My good friend and best-selling author, Robb Wolf, is back on the podcast to discuss his new book entitled Wired to Eat. Robb lays out a great holistic plan to find a personalized diet that is right for you. We also tackle some interesting aspects of a healthy relationship with food, “cheating,” and finding one’s ideal carb intake.
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- Decode Your Cravings
- Wired to Eat by Robb Wolf
- The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf
- Paleo (f)x
Wired to Eat with Robb Wolf
Dr. Michael Ruscio: Hey, everyone. Welcome to Dr. Ruscio Radio. This is Dr. Ruscio with the infamous Robb Wolf. Hey, buddy. Welcome back to the show.
Robb: Thank you. I’m out on parole, so it feels good.
Dr. Ruscio: We’ve got to squeeze in those windows when we can.
Robb: That’s right. That’s right.
Dr. Ruscio: So Robb just got through with the relaxing process of writing a book called Wired to Eat, and I thought we could talk about this today.
Robb: Oh, it sounds like a grand idea.
Dr. Ruscio: I’m holding in my hand a pre-edition of this—I guess, pre-final editing. And I’ve flipped through it. And of course, this is great information, like Robb always puts out, both funny and insightful.
That was one of the things that really caught me with your first book, The Paleo Solution. You learned a lot. But it was also funny, just like your podcast is and the way you are. It’s just someone to talk to.
Robb: Thanks! It’s funny when we’re out and about. If I do a seminar or presentation, people will go up to my wife, and they’re like, “Is he funny like this at home?” And she just rolls her eyes.
She’s like, “He’s an idiot at home, just so you know.”
Dr. Ruscio: I think I’m a little bit of an idiot sometimes, too.
Dr. Ruscio: So I think that’s why we get along so well.
So I think most of the people who are listening to this probably know who you are and know your back story. But for someone who hasn’t heard the name Robb Wolf before, tell people a little bit about your background and what you’ve been up to.
Robb: Yeah. Yeah. I’ve always been interested in human performance. And that’s maybe kind of an odd story, given the environment that I grew up in. Two very well-meaning parents but both of them smoked. My dad drank too much. Both of them developed type 2 diabetes in their late 30s. Just a very unhealthy environment.
And early on, I had a really sneaky suspicion that eating and living different ways would probably mean I would have a hopefully better aging process than what they experienced. And so I have always been interested in that.
I lifted weights quite a bit in my youth. I was a California State power lifting champion. Very interested, again, in human health and metabolism. I was thinking about med school. I did an undergrad in biochemistry. I went on to do some benchtop research related to lipid metabolism and autoimmune disease and cancer.
I was in this holding pattern, trying to figure out where I was going to go. And part of the holding pattern was that I was really, really sick. And I had ulcerative colitis, IBS—every poo related problem you could virtually imagine—and was pretty desperate to get my hands around this, so to speak.
And the idea of this paleo diet or ancestral health template got on my radar. And I started playing with that and immediately had pretty remarkable improvements, just literally lifesaving type stuff.
I walk around right now about 175 pounds, pretty lean, pretty muscular. And at the low ebb of my ulcerative colitis, I was about 130 pounds due to malabsorption issues. I was really sick. So this was a very profound change for me.
And it was interesting. When I really started nosing around this idea of ancestral health and thinking about sleep, food, photo period, gut health, community, and how all these things fit together within this evolutionary framework, the idea of going to medical school didn’t look that appealing to me anymore.
I was going to spend four to eight years learning about pathology and disease. And then I was going to have a very limited ability to really work with the type of people that I want to work with. And it was right around this time that I ran into an interesting website called CrossFit.com. This was around 2000, 2001.
And my friend Dave Warner and I started playing around with this. Dave is a retired Navy Seal. And we really loved it. We started training some people out of his garage. And before I knew it, we had co-founded what was then the first CrossFit affiliate gym in the world.
And then I eventually moved back down to Chico, California, where I did my undergrad and founded what was to be the fourth CrossFit affiliate gym in the world. And I was using, again, this paleo diet/ancestral health template to help our clients.
And within about two years, we were picked as one of Men’s Health’s top 30 gyms in America, and this seemed to be based off the pretty remarkable results that we were getting.
And I started blogging and podcasting. I eventually wrote a book that made New York Times’ best seller. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The New Book Wired to Eat
Dr. Ruscio: So you’re really one of the first guys, I think, to both increase people’s awareness of CrossFit and of the paleo diet. And your first book, of course, The Paleo Solution was a pretty iconic book in that space.
And now, there’s this new book. And so what would you say, for someone listening, is maybe unique or novel with your new book Wired to Eat compared to your first book The Paleo Solution?
Robb: Yeah. Yeah. Well, hopefully, one thing that’s different is this is built on six, almost seven years of additional experience. So hopefully, I’ve learned a bit more in that time.
But the whole focus of Wired to Eat—and it still has a ton of this evolutionary biology/ancestral health orientation. I think you and I share that value system that we find a huge amount of benefit from using that as an orienting epistemology and a way to look at the world. But it’s a starting place.
And so I use that to couch this story about our neuroregulation of appetite. How do we know when we eat enough versus not enough? And what goes into all that?
Because there have been these crazy macronutrient wars going on for 60+ years where you’ve got one group saying, “High carb, low fat is the way to go.” You’ve got another group saying, “Low carb, high fat is the way to go.”
And we see examples on both ends of these spectrums where people live pretty long, healthy lives. And so even the ancestral model is a little bit difficult to find a definitive answer on this if you’re really being honest with yourself and not really cherry picking data.
So you have camps that say, “Everything boils down to just hormones and just insulin. And so long as you control carbohydrate level, then everything is good.” And then you’ve got other folks that say, “The only thing that really matters is calories.” And both of them are kind of right.
But at the end of the day, the thing that cuts through that Gordian knot is this neuroregulation of appetite. In free living humans, the trick really is to get them to eat less, which then improves their insulin sensitivity and modifies their hormonal profile. But it’s really, really hard to do that in a modern world that is rich in hyper palatable foods.
Our basic biological drive is to eat as much food as possible and do as little physical activity as possible. This is just basic economics. And it’s called optimum foraging strategy. And every organism that moves to get its dinner, whether it’s an herbivore or an omnivore or a predator, follows this strategy.
And it’s basic economics and accounting. You’ve got to get more than what you spend to keep moving forward. And so when we get these trite recommendations from the medical community to “eat less, move more” and “everything in moderation,” it’s really flying exactly in the opposite direction of the way our genetics are wired up.
And the goal with Wired to Eat is to let people understand that. Luckily, I’m very, very fortunate that The Paleo Solution was very successful and seems to have helped a lot of people.
But I saw a lot of folks peel out after a certain period of time. And the feedback that I got from people was that they just felt like the whole process was hard. And that kind of surprised me. Not that I expect that it should be easy, but I was stunned that people think this should be easy in some way.
Every single incentive that we face in our world, whether it’s social media keeping us locked to a desk or a computer, whether it’s hyper palatable foods that you have an infinite variety of—all of these things make doing the stuff that keeps us healthy a challenge.
And my goal with the book—with the first book, it was really couching this stuff in terms of, “Hey, here’s this paleo diet model. If we emulate elements of this, then we’ve got the potential for much better health and some good things to happen.”
And really the goal with Wired to Eat on the front end of the book is to help people understand how their neuroregulation of appetite works. And when they get that awakening, then all the guilt and the drama around behavior change, particularly as it relates to food, should hopefully go away.
We’re at a spot where we understand, “Oh, I’m not lazy. This is just the way that I’m wired up.” And it’s not unreasonable that when there’s a bag of—what is it?—sea salt and vinegar potato chips, that you eat the whole thing.
Dr. Ruscio: Oh, yeah.
Robb: I don’t really like sweets that much. But the salty, crunchy stuff, man, I can eat that all day long. And so that just shouldn’t be surprising.
Now, we do need to decide if we want to do something about that. And that does require some work. But the hope is that if we can at least diffuse the emotionality around that on the front end, then we’ve got a much better opportunity to start affecting change on the back end.
Dr. Ruscio: I agree. And I often wonder. People oftentimes say that you’re lazy because you don’t exercise, but it may be that someone is not making the right choices to give them enough energy to want to exercise.
And so sometimes I look at these. Is it behavior being driven by the internal health? Or is it the internal health that’s driving the behavior?
Dr. Ruscio: And a lot of what you’re saying—I reflect on the bad choices I’ve made in my own life that have tanked my energy and resulted in me not going to the gym. And it’s not necessarily because I’m lazy.
But it’s because I’ve made bad choices that negatively affected the internal environment of my body. And then there just wasn’t the energy there to exercise.
Or you make the other comment about sea salt and vinegar chips, which are my Achilles heel also.
Robb: Heaven! Absolute heaven!
Dr. Ruscio: And every once in a while, I’ll go shopping maybe when I’m hungry, and I’ll buy a bag or two. And then I come to 45 minutes later, and I realize the bag is gone, and I’ve got chips all over my face. It’s like, “Well, it didn’t take me long to inhale that bag of those.”
And so I think a lot of this comes down to setting yourself up for success. And I think one of the components of that is really finding the personalized recommendations which is, I know, something that you talk a lot about in the book.
And I think that’s where a lot of dietary and healthcare recommendations are going, which is not giving, as you alluded to before, these one-size-fits-all, broad recommendations, but trying to give people more of a personalized recommendation that works to them.
And there are a lot of components to this, I think, that our audience is familiar with. We’ve talked a lot about carb intake and people being able to do better on a diverse array of carbs. Some people do better low. Some people do better medium. Some people do better high. We have the fermentability piece. Some people do better on high fiber and high pre-biotic diets. Some people are decimated by that.
Personalized Carb/Fat Diet Planning
So let’s maybe go into some of the aspects where you help people personalize some of the variables to a plan for themselves.
Robb: Yeah. Yeah, that’s a really good set up for that. And the challenge—at least in my head, because I’m just frankly not that smart, so it’s hard for me to wrap my head around all this stuff—but there’s always this challenge of how do you start people who—God bless them—they don’t spend all day on the internet reading about nutrition-related stuff. They just want this stuff to work.
So where do you start these folks? What’s the heuristic or the simple story that you tell to get folks going? And there are lots of ways to do this. The low-carb deal is a way to go. A ketogenic diet is a good way to go. A vegan diet is a good way to go. You have these really solid delineations of “do this, don’t do that.” It’s very binary. It’s simple to follow. And it’s a not-bad way to get folks going.
The only challenge there is it only works within the confirmation bias of the group of people that you’re trying to affect. And even within that, things may work for a while. Some people may do better on a low carb diet for a while, or they may do better on a vegan diet for a while. And then it ceases to work.
And this is where that customization piece becomes really important. And you alluded to this. We’ve got an intersection of genetics, our gut microbiome, the epigenetic signaling like sleep and photo period. And all these things go together, and it becomes highly individualized what you’re going to do best with.
But the challenge there, again, is start with the simple stuff. Get people moving in a generally favorable direction, and then we can get more granular as we need to.
And part of what I do with that—again, we explain the neuroregulation of appetite on the front end and understand how you’re wired to eat. You understand digestion, inflammation, how all that stuff can work for us or against us.
And then we roll out a 30-day reset that is largely a paleo diet, lower carb in orientation.
But before you jump into that, I have a really nice system for determining where you are on the insulin resistance/insulin sensitivity spectrum. And there are subjective elements to that. How do you feel between meals? Are you foggy headed? Do you have good cognition?
And then some more objective measures, like waist to hip measure, some triglyceride/HDL ratio, some fasting blood glucose. So if people want to do a little blood work, they can get a more objective baseline.
And then depending on where the individual is, they will shift towards more of a lower carb approach if they’re more insulin resistant, or if they’re more insulin sensitive, but still potentially overweight or facing some health problems, like I talk a lot about autoimmunity and neurodegenerative issues. There are some different routes that people can take in that way. And it’s an interesting story.
But people who are overweight but insulin sensitive seem to do better on a lower fat, moderate-to-high protein, moderate-to-high carb intake. And this is just almost the opposite of what people who are insulin resistant respond favorably to. Those folks—and I would put myself in that camp—seem to do better on lower carb.
So we start these folks with, hopefully, a really easy to follow template so that they can figure out where they are in this story. They do a 30-day reset to help normalize the neuroregulation of appetite, reduce inflammation, get the gut health going in a favorable direction.
And then at the end of that period, so that we can move beyond this basic paleo diet template, I use a 7-day carb test where I, again, recommend a battery of objective and subjective measures—the objective measures being some blood glucose monitoring, the subjective measures, again, being how you feel between meals. Do you get hungry? Do you get cranky? Do you have an energy dip? And stuff like that.
And we then map what our response is to a battery of carbohydrates. And I have a huge list of them in the book. I’m not really expecting people to map every single carb in there.
But usually, we’ve got our group of seven to ten favorites or things that we go back to again and again. And so I recommend that folks test those.
And I just wrapped up a little self-experimentation using a continuous blood glucose monitor where you actually slap it on the back of your arm and it takes your blood sugar once every minute.
And I wouldn’t say I discovered super profound things, but it was very confirming of what I’ve noticed in the past. White rice or white potatoes just absolutely make me feel like dog poo. It crushes me. And these things put my blood sugar up into the near diabetic ranges.
Whereas, I did similar amounts of carbs from things like lentils and apples—oh, man—squash. And some of these things, my blood sugar barely bumped up at all. So with the white rice, my blood sugar got to 170. With the squash, it got to 88 or something like that. It barely went up.
And theoretically, the squash is, in theory, a higher glycemic index item than what the rice was. But I had a completely different experience.
And just as an aside, I actually tried with the white rice a couple of different things. One experiment was cooking it and eating it while it was still warm.
The other experiment was cook it, freeze it, cool it off, eat it with the idea being that it creates this resistant starch and feeds the gut bugs and produces a lower glycemic response. And that, for me, did not work at all. So I had some pretty interesting stuff with that.
And again, because I pay a decent amount of attention to those subjective measures—how do I feel between meals? What’s my cognition?—it wasn’t hugely surprising.
But it was surprising that eating an amount of carbs from certain sources that are completely reasonable by most anybody’s standards was producing near diabetic blood glucose responses for me.
So it was definitely validating in that regard that, “Okay, yeah. If I don’t want diabetes and I don’t want to go blind at some point and lose my limbs, I need to probably steer clear of that stuff.”
And I did do a few other little experiments. I would do a really hard Jiu-Jitsu session and then do the rice. And I had much, much better blood glucose response then, although it was still reasonably high.
And so what I took from that was if I want to have something like rice or rice noodles—if I want to go get a bowl of pho or something like that—you just go really moderate on the amount of carbs that I take in that situation.
Whereas if I have something like a bunch of winter squash or something, I can eat that with reckless abandon. I’m not going to be able to overdo that.
Dr. Ruscio: Gosh! There are so many great things you just said that I want to speak to. And good job, by the way, with doing some of that self-experimentation.
Dr. Ruscio: I know sometimes it’s a little bit hard to be diligent in your monitoring when you’re midstream in one of those experiments. So kudos to you.
But it reminds me of something very simple that I often answer a question of one of my patients in the clinic this way, which is, “It really depends on how you feel.”
There are so many things that—take a given food—rice as you mentioned. We could use a few different mechanisms or reasons why that could be good for someone. And we could use a few reasons or mechanisms why it might be bad for someone.
And what I think is important for the healthcare consumer to take away from this conversation is it’s an exercise in madness, in my opinion, to try to find a mechanism through which to support why you would eat a certain food, because for every mechanism that you’re citing, there’s probably another mechanism that you’re not citing or that you’re not aware of that counters what your initial mechanism may suggest.
And really, it comes down to what’s going to work well for you. For rice, we could maybe easily come up with three reasons why rice might be helpful, resistant starch being one that you mentioned.
But for you, you may have an allergenic response to the rice that may be causing this. It may be flaring gut bacteria. And those gut bacteria may be irritating your immune system. That immune activation may be driving cortisol. That cortisol may be causing blood glucose to go higher. And we could rationalize or theorize as to a mechanism all day.
But really, what this comes down to is what is going to be best for the person. And this is akin to my repeated recommendations that we try to look at the clinical trials as much as we can, because when we look at mechanisms we can easily miss the mark. But when we look at a clinical trial—what you essentially did was a clinical trial with one person.
So yeah, I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that. And I think that sort of approach, walking people through the carb piece of this, can be very helpful.
And I like the way that you’re doing it where you’re starting off with this 30-day reset, because it’s hard to figure out the carb piece right out of the gate, because there might be gut inflammation, there may be neuroregulation problems.
And it’s a similar approach that I take in the clinic and that I also advocate in the book, which is not trying to figure out exactly where you should be on the carb spectrum on day one.
But rather, let’s get on the other side of this first 30 days or so of some experimentation. Let’s try to get you de-inflamed. Let’s try to get your appetite regulated a little bit. Let’s try to get your gut a little bit healthier.
And then we have a more consistent baseline from which to do some of this experimentation to figure out what’s going to work well for you.
So yeah, I really like that approach. And I like the approach of the sequencing. And for the carbs, you’re having people do—I’m assuming starting lower carb and then doing with a gradual ramp up and tracking subjectives and objectives during that time.
Robb: When they start that 7-day carb test, I actually throw them into the deep end of the pool. They just start with a 50g aliquot. And that’s what they test all the way across.
And part of that is a little bit—this is the only podcast that I’ve mentioned this—but there’s going to be some surprise. A lot of people are not really going to do that well with a lot of these carbs.
But really, in the book, I couch it as, “Hey, go out there. Check it out! Who knows?” But in the back of my head, I’m like, “Yeah, it’s not going to work most of the time.” And people are going to get hit.
They’re eating enough carbs in the basic paleo template. It’s 100 to 150 grams a day for most people, maybe a little bit less for some. And again, that’s based off the subjective stuff.
But they’re not going to have physiological insulin resistance or anything. They’re going to be firing along pretty well. But what I found—and again, this is the fortunate deal of having a little bit of some clinical activity going on—is a lot of people just don’t do that well with that stuff. They’re like, “Oh, I really do feel bad from this.”
So there’s a little bit of a bait and switch that I do in there in that I really present this in a very unbiased, reasonable way. And I’m like, “Let’s get in and test that and see where you are.”
But in the back of my head, I’m like, “Yeah, it’s not going to work for most of you. You’re still going to figure out you probably do a bit better on a lower carb intake.”
But I have a couple of friends—Eva Twardokens, Michael Rutherford—who have been playing with this stuff. And Michael is just a really phenomenal athlete. He’s a master’s Olympic weight lifting champion.
And man! He ate—I want to say—he’s kind of a bigger guy. He’s maybe 210 pounds, pretty muscular. And he has phenomenal blood glucose response. He did 75 grams of carbs from rice. And I think his high point with his blood sugar was 105. It was ridiculous! Really, really good.
And then Eva is a multi-time Olympian, former world champion giant slalom skier, also muscular, also healthy. But she tried oats, and oats gave her a 186. And she tends to have some problems with gluten. And so, I was like, “We might have an immunogenic response there.”
And so some of these things, it’s really an eye opener. But I don’t really ramp them up because I just launch them in there. And I want them to go from eating pretty clean and then really get a very profound experience when they try out this carb test.
Dr. Ruscio: Well, you can learn a lot from that. And that’s something else that I often comment to my patients in the clinic when we start doing a reintroduction of food. Even a negative reaction isn’t a bad thing. It might look like that on its face, but it can teach us a lot. And so we may lose the battle, so to speak, but we’ll win the war.
If we figure out that this food doesn’t really work well for you, yes, it sucks in the moment. But that’s one more piece of information we can use to craft the ideal diet for you in the long term.
So I get where you’re coming from. It may not be pleasant. But let’s throw them into a carb reintroduction. And sometimes, that jolting experience is the best because it gives someone a clear yes or no.
Dr. Ruscio: The problem sometimes with doing things gradually is you can’t really tell. “Am I more energetic? Am I less energetic? I’m not really sure. I’m second guessing myself.”
So sometimes, I totally see the rationale in that of jumping into the deeper end of the pool and just trying to say, “Okay, I totally was floored by this. Clearly, it’s not going to work. I can tick that box and now move onto the next thing.”
Robb: Right. Right. Yup.
“Healthy Relationship with Food”
Dr. Ruscio: So something else that I know we both talk about, and I’d be curious to get your thoughts because I know you mention this in the book, but if you have an updated thoughts or any insights to share with the audience—a “healthy relationship with food.”
Dr. Ruscio: I think we take a similar angle. But what’s your take on this?
Robb: Oh, man! So this is the thing in the book that might get me a death threat or get me pepper sprayed in a group of a people at some point.
But, man! So in working with people, again, you get all kinds of different folks. And I would encounter people who in chatting with them, this topic of, “Hey, I’m working towards having a good relationship with food.”
And I was like, “Okay, that seems very reasonable.” It’s very, very similar to “all things in moderation” and “eat less, move more.” It’s just intuitively very reasonable.
And I think it’s just wrong.
And where I think this goes wrong is almost to a person—actually, I’ll say “to a person” at this point. The folks that were really focused heavily on, “I need a healthy relationship with food,” it was like them trying to calculate the final decimal point of pi. It was another iteration and another iteration. It just kept going and going and going. It was this infinite process.
And as I started really nosing around and asking these folks questions, what I discovered is they had maybe turned food into an issue. But the issue wasn’t food.
And almost inevitably, there was some hurt at some point in the past, whether it was childhood or early adulthood or what have you, and food became a barrier or a coping mechanism.
And there also tended to be some really serious intimacy pieces, like there was a power and control thing going on. Again, food and relationships with people were the real sticking points.
And so I go through an example in the book of working with a super successful entrepreneur who, when I first started working with him, was over 400 pounds and was really a handful. I have some pretty funny stories about working with the guy.
He paid his house staff to go and get Krispy Kreme donuts and throw them over the security fence and have someone intercept them and bring them to him. And I was like, “What are you doing?”
And then he’s like, “It’s not my job to make your job easy.”
Dr. Ruscio: Oh, man.
Robb: Yeah, it was crazy. Really, really funny stuff.
But one day, we were having a conversation. And I just looked at him. And I said, “So who didn’t love you?”
And he was like, “What are you talking about?”
I’m like, “This food stuff isn’t about the food. It’s about something else. And it’s about power and control. You have virtually no relationship with anyone around you including your family. You keep everybody out at arm’s length. Who didn’t love you?”
And he’s a big dude and pretty strong guy despite being significantly overweight at that point. And I really thought he was going to rip my head off my shoulders.
Dr. Ruscio: Oh, jeez.
Robb: I thought that this was the end of the line. But the guy ended up actually breaking down, and it was this whole deal of his parents being high achievers.
And his nanny saw this very bright, precocious kid who was effectively emotionally abandoned. And she felt horrible about this, and what she did is she started cooking him really amazing food. And they would sing and play games and eat food. And what he associated was food with love.
And it was probably a potentially lifesaving thing for the guy in some ways. It probably saved a lot of his psyche and his soul. But it also set him up to have some really challenging issues beyond that.
And when I discovered all this, I actually told him I wasn’t going to work with him anymore, that he needed to work with a therapist. And I strongly suggested that it not be motoring towards a good relationship with food but that he deal with these fundamental hurts.
And it was a rough go. He and his family went through some really rough times. But he’s 205, 210 pounds now and pretty darn healthy.
He was having some kind of—undiagnosed, but what from the outside looking in were pretty clearly some diabetic levels of blood sugars in the past—he would have vision changes and blackouts and different things like that. So I think it was a really profound change for him.
But had we just focused on this notion of, “Hey, you need a healthy relationship with food,” we would never have gotten anywhere because that really wasn’t the issue. That was a symptom.
And people really get uptight about this. And they’ve gotten very angry at me. But I throw out there, again, we’ve had many trite, well-intentioned ideas thrown around.
“Everything in moderation.” Well, what does that mean when you’re going down the snack aisle of the supermarket? There isn’t moderation there.
“Eat less, move more.” That, again, sounds great. But it’s impossible to do in anything other than metabolic ward settings.
So we’ve had a bunch of this stuff that comes out of the media and the mainstream medical scene, particularly dietetics. And they really promulgate this idea that you need a healthy relationship with food. And I think it is just completely misguiding people, focusing them on the wrong directions.
And again, it’s not to say that there aren’t issues that pop up around food, but it’s my opinion that it’s a symptom and not the root cause.
And if we talk about holistic medicine, who likes the treatment of symptoms? We always want to treat the root cause.
And so I would just throw it out there that, particularly if you have a really profound emotional response to the suggestion that you don’t need a healthy relationship with food, that maybe you just stew in that a little bit and just feel it.
And then you can come beat me up and pepper spray me if I’m totally wrong. But I think we’re onto something with that.
Dr. Ruscio: It’s almost as if to say that the people that need to work the most on having a “healthy relationship with food” are probably most prone to have some sort of underlying imbalance that’s creating that healthy imbalance with food.
Look at someone who has a predilection toward becoming an alcoholic. To put it loosely, let’s say someone has the genes to become an alcoholic. They’re going to have to work probably really hard at having a healthy relationship with alcohol.
But there may be a deeper issue behind that. They may have some sort of omega-3 imbalance. Or they may have some sort of relationship with their parents that is fueling that alcoholism.
And we’ve had a few people on the podcast who’ve spoken to those that have fairly pronounced drug addictions who almost always have an incidence of abuse and, oftentimes, sexual abuse in their childhoods.
And so if we extrapolate from problems with drugs or alcohol over to food, then it certainly makes a lot of sense that those who have a hard time having a healthy relationship with food may have a deeper underlying issue that needs to be examined and looked into.
Robb: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s really the suggestion that I’m making. If you’re going on your 10th or 12th year of searching for a healthy relationship with food, maybe it’s time to shift gears and really think about, “Is there something deeper there?” That food is just a symptom that’s being covered up and not really the root problem.
And not to belabor this, but in a somewhat parallel story I noticed with our endurance athletes that I would work with, these folks would come to us and say, “Hey, I want to run/bike/swim faster—whatever. And I’ve got some orthopedic issues. I’ve some injuries.”
So I’d check them out. And then I’d say, “Okay, for you to run/bike/swim faster, you’re going to need to train half as much as what you’re doing now. And we need to get you stronger and do this and do that.”
But when I would suggest that they would need to cut their training volume, in some of these people there was absolute horror in their eyes. And it took me a long time to figure this out with them.
But these people were literally running from something. These people had every moment of their day packed with stuff because they couldn’t stand to experience 5 minutes alone in their own head.
Dr. Ruscio: Sure.
Robb: And the endurance activity was this escapist deal. And whether it was running away from a bad relationship or what have you. But it’s kind of a parallel there where these folks were really dedicated to their physical activity.
But oftentimes, they were beating themselves to death. And it was mainly because they were on the run from something, literally.
Dr. Ruscio: It makes a lot of sense.
Dr. Ruscio: And I’m reminded of the podcast we did a few months ago where Kevin Geary came on. It was a really good conversation, I thought, that Kevin Geary and I had.
And he has a program, a very self-assessment-based, self-adaptive program that helps people identify some of these underlying imbalances—for lack of a better term—and walks them through a program to try to get help for identifying those deeper issues that are creating the food cravings or food dependencies or exercise addictions or what have you.
So if you want to learn more about that, just go to our homepage and search “Kevin Geary” in the search box. You should see that come up. But that was a good conversation.
It seems like he’s put together a pretty solid program for that because it’s one thing to say, “Well, you should maybe look into some help with some childhood-based food relationship issues.” But it’s not so easy. What do you do? Go out on Google and search that term and try to find therapists locally?
Robb: Right. Right.
Dr. Ruscio: So that’s what I liked about Kevin, not only speaking to the importance of taking action here but also having some sort of self-adaptive, self-assessment program that can plug you into some resources for getting the help and taking the steps to improve those things that are needed.
Robb: Oh, that’s awesome! I wasn’t familiar with that. So I’m going to check that out. And that would be a good thing to throw on my resource page that I have for the book. Yeah.
Dr. Ruscio: Yeah. Yeah, I’ll shoot you a link after. I think you’ll like it.
Dr. Ruscio: So this maybe leads actually into something that I talk a lot about, which is cheating—not on your spouse, but on your diet. And what role do you think that plays in healthy eating or a healthy relationship with food?
Robb: Oh, man! This is another one of those things, again, where you first start working with folks and you don’t know really what you’re going to get. It’s just kind of a crapshoot.
And you start noticing some patterns. And you notice the person who asks you about cheat days or cheat meals, and it’s the topic of conversation that comes up within 5 minutes of interacting with the person.
Initially, again, this seems like a pretty reasonable question. It’s like, “Well, if you’re trying a paleo diet, are you going to eat 100% paleo every day the rest of your life?” No, that’s probably not what we’re shooting for. So it seems like a reasonable question.
But then you soon discover that these people who find that question really important end up being a huge pain in the ass. There’s a lot of drama and a lot of stuff going on.
And this gets a little out in the weeds, but all primates have a really profound sense of justice and reciprocity and right and wrong and senses of morality.
And in all primates, there’s an understanding of when one individual is cheating another individual. And it can be pretty dramatic, the group response, at an individual that is doing something wrong.
You see this in baboons and New World monkeys. It’s pretty fascinating. It’s something that’s baked in the cake.
But when you really look at the root meaning of cheat, it’s to gain an unfair advantage. And so there’s an understanding there about why, woven into human psychology, evolutionary biology, if you’re taking an unfair advantage off someone who is a litter mate or extended family, that makes sense.
But in the case of food—to your point, you can cheat on a relationship. You can cheat on your taxes. But you can’t cheat on food. You just eat food. And there are consequences to food. And that’s it. That’s the alpha, omega, done.
And this notion that you can cheat on food—what happens is people still attach the emotional responses around the idea of cheating because this is baked into our DNA. It’s baked in the cake. But it’s being applied to a situation where there’s really no cheating going on at all. There are just consequences.
And so whether you’re eating paleo or vegan or what have you, when people start berating themselves about cheating on something, they’re completely missing the point. There are just consequences.
And it’s always these emotional responses, like the idea “I need a healthy relationship with food” or “Oh, if I cheat on my diet, then I might as well just throw in the towel.”
It’s those wacky emotional responses that inevitably drive people away from success. The “cheating” and the “healthy relationship with food” stuff are kind of controversial. I’ve had some people get really, really angry with me about this. But as I walk them through it, I usually get some decent buy in.
And just to circle back around to that story about the guy that I was working with, I was getting paid really, really well to work with him. And when I quit, I was no longer getting paid well to work with him.
But it would have been cheating him for me to continue working with him when I knew that he had a problem that I did not have the skill set to solve or to be helpful with.
I was still there. I talked to him. I emailed him. I’d phone call him every once in a while. But it wasn’t in the same capacity I was doing before. That would have been cheating him.
But if I’m eating whatever dietary plan it is and I decide to kick my heels up and have something, it’s not cheating. It’s just you’ve got consequences. And maybe the consequences are, “Holy smokes! I loved that whole bag of sea salt and vinegar potato chips.”
And it’s really not a big deal because the other 21 meals that you had this week were totally on point. And your sleep was good. And you got some good exercise and some sun on your skin. And so in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t matter at all.
Or maybe you know you’re gluten-reactive, and for some reason, you went ahead and had a beer and some bread. And you feel terrible for a week.
And you really have to start asking some questions then. Is this worth it? Is this really worth it? And if it is, okay. Keep doing what you’re doing. But I think a lot of people incorrectly assign this morality around this stuff when it has nothing to do with morality. It just has to do with understanding the consequences.
But part of that challenge—food and sex and all those things—they live in a very deep part of the brain. And it’s all emotion driven. And what we’re trying to do—my only real tool—or not the only tool, but the main tool I have is appealing to people’s logic.
But getting that logical part of the brain to communicate with the more emotive part of the brain is a challenge. You almost need some kind of zen-type reflection and some feedback loops and experimentation so people can start linking those things up.
But if they’re really in that mindset of, “What type of cheating can I get away with?” and stuff like that, they’re pretty much set up for failure from the beginning. If you want something, have it. Just understand what the consequences are.
Dr. Ruscio: I really like the analogy that’s sometimes used here that health practices, both exercise and sleep and also diet and the whole lot, is kind of like a bank account.
Dr. Ruscio: You just want to make sure that you’re maintaining a healthy, positive balance. And yeah, the point of having a bank account is not only to make deposits. You’re going to make withdrawals.
And be okay with making those occasional withdrawals. That might be staying up too late, having some wine, or eating a delicious dessert that’s loaded with gluten and dairy and sugar.
Yeah, you’re going to take those withdrawals because if you don’t, God! It sucks if all you do is save, and you never spend any of your money. That’s not a very healthy venture.
Dr. Ruscio: And it also reminds me of looking at some of the psychology on this. It seems like there are some people that have an unhealthy view on food in the way of they have to schedule their cheat day. So it’s almost not even like they’re cheating. They can’t not have a schedule and not have a plan.
Dr. Ruscio: So what they do is they plan to not follow their plan.
Robb: Right. Right.
Dr. Ruscio: And I’m not saying that’s good or bad. But I think sometimes it’s healthy for oneself not to have a plan or a structure that you’re trying to live with.
And just like we like to have our weekends, most of us, because you don’t have to be anywhere any particular time for any particular duration. You’re able to just do what you want.
So I think a degree of that is a healthy withdrawal experience from your health bank account where, occasionally, at your own will, you can make that withdrawal and eat off plan.
And I have some reservations about if your entire dietary plan is so regimented that you even plan when you’re not going to eat well and you even plan what your cheat is going to be.
Robb: Right. I completely agree. And I actually detail that in the book where I make the point. So a lot of this stuff is driven by dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that gets stimulated with cocaine, during sex, just pleasurable experiences.
And when people start thinking, the anticipatory element of eating or shooting up heroin or snorting cocaine—if you talk to addicts or you read the case histories of addicts, they will talk about the anticipatory element being almost if not better than actually consuming the drug.
And that is where we start getting ourselves, again, into deep water because you’re setting up the neuroregulation of appetite for failure because you are ramping this stuff up to exceptionally high levels. And on just a basic adaptability standpoint, we’re just not taking things as they roll in at us.
And so what I recommend in the book is just be flexible. Like for myself, I just don’t do gluten, even to the point of gluten cross-contamination. I just try to avoid it like crazy because the downsides are too great.
But if I want some sort of a dessert, then it’s like a chocolate torte or something. Always, I love things like nachos and potato chips, and so if something pops up, then I just do it. I don’t keep a ton of that stuff in the house because I would eat it all, all the time.
So I try to be more flexible about it. I know some people, and some big name people, recommend the planned out, hookers-and-cocaine cheat day. And I just don’t see good things come out of that. People go super overboard.
It’s almost like the letdown after college or high school or something. You wake up the next day. And you’re like, “Wow. Just back to normal life.”
Dr. Ruscio: Right.
Robb: And that’s that dopamine letdown.
Dr. Ruscio: Yeah.
Robb: So if you can just ride a little more even-keel and then when life presents you with something—you’re out at a dinner or having some drinks and there’s a really amazing dessert or appetizer—you’re like, “Man, I’m going to have some of that.” It’s not your usual fare. Then, that’s great.
You kicked your heels up. You had some fun. Again, the other 21 or 20 meals of your week have been on point. And so it just doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. And you’re living this dynamic active life and not micromanaging every single experience.
Dr. Ruscio: And I think that flexibility is important for good social relationships because it’s much harder to be the fun person if it’s a Tuesday night, you’re at a happy hour function with some work friends, but you can’t have a glass of wine and you have to leave by 6:15 because you’re so regimented.
And I understand the utility of having a regimen. I live a fairly regimented lifestyle myself. But I always remember the old saying, “To have a friend, you have to be a friend.” And to be a friend, you’ve got to be available.
And it can’t always be only doing what you want to do when you can do it. You’ve got to have that aspect of flexibility so that when the other people you’re in a social circle with are looking to have an experience, then you can be that person to share in that experience with them. So yeah, I think that flexibility can be important from a social perspective also.
Robb: Huge. And in the book, I break down what I see as being the four pillars of health—sleep/circadian rhythm or photo period, food, movement (people don’t like to exercise, but they like to move, so I call it movement), and then community.
And it’s pretty well understood that folks who have inadequate social connections, inadequate social support, there is as high risk of death and disease as a pack-a-day smoker. And again, this is some of that evolutionary biology stuff coming to bear.
And so it is important to have adequate community. And this is one of these challenges, too. For me, I’m the gluten sensitive kid. So that creates a little bit of drama around who it’s easy to hang out with. Some people are more forgiving of that. Some people just don’t get it. But if you can be more flexible with stuff…
This is why I probably drank a little bit more booze than even what I would be comfortable with out at social gatherings because I’m already the weird guy because of gluten. So I don’t want to be the weird guy because of booze also.
Dr. Ruscio: Right.
Dr. Ruscio: Yeah, yeah. I think it’s a really good point. We’ve talked about this on the podcast in some of the past episodes, but just that perspective of making yourself available, I think, is one of the most important foundations of having healthy relationships.
And we’ve talked a lot about how, as we age, it gets easier to make excuses, and understandably so. Some of the excuses get harder to plan around, like having kids, but at the end of the day, I think it’s really where there’s a will, there’s a way.
And I’m always reminded of this couple that came onto our indoor soccer team a few months ago. They bring their kids with them everywhere. And we have a game every Wednesday night. Granted, their kids are pretty awesome. They sleep pretty much the whole game on the sidelines.
But nothing is slowing these guys down. Playing soccer was important to them. And they found a way to make it happen rather saying, “Well, I can’t because we have kids and blah, blah, blah.”
And so I do think one of the most deficient areas that we have in our society is the social and tribal relationship piece. And I just want to, again, beat this dead horse of saying, “I think one of the key ingredients to success there is just making yourself available for other people.”
Robb: Absolutely. Yep, could not agree more.
Dr. Ruscio: All right, Roberto. So there were two other questions that I wanted to ask you. But let’s just go with one because we’re getting close to time here or maybe even a little over time already.
Dr. Ruscio: We could talk about sleep, exercise, and community being significant aspects that you discuss in the book or talk about your unique definition of hypochondriac.
Robb: Oh, man! Let’s do the hypochondriac deal just really quick. So my mom was sick her whole life. And it took a long, long, long time to figure out what was wrong with her.
And what we figure out ultimately was that she had celiac disease. She had about seven different, interrelated autoimmune conditions from rheumatoid arthritis to Sjögren’s to a bunch of other issues.
But she was sick for ages. She had her gallbladder removed. And it’s like GI problems and then blood sugar problems and then candida problems. It was just this crazy thing going on.
But I remember. Her doctor never called her a hypochondriac, but my mom would often say, “I bet people think I’m a hypochondriac.” And I heard this stuff a lot.
And then I took on an interest in medicine and health and everything. And I also have a little bit of a weird fascination with the etymology of words, where they come from.
And I started thinking about hypochondria. What does that mean? Hypo means below. Chondria means either joint or cartilage or more specifically the ribs. And so hypochondria literally means below the ribs, which is the gut.
And so it was fascinating to me when we now understand so many issues—so many issues!—are actually gut generated. Was there some deep insight way back in medical history when they inadvertently were saying that these hypochondriacs, these people who are always sick and we can’t really quite figure out what’s wrong with them—did somebody intuitively understand that it was all gut related?
And I’m still trying to dig up the absolute, definitive answer on where that came out of medical history to describe the malingerer, the person who is regarded to be faking. Or they have a multiple of issues. And there’s always something wrong with them.
And that pretty perfectly describes the person who has really complex gut issues. So to my knowledge, I think I’m unique in pointing out that potential connection to the root word of hypochondria and the gut connection.
And it’s fascinating that Socrates being “the Father of Modern Western Medicine” said that all disease begins in the gut. So I just find that interesting.
Dr. Ruscio: Well, I’m going to love that as a gut geek myself.
Dr. Ruscio: So if you find that original origin, please, let me know.
Robb: I will do it. I will do it.
Episode Wrap Up
Dr. Ruscio: So Robb, where can people track you down or pick up a copy of the book or whatever?
Robb: So RobbWolf.com is generally where to find me. The book is officially released March 21st. We have a pretty aggressive pre-sales campaign before that where basically it’s available for pre-sale anywhere, brick and mortar, Amazon, Barnes & Noble.
But we’re going to have some cool stuff for people who do pre-order the book. If they go to RobbWolf.com, they’ll be able to find a bunch of pre-order bonuses. We have a workbook that helps you to work through all the material in the book, particularly the implementation piece on the 30-day reset and the 7-day carb test.
I have an interview with Dr. William Cromwell, who is the head of cardiovascular disease research at LabCorp. And he’s the main lipidologist that we consult with at the clinic here in Reno. And we go pretty deep on the lab work that I recommend for figuring out your baseline.
And I have two or three other bonuses which I cannot for the life of me remember. But we have some super cool swag that basically if you pre-order, save your receipt, or save the email receipt, and then you can ping that to an email at RobbWolf.com, it’ll be reviewed. And then you’ll get access to all that swag.
Dr. Ruscio: Sweet! Sweet! And then I guess I’ll probably see you at Paleo (f)x this year.
Robb: I’ll be at Paleo (f)x. I’m going to do the Nutritional Therapy Association Conference and also the UCSF Evolutionary Medicine Conference.
Dr. Ruscio: Sweet!
Dr. Ruscio: All right. Well, I’ll be bumping into you a few times then. And Robb, thanks so much for—well, I should probably thank you also for—I think you’re one of the first people that turned me onto the paleo diet way, way back when, when you were doing a seminar in Chico.
Robb: Oh, nice!
Dr. Ruscio: Yeah. And that’s actually where we first met.
Robb: Right. Right.
Dr. Ruscio: So I had been hearing a little bit about the paleo diet before that. And then that seminar threw me over into the deep end. So I was thinking about that before our call. I wanted to make sure to thank you for that because I don’t think I ever did.
Robb: Oh, awesome! I still really remember that seminar. You and the buddy that you brought, I was like, “Oh, these guys know what they’re talking about.”
You guys had some amazingly good questions and commentary. And I was basically like, “Yeah, I want to wrap up the seminar and just go drink with these guys.”
Dr. Ruscio: Yeah.
Robb: So that was super cool.
Dr. Ruscio: Yeah, it was a good seminar. You definitely opened my eyes to some cool stuff.
Robb: Awesome, man!
Dr. Ruscio: So thank you. Thank you for that.
Robb: I’m honored, hugely honored.
Dr. Ruscio: All right, my man. Well, thanks again for taking the time. And I guess I’ll see you in Austin.
Robb: Awesome! Take care, doc.
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