet that is low carb or keto can potentially decrease their overall appetite so that if they are in that scenario I mentioned before of burning and consuming 3,000 calories, now they might non-consciously decrease their calorie intake down to 2,400 calories or 22,00 calories. As a result of that, even though they were not conscious of doing it intentionally to manipulate their calorie intake, that happened just as a result of how the foods that they were consuming influenced their appetite regulation in its entirety. Now, they’ve got an energy deficit that is going to lead to fat loss. Is that accurate?

Alex Leaf: Yes, 100% Also, low-carb diets tend to result in higher amounts of protein intake, because you’re eating more foods that just contain more protein naturally. Protein is the one macronutrient where consistently high-protein diets lead to more favorable changes in body composition than lower-protein diets. If you’re someone who’s eating at the low end of the protein, you decide to go low carb, your protein’s probably going to go up and that’s probably going to be a huge factor in your success in terms of lower appetite and greater muscle mass and greater fat loss.

Ari Whitten: As far as studies or just people’s experiences on low-carb versus low-fat diets, how big of an explanatory factor do you think protein intake is?

Alex Leaf: I think protein’s huge to the point where any study at this point in time, like if you want to assess the effect of a diet, you need to control variables to make sure that you can actually isolate the effect you’re looking for. Calories are pretty obvious. If people want to compare low-carb and low-fat diets, you need to have calories be the same or to see what effects it has on health markers or weight loss, that type of thing.

It’s also now at the point where you not only need to equate calories to make the diets relatively equal, so to speak, you need to equate their protein content because the data is so overwhelming that if you are comparing two diets that are different in their protein content, the one that’s higher in protein is probably going to have the more favorable effect on your weight loss.

Ari Whitten: Got it. On a practical level, how does one implement that information with regards to protein? How can one use the fact that protein is important to weight loss as a strategy to improve their results?

Alex Leaf: I would say that if you’re going to start anywhere, take a little time to figure out what you’re eating and how many grams of protein you are eating. Then, work to optimize your protein intake because we have med analyses of numerous, numerous studies showing that, for example, if you are overweight or obese, take however much you weigh and eat roughly- like in pounds, take however much you weigh in pounds and eat about .5 to .7 grams of protein for every pound of bodyweight that you are currently, that’s going to optimize your fat loss compared to eating less protein.

Maybe there is an added benefit from eating even more protein than that, but studies haven’t really gone up that high. We can’t say for certain.

Ari Whitten: When somebody does that task of actually sitting down to calculate the amount of protein that they have in their diet. Going on and [unintelligible 00:58:03] chronometer and plugging in what they ate for the last couple of days, what is the experience or the realization that most people have when it comes to their protein intake after doing that?

Alex Leaf: Their realization is usually, “Oh my God, I’ve been eating so little protein.” That’s been the universal finding in our private Fat Loss Blueprint Facebook group, is that people are just amazed. They are like, “I didn’t realize this.” Then, what’s funny is then they start adding protein. They’re not even removing foods from their diet. They just start adding protein in and suddenly they’re like, “I can’t eat anymore. I am so full.” They start just automatically pushing out other foods because they’re so satiated now that they’ve increased their protein. Then, fat loss ensues and they are just surprised that it’s like, “I didn’t realize it was this easy. I’m not even hungry.”

Ari Whitten: Yes, this point is just worth emphasizing to the extreme because the major reasons– It’s been shown the major reasons, people will fail to stick to a weight loss regimen. The two major factors that predisposed to that are hunger pangs, chronic hunger, and low energy, fatigue. If you’re relying on a weight loss regimen that’s just about deprivation and restricting calories or restricting different food groups and you’re chronically hungry and low energy, it’s just a matter of time before you go back to your old ways.

Then the whole thing was just a waste of time. It’s just worth emphasizing that approaching things first by adding in protein rather than just removing stuff and restricting is just vital because now you are actually eliminating one of the big predisposing factors to why people fail to sustain their weight loss, which is the hunger piece of the puzzle. It’s massive, so protein is just a huge factor here.

Alex Leaf: Yes, exactly.

Ari Whitten: Beyond that, what is another key tenet of effective, lasting, sustainable fat loss?

Alex Leaf: I think–

Ari Whitten: Actually, I want to just add one layer here, which is, if we took prisoners of war, just for the sake of the thought experiment, I don’t plan on doing this anytime soon. Soon.

[laughter]

Ari Whitten: Let’s just say we took a bunch of people who were listening to this, we capture them, and we put them in some kind of camp, and we got to control entirely what they were consuming, the food that they’re eating, weight loss in that kind of scenario becomes unbelievably simple. We can cause people to lose as much weight as we want by simply starving them.

Weight loss, in this sense, is actually extraordinarily simple. Any monkey can figure out how to tell somebody to go on a calorie deprivation diet and restrict their calories and starve themselves. The tricky and insidious part of that is, it works kind of, initially, and then it doesn’t work. Then, when it doesn’t work, you can then blame the individual and say, “Oh, it’s your failure of willpower to stick to the regimen,” because we know that weight loss is as simple as calorie deprivation.

In the real-world setting, when you don’t have people who are your prisoners that you can just starve, and people actually are listening to their cues from their body and the hormones that regulate body fatness and appetite, now all of a sudden, weight loss becomes an enormously more complex problem that is way harder to solve in a real-world context that is sustainable, that is lasting, that is permanent. That distinction, I think, cannot be understated.

What are the core tenets of a paradigm of fat loss that is lasting and sustainable and permanent? It doesn’t just tell people to go on some wacky, extreme calorie deprivation or other kind of deprivation diet. You mentioned protein at this point, what else?

Alex Leaf: We got protein, the other one plays into what we’re saying about low-carb diets and low-fat diets, and that’s, you need to find a diet that you can stick with. If your best friend’s on a low-carb diet and they’re doing great, and you’re just like, “I don’t like any of the food on the side. I just can’t do it,” don’t try to force yourself to do that diet.

When you’re going for fat loss, it needs to be something you can do for the rest of your life. Yoni Freedhof says you need the habits to lose fat you need to be able to do for the rest of your life to keep the fat off. I would say that’s another fundamental tenet is, pick a diet that works for you. It’s not going to be the same as works for everyone else. Everyone’s going to have their own preferences, so you need to find a way to work with your preferences so that you enjoy the process.

How the diet you eat affects hunger and energy levels

Ari Whitten: Yes. I love this point. I’m at the risk of maybe introducing too much nuance and complexity here. It’s counter-intuitive, probably for both you and I. There’s research showing that– This is a mutual friend of ours, Spencer Nadolsky, who linked me to this research when I was discussing it with him on a podcast we did a couple of years ago, but basically looking at people’s dietary preferences, the kinds of foods that a person prefers, and if choosing a diet based on foods that a person prefers leads to better long-term outcomes, fat loss outcomes, and sustainability, it didn’t really.

I think the confounding variable in here in this, there’s two layers that need to be juxtaposed. One is the layer you mentioned that, yes, you have to choose the dietary pattern that you can sustain, that you like enough to keep doing and that doesn’t cause you so much psychological stress where you chronically feel deprived, or you feel hungry, or you feel low energy or something like that. At the same time, it also probably needs to be relatively scarce in foods that you really love.

Alex Leaf: Yes, that’s a really good point.

Ari Whitten: Probably needs to be a diet that is not really rich in pizza and doughnuts and ice cream. There’s a balance in between those two extremes of it, it shouldn’t be something that’s so extreme where you just hate your diet and you despise the meals that you’re consuming. It also shouldn’t be something that’s so extreme where you just can’t wait to sit down to your meals because you’re so looking forward to getting to indulge in those delicious foods, and you’re thinking about it for hours before your meal.

Alex Leaf: This actually plays into another fundamental tenet that I wanted to mention too, is that your diet needs to be based around mostly whole foods. This solves that problem, because the standard Western diet, the standard American diet, there’s a reason why three quarters of the population is overweight or obese. It’s because their diet is full of ultra-processed, hyper-palatable high fat, high carbohydrate foods that just override all of your body’s inborn satiety signalling mechanisms and facilitate, “Eat. Eat more and gain weight.” Then you continue to eat.

Ari Whitten: [inaudible] pleasure. Forget about even listening to your hunger signals and your satiety signals. You’re now eating because your brain gets a hit of pleasure. by eating those really delicious foods.

Alex Leaf: Yes, the foods are basically drugged.

Ari Whitten: Biology, actually, literally gets shifted towards what’s called hedonic eating instead of homeostatic eating. You’re eating to give yourself entertainment and pleasure, instead of just operating as most animal species do, where they’re not eating so much for pleasure, they’re eating because their body requires those nutrients.

Alex Leaf: Yes, exactly. I think it was in 2019, it might have been earlier this year, but I can’t remember. The point is, within the last year or two, the obesity researcher, Kevin Hall, published a study where he locked a bunch of adults inside a metabolic [unintelligible] inside his research institute and fed them, controlled all their food and [unintelligible]

Ari Whitten: Oh, he did the experiment I was talking about, taking prisoners of war and starving them.

Alex Leaf: Yes. Right? No, he gave them food. He gave them two different diets. One diet was based on pretty much all whole foods, the other diet was based on super-processed, refined foods, but otherwise, the macros were the same, like same fiber, same protein, same carbs, same fat. He let the participants eat as much as they wanted. What he found is that, over the two-week period, keeping in mind research, especially this type of inpatient research, where they live in your research institute, very expensive, usually can’t go on for super long periods of time, and that sucks, but that’s just a fact. For over two weeks.

Ari Whitten: The experiment where I lock people in my basement for three years, and [unintelligible]

Alex Leaf: Yes, right. To see what something like deprivation does.

Ari Whitten: Yes.

Alex Leaf: Anyway, what he found is over two weeks, those who ate the whole food diet lost about two pounds, and those that ate the ultra-processed diet, gained about two pounds. What was really interesting is that, throughout the experiment, the participants rated each diet equally satiating. The hunger levels and appetite were the same on each diet, but the ultra-processed diet, they ate about 500 calories more per day, which is what caused the weight gain.

Ari Whitten: I just want to add that these two pounds, to people listening, might seem insignificant, “Oh, it’s just two pounds.” Keep in mind the context is a two-week study. Just think about how something like that, an effect like that would play out over time. Most people who are obese are what? 40, 50 pounds overweight, 80 pounds overweight? Just think how easy if you can gain two pounds of fat in the context of two weeks.

There’s 52 weeks in a year, just extrapolating the math out, in a decade, let’s say over 500 weeks, would it be possible in the span of 10 years from the time you go from being in high school at 18 to 28 years old or 28 to 38, is it possible to gain 50 pounds or 80 pounds just from this one thing of how the degree of processing of the foods you’re consuming are manipulating the hormonal environment that regulates your body fatness, your appetite and your energy expenditure in a way that leads to the gain of 50 or 80 pounds in the span of a decade. Yes, absolutely. Just this one factor by itself can explain the entire obesity [unintelligible].

Alex Leaf: Yes, 100%. Again, what’s really the most fascinating part about this experiment is, again, the similar satiety levels, which means that, in order to achieve the same level of hunger suppression on each of these diets, you need 500 calories more of ultra-processed food to get the same level of satiety as the whole foods diet. If we just flip it on its head, if you go from whatever you’re eating now to eating a mostly whole foods diet, your hunger might not change, but you’re more than likely going to spontaneously eat much pure calories.

Ari Whitten: Beautiful. Just to the risk of redundancy at all, I just want to emphasize this. That principle is literally the single most important principle when it comes to lasting, sustainable fat loss. Everybody who gets results has to rely on that. I won’t say everybody, almost everybody who does things in a lasting, sustainable way of they lose fat, and they achieve that for years, they are relying on that fundamental principle, whether they’re eating a low-carb diet or a high-carb diet or a vegan diet or whatever the specifics are, that principle is at play of unprocessed whole foods.

Within that, Alex, within this territory of unprocessing your diet whole foods, you’ve mentioned protein as a factor there, so we have whole foods, increased protein intake, optimizing it .5 to .7 grams per pound. What about the other foods? What about the carb-to-fat ratio? What about the specific food choices and anything you can say on that? Obviously, we don’t have three hours to delve into all of the details of all of the specifics of fat loss, but what’s one key point on that subject that’s worth emphasizing?

Alex Leaf: Okay. If I had to think of one key point on that point to emphasize, frankly, I don’t think it’s worth worrying about where your carbs and your fats fall. I think as long as you’re eating mostly whole foods and making sure you hit your protein, then if you want to go on, again, that low-carb diet, how about it. If you want to go on a low-fat diet, how about it. If you want to have a little bit of each, that’s fine too. People are successful on all of these types of diets.

That is evidence not that any of them could work, it’s just, again, you need to pick the one that you enjoy provided you’re eating mostly whole foods and your protein intake is satisfied. That being said, I personally think that eating high fiber diets, ones that have an abundance of fibrous plants, are going to be a better long-term strategy. We’re not going to dive into all the reasons why. I’ll just mention that all of the abundance of phytochemicals you get from those plants along with the fibers have numerous beneficial effects on your microbiome and your total body health, effects that we don’t quite know what the long-term consequences of not having those foods in the diet are.

Ari Whitten: Okay. I have two more layers I want to dive into. One is exercise, briefly, I want you to give me a quick summary of how to optimize exercise in the context of losing fat. Then the last thing I want to talk about is beyond just the diet and exercise story because so much of what we do in the Fat Loss Blueprint goes beyond just a standard diet and exercise stuff, I want you to mention at least one non-diet or exercise factor that influences fat loss.

Alex Leaf: Okay. Exercise, stop thinking about it as a way to burn calories. Researchers have systematically reviewed studies that compared different modalities of diet and exercise interventions for weight loss. They find that the biggest impact comes from those which provide the highest level of metabolic stress. It’s a hormetic stressor. Resistance training is at the top. Why? Resistance training is, fundamentally, the only way that you can build up muscle tissue beneath your body.

When you think of fat loss, a lot of you have a picture in the head of what you want to look like when you lose fat. If you just lose fat along with all of your muscle, you’re probably never going to achieve that image. You need to focus on things that not just facilitate fat loss, but also build up that metabolic muscle tissue beneath your skin to give you the appearance that many of you want and to contribute to your health.

The loss of muscle mass with aging is the leading cause of premature death. It’s called sarcopenia, so muscle mass is very important. Resistance training is really the only modality of exercise you can do to build that up. Stop thinking about it like, “Okay, I have an hour to exercise. I’m going to burn more calories if I just run on the treadmill.” No. Yes, you’ll burn more calories, but so what? Use that time to do some resistance training if you don’t already have a regular resistance training plan in place because that’s what’s going to build up your muscle, make you healthier and give you the body composition you want.

Ari Whitten: In the context of the dietary modifications that lead to an energy deficit, why is it important to do resistance exercise in that context as opposed to someone who just does cardio, for example?

Alex Leaf: Because it tells your body to either grow new muscle or preserve whatever muscle you have. When you’re dieting, your body is [unintelligible] around for energy because if you’re not eating it, it has to get it from the body, and it will pull it from your muscle. Resistance training is the one way to actually build muscle even though you’re in an energy deficit. Whereas if you don’t do any resistance training, you’re going to lose muscle. The amount of muscle you lose all vary based on the variety of factors, but you will 100% lose muscle.

Ari Whitten: Yes, absolutely, okay. Last question is, give people at least one non-diet or exercise factor that is not very well known that influences their body fatness and their fat loss results.

Alex Leaf: Okay. I want to go with one that is just a personal pep favorite of mine, and it’s going to be your mindset. I think that a lot of people get so focused on the tangible aspects of dieting, what can they manipulate about their exercise, what can they manipulate about their diet, what can they manipulate about their environment, that they never stop to turn all of that desire for change internally and think about, “What can I manipulate about the way that I look at my life, my body composition and my approach to diet?”

Because your mind is always going to be there. You can take people that have, for example, certain stressful events, and one person could absolutely freak out from that stress while the other person remains calm. You can have two people, that one person has a failure in their dieting adventure because they didn’t meet some goal they set, whereas another person acknowledges the success they had along the way despite not meeting that goal. The only difference between these people is their mindset.

It’s their mindset that determines how they deal with stress, how they deal with failure, and how they decide to move forward in their fat loss journey. I think that the dieting mindset is something that everyone would benefit from, not just becoming more aware of, but from using to understand what are some of the inborn cognitive biases the mind has, like the negatively biased. Why is it that I get so focused on every failure I make? Every time I fall off the dieting tracts, I get hyper-focused on it and I feel like a failure. I feel down, and then I just want to give up, and I just figure what’s the point. Why is that? It’s called the negativity bias.

If you enter into a cave and a bear is living in there and it almost kills you, you’re going to remember that cave because you would die if you didn’t. If you eat a poisonous plant, it’s good if you remember what plant is poisonous, because it could literally kill you. If you find honey, that’s awesome, but it’s not as important to remember, because it’s not a make-it-or-break-it situation. We’re designed from an evolutionary perspective to focus on negative events because they have more of an impact. They have the potential for more of an impact on our life. Just by simply acknowledging that one fact, you can start to say, “This is why I keep focusing on all the tragedies of my dieting journey.” Then you can say, “Okay. Now that I’m aware of why I’m doing this, it’s not something that’s wrong with me. That’s normal, and so I don’t feel as bad that it’s happening now, and I can shift my focus from self-loathing to trying to identify positives in this situation,” and things of that nature.

I just don’t think that’s talked about enough in the dieting world. I think that a lot of people approach dieting with completely immature mindsets. Not immature, but just very innocent mindsets. They don’t realize how much of an effect just shifting their perspective on this situation could have on their entire journey, not just their success rates, but on their enjoyment as they reach their goals.

Ari Whitten: Yes, 100%. To everybody listening, I want to mention, obviously, as we’ve alluded to, we’ve developed a program. We launched it about 10 weeks ago, called the Fat Loss Blueprint. You can find that at theenergyblueprint.com/fat-loss-blueprint. Fat-loss-blueprint just with little dashes or hyphens between the words. theenergyblueprint.com/fat-loss-blueprint.

If you’re interested in exploring this, if you’re interested in getting this area of your life handled, if you’re overweight and you don’t want to suffer the consequences of that– Again, in the previous podcasts we did talks about the immune consequences, this podcast we talked about the energy and the fatigue consequences of being overweight. There are other consequences. I think we touched on, in the original podcast, just around overweight, and the risk of other metabolic diseases, cardiovascular disease, many types of neurological diseases. The risk goes up with all kinds of diseases.

Apart from any aesthetic, body goals that you have, this is really an important area of your life to get handled. The crux of your overall health and risk of many different diseases, your experience of life, your energy levels, your mood depends heavily on your overall metabolic health, which very much hinges on the level of body fat.

I encourage you all, if this is an area of your life that you feel motivated and inspired, to take action on and to get handled, go check out the Fat Loss Blueprint. Again, it’s really meant more for people who already have the basics in place, who already know the basics of good nutrition and exercise and so on, who are ready to ramp things up and get some advanced fat loss strategies implemented in their life.

Whether you take that up or not, I hope you enjoyed this podcast very much. I hope you learned a lot from it and I hope you go and search to apply this information in your life. I hope you feel inspired to take action on this area of your life because it is so important. It is something that is consequential. It’s not something that just has no effect on you other than aesthetics. It’s something that does have huge effects on you other than aesthetics. Alex, with all of that said, that’s my wrap-up. Do you want to offer any final words of wisdom, any words of inspiration, anything you want to say to wrap up?

Alex Leaf: Yes. Don’t give up. Fat loss is a journey. It’s not a race. Don’t compare yourself to other people. Figure out what you want to achieve. Compare yourself to your past self. If it’s been an entire month and you’ve only lost one pound, two pounds, that’s not a failure. You have lost one to two pounds. Maybe it’s not at the rate you want. If so, what needs to change? The point is, compare your present self to your past self and just keep moving forward. Keep striving to make improvements. You will reach your goals. We are here to help you if you decide that you need that help.

Ari Whitten: Beautiful. Bro in, as always, my friend, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with our audience. To everybody listening, hope you enjoyed this, hope you feel inspired to take action in your life. I will see you in the next episode.

Show Notes

The prevalence of fatigue in modern day society (04:04)
The link between excessive body fat and fatigue (09:54)
The role of NEAT in body composition (17:05)
How body fatness affects energy levels (20:45)
How mitochondria are affected by body fat (33:33)
Easy fat loss fundaments to implement into your day (49:27)
How the diet you eat affects hunger and energy levels (1:03:43)

Listen to the podcast I did with Alex about the body fat - immune function link.

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