Episode 97: “Wired To Eat” With Robb Wolf

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Thanks for joining us for episode 97 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are thrilled to be interviewing Robb Wolf!

Robb Wolf is a former research biochemist, health expert, and author of the New York Times bestseller The Paleo Solution and has written the eagerly anticipated Wired To Eat. He has been a review editor for the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism and Journal of Evolutionary Health; serves on the board of directors of Specialty Health medical clinic in Reno, Nevada; and is a consultant for the Naval Special Warfare Resilience Program. Robb is also a former California State powerlifting champion and holds the rank of blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He lives in Reno, Nevada with his wife Nicki, and daughters Zoe and Sagan.

We constantly hear the advice that we must eat less and move more, but our attempt usually leads us to fall short of reaching our health goals.  Tune in today to hear Robb Wolf’s eye opening explanation about why this hasn’t proven to be an effective strategy.

Join us as Robb shares the compelling reasons why he wrote his new book Wired To Eat. Robb explains how our genetic disposition to eat more and move less combined with our modern environment and engineered foods is a force fighting against our attempts to achieve our health goals.

Robb also shares his controversial opinion on our desire to create a healthy relationship with food and why social connection and community are vital to our health. You won’t want to miss a minute of our discussion!

Here are some of the questions we discussed with Robb:

  • What made you feel like you needed to write another book after the The Paleo Solution?
  • Can you tell our listeners about the theory of hyper palatability and the neuroregulation of appetite, and how they can use this information in a practical way?
  • How do you feel like this theory can apply to people that are doing more of a Paleo/primal type diet?
  • Can you share a little bit about what your perspective is on the topic of a healthy relationship with food and how that plays into the neurobiology factor?
  • Why did you focus so heavily on community and relationships instead of just food in your book? How important do you think it is?


Links Discussed:


Laura: Hi everyone. Welcome episode 97 of The Ancestral RDs Podcast. I’m Laura Schoenfeld and with me as always is my cohost Kelsey Kinney.

Kelsey: Hey guys.

Laura: If you don’t know us, we’re Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me, Laura, at LauraSchoenfledRD.com, and Kelsey over at KelseyKinney.com.

We have a great guest on our show today who is going to be telling all about his brand new book on how humans are wired to eat. We’re really excited that he’s joining us and we think that you’ll enjoy this episode.

If you are enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that you never miss an episode. While you’re over in iTunes, leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well. Remember, we do want to answer your questions on the show. Head on over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a health related question that we can answer, or suggest another guest that you’d love for us to interview on an upcoming show.

Before we get into our interview, here’s a quick word from our sponsor:

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Laura: Welcome back everyone. Our guest today needs no introduction, but I’ll introduce him anyway. Robb Wolf is a former research biochemist, health expert, and author of the New York Times bestseller The Paleo Solution and has written the eagerly anticipated Wired To Eat. He has been a review editor for the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism and Journal of Evolutionary Health; serves on the board of directors of Specialty Health medical clinic in Reno, Nevada; and is a consultant for the Naval Special Warfare Resilience Program. Robb is also a former California State powerlifting champion and holds the rank of blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He lives in Reno, Nevada with his wife Nicki, and daughters Zoe and Sagan.

Did I pronounce her name right, Sagan?

Robb: That’s perfect. Just like Carl Sagan. Perfect.

Laura: That’s what I thought. How are you doing, Robb? It’s been a while.

Robb: Fantastic! I’m putting my pop guard on my thing because I get all fired up talking to you two.

Laura: Do you spit like a camel on podcasts?

Robb: Yeah.

Kelsey: Perfect. That’s what we like.

Laura: We like passion. We are really excited that you have a new book coming out. How long we’ve been working on this one?

Robb: In some ways for three years, three and a half years. I’ve been collecting, researching, kind of doing an outline a little bit. I really wasn’t sure if I was going to do another kind of protein, carbs, fat diet-esque book. But some pieces came together where I felt like I had something relevant to say and might have a little bit of insight on it. But it was a good solid year of writing, or I guess six months of writing/writing and another six months of editing as it turned out. It’s been a pretty long slog. I’m ready for this thing to hatch and be out there, but we’re getting close.

Laura: I always hear that book writing is kind of an intense process. What made you feel like you needed to write another book after the The Paleo Solution?

Robb: It’s a little bit like having kids in that you have one kid and this certain period of time goes by and you’re like that wasn’t that bad, this seems like a good idea.

Kelsey: You forget how it was.

Robb: You forget how terrible it is for your physical body and all the rest of that. I don’t know if you remember, I did a talk at Paleo (f)x two years ago, three years ago on brain development and the omnivore’s real dilemma. It was really digging into the neuroregulation of appetite and how we’re basically wired to eat more, move less. It was a really amazing paper. Unfortunately the professor who was the primary investigator on writing this review paper, he died not that long ago. He was at Emory University and I was really hoping to interview the guy.

But it was just a profound experience for me reading this and then putting together that talk because I felt like if people could really get their arms around what the implications were in understanding the neuroregulation of appetite in the way that our genetics are kind of forged for a different lifeway, that all the emotionality, and guilt, and drama that goes into behavior change particularly as it relates to kind of diet, and lifestyle, and all that type of stuff that hopefully we could exercise a bunch of those kind of demons and it would get us at a spot where the change is still challenging, but it’s doable.

Since writing my first book, I noticed that a lot of people would motor along. They look like they’re doing great and then they just kind of spin out. It’s like they hit black ice and are just off in a cornfield. When you pull up to talk to them, you’re like so you look like you were doing good. What’s happening? The story that emerged in talking to lots of people over the last six or seven years was that folks would start motoring along and then they would start kind of comparing themselves to other people and in particular their sense of what was going on social media. And they would have this sense that it was really harder for them to affect this change than what they thought was occurring with other people. And because it was difficult, they felt like there was something wrong with them, something broken and so they might as well give up.

My insight on that was that for some people it does come pretty easy. I mean that that’s maybe ten percent. But there’s just some work, and there’s some change, and some challenge. In particular when we start dealing with maybe some of the emotional aspects of this whole story and when we really understand that the food system, social media, all this stuff is set up to play against us really.  It plays off of our desire for novelty and new experiences and it bypasses our off switches. That stuff is really powerful and if you don’t give it some credence, then it’s kind of like going into a MMA fight or something and not really knowing your opponent and assuming that you’re well prepared, and in fact you’re not.

It’s a super long, meandering, possibly over caffeinated response as to why I wrote the book. It’s super steeped in this ancestral health kind of evolutionary biology framework, but I’m not starting the conversation from this whole, hey, hunter gatherers were healthy, maybe we should emulate some elements of their lifeway.

Although I talk about that a little bit, but I’m really starting the whole conversation around how is the neuroregulation of appetite developed in all organisms? What are the implications then we understand that when we look at the way that our modern world has changed? If we’re able to get some insight on that, maybe we can kind of decouple some of the emotionality around all this stuff.

Laura: Awesome. Let’s talk a little bit about one of the major topics of the book is, the neuroregulation of appetite and also how hyper palatable foods can bypass our brains off switch which causes us to eat more than we otherwise would.

I was just mentioning before we got on the call that I thought it was kind of funny that both you and Stephen Guyenet both have a book covering this theory that have just published this year. I know that this is kind of a hot topic for nutrition in general, not just the ancestral health community. But can you tell our listeners a little bit more about this theory of hyper palatability, and the neuroregulation of appetite, and how our listeners can actually use this information in a practical way?

Robb: Yeah. I have to give huge props and hat tip to Stephan. He really for me was kind of the first person to put a lot of this stuff on my radar. He was really articulating this message of the neuroregulation of appetite in both a high level, but also an accessible level. He’s actually the first person that put the notion of low grade intestinal permeability leading to systemic inflammation, and insulin resistance, and maybe some implications about glycoproteins on my radar ages ago. I can’t say enough thank you’s and kudo’s to Stephan about all that stuff.

But I have tried to tackle everything that I do. I’m not actually that smart of a person. To the degree I do well, it’s because I get these big picture concepts and then I let those things guide my process. Instead of getting super enmeshed in the details, then again I take these macro level concepts.

When we think about organisms motoring around the planet and trying to eke out their existence, there’s kind of a thermodynamics or an economics story here. It basically boils down to anything, particularly if it moves, it’s got to obtain more calories and nutrition out of its environment than what it burns in the acquisition of that stuff. When you say that people are like, well yeah, duh, I totally get that.

But then when you look at the actual environment that most organisms lived in throughout most of history, that was a not insignificant task to get enough calories while also fending off predators, and staying reproductively relevant, and all these other things. This is where this concept of optimum foraging strategy comes.

Again, if you run a business, if you just pay attention your own personal finances, you’ve got to have more coming in than going out or else you end up with problems. In a biological system if you consistently burn more energy than what you bring in, you’re dead.

On the one hand, we have this tendency to eat more, move less just baked in the cake, woven into our genetics and really can’t be any other way. It’s only in our modern environment where we can order food to our front door, sit in our underwear all day, microwave the food, never leave the house, that we’re able to kind of max out this optimum foraging strategy gig. We literally can burn virtually no calories throughout the day and just kind of maximize our caloric intake, which from an evolutionary biology perspective is kind of like winning until you look at Type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s, and obesity, and all that stuff. We basically are able to take that whole story and push it to a place where it becomes unhealthy.

And then we have another kind of dueling banjo element to this story which is called palate fatigue. Even though we want to eat everything that’s not nailed down and then go lay down and relax so that we spare the energy that that we just consumed, we also get bored of stuff. This is again kind of baked into the cake for two reasons. If we have a lot of a food that is arguably tasty, arguably nutritious, it’s still that one thing may not provide all the nutrition that we need and so we’re encouraged to go seek out other things. Then also particularly if this particular food is of plant nature, all plants have antipredatation chemicals in them and you can develop a toxicity to certain foods that we’re over consuming.

We have these kind of dueling banjos of the optimum foraging strategy occurring encouraging us to eat more, move less. Then the background of that is this palate fatigue which is goosing us to always seek out something new. And now we overlay that story with our modern environment where we have foods that are engineered to maximally release dopamine to make them effectively addictive. They come in for all intents and purposes an infinite variety of options. Again we can order this stuff to our front door, we don’t have to expend any energy in in acquiring them, or very, very little, and so we have this kind of perfect storm that is developed. We can easily eat more, move less and when we get bored of the stuff that we’re currently eating, then we can just kind of shift gears and go to something else.

I know I’m getting super long winded here, but I have a kind of cool example of this in the book. There’s a guy Adam Richman. He had a show Man v. Food. He does these crazy food eating challenges. One of the challenges is this thing called the kitchen sink challenge where he tries to eat an eight pound ice cream sundae which includes the sprinkles and the hot fudge in this eight pound ice cream sundae. He starts motoring through this thing, gets maybe like a third of the way through, and he just totally bogs down. He starts turning green. In the video clips it shows him, he’s actually gagging at certain points.

He’s taken this optimum foraging deal to the point that his palate fatigue is saying no more, just we’re done. Anybody could make a very credible case that an ice cream sundae tastes pretty damn good. It’s probably hyper palatable. But even despite that, at some point your brain will say enough.

What he does to finish this challenge is really fascinating.  He orders a plate of extra salty, extra crunchy French fries. He starts eating a fry or two and then he has a scoop of ice cream and he’s able to finish the ice cream sundae.

This is what’s fascinating I think for most mainstream dieticians or health care providers just blows their mind. He would have failed to eat the ice cream sundae were it not for eating probably like another thousand or fifteen hundred calories of French fries. Eating more food allowed him to complete the ice cream sundae challenge. I mention that in my book. Really the whole book should be basically like a video clip of that and it’s like don’t eat like this. You’ll be okay, but I just find that such a powerful soup to nuts explanation of this optimum foraging strategy, palate fatigue and how it can go horribly wrong in our modern environment.

Laura: It’s not so much about calories and getting to a certain point where you don’t need any more food. It’s actually that the taste is what kind of stops you from overeating. Well I shouldn’t say it stops you from overeating. I think two and a half pounds of an ice cream sundae is probably still overeating, but it would prevent the full eight pounds from being consumed. That’s really interesting.

Robb: I think it’s fascinating. If we then look at the way that we both construct our meals and the things that we keep on hand in our house, like we’ll have fifteen different kind of snacky items. And if you get bored with one, oh man, look at that, there’s another one. You don’t have to expend any energy to get these things and people are surprised that this is a challenging thing to deal with.

Kelsey: Right.

Robb: They feel bad that because they’ve got a couple of different dessert options, a couple of different salty, crunchy options like potato chips or corn chips, and they’re surprised that like, oh gee, I should be able to just say no to this stuff. It’s like no, you shouldn’t.

Kelsey: Yeah. Even thinking about the different kinds of potato chips. But on their own, you can get so many different flavors. You get sick of one, you just move to the another.

Robb: Exactly.

Kelsey: You’re still essentially eating the same thing, but it tastes so different. It’s new to your brain.

Robb: Exactly. Most people, and again particularly within the mainstream medical scene in particular, and also the media, they float these two concepts of all you need to do is eat less, move more, and everything in moderation. This is almost this kind of like Southern folk wisdom. I would expect my grandmother to chirp this stuff. She’d say if you want to lose weight, just do push away’s.  You’re like what’s a push away? Push away from the table.

That all sounds great until you find yourself living in this modern food environment and then you stock up the house with a bunch of different options. All of them are quite tasty, all of them tasty in a different way. And then you find yourself surprised that you have problems saying no to this stuff, and that’s kind of crazy.

In these fundamental notions of eat less, move more, everything in moderation, the eat less move more is in direct opposition to our basic biology. Just Alpha, Omega, done. It sounds great, but it is patently wrong. And then this notion of everything in moderation, again that sounds great, but what does moderation mean when you’re walking down the snack aisle of the supermarket? There’s a very small group of people, the folks, if it fits your macros kind of crowd that manages to kind of pull this stuff off I guess for at least a while. But for the vast majority of people, if you get an overly complex food environment, you will face problems.

It’s interesting, it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking Paleo, or vegan, or low carb, or what have you. All of these different dietary approaches when compared head to head with this kind of ADA, everything in moderation approach, the everything in moderation approach fails horrifically. These other approaches, all of them work better and all of them have an interesting feature in that they are to some degree limiting palette options. If you go vegan, then you’re limiting usually some fatty type palate options. If you go low carb or kind of Paleo, then you’re limiting some of these sweet options and particularly the crunchy carb type options. To some degree you’re kind of limiting your palette options more often than not.

It doesn’t matter which one of those avenues that folks go down, it works better than attempting to do the everything in moderation. The everything in moderation is…the best analogy I have for it is kind of like the young, well intentioned male college student who gets invited the Playboy mansion and all the sudden he discovers he’s drinking beer and taking ecstasy. It’s like is this guy going to have any good decision making here? No, not at all. The deck has been stacked so immeasurably against him that shenanigans are going to ensue. This is basically our modern food situation.

Laura: How do you feel like this theory can apply to people that are doing more of that Paleo/ primal type diet? Do you think that that’s something that they should be paying attention to or do you feel like those diets solve that problem?

Robb: In large part they address a lot of it, but there’s a lot of drama around the Paleo/primal land about people doing these gluten free desserts. I still don’t really like call them Paleo desserts. I think gluten free would probably cut it. But you can take these things that are otherwise not….they are tasty foods, they are nicely palatable, but not hyper palatable per se. You can start mixing them together in flavor combinations that can definitely cause you some problems.

I think just having some awareness around that is very powerful. If you aren’t quite where you want to be and you’re really kicking your heels up a lot with these Paleo, primal, gluten free desserts in particular, or just these very complex meals, then we might need to simplify that palette experience and then you’ll get entrained better to just consume the amount of food that you actually need.

Laura: I think it’s interesting because Kelsey and I work with a lot of people who are probably on the opposite end of the spectrum of who you’re talking to in this book where we have people that are really just overly restrictive and not allowing themselves to enjoy anything. When Kelsey and I talk about a healthy relationship with food, a lot of times we’re trying to teach people it’s okay to enjoy your food a little bit. It’s not a bad thing to have a treat or to relax a little bit. That’s not really going to apply to the the large majority of the population in this country obviously. In your book you take a different angle on this “healthy relationship with food” topic. Can you share a little bit about what your perspective is and how that plays into this neurobiology factor?

Robb: Yeah. If get any death threats or somebody throwing a mustard gas cake at me, it’s going to be because of this topic. I’ve had people hopping mad at me. But in working with people over the course of time, I’ve just kind of come to this spot where people will kind of let drop what’s going on with them. Certain people, they retain you for personal training, or nutrition consulting, or what have you, and you’re maybe thirty seconds into the process and they ask you, so what are my cheat days going to look like?

Initially when I first started getting into this and I didn’t have a lot of experience, I was kind of like this is a reasonable question. I’m recommending this kind of Paleo deal, this person’s wondering if they’re ever in their life going to have a chocolate chip cookie again. It’s like yeah, we can figure out how to how to work that in.  But over the course of time I figured out it wasn’t so much in a matter of is it a reasonable or unreasonable question. The person asking the question was going to be a huge pain in the ass. They were leading into this thing already trying to figure out how much they can go crazy on the whole process.

There’s kind of these interrelated elements of this notion of cheating on food and then having a healthy relationship with food. The cheating part is interesting because legitimately for humans there is a really profound sense of mortality and right and wrong in the way that we caretake each other. All primates interestingly have these really highly developed senses of justice. If one individual’s getting taken advantage of, the whole group notices this and there’s some really heavy repercussions. It’s particularly powerful and humans.

This idea of cheating is really a big deal. But the word cheat itself and what it means is to gain an unfair advantage on another particularly at another’s expense. If you think about that, gain an unfair advantage particularly at someone else’s expense, and then we start talking about cheating on whatever diet de jour that we’re talking about, is that even possible? Are you gaining an unfair advantage with the food that you’re eating? No, not really. There’s consequences to the food and you just need to figure out where are you in that story and to what degree do you want to deal with the various consequences that lie there. I’m super gluten intolerant to the point that there’s just no gluten containing item that is remotely worth the days of agony I’m going to have after this. There’s enough gluten free options that I’m totally good with that.

But if people get in this mode that they start beating themselves up when they go off rails, they’re supposed to be eating Paleo and they’ve been doing great for three weeks, and then they have like some gluten free pancakes or whatever, and then they freak out like I cheated on my diet. It’s like no, you didn’t. You had one thing that wasn’t necessarily specifically on the plan.  You’re one meal away from getting back on the plan. We can either turn this into like a big moral failing piece, or we can recognize it for what it is which is one meal off of an otherwise established plan.

But the interesting thing is if people start using terminology like cheating, then they get the morality in the sense of guilt of actually cheating. They’re taking something that really has no features of a cheat, you’re not victimizing anybody, you’re not hurting anybody, you’re not taking unfair advantage of them, but you’re experiencing the guilt of having done something bad to someone. That will get people trapped because they start focusing on a way of getting out of that. There’s really no way out because you’ve misplaced a psychological state with a physiological process and it creates all the drama.

And then this notion around the healthy relationship with food is kind of an extension of all this stuff. I noticed early on that the folks who would come to me and they’re like I’m working towards a healthy relationship with food. And I’m like okay, again this sounds like great folk wisdom. We need healthy relationships in our lives, this sounds really good. But what I found was that this attainment of the healthy relationship with food was like calculating the final digit of Pi. It just kept going, and going, and going, and it was an infinite process. People never got anywhere.

I detail a story in the book where I work with a guy who is a billionaire entrepreneur, incredibly talented, and the guy was over four hundred pounds when I first started working with him. The guy is brilliant, but he had really odd relationships with everybody including his family. The only people that I saw him have any amount of real…not intimacy…that also, but where he would show any vulnerability was with his children, and even that kind of changed the kids got older. When they were younger he was a little more open and vulnerable, and then as they got older he kind of closed himself off.

We had these back and forth kind of spy versus spy deal. He hired me to basically be a strength coach and nutritionist. I traveled around the world with him, got paid really, really well, and it was just kind of crazy. One event that I detail in the book, I’m cruising through the house pretty late at night, I had to get up to pee or something like that and I smelled something. I’m like this smells like donuts. I went and knocked on his door and sure enough he’s in there crushing a bag of the Krispy Kreme donuts.

I’m like, here did you get those? And I’m able to get out of him this story that he paid part of his house staff to go out, go get him a dozen donuts. They drove near the security fence, threw the bag over the security fence, and then other people intercepted the bag and brought it in. I’m like, okay.

Kelsey: Wow!

Robb: Yeah. And I’m looking at him and I’m like so what am I doing here? He’s like it’s not my job to make your job easy. I’m like, okay. I went to his wife and I basically said I need a budget for like a counter espionage deal. This is what your husband did, I need a budget to pay it. It became this bidding war deal where I would find out what he had agreed to pay to house staff.

This was another thing, he was very successful and he would use money to control and manipulate people. The wife also controlled a lot of purse strings and so there was kind of this bidding war back and forth. Then eventually he just dropped the hammer and said okay, enough. Anybody that doesn’t follow what I tell him to do, I’ll fire you. Then that whole thing was kind of done. But he was really enjoying this cat and mouse game. He was enjoying it more than me trying to save the guy’s life because he was having like diabetic blackouts and stuff like that.

I was really noodling on this and I was trying to think of how to help this guy and then I just had this this insight. I was like it’s not about food, there is something else. I looked at him one day, we were having this back and forth, and I just said to him, hey man, who didn’t love you? And he looked at me, and he’s a big guy, he’s not an unimposing character. And he’s like, what did you say? I said somebody didn’t love you, who was it? Who didn’t love you? I mean he got angry, like smashing stuff. Not throwing things at me, but I mean pretty darn close. It was almost like that Good Will Hunting scene where it’s like, it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault. It’s like who didn’t love you?

He finally was like, he just kind of like sat down just defeated and he said my parents were really high achievers and they basically emotionally abandoned him. He was a super brilliant precocious kid. He had a nanny who cared caretook him and she saw that there was this precocious kid that needed love and who had been abandoned. What she would do is cook him these really amazing meals and they would sing, and play, and eat this food. What he came to associate with love was food. And he also, because of that abandonment stuff, he really had some serious problems with the intimacy between himself and other people.

When all this stuff came out I looked at him and I said, okay, today is my last day because your needs exceed my capabilities. I’m willing to still consult to help you a little bit here and there, but you need to find someone to work with on a therapy level and it needs to be about the relationship you have with other people. This is not about achieving some healthy relationship with food. Food is a symptom, it is not the cause.

I’ll point out a couple of things there. I was getting paid really, really well to do this. I’m traveling all over the world, I’m getting paid ridiculously well. But in that moment I knew that this guy’s needs were beyond what I could provide. For me to continue doing that would have been cheating him. It would have been taking unfair advantage of this person and profiteering from his suffering. That’s legitimate cheating. Having a donut when you’re supposed to be following a “diet” is not cheating. I just really want people to get the difference there. Let’s really understand that.

And then this other part of it was that even though there was all this focus on food within this house, that was the symptom. That was not the root issue. The root issue was that this guy didn’t feel loved. He felt like he needed to control people via money and intimidation. It took some time and he very nearly went through a divorce. This was a very tumultuous part of his life, but he’s doing really well. He went from over four hundred pounds and now he’s kind of low two hundreds and pretty darn healthy. He has up and down days, but he is overall much, much better.

But again I know that that was a long, long winded deal to throw out there but the vast majority of folks that I see who are making some statement about like I need a healthy relationship with food, in my opinion it’s generally not food. It is something else. I think that we’re all in a similar enough kind of framework that when we look at mainstream medicine, what’s one of our primary criticisms of it? It treats symptoms. I think that this whole I need a healthy relationship with food is a symptom that people never get their hands around and it keeps them distracted from actually doing the hard work that they need to do. Maybe food has filled a gap there. I’m not saying that there aren’t some entangling issues, but it’s not the issue.

Laura: I feel like what’s coming to mind as you’re sharing that story, which I’m glad you shared it because I think it’s really important to have that kind of solid anecdotal experience to share, it’s almost like when people want to have a healthy relationship with food, having a relationship with an inanimate object just seems like a bizarre concept in the first place.

Robb: Yes, yes.

Laura: I would say that what you’re arguing is that you need to separate the focus on having a healthy relationship and then the food piece. You want to work on having healthy relationships with people. And then with food, you don’t really need to have a relationship with it so much as you just need to kind of know what the basics of human nutrition are so you can feed yourself appropriately.

Robb: Yeah. The weird thing about it, if you look out again kind of like mainstream media and the main messaging that we get out of the bulk of medicine, they really play up this whole healthy relationship with food. These guys are really good at basically keeping us in a codependent state. These are not people who are really that focused on providing this path to personal liberation.

I have had violent responses from this stuff and then after people go and noodle, and think, and kind of processes this, they’re like okay, I get what you’re saying. They take it as some sort of an attack or it really flies in the face of what they’ve potentially been putting years of effort into so then there’s this anger around the sunk costs of chasing something that really didn’t provide a return. We tend to kill the messenger in those situations.

I mean it’s kind of like do you need a healthy relationship with your car? It’s great if you like your car, but your car is not actually providing love, or support, or anything like that. I could argue animals into human relationship is where we get that stuff.

Kelsey: Yeah, I can see why you would get yelled at a lot, Robb, with that sort of comment that it’s not about the relationship with food. It’s always something else. That’s a symptom. I think especially being nutritionists and coaches that deal with people that come to us saying that they want a healthy relationship with food…and honestly, that’s something that I do try to get people to have, but it’s more of that you’re giving them what they think they need while really actually diving at the root problem.

Robb: Right.

Kelsey: Or selling them what they what they think they need and giving them what they actually need.

Robb: Right.

Kelsey: I can see why you’d get in trouble with that kind of statement. But I totally see where you’re coming from and I think it’s a really powerful thing to say. I think anybody out there who’s listening that thinks that they need to have this healthy relationship with food needs to recognize that that is very separate. You don’t need to have that relationship with food. You need to fix all of these underlying psychological aspects that then turn into a symptom which is this eating food and you don’t want to, or not eating enough because you feel like that’s the way you control your life. All of those things are symptoms of these underlying psychological factors.

Robb: Right. In my opinion, again I’m not a therapist, I’m not a psychiatrist or psychologist, but my experience of this is that at some point folks have experienced moment of vulnerability and that has caused an injury to them and then that injury gets kind of papered over with food. And to your point again, some people avoid food intake as a means of feeling control over that situation. Some people overeat to get the dopamine release from the food and all that type of stuff. But it’s still the food ends up being kind of a secondary element to this and not the primary element.

And again my greasy used car salesman pitch with this is just maybe float the notion that it’s not specifically about the food and just try that on. Try it on like a sweater, see if you like it. Maybe initially you don’t like it. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but I’ve been doing this stuff a long time and again it seems to fly a completely counter to most of what we get out of the mainstream, and not to say that we just need to be contrarians by nature to somehow move the conversation forward, but it’s interesting, I just would throw it out there. It’s interesting.

Kelsey: Yeah, and I think it’s hard for people to admit that kind of stuff. That psychological stuff is not easy and I think that’s why you probably get that pushback a lot.

Robb: It’s core of your being stuff. I mean the reason why they are in the state that they’re in is because they were hurt, they were wounded on the most fundamental exposed element of themselves.

Kelsey: Right.

Robb: It’s really understandable, but if we can again kind of diffuse that stuff, it can also be possibly one of the most profound experience of their life. It can really move a lot of stuff forward. This guy that I did to work with, he has wonderful relationships with his kids. He has much better relationships with the people who work for him now. He can still be a dick sometimes, but he’s a really different person in the energy that he experiences in his life and I would say the love that he garners out of his life. It’s two different lives. One of them was largely devoid of love and connection, and one is now quite full of that. He had to go through the crucible to get to that other side though. It wasn’t the easiest thing in the world.

But he was able to be rational enough and also I think that it really took him aback that I was willing to just pull the ripcord on this and basically saying I would be taking unfair advantage of you to continue working with you because he knew that I was making more money with him that I had ever made in my life. What he would usually do then is create a state of dependency on people. But I liked this guy enough and I was grateful enough to him for the opportunity that I had already had that I couldn’t morally continue doing what I was doing because I felt like it would continue to foster his dysfunction in this area.

Laura: I bet you could also apply some of the stuff to the concept of body image and the relationship with your body. I feel like I work with a lot of people, especially women, but I think both genders can fall into this pattern where they’re focusing so heavily on their physical fitness, or their body fat percentage, or their weight, or anything like that. There’s nothing morally wrong with wanting to lose weight, or to be a healthy body weight, or to get to a certain level of fitness. But I work with a lot of people who that fitness I think is what they believe that’s what’s holding them back from relationships is their level of fitness.

I do think a lot of women tend to fall into this with significant other type relationships where they are single and they feel like if I just could lose fifteen pounds I would be more confident and then I’d meet someone, and blah, blah, blah. Which we know from an objective perspective, that’s not true. But it is such a deeply ingrained belief in our culture that their appearance is what makes them valuable that I feel like this this topic that you’ve covered on food could easily apply to just overall physical appearance and the obsession with leanness and body fat percentage that I think it’s super rampant in the Paleo community.

Robb: Let me ask you gals a question on that. When we were running our gym full time, it started off as a Cross Fit gym and we continued to do Cross Fit-esque stuff, but we really scaled it, and modified it, and changed quite a lot. But to me that performance orientation tended to result in less wacky eating behaviors then what I saw when I was in situations where it was purely an anesthetics type gym like the fitness competitor, bodybuilding type scene.

If you skip a meal in a Cross Fit scenario, if you binge and purge in a Cross Fit scenario, the next workout that you do you’re going to suck at it, you’re just going to blow. There’s that immediate feedback. Although people get very body composition focused and stuff like that, I would almost from my perspective argue that that performance orientation kind of keeps people in a little more healthy space. Have you guys seen that? Do you think I’m nuts? What do you think about that?

Laura: I would definitely say that from a practical perspective it keeps people from doing unhealthy behavior, so things like starving themselves or restricting certain types of foods. I do strength and conditioning with a coach one on one. It’s not super expensive for what it is, but it is a pretty good investment. That’s enough for me to be like alright, I need to take a break and eat lunch because I’m going to train today and if I don’t eat lunch I’m going to crash and pay this money to work out and not even get anything out of it. It’s almost like an economics question for me as opposed to performance or like a body image thing.

But I will say that the clients that I have that focus on their performance and their enjoyment of the workouts, because I think that’s a huge piece of it too…If you feel like crap when you’re working out, that’s not fun. Whereas if you’re performing well and you’re doing things that you are challenging yourself and accomplishing new things, I feel like that’s an actual enjoyable process. The actual having fun piece of working out really does require adequate food intake as well. I feel like the clients that tend to focus on either just the pure enjoyment of the workouts or the performance element are way better at eating in a way that’s healthy than the ones that are super weight or body composition conscious.

Robb: That makes sense.

Kelsey: I’ll add that I’ve definitely had some clients where they seem to be in the crosshairs of wanting excellent performance along with an amazing aesthetic, whatever that means to them. Those I find are the people that kind of have the most problems because they won’t typically eat to fuel what they’re doing because they’re also trying to be super, super lean which doesn’t tend to go hand in hand with the best performance.

Robb: Right.

Kelsey: Those are the people that I find that have the most trouble and they have a hard time getting out of that mindset and into more of that performance mindset and feeling good and having fun while exercising mindset.

Robb: Right. I totally agree. I’ve been there before. If I just do some gymnastics and lift a little weights, then I can run at a body comp that’s lower and look better I guess, better being a very relative deal. But then if I’m doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or some Thai boxing or something, I need to be a couple of body fat percentages higher for me to really have my best performance doing that stuff and not feel like I’m just beat to death all the time.

Kelsey: Right.

Robb: That was a not insignificant thing to fully wrap my head around. And theoretically I’m an “expert” on this stuff and there was still some come to Jesus conversations in my head about like what am I up to with all this.

Laura: Well especially in your position, I’m sure you have a pretty unusual amount of attention paid to your body composition. It’s like God forbid you have an extra couple percentage and then people are like Paleo doesn’t work. Just look at Robb Wolf, he’s nine percent body fat instead of five. I feel like people in your position even if you don’t want to think about it it’s almost like you almost have to make a public declaration that you’re not worried about it so that people don’t criticize you.

Robb: Right.

Laura: It’s definitely tough.

I want to make sure that we get to talk a little bit about the rest of your book. I mean it sounds like you go into this relationship question pretty deeply in the book.

Robb: Yes.

Laura: I feel like one thing I’d love to talk to you a little bit about is the concept of community. Because I know that you cover topics like sleep, and exercise, and diet, and how to figure out the right diet. We could go into that, but I feel like people kind of want to see the other side of things than just the diet piece because it gets a little bit repetitive to always be talking about nutrition. I think you do a good job of explaining personalized nutrition and how to figure out what works best for you in the book, so we won’t go into super deep, deep detail. If people want more on that they can read Wired To Eat.

But I want to talk a little bit about the community aspect because it sounds like that’s related to the story you just told us. Why did you focus so heavily on community and relationships instead of just food? Is it something that you feel like is the main problem that people need to focus on when they’re trying to fix this stuff, or is it just a side piece of this whole approach? How important do you think it is? And is it something that people should start with or do they just kind of add it in as they’re focusing on the palatable foods, and the carb and fat ratios, and all of that?

Robb: Those are really good questions and I doubt I’m going to do as good justice to the answer on it. In the book I lay out this idea of the four pillars of health. It’s sleep and photoperiod, food, movement, and community. I wish and my publisher desperately wishes that it could have just been food or maybe just food and sleep. Those things are really, really important….And even though I’ve been couching this conversation pretty heavily in body composition, and fat loss, and whatnot, in the book I talk about everything from the development of autoimmune disease to neurodegenerative diseases. I mean it’s a big rangy book. We go really deep into the gut microbiota and the implications there.

But this community piece, it’s very well understood that people who lack adequate social connectivity, they see an increase in their morbidity and mortality, their death and illness rates that are on par with a pack a day smoking habit. How many people are running around and they’re debating am I doing the organic almonds versus conventional because I’m worried about pesticide residue, but I’m going to go smoke a pack of cigarettes today? Nobody. This is what we’re talking about on that community piece.

It’s interesting, again our modern world has changed so much. We now live in an environment which is amazing from an economic opportunity perspective. lf you have a specific skill set, and in the area that you work say that skill set kind of gets phased out and you’re faced with either learning something new or you could potentially move somewhere to get work in that area of your expertise. And that’s great, but it tends to really fragment our social circles.

And then we have this kind of interesting phenomenon of social media where we can burn a lot of time and a lot of energy feeling like we’re connected to people, but we’re really not. The people who develop these social media platforms really understand evolutionary psychology on a deep level. They really understand the addictive processes that we need to stimulate to make something really, really sticky and that we want to go back to it again and again.

We have this interesting scenario where we tend to have very little outside of work social connectivity and then we have this easily accessible, essentially the junk food of community, which is social media and it just leaves us desperately wanting. It’s an unfilled need that is up there with sunlight, and exercise, and vitamin D. It’s a non-negotiable feature of our existence if we really want to experience life maximally. I go through and talk about that, talk about the implications of stress and our inadequate or maybe unhealthy relationships. If you’re in kind of a codependent scenario or something like that, it’s probably better to cut the ties and go do something else.

I do make a pretty heavy case for trying to multitask on this front. And this is where something that looks kind of like a Cross Fit type gym is really kind of interesting. I think a large reason why that phenomenon has been so successful, a well-run gym that’s kind of in this Cross Fit orientation, the coaches will talk about sleep and photoperiod, they clearly talk about nutrition, the exercise is baked in the cake, that’s why you go there. But also there’s this amazing community piece to it. People will lose a job and they figure out some way to continue going to their Cross Fit gym because that’s their third place.

People used to do a lot more kind of religious communities and civic service stuff, and now it’s either a bar or Cross Fit gym. The Cross Fit gym has possibly some upsides to it that the bar doesn’t. It’s kind of unique in that regard. I really like martial arts, and yoga, and stuff like that too, which they tick a number of the boxes, but not all of them in the same way that a really well run Cross Fit gym does.

Laura: I did see a sign at my local whiskey bar saying it was like Cross Fit for your liver. I don’t know if that’s part of this whole community on this that.

Robb: Very honest.

Laura: Yeah, it’s funny. I feel like this is been something for me that I have really focused on in the last couple of years to the point of having to make some tough decisions about my business. I commit to a weekly small group meeting with a couple people from my church and that’s been really important for building deeper relationships especially as up a work from home, self-employed person which I feel like in that situation you absolutely have to make it a priority otherwise you’ll never see humans for an entire week.

Robb: You can never leave the house.

Laura: Right.

Kelsey: Seriously.

Laura: That actually has kind of caused me a little stress sometimes when I’m like, oh man, I have all this work I have to get done, but I have my small group at six o’clock on Wednesdays and there’s like a thirty minute drive. It ends up being basically after five o’clock I have to stop everything that I’m doing to go do it. And there are days where I’m like, oh man, I wish I had this extra time to finish my work, or maybe go the gym, or whatever. But at the end of the day, the benefit of having that community, and seeing those people on a regular basis, and having that really strong social connection piece that I think was missing in my life for a long time after having moved around, and done a lot of traveling, and all that, it’s basically non-negotiable at this point for me.

Robb: Right.

Laura: I feel like a lot of people don’t look at the social connection piece as a non-negotiable. I know people who will skip doing things with friends because either they want to go to the gym, or because the friends want to go out to eat and they don’t want to eat that food so they’re like I’m just not going to go because I can’t eat. It ends up being very socially isolating when people are way too focused on the more kind of behavioral choices of health.

I’m really glad that you cover that because I feel like this whole question about relationship with food and personalized nutrition, it can get kind of in the weeds and make people forget that there are equally, if not possibly more important factors that are going to affect their health. Obviously the sleep, and the photoperiod, and the exercise, that’s all important too. But for whatever reason, the community aspect I think is just now getting the attention that it really deserves. I’m pleased to hear that you cover that so effectively because if you hadn’t it might kind of leave the book a little bit incomplete and not really looking at the whole picture.

Robb: Right, which my publisher would have loved because they felt like it was way too long as it was. But it’s something that for us, my wife and I largely work from home, it’s remote, we have two kids, we live out on a little farm. We literally could not see another human being for weeks at a time. That’s where I really encourage her to go to yoga a couple of times a week. I go to Jiu-Jitsu.

And then something else that we’ve done, our girls just wake up early, they wake up at like 5:30 or 6 A.M. everyday. It doesn’t matter what time they go to bed. We just actually have a good circadian rhythm deal for them, so they wake up when the sun starts coming up. But what we’ve done because the evenings are kind of challenging for us to go out, and hang out with people, and get babysitters, and all that, every Sunday we’ve been putting together a brunch and we do a little bit of a potluck deal. We just ping our circle of friends and we’re like okay, we’re hosting it, we’re providing X, Y, Z, we need these other things filled in, commit to what you’re going to bring and we’ll make it happen.

We don’t make it too early, but we also don’t make it too late so you can still relax that Sunday morning, but then you can do some stuff afterwards. It’s not going to chew up your whole day. Everybody’s been loving it. The girls love it, Nicki and I love it. It’s just really a shot in the arm whereas normally these Sundays, it’s just kind of a lonely day. It’s like okay, we have the kids, Nicki and I are looking at each other like, wow, you again?

Laura: Especially Nicki, right?

Robb: Especially Nicki, yeah. I mean I’m not a whole lot to look at so it’s particularly challenging for her. But doing this dedicated we’re going to get together just about every week on a Sunday brunch, it’s been a total game changer for us.

Kelsey: That sounds so fun. I love that idea. I’m thinking about how I could implement that in my life. I love it.

Robb: It’s easier for me than doing a dinner party because people don’t get off work until later and then our girls are ready to go to bed and so they don’t really get to have as much fun interacting with people. So we’re like okay, we’ll do a brunch. And then everybody’s bright eyed and bushy tailed. We’re doing coffee instead of booze. Although we have been putting in some NorCal Margaritas and some Bloody Marys, so we are doing some stims and some depressants at these meals.

Laura: Just to be well balanced, right?

Robb: Just to be well balanced, yeah.

Laura: Well we really appreciated this interview. I feel like we could have talked for another hour on some of the more controversial nutrition topics. I had a couple questions listed about carbs, and keto, and all that, but might have to save that for another interview because people have their lives to live and they can’t listen to a two hour podcast.

But we really appreciate your time. I like I said might have to invite you on again to talk about macro since I know that you have some pretty well thought out and maybe some strong opinions about that portion of the nutrition game. I know that you mention if it fits your macros a lot, which I think the typical way of doing that is very junk food oriented.

Robb:  Right.

Laura: But I know there’s been a lot of people in the Paleo community that kind of take it to like okay, let’s use that effectiveness but also use real food so we’re not killing ourselves.

Robb: Right.

Laura: But anyway, I think generally our audience knows where to find you. I don’t think we’re introducing you to anyone that’s listening right now. But just in case there’s some person that just discovered the internet, where can people find you?

Robb: At RobbWolf.com. The book goes on sale officially March 21st.  It’s available for preorder everywhere books are sold. And then leading up to the launch of the book, we have a bunch of really cool bonuses. We have a workbook that helps people navigate the 30 Day Reset and the 7 Day Carb Test which is a really critical feature of the book.

I pulled out a chapter that used to be Chapter One of the book called “Lies, Damn Lies And Statistics” and it basically lays out the historical kind of perspective of how we’ve arrived at the modern situation of farm subsidies, junk food, bad academic “research” and whatnot and I kind of tie all that together. It’s actually my favorite chapter of the book, but the book was already so huge that the publishers freaked out and they were like, no, we’re not including that, so it’s a bonus chapter.

I do an interview with Dr. William Cromwell who is a world famous lipidologist. He’s the guy that we consult with with our clinic here in Reno doing the Reno Risk Assessment Program. We talk about the blood work that I recommend in the book. We compare and contrast like what you get out of a standard limpid panel versus what we kind of recommend with regards to advanced testing.

Laura: Nice.

Kelsey: Cool.

Laura: We appreciate that. Anyway, thank you so much for your time, Robb. It was a pleasure as always. It’s always fun to talk to you and hear what you’re up to. I hope that I’ll get to read this book sometime soon. I think both Kelsey and I are so busy that reading of any book at this point is difficult, but your sounds like it would be really interesting especially from a coaching perspective just being able to tackle that healthy relationship with food question in a different way.

Robb: Thank you.

Laura: Again, thank you for coming on. We really enjoyed our time with you. We’ll see everyone around here next week.

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I'm a women's health expert and a registered dietitian (RD) with a passion for helping goal-oriented people fuel their purpose.

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