How do you fuel a remarkable life? In this episode, Peter McGraw talks to EC Synkowski, an expert in nutrition and the creator of the 800 Gram Challenge. He is joined by a new, hilarious guest host – Gia Cognata – who asks the questions that Peter is not willing to ask. EC does a primer on quantity vs. quality and how the idea relates to a variety of trendy diets. They talk about the value of gut biomes and how nutrition, sleep, and exercise won’t cure everything. Finally, EC talks about her challenges pursuing a remarkable life. In this week’s bonus episode, Peter and Gia quiz EC about whether certain foods are okay to eat.
Listen to Episode #14 here:
Eating for a Remarkable Life
In this episode, I’ll talk to EC Synkowski, an expert in nutrition and the Creator of the #800gChallenge. I’m joined by a hilarious guest host who asked the questions that I’m not willing to ask. EC does a primer on quantity versus quality and eating and how the idea relates to a variety of trendy diets. We talk about the value of gut biomes and how nutrition, sleep, and exercise won’t cure everything, though they cure a lot of things. Sometimes, you just need to go to the doctor. Finally, EC will talk about her challenges pursuing a remarkable life. In this bonus episode, we’ll quiz EC about whether certain foods are okay to eat or not. I hope you enjoy it.
Our guest is EC Synkowski. She runs OptimizeMe Nutrition, which offers B2B and B2C educational products, mobile app-based challenges and corporate wellness programs. Her program helps people improve their weight, health and overall well-being through sustainable diet methods. She’s created the #800gChallenge, a diet-free of restrictive rules to lose weight, reduce blood pressure and improve performance and recovery. She has a BS in Biochemical Engineering and MS in Environmental Sciences with her focus in genetics and another MS in Nutrition and Functional Medicine. She’s worked previously as Program Manager for CrossFit Inc.
We’re joined by a special co-host, Gia Cognata. Gia is a makeup artist, stylist, photographer, and writer from Los Angeles. She worked with helping autistic children focus on independence training. I found her on Instagram through friends and invited her to appear on my other podcast, I’m Not Joking. I suspect Gia would be a perfect co-host for this episode. First, she’s way funnier than I am. Second, she’s committed to health and fitness and third, she’s found herself in the hospital with anemia. Welcome, EC. Welcome, Gia.
I’m here, I’m ready and I have extra energy because I have extra blood.
Thank you so much for having me on.
It’s great to have you. EC, I’ve heard about you from three different places from three different people. I have a friend who’s a journalist and she got invited on a CrossFit cruise. She went to your talk and she was impressed. She said you were the best part of that cruise. The other one is I’ve seen you because I watched the YouTube video sometimes, although I could have listened to you on Ben Bergeron’s Chasing Excellence podcast. I see why my friend thought you were so great. Third, we have a mutual friend, Charlie Merrill. Charlie and I have talked about you and he’s a previous guest on the show. We talked about working out to look good naked and we started talking about nutrition. To Charlie’s credit, he admitted that he didn’t know enough to answer many of my questions. He said, “Do you know who could? It’s EC.” I want to talk about eating and nutrition and eating for a remarkable life.
Eating to be naked.
I wrote to feel good to have the energy to look good naked or in clothing.
Some people don’t care about fashion but they still have sex.
Gia is in Boulder for the first time. She’s LA-based.
I love all of your fashion and I didn’t judge anyone in Birkenstocks. It’s beautiful to express yourself in a natural look.
It’s the worst dressed city but best dress naked. It’s the thing that boulder had one. There was an actual listicle or something.
It is a fit town and they don’t look like LA.
They don’t dress but I honestly saw the people and I wanted them to take their clothes off, not to see them naked but just the clothes in general. I was like, “You could lose that.”
You had some line about some closet throwing up on someone.
I might have said that. They’re the clothes that you would throw away on somebody. I bet that person should be confident and love their life. They’re probably single, so they should read this podcast and then find a way to get healthy and then get naked and they won’t be single.
If this project is successful and people start living a remarkable life, if you don’t want to be single anymore, it becomes a lot easier than when you’re living an unremarkable life. Although it’s designed to celebrate solo living, there’s an irony in the fact that the better you get at solo living.
Somebody wants to steal your life and they’re like, “Marry me,” and then you’re like, “No, I want to be single forever.”
I want to start with this general idea of what Charlie had said which is, “It’s hard to get broad advice about nutrition because people are different. They have different needs.” That said, we’re going to try to give some broad advice because there are probably some basics that are universal. Why don’t we start with that? You’ve created a program that is designed around broad advice.
I would even start broader than the #800gChallenge and it’s something I hammer all the time. The goals for most people come down to the same. It always is they want to look good in a swimsuit or naked or however you want to say and they want to be healthy and active into their old age. It’s universal. There are some different ones, but those come around time and time again. That comes down to the quantity of food you eat and the quality of the food you eat. How much food you’re eating will dictate how you look in that bathing suit and then what types of food you’re eating will depend on how healthy you are. That is how these various diets out there recycle those concepts over and over again. They put their little spin on it, “Eat these foods instead of these,” but quality and quantity come back around over and over again.
The bottom line is it is caloric restriction because I feel like keto and Atkins and all the same carb diet, but what’s happening is there’s a calorie restriction that’s being caught there. People get caught up in the minutiae of not eating carbohydrates, which I did but a doctor recommended me to do it. I had hormonal imbalance issues and possibly insulin spikes were causing it. I did that but it does turn into a fad.
Generally, what happens is I like to describe diets on a spectrum of not precise to very precise. You find that the different diets are along that spectrum. What happens is something like a keto or low-carb diet is restricting one area. You can get success there, but because you’re not restricting all areas of calories, you also have variable success there. That’s why people will go on keto and some will have remarkable success, then others won’t because we’re not looking at all factors in the diet.
The average person doesn’t know those. They’ve heard these terms, but they don’t know it. Can we do a little brief primer about some of these diets to get a little bit of an idea? Gia was talking about from a quantity, quality standpoint. Gia mentioned Atkins. What is Atkins and how does that fall along these two dimensions?
I don’t know all of Atkins specific, but it is a low carbohydrate diet. It’s restricting your number of carbohydrate grams per day. What typically happens because most people are overeating carbohydrates in a standard American diet and it also tends to come along with fat grams as well. French fries, cake, you name it. Typically, what happens by restricting carbohydrates, your overall quantity comes down.
Even if you’re eating bacon, chicken, and eggs all dy.
Because protein, which they’re now eating, tends to be more filling and more satiating. They’re getting fewer calories because a lot of the foods that they were eating, they can no longer eat.
Chips, cereals, bars, French fries, and ice cream. The list goes on and a lot of that won’t fall under their low-carbohydrate total.
What does that do on the quality dimension?
It can be great and it can also be not so great. That’s where we have a lot of variable results.
You can eat bacon all day and you’ve satisfied Atkins, so your quality is better.
I don’t want to speak specifically to Atkins because I don’t know all of his rules, but on a low-carbohydrate diet, you could eat all bacon and I would not think that’s health-protective, yet you’re satisfying the requirements of the diet. You can also gain weight that way and that’s where people are like, “I’m doing low carb, but I don’t understand why I’m gaining weight.” It’s because we now have too many excess fat calories.
That’s a balanced macronutrient diet, meaning there’s a relatively equal split between protein, carbohydrate and fat, which are three macronutrients.
The CrossFitters used to love Zone.
The Founder of CrossFit, Greg Glassman, worked with Dr. Sears on some of the early days implementing it, so there was a dramatic success with it. It also does fit well with the training methodology for sure, strength-based to high-intensity protocols. It’s a mixed macro diet. One of the reasons it’s great for people outside of a CrossFit environment is sustainability. When you take something like a low carbohydrate diet and you can no longer have bananas or pick something or even ice cream, right then you’re going to start losing out on the long-term game, which is where we see results. That’s why I like the Zone. I don’t think that everybody needs to weigh and measure all of their food, but this balanced macronutrient approach means we can fit more foods in the diet, which means people are going to stick with it.
You mentioned keto.
We could lump that near Atkins. It’s a more severe restriction of carbohydrates.
You can tell I’ve never done any of this.
With the keto though, they want you to up your fat.
With keto, you have to restrict your carbohydrates so that you have ketones in your blood. To do that, you need to be eating something else. They will say you can have unlimited fat. It’s not truly unlimited. It’s just that you don’t sit down and ever eat coconut oil or olive oil by itself. When your carbohydrates are so low, it effectively limits your fat as well, because you’re not just going to sit down to a tub of fat.
It’s important because these things get thrown around and I like this quality and quantity juristic. It makes good sense and people can get their heads around it. It’s a little bit of a useful way to look at how these programs or fad. This keto idea is supposed to be a diet that changes the way your body creates energy and burns calories.
Keto has become a fad for weight loss and you certainly can lose weight on it, but you can lose weight on a lot of things. That’s where some of the media overhype has gotten there. What they’re trying to do is limit carbohydrates. Where do I think there’s a true application for it? I’m sure in weight loss but as I said, we can do a lot of different ways. For people that are insulin resistant, there’s also a hormonal response to this diet by overdoing it. In terms of high carbohydrate foods, we can turn off that insulin response a little bit. The keto diet has been effectively used to reverse Type 2 diabetes. It’s great for that specific application but is it necessary for all mainstream?
I’ve got the sense it’s like a lot of dudes who want to have six-packs.
It’s like chubby women.
It’s the same focus. They think the same way.
They’re like, “I can’t eat this.” I did it. It’s not sustainable because It’s not practical to eat that way.
You have to be truly committed.
We are obsessive and you get stuck in this.
I want to add on to the keto thing though because there’s a valid application for it. I don’t think it’s ideal for a lot of people, not just from sustainability, but also from limiting nutrients that you do get from fruits and vegetables, including fiber. There can be shifts. We’re going a little in the weeds here of the gut microbiota, which now we know gut health. When we go to these restrictive places, we can’t just think about fat loss. We have to also think about what are the nutrient implications of that.
Constipation. These people aren’t pooping because they’re not eating the veggies. They’re like, “I can’t have that because it’s got a carb in it.” I’m like, “Do you ever want to take a crap again?”
Thank you for stating the underlying. I knew that we were going to get this. I’m happy. The last one is Paleo.
Paleo focuses on the quality of food that you eat so it’s unprocessed stuff. They say you can eat as much as you want of that. Why quality diets often kill two birds with one stone and get that quantity goal as well is because of caloric density. When you’re eating these fruits and vegetables, you can eat more by volume. You feel full and your stomach is filled up, but you’re having fewer calories. It’s a way that when you start including more quality items in your diet, you tend to reduce your quantity as well. You also get some nice nutrients but you can do the Paleo diet and also gain weight. That’s called almond, butter and bacon. There we go.
Is it fair to say that if you’re enjoying yourself a lot, you’re probably eating some things?
I wouldn’t want to say that. We’ve got to look at the context.
Some of the things as Charlie’s point is about, is it’s hard to get broad advice because people are different. They have different needs. It showed up in this idea of keto could be good for a particular person if you have particular fitness goals or you’re performing at a high level. The IRONMAN is happening here, so these people have specific needs.
Where I wanted to go with the quality and quantity thing is to get after our goals of body composition and health, we need to eat what our body needs, not more and we also need to eat high-quality foods. There are these offshoots of athletes or Type 2 diabetics, but there’s a large swath of the population that needs to be eating more whole foods than not and eating less. That message has gotten lost a little bit. There’s so much power there that we’re not talking about. Some people can have a diet of cigarettes and pop tarts. It’s within the genre of whole foods and not eating too much. We all fit and then there are some people that can skew their carb ratio a little bit higher or some people with their protein but it’s collectively coming around these two tenets.
The Glassman saying is, “Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise, but not body fat.” You don’t work there anymore.
I don’t work there anymore, but those are incredibly powerful phrases in terms of nutrition.
I’m trying to do those things and eating is a little less fun when you do that, but there are still plenty of variety and there are plenty of enjoyable eating. You don’t feel like you’re hungry all the time.
If I could mention the #800gChallenge, that is flipping the script a little bit on diet. When we think about these diets, we’ve already mentioned with keto, it’s all about this restriction, “I can’t have this. It’s not sustainable.” The #800gChallenge is the challenge I created to eat 800 grams by weight of fruits and vegetables each day. It doesn’t matter if they’re cooked and frozen or fresh. When you weigh them, however you want to weigh them on a scale, it ends up being about six cups so you can also think about that way instead of, “What are 800 grams?” Also, the choices are up to you. If you want to do strawberries, great. If you want to do green beans, great. I don’t care about which fruits and vegetables you’re choosing. Pick your shooter’s choice that has that type of volume during the day.
Is there a ratio of vegetables or fruit that you’re supposed to keep?
I say no to that. Optimal nutrition is inclusive of a variety of fruits and vegetables because of the different vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that you’re getting and fiber types even. There’s this notion out there that fruits are bad for you and it’s like, “I can’t even deal with that.” There are some beneficial things for fruit and typically, what we find in a mixed variety of fruits and vegetables in 800 grams is about 500 to 600 calories. Why I bring that up is we know that’s way less than what people need in a day.The goals for most people come down to the same thing - they want to look good in a swimsuit, naked, or healthy into their old age. Click To Tweet
Whatever you want to pick to hit your 800-gram number, it’s going to be okay in terms of your calories. The other thing about this diet and why I brought it up at that point as there are no restrictions. Once you hit your 800 grams of fruits and vegetables a day, I don’t care if you have ice cream and I don’t care how much protein you add to it. I don’t care if you have bacon, your glass of wine, etc. It’s a Paleo twist in the sense of by focusing on that amount of quality in your diet, you end up pushing out the ice cream choices, the wine, and the chocolate, but you’re not obsessive and restrictive that you never have them.
This came up in the Bergeron podcast, which I saw on The Scientist, and I like this observation you made. Please forgive me if I’m mischaracterizing it. We can start talking about studies on nutrition. In a world of science, what you want to do is these carefully controlled experiments where you only change one thing. In psychology, you can do that. I can show one group this picture and the other group that picture and everything else remains the same. Now, we know the difference in their responses due to the picture and not due to anything else. I don’t do nutrition studies, but the idea of when you make one change, you often make multiple changes. That makes the data. The theory is good nowadays, but the data is difficult to interpret. If you take something out of a diet, you’re taking the nutrition out and you might be taking the calories out.
It is the nutritional component or it is just overall caloric load.
Or vice versa.
Also, what are you subbing it with? That’s why it’s difficult to take one study and go like, “We have the answer,” which I don’t think happens in other fields either. In nutrition, it’s easy to get this one study that looked at a low carbohydrate diet and be like, “This is it for everybody.” It’s like, “Hold on.”
What did you replace carbohydrates with?
Did calories come down in addition to that low carbohydrate?
That’s interesting because optimizing your #800gChallenge recognizes that element. If you put enough fruits and vegetables into your body, you crowd out other potentially bad things.
There’s a displacement effect.
I want Gia and me to talk about how we’re eating these days.
I stopped eating strictly low-carb after a period of time. I did lose weight from it, but I didn’t feel it was a long-term thing that I can sustain. I do calorie restriction and intermittent fasting.
I know intermittent fasting has become a thing. Normal people know what it is. What exactly is intermittent fasting?
It’s restricting your time at which you eat to a certain time during the day. The most common to a lot of people is the overnight fast. Let’s say that you stop eating dinner by 7:00 PM and you don’t start eating for another 15 or 16 hours, including sleep. You might not start eating until 10:00 AM or 11:00 AM the next day.
That’s more or less. Gia is not eating breakfast.
It keeps you within a calorie. It restricts your calories a little bit.
Effectively, that’s what the idea is. If you skip a meal, your overall quantity is going to go down. What happens is you can also condense how much you’re eating into a shorter window. Let’s say the next day, I’m only eating between 11:00 AM and 7:00 PM. I missed my breakfast and I have my normal lunch and then at dinner I’m like, “I miss my breakfast, so I’m going to have another glass of wine. I’m going to have dessert.” We’ve made up all of the calories that we missed at breakfast. You can also overeat within the period that you’re eating. It’s another diet because it’s not controlling everything. We see variable results. Some people are going to lose weight and other people are just eating the same amount in the last period of time.
I think it is about getting nutrition. As a society, we look at food in an interesting way because it’s decadent. We’re willing to give up all the nutrients as long as we can eat a whole thing of ice cream. We’re not treating food like medicine or something that can make you feel better, which it can. It will change your life. You’ll be like, “Why do I feel so good?” You’re eating nutrition.
There is some theory behind intermittent fasting that even holding calories equal, there’s some repair element that’s supposed to be the case.
I would love to see it, but let’s take somebody who does intermittent fasting at the appropriate caloric load and compare it to people that are not doing fasting at the appropriate caloric load. Is there a difference? I’m going to say no.
Do you think most of the benefit of intermittent fasting is you eat less?
A lot of the people doing these studies probably have some weight to lose and probably haven’t been eating at the appropriate caloric load. It’s going to be a benefit because we’re cutting down on quantity. That’s a no-brainer. Do I think it’s that magical for resetting your circadian rhythm and insulin sensitivity? No. Let the record and science prove me wrong, but I’d rather people focus on, “Am I eating the appropriate quantity for supporting my life activities and health?” versus, “I have to do it at specific times during the day.”
I keep a twelve-hour fast. When I was in college and performing at a high level athletically, I had a rule to not eat after 9:00. When you don’t you after 9:00 and you’re a college kid, you’re keeping a twelve-hour fast. As an adult, I try not to eat for twelve hours after I’ve eaten whenever that is. I don’t feel like first of all the people who are serious about their intermittent fasting like Gia.
I love your point about the 9:00 PM. Think about our lifestyle in college, even adults. What happens in terms of our diet typically after 9:00 PM?
Sex. That’s when you get naked. We’re single and we’re touching each other.
That’s Gia’s lifestyle. Gia has a swinger’s club.
You guys are hip, cool and sexual people and I’m glad to be in the room with you. They’re very fit.
If we were to take a clock and look at where the majority of less ideal calories occur, there’s probably a good amount that happens in the middle of the night, late, out drinking, socializing, and all of that stuff. These rules that are like, “Don’t eat after 9:00 PM,” the physiology doesn’t shake out in the sense. It doesn’t matter but what shakes out is you either end up eating less.
People don’t go and eat a really healthy salad at 11:30. Taco Bell created the fourth meal.
You’re being naughty the later it gets.
I’m trying to eat unprocessed food and stay away from processed food. I’m treating bread as processed, so I’m eating fewer sandwiches. I used to fuel my entire life with sandwiches. Every meal was a sandwich. I needed lots of calories and now as an older man, I don’t need this amount of calories. I have doubled down on salads and protein. Most of my meals these days, day-to-day when I’m not on the road is a salad with a protein lightly dressed and fairly big. I never get fat but I am probably about ten pounds heavier. I got serious about both quantity and quality. I upped the quality and I downed quantity. It works. It took a long time, but I look completely different as a result of it. I feel and I’m performing at a higher level.
Dr. Peter, you’ve never been fat, ever?
The fattest I’ve ever got was I purposely decided to put on ten pounds and I let myself eat whatever I wanted to.
How did that work out for you?
I did it, but it took a little bit of work.
I feel like everyone should be fat for a minute. People that are healthy have a good relationship with food. I’m like, “Try it on the other end, so you can see what those people are going through and it’s a nightmare.” They have a negative relationship with food.
You could say that to some people that look thin as well. Not just thin but also with everything. It’s a double-edged sword. There’s going to be athletes who have a negative image of themselves.
That’s the thing about intermittent fasting too. I’m like, “Does it lend to letting people get involved in this control of not eating and only eating this little amount where we’re going, ‘It’s okay for you to do that,’ when in reality, it may not be great.”
That’s true with any diet. That’s where any of these diet rules, finding the ones that make sense to the person and don’t turn on this super restrictive, hyper restrictive and negative self-talk are the ones to do. If that’s intermittent fasting, some people find it incredibly freeing and some people find it incredibly restrictive. You can say that about every diet.
I can get obsessive like, “I can’t do that. I’m going fast for this long and that’s it.” I’m obsessed with the scale as well. There was a period of time where I would get on the scale.
There are two little anecdotes that come about this. One is I have a friend who will remain nameless. He jokes that he’s got this Appalachian DNA. He loves eating comfort foods. It’s part of being human like sugar, fats and so on. It’s part of his identity. He’s a fit guy, but he sees himself as a fat person inside. He has a little bit of it because he has a busy life. Whenever I want to make sure I see him, I invite him to a meal. I’m like, “Let’s get lunch.” He’s like, “Okay.” If I want to meet with him in the afternoon, it won’t happen. He loves intermittent fasting and partly because he eats a lot and he gets big meals. Psychologically, he doesn’t feel like he’s being restricted because he gets to eat the volume he likes to eat in a normal meal and he’s doing it often.
With nutrition, you always have to remember that’s the psychology of it and that’s not my specialty. I encourage people who have psychological issues with food to see me because I was trained with that.
Does food and body image stuff usually go hand-in-hand?
Often and I don’t want to say always. Sometimes, people don’t have education. They think that’s what they’re eating because it’s available or what they’ve been told is okay. Some of it is like, “Let’s coach you to better education and we can get you there. Find a diet that has the ‘right rules’ that fit with your lifestyle and beliefs.” There’s the physiology of nutrition and then there’s the psychology of nutrition. You want to end up finding one diet approach that fits with both.
I’ll give you an example. One is I’m an early riser and I have breakfast. At around 10:00 to 11:00, because I’ve eaten early, I get hungry again. What I did for many years is I’d have a Clif Bar and then I realized it’s not the worst choice. I usually wait for an extra hour and have lunch, which is probably a good thing to do. Now, I’m not having the Clif Bar, which is processed. Clif Bars are fine but if you’re doing a 50-mile bike ride and you need something to eat, that’s easy and on-the-go. It’s not a good mid-morning snack. If I need something, I’ll have a handful of nuts or I’ll have some fruit. That’s one of the things that you can ask me, but prior to that, I’ve known nutrition. I needed a little bit more information to know. That’s a little tweak but across time, that starts to add up.
Not to be a walking advertisement for it, like the #800gChallenge, you have a target to hit “good stuff” during the day. It’s not like, “I need to eat healthy in these general terms.” I have a number, I have a metric and that way, at your 10:00 AM hour when you’re hungry, you’re like, “Let me reach for the apple, so I get some grams in,” versus the Clif Bar or whatever. It sets you up. In terms of like, “Is the Clif Bar a good choice or not and all of that stuff?” I was thinking about this because I’ve always wanted to know, “Can I have X? Can I have Y?”
You’re doing a little bonus session after this for members of the community.
It’s called, “Mother, may I?” “Mother, may I eat this?”
“EC, can I eat this?” I have a list of things.
There are plenty of ways that you can work a Clif Bar into a healthy diet. Some of the questions about any of these things that we’re asking are, “Is this going to put me over in terms of the total amount of food I need per day?” Calories. “Does it prevent me from getting the nutrients I need in terms of all the macronutrients and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals?” If it’s making your caloric load too high and also add a low nutrient cost, we have a problem.Quality diets often kill two birds with one stone. Click To Tweet
That’s French fries.
French fries can be worked in. If I already hit my amount of nutrients I needed, I hit my 800 grams, I hit my protein targets and then I have these remaining calories because of my activity level if you’re an athlete or whatever it is, I can fit French fries into a diet and be healthy.
Do you edit what you eat based on your activity per day? Because I do. If I’m not active that day and if I’ve been super sedentary, I feel like, “Why would I need many calories if I didn’t move?”
I generally don’t recommend people do that too much because over the course of a week or a month, which is what we care about in terms of nutrition, your activities standard. One day is maybe higher than the next day, but your overall average shakes out. I’d rather get a consistent baseline across all of the days, so we have a starting point and then we can make tweaks from there.
This is your obsession with the scale.
I’ve let it go. I do have a scale in my home.
On I’m Not Joking, I interviewed Dan Ariely. He’s a big behavioral economist. I asked this question, “If you weren’t a professor and behavioral economist, what would you be?” He said, “I’d be an entrepreneur.” He’s turned into an entrepreneur and he is a co-founder of a company that has a smart scale. If you go into Amazon and you type in ‘personal scale,’ there are 500 choices. What’s fascinating is they all have something in common that his scale doesn’t and that is the dial or readout. The recognition that this company has is that when we were kids and you stepped on the scale, it had that had a pointer. Even the pointer couldn’t even settle in a way. They vibrate there. That was a good thing in some ways, “Am I 140 pounds? Am I 139?” You can’t tell, but because of technology, the readout, “You are 139 pounds and 14 ounces.”
You go to the doctor and they want you to get on the scale and then he looks at you weirdly when you take all of your clothes off. I’m like, “I want you to get an accurate read.” When I was in the hospital and the bed reads out and I was like, “My phone’s on the bed.” They were like, “We’ll subtract 0.2.” I was like, “Thanks.”
Does the bed weigh you in the hospital?
Yes. If you’re in a fancy enough hospital, it weighs you. Especially for somebody that can’t get up, walk and stuff.
This is a problem. It’s too precise because the day before, you were perfect. You did your #800gChallenge and you worked out. You step on the scale and for whatever reason, our bodies aren’t that precise, you’ve gained 0.25 pounds. What they do with their scale is there is no readout. When you’re supposed to step on the scale every morning, what happens is the program aggregates and gives you a rolling total of your weight up and down. There’s something called loss aversion or the negativity bias when you’re below what you think you should be, that feels good, but when you’re above what you think you should be, that feels bad. It can be demotivating.
It’s like when a professor scales the test.
When 44 of your students give you positive feedback and the other two annihilate you, all you think about is the two. That’s the negativity bias. This is a brilliant solution to that because now you’re able to track your weight over time. What they find is because you’re getting a more stable reading, let’s say every week or every two weeks, at the end of two weeks of eating well and exercising, you’re probably better off.
You get this motivation to continue totally.
I love the concept of eating fruits and vegetables. I do love that. It’s something that I do. When I’m regularly eating, I’m going for my nutrition first because I have been sick. I do want the nutrition and then I will allow myself to have like, “If I’m still hungry at the end, then I’ll have some ice cream,” or whatever.
I want to talk about your hospital visit.
In 2018, I had a fibroid removed and I went through a long process of bleeding. It was a nightmare. They wanted to give me a full hysterectomy and I did not want that because at the time, I was 34 or 35. I have a vacancy and I want to fill the apartment that’s in my body but I don’t want to kick start menopause and all this other stuff. I’m not trying to get pregnant. I didn’t want to go through that. I’m like, “Is there a way you can do that?” They could and they did. They eventually but it took such a long time. I was vigilant and at a certain point, I’m dying. I went to the hospital and I had an ambulance come to my house.
The normal hemoglobin for a female is 11 to 14. I was at five and then one time, I was checking up on where my levels were. I had blood tests or whatever and it came back to 5.9 or something. It’s crazy. I operate low, so my body has adjusted. I was on my way for a hike and my doctor called me and he was like, “Absolutely not unless you want a helicopter to come to get you the top of the mountain because you’re going to pass out,” and then immediately told me to go to the hospital. They gave me four units of blood.
I’d like #800gChallenge. You wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think that it was good advice. I hear the story about Gia going to hospital needing four transfusions. I’m not a CrossFitter, but I’ve been influenced by it. Charlie has me doing overhead squats. It’s a badass thing to be able to do. I’ve been influenced by it and I like this idea about wellness not being the absence of disease. I like this medical view of health which is, “If you do not have any diseases, that’s healthy.” As a result, I’m like, “We can use exercise and nutrition to fuel a remarkable life.” If you want to work long hours, you need to exercise and eat well. If you want to be in a good mood and live a pleasurable life, you need to exercise and eat well.” I always keep coming back to those ideas, but as someone who cares about Gia, I am like, “What can we give this woman to keep her out of the hospital and keep her hiking?”
With this functional medicine movement, which is essentially this idea of looking for the root cause of disease and taking care of conditions and disease naturally. Oftentimes, nutrition is a big component of that as well as sleep, exercise, relationships, and stress. All of that is good, but with this movement in functional medicine, there’s also been a backlash of conventional medicine and the conventional medicine practices of looking at disease. There are some things that we cannot fix and explain with nutrition and sleep. There are some things that we can’t just say, “Eat fruits and vegetables and you will be cured.” There’s almost too much messaging, especially in certain areas where “Natural is always better and all you have to do is eat organic and your problems will be alleviated.”
That’s easy for people in Boulder to think. These are people that have good genetics. They already are healthy people, hence, drawn to this place and so on. You have Type 2 Diabetes and you do need nutrition.”
At the time you have diabetes, you do need treatment but there are ways to reverse that with lifestyle. Type 2 Diabetes is the one that’s associated more with obesity. That’s the one that’s massive like a skyrocket.
I have a Type 1 Diabetes friend and he was quick to be like, “I was born this way.”
Some of our chronic diseases, which result in 6 out of 10 or more deaths per year. Those things like obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease are much as a lifestyle component to that. We do want to do what we can in terms of eating high quality, not eating too much, sleep and exercise. Even people that have a certain health condition are giving themselves the best chance by also putting in that baseline, but we have to be careful to be like, “Gia, if you did these three things from your nutrition, you wouldn’t have this blood transfusion.” That’s like, “No, we need modern medicine and there are specific conditions and more vegetables aren’t going to do it.”
I have underlying endometriosis and it’s been a never-ending cycle of like, “We have to thin out the lining in your uterus, which is going to cause you to bleed. You can’t bleed ever, so never bleed. You need to keep every drop of blood in your body.” If I get in a car accident, I’m going to die on the scene. I don’t have a lot of blood in my body. I rest at a 7 or 8 and that’s a lot of blood for me. It is a hormonal thing.
Definitely, diet affects hormones. It’s worth making sure that the nutrition stays high. It’s worth making sure that we’re not eating too much and that we’re staying in our healthy weight ranges. It’s worth exercising however you enjoy it. CrossFit is great, but if you love it, pick it. I don’t care. Do it. It’s worth sleeping seven-plus hours a night. Get those ducks in a line. Do we know that that’s going to move the needle for some conditions? No. We have to be careful about that. That’s also why I wouldn’t want to make specific recommendations even to you for this podcast because I do think there’s a little bit too much out there already that is like, “Do this and you’ll be cured.” That’s totally out of scope and not appropriate.
Are there any iron-rich foods that would be surprising like, “That’s iron-rich. You should probably invest in some of this vegetable?”
Of course, you already know the meats, organ meats and stuff like that, but plants do have iron as well. You can get iron from a variety of sources. Here’s the deal. Anemia doesn’t come down to just iron. We can take this concept and put it into a lot of the things with nutrition and people will be like, “It’s about vitamin C.” It’s like, “No, it never comes down to one nutrient because it turns out that we’ve got thirteen minerals and fifteen vitamins. It turns out they also need proteins and amino acids. It turns out they also need fatty acid so none of your systems are going to work without all of my essential nutrients.” This idea of like, “Let me chase iron and I’m now going to have this perfect outcome.”
When I’m in the hospital, they’re like, “You’ve got to take iron-rich foods and then you also have to take this supplement three times a day. It’s 325 milligrams and then you’re never going to take a crap again,” and here I am.
I definitely listen to what the doctor is saying. You have a specific condition that you do need to target iron, etc. In terms of physiology, anemia doesn’t come down to just iron. Pushing you towards more whole foods, meats, and cutting down on the processed carbs and fat is going to be a great place to be
The other thing in staying in the hospital, they’re like, “We’re going to help you get better,” and then they give you this food where you’re like, “What is this?”
That, I will criticize.
It’s not nutrition. They gave money for French toast. That was the first thing they gave me and it was like astronaut food and it didn’t taste like bread. I didn’t eat it and then they were like, “Why aren’t you eating?” I was like, “First of all, I intermittent fast.”
If I was in the hospital, I would honestly stop eating.
I can only speak to some of these orthopedic surgeons, but there are places where you go like in Vail. They purposely have the Paleo diet and all this stuff. It’s a no brainer in terms of inflammation recovery, and regeneration. I’m not saying that conventional medicine is all perfect and roses. One of the ways that can 100% improve is nutrition on the front lines.
In my mind when I’m there, I’m like, “This is a cost thing.” It’s cheap to do this but in the long run, I’m like, “People would be getting better nutrition and it would be better overall if we had real food.” It’s all heavily processed. I was like, “I’m not going to eat that. Can you give me eggs and maybe protein?” They gave it to me, I tasted it and I’m like, “This is powdered. I’m sure of it. This isn’t a real egg.” I didn’t want to eat it and then I hid my food.
There are big logistical challenges of feeding an entire hospital, but it is this odd dichotomy of like, “We got millions of people dying from chronic diseases and then where we treat them, we’re also feeding them the same.”
They give you good food at the cafeteria. You go to where the able-bodied people can get their salads and stuff and they’re like, “You don’t get that. You get these disgusting astronaut foods.”
I’d be the guy in the room with my IV and tracking down the hallway.
I’m putting it over my IV and getting actual food at the cafeteria.
You mentioned briefly this idea of your gut biomes. This suddenly is a thing that normal people have heard about. There are these things living in our bellies that make our lives better and worse. What’s the story? My sense is that what we eat affects them and they’re friends.
They’re commensal, meaning they live with us in a good way. You have over 1,000 different species and most bacteria. That’s what we know most about, but there’ll also be some other microorganisms there. What different types you have and how much of these different types seem to be associated with different health conditions. You could take a population that let’s say, has a cardiac vascular disease. They tend to have more of these bacteria present and they tend to have more of them present compared to an otherwise healthy population.
One of the big problems is this idea of correlation and causation. I’m going to take us on a slight tangent. Maybe you have an opinion about this. There’s all this stuff about the sun and vitamin D. When people don’t get enough sun, the advice is to take vitamin D to make up for that. I have read one article in an outside magazine that the sun that’s good for you and then vitamin D is a marker, not exactly like the mediating process. Gut biomes, are they a marker? When you have a problem, they look this way. The question is do you have the problem because of them or do they also react negatively?
Definitely, diet can affect your microbiome, but there’s going to be other things that affect that as well. Genetics. We can’t take this approach like the nutritional cure and everything and taking a snapshot of your microbiome. The focus is lost. There’s some awesome research and I want that to continue. They’re doing some things that I don’t even know what they’re doing and it’s amazing. If your microbiome is not an ideal ratio, the answer is to eat fruits and vegetables with varied polyphenols, the brightly colored compounds that will help shift the microbiota in a more favorable way. Eat food with fiber. I eat fruits and vegetables because that’s what feeds the microbiota. While the research will take us into some powerful places downrange, the otherwise healthy population is like, “What’s in my gut? Do I need to take this test and find out?” It’s like, “How’s your diet?” If your diet is the standard American diet, let’s first focus on that. Let’s do that before we worry about testing and seeing what species we have.
Thank you for that. I get that sense too like, “Eat well and these things start to fall into play. If they don’t, get more help.”
People will be like, “What about microbiome testing?” The response I like is, “What did you have for breakfast?” It always comes back to like, “Show me what you ate for the last few days. Take pictures of everything you ate. I can get a clear sense of where and how to improve before we go down into all this fancy testing and explaining vitamin D metabolism,” or something like that. It’s like, “Tell me your lifestyle. Tell me what you’re eating and let’s worry about what matters.”
As far as supplements go, is it effective? People are being involved in buying supplements like, “I’m going to take vitamin D, B12, and C. I’m taking all this stuff.” Are you synthesizing it the same? Are you absorbing it as well as you would if you were eating 800 grams?
It won’t hit all of your nutrient needs anyway. I don’t want to make it sound like a panacea. There are some questions about it like, “Do supplements work the same as they would in a natural form?” Generally, my recommendation on supplements is I don’t recommend them. I do think there are cases where people need them and I do think they should be working with a qualified practitioner. I don’t think you should be reading blogs about what their dose should be. We can even go down the vitamin D rabbit hole but regardless, it’s like, “What about vitamin C supplements? What did you eat for breakfast?” Let’s come back to the basics. Let’s move the needle where we can and get all those ducks in a row. If it’s a real condition, you should be working with somebody.
I want to finish with a little bit of a different question. It seems to me that you’re living a remarkable life. I want to know your secret. Do you agree you’re living a remarkable life?
You’re hitting me at a transition point. Sometimes, transitions are hard but what’s kept me going during this transition is I’m enjoying what I’m doing.
You are being more entrepreneurial.
There are some fears around that and it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s not steady and secure, which probably described my life all the years up until now. It’s remarkable in the sense of doing some things that I wanted to do for a long time and going after them. How do you do it? It’s cliché at this point, but listen to your gut and listen to your intuition.
Take a risk.
You have this company and you’re doing speaking.
A lot of education stuff. That’s a little bit difficult as I haven’t quite figured out the business model, per se. I’ve got my hands in a lot of different ways and I’m figuring out how this is going to continue to grow. There’s stress associated with that but there’s also like, “This is cool. This is what I wanted to do.” It’s remarkable in the sense that I made a change in my life to then pursue what I wanted to do.There are some things that we cannot fix and explain with nutrition and sleep. You still need conventional medicine. Click To Tweet
You can say, “How many podcasts am I being invited in?” I wanted to say thank you to Gia. You didn’t know this, but this was a big test for you. EC, thank you so much for your time. This was exactly what I hoped it would be.
On to the bonus material where Gia and I quiz EC on what types of food are okay to eat and not okay to eat. I want to briefly recap some of the stuff you said because I want to make sure I have it right for me and for the readers. I’ve always talked about it as the tripod to this side of my little rule for life, “To live a remarkable life to do the things that I want to do, I need three things.” One is I need a good sleep. The second is I need good exercise. The third is I need good nutrition and I need to eat right. I like the tripod idea because if you remove one, you fall over, so to speak.
Deeper into that idea of nutrition, I like this idea of quantity, just enough and not too much. Enough to fuel your exercise and your lifestyle, but not so much that your body’s turning it into fat. You’re having to carry it around and then the idea that the food that you’re eating should have high nutritional value. That comes from the diversity of meat, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruits. With that said, there’s some wiggle room. What I like about your advice is this does not have to be punishment, but you can enjoy your eating and your life as long as you take care of business foundationally. When I was prepping for this, I was like, “I have some questions about some things on whether we should be eating them or whether we should be not,” and so on. Yes or no, EC.
Is there a maybe category?
You can push back. Yogurt?
Yogurt is good.
What kind though?
This is going to quickly deteriorate into like, “Tell me what it is.” There are lots of yogurts.
Greek yogurt, 5% fat.
What’s the flavor?
No flavor, plain.
You’re going to make sure that we have some other things in the diet, but sure.
That’s a good snack for me with a little bit of fruit.
Interestingly, we did a challenge at CrossFit Roots. It was a vice challenges.
I saw this. This is Boulder’s vice challenge, so it was alcohol, which is a good one because alcohol is sugar and caffeine.
You could pick 2 or 3. The third one you still could have but you had to limit it to some degree so you couldn’t replace one vice with another. I don’t think caffeine is bad per se, but I do think there are some interesting habits around it specifically people doing the 3:00 PM sugar latte mocha type of thing. When it’s in that type of thing or when you’re totally having too much to then skip sleeping, that’s when we have to worry about caffeine. A couple of cups in the morning, don’t worry about it. Where I want to go with that is a bunch of people eliminated sugar and it’s an educational experience. I don’t want to vilify sugar but when you start looking at what sugar is in, people will be like, “I had no idea how much is in yogurt, sour cream, and protein powder.” It’s in everything. That’s why with the yogurt, a lot of the yogurts out there are high in densities.
Is it usually the case, the lower the fat content, the more the sugars in there?
Often. It depends on the brand too. The plains and the stuff is great but a lot of people don’t like that because of the taste.
You’ll get used to it. There’s research on this stuff. First of all, there are lots of foods, coffee, wine, beer, and olives. There are a lot of things out there that people love but the first time they have them, they don’t like it.
Coffee, caffeine, is it affecting our gut bacteria? Is it killing off certain things that we might need in there?
Not that I’m aware of. I wouldn’t worry about it.
I had coffee on the list. My suspicion lines up with yours, which is that coffee early in the day is good. It has a mood boost. It can help you cognitively and performance-wise if you’re exercising and so on. It’s often the other things that go along with getting the coffee in you.
There are some cases where caffeine is not great because we have a genetic variation on how well we metabolize it. The people who, for example, can have a cup of coffee at 9:00 PM and then fall asleep, they’re called fast metabolizers.
You’re one of those?
Yeah. I can drink coffee and go to bed.
I can’t have it after 1:00 PM, so I’m on the lower end of the spectrum. Combined with genetics and other medications, this all changes the caffeine scene. There are some cases of people that are slow metabolizers who have some problems. Generally, people in that couple of cups, four shots a day type of range, you’re probably okay assuming that sleep and other things are okay.
A whole jar?
All of them.
We were watching this ASMR on YouTube. I’m not suggesting people do this. One of the videos is they take a mic, they turn it all the way up and then they have people make a sound. There was one with a woman eating pickles and Gia loves her pickles.
I don’t love to listen to other people eat their pickles but I love to eat pickles. I love a good briny, salty kimchi and all stuff like that.
I do 85%, usually after my last meal of the day.
Even milk chocolate is fine. Here’s the deal though. Did you eat too much in total for the rest of the day? Did you get enough nutrients, especially vitamins and minerals besides your chocolate?
The answer is yes, of course. Chewing gum?
It’s an interesting one. Where do you want to go with it?
There are two forms of chewing gum. There’s traditional chewing gum like Hubba Bubba when you’re a teenager, then there are all these new chewing gums. I use chewing gum as a palate cleanser. I have breakfast or I have a coffee and then I chew some gum a little bit if you don’t have time to brush. It’s called Pure. It doesn’t have aspartame in it or whatever. I’m curious about chewing gum in general.
In general, it’s fine. We always have to think of how it is applied. If you say something is fine, what you end up finding is that we have some people that are doing 24 packs of chewing gum a day continuously and then we have other people using it as a palate cleanser occasionally after a meal. That’s where saying fine is hard because people are like, “That means it’s okay forever in all circumstances.” That’s hard with this yes and no stuff. I don’t think chewing gum, even the ones with the sweeteners, are all killing us. We all think we’re dying from that. There are some interesting habits around it. You could be consuming quite a lot. I also personally find that I end up being hungrier after I’m chewing it. That’s not science. That’s just me personally.
If you swallow it, does it stay in your stomach for seven years?
Are you swallowing it?
In general applications of chewing gum, if we’re assuming after a meal, palate cleanser and you enjoy it, great.
Protein shake after a workout?
Sure. I made this comparison between protein powder and rice. Rice gives us carbohydrates and not a lot of micronutrients. Protein powder gives us protein and not a lot of micronutrients. Can that be worked in? Of course. Is that a great way to hit protein? Sure. Should all of your days look like shakes and bars? No.
No. What are you using it for?
Here’s the reason I asked about it is I do have a protein shake after a hard workout. I needed to move so I should have eaten enough protein powder to get me through and I went into Whole Foods. There are dozens of options. It’s tough to know and then they had placed MCT oil within that thing and I asked, “Am I missing it?” I don’t even know what MCT oil is. What is MCT oil?
Medium Chain Triglycerides, a fat that supposedly burns quicker.You can live a remarkable life by making a change and pursuing what you want to do. Click To Tweet
You’re adding a bit of fat to your protein shake.
That’s the way to interpret it. People think that it’s giving them this instantaneous energy boost and it doesn’t get added as fat on the body and it’s a lot of hype. If you like it, you consider it like I’m adding calories to my protein shake.
It does make your protein shake taste better. It is fat because you’re adding some oil.
Sometimes, when it’s just a straight MCT oil, it’s not delicious.
It might have something, another flavor, and sugar in it.
Your protein powder probably has a flavor that helps make it delicious.
If you’re making a shake and it’s cold and you put oil in it, it might get a gluey oily bottom.
I don’t think it’s killing people. the hype is way too much and like, “Do you need it? Is it giving you anything better than either just skipping it and having fat elsewhere?” No, but if you like it as a taste, sure.
Can we kill the MCT hype?
This is another one. Nachos? Let me tell you why.
I’m like, “What do you mean? Of course, it’s fine.”
I occasionally get run down on low energy and I lean into some comfort food. I’m not much of a cook but nachos are tasty so I don’t go crazy. I do chips, cheese, some onion, salsa, sometimes black beans, and sometimes meat on those things. It is delicious but I have to tell you I’ve noticed the cleaner I eat, the more my stomach go, “Ugh.” It’s the tortilla chips.
Maybe you’re eating the wrong tortilla chip.
One of the other things I like to tell people is I can’t validate your diet. In fact, nobody can. If they’re telling you that they can validate your diet there, they’re fool only because there are so many factors. I don’t know what the rest of your day looks like. I don’t know what your genetics are. I can’t know exactly what nutrients you had and how that’s going to play out years from now. What I do know is looking at your body composition, performance and health of the best that we can do and eating whole foods is better than not and not eating too much. You have to pick how fast you want to drive. If you want to use the driving analogy like, “Do you want to speed?” then you can have more nachos and less quality food.
I largely decided this is a rare instance for me because what I’m using is my physiological reaction to eating it. I was like, “It’s fun to eat,” and afterward, I feel like puking.
I don’t want to also sound like a perfectionist. My diet is not perfect by any means at all. I enjoy things as well. It’s not like you can never have nachos, but we always have to remember what’s the whole context, what’s the frequency, what are the health markers that we can check in on and then make those decisions.
Gia, do you have any more you want to ask? I know pickles were on your list.
I did because I love pickles, kimchi and all the fermented, salty. Also, I lay into some oysters which are decadent but I will have a lot.
Do you like aphrodisiac?
That was my next question. What are our sex foods? What do I eat? Can you make me sexier with the food? What can we eat to be like, “That got her?”
That’s another expert.
I’m working on that one for a better one.
I’m a physiology person.
EC, Gia, thanks so much. I appreciate it. This was a lot of fun.
- OptimizeMe Nutrition
- Gia Cognata – Previous episode I’m Not Joking Podcast
- I’m Not Joking
- Dan Ariely – previous episode I’m not Joking
About EC Synkowski
EC Synkowski runs OptimizeMe Nutrition, which offers B2B/B2C educational products, mobile-app based challenges, and corporate wellness programs. OptimizeMe Nutrition helps people improve their weight, health, and overall well-being through sustainable diet methods. She has created #800gChallenge, a diet free of restrictive rules, to lose weight, reduce blood pressure, and improve performance and recovery. EC has a BS in biochemical engineering, a first MS in environmental sciences (with a focus in genetics), and second MS in Nutrition & Functional Medicine. She worked previously as Program Manager for CrossFit Inc.
Gia Cognata is a makeup artist, stylist, photographer, and writer from Los Angeles. Her most recent work was helping autistic children focusing on independence training. I found her on Instagram and invited her to appear on my other podcast I’M NOT JOKING. I suspect that Gia will be a perfect co-host for today’s episode. First, she is way funnier than me. Second, she is committed to health and fitness, yet recently found herself in the hospital with anemia.
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