“Geek” dieting calls to mind high-tech novelties like Soylent and the endless number-crunching of Quantified Selfers. In contrast, Jonathan Bailor is practically Alice Waters: When he talks about finding a scientific approach to nutrition, Bailor uses words like “celebrate,” “abundance,” and “whole, actual food.”
A senior program manager at Microsoft, Bailor is an engineer — and a self-professed geek — who’s also a former personal trainer. Instead of Brave New Foods, he advocates a return to basics: “quality” foodstuffs and no calorie counting. In fact, his new book (out now from HarperCollins) is called The Calorie Myth. It attempts to turn Bailor’s thirteen years of nutritional research into an attack on the conventional wisdom of “calories in, calories out,” explaining hard science through accessible analogies.
How did “eat less, work out more” become weight-loss convention?
Three reasons. One, it’s intuitive. It is intuitive that the world is flat: Look out your window, it looks really flat. But when you understand the laws of gravity and understand science, it’s very clear that the earth isn’t flat. Similarly, it is intuitive that starvation makes you lose weight, but it’s wrong. When you understand the laws of physiology and biology, you understand that starvation is the worst thing you can do long term for eating and exercise. Two, because it works in the short term. If our definition of success is our weight on the scale tomorrow, starvation works. By that logic, so does cutting off your leg. We need to really focus on the goal of long-term fat loss, health, and happiness, rather than short-term weight loss. Three, money. There is a huge amount of money in perpetuating approaches that don’t actually cure people.
Doesn’t the health industry have your best interests at heart?
Just to be clear, it’s not like personal trainers and dietitians are sitting in a room, pursing their fingers, going, “Muahaha, how can we screw people over?” [Laughs.] They are doing the best they can with the information that they’ve been given. Literally, nutrition professionals are working off of the theories from 50 years ago, and it’s not their fault, this is what they’ve been told.
What’s wrong with counting calories? Aren’t they a good way to measure portions?
Sadly, they are not. I’m not saying that calories don’t exist, or if you eat 10,000 calories that you won’t gain fat. What I’m saying is that calories are not an accurate measure. The quantity of calories you put into your body don’t cause it to break down; it’s the quality of food that you put into your body that causes it to break down.
So is it possible to get too much quality food?
Practically, no. Your stomach would explode before you overate. It is nearly impossible to overeat non-starchy vegetables, nutrient-dense protein, whole food fats, and low-fructose fruits — you would be too uncomfortable before you did so. Here’s the key thing to keep in mind — while it might sound too good to be true, it’s actually too obvious to be false. Think about how every single person in every single culture lived prior to the previous three generations; no one had any idea what a calorie was, they ate when they were hungry and stopped when they were full, and the incidents of diabetes were a hundred thousand percent lower than [they are] today, and the obesity rate was sub 3 percent. Are we to believe that humans, and not all humans, just today’s humans, somehow have an odd genetic mutation that makes us different from every other person that ever lived by being unable to intuitively regulate the amount of food we’re supposed to eat if we eat the right quality of food?
It’s not that 70 percent of Americans are lazy gluttons; of those that are overweight, I would say that 98 percent of them eat until they are full and then stop. This is why food quality becomes so important — if you eat the wrong quality of stuff, you have to overeat in order to feel full.
In study after study after study, individuals will switch to a higher quality diet and spontaneously, with no effort at all, will reduce their caloric intake by 1,000 calories a day. That’s not them being hungry by counting calories; they are just backing away from the table and feeling full on 1,000 fewer calories. Could you imagine how hard it would be to try to consciously restrict yourself from 1,000 calories a day?
What about the notion that people who are fat lack willpower?
Simply saying that individuals that are overweight need to try harder to eat less is a bit like saying that individuals who are struggling with depression need to try harder to smile more and frown less, or someone with allergies just needs to breathe in less — it misses the point entirely. Obesity is not a dysfunction of the person's moral character.
We will solve this problem the day we look at it like a scientific problem rather than a moral problem.
In a previous interview, you mentioned that counting calories is repressive to women in particular.
Eating less and exercising more is a shrinking model. It’s a restriction model. It is saying you are inadequate; you are broken by default. If you don’t count calories, your stupid and weak body will go off the train tracks, and you will become fat, and no one will love you. So this message of counting calories and eating less and exercising more, it puts us in this position of being broken and inadequate and is incredibly repressive. Compare eat less and count calories to eat an abundance of natural and healthy foods because I want you to be the most brilliant, vibrant, growing version of yourself possible. One is suppressive, shrinking, and demeaning, while the other is uplifting, accurate, and actually helpful.
Telling someone that you need to be hungry the rest of your life, which is the message we’ve told women, is like saying you need to go to the bathroom less frequently for the rest of your life. If you’re hungry, your body is saying that for a reason.
Would you say calorie-counting perpetuates a relationship between guilt and eating?
Absolutely. Calories paint eating as a negative thing, which is part of the problem. Food — the right kind of food, and an abundance of it — is the cure to the hormonal, neurological, and gastroenterological cause of obesity. But if we are afraid to eat food because we are afraid to eat calories, we can never cure that condition.
The more we think about food — healthy, whole, actual food — as something to be celebrated and enjoyed in abundance, and the less we think about calories, the healthier we will be.
Most Viewed Stories
It’s Harder to Be Thin Than It Was in the ’80s
Why Do I Jerk Awake Right As I’m Falling Asleep?
Guess Who Renovated This Grand Upper West Side Penthouse
Michelle Obama: No Boy Is Cute Enough to Keep You From Getting an Education
A Pregnant Supermodel Explains What She Eats
Selfie Sorority Uses Media Frenzy for Good Cause
The Internet of Parents Is Miserable and I Love It
‘Truly Ugly Guy With Glasses’ Is Europe’s Most Virile Man
The World’s Easiest Way to Highlight Your Face
Meet the Prom Queen of Instagram
From Our Partners
Here's What To Buy From J.Crew's HUGE 75-Percent-Off Sale!
SELF: The One Thing Pedicurists Want You To Know
How Demi Lovato Embraced This Body “Problem” We All Have
How This Woman Lost 30 Pounds After Years of Ignoring Her Weight Gain
powered by PubExchange
The Cut’s Latest Love and War Features8 Actually Good Things That Happened This Week
Baby sea turtles wearing bathing suits and a necklace for your pizza.Selfie Sorority Uses Media Frenzy for Good Cause
Take that, sportscasters.A Comprehensive Taxonomy of Men With Long Hair
And why we like them anyway.Teens Are Dying From Train-Track Photo Shoots
The popular photo destination is actually super-dangerous.‘Truly Ugly Guy With Glasses’ Is Europe’s Most Virile Man
Ed Houben has fathered 106 children — that he knows of.The Internet of Parents Is Miserable and I Love It
Why it's so hard to look away.Did the ‘Maxipad Bandit’ Really Think He’d Escape?
Not so fast, mister.Woman Driven From Her Home by Death Threats After Starting Pro-Choice Hashtag
The hashtag drew intense scorn from anti-abortion activists.Ice-Cold Teens Don’t Hesitate to Block Their Exes
"I’m just like this is irrelevant now.”Let Sorority Girls Instagram Themselves in Peace
Come on, man.
Whether you're Lena Dunham or an emerging writer, the format has an appealing intimacy.The Bennifer Years Affected Matt Damon More Than Anyone Else
It's just really hard when your buddy breaks up with J.Lo, you know?Someone Used Gasoline to Set a Los Angeles–Area Planned Parenthood on Fire
Police believe gasoline was used as an accelerant to burn down the Thousand Oaks facility.Michelle Obama: No Boy Is Cute Enough to Keep You From Getting an Education
"Compete with the boys. Beat the boys."Stop Time-Traveling to Such Lame Eras, Losers
You have a choice, people.New ‘Yelp for People’ Will Let You Rate Everyone You Know
Kind of like Lulu, or Hot or Not, or ...Ruth Bader Ginsburg Is Glad She Was Trained in the ’60s
She's glad she was trained in the Mad Men era.Lena Dunham Apologizes for Joking About Abuse
"When I heard my own quote I was like, 'Jesus, Lena, no.'"Desperate Republicans Attack Planned Parenthood Chief’s Salary
"The disrespect, the misogyny rampant here today tells us what is really going on."Blake Lively’s Lifestyle Is No Longer for Sale
She will Goop no more.