Naomi: Ben Greenfield, it’s so exciting to have you here. Thank you for making the time. Ben: Thanks for having me. N: So you talked about a lot of things and I’m fascinated to learn what got you into this place where you’re obsessed with health, you’re obsessed with biohacking your own biology; when did this all begin? B: My story is really boring.
I was never more badly obese, I never had a horrible chronic disease, like, I have just always loved studying and deciphering and decoding the human body and brain and from an early age was you know wandering the — I was home-schooled, right, so I was just like I would get done with school at 11 a.m. just go wander the hills, you know, barefoot hiking around you know catching animals and finding plants and…
and fitness and running up hills I really wasn’t into athletics or sports so much until high school, when I discovered that girls like guys who play sports, not necessarily guys who walk around barefoot with their bow and arrow and their dog in the woods so I really began developing a love for tennis and when I played tennis I wound up going to college to play tennis and, as a student-athlete does, declared my major as exercise physiology.
And so I studied exercise physiology for four years. I got a master’s degree in biomechanics and exercise physiology. I kind of stayed with fitness and I began to manage gyms and open personal training studios what I really focused on was how to get the body you want, how to achieve the performance that you want and how to fix the issues that you have when nothing else seems to be working, all right, so, for example, I had all of my gyms and studios equipped with things like a high-speed 3D video cameras to be able to analyze things like running gait, walking gait, cycling mechanics, things, where people develop chronic repetitive injuries, calorimetry equipment where you can measure for example how much fat you’re burning and how many carbohydrates you’re burning at various exercise intensities or just how many calories you’re burning at rest so you can really tweak and customise your diet and I was doing a lot of you, know blood and biomarker testing before it became popular and frankly far easier to do — far more accessible, really.
You know we live in a day and age where you can easily do it from your home.
Back then I was, you know, pulling blood and sending them off to docs and sending them back to labs and waiting a few weeks for the results and really customizing people’s diets based on that and, you know, I was even partnering with a lot of physicians and we would do things like platelet-rich plasma injections in joints that were sore and EKG analysis of, you know, the cardiac potential for exercise so I was doing a lot of very nerdy things back in the day as a personal trainer.
I was kind of an atypical personal trainer and really that’s the way I’ve always been wired though; I like to take a deep dive into the details and frankly have found that that’s important because in many cases, especially when it comes to something like a fat loss or getting the body that you want, it’s not as simple as many people would have you to believe. What I mean by that is you can’t just go out and do a CrossFit workout every day and necessarily expect to get the results that you want or, you know, go on a special diet and get the results that you want. It’s very multi- modal, multifactorial and there’s a variety of reasons people are resistant to weight loss. N: It’s really interesting, what you just said — it’s not as easy as we might think — and we look at our country and the majority of people are either overweight or obese, diabetes is at what like 50%, there’s so many crazy statistics and they’re not going in the right direction.
What are we doing wrong? B: You know what, I think that the number one thing that goes wrong when it comes to fat loss, and you could say the same thing about health in general but especially like body composition, N: Yes B: It’s that we see the headlines like, “eggs are bad for you,” “eggs are good for you,” “the low-carb, high-fat diet gives you heart disease,” “the low-carb, high-fat diet saves your heart,” you know, “low-intensity steady-state cardio before breakfast is the best way to lose fat,” “saving your hard workout for the end of the day is the best way to lose fat” and it confuses people and it’s understandable but the reason that it confuses people is that the truth is everybody’s wired differently, right? My blood, my biomarkers, my genetic predispositions to respond to certain exercises, my nutrient deficiencies, everything it’s different from person to person and so what works for you might not work for me and vice versa and we now live in an era where we have in our hands the ability to be able to do DNA testing and blood testing and micronutrient testing and calorimetry testing and all of these ways that you can actually find out what is gonna work for you.
So, I think one of the problems is that people are looking for a one-size-fits-all solution and it does not exist and if you customize something, like a weight-loss program, to yourself then you actually get the results that you want. N: So for someone who’s listening to you, watching what you’re saying right now, they’re not necessarily gonna go to their doctor and get their different biomarkers tested and so forth; how do we customize in this very confusing environment in a way that’s easy and you just sort of getting a chance to move down the right path?
B: Right. Let’s say, diet, for example, we own a customized diet. Well, I would argue that in most cases, you know, when it comes to genetic testing not only has a drop from tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of dollars to something like ninety-seven dollars now but it’s getting even cheaper N: Yeah B: You know, I’m talking to some companies right now that are making genetic testing available in the next year for about ten bucks.
So you can get a salivary analysis, you know, you drip a little saliva into a tube. I do this all the time, you know, and sniff a little peanut butter to make the saliva flow — that’s the trick N: Oh, that’s the trick, I was wondering!
B: And you can get, for example, your DNA tested. We know from studies that there are certain micronutrient deficiencies associated with obesity propensity to gain weight. We have biotin coenzyme Q10, and vitamin D, there’s a cluster of factors.
I mean, there are dozens of services right now where you can literally just like, go online, order a test kit to your home or order what is called a requisition form that you then take into a lab. You don’t have to make a doctor’s appointment; you can just do all this from the comfort of your own home, you know, companies like Inside Tracker or Thorne or Wellness FX or, you know, there are even like gut testing companies like Viome and Thrive and so you could learn how to do it in like an hour online to get a nice PDF sent to you and you can start to go through those results.
But that’s the type of thing that, a lot of times, people need to do. I mean, I’m a fan of self-quantification, of data, of figuring out what’s gonna work for you and your body and then acting accordingly. Lowering glycemic variability is not rocket science. For example, many cultures, and especially many of these Blue Zones, right, areas where they’re there’s a large number of long livid people you know Okinawa, Sardinia, Loma Linda, there’s a variety of locations, we see the use of things like digestive — bitters– the things that are consumed before a meal to enhance digestion. This might be fennel, it might be liquorice, lemon, apple cider vinegar, and in some cases little alcohols, you know that little shot of grappa or vin santo that you might have in Italy, these actually work to enhance what is called your first phase insulin response, which is what your body actually needs to naturally produce to lower your blood glucose response to a meal.
So, by consuming let’s say a glass of water with a little lemon and apple cider vinegar before a meal and maybe, you know, salting your steak with a little bit of fennel seed on it. Like, that’s the type of thing that would be considered something that would lower your glycemic response — the ability of your blood sugar to rise in response to that meal — which can have a profound effect on weight loss. Chewing every bite that you eat, literally, like 25 to 40 times actually chewing — N: Oh, so my grandmother was right? B: Exactly. Chew your liquids, drink your solids, something like that.
I’m probably messing that up but ultimately you have to process the food in your mouth where you begin to produce a lot of digestive enzymes that enhance — it’s called an incretin response or that first phase insulin response that I referred to producing all the digestive hormones responsible for not just digesting that meal but for lowering the blood glucose response to that meal.
N: I just remember when I was in Okinawa with all of the, you know, the large group of long-living centenarians and so forth and the way they would make their salads were completely different than the way we would eat them here and it’s just like they’re chocked full of different spices and herbs so you’d be eating like a herb salad B: Yeah N: Instead of a lettuce salad B: Bitter N: Yeah, like just like what you were saying with the bitters. B: Spicy, herbaceous type of compounds that many of us don’t cook with and the fact is that, you know, we go way beyond fat loss; we go into longevity with a lot of these types of compounds because these wild plants are chock-full of natural built-in defence mechanisms that actually attack our body a little bit and by consuming those we actually enhance our body’s ability to produce its own, what we call, endogenous antioxidants.
They’re our built-in defence mechanisms against those compounds that we’re consuming. Things like Ceylon cinnamon, apple cider vinegar, and bitter melon extract all of these types of things when consumed prior to a meal lower the blood glucose response to that meal and you can weave these throughout your day, right, you can have a shot of apple cider vinegar with lemon like I mentioned before dinner, you could maybe get some bitter melon extract and use that before lunch, put some Ceylon cinnamon in like N: in your tea B: some breakfast yoghurt or breakfast smoothie or in some tea and it goes beyond just dietary strategies as well when it comes to glycemic variability.
For example, you can up-regulate the ability of the specific transporters — they’re called glute 4 transporters. These can actually transport sugars and glucose into muscle and an example of how you would up-regulate those would be to do some type of strength training before you actually — and it doesn’t have to be a lot — N: When? Before you’re eating is what you’re saying? B: Before you eat. It can be two minutes.
Two minutes of, like, for me, I have a long driveway, right, and I have lunch every day and I have my big salad for lunch and I put a bunch of, you know, sardines and nuts and all sorts of stuff on there — N: Awesome but you still get a glucose response to that so I wait to check my mailbox at the end of that driveway before lunch I walk down and then I sprint up, right. It’s that simple. You keep a kettlebell underneath your cubicle at the office and do like two minutes of kettlebell swings before you break for lunch.
Very, very simple way to help regulate the activity of those glucose transporters and the same thing could be said for lower-intensity aerobic exercise. They found that things like, what they would call, a postprandial walk: just going for a walk for 15 minutes after you eat a meal have been shown to have a profound effect on your blood glucose response to that meal.
N: And when you talk about postprandial that’s the time when our body is digesting and — B: Postprandial. After eating. Exactly, exactly. So chewing your food, using bitters, strength training doing easy aerobics after meals all of these things to reduce glycemic variability has a profound effect on fat loss because the fewer amounts of blood glucose fluctuations you get during the day, the more sensitive you remain to the hormone insulin and that would mean you need less insulin to be able to shove a lot of energy into liver, into muscle and when that happens you’re much less likely to have a lot of insulin floating around which would — it’s a storage hormone, it’s not a bad hormone but it’s a storage hormone.
Too much glucose, too much insulin, too many calories around and you end up creating fat cells or shoving that energy into fat cells so this concept of controlling glycemic variability, regardless of what kind of custom diet you’re doing for you, is a principle right whether you’re doing high-fat low-carb, high-carb low-fat, whatever you found to work well for you, controlling blood glucose fluctuations is key.
You begin to become pretty familiar and you can kind of stop testing, you can stop tracking, so I’m not a fan of whatever sucking all the enjoyment out of food because you go to track your blood glucose values after you trip to your favourite restaurant to see what happens when eating your favourite meal at your favourite restaurant, but for a short period of time, it can be effective. So for example, you can go to Walgreens or CVS or any pharmacy and buy for twenty dollars a blood glucose monitor and you can actually, you know, just prick your finger, you bleed a little bit and you find out what your postprandial blood glucose is and if you’re seeing that it rises or stays high for a very long period of time after a meal, that would be a sign that that meal is raising blood glucose.
If you are needle phobic there are tests that can kind of approximate that like a big rise in heart rate after a meal. There’s a test called a Coca Poltz test C-O-C-A, Coca Poltz test, which is a good way to gauge, you know, how much a meal is amping you up, how much of a blood glucose response you get to that meal. It can also be used for things like food sensitivities, for example.
Another simple way to measure would be let’s say you’re gonna test your blood once a year or twice a year, like do an actual blood panel; there’s a measurement called haemoglobin A1C, HBA1C, and that’s a three-month snapshot of what your blood glucose is doing. It tests a red blood cell corollary to blood glucose. The only people that’s not accurate for are hard-charging athletes who tend to have a high red blood cell turnover, but it’s good for the average person to be able to track and I’ll even know this — I’ll test my clients, I’ll kind of know if they’re cheating because I can see and they’re like, “I haven’t been eating carbohydrates” I’m like your haemoglobin A1C is through the roof, your fasted glucose is really high, something’s going on. Granted, sometimes things like high cortisol and stress and inflammation can pump up blood glucose but food and food strategies are really one of the more common things and some people will get these 24-hour.
You know, there are there companies like Dexcom, for example, making you know devices like a G5 I believe it’s called which is literally just like monitoring blood glucose 24/7, and there are several tech companies right now developing infrared technology, needle-less technology, where you can just track blood glucose and a variety of other parameters, you know, lactic acid and sodium and all these other things that would allow you even without new needles to just kind of track all the time.
N: Is it on the market or not yet? B: None of those is on the market yet but its technology that I would say within the next year is probably gonna be available. N: How quickly do you see the transformation with some of your clients? B: Oh, you can see blood glucose stabilization occur within a couple of weeks.
B: And that two-week time frame is kind of like the timeframe — 10 to 14 days is where the body gets, people call this like low carb flu, keto flu but basically your body is learning how to rely on something other than large fluctuations in blood glucose as a fuel, same thing as if you were to give up coffee and switch to decaf or switch to a, you know, a decaffeinated tea for a while you get some headaches and you get some energy deficits and then eventually you get through the other side and your body does okay with that. So, 10 to 14 days before you really start to see a difference in terms of your body’s ability to be able to tap into fats as a fuel. For an athlete or somebody who’s trying to get off of, let’s say, a lot of energy bars, a lot of smoothies, a lot of juices, a lot of very carbohydrate-rich beverages carbohydrate-rich bars or supplements it can take six months to two years to really get yourself to the point.
N: Wow. B: Because if you think about it, if you’ve been eating cereal and scones and biscotti and high carbohydrates for a very long time, for years, since you were three years old, you can’t like the switch to a low carb diet and expect to be operating like a rockstar within a couple of weeks, right.
N: Let’s talk about that operating like a rock star. As for me, I grew up in Europe so being French we eat a lot of croissants and chocolate and all of that sort of stuff in the morning and so when it just basically crashed my body as a CEO I couldn’t keep up with the fluctuation, I started to really deeply embrace balancing out that sugar and transformed my personal life. So, there’s a lot of misconception about transforming from burning glucose into burning fat and part of that misconception has to do with, like, what is a fat cell, how do we activate burning, and can you share with us some of the insights around fat cells, how we work with them, how we remove the toxins, all of that? B: So for a long time there was this prevailing notion in exercise and nutrition that you can’t kill fat cells, you can’t get rid of them, they’re just there, you know, those evil little fat cells, they’re tiny claws just like waiting for you to overeat at some point at which point you get a whole bunch of that extra caloric load shoved into fat tissue, shoved into white adipose tissue or subcutaneous fat or visceral fat or wherever your body tends to store fat.
The fact is you can actually convert fat cells into other cells, you can kill fat cells, you just have to be in a proper metabolic state in order to do so.
For example absence of inflammation is one of the key factors that are necessary for you to actually convert fat cells into other cells or for fat cells to actually die. The absence of inflammation is something that you can tackle via a wide variety of strategies. For example, adequate sleep, mitigating stress, lowering cortisol, limiting your exposure to toxins or the huge variety of non-native assailants that come after our body these days from like excessive Wi-Fi signals, which affects what is called your calcium-gated channels on your cell membranes that can affect inflammation and your ability to remove, like, metabolic waste out of tissue, the parabens and phthalates and chemicals that we see storing a lot of fat, creating inflammation, lifestyle strategies to clean up the body. I look at things like air, right, and begin to be cognizant of the air that you’re breathing.
Are using a HEPA air filter in your home?
Are you cleaning the air or is it full of mould and fungi and off-gassing chemicals and things that your body frankly has to create fat cells to store? Light — light can actually be inflammatory. Heavy exposure to large amounts of fluorescent light, large amounts of blue light at night, right, we’re constantly bombarded with light from monitors and screens; this is another thing to mitigate and to be careful of and, you know, there’s people using blue light blocking glasses and screen protective software and all sorts of things to limit these strategies. At my house, we do a lot of lighting like red and with candlelight and fire, like the things that ancient men or women would have used N: Even lutein is really good for blue light B: Right. Exactly, exactly.
N: You know, egg yolks or spinach B: Yeah, eating a large number of things like lutein and zeaxanthin from kale, eggs, spinach, fish this can help to combat some of the effects — the damaging effects — that heavy amounts of blue light can have on the retina, for example.
So we look at air, you look at the light, water is another biggie, right? Are you drinking out of plastic water bottles? Are you filtering your water? Are you using a really good form of filtration like, say, reverse osmosis?
Are you adding minerals to your water? There was even some research, like, at the University of Washington about, like, structuring your water and ensuring that has an adequate electrical charge. And then, as I mentioned, electricity or like how much Bluetooth exposure, how much Wi-Fi exposure. You’re turning off your Wi-Fi router at night, are you putting your phone in aeroplane mode when it’s in your pocket? These are actually almost like invisible variables that affect inflammation and therefore affect fat loss.
Am I saying that by turning off your Wi-Fi router then, you know, laying around on the couch all day with a bag of Cheetos you’re gonna lose fat? Probably not. But if you’re beginning to eat healthily and you’re beginning to move some of these things that decrease inflammation, you know: good air, good water, good light, good electricity, controlling stress, getting adequate sleep, these are all variables that affect inflammation.
One of the more potent strategies that I really like and personally use — I used this back when I used to race Ironman Triathlon to stay lean, to be able to ride my bike over those hills, you know, improve my power-to-weight ratio because I used to be like 40 pounds heavier than I am now. I was a bodybuilder, right, so I had to actually get rid of a lot more muscle in my case but the principles are similar.
I would use what’s called cold thermogenesis, right, like a lot of cold showers, cold soaks, getting the body cold and the reason for that is because the presence of cold not only activates a lot of the hormones like irisin and adiponectin that allow for fat cells to release more fatty acids into the bloodstream but it also converts white adipose tissue into brown fat, into brown adipose tissue or what we call BAT tissue, and brown adipose tissue is very metabolically active, it’s not as inflammatory as white adipose tissue, it burns calories to generate heat to keep you warm, to shiver and to do all these positive things that brown fat does for you.
It’s a very very kind of cool, harmless and almost like a tight form of fat. You see, like, swimmers have a lot of brown fat, for example. N: Yeah, or babies. Babies are born — because they can’t shiver.
B: Yeah, exactly. N: And it’s interesting also with brown fat like we think okay we have so much white fat — the adipose tissue — but ultimately with brown fat we only have a couple of ounces in our body, right, and it’s sort of in the neck and…
B: You find it a lot in the collarbone, there’s some above the waist, a lot of times like in the upper body and the shoulders and that conversion of white adipose tissue into brown adipose tissue is not going to occur if you’re in an inflamed state.
So if you’re, like, taking cold showers, doing like the Wim Hof thing… N: Right B: cold soaks, that stuff works but you also have to keep your Wi-Fi router off and make sure that your cologne or perfume doesn’t have a bunch of toxins in it and you’re getting adequate sleep and you’re using anti-inflammatory herbs and spices like curcumin and ginger and garlic and tart cherry and a lot of these things that naturally fight inflammation and you’re avoiding a lot of the things that produce inflammation like, you know, sugar is a big one but really vegetable oil and oxidized fats, in my opinion, are an even bigger culprit when it comes to inflammation because your body can actually burn sugar but when it comes to oils, like, you are you eat. Those will actually be used to make up your cell membranes and that contributes to even more inflammation.
And so the idea here is that if you’re using a strategy like let’s say you know doing one of my favourite strategies: you get up in the morning, you fasted so your body’s gonna tap into a lot of fats when you’re in that fasted state because you don’t have a bunch of extra fats or calories on board to burn. So you don’t do the big like fatty coffee thing, you don’t do like a bunch of snacks, I’ve encouraged people to avoid much supplementation aside from like a little bit of caffeine or green tea because that can enhance the ability to be able to release fatty acids from fat tissue. So you get up and you fast; maybe you haven’t eaten — I like a 12-hour to 16-hour fast, so you finished dinner at 8 p.m. and you are not going to eat again until, like, sometime between 8 a.
m. and noon, right? I’m very competitive with myself.
I even have a little stopwatch that will start. It’s 12 hours later!
And if I get up at midnight for a snack, guess what, I’m not gonna eat ”til lunch. But when you’re in that fasted state, there are a few things that work very well: first of all, some type of cardiovascular exercise in your fat-burning zone. You know, I mentioned I used to run all these personal training gyms and studios or we do what was called indirect calorimetry where you can measure how much fat and how many carbohydrates that people burn at rest and during exercise.
And you reach a certain point during exercise at which you’re burning a very high percentage of fat related to carbohydrates. It might not be the intensity of exercise at which you’re burning the most calories, but it’s the intensity of exercise that actually kind of trains your body how to be a fat-burning machine.
You know high-intensity interval training is good; it jacks up your metabolism. Weight training is good; it enhances your glucose sensitivity and adds muscle to again increase your metabolism. But you also need a little bit of this, kind of like, steady-state, easy, aerobic, conversational exercise to train your body how to be a fat-burning machine and I like to encourage people to do this when they’re in a fasted state in the morning. Right, so you got a lot of your own fat to tap into. So you wake up fast, get a little caffeine in your system, do like easy cardio for 20 to 60 minutes, and then you finish up with the cold, right?
You do like a cold shower or a cold soak or a cold bath and the other thing that happens when you do this — and I see this a lot in people who, like, charge out of bed at 4 a.m. for their Navy SEAL crossfire, like, hardcore workout — the fact is that after you do a workout like that you tend to get really hungry for breakfast and tend to create a lot of cortisol and that can sometimes come back to bite you. You engage in a hypercaloric intake after a hard, hard morning workout N: All the time. B: You get a lot of cortisol and you also tend to sit around a lot more during the day because you’re patting yourself on the back that you did such a hard workout, you can just kind of sit down the rest of the day.
Whereas I like the idea of just getting up, walking the dog in the sunshine while you’re fasting or going for an easy swim or doing some easy yoga or stretching and then you save all the hard stuff for later on in the day, which works really well because that’s when your body temperature peaks, that’s when your grip strength peaks, that’s when your ability to repair muscles after exercise peaks.
We see a second hormonal peak later in the afternoon and so that’s exactly what I do, is I do very very easy in the morning, coffee, cold shower and then later on in the afternoon or the early evening I’ll actually do the hard workout, the higher intensity workout. Now the other cool thing about this strategy is that if you’re an athlete or if you exercise a lot, one of the limitations of really restricting glycemic variability like I was talking about by not eating a lot of carbohydrates or eating a lower carbohydrate intake: you don’t have a lot of energy for the next day’s workout sometimes; it’s tough to go hard.
So what I do is I actually eat good carbohydrates like either longevity-enhancing carbohydrates like blueberries or red wine or dark chocolate, what I call “safe starches” like yams and sweet potatoes and tubers or quinoa or amaranth or millet or my wife’s wonderful slow-fermented sourdough bread. I’ll eat these things in the evening but because I’ve done a harder, high-intensity workout at some point in the afternoon those glute 4 transporters that I was talking about, they’re very active.
So those carbohydrates that I eat, get shoved into liver tissue, they get shoved into muscle tissue and they get socked away for energy for the next day’s workout. You don’t see a big rise in blood glucose for people doing… N: The following morning?
B: Right, exactly. You’re in ketosis, you’re kind of like back in that fat-burning mode by the next day and so this whole strategy of like morning easy workout, caffeinated state, cold shower and then doing the harder stuff in the afternoon works really well, and the only other strategy that I really like N: Just to stay on that one — so I love what you’re saying; you’re telling us like exactly where the research is going, which is like look: we don’t have to deprive ourselves.
We can have our carbohydrates but the timing is what really matters. It’s like you’re talking about timing our carbs for later on in the day, having the high-quality carbs, pre-gaming you know in the morning with caffeine and I love the part about being able to get into a cold shower. Can you talk to us a little bit about how long that shower should be to really get the health benefits?
B: So when it comes to the cold shower, there’s a lot of kind of research that goes back and forth on it you know in terms of do you have to get to a shivering state, do you have to get super cold, do you have to stay in there 20 minutes. Several years ago, I met Ray K., a former NASA materials engineer who was doing a lot of studying on cold thermogenesis, and the strategy that he uses and that he’s found in his lab to be very effective is a five-minute cold shower twice a day in which you alternate between 20 seconds of cold and 10 seconds of hot, so you’re contrasting, going back and forth.
So you get this big release of blood flow, you get a release of what’s called nitric oxide, you get a bump in metabolism and it also makes the cold shower a little easier because you get to go back to hot again. There’s another guy who has developed like, like a vest it’s like an ice vest that you wear so it’s called a cool fat burner and he has another one called the cool gut buster and these pieces of gear that you wear or while you’re working during the day and he’s done research on what happens when you get to a state of shivering and he’s seen up to a 300 per cent increase in metabolic rate once you get up to the point where you’re shivering.
Now is that a little less convenient and maybe a little more uncomfortable? Absolutely.
But it appears that if you really want to get the most effects you kind of have to get into almost this hardcore, kind of intense shivering mode. Now what I do is I do a little bit of both; so I do that cold shower or that cold soak and sometimes I only go for two minutes. Like sometimes I don’t have the time to take a five-minute shower, right?
But I’ll do that a couple of times a day, so like after that morning workout that I talked about… N: You did it this morning? B: I’ll do it after that hard evening workout and that’s cool because you also — HA, cool pun intended — it’s cool because you get that double whammy like cold exposure twice during the day but you also sleep better at night because it lowers your core temperature and a lowered core temperature is really really great for sleep which comes full-circle to decreasing inflammation.
However, what I do is once or twice a week something that kind of gets me into that more intense kind of uncomfortable cold state like I actually have a cold pool at my house… N: Awesome.
B: meaning I have a little pool but I just don’t heat it.
N: Uh-huh B: I get in there a couple of times a week and I have a little underwater mp3 player so listen to an audiobook or a podcast… N: Wow B: And I just kind of swim around the pool, I don’t lap swim, I kind of move around and swing my arms and legs to keep the water cold against my body and you shiver a little bit and you get out and you don’t take a hot shower after, right. You force your body to burn calories and warm up and to get the white adipose to brown adipose tissue conversion.
It’s like the kind of like warming itself, so I find that to be far more sustainable for me versus the stress and the discomfort and the “I really don’t want to do this every day” thing that comes along with like trying to do a 20-minute cold soak every day.
So ultimately little brief exposures to cold a couple of times a day, paired with once or twice a week getting yourself to where you’re really, really shivering, kind of exposing the body to a little bit of cold it’s just like exercise, right? You wouldn’t do an incredibly hard workout, muscle-damaging workout every day; you’d move every day, right? You expose your body to some form of blood flow every day and then every once in a while you like that hard workout that provides you with the big metabolic stimulus and then you kind of go back into cruise control mode versus trying to do a hard workout, getting two weeks in, getting injured, getting burnt out.
It’s the same thing with cold.
The other thing that I really like to pair with cold — because there’s some interesting research on this and its ability to do what is called lysine of fat cells; actually breaking open and destroying in fat cells is heat. Infrared heat, like near and far infrared heat specifically or even just getting yourself in a dry sauna to the point where you’re pretty hot, has been shown to upregulate expression of what’s called heat shock protein which can increase metabolic rate and can produce better stress resilience. It’s a whole host of pretty positive metabolic effects…
N: Talk about the heat of the heat shock proteins because a lot of people have heard about and I’d love for you to do a little bit of a deeper dive.
B: It’s basically just a protein in your body that is protective of cells and allows you to be able to withstand stressors, whether that’s exercise stressors or heat stressors or, ironically enough, cold stressors. It basically — thinks of it like building extra armour for the cells. Well, when you expose yourself to kind of uncomfortable levels of heat you actually express more of these proteins in addition to nitric oxide for blood flow and increased metabolic activity and you know the skin is the body’s largest detoxification organ, so we see, you know, a loss of a lot of toxins and metals through the skin which is also great for losing fat because otherwise a lot of that would be stored in fat cells. And so, what I like to do if you have the ability, is you can count your morning fat-burning exercise for example as a visit to a sauna.
You can even do this a couple of times a week as a kind of like one of your morning routines, and I actually have a sauna at my house and I go in there almost every morning when I’m at home. So I talked about this easy morning fat-burning stuff I like to go in the sauna for 20 or 30 minutes and move around and exercise a little bit, do some push-ups and then I finish up with the cold so I get that double whammy.
Same thing: do it in the fasted state with the caffeine in the system but that again is a very potent practical fat loss strategy. N: Right. I love it.
B: If there was anything else that I could identify it would be this idea of low-level physical activity spread throughout the day, and this seems very intuitive and almost like, you know, “Keep it simple, stupid” when it comes to strategy but this is something that I think flies under the radar. People sit too much. I’m sitting here talking to you right now, Naomi, and this is probably the longest I will sit all day and it’s very odd for me to be sitting because I’ll be constantly shifting positions. What I mean by that is that my desk at home not only do I have a little hand crank on the desk where the desk moves up and down but I’ve got like I’ve got a little soft balance mat, I’ve got one of these wobble boards, I have one of these little walking treadmills, I’ve got like a stool that I can lean against, I have a chair too, right.
They say sitting is the new smoking but that’s not true, right, because if you stand all day you’re gonna have as many joint issues and discomfort and varicose veins and all that jazz if you sat all day.
Sitting is just one of the positions that you can be in during the day; lunging, kneeling, standing, or moving. So that idea of defying our built-in societal expectations and you need to sit. When I walk into the doctor’s office and they tell me to take a seat I say, “I’m fine, thank you” and I’m the guy standing there at the doctor’s office in the corner like stretching and I’m doing some bodyweight squats. The same thing at the airport, right; all these people are hunched over at the airport sitting in these giant chairs, reading a newspaper, reading a book or, you know, dinking around their cell phones.
Well, what are they gonna be doing for two hours in the aeroplane?
Sitting some more, right? So when I’m waiting for the flight to leave, I’m walking, if I’m getting work done on my computer or my phone I’m literally just like pacing back and forth at the gate, I’m dropping down, I’m doing stretches — I even have like a little jump rope and elastic band in my bag that I can take out and do exercises with. But you do need to somewhat figure out — even if you’re not, let’s say, a gardener or like, how many people are gardeners or hunters or are working hardcore farming out in the field all day long? Not that many people, right? And so we need to figure out how to simulate these types of hunter-gatherer gardener-esque activities in our day-to-day existence when we’re in a cubicle or in an office or in a situation where we otherwise sit.
So I constantly ask myself all day long: Am I moving? Am I moving? Am I stimulating my body? Like you should get to the end of the day where I talk about doing that hard workout session and it should almost be an option because you stay physically active all day long; if you skip that exercise session at the end of the day it shouldn’t hurt you that much because you’ve been moving all day long.
And there’s something — you know when I go to a conference, a busy conference, for example, I do cold shower morning, cold shower evening and my only rule is that for every hour that goes by during the day I got to do 30 burpees, right.
So I’ll sneak away, I’ll be that you know, I’ll be off in the corner of the hotel room or the conference or back up in my hotel room. I know it takes me two minutes to do 30 burpees. Where by the end of the day, you know if I’m at a conference for let’s say you know eight hours, I’ve gotten 240 burpees I’ve gotten you to know a good four to ten minutes of cold exposure and my body has stayed in a fat-burning mode and I think that a lot of people who want to lose weight need to get into this mode where they’re like in defiance of the societal expectations to just like sit or be in one position all day long, so you and I can get up and do some jumping jacks now.
N: Absolutely! I can’t wait.
Ben, you have something called, “potty training”; what is this stuff? B: OK, so basically it’s very, very simple; it relates to this whole idea of constantly moving throughout the day, constantly keeping your metabolism elevated. So when I’m at a restaurant and I need to get up to go to the bathroom I do 40 air squats in the bathroom, like in the bathroom stall. N: Okay, wait; 40 air squats in the bathroom? B: Yeah, it takes like a minute, alright, just like up and down.
When I’m on an aeroplane it’s 20; every time I go to the bathroom the butt has to touch the toilet seat for it to count as a squat. N: That is awesome. B: And, you know, if I’m sitting out of the restaurant for two hours, you know, again when you do the math sometimes I’ll do like 120 squats when I’m at a restaurant or, you know, 80 squats on an aeroplane and again it’s just a little strategy, a little rule that you can use to keep your metabolism elevated during the day.
N: I love it. So just to finish up, you started your podcast over like ten years ago; you were one of the first, right?
And it is such a pleasure and an honour to be able to learn from you and all of your exploration and insight and guidance. I mean, I think you’ve helped millions of people and I just want to say: rock on, it’s incredible. B: Oh, thanks N: Yeah, it’s really good. B: Yeah, for the past ten years, twice a week, I’ve been podcasting and it’s a great way to dish out knowledge to people but it’s also a great way to kind of keep myself constantly researching and trying to stay on the cutting edge of this stuff.
N: Well you’re definitely on the cutting edge so it’s incredible.
B: Awesome, awesome. Well, thanks for having me on I’m honoured.