Weight loss expert Dr. Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS. Bowden, known as “The Rogue Nutritionist,” holds a master’s degree in psychology and has written nine books on health, healing, food, and longevity, including two bestsellers – The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth and Living Low Carb. He doesn’t pull punches when it comes to raging against the machine of conventional wisdom in the health and nutrition field. At least, he didn’t in our interview with him.
“My book The Great Cholesterol Myth is all about how dietary recommendations over the past 30 years to lower animal fat, reduce saturated fat, and stock up on grains and high-carbohydrate foods is all bulls**t,” Bowden says. “There are so many misconceptions about what we need to do to get lean and healthy, about what we should or shouldn’t be eating, that I never take it at face value when someone says that they ‘eat healthy.’ People are clueless.”
In that spirit, Bowden dropped a few lesser-known — and sometimes unconventional — approaches to getting lean.
1) Train on an Empty Stomach
You're used to eating within 30 minutes prior to a workout, specifically fueling up with 20 grams of protein and 20-40 grams of carbs to prevent muscle breakdown and supply energy through those last grueling sets. But if that hasn’t worked for you as far as losing fat, Bowden calls for skipping the pre-workout meal. “In the olden days of Gold's Gym at Muscle Beach, guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu, and Frank Zane would never eat before they worked out. They weren't masters of physiology, but they said ‘You’ll burn more fat.’ and they were right!”
“The best time to work out when you’re trying to burn fat is in the morning after you’ve fasted all night when blood sugar is kind of low,” he continues. “Why load up on glucose and carbs and then just burn that when working out?”
For people who can’t get through a workout on an empty stomach, Bowden suggests eating something that’ll digest quickly, like an apple, orange, or scoop of whey protein shake with berries before hitting the gym.
2) Don't Eat Immediately After a Workout
Again, Bowden advises against the conventional wisdom of eating within 30 minutes of your last set. Bowden’s stance against this is two-fold: user error enables us to eat too much, and glycogen storage doesn’t get as depleted as you think. “There's a compensatory mechanism where we get hungry and then overeat because we think, psychologically, that since we worked out that we can afford extra calories,” he says. “Then we miscalculate and go into a calorie overload. [But] to lose body fat and keep the muscle you have, it might be better not to eat after workout to allow your body to break open fat cells to use for repair and energy … instead of adding more fuel.”
“I know the classic argument: ‘But you have to replenish your glycogen storage!’ There are 1,800 calories in your glycogen storage. Do you know how many hours you have to workout to burn those 1,800 calories? Most people don’t have to worry about that.”
As for dextrose?
“If you have a great metabolism, no insulin resistance, and your carbohydrate metabolism is okay, sugar after a workout is fine,” he explains. “But 99 percent of the people with whom I have interacted with aren't in that category. For those people, eating sugar afterwards is a bad thing to do.”
3) Don't Shun Saturated Fats
It sounds counterintuitive, but you need fats—both saturated and unsaturated—to stay healthy and lean. As noted in a past issue of Muscle & Fitness, adding plenty of fats to your diet helps nourish your hair, skin, and nails, and provide the foundation for hormones like testosterone. “Cavemen didn't eat low-fat bison; they ate what they could hunt, fish, gather, or pluck,” he says. “So if you eat foods like eggs, coconut, or grass-fed beef, you'll be getting plenty of fat in your diet. Don't add more [saturated fat] to your diet, just don't avoid foods it’s naturally found in.”
But as Bowden points out, all fats aren’t created equal. He doesn’t categorize the “good” and “bad” varieties as saturated or unsaturated, but rather as “damaged” and “undamaged.”
“Go to basically any restaurant in America and they’ll be using that crappy omega-6 vegetable oil, like corn oil or soybean oil, that damages easily,” he adds. “And they use it for a week. They fry it, cool it, refry it, cool it … and that creates carcinogenic compounds and trans fat. It’s damaged, and eating tons of vegetable oil and eliminating other [types of oil] creates inflammation in the body, which is part of diabetes, obesity, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. It’s not that you should never eat omega-6s—they’re essential—but we’re consuming 16 times more omega-6s than omega-3s. What you want is a diet that counterbalances the inflammation with anti-inflammatory fats like omega-3s and 9s.”
4) Revisit Your Refined Carb Intake
If you’re training consistently and have adopted a strict diet but you’re not happy with the progress you see in the mirror, consider paying closer attention to the amount of refined carbs you’re consuming.
"People who say, ‘Don't eat saturated fat! Don't eat meat! Eat lots of carbs!’ are wrong … and they’re literally instructing you to turn on an insulin fountain,” Bowden warns. “The hormone insulin is what drives weight gain. Carbs have the strongest and most direct affect on insulin; protein has a minor effect on insulin; and fat has zero effect on insulin. So we've come up with dietary recommendations that make 65 percent of our diet the things that raise the fat storage hormone! We took all of that good fat that had a neutral effect on insulin—the fat storage hormone—and replaced it with bulls**t sugar, grains, and high-carb food that we think are healthy but really aren’t.”
5) Learn to Manage Stress Better
A University of San Francisco study published in 2011 found that rats placed in high-stress situations were likely to use fatty and sugary foods to self-medicate; the comfort food had a calming effect on the rats’ brains that restricted the release of stress-related hormones. “Stress hormones send messages to the body, one of which is to store fat around the body,” Bowden says. “The most studied and effective way [to reduce stress] is meditation, because it lowers cortisol and blood pressure levels.”
For people who aren’t interested in lighting incense and reciting a mantra, there are other stress-alleviating activities you can do. “Try four minutes of deep breathing at your desk [at work], or playing with an animal, volunteering, making love, or walking anywhere there’s greenery,” he suggests. “Break yourself from a routine and remove yourself from those everyday stresses.”
6) Forget the Six-Pack ... For Now
Body types, metabolisms, and work ethic varies from person to person, so results may take longer or require more effort for certain individuals. If your goal of sculpting six-pack abs is taking longer than you anticipated, don’t allow that perceived failure to derail your diet or serve as an excuse to usher in additional cheat meals. “I sometimes ask people, ‘What if you were told you'd never weigh less than you do right now? Do you stay on the diet or not?’” Bowden asks. “Lots of people would say, ‘If I can't lose weight, what the heck am I doing this for?’ But look at the advantages [of eating clean]—you'll have a healthier brain, better circulation, more energy, a higher libido, and you’ll live longer.”