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Stephan Guyenet, PhD on the Brain Controlling Body Fatness, Your Food Environment, and Low Carb Cons

Updated: Aug 31, 2020

Stephan Guyenet, PhD - Peak Human Podcast


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Today we’re talking to Stephan Guyenet who has a degree in biochemistry and a PhD in neuroscience. He’s spent over 12 years in the neuroscience research world studying neurodegenerative disease and the neuroscience of body fatness. He wrote a great book called The Hungry Brain, speaks at conferences, is a Senior Fellow at GiveWell and scientific reviewer for the Research Digest.

He is definitely not a low carb person which is why I had him on. He has a lot of great ideas and is a great mind in the space of nutrition. It was very interesting to hear him talk about all the great benefits he did see when he ate a low carb diet 11 years ago. Make sure to listen until the end when he talks about this.

He has some problems with certain people and aspects of the low carb community and is going on Joe Rogan’s podcast soon to debate Gary Taubes on his views of the Carbohydrate Insulin theory of obesity and sugar being uniquely toxic.

We had some disagreement on the recommended daily allowance of nutrients - he thinks what’s recommended is all you need and getting more than that is pointless. I think this is wrong. I think he’s basing it on studies of worthless, non-bioavailable vitamin C pills that in excess do nothing. So in that - I agree. I don’t think there’s any benefit to popping a bunch of these and think we’re going to cure a cold. I do know that our ancestors got estimates of 10-20 times the amount of nutrients we get today, so there’s a lot more to this discussion that we didn’t have time to get into.

We also disagreed on fiber which led to some carnivore talk. He got some things wrong about the member of the Grateful Dead who was a carnivore. He said he died at a young age of a heart attack. I looked into it and it turns out he was carnivore for 48 years and was in excellent health and died in a car accident at 72.

He also says we don’t have long term studies on the safety of low carb diets at the end. This isn’t exactly true and furthermore, we have hundreds of thousands of years of human populations living on low carb diets to prove its safety and efficacy. He additionally mentions the low carb community makes crazy claims that aren’t based on science. I’m not sure what he’s referring to. Not everything can be measured anyway. If tens of thousands of people report to their doctor they aren’t hungry anymore, their energy is stable, their brain is working better, they aren’t addicted to sugar, they finally have control of their food intake, etc. then this is some great clinical observations and patient anecdotes that add up to a lot.

I think everyone has their own ideas about things and collects info to support their opinion. It’s only natural, and I’m sure I’m doing it to, even though I’m trying not to. Everyone has to be in their camp and collect data and narratives to support their theories. He seemed to do this as you’ll see throughout the episode.

I agreed with a lot of his points though, especially that humans didn’t evolve to eat based on tracking macros and calories and using an excel spreadsheet to figure out what to eat. He’s doing great work and looking at this from a different angle which is important. A lot of interesting stuff here so let’s get to it. But first I gotta mention the Food Lies film which is in the last stretch of crowdfunding on Indiegogo. We really need your help to finish it. We have a bunch of cool perks like the Eat Meat T-shirt, the movie poster, bonus features, and more. Find it through or by clicking through this link in the show notes. I really appreciate it - and now here’s Stephan Guyenet.


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Show Notes

  • I’m obsessed with why we get fat and what to do about it and you’ve been researching this for a long time

  • Why the brain is the most important place to focus on

  • The brain regulates how much we eat, our food choices, and our exercise

  • There’s also non conscious processes the brain regulates that influence caloric expenditure, etc.

  • We also study the human genome to find how that plays a role in body fatness

  • When it comes to body weight, the genes that relate the most are in the brain

  • Nobody wants to overeat, but we end up doing it anyway

  • We need to look at our past to understand why we are wired to seek excess calories

  • Animals and hunter gatherers we’ve studied follow the Optimum Foraging Theory when they acquire food. It’s all about the calories per the amount of effort

  • Because we were eating whole foods from nature, if we got enough calories, we by default we’re getting all the vitamins and minerals needed

  • They didn’t have white flour, sugar, or refined oils

  • We only have receptors for fat, sugar, salt, and glutamate

  • Apparently those are the nutrients that natural selection cared about most to create reward systems for

  • The Hadza people went mainly for meat, tubers, and honey and didn’t go for leafy greens

  • The brain is motivated to pursue calorie containing foods, not vitamins and minerals

  • Combining bliss points make certain foods almost irresistible

  • You need to control your food environment

  • Not only don’t have it sitting out so you can see certain foods, don’t even have them in the house

  • How do genetics play a role? We know it’s way more to do with the type of foods eaten

  • About 70% of people in countries like the US are genetically susceptible to become obese when eating the bad diet that exists there. The remaining percent just aren’t as susceptible and can get away with it

  • Energy balance while always be a fact, but there’s a lot more to it

  • Eat less, move more may work for some people, but it’s not how we evolved. It’s not a natural way to regulate body weight

  • You can set up a food environment to allow your body to naturally eat the right amount

  • You’d have to be hungry all the time to continue eating processed foods and try to lose weight

  • His definition and thoughts on nutrient density

  • Questioning the necessity of fiber

  • His views on the carnivore diet - he thinks a big factor is becoming lean and it certainly does that

  • He questions if there’s long term chronic disease problems that we don’t know about

  • Inuit seek some plant matter

  • Sound engineer from the Grateful Dead who was carnivore for 48 years - Stephan said he died of a heart attack at a young age. Turns out he was super healthy and died of a car accident at 72.

  • His book

  • They call him “Bear”

  • Wikipedia on him:

  • Stephan agrees with what I always say about going to either end of the extreme with super low carb or super low fat you have great benefits

  • He’s going on Joe Rogan’s podcast to debate Gary Taubes on his views of the Carbohydrate Insulin theory of obesity and sugar being uniquely toxic

  • What happened with Gary Taubes and Dr. Peter Attia’s non profit venture NuSI - the Nutritional Science Initiative?

  • What Stephan got wrong in his blog posts

  • Why he thinks Gary Taubes is wrong and what is the evidence

  • He doesn’t like the fact that Gary is calling out scientists

  • Exercise and weight loss

  • The model of obesity he subscribes to is that it’s all regulated by the brain

  • Homeostatic regulation - hypothalamus controls body fatness like a thermostat

  • The hormone leptin sends feedback to your brain regarding body fat levels

  • Personal fat threshold, how someone can be skinny on the outside but fat on the inside, people can be obese but metabolically healthy, and insulin as a dam holding back fat in the cells

  • He doesn’t think that eating an insulin lowering diet like low carb allows you to lose weight because of the lowered insulin

  • He thinks low carb diets and low fat diets work merely because you’re taking away the extreme motivation to overeat the foods, AKA hyperplatability

  • Potato hack

  • Metabolic flexibility

  • He thinks being metabolically inflexible is more a sign of insulin resistance than anything

  • He eats about 50% carb, 18% protein, 32% fat

  • He ate a low carb diet after reading Taubes’ book Good Calories, Bad Calories 11 years ago

  • He said it was about the same but one benefit was that he wasn’t tied to meal times. Eating high carb he definitely knew when it was time to eat. Easier to fast

  • He was easily doing 24 hour fasts. Now on high carb it’s way harder and he experiences brain fog

  • Why are low carb diets so maligned in the mainstream media and medical system?

  • What are his solutions for fixing the nation’s health problems?

  • His book The Hungry Brain

  • His website

  • His Twitter

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