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Is Brain Inflammation Causing You to Gain Weight? With Shawn Stevenson

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

When it comes to losing weight, the traditional message has been that calories are king. Control the amount of calories you put into your body, and you control your weight. However, as “Eat Smarter” author Shawn Stevenson tells us, this is clearly not the whole story. In this episode of the podcast, Shawn and the Amens discuss how inflammation in the brain can reduce your body’s ability to burn calories, causing frustration in many dieters. Luckily, Shawn has practical techniques to break this cycle and reduce inflammation in your brain to help balance your body’s metabolism.

For more info on Shawn’s new book “Eat Smarter”, visit https://www.amazon.com/Eat-Smarter-Metabolism-Upgrade-Transform-ebook/dp/B07W3M55SP

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Welcome back. We are still here with our friend, Shawn Stevenson, and we are talking about his new book Eat Smarter. I mean, I love that we’re talking about concepts that are somewhat well known, but you dig a lot deeper Shawn, and I love that. So you’re really going into some of the newer science and some of the things, not just about food, but what makes our food work better. And I love what you said at the end of the last episode, food first. So let’s talk a little bit about your program in this episode.

Shawn Stevenson:

Absolutely. So in my nutritional science class at my conventional university, big auditorium class and I was taught the very first day of class that calories are the king, if you can manage calories, you can manage your body composition, if you can manage calories, you can manage your health. And we were all being inundated with this idea, but I’ve seen this firsthand, family members growing up, and also of course, all of people that I’ve worked with over the years, something is fundamentally flawed with this concept. And what we know today is that there are seven, what we call epicaloric controllers. There are seven factors that are clinically proven to control what calories do in your body. And I have an acronym for them, it’s called in the DM, right? It goes down in the DM, direct messages. It’s something the kids say, all right.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right.

Shawn Stevenson:

It’s something the kids say, they’re connecting in the DM, but I use that acronym very intentionally because our hormones, which play a major role in what our body composition is, our hormones are like little chemical messengers communicating to all the cells in the body, keeping things on the same page. But when that message… It’s kind of like metabolic DMs, like a little metabolic text message or metabolic email, but what happens when one hormone becomes overabundant or overactive? We’ll say insulin, as this email, it’s going to start going to spam, right? And that’s insulin resistance. And so with this acronym, we’re dialing in, looking at the things, what are controlling what hormones do and calories do in the body. And I’ll just share a couple of them with you guys really quickly.

So one of the, and this is just piggybacking on being here on this particular podcast with these particular superstars, is how much our brain is literally controlling our body’s absorption of calories. And researchers at Yale University, School of Medicine really detailed how neuroinflammation, neuroinflammation specifically hypothalamic inflammation, is a huge disruptive force in our absorption of calories, or literally telling your body to turn down the absorption of calories because of the connection between the gut brain connection. And so what they discovered, and this is a huge issue today, is that neuroinflammation is a major causative factor in obesity. And as Dr. Amen knows, obesity is a major causative factor in neuroinflammation.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yeah, that’s true.

Shawn Stevenson:

And none of these diet programs, some of them can accidentally help with this, but none of them are saying, “Hey, we need to get your brain healthy so you can lose weight.” Right? Which is really, again, your hypothalamus is an integration of your endocrine system and your nervous system, literally making your body do all the things that it does and it’s a master regulator of your metabolic rate. It’s kind of like your internal thermostat. And again, it can communicate with your gut to literally tell your gut to increase the absorption of calories from the food you eat, or to turn down and suppress the absorption of calories. So this is very, very important.

And the question is, okay, if my brain is inflamed, why don’t I know? And the brain is incredible in that it can tell you about pain anywhere else in your body except itself. There’s no pain receptors in the brain and so by the time you know your brain is really hurting, it could be too late. Chances are, if you’re dealing with insulin resistance, if you’re dealing with trying to work on your body composition, battling with obesity or being overweight, chances are we do have some brain inflammation. I’m going to throw a quick solution that we know about in the data.

And this is not an advocation for any of these things, it’s just the data exists. And so researchers at Auburn University found that oleocanthal rich extra virgin olive oil can reduce neuroinflammation and even help to repair the blood-brain barrier that gets damaged through neuroinflammation, that creates that spiral out of control of more brain inflammation. And then what the researchers found was two to three tablespoons a day of extra virgin olive oil, but there’s nuance there. We go through all the details and what type of olive oil, where to get it, all that kind of stuff, but I just wanted to throw that little nugget out there that it’s really remarkable. And also, if you think about something being on fire, what puts fire out? Water, water, and we talked on the last episode about how important water is for cognitive function, but also helping to address neuroinflammation. That’s one of the epicaloric controllers in the body.

Daniel Amen, MD:

So list the other ones. I think this is really important.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yeah.

Daniel Amen, MD:

When you and I have talked about my book, The End of Mental Illness, inflammation is a major hallmark of, so your brain will talk to you in the sense, if you have brain fog, if you’re depressed, if you don’t have the focus and energy, that’s one of the major things you should be listening to. And I did a study at Amen Clinics on 50 consecutive patients, I looked at their omega-3 index, 49 of them had suboptimal levels and that comes from our food.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I love how you are taking complex topics, because I know how complex these are this is what we do, but you’re making them so digestible, pardon the pun, but you’re making them so easy to understand. So this is really good. So you’re making it-

Daniel Amen, MD:

And it’s often been an area of conflict between Tana and I, because like you, in medical school, they talked about calories really matter and…

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

It’s not that they don’t matter. It’s just that-

Daniel Amen, MD:

And they do, but the quality-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Quality matters more.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Matters more.

Shawn Stevenson:

Oh, this is such an important thing.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Both are important.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

But-

Shawn Stevenson:

Yes.

Daniel Amen, MD:

If you’re eating 4,000 calories a day of grass fed beef, you’re still going to [crosstalk [00:06:50] end up having too much weight.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right, but if you’re eating the right foods, you’re not going to want the 4,000 calories and I think that’s what he’s getting at. So I know [crosstalk [00:06:55].

Shawn Stevenson:

All right, we’re going to solve this right now, this conflict, this beautiful conflict right now with this, what I’m about to share.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

When you eat the right foods, you don’t want it. [crosstalk [00:07:03].

Daniel Amen, MD:

All right, let him share.

Shawn Stevenson:

So this is the beautiful thing. So what I did, I went through literally, I took people through the history of the calorie in the book, because this is… I’m just wired up at this point to ask, whenever we have this conflict or this topic I ask, where did it come from?

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right.

Shawn Stevenson:

Where did the calorie come from? [crosstalk [00:07:19].

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

When were cavemen, we weren’t counting calories.

Shawn Stevenson:

Right. Even very… These storied traditions that we look to, the ancient Greeks and Romans, the very physical culture, they weren’t counting calories. They were just eating food, and when calories came along [crosstalk [00:07:34].

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

It was real food.

Shawn Stevenson:

This was in the domain of physics and engineering, nobody was looking for a measurement of energy in food, but what it does is it completely negates the complexity of human digestion. And so let me solve this issue right here with this study, and this was published in Food & Nutrition Research, and this just blew my mind because there’s a saying, we say it, it’s not just the calories, it’s the quality of the calories, but truly what impact can it make? And what the researcher decided to do was let’s see what happens when test subjects eat a meal of processed foods versus a meal of whole foods, what impact does it have on their calories and their calorie consumption and expenditure?

So they gave them what they deemed to be whole food sandwich, which was whole grain bread and cheddar cheese. All right? And then they gave another group of test subjects, a processed food sandwich, which is white bread and cheese product, and if anybody’s asking what the hell is cheese product? That’s what Kraft is, all right? Kraft singles. [crosstalk [00:08:28]. They can’t call it Kraft cheese legally because it’s not of cheese and cheese, whole nother story, but here’s the bottom line. They’re the same amount of calories. The two sandwiches are exact same amount of calories, same amount of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. They should be the same on paper and the impact it has on metabolism-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

But they’re not.

Shawn Stevenson:

But here’s what happened. The folks who ate the processed food sandwich had a 50% reduction in calorie burn after eating that sandwich, it effectively created hormonal clogs that made their bodies more stingy in holding onto those calories that they consumed.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yes.

Shawn Stevenson:

It created massive disruption. Now here’s the thing, most of us, I know that I did, I ate processed foods every single meal of my life until the age of about 22, because I was just inundated with it. And just say, I’ve got 30 family members, 28 of my family members are obese growing up. They didn’t want to be obese. They’re trying the diets. They’re doing the points. They’re doing Slim Fast, but it’s the pure nature of the food being abnormal. It’s not even food.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

No.

Shawn Stevenson:

It creates this disruption in what our hormones are doing, but again, last little point, these are epicaloric. It’s controlling what calories do in our bodies.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yes. Thank you, because it drives my family crazy, if I eat popcorn, which is quote unquote calorie smart, I literally will balloon up. But if I eat, what for me, the perfect diet is sort of a paleo version of keto, but with a lot of extra greens, like a lot of extra plants, but high fat avocados, olive oil, like with lots of fat. I mean, fat-based, I eat double the calories and I shred, like I just shred fat, and my energy goes up, and I feel amazing, but I’ll eat way more calories. And so I try to explain to people, if you eat 800 calories of Oreos, yeah you’re initially going to lose weight, and then you’re going to start gaining weight like crazy because of the inflammation, but people have such a hard time grasping that. Like so-

Shawn Stevenson:

Yeah, and I’ve seen this in my practice, somebody is coming in, they’re already on a 1,000 calorie a day diet. They’ve already-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yes, and they’re gaining weight.

Shawn Stevenson:

Yeah, and they’re feeling so defeated because maybe they’re quote, weight loss physician they’re working with is just telling them they just need to stay in this calorie deficit. There’s something wrong with what’s controlling what calories are doing in your body. [crosstalk [00:10:51].

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

…satisfied with the other diet. More satisfied with [crosstalk [00:10:53].

Shawn Stevenson:

Exactly, this is a very, very big part of the conversation because any diet that is making you feel restricted, and deprived, and depressed, how on earth could that possibly equal health? Those don’t even have the same kind of frequency, but the last little piece of-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

You’re like my new best friend.

Daniel Amen, MD:

All right, well, we’re going to continue this discussion on what to eat to rev up your metabolism. The book is Eat Smarter by Shawn Stevenson. It is doing great and we want to encourage you to buy it, buy it for your friends, share it. Brain warriors-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

It is just speaking my language.

Daniel Amen, MD:

The first thing brain warriors do is they fix their food, because food… Your body basically turns itself over every couple of months. Your skin actually turns itself over, create new skin every 30 days and it’s basically from the food you eat. So what’d you learn? Write it down, post it on any of your social media sites, hashtag Brain Warrior’s Way podcast, also Eat Smarter. Shawn, how can people follow you? I know you have a great podcast that I love being on. How can they follow you?

Shawn Stevenson:

Yes, where people are listening to this amazing podcast they could find, it’s called The Model Health Show. The Model Health Show. It’s crazy. I’m from Missouri. I’m from middle America, but has been the number one health podcast in the United States, many, many times so very grateful for that. So people can check out the podcast, and I’m on Instagram at @ShawnModel, S-H-A-W-N model and I’m pretty active there doing some cool stuff too.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

That’s awesome.

Daniel Amen, MD:

That’s great. Stay with us.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

If you’re enjoying the Brain Warrior’s Way podcast, please don’t forget to subscribe. So you’ll always know when there’s a new episode and while you’re at it, feel free to give us a review or five-star rating as that helps others find the podcast.

Daniel Amen, MD:

If you’re interested in coming to Amen Clinics, use the code podcast10 to get a 10% discount on a full evaluation at amenclinics.com. For more information, give us a call at (855) 978-1363.