Ladies and gentlemen, today we’ll be hanging out with a super cool author, podcaster, and Jiu-Jitsu master, Robb Wolf. Robb is the author of the New York Times Best-Seller, The Paleo Solution, a former research biochemist, a renowned strength and conditioning coach, and a leading expert in Paleolithic nutrition. Through his best-selling book, top ranked iTunes podcast and wildly popular seminar series, Robb has transformed the lives of tens of thousands of people around the world.
But Robb hasn’t always been a knuckle-dragger.
For those of you who haven’t yet read The Paleo Solution, Robb has a pretty cool back story. Robb in his younger days (like me) “developed an interest in unwashed hippy girls and vegetarianism.”
But at the ripe age of 26, Robb suddenly found himself crippled by severe ulcerative colitis and the wheels fell off. Once a monstrous powerlifter whose stats could make He-Man blush, Robb could no longer bench his own body weight. Robb’s doctors worried that his loss of vitality and an early death was all but inevitable.
But after his mother was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjogren’s syndrome, and Celiac disease, Robb smelled what he was stepping in. The base of the food pyramid – grains and legumes, “the most wholesome and righteous of foods” – seemed to be out to kill him.
So Robb stuck his nose in the books, swung over to Whole Foods, grilled up some grass-fed beef, and the rest is history. Tons more in the show.
Today, Robb hosts an insanely popular podcast, The Paleo Solution, and we’ve both been muscling for the top spot and nipping at the heels of Jillian Michaels for the past few weeks. And – awesome news – the Fat-Burning Man show just hit #2 in the UK and nudged out Jillian Michaels!
This is unprecedented stuff. No corporation, no sponsors, no PR or massive marketing campaigns – Robb and I are just a couple dudes with mics who are passionate about helping as many people as we can.
And with our powers combined (and all of the other ancestral health podcasts out there), we’re giving conventional wisdom a walloping. I know I speak for Robb when I say that we are humbled and truly appreciate your support.
The format of The Fat-Burning Man Show is evolving. I plan to have many of my guests back to answer your questions, explore heady and cutting-edge principles and theories, and chat about changing the world. This will certainly not be the last time you’ll see Robb on the show. We had a blast.
Quick note: some of you may be aware that Robb and Nicki have a “Wolf cub” on the way. The cub should be arriving soon, so send your positive vibes!
Robb and I chat about:
- How Paleo has recalibrated and become more nuanced since Loren Cordain’s, The Paleo Diet
- How Art De Vany kicked Robb’s arse in an impromptu road race
- The risks and benefits of strategic carb refeeds
- How we’re turning into a country of crack babies (thanks epigenetics)
- Why the recent “Red Meat is Evil” study is crap science and future opportunities for research
- Robb’s view on intermittent fasting as a stressor
- The importance of a more nuanced approach to paleo as a template rather than strict dogma
- The importance of marrying directional accuracy and good science to move the field forward
- Why extreme caloric restriction for longevity is not worth the misery
- Why Robb wishes he had posted a shirtless picture of himself as his iTunes thumbnail
And Robb answers reader questions including:
- Is there such a thing as “safe starches“?
- Robb’s opinions about the “hot” topic: cold thermogenesis, Jack Kruse style
- How much and what style of exercise is appropriate for maximum longevity and overall vibrancy?
- If Robb were to write another book about Paleo, what new important info would he add?
Here’s the show.
LEARN HOW TO DROP 20 POUNDS IN 40 DAYS WITH REAL FOOD
Want to hear more from Robb? Sure you do.
Abel: Hi, there! This is Abel James, and welcome to the Fat-Burning Man Show.
Ladies and gentlemen, today we’ll be hanging out with one of my favorite authors, podcasters, and Jiu-Jitsu masters, Mr. Robb Wolf. Robb is the author of The Paleo Solution, a former research biochemist, a sought-after strength and conditioning coach, and a leading expert in Paleolithic nutrition. Through his best-selling book, top-ranked iTunes podcast and wildly popular seminar series, Robb has transformed the lives of tens of thousands of people around the world.
But Robb hasn’t always been a knuckle-dragger. And we’ll talk today a little bit about his interesting back story that has a lot of parallels with mine. So, as you may know, Robb hosts the Paleo Solution podcast, which is one of my favorites. And we’ve both been muscling for the top spot and nipping at the heels of Jillian Michaels for the past few weeks. And – awesome news – the Fat-Burning Man show just hit #2 in the UK and even nudged out Jillian Michaels!
And, last time I checked, it was ranked at least in the top ten in most English-speaking countries on iTunes charts. And this is crazy! This is unprecedented stuff. No corporation, no sponsors, no PR or massive marketing campaigns – Robb and I are just a couple dudes with microphones who are passionate about helping as many people as we can.
And with our powers combined (and all of the other ancestral health podcasts out there), we’re giving conventional wisdom a walloping. I know I speak for Robb and all of the other Paleo podcasters out there when I say that we are very humbled and truly appreciate your support.
And, if you haven’t already, it really helps us skyrocket in the rankings and get after the conventional wisdom folks when you leave a review on iTunes. So if you have a minute and you haven’t already, please hop on over to iTunes and leave us a review. We really appreciate it.
I also wanted to give you an update that the format of The Fat-Burning Man Show is evolving. I plan to have many of my guests back to answer your questions, explore heady and cutting-edge principles and theories, and chat about generally changing the world. This will certainly not be the last time you’ll see Robb on the show. We had a blast.
On today’s show we talk about:
- How Art De Vany kicked Robb’s arse in an impromptu road race
- Why extreme caloric restriction for longevity is not worth the misery
- Robb’s view on intermittent fasting as a stressor
- Whether or not there’s such a thing as “safe starches“
- Robb’s opinions about the “hot” topic: cold thermogenesis, Jack Kruse-style
Cool! Let’s go hang out with Robb.
Abel: We’re here with Robb Wolf, Paleo rock star and Jiu Jitsu extraordinaire. How’s it going, Robb?
Robb: [laughs] Good! Abel knows that I just got the dog piss beat out of me for about 3 hours at ‘Jits, so he’s pulling all of your legs. I just had my neck cranked and pulled and everything.
Abel: Aw, man!
Robb: I’m good, man, how are you doing? You did a little fasting today, huh?
Abel: I did. You know I find that I get a heck of a lot of work done when I fast, for the most part. And then sometimes I just run out of juice. And that’s kind of what happened today! I just cranked it all day, and then it was time to eat and, man, I was ready.
Robb: It’s kind of a good way to do things, though. I find that interval working, interval training, I mean, it’s like you can get in and get a pretty good focus going for about 3 to 4 hours, and then things start getting a little dodgy at the end of that, and then, really, having an expectation of 8 hours of productivity—if it’s writing and cerebral work—it’s tough.
Robb: It might be a different thing if you’re building a house and you’re tinkering with something you’re building. But I find any type of cerebral work, writing, it’s about 3, maybe 5 hours, then I’m tapped, I’m gone.
Abel: Yeah, glucose-heavy stuff for sure.
Robb: Yeah! Yeah.
Abel: So things are pretty crazy on that side of the microphone! You’ve got a ‘wolf cub’ on the way soon, I hear!
Robb: That’s what I’ve been informed of!
Robb: It was a big surprise, like, a week ago.
Robb: No, no we’re close. Today’s, what, April 17, and we’re due April 26. And, honestly, Nikki could go any time. But both of us have a little gut sense that it’s probably going to go a little long, just because she’s feeling fully ready to go now. And she’s, I wouldn’t say miserable, but she’s getting uncomfortable. She’s getting a little uncomfortable. So, yeah, man, we’ll see! That’s going to be a game-changer. To whatever degree I’m perky it’s probably going to disappear.
Abel: Right? Well, you must be stoked and shaking in your bones at the same time, right?
Robb: Yeah! I keep saying alternating bouts of fear and excitement. Which, everybody who’s actually a parent, they say, “Yeah, that’s good! That shows that you’re pretty sane with the whole thing.” So, yeah!
Abel: I’m sure you’ll be great.
Robb: I hope so, man, I hope so! I’ve kept the cat alive for 10 years, so I hope that somehow scales to kids.
Abel: Yeah! The Paleo Kitty, right?
Robb: Yeah, yeah.
Abel: Heh, that’s awesome. So I just revisited your book a few weeks ago, and I’d forgotten that you were once a self-righteous vegetarian for some time, too. And I was, in the past, as well. Can you tell folks a bit about your back story? Going from essentially being sick to leading the Paleo movement?
Robb: You know, I think it’s kind of an interesting story in self-experimentation. You know, a little bit out of the Tim Ferriss camp. I was a former State Champion power lifter. I was into kick-boxing. I’ve always been interested in nutrition and health. My parents were very, very sick growing up, and I just had a niggling suspicion that diabetes and heart disease and mental illness was not a guarantee for me. And I just was always interested in tinkering with my food. And around 1992—I graduated high school in ’90—and in ’92 the food pyramid was kind of unleashed. And it was very high-carb, low-fat. The media was definitely beating this kind of vegetarian-esque drum. I think that that drum beat has gotten heavier and heavier as time has gone on, interestingly. But having a little bit of a counter-culture streak, having an interest in improving my performance, health and longevity, I tried eating a high-carb, low-fat vegetarian diet, which then kind of grew into a vegan diet. What was interesting was that I was still trying to maintain a power-lifting schedule, I was trying to do kick-boxing and capoeira. So the only change to the system, really, was the fueling that I was using. And it didn’t make sense to me that I would use brown rice protein powder or these protein concentrates that I would see a lot of these Vegan athletes use today. What made sense to me was that I should eat whole, unprocessed foods. So I started eating lots of grains and lots of legumes. I had a pressure-cooker. I had sprouters. I went to the George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Institute—studied there—I followed all of the stuff from John McDougall and Dean Ornish, and I got sick. I lost muscle mass. I went from about 185 lbs, sub-10% body fat, almost a 600 lb back squat, 565 squat, 356 dead lift, 345 bench; I could stand flat-footed under a basketball hoop and dunk a basketball with no run-up (actually, I’m uncoordinated enough that a run-up wouldn’t have helped me); but, you know, I was a reasonably strong, powerful individual. And I was good at kick-boxing. And over the course of about two and a half years, I lost over 40 lbs of muscle mass. It got to the point where I couldn’t even bench-press my body weight, which was then about 140 lbs. I had ulcerative colitis so bad that the doctors wanted to a bowel resection on me. And this is at the ripe old age of 26, 27. The doctors that I was going to—I was in Seattle at this time, with very alternative medicine, very pro-vegetarian—it was their opinion that this diet that I was eating was keeping me alive: this high-carb, low-fat vegetarian/vegan diet. Given the fact that my parents were both Type II diabetic and had heart disease and everything, it was their opinion that I was a confluence of their very shallow end of the gene pool—genetics. I was basically seriously chinga’d at that point. I had nothing, really, to do, except to ride this thing out and have a bowel resection. It was my opinion at that time that I probably wasn’t going to live all that long. Then my mother, we discovered, had an intolerance—had Celiac’s disease, you know, gluten intolerance. She also had an intolerance, and autoimmune response to various legumes and also to dairy. We discovered this when she had an autoimmune flare. And when I was talking to my mother—and she almost died from all this whole process—and when I was talking to my mom and she was describing what her rheumatologist was recommending that she needed to eat, which was no grains, no legumes, no dairy, basically. I was like, “God, no grains, no legumes, no dairy? What the heck would you eat if you don’t eat that?” It was weird, this kind of stream-of-consciousness thing. I was thinking, “grains and legumes, agriculture, what did you eat before agriculture?” And after a minute it just popped into my head: Paleo Diet. I had heard this term, this was back around 1998, and I had heard this term before, and it was this idea that if you ate more akin to your Paleolithic ancestors, that there might be some health benefits to that. So I used this new search engine called Google…
Robb: And, low and behold, there was some information from these guys: Art DeVany and Loren Cordain. Not a ton of information like there is now, but there was some information. And it talked a ton about grains causing gastrointestinal damage, metabolic derangement due to changes in carbohydrate load in decreases in protein and basically just an evolutionary mis-match between our genetics and our environment. And I literally was like, “What the heck have I got to lose?” I went and bought a bunch of grass-fed beef ribs at Whole Foods, cooked ‘em up, had a salad, and literally had the best night’s sleep I’d had in a couple of years. The following day I had scrambled eggs and fruit. And that’s almost 15 years ago.
This whole thing grew out of that. I was very fortunate at the time that the place I was working I was doing some lipid metabolism research related to autoimmunity and cancer, and so I was kind of able to steer the boat of my research kind of in this Paleo diet direction. I ended up doing a research fellowship with Loren Cordain for about 9 months out in Ft. Collins, and then started the gym in Chico, and the blog, and the podcast, and did the book and all the rest of that. But that’s all been an outgrowth of having been really sick, getting healthy, becoming a coach, talking to people about this stuff, kind of keeping my finger in the research circles and all that. That’s kind of the Cliff Notes 30,000-foot treatment of how I went from that spot to this spot.
Abel: Awesome! And it’s definitely blown up in the past few years, for sure.
Robb: It’s insane.
Abel: Yeah! And I wanted to talk to you a little bit about that. Paleo has evolved, so to speak, over the past few years, and it seems that it’s far more nuanced in terms of what qualifies as Paleo, especially in recent years. But you worked with Cordain way back, like you said, so what do you think about how Paleo has kind of re-calibrated over the past few years?
Robb: You know, it’s interesting, it’s good. You know, in the early days, Loren was of the opinion that saturated fat posed a significant cardiovascular risk parameter. And I always—coming as a lipid biochemist background—it never made sense to me unless we had other really overt systemic inflammatory issues. And so, this is one of the things that, over the course of time, that stuff has rattled out. We understand one of the big awakenings for me…I was always of the opinion that everybody would benefit from a low-carb, Paleo approach. I was quite dogmatic about it because I saw so damn many people benefit from it. But you know there’s a selection bias. You hear more from the people that succeed than fail. I’m usually not that big of a dick, so I think that when something doesn’t work for most people, they don’t come back and say “Neener-neener, this didn’t work.”
Robb: And so you create a selection bias with that. And then, over the course of time, I think that most people who are metabolically broken have systemic inflammation. But throwing the dart close to that low-carb spot, it’s just a common place to start. Is it the orthodoxy? Do you always? No, you don’t always have to start there, but it’s a safe, easy spot that you can start people, and then we can start tinkering from there. Do you need more carbs? Do you need a kind of GAPS protocol to really heal the gut, and you don’t do starch at all? Or do you in fact do way better with starch. And then we’ve got kind of a logic tree or a flow chart that we can then start customizing things. The thing that’s interesting to me is that people just get nasty as hell about the nuances when, really, it’s just a process of discovery. It’s nothing to get your panties bunched up about. Some stuff’s going to work better for some people than for others. This basic evolutionary template is still more or less the place to start. And if it just flat doesn’t work for somebody then we will discover that over time. I typically don’t see that. But there’s nothing really to get that worked up about that. We’ve just learned some nuanced pieces to all this over time. And I think that this new risk assessment program that just popped up in the city of Reno is a good illustration of just having a base kind of curriculum or kind of philosophy. This is where we start the lion’s share of people. If you’ve got metabolic derangement, we start you on a low-carb Paleo [diet], we get your vitamin D levels up, we battle to get your sleep levels improved, try to have some smart exercise. And then we start tinkering and shifting and shuffling from there. It’s based on the feedback we get from the person. We usually get some really good performance out of folks. We have a gal that Amy Kubal’s been nutritionally coaching, and I’ve been helping her also. Her name’s Ursula Grobler; I believe she just made the U.S. Olympic team. Literally, they just had a race an hour ago or something, and she was seated first place. But she set the indoor world record on the 2,000-meter rowing event a couple of years ago. And she took almost a minute off the previous best after she started eating Paleo.
Abel: That’s awesome.
Robb: Which is totally cool! And we’ve got a lot of top-level MMA fighters like Forest Griffon and Frank Mir.
Robb: And so it’s just a good, safe spot to start most folks. And then we can kind of tinker and modify from there and see where we go.
Abel: Yeah! And maybe you could talk a little bit more about this. You brought it up at Paleo FX. And I was pleased when you talked about how, in your book, it starts out recommending lean meats, but can we talk about the fat issue? Because what you said earlier, that seems a little bit over-reductive, it’s not really the whole story. It’s not just lean meats; it’s all fat.
Robb: Yeah. And you know, the way that I do, or the reason I wrote the book the way that I did, and I had a couple of folks, I forget her name, she was really cute, her name will come to me… But she was like, “I wish you would change that in your book! I always have to answer this question.” But, you know, I wrote “lean meats” and also, if you notice, if you look at the blood work, I have blood work recommendations that are straight out of American…AMA recommendations: low cholesterol and all the rest of that stuff. But then I have qualifiers immediately after that. So I recommend lean meats and low cholesterol levels unless you have “this, this and this” happen. I recommend the lean meats up front, but then if you look at the actual meal plan recommendations, it’s not lean meats, it’s not low-fat.
Robb: A little bit of what this is is just some necessary smoke-and-mirrors to just get the buy-in so that I’m not tripping these kind of flags that are going to send people into a fizz. So even though I say, “lean meats,” we have bacon in the meal plan.
Robb: And even though I recommend low cholesterol levels overall, then as soon as we get in, we start looking at, “Well, what if your HDL is this, your LDL is this, but your triglycerides are super-low, and your C-reactive protein is really low, then it really doesn’t matter all that much. In doing that, the interesting thing to me—unlike with Loren Cordain, where he didn’t end up having these qualifiers in the book, he got very severely taken to task about his cholesterol recommendations, about the fat and stuff like that—whereas for me, I guess I was a little bit two-faced about it. But I watched what had gone down with him. I had watched what had happened to Mike Eades, who had always recommended a higher-fat approach, or don’t worry about the fat, even from conventional meat, and stuff like that, and I saw both of these people get taken to task from people not understanding what the bigger picture was that they were trying to talk about. And then, also, because it was just flipping a kind of emotional switch.
Robb: And so, instead of tackling that head-on, I just kind of told people what they wanted to hear up-front, had the qualifiers on the back end to keep the more nuanced people happy, and I haven’t been kicked in the balls too much, ya know?
Robb: Overall, the thing just works. And so, this is some of the stuff that’s born of coaching people and also having the benefits of–Loren’s book was released in 2001, mine was released in 2010. So I had 10 years of travel to see how this message how this message had gone out to the masses. How was it received? And where were people kind of falling down on it?
Robb: So, people will kind of freak out about, “Well, Robb recommends lean meats.” But if you skip past that and actually get to the meal plans, and do what I recommend, I tell people to shut up and do it for 30 days, and then go from there, track mile markers before, track mile markers afterwards. Then, at the final analysis, everything comes out fine.
Abel: Yeah. And, you know, I think that’s a good approach. Because I remember when I went from being vegetarian to eating meat again, and it’s a similar story as you, I just started eating meat. I remember; I was lifting weight as a vegetarian. I was carrying extra weight and extra fat, but I was losing muscle. I’m just like, “What is going on?” And I had a really heavy session. And at the end of it, I’m just like, “I want meat. I need meat right now.” And I hadn’t had it in years. And so I just went and got a steak. But when I did, you know, there’s something inherently scary about fat when you first eat it, especially off an animal. Animal fat is just very intimidating, especially in this society. And who knows exactly why that is, but it definitely takes a while for people who’ve even adopted this lifestyle to get used to the idea of eating fatty, fatty cuts of meat. But, once you do, they’re delicious.
Robb: Yeah, and I think we could flip that around and kind of put the carbohydrate intake in the same deal. I was so sick, and then benefited so much from a ketogenic diet that I had a legit, hard-wired carb phobia for a long time. And some of that was because, until I really reversed some of the metabolic derangement, if I had something like an orange or an apple or a hunk of sweet potato or something like that, I just didn’t feel good. It took me a long time to get healthy enough where I could then tolerate that stuff again.
Abel: So, shifting gears a little bit, I heard you talk on your podcast—which I love, by the way; I listen to it all the time.
Robb: Oh, thanks, man!
Abel: Yes! It’s great stuff. You kind of attacked the recent study on the evils of red meat. I loved that. Can you tell us why that’s crap science?
Robb: Well, Mat Lalonde and I were talking about this. And my main issue with it was that it was, again, this food-frequency questionnaire, very observational, and you know they did the best job they could to try to normalize differences within different groups: this group had more smokers, this group exercised less and stuff like that. And my main point with this thing, unlike some other folks that kind of went after the study, I don’t like the observational piece, I don’t like the food frequency piece. And the example that I used in that write-up was a very, very similar piece that seemed to implicate starch intake as being a risk factor in the recurrence of breast cancer in people who had already suffered from breast cancer.
Robb: And I would love to jump up and down on that study and throw it out to the blog-o-sphere and be like, “See? See? Carbs are bad! Insulin spiking is bad!” And I can think of some mechanisms of causation there, thinking about insulin-like growth factor and down-regulation of retinoic acid production out of the liver, and that being a factor in apoptosis. And I can make an argument for a mechanism there. But I can’t hang my hat on that study, because, again, it’s a food frequency questionnaire and it’s very observational.
Robb: It’s a place to start asking mechanistic-based questions where we do intervention studies and whatnot. My main point was just that, whether it looks like it’s for our position or against our position, we can’t promulgate science around that thing. And my point was really that we’ve done this epidemiological—I equate it to the pan-handlers on the street, that there’s a dice under the hat and they’re moving it around on the table—we’ve done that. We have done that game ad nauseum. And what we need to start doing is shifting our money into intervention studies metabolic or clinic trials, where we are looking at specific biomarker end-points, putting diseased populations, putting healthy populations under different dietary protocols, and then see what the results are.
Robb: And that’s kind of my point with that. Stephan Guyenet, through some e-mail exchanges, said, you know, maybe there are some deleterious health elements to that red meat piece that people aren’t looking at. Like, maybe we’ve got a hemochromatosis thing, where people are accreting too much iron over time, and that’s an oxidative stress and we’ve know that that may be an issue and Eades talked about that back in 2000, 2001 in Protein Power Lifeplan recommended that males and post-menopausal women donate blood to reduce their iron load and stuff like that. So that’s all legit stuff. But my main…I wasn’t as comfortable with some of the delving into the different quintiles and folks thought that the data was being massaged and whatnot. I think it almost obscures the point, which is, we need to move beyond that level of investigation. We’ve got a couple of different competing ideas out there, you know, AMA and vegan and evolutionary biology, Paleo/ancestral health, whatever you want to call it. Let’s start doing some intervention studies based around those concepts and see what the outputs are.
Abel: Yeah, I like that. Now, to take a step back, I’ve been thinking about this recently, Robb. Theoretically we’ve been told to look back to our ancestors ten thousand years ago to look for cues about optimum human health and lifestyle. But you can look back just a couple of generations and they were far closer to optimum than the average American today. And, you know, agriculture clearly had an effect on health. But in terms of obesity, modern disease, and pretty much anything else you can measure, things didn’t really seem to fall off a cliff until 50, 30, 20 years ago. And it’s getting worse fast. So I’d be interested in your opinion on why that might be the case. Like, why are things getting so bad so quickly—seemingly?
Robb: You know, I’m working on a blog post, let me pull up the guy’s name. It’s Slatten, I think. But there was a doctor in Australia, who, in the 1960’s, put the pieces together of leaky gut and autoimmune disease. It was just this amazing investigative work. He arrived at a lot of what we’re seeing come out of Fasano’s research, and all this leaky gut/autoimmune disease research.
Robb: And he was treating people effectively, and it then it disappeared. The dude retired and then he died. It was so contrary to the mainstream message it just kind of got gobbled up and disappeared. But reading through his literature, in the early 1800’s, 1700’s, a lot of people died from deficiency diseases. So there was a huge selection pressure. There were lots and lots and lots of kids who died from gastrointestinal ailments, which, I think, looking back now, we kind of recognize as being Celiac-related issues, you know, grain intolerance-type issues. So early on, we still had enough sporadic elements to our food system. And we had problems like Beriberi and, gosh, I’m blanking on the other term, but basically B-vitamin deficiencies, we had D-vitamin deficiencies. We had a lot of diseases of deficiency…scurvy. So, it was only recently that we’re able to get a population matched up with a food supply where we were fortifying the food so that we weren’t seeing overt nutrition deficiencies in general. So we weren’t seeing that happening. So we didn’t have kids dying from deficiency diseases. We didn’t have older adults dying from deficiency diseases. Now we’ve got a robust enough food supply, and also tinkering with that food to kind of make it hyper palatable, to bypass the neuro-regulation of appetite. And I think that’s part of the transition that we’re seeing. There was a lot of dying from infectious disease and also diseases of deficiency because of, really, an inadequate food supply because of the very reliance on these grains that were, at that point, unfortified and were causing gastrointestinal disease and stuff like that. And then we see this transition into fortified foods that prevent overt vitamin B deficiencies that would kill people or make them open to infectious disease, but then, coupled with a really, really abundant food supply.
And I think that’s kind of my gut sense, my understanding of where this stuff has gone. And then you start coupling that with shorter and shorter sleep, more and more photoperiod disregulation, more inactivity, I think all these things feed into systemic inflammatory issues, decreased insulin sensitivity. Just the whole package is moving further and further away from a phenotypic norm that would have been good for the vast majority of us. Some people are more robust at dealing with vitamin D and light deficiencies. There seems to be some selective adaptation in people in Northern Europe, you know, like in Finland, those people do not tend to succumb to Seasonal Affective Disorder quite the same way that people who transplant to that area are affected.
Robb: And so that’s the point that, I think a lot of people have made a very good point: it’s not just about what our genes were in the Paleolithic, that we’ve had all kinds of selection pressure. There’s been all kinds of changes. That’s absolutely true. And that’s some of the fallacious reasoning that has driven this Paleo concept. It would have been better if this was called ‘evolutionary diet’ or something like that, because it hearkens back to evolution.
Robb: So there have been changes. But the interesting thing is that regardless of where the changes are currently—okay, so we don’t have the exact same genes as our Paleolithic ancestors from 100,000 years ago—that doesn’t change the fact that, for the vast majority of people, adopting something that looks more like that program…
Abel: Yeah, that’s a good point…
Robb: …reducing grains, legumes and dairy; it still benefits them. So this is one of the things, also, I see people get really nasty about, “Well, you can’t say that our genes are the same as what they were as hunter-gatherers.” Okay, guilty as charged! That’s 100% true, I’ve made that fallacious statement. But then, at the end of the day, if I turn around and ask these people, “So what do you recommend that I do differently so that we reverse metabolic derangement, autoimmune disease and a whole host of systemic and inflammatory diseases? And then there’s nothing really to add to it.
You know, some people have more resistance to these effects than others. There’s a genetic distribution on that we tend to see the robust resistance to things like grains decrease over time. So, like, carbohydrate load becomes more significant as we get older and stuff like that. I think that, as we move out of the early reproductive years, when selection pressure is very, very powerful, and we see more of these things pop up later. So, again, it’s nuanced in that we understand better the ‘how’, but then the ‘why’, you know, ‘why is this stuff the way it is?’ but then the ‘how—how do we fix this?’ I don’t really see that changing all that much.
Abel: It looks like things are really accelerating and getting worse a lot faster. Is that your opinion also?
Robb: It seems like it, as far as Type II Diabetes, and all of that stuff, and I think that a little understanding of epigenetics, like, what was the in-utero environment of my grandmother and my mother, and what is the epigenetic input, then, on me? It almost kind of Neo-Lamarckian genetics. There was this thought at one time that giraffes developed long necks because they stretched their necks to fruit that was high up. That was kind of dismissed and shot down. But now we’re circling back around. And it’s certainly not Lamarckian genetics, but it’s the epigenetic input, I think, that we’re finding, you know, when we look at stress inputs, when we look at metabolic disease and stuff like that. It transfers in how genes are methylated so we’re not changing the genes themselves, but we’re changing how these genes get turned on and off, and that’s possibly more important than the actual genome itself, you know? Like, people make the point that the difference between humans and chimpanzees is, like, 2%, 2.5% at most of the genes. But, really, the biggest difference between us is how the vast majority of those genes are turned on and off.
Robb: So I think that that’s another nuance in what we’re getting now is, you know, we’re now several generations into post-industrial, heading into post-information age society, where, you know, grandma was metabolically broken, had Type II diabetes or borderline Type-II diabetes, mom was borderline, kid is now hatched, borderline-diabetic. And once those inputs are set in place, it appears to be damn hard to re-set all that. You know, like, the kid hatches out metabolically broken and even with a low-carb, active intervention, the kid is always kind of doughy, they don’t really put on muscle mass, they don’t have normal hormonal signaling. And I think that’s some of what we are seeing, and it’s pretty horrible. But you know, where that will force a change is when we have a population that is so sick that they either never go through puberty or die before reproductive age. But, basically, we get so far away from what is acceptable for our genetics and our epigenetics that we’re not longer able to reproduce and we get a selection pressure. And only the people that squirt out the back end can deal with Slurpees and cotton candy and stuff like that.
Robb: And what emerges out the back end of that is not very heartening.
Abel: It definitely sounds depressing but interesting. Essentially, we’re all just turning into crack babies, right?
Robb: If you’ve ever watched Idiocracy, it reminds me of that: where they’ve tanked the global food supply because they’re watering everything with, basically, Gatorade.
Robb: It’s just hilarious. So, the first 10 minutes of the movie are really worth watching. The rest of its kind of dodgy, but, yeah.
Abel: Ah, man, I haven’t seen that one. [laughs]
Robb: It’s a good one. Just Google ‘Idiocracy’, and find the YouTube clip on the first 10 minutes, it’s amazing.
Abel: That’s awesome. Well we talked a little in the beginning about fasting. I’d be interested, Robb, in your point of view. How do you incorporate it into your life, and what do you recommend it to others?
Robb: I’ve always…it’s interesting, this idea kind of got on my radar in 2001, 2002, I started talking to Scotty Hagnes about this stuff around 2003, and then I wrote, I think, my first piece for the performance menu in 2005. I’ve always recognized this thing as having some therapeutic benefit. But I also suspected that, you know, it’s a stress similar to exercise, and so you need to dose this thing out appropriately. And even when I first made recommendations for this, I recommended that you figure out what you needed to eat so that you look, feel and perform great. This was one of the rare times that I actually recommended that people weigh and measure their food, which I’m usually not a fan of. But I recommended that they really get a good picture of how much food you really need to run effectively at your current output. And then, when you start dropping in the intermittent fasting, maybe go about 16 hours, 14 to 16 hours initially, and just tinker. Make sure that you get the same amount of calories in that you would normally eat, but it’s just in a compressed feeding window.
Robb: And very carefully progress from there. You know, maybe add an hour a month or something like that. So, 3 months down the road you’re maybe going 17 hours. And, you know, progress that to the point where you start to see some deleterious effects, and then back it off. That should be about where the thing was introduced. My thought, early on, it’s been kind of interesting, because, like, John Berardi, and Martin Berkan have really gotten in and tinkered with this stuff.
Robb: And they kind of arrived at the same stuff that I did, which was, if nothing else, I think what intermittent fasting tells us is that the whole body-building paradigm of 6 meals a day is pretty bogus. Maybe some people do better on that, you know, it’s by no means the only way that you can get lean or build muscle and all that. So, if nothing else, intermittent fasting, or just simply eating 3 regular meals a day may simplify your life. And you’re not neurotic about eating food all the damn time.
Robb: And that would be good. And then, from there, it’s so dependent on what your stress level is, what your activity level is. But, I’ve found, more often than not, because I come out of this kind of CrossFit background, that given the sleep deficiencies that most people have, given the level of training that they’re trying to endure, that intermittent fasting is often times, like, if you needed 12 things in your life, intermittent fasting was number 13.
Abel: [laughs] Okay.
Robb: It was the one thing too much. You know, I view it very much as a tool that can be used effectively under the right circumstances. But, inevitably, I see people jump too deep into the pool. They start off trying to do, like 24-hour fasts. And I just don’t see good stuff come out of that. There’s been a lot of good research which, I want to roll this stuff out on the blog, and I think whatever, you know, tertiary book projects will look at this stuff. But Michael Rose, who’s one of the leading experts on the world on aging, he’s done some really interesting stuff looking at genetic reaction norms in humans and other species and stuff like that. He makes a really compelling case, that severe calorie restriction will likely add only about 6 years to the average human life span.
And that’s it. That’s doing, like, the Roy Walford, you know, reducing calories by 40% of normal.
Abel: Wow! Yeah.
Robb: Being cold, hypogonatic, no sex drive, and, like the best that you’re going to get is about 6 more years of life.
Abel: Miserable life.
Robb: A miserable life!
Robb: And we know pretty clearly that exercise will give you 2 to 4 years of additional life. I think that just eating an anti-inflammatory diet would probably give you 2 to 5 years of life. So, really quickly, if we just exercise intelligently and don’t beat ourselves to death, and we eat something that looks kind of like a Paleo-type diet, we’ve probably trumped all the benefit that we can get from calorie restriction, and we get to carry a little muscle mass around, have a functioning libido and not be cold all the time.
Robb: And that’s where the intermittent fasting…like, I had hoped there might be this really cool intersection where we could get some significant increase in an average lifespan without suffering the down-sides of, you know, loss of muscle mass and sex drive and all that sort of stuff. For the way that humans are wired up and the way that we birth our young, and all the rest of that, and that all plays into the genetic reaction norms…I just don’t think that’s the case
Robb: So, I would largely just make an argument for people to get a lot of sleep, lift weights, do sprints, do gymnastics, maintain your mobility, eat an anti-inflammatory diet. And that’s going to give you, like, 99% of the benefit of any type of freaky, austere, crazy intervention.
Robb: And, on the one hand, maybe that’s a bummer because starving yourself isn’t going to allow you to be 150 years old. But then, on the other side, maybe it’s also kind of liberating, because, it’s like, just live and enjoy yourself.
Abel: Yeah, just live your life.
Robb: You’re going to get all the benefit.
Abel: I like that, I think that’s good advice. So, Robb, I asked my readers and listeners—they were all stoked that you were coming on, so was I—if they had any questions for you, and they sure did. If that’s alright with you, I’m going to transfer to some of those.
Robb: I’m sure, I’m sure I can botch these
Abel: [laughs] Awesome. So, actually, you were just talking about this a little bit. But this is from Janet, she says, “How much and what style of exercise is appropriate for maximum longevity and overall vibrancy for those of us who put body composition lower on the priority list?”
Robb: Hm. Well, that’s kind of an interesting piece. Because I think, to some degree, just focusing on good but not necessarily fashion-model body composition, I think that you could make an argument that that’s an important piece to this. I just really like the characteristics that we get out of a balanced program that involves some weight-lifting, some gymnastics-type stuff, you know, basic tumbling and mobility work, and all that stuff. And some sprinting, and some sprints anywhere from, like, you know, 10 meters to up to maybe 800 meters and just playing along that spectrum. And I know that there are a lot of people that look at like the persistence hunting of the Kung San and sub-Saharan Africa. And that stuff’s all legit, but the reason why I kind of hang my hat on this stuff is that, as we age, we tend to lose muscle mass and we tend to lose power. And we also can lose mitochondrial density and the ability to produce energy and use that as a fuel substrate and all that stuff. But when we train in a way that looks more akin to a sprinter or power athlete, then we are tweaking the genetics in the phenotypic expression against the primary things that we lose with aging.
Robb: So, you know, mobility and the ability to produce power, the ability to learn new movement patters. And that’s where the gymnastics, Jiu Jitsu, capoeira, these kind of open-ended movement explorations are super-cool. And then, just the characteristics that we get from a sprint-based athlete…and I think that stuff is all fun. If you still want to go on long runs and swims and bikes and stuff like that. God love you, go for it.
Robb: The most important thing is to do the stuff that you like.
Robb: But when I look from an anti-aging perspective that, you know, weight lifting to maintain muscle mass and power, gymnastics-type stuff for mobility and body-awareness, and sprint stuff to also augment the power. But to build that metabolic engine to keep us healthy throughout our life, that seems like a good balance and it doesn’t have to be a frenetic pace. Art DeVany’s old stuff of like 2 days a week of weight lifting, a couple of days a week of sprinting and just, you know, some mobility work. That’s not a frenetic pace.
Robb: Every day try to do something active you know just get out, run around and play.
Abel: And Art could beat the crap out of most teenagers these days. [laughs]
Robb: You know, Art has thrown some wacky stuff out there. And he’s got this kind of prickly personality. But, you know, I love the dude. When we were together in New York, that dude is big and strong and fast.
Robb: We were wrapping up the TV shoot and we were walking back to the hotel, and we’re probably about 40, 45 yards away from , like, we needed to cross the street so we’re on our side of the street and we needed to get to the other side of the street and we had a chunk of sidewalk between us. And the crosswalk timer was counting down and it was like 5…4…And Art was like “Hey! Let’s go for it!” And there’s ice on the ground, it’s below freezing. And he takes off running, and I’m like, a pretty fast, explosive dude. And he just kicked my ass.
Abel: That’s awesome.
Robb: You know, he skidded on a little bit of ice and completely righted himself. Obviously there’s some good genetics in there, but there’s also the way that Art has tackled this stuff, it works. This is one of these things, not to go too far off-topic, but Art has historically recommended lean cuts of meat, going back to one of the first questions.
Abel: I remember that.
Robb: His point is just that most people are just not that active and don’t need that many calories. And so he would prefer to have some pork spare ribs, but don’t add 6 tablespoons of coconut oil to it. You don’t need that. And this is definitely one of the places that people have just harangued him. But, as time has gone on, I’m like “Dude, Art’s spot-on.” Most people are not active enough to warrant just a ladling of fat onto the bulk of their meals. They would be leaner, they would be less inflamed, they would have better body composition if they would just follow this guy’s recommendations. And people have just barbecued him for these recommendations. And I see this play out as I coach people. The dude’s right. And when you look at the results that he produces in himself and in the people that follow his program, it’s like, you do better than that! Get back to me.
Robb: I think Art’s approach to training—I don’t think you’re going to produce a world-champion Olympian or a world-champ sprinter, but it’s the best return on the investment I’ve ever seen.
Robb: Minimum investment, maximum return.
Abel: To anyone out there who hasn’t checked out his book, definitely go grab it. There’s a lot of good stuff in there.
Robb: Just that evolutionary fitness essay that you read on his website I think is almost easier and more accessible…it’s a phenomenal piece of work.
Abel: That’s true. Alright, cool, so this might be a bit of a hot topic, but this one’s from Colby. “Is there such thing as ‘safe starches?’”
Robb: I always like to tackle these things with, “Who are we talking about? What are they trying to do?”
Robb: So, if I have somebody that has a 300 triglycerides, you know, the triglyceride 300, or HDLs are, like, 30, this person has raging insulin resistance and metabolic derangement, I think the term ‘safe starches’ applied to this person is moronic.
Robb: Once we do kind of a low-carb intervention with this person and get them a functioning from an insulin resistance standpoint much better and get their leptin signaling much better and whatnot, then I would be totally open to introducing some starch for this person particularly post-workout and see where they go. But, now, might there be people with that 300 triglyceride level and 30 HDL that are not going to respond well to a ketogenic diet? Maybe. There are possibly going to be people out there, but the lion’s share of people are going to benefit from that lower-carb intervention. It’s going to reverse metabolic derangement so powerfully and just so effectively that that’s still where I’ve got to start the vast majority of people. And if we don’t get the type of shift that we want, and we’ve got the person sleeping, and their Vitamin D levels are good, you’re getting a little fish oil, then we can tinker with the starch a little bit.
Robb: But it’s always important to ask, “Who is the person? What are they trying to do?” instead of just these blanket statements: “Safe starches are good for everybody.’ For that matter, is a ketogenic diet intervention the best place for everybody? No. But it’s a better place to start more people than, in my opinion, than, say, starting them off with 150 or 200 grams of starch a day.
Abel: Yeah. I would certainly agree with that. And what about carb re-feeds?
Robb: You know, I love cyclic low-carb eating. Like, I really liked all of Mauro Di Pasquale’s stuff, the metabolic diet, anabolic diet and stuff like that. The thing with that is that I don’t like seeing it turn into the four-hour body approach, which is, you start like a heroin addict.
Robb: You start getting your box out, like tying yourself off 3 days in advance, gearing up for this carb re-feed. And I just don’t see good stuff happen out of that. One, people tend to gravitate towards carbs that I think are gut-irritating, more grain-based type stuff. I just like to see this kind of play out naturally. If you go out and you’re hanging out with some friends and you get Mexican food instead of the Carne Asada plate with meat and veggies, you’re like, “Dude, I’m going to have some nachos.” Okay, have some nachos. Don’t freak out about it. But I like to see that stuff just happen more spontaneously as part of life versus people planning this out like they’re doing a hooker and cocaine binge…
Robb: …in Vegas. I just don’t see good results come out of that. People don’t come back from it for a long time, if ever. I think metabolically it’s not all that great a thing. I’d rather see that kind of thing happen spontaneously and within reason and all that stuff.
Abel: And Tim’s approach is certainly extreme, I think, in pretty much all cases.
Robb: I think you take that basic template and then actually moderate it a little bit, and I think you’ve got a better, longer-lasting approach.
Abel: I know that I’ve had good luck sometimes if I go very low-carb for too long, I feel a little sluggish. I used to have this—especially when I did vegetarian diet—like, some thyroid issues, and that’s genetic, my mom’s always had that, too. When I started eating meat, most of that resolved itself, but going very low-carb, it seems to make me sluggish again. I haven’t checked a lot of my numbers there. But I have found that when I do re-feed once every week or two on carbs, mostly Paleo carbs, then I feel a heck of a lot better for a while.
Robb: Yeah! Totally. Where I’ve kind of played out with that is that I like to see carbs just go in the post-workout window.
Robb: Based on leanness and the amount of activity that you did and all that stuff, like when I drug myself out to my car after I think I did, like, 6 3-minute rounds of chits today, and all the dudes that were there are like, 22 to 25 and they weigh over 210 lbs.
Robb: I’m 40, and I way 175 lbs. And I do reasonably well, but, dude, it’s a mauling, you know? And I’ve got to work really, really hard, they’re all strong and athletic. And when I get done with that, like I know, typically on a Tuesday, who the dudes are that show up. And the sweet potato that I ate after that, it was making my car ride heavy on the one side. It was a monster sweet potato. And that’s what I needed to kind of bounce back from that training if I go and do some gymnastics, isometric holds and whatnot, then I have, maybe 30 grams of carbs with that, and then I’m mainly sticking with the veggies and maybe a little more carbs if I know I’m going to do some metabolic training in the day. That’s how I’ve kind of taken that, I meter out my carbs based on ‘what is my need coming up?’ or ‘what did I just do?’ And that seems to work pretty well.
Abel: And how long is the post-exercise window?
Robb: You know, it really depends on how bad the beating was. Since this one was bad, I had that big carb meal, and then Nikki and I are going to go hit a Mexican place that makes a seafood stew that has sweet potatoes in it. And so I’m going to ask them to add more sweet potatoes in this thing. And so, because I got bludgeoned, this one…the total carb load will probably be 250 to 350 grams of carbs, all told.
Abel: That’s impressive.
Robb: And, dude, I am so bludgeoned after that.
Robb: It all just gets sopped up. It is in the muscles. It is not getting converted to triglycerides.
Robb: And then tomorrow will be more of an off-day. I think I’m doing some gymnastics iso hold-type stuff. It’s going to be more of a low-ish carb day. Probably not all that much in the way of carbs, but I’ll get this stuff flown in, you know, post-workout. If I was trying to compete, like I’m kind of rattling around the idea of doing some old Jiu Jitsu tournaments later this year. And I might even go a third carb feeding because I know tomorrow I’m either going to have to do some metabolic training or some more rolling. And so I would preemptively, in that case…and that’s kind of the inflection point, though, where I would start arguing that I’m probably moving away from health and longevity and doing a little bit of a performance bias. I’m doing things I could argue I could probably see some changes in blood work, I could see some changes in inflammatory markers that probably aren’t the best, but for right now, I’m completely cool with it.
Abel: Yeah, it’s fine.
Robb: Makes my life worthwhile. And if I do Jits, then it makes me not as big an asshole when I’m driving.
Robb: It keeps me out of jail, so it’s all a good trade-off.
Abel: That’s great! Alright, here’s another one from Janice. And she wants to know your opinions on another controversial topic: cold thermogenesis Jack Kruse-style.
Robb: I talked about this one on my podcast. I’ve always liked hydrotherapy contrast. Hydrotherapy, I think I have a photo floating around the internet where I’m sitting in a horse trough, there’s ice on top. I had to punch a hole in the ice and crawl inside of it.
Abel: I have to find that!
Robb: I’ll pull it up. I’ll ship it to you.
Robb: You can throw it in the program notes on this thing. Funny! For me, this stuff isn’t really all that new. But I also think that Jack is brilliant, whatever room he’s in, he’s always the smartest dude in the room.
Robb: He’s got more talent in his pinky than I’ll ever end up having.
Robb: But I think that this stress, just like heat, just like exercise, I only see this on the spectrum of various potential, what we would call ‘use stresses’ potentially beneficial stresses. And I think that there’s a dose response curve. I think that there are people that are appropriate and inappropriate. And my opinion, if you have someone who has a very low-acting thyroid and cortisol production, you find somebody who’s kind of flat-lined in the late stages of adrenal fatigue, then I think a cold thermogenesis as per regular recommended, I think that would be a horrible idea for those people. And I have talked to Chris Kresser about that, and some other folks who I really respect, and they largely agree. So, for me, I see this again as a tool that we ask “Who are you, and what do you need?” Even when I was doing this stuff, I would do a workout, body temperature would get up, I’d go punch a hole in the ice bath and jump in the ice. And it perked me back up, but then, interestingly, I was having mobility problems because I was taking the time when I was usually hot that I would be able to affect some good mobility changes in my hip flexors and psoas and stuff like that. I was getting cold, and so then I was doing a tradeoff between mobility and the recovery activity. And the best time that I have personally, for mobility work, is when I’m hot after doing either some Jiu-Jitsu, kick-boxing, or some metabolic work with a bunch of sweatshirts on, I seal in the heat, and then I stretch for 30 minutes. And I stay really mobile and do the front and side splits. I can go from sitting and press into a handstand, and walk into a backbend.
Abel: That’s awesome!
Robb: I have some good mobility. And when I started doing the post-workout cold dunk, I started losing that. But then, if I did my mobility work, then I cooled off enough that the cold dunk was miserable. I mean, just…and, granted, you can go under water…literally this stuff was barely above freezing because it had a layer of ice on the top. This was at our gym in Chico. And I’d punch a hole in the thing and, you know, jump in. So you could make the argument that, maybe a little bit warmer water…
Robb: And that’s true. But I didn’t have it. Again, with all this stuff, I just can’t implore people enough to think about, “Who are you? What are you trying to do?” Not “Is this right or wrong, good or bad,” but, “Who are you and what are you trying to do?” And then we can get into a little bit of the nuance: “Does this make sense?” I think we could make a general argument that gluten is Satan’s excrement.
Robb: It’s probably not all that good for anybody.
Robb: There are too many absolutes that I would throw out there.
Robb: That’s where I look at the contrast type of therapy, cold thermogenesis and all that stuff. I think it’s a great technique; it’s been well-used in the past. I certainly agree with all the thought about deep, deep evolutionary gene expression related back to when mammal were swimming under the ice cap and stuff like that. I just don’t think that that really has bearing on us. Currently, the oldest person in the world right now lives in the Amazon. And she lived primarily as a hunter-gatherer, and has never seen a day cooler than probably 70 degrees. So I don’t know. But it’s this thing, again, where let’s say 80% of what Jack is saying is right. Some of the theory is not right or maybe it is, maybe it’s not. But if it moves us forward and we get some techniques that we can figure out how to employ it properly, let’s look at it for what it is. If some stuff needs to be jettisoned, then let’s jettison it. If we can adapt some stuff, then let’s adapt some stuff and just leave it at that. It doesn’t have to be this religious fervor either for or against, let’s just kind of look at it for what it is and see if there’s some good stuff to it. And I think there absolutely is, but let’s apply it in the appropriate way.
Abel: Right, right. And I was talking to Jack about that on a couple of podcasts ago. How it’s more important to be directionally accurate than to be 100% correct on every single thing. And one of the issues is that he’s being called out on this, was little things that seem like they shouldn’t undermine the entire message, right? Because it’s just minutiae.
Robb: Yeah, but, you know Mat Lalonde has been kickin’ me in the balls on making sure that my minutiae’s accurate because we are being very heavily scrutinized at this point. And it’s at a point where this concept is going mainstream. We’re getting buy-in from academic institutions and city institutions and stuff like that. And so, in some ways, I think that it’s more important to really focus on the things that we know for sure and then be cautious about what we roll out on the periphery. And always have the caveat “this may be the case, I suspect this, this is open for interpretation. I think that’s part of the reason why I knock on wood. I don’t get a lot of trolls on my website because I don’t make grandiose claims. And I always have the caveat, “This is my best understanding, if things change, then we’ll modify the prescription.”
Robb: I haven’t gone down that route of the all-knowing guru and stuff like that. And it’s what I saw on CrossFit. I think within CrossFit there’s a lot of great stuff. But then they made some claims that were completely unsubstantiated, and would not modify their position on it. And, granted, has it affected their growth? No. But it has kept them out of being adopted by places like naval special warfare and various academic institutions, because even though it’s good, the basic theoretical underpinnings were flawed. So that makes it unacceptable to be applied into a mainstream setting. That is where I think the direction is important, but let’s also just keep the science as solid as we can at the level that we have some pretty good clarity. And then the theoretical stuff? That’s totally cool. Let’s talk about that. But let’s not lead with that.
Abel: Right. And I think that one of the reasons that people love you and love your blog and podcasts so much is that you are fairly measured in that sort of thing. You don’t claim to have all the answers. And that’s where people run into problems, for sure.
Robb: Yeah. Yeah, and it just…I know on a market-share, market-grab kind of gig that can work in the short run, but this is a really…it’s a remarkably educated, really savvy group of folks. And I’ve thrown some stuff that somebody dug up, like 2003 or something on my ___ that I was like, it’s pretty clear that hunter-gatherers ate 6 meals a day. And they were like “you got that one wrong!” Touché, dude, I totally did. I probably have close to a million words out there, and the book was 100,000 words. Maybe I’ve got 2,000 words out there. I’ve probably fucked up on some of them. There’s probably some mistakes somewhere, ya know?
Abel: [laughs] Yeah.
Robb: Trying to just lead with quality and really sincere desire to help people and not so much like a market-grab based off sensationalism.
Abel: Yeah. Totally.
Robb: I just think that that serves everybody much, much better.
Abel: So, this question is actually relevant to that. And I love this one. “If Robb Wolf were to write another book about Paleo, what new and important info would he add?”
Robb: Gosh. You know, really, that little bit that I talked about with intermittent fasting and aging would be the direction which is just: lift weights, sprint, do mobility work, be happy, get sunlight, and just that wacky austere dietary interventions like calorie restriction and really severe intermittent fasting are probably not going to do anything for you. And even may even shorten your life relative to just a more measured approach on this stuff. And, you know, that’s kind of the interesting piece, too, which is—and I have just an interesting, I released a budget guide, and a 30-day transformation deal and all that. The interesting thing is that there are more people who will ultimately do this Paleo concept, who lie in the future who lie in the present or the past.
Robb: This thing is trending, it’s getting bigger, but it is interesting, the old guard, the folks who’ve been around a long time, it’s awesome that they’re there, it’s awesome that they’re educated, but it’s easy to forget that you’ve got lots and lots of new people entering the scene, and we don’t know anything about this stuff. And when you consistently have questions about, “How do I do this on a budget? What’s an easy way to get started?” stuff like that, then you need to make something that’s accessible to them. Somebody’s going to, and if you’re doing this stuff for both the health people and some sort of a monetized deal, I don’t think that that’s a problem. And so, like, this second piece, I would argue would have some really interesting science that I could talk about: reaction norms and gene expression to humans relative to say, like, you know, mice and stuff like that, and why calorie restriction works for them but probably wouldn’t work for us. But by and large, that’s not going to be anything different from what I talked about here and talked about on my podcasts and stuff like that.
Robb: There’s really not all that much new under the sun, but there’s a whole lot of people out there that don’t know this message. So oftentimes, you know, like Mark Sisson made a 21-day transformation book. That wasn’t written necessarily for the people who’ve already bought in. This was written for people who are sniffing around the periphery. Ideally, we want to actually try this stuff, so that’s another thing that I would encourage people to think about, you know, the thing that rolls out as a product which is oftentimes, nobody’s holding a gun to your head to go buy it. It’s frequently not geared towards you. And then, for the people who really want to geek out, like, we have these certifications rolling out, different stratified levels and everything, so there’s effort to continue the education of folks. We’ve got this relationship going with State University of New York to have an Evolutionary Studies minor.
Abel: Super cool!
Robb: That can be completed online. And that’s going to be kind of the glue that seals all the stuff together. So there’s lots of effort to generate information for both old guard, that’s very savvy and well-educated on this stuff. But we need to also think of what’s the next step that’s out there. Or it’s kind of a versionary thing.
Robb: It’s been kind of an interesting this as this has gone on. Folks sometimes get testy when you whip out new stuff. And it’s intriguing to me, but, what are you going to do?
Abel: I know you’re a busy guy. Do you have plans on something in the background that you’re working on? Another book or something like that?
Robb: Well, you know, I’ve been slowly chipping away at this food politics book that looks at subsidies and the FDA and all that stuff, and I’m just slowly chipping away at it, not honestly—I may end up turning that thing into a long series of blog posts, and just scrap the book idea entirely, because it’s really important stuff, but it’s so boring that it just makes me want to lobotomize myself.
Abel: [laughs] Oh no!
Robb: Because if I were to go on Bill Marr or something, and talking about subsidies and the FDA and all that, I need to know dates and people and facts like just the back of my hand. And I just don’t care that much, you know? It’s like, the big picture’s important, but, so, I’m debating about what/how to tackle the thing.
Robb: And I feel like, you know, there’s been some interesting stuff that’s popped up, like this sustainability piece, the next 5 to 10 years, sustainability is going to be what saturated fat was in the last 10 years, where we’re like, whenever the hand ringing, vegetarian crowd says, well, “Saturated fat will kill you!” We’re finally putting the final nail in the coffin of all that stuff. So, now, it’s defaulting to, “You can’t feed a global population in a Paleo way.” Boom. And they just drop this on your shoes. They don’t have to provide any supportive data to prove this position, and then all the onus is left on us to disprove what their claims are. And so, I think a lot of this gets tied into food production and a not-transparent relationship between the Food and Drug Administration, subsidies, governments…there’s a whole bunch of layers to it. And nobody asks the question, “Is the current way that we feed people, or is the vegetarian way that we feed people sustainable?” And I would argue that it’s not.
Abel: Well, we’re certainly not feeding people right now.
Robb: Ah, yeah.
Abel: Even that’s known.
Robb: Yeah. So, you know, the book, I think it’s important, but I’m not sure I’ve got the chutes in me to finish tackling it. Because it’s an onerous, boring process, man. The first book, at least I liked the topic. But this topic is important, but it’s like, “Man, I could shoot myself over doing the necessary research to be up-to-date on it.
Robb: So I don’t know. I’ll link up with Joel Salatin, and have him do all the heavy lifting on that.
Abel: Or get a ghost writer.
Abel: [laughs] Alright, I’ve got one more question. This is from Susan. She says, “What do you think has to happen before Paleo will be accepted as a treatment for diseases like diabetes, heart disease and auto-immune conditions?”
Robb: Gosh. You know, I think we are wickedly close to that. Did you read the blog post I did on the Paleo risk-assessment deal?
Abel: Yeah! Yeah. Super cool.
Robb: You know, this thing is so interesting, because the specialty health outfit has 1.5 million people on their database. And they’ve been tracking the 1.5 million people for 15 or 20 years or something. I mean, they have a monstrous database. And they’re a health maintenance organization. And so, they track rates of all kinds of different diseases and whatnot. And then, what you can do with that chunk of data when you do an intervention like what they’ve been doing with the police and firefighters in Reno, is that you can very, very precisely predict a disease rate within certain populations, particularly when you know different metabolic parameters: triglycerides versus HDL versus c-reactive proteins, blah, blah, blah. And they have very sophisticated, very accurate ways of measuring disease rates. And so now, we’ve done this intervention on a number of folks. They’ve got just one small pilot study ended up saving the city of Reno over a 3-year period, like, 25 million dollars. It was like a 6,000 to 1 return on investment. I mean, it is insane.
Robb: And the numbers are bullet-proof. And what this then brings up: any other risk-assessment organizations, which there are tons of them now, this gets on their radar, and they’re like, “Hm. Let’s take a group of 200 people and do what they’re doing.”
Robb: And then, when this works, and when this saves a ton of cash, and you know, like, I made the point in the blog post, let’s say some hippies in Berkeley want to do ___ and ___, go for it. Let’s see. It’s completely like UFC-style. Let’s stick these two things in the ring, let’s see which one comes up with his hand raise.
Abel: I would love to see that.
Robb: See which one works better, which one costs less, which one has a better long-term buy-in. And let’s just see it. And this is where I’m very non-religious about this. If there’s something that’s better, then fine. Let’s shift gears. If it cuts the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer and metabolic derangement, and it costs less, and people do it, you know, if they’ll buy into it and do it, good! Let’s do it. I’ll burn the whole house down, and let’s do it!
Robb: I think the way that we’re recommending things is pretty damn spot-on. And it’s just fascinating, because we’ve got chief of police, chief of fire, we’ve got prominent city council members, we’ve got a city, money that is paying for this stuff, and now we’ve got all of the police force, all of the fire department, and I believe all of the city workers are going to go through this program now.
Robb: And, you know, obviously…here’s the contrast of this: is standard of care currently working?
Abel: [laughs] Right. It’s a good question.
Robb: It’s a disaster. The projections out of the Center for Disease Control project that by 2030, we will be spending 300% of GDP in the United States on just Medicare and Medicaid alone.
Abel: Yeah. That’s insanity.
Robb: It can’t work. It’s impossible. You can’t do that. And so, we have to shift gears. And it’s either we decide you shift gears and land this thing on our own power, and we’re kind of where we want it to land, or it lands kind of Road Warrior style when the wheels fall of the wagon and we just can’t do a damn thing with anything.
Robb: We’re bankrupt, and we’re printing money, and we have hyper-inflation. And all of this stuff can get driven one way or the other just by the way that we tackle healthcare.
Robb: And I’m hopeful that this Reno phenomenon will literally be like Patient Zero, City Zero, where we try something different. We have the right place, the right people, in the right places willing to make…I won’t even say the right decisions, but we’re just willing to try. Because the thing they started off with didn’t really work. And then they kept tinkering and kept tinkering. And the interesting thing is they have all the data on that stuff, when they did high-carb, low-fat. And they didn’t get changes in metabolic parameters. So we haven’t even talked about that yet. They’ve got years of data where they were trying what the AMA tells us to do, and it failed.
Robb: And in some ways, the data is more robust than what you could get out of the standard clinical trial. Granted, it’s biased. It’s not blinded, but from an outcome-based intervention, and then the ability to track disease, we can basically kick anybody’s fanny on that right now. And that’s really interesting. So I think that this thing is the skinny end of the wedge. It may be the thing that changes the tide completely.
Abel: That would be awesome. I’m definitely looking at that. And we’re coming up on time, but before we go, you know, Robb, I was e-mailing with you about this earlier. But, we’re clawing on the iTunes chart, up to Jillian Michaels. What are we going to do to finally displace the conventional wisdom? And she is against processed foods, I’m all about that, which is great, but how are we going to get up there?
Robb: Dude, I don’t know! Let’s keep Jillian at number one, and we’ll back-fill all the way from 2 to 10.
Abel: That works, too!
Robb: You know, the Number One spot is great, but if we occupy more bandwidth, which I guarantee you, in total, between you, and me, and Jimmy, balanced by the other folks that are doing really solid podcasts that are getting really huge re-distribution, it doesn’t really matter.
Abel: [laughs] That’s a good point. I like that.
Robb: You know, that’s to some degree a failing on my part. I’m a little bit more Zen about stuff, I don’t really focus too much on numbers and outcomes, I’m more of an experiential thing—and to a detriment. I would do better if I was like “I’m going to make one million dollars a year!” And go out Bill Phillips style and attack that stuff. I’d probably be more effective.
Robb: But my thing is just like…I just want the community to be critical of the stuff that we’re doing. But not so critical that we’re in like, and Irish bar fight and everyone pulls a knife and shivs each other. And then, you know, that we unite on this stuff, that we know we’ve got right, and just push this message, and focus on saving people, just creating the opportunity to save people. Not everybody’s going to buy in, not everybody’s going to want to do it. And that’s totally cool, but every single day there are people that die because they didn’t know that there was an alternative to methatrexate for the rheumatoid arthritis. And this is the stuff that just slays me, when people are focusing on all the picky minutiae. There are people dying, and they could have done something to help them, by writing a better blog post, by sharing some information with a co-worker or something. And not in some sort of creepy evangelical way, but like, “Hey, dude. Here’s a blog, here’s a paper, maybe you should give this a shot.” And that’s it.
Robb: I think if we do that stuff, you know, the cat’s out of the bag. This evolutionary biology, ancestral health concept, I suspect, is not going to go away. I don’t quite…I suspect that it’s not a fad.
Robb: I like the joke, it’s a fad 3 million years running.
Robb: So I think that the only way that this thing can get broken or de-railed is from within. It’s…if we mess up the message, if we become sectarian and just get wacky in that regard, I think it’s kind of steady as she goes, keep putting out good information, keep focusing on helping people, and, dude, we’ll have the top 20 podcasts related to ancestral health and movement. And we’ll have a bunch of cool stuff on YouTube, and eventually we’ll end up on a Discovery Channel show, with Erwan Le Corre running shirtless through beaches. The women will love it, and it’ll be amazing, you know, so…
Abel: [laughs] Can’t wait for that.
Robb: Yeah, yeah, me, too! Me, too. I’m not too proud to admit that. I think that that’s just the stuff, you know. Doing it for the love and the right reasons and help people, and I want to start saying this more: my goal with what I’m up to is planned obsolescence. I’m making a living doing this stuff. I’m doing educational stuff, I’m writing books, I’m doing that. I want this message to be so ubiquitous that you don’t need me; you don’t need any of this stuff.
Abel: Pretty cool goal!
Robb: It’s completely planned obsolescence. I will have done my part if this information is part and parcel to every registered dietetics program. If every nutritional science course is talking about evolution via natural selection and the ancestral health, and talking about the bell-curve distribution of genetic reaction norms, and that most people look more like our hunter-gatherer ancestors than not, or maybe that’s some place to start them. If there’s just some discussion about that, if all medical school graduates have some steeping in this information, then our job is done. And we will have averted catastrophe. And so, that’s really my goal. And I don’t know what type of timeline to put on that…5 years? 10 years? I don’t know, I’ve been going this almost 15 years now.
Robb: But I guess I’ll invest whatever time I feel doing it. But that’s the goal: planned obsolescence. This information should be so ubiquitous…it’s not like a union box. People should not need me. This information should be so ubiquitous that their doctor gets it, their pharmacist gets it, everybody in the healthcare, everybody in politics gets it so that we make decisions based off of good information and a good model. And then they don’t need gurus. They just do the things that they do—they raise their kids and live their lives and snowboard and do capoeira. And this stuff is just kind of woven into the background. It shouldn’t be an ongoing topic of conversation. It should just be what it is.
Abel: I love that. And I love that you also train people to be their own gurus. You know? You approach the whole thing as a template that will work for people, to the extent that they test what works—dairy is a good example of that. You’re not totally against it, you’re certainly not for it, but if it works for someone, maybe it’s appropriate. And it has to be an individualized program in order to go on such a massive scale. And I think it likely will.
Robb: Yeah, I totally agree.
Abel: Awesome! Well, Robb, thanks so much for coming on this podcast. We’ll have to do it again soon.
Robb: My pleasure, man, I had a great time. You’re doing awesome work. You’ve rocketed to the top of this thing. And it makes me wish I had done a shirtless photo on my icon.
Robb: But you’re kicking ass man, I’m super proud of what you’re doing. And you’re doing just a phenomenal job.
Abel: Ah, man, thanks so much, Robb. I really appreciate that. Well, I learned from the best: you and Mark.
Robb: Thank you. I—you’re doing stuff that I haven’t even dreamt of doing. So it’s awesome. You know, to the degree that I’ve been successful, it was because of Boyd Eaton, Loren Cordain, Staffan Lindeberg. They created the scientific template that I could then have something to go out and try to share with the masses: whether it was my clients or whatever. And so, I just think it’s…always remembering those dudes who were in the trenches 30 years ago doing this stuff. And now we’ve been able to promulgate the site and push forward, it’s just awesome. The stuff you’ve been producing is obviously resonating with people. You’re striking a chord and you’re helping them and they’re coming back and they’re telling people, that’s why you’re nipping at Jillian Michael’s heels. It’s badass, it’s awesome.
Abel: It’s awesome that people are listening. I think you just kind of opened up the field, you know, and there’s a huge audience of people that are really interested. So, hello everyone! Thanks for listening! You owe a lot of me existing to the guy on the other end of the mic.
Robb: Well thanks, dude, thank you.
Abel: Right on. Well, enough of this stupid love fest. Robb, thanks for coming on.
Robb: My pleasure, man. Any time you want me back on, man. I’ll just close down my podcast and come on your podcast. So, you’re way better at this than I am.
Abel: We’ll have to do it again.
Robb: Cool! Awesome…
Abel: Thanks, Robb.
Robb: Thanks, man.
Abel: If you want to hear more from Robb, hop on over to RobbWolf.com, it’s Robb with two b’s. Or you can hop on over to FatBurningMan.com and check out the show notes. I’ll even add in the bonus of a picture of shirtless Robb in an icy bathtub, screaming “Wankers!” It’s pretty awesome, so you should check it out.
I have tons more cool stuff coming out for you guys, so make sure you stay tuned and hop over to FatBurningMan.com anytime to sign up for the email list and I’ll got plenty more videos and cool stuff to shoot your way. So until next week, I’ll be talking to you guys soon. Cheers!
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