EC Synkowski 800g Challenge

EC Synkowski
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Juliet: [3:27] EC, welcome to The Ready State Podcast. We are very excited to have you here today.

EC: [3:32] I’m so excited to be here. Thank you so much.

Kelly: [3:34] If — you’ve been on The Ready State, you and I had a nice talk. You were in town. We had you up. You sort of laid out for us your nutritional stratagem, is a lack of a better word, or strategy or plan, on sort of our site. But if we were bringing you on because you have seen the landscape evolve from this sort of fitness side and certainly from fitness into behavioral actually adherence side. You’ve had a chance to look at all of the different ways of eating. And I feel like you stumbled into this gorgeous way of actually having it be practicable and actionable without any of the tribalism. Can you explain how you came to come up with and decided on this eating regimen and what is it, because it’s the way Juliet and I live.

EC: [4:32] Yeah. So it’s the 800 Gram Challenge. Eat 800 grams by weight of fruits and veggies each day. And it doesn’t matter which fruits and veggies you pick. It also doesn’t matter kind of preparation style when you’re weighing it, frozen, fresh, et cetera. Yeah. I mean I think you kind of already hit the nail on the head of how I kind of came up with it. It’s only after years of kind of trying everything else combined with coaching people. Now most of the coaching during that time was actually with CrossFit, of course, and kind of athletic behavior and movement. But it’s the same sort of idea. You know, how do you get somebody to adhere to do something? What’s kind of that balance between pushing them as a coach but also them wanting to do it for themselves? And so I think it’s really the combination of having tried all these different diet paradigms but then also realizing that this has to be done in a really sustainable way.

Juliet: [5:18] So I’m going to back up in time a little bit and just if you could let our audience know a little bit about you. You now run a company called OptimizeMe Nutrition. It’s one of my favorite things to follow on Instagram. You have such a great perspective, and reasonable one, about how —

Kelly: [5:33] So reasonable.

Juliet: [5:34] So reasonable — about how to tackle nutrition. But give us a little background about how you — you know, I know you have two master’s degrees. You’re generally a savage of a human. How did you come to this point in your life, running a nutrition company?

EC: [5:49] Yeah. I actually started my second master’s while working for CrossFit full time. We had continuing education requirements under our accreditation kind of protocols. And so I didn’t really know what to do for my continuing education. And I stumbled into this master’s program, and it happened to be that I had one of the textbooks just sitting out on my coffee table. It was one of my favorite references. That was part of the course curriculum. I was like this could be a good fit. 

And of course, I was doing some nutrition stuff with CrossFit at the time. So I just started a master’s really under that. And of course, I ended up loving it. And as I was finishing up that degree, it was just too much with full-time work and the degree to kind of keep doing both. And I knew that I was ready for a new challenge and change professionally. So I resigned from CrossFit, started OptimizeMe Nutrition also then after I finished the degree. And I actually started with an entirely different business model. I went out kind of trying to do the one on one efforts with people. And I think it’s also just my experience and passion for education that I had with CrossFit that really has turned now into a more of an educational company for OptimizeMe Nutrition.

Kelly: [6:57] You recently did a TED Talk. How was that experience? Because I think we all know, eat better, that sounds great. Sleep more, exercise more, eat better. And then you have come into this real behavioral change approach, which we’ll dive deep into. But how — what was your experience with this TED Talk because you are basically going out there and being like religion, but 800 grams of religion. 

EC: [7:27] Yeah. So the TEDx experience was great. You know, you do actually get a good amount of support and preparation. They have weekly meetings before that. So people are giving you feedback and you’re performing it live for them. So that definitely helps as well, from experienced people. But I just really was so grateful for the opportunity to get out there and I think put down a really basic, common approach, which is just a lot of my philosophy. We can’t jump to step ten if step one isn’t done. 

But yeah, it was a great experience. I mean thankfully it went well. I think what’s funny is sometimes people say, oh, you looked so calm up there. It’s like, well, I did say it no less than 300 times backwards to forwards with music blaring in my apartment. I dragged Nicole Christensen to her gym, CrossFit Roots. I made her — I went over the microphone. She was shining a flashlight in my eyes. We did all the prep for it. So yeah, I mean it was a great experience. But there’s a lot of work that goes into eight minutes.

Juliet: [8:28] Well, so we are obviously going to link to that TED Talk because it’s just, it’s really extraordinary, in the show notes. But can you just give us a quick outline? You know, you can probably just repeat the whole talk right here on this podcast. But absent that — and I know, by the way, just for our listeners, I think it was called “An Elegant Diet.” Am I correct on that?

EC: [8:45] You’ve got it.

Juliet: [8:46] Could you just sort of recap what your — the big points that you made in that talk?

EC: [8:52] Yeah. There’s a lot of confusion in nutrition because there’s umpteen thousand different diets. But really, the underpinnings of all those diets come down to quality and quantity. How much food you’re eating and then whether that food has a lot of micronutrient density, vitamins, minerals, et cetera. And so when you start looking at diets through those lenses, you start to see that there are really not that many different diets and that there’s two principles that are underlining them all. And then it becomes a matter of, okay, well, how do we put that into application in a way that makes sense from both a health and weight and even performance standpoint. 

And I think that’s where some diets go awry because they’re really concerned with weight at the time or they’re really considered with maybe optimal performance. But I don’t know, most people I talk to and work with want the combination of both body composition and health and performance, not any single one of them. And so then ultimately it was just presenting the 800 Gram Challenge as a way to kind of kill two birds with one stone, right? When you focus on quality to a measurable standard, you then also start to get quantity in mind as well. 

Kelly: [9:53] It really has been — so when people hear diet, what we think of is hunger. I mean, you know.

Juliet: [10:00] And restriction. Restriction.

Kelly: [10:02] Restriction. Like I’m taking things out, I’m denying myself. I tell everyone I’m going on a diet. Here we go. And I have to tell you, I think the thing that I love the most, and again, I probably mentioned this before last time we talked, you know, is that I remember spending a difficult summer with my father who was like the Great Santini. I was away from my parents. I was alone a lot. And I discovered I could self-soothe with food, right? And so even today — I came back after visiting my dad after like a kindergartner or first grade and I had put on like 20 pounds. And my mom was like, what. And I was like, yep, food is my friend. And even today, I love to feel full. Like that definitely is a feeling that is deep in my brain. And I have to tell you, you sort of flipped that on its head for me because you’re like, oh, you want to feel full, just eat 800 grams, which is, what, 1.74 —

EC: [10:57] .76.

Kelly: [10:57] .76, something like that, pounds of vegetables and fruits. And I guarantee you, I mean I think I remember someone saying eat three cups of broccoli, let me know if you’re still hungry. But here we are. And if I crush a salad bag, I’m like can’t chew anymore. And I’m only at like 150 grams of salad at that point. So you have really filled an important niche for me, which is I want to feel satiated and full. Is that part of this 800 grams, or where did 800, what’s that magic number, because it really is kind of a rad number?

EC: [11:31] Yeah. It actually is directly from a study. The author is Aune et al., 2017, in the International Journal of Epidemiology. It was during my master’s and I was doing some research on quality diets and inflammation. And of course, the Mediterranean Diet is up there. But I came across this study and they were looking at fruit and vegetable consumption relative to health outcomes. And what they found that when people consumed up to 800 grams, their risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and even all cause mortality, went down. And so that’s where the number directly came from. 

But you know, of course the study wasn’t looking at it from the standpoint of let’s make this a diet. They were looking at relative risk. And so I was playing with other different diets at the time. But I immediately was like, wow, what about that. What does 800 grams look like? You know, what would be the rules on that? So I really did just implement it for a while and played with it to understand caloric load and macronutrients and what would be the rules. Does tofu count? Does avocados count? Does olives count? Because when you put a diet out there, you actually, you have to have all the rules ready as well. 

And so yeah, that’s when I just started playing with it and of course came to the conclusion that you have, that it’s a large enough volume that’s doable, but it’s also a large enough volume that you can feel full and you start to push out those snacks and all the other things that sneak into our diet that really are the problems with weight and health, to that matter. 

Kelly: [12:51] Yeah. There’s no room for chips and cookies because you’re like, ugh. The other thing is, that’s really remarkable, and I really appreciate this because we have to have a conversation about range of motion and your ability to move in your world. And what we find is that people have been really just poorly prepared through their environments, through their education system through their families. And so when we begin a conversation with people about restoring their ability to move freely, we have to start at the basics. And one of the things that’s been really great about handing off this 800 Gram Challenge to our friends — like the guy who runs the pool, you know, who lost 40 pounds, because I was like, hey, eat more apples. You can really approach this any way. And one of the things that happened was, you know, I was like can I eat 800 pounds of apples. I asked you this and you’re like knock yourself out. I mean you’ll do it for a day or two.

EC: [13:47] Go for it.

Kelly: [13:49] But then you’re going to get bored.

Juliet: [13:49] Your digestive system might be a little jacked.

Kelly: [13:50] And then you’re going to add the dreaded nuclear banana. And then you may eat — because you start to realize that you can and that fruit is not the enemy. It’s not the reason why we’re so fat.

EC: [14:04] Correct.

Kelly: [14:05] Or so metabolically deranged. But it really allowed me to work at a level that was accessible to me. And I really have appreciated that because a lot of people don’t have organic chard or kale or —

EC: [14:18] Totally.

Kelly: [14:18] Seventeen weird radishes, you know?

EC: [14:21] Yeah. I mean, you know, I obviously have tried a lot of different diets over time. And I think just as a person anyway I hate being micromanaged. And you just sometimes with these diets, it’s like I don’t know, have these people lived in 2020 or 2019? Like this is just not how it works. Nobody measures their bell pepper to the quarter bell pepper or whatever the requirement is. And so there was a combination of that, like what’s really livable. 

And if I’m this person that’s so interested in nutrition and I don’t want to stick with it, well, who is really going to stick with it, A. And then B, there’s also just a lack of like, I don’t know, giving people the onus on themselves to make decisions. No one is going to only eat bananas for 800 grams for more than, I don’t know, a day. So ultimately, as you said, variety starts to work its way in there, just by natural behavior and natural taste palate. So it’s just sort of like I don’t need to micromanage things that are going to work out just fine on their own.

Juliet: [15:20] So Kelly’s going to find this question annoying but I do think our listeners enjoy it. And that is, give me a little snapshot into what a day of your eating looks like.

EC: [15:31] Yeah. Yeah. I mean I think for anybody who’s seen anything that I post on social media knows that I hate cooking. So I’m the person who wants to spend the least time in the kitchen. But yeah, every single day I do yogurt mixed with protein powder and a ton of berries. That’s a meal. Another meal is oftentimes some version of a spaghetti with like veggie noodles, you know, and maybe greens mixed into the marinara sauce with some sort of beef in there as well. I mean, gosh, that’s probably four or five times a week. And then some sort of deli meat, like a deli turkey, either on a salad or just with a side of, you know, roasted Japanese yams, for example, the best in the biz, or other fruit, something like that. So it’s super not interesting. 

Juliet: [16:15] No, that’s good to know. I think one of the things I also love about the 800 gram approach, and I know we sort of addressed this a little bit, but just this notion about how unique it is to have a “diet” that’s about adding and not taking away. I just think that that is, again, so profound, and so reasonable for people. And so, you know, I just, I don’t know that there’s a question in there. I just want to say I love the approach. And here’s my question. And I know you put an article up last year about how a lot of diet philosophies tend to create division. I’m sort of wondering if you could elaborate on that, give us a little summary of what your points were there. And also, what are we getting wrong or what is the dedicated nutrition community getting wrong?

EC: [17:09] Yeah. Yeah. I think nutrition becomes this really divisive topic. And it was just sort of kind of explaining almost what I did in the early part of my TEDx Talk. And it’s like hey, guys, these are all just different riffs of quality and quantity. I mean we can keep spinning these concepts over and over again and come up with these “radically new diets” but they’re really not that different at all. And I think there is also a messaging in there that’s like we have to stay focused on the big picture here. If we’re going to have 50 million diabetics by 2050, if somebody wants to eat low carb veggies, I mean I can’t care at all. It’s like great. Knock yourself out. Like it’s sort of just getting lost in the forest for the trees. But I think, yeah, losing the forest for the trees, there we go. 

But I think what we’re “getting wrong” is that, and I don’t think it’s a malicious intent. People will actually have done two, three diets, not see success — and I’ll just use Paleo as an example — and then they’ll go on Paleo and they find massive success. And so they think that’s the magic. They think that’s the one that works. And what they don’t understand is why that worked in terms of quality and quantity for them. What rules jibe with their belief, their lifestyles, their preferences? And so then this person becomes this Paleo zealot and saying no, no, no, I did everything else and they’re all wrong and mine’s right. It’s like no, no, no, I finally got quality and quantity right because of these rules. And so that’s where I think we’re going wrong as a community. I don’t mind that somebody’s a Paleo zealot. But it’s not understanding and educating people well on the underlying physiological principles.

Juliet: [18:41] You know, I asked one of our other guests this question. But one of the trends I’m noticing, we did our last season on aging and longevity, and then obviously this season on nutrition. And one of the trends I’m seeing is there’s a lot of people who are just eating twice a day. And that seems to be sort of a trend, especially in athletes and nutrition folks and people who are focused on this as they age. And that’s obviously working well for them. You know, they have the —

Kelly: [19:11] Is that just a quantity hack?

EC: [9:15] It is.

Juliet: [9:15] Yeah, is that a quantity hack? And then also, I think the only thing about it, and again, I don’t — I’m with you, I don’t judge anything that works for anybody, honestly. But when I’m trying to help regular people figure out how to find a nutrition strategy that works for them, it does make me cringe a little bit, just because it seems super inaccessible. I mean I think the average person is like, what, eat twice a day, you know? I think people have trouble relating to that. So could you speak to that a little bit?

EC: [19:45] Yeah. For sure. So obviously as you — well, maybe not obviously as you age, but as you age, your metabolic rate comes down, so you need less food, first of all. And I think in our modern food environment, which is so packed with calorically dense goodies all the time, that we see weight gain and age so commonplace because all of these foods that surround us are so tasty and so calorically dense. And then combined with the fact that you need less calories as you age, it’s quite difficult. You know, you can’t just go out and have dessert a couple nights a week and some glasses of wine and think you’re going to have the same figure, physique. So we’ve got that problem. And one way to solve it is say, well, I’m just not going to eat as much. Well, how do you eat less? Probably give yourself less opportunity during the day to actually eat, right? And so this is the magic of fasting too. But actually, restricting the times at which you eat, you probably will eat less. I mean it’s just like there’s less opportunities to make a mistake. But ultimately, they’re still reducing quantity. Yeah.

Kelly: [20:42] Yeah. I mean it’s not the salad that you didn’t have for breakfast that’s the limiting factor.

EC: [20:47] Right.

Kelly: [20:48] So —

EC: [20:48] You know I just did — I’m sorry to cut you off. I’ve been doing my master class and we look at data on our diet, including 800 Gram Challenge. And the other day I did, you know, 800 Gram Challenge and there was a total of 300 calories in it. I mean 300 calories in the choices I did because it was more of a veggie day. And it’s like yeah, it’s not the salad at breakfast. It’s just not. 

Kelly: [21:10] That’s — you know, one of the things that I appreciate about this approach is that it really does just pack micronutrients in. Can you explain why that’s important? You alluded to it in some of the research around morbidity, mortality. But I think you sort of back into this thing. You’re like oh no, no, no, eat more. Don’t worry about that other stuff because there’s not going to be any room for that other stuff. You really, you just don’t want a bar of chocolate when you’re stuffed. But can you talk about why the micronutrient is so important and why this versus like a Bulletproof Coffee is maybe a solution that’s a little bit more nutritionally dense?

EC: [21:50] Yeah. Yeah. I mean this is really from Dr. Bruce Ames who has the triage theory. And he believes chronic disease is micronutrient deficiency in the long term because micronutrients are used for a whole host of things. And so you need them right now to survive, but that might come at the expense of long-term health if you don’t have enough supply. And he’s done — I mean he’s in his 90’s now, but still active research, especially with mice and looking at Vitamin K, which is pretty interesting. 

But yeah, I mean that’s sort of the issue with some of our diet confusion because you can see results in the short term with, you know, I don’t know, MCT coffee or whatever. But we don’t know what that effect is in the long term. And so that’s what’s really cool when you start looking at these association studies with mortality because it’s like great, maybe you did lose 10 pounds in your 30’s, but what happens when you’re 65, 70 plus. 

Juliet: [22:43] Yeah. I mean I think that that is so interesting. Tell me a little bit about your thoughts on kids and nutrition. 

EC: [22:51] Yeah. Yeah.

Kelly: [22:52] Yeah. I mean this is a huge issue, right? People are — we’re seeing a generation that has just lost it, has been sort of really failed by nutrition science and big agra and big business. And it’s a real fine line with saying diets and children, right? We’ve got to look at body mass and body composition as a vital sign for our children, especially in lieu of what’s going on right now.

EC: [23:22] Totally.

Kelly: [23:22] But it really feels like a third rail to put a kid on a diet. 

Juliet: [23:25] And also just to add one more thing before you answer that, I mean just what you were saying about that study, about sort of longevity or long-term good health and micronutrients, I mean, you know, we certainly have one kid in our family who does not like to eat a micronutrient. And that is an ongoing battle that we will continue to fight. But anyway, go on.

EC: [23:45] Yeah, I think the kid thing is interesting. I mean obviously I’ve had a lot of parents reach out to me about kids. And I try to stay away from diets and children and just encourage good behavior, kind of like the same CrossFit philosophy, make it fun. Same thing with diets and no totally rule restriction. But I actually was looking at this yesterday, in fact, relooking at caloric needs for children. And as of 2, even sedentary children need 1,000 calories per day. So just on a caloric basis, something like the 800 Gram Challenge is feasible. Now, I am by no means recommending the 800 Gram Challenge for 2-year-olds. But once you start looking at caloric loads for like first grade plus — yeah, I know, please, nobody out there do that. But once you start looking at like first grade plus, even for people who aren’t that active, you know, calorie wise you can start doing this. 

And I’ve had a lot of parents report back on the 800 Gram Challenge with their children. And they say that it’s been great. And part of the reason it’s great is because one, as you’ve mentioned, we’re not restricting anything. Two, when we weigh the food, this can become a fun math game because now we’re adding in math. But we’re also actually not looking at caloric content or macronutrient content, right? We’re looking at literally the weight of the object, which is just like a science experiment, right? So there’s that dissociating it from calories. And then finally, people said too that the kids really fought over the scale because it was like a toy. So I’ve only heard good things about it. 

Now, I would never want a parent to say — you know, drag your child out of bed and be like you have to eat 300 grams of celery because you’re short on the day, right? I would rather them observe their child, see where they can work in fruits and veggies, maybe it’s all fruits. That’s fine. And figure out a volume that’s really good for them. Maybe it’s 600, maybe it’s 450. I don’t know. And then just sort of like kind of encourage that and help that by having snacks cut up and meals, all that good stuff.

Kelly: [25:40] One of the things that I really appreciate about this approach is I think people believe that they’re eating a lot of vegetables and fruits, right? Everyone knows that. And let me give you my own example. I’m like, well, your squat sucks. Tell me how much time you’re actually in the bottom position of your squat. And it turns out, you’re never there. You’ve never, ever been there. You’ve been there at the bottom position of your squat for eight total seconds in the 100 air squats that you did. And you actually didn’t even go full range. You just went to some arbitrary range. And so when I actually get down to the bottom of behavior, you haven’t done any squatting and you haven’t touched those end ranges of tissue. 

So the first ever intervention we ever did with MobilityWOD back in the day was hey, let’s see if you can just squat for 10 minutes. Just accumulate this throughout the day. And people were like, my shin’s cramped and grr, grr. And they just realized they weren’t doing anything. And one of the behaviors I think is that, especially with our kids, as soon as you pull out a scale or anything, what you realize is that there is a huge hole in your math and in your world around the fact that your kids aren’t actually eating any fruits and vegetables. And you have your little side salad next to your burger, was, you know, 8 grams of lettuce.

Juliet: [26:52] And iceberg. And it was iceberg lettuce.

Kelly: [26:52] I mean I just really think that that was what was really shocking. Like oh my God, I’m going to obviously need to have 17 grapefruits so that I can crush this thing. 

EC: [27:03] Yeah. I mean it’s interesting, the different responses. Some people are like, oh, I had 800 grams by lunch. Other people are like, oh, I had no clue that I wasn’t eating enough. But it’s definitely more on the latter side, that they had no clue how few they were eating. And I think it’s just somewhat of a product of our modern food environment. There’s all these “healthy products” out there that are convenient, that have a good shelf life, that you can take in your gym bag. And so we can slip into this notion that we’re doing okay. And it’s like no, let’s get back to basics. And this is a really manageable volume. It fits on a standard dinner plate. It’s 500 calories or less. Like it’s a very manageable volume. And I don’t know, I’d say at least 90 percent of Americans aren’t achieving. At least 80 percent aren’t eating enough fruits and veggies. So the 800 Gram Challenge, probably at least 90 aren’t.

Juliet: [27:52] So I’ve heard you use the term, and I don’t know whether you coined it, but the term lazy macros. What does that mean?

EC: [28:00] Yeah, I did coin it. It was sort of, you know, I put out the —

Kelly: [28:03] What are macros?

EC: [28:04] Macros? Yeah. People are weighing and measuring everything they eat to hit certain protein, carbohydrate and fat gram totals. And after I had put out the 800 Gram Challenge, you know, and that was going for a bit, people were like but, protein? Especially in the CrossFit community, they were like okay, cool, but what about protein. And so I was like, you know, point noted. That is the next kind of most underrepresented food group that we eat in our modern diets. Let’s put a protein target and let’s do it in the same way as 800 Gram Challenge where it’s sort of a minimal standard to hit and then people can exceed it if they need or want. 

And so yeah, so lazy macros are to do the 800 Gram Challenge and then to also add a protein target. And the number I put out there is .7 grams per pound of body weight. But then continuing to let the person eat whatever they want to hit that target and also to whatever they want in addition to the protein and 800 grams. And I call it lazy because we’re not really measuring everything. We’re not measuring the glass of wine or the cooking oil in the pan. We’re paying attention to these two checkpoints in the diet. And just like kind of the 800 Gram Challenge, by adding another checkpoint, you eat enough good stuff that typically the quantity gets in line. So that’s why it’s a lazy version of macros.

Juliet: [29:16] So wait, wait, wait. If someone is following your plan, they can drink a glass of wine?

EC: [29:25] Yes, they can. 

Kelly: [29:27] Let me ask you this. Could I be a vegetarian and do an 800 Gram Challenge?

EC: [29:30] Of course.

Kelly: [29:31] Could I be a vegan and do the 800 Gram Challenge?

EC: [29:33] Of course.

Kelly: [29:33] Could I do Keto and be in the 800 Gram Challenge?

EC: [29:35] Yes.

Kelly: [29:36] What about Paleo?

EC: [29:37] Yep.

Kelly: [29:38] What is it about that then that allows this to happen because we were just talking to another expert who just said, hey, look, people’s genetics and how those genetics were tuned and the microbiome of the gut and all of these things, we all have different interactions to the same foods. Like I guarantee you from my genetic testing, if I ate as much fat as some of my friends who are just fat adaptive and fat centric —

Juliet: [30:06] You would be fat.

Kelly: [30:07] I would, A, be fat. And I would have disaster pants 24/7, right? And what I’ve actually been told by the functional genetic people is they’re like oh, you’re lean Paleo, which means you cannot process the fats the way everyone else processes the fats. And so I guess my question is, you know, how has — you’ve seen this experience across these different platforms because it’s like you just did this plug and play where you’re like I know how you like to eat, no problem, I’m there too.

EC: [30:40] Sure. Yeah, I mean I think that’s some of it, is like hey, we all have personal preferences in diet, and just recognizing that that’s okay and like we see cultures that eat a higher carbohydrate diet and we see cultures that eat a higher fat diet, and they’re okay. So it’s just sort of like if you take one of these hard lines outside of eating mostly whole, unprocessed food, you’re going to quickly find people that do fine in a different way. So it was a little bit of that. Just knowing that people have their own preferences and their own genetic makeup, that’s fine. The other thing though I would say about that, that I also put with my messaging, is if 80 percent of people aren’t eating enough fruits and veggies, and 70 percent of the people in the US are either overweight or obese, I do also think that sometimes people get a little far afield when they’re like, oh, should I — is an apple or raspberries optimal? It’s like hold on, hold on, hold on.

Juliet: [31:29] Yeah. That’s not the limiting factor. 

EC: [31:31] Right now, it’s not your genetic ideal plant sources that are the problem. We can get there, but we’re not there yet. 

Juliet: [31:39] Right, right, right. It’s like how about we tackle the low-hanging fruit first, and then maybe after you’re doing that, you can start to get really, really special. Since you touched on the protein thing, I’m wondering if you could talk a little about what is and isn’t protein. And by way of background, I recently saw a post you posted on Instagram where some like mainstream media outlet like Shape Magazine or something put this protein packed sandwich which was like two slices of wheat bread —

Kelly: [32:09] High protein.

Juliet: [32:10] And some like pea shoots and, I don’t know, like feta or something, goat cheese. 

EC: [32:16] Yeah. Goat cheese.

Juliet: [32:18] And I think this is sort of a common misconception people have about — and I’m not saying there’s not some protein in that. But when we are talking about food quantity and trying to get the most dense foods into our diet, maybe a wheat bread sandwich is not the best way to get our protein. But anyway, could you talk about that a little bit?

EC: [32:45] Somebody commented, they’re like, bread and cheese sounds a lot like pizza. I was like that’s amazing. 

Kelly: [32:51] I love this diet.

Juliet: [32:51] If it’s goat cheese, it’s more bespoke, so. 

EC: [32:55] I know. Yeah, so unfortunately, marketing and labeling doesn’t conform to standards that I think are useful for a nutritional perspective. And so you can label something high protein. But it doesn’t take into account all the calories that are coming from carbs and fat to be able to say high protein. So something can be like 8, 10 grams of protein, it can be “high protein.” But what you’re not seeing is that you’re also getting 30 grams of carbs and 15 grams of fat with that 10 grams. So I would prefer for something to be called high protein that the majority of its calories are actually coming from protein. And this is the “problem” with plant-based diets. I don’t have a problem with plant-based diets. I love plants, hence the 800 Gram Challenge. But when you want to get all of your protein from plant sources, you have to eat a lot of carbs and fat to do that as well. So it’s a lot harder to get the macronutrients in line with most people’s — especially body comp, performance and health goals — to be relying on these foods that, yes, have protein in them, but also have a boatload of calories from the other two macronutrients. 

Kelly: [33:58] I remember being in Nepal as a young person and carrying my own pack and walking a long ways, and looking up and eating lentils and rice. And that was what I had available to me in the mountains, lentils and rice. But I had to eat like two pounds of dry grain to hit like this minimum protein. And I remember thinking to myself, well, that’s good, I’m going to be stuffed and puffy, but I’m going to be able to eat it. You know, I just think one of the things that I appreciate about your approach is it is so reasonable and there are so many guardrails kind of built into the plan. One of the things I want to ask is, you know, do you find — should I be worried if I have an eating disorder or I’ve had disordered eating or I’m OCD or compulsive around foods? Is that a problem around weighing things?

EC: [34:54] Yeah. I mean, you know, I’m definitely not a mental health professional. But of course, this does flip the script a little bit. I mean it focuses on addition and not restriction. And there’s no kind of up or end point. So out of any diet to follow, I think even for somebody who has an eating disorder, I think it would be one that should be manageable. Of course, that’s within the context of what drives them, more obsessive about their behaviors. So yeah, I think anybody with a true eating disorder should continue to work with a practitioner. But out of all diets where I’m not restricting anything and not weighing for caloric content, yeah. I would still want that person to be interested in health. And so that’s really, really what we’re getting with this kind of diet approach. 

Juliet: [35:39] So we are recording this podcast during the COVID epidemic. And I unfortunately two days ago read this article. I of course know the data that you reported that 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. But I saw a new statistic in a New York Times article a couple of days ago that really floored me. And I don’t know why. But it was that only 12 percent of Americans don’t have either high blood pressure, diabetes, or some kind of metabolic syndrome. And I don’t know why seeing it in those terms was just definitely eye opening for me. And we are obviously seeing that folks with obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure, among other conditions that are sort of in that universe, are having a much higher morbidity and mortality from COVID. 

And so I guess my question to you is do you think this crisis is going to sort of make our country rethink the sort of standard American diet that’s clearly not working for us? I think up until this point it’s been easy. You know, you’re a diabetic or you have high blood pressure and you can sort of shrug your shoulders or take a pill and move on with your life. But man, it’s a whole different conversation when you realize your lifestyle choices have put you at risk, like a significantly higher risk, in a gigantic pandemic.

Kelly: [36:58] I’m not even going to say choice. Like I don’t think that’s the right word.

Juliet: [37:00] No, not choice. I don’t know. Yeah. I mean I don’t —

Kelly: [37:03] Lifestyle pressure.

Juliet: [37:04] Yeah. And there’s so many pressures and how we eat is so complicated. But I don’t know, I just wanted to get your thoughts on that because I do feel like, man, we’re doing something wrong in this health and fitness community.

Kelly: [37:17] We’re failing people.

Juliet: [37:17] Yeah. And I just, I guess I feel like it’s so highlighted right now during this COVID pandemic, what a bad job we’ve done as a society.

EC: [37:28] Yeah. Yeah. That study, I posted something about that. I was like we have to redefine health because right now, and CrossFit’s been a big pusher, like promoter of this since their beginning, that we can’t define health as the absence of disease. And that really is how it’s defined. You know, somebody who is prediabetic still doesn’t have underlying morbidities because they don’t have diabetes yet. And it’s like yeah, but your system is impaired relative to where it could be. 

So I don’t know. I hope it does. I think — I don’t know that it will. I hope people are more inspired than ever. The way that I see it is, you know, to be honest, with nutrition, the way that I see it is if we all did some basic things pretty well, 800 Gram Challenge, fine whatever. Eat fruits and veggies, add some protein. I’m not looking for perfection. I’m not looking for you to have six-pack abs. But if we all did that, the resources that could go to some true medical research. Think about all the brainpower, the resources, the time that goes into things that are preventable, chronic diseases. And if we could shift that to rare genetic diseases and cancer and disability. I mean I just see it that way, that it’s just like we could open up the resources for so many other things that need our attention. But I don’t know. I don’t know that this pandemic will do it. I think sometimes until you’re at that moment of the one who’s actually diagnosed with COVID and seeing it firsthand that you might actually be motivated to change.

Juliet: [38:59] Yeah, I mean, you know, that is really the ultimate question, is how do we help people make different choices that sort of account for their culture and their values and their socioeconomic status. You know, it is really such a complicated problem and I certainly am not sure I have ideas either. But it’s just, it’s been —

Kelly: [39:22] We may actually have a window to talk about it for the first time ever, though. And really, really talk about it. You had a post recently, just a couple days ago, which I really appreciated, which was the sort of recommendations from the government from 1980. Could you just talk for a second about sort of what the highlight takeaways are because I think it was a little bit different. Because we like to sort of demonize that. But what was it? When I read that list from the ’80s, I was kind of like whoa, this is kind of good advice. Am I wrong to have read that that way?

EC: [39:55] No. You know, the USDA has always kind of been slammed for all of our health woes. And so I was like let me go to the guidelines. And of course, I had looked at the more recent ones. But they started in the 1980s so I just went back to them. And at that time, 1980, their first publication was like 10 pages, right? And so this was their seven recommendations and it’s like maintain an ideal weight, don’t eat too much, don’t eat too much sugar, you know. And they are, they were really profound. And they kept those for I think about 10 years. And yeah, they got a little weird in the ’90s. But their recommendations to this day, like 2015 ones, are really good. I mean I don’t agree with every statement in there, but they’re really good. Just no one’s following them. So I just sort of see it as like I think there’s a lot of blame out there for things. And I think there’s certainly some circumstances where, you know, again, socioeconomic status, we can’t just make this totally black and white. But it’s like people want to blame conventional medicine and big pharma and the USDA. And it’s like I don’t think that’s it, guys. I don’t think that’s it.

Juliet: [40:53] They do until they want to get their COVID vaccine. 

EC: [40:57] Yeah, I know.

Kelly: [40:58] So, a couple things I want — do beans count?

EC: [41:02] Yeah. They do.

Kelly: [41:02] What? That’s crazy.

EC: [41:04] I know.

Juliet: [41:05] But aren’t legumes inflammatory?

Kelly: [41:07] Yeah, what about nightshades? 

Juliet: [41:09] Yeah, what about nightshades?

Kelly: [41:09] I mean is my hot sauce going to kill me? So how about this? Are potatoes a vegetable?

EC: [41:17] Yes. I’m counting them. They do count for the 800 Gram Challenge. Not French fries, Kelly.

Kelly: [41:23] Dammit.

EC: [41:24] I know. Oven roasted potatoes at home are fine. Commercially fried anything is out. But yeah, potatoes, beans. Now this is interesting, right? So the study that I saw the 800 gram number in, they actually did not include beans. And so this is where my application of the 800 Gram Challenge isn’t necessarily a direct reflection of the research study. But beans are shown time and time again to be associated with better health outcomes or better health markers. And so this is just where we got so awry, cutting out bell pepper and black beans is just so far afield from what is actually happening. Yeah, they’re definitely included in the 800 Gram Challenge.

Kelly: [42:03] Okay, so if someone — one of the things that I think is the most powerful thing that you do is that you regularly put pictures on Instagram and on your website about what this looks like. Because I think people are going to hear this and they’re going to think, okay, I’m intrigued, right? This, of all the things we’ve had deep, principled discussions about, diet and nutrition, but this is something you can really wrap your head around. I don’t have disease; I just want to do better for myself. I don’t have a scale. Can I still get started without a scale?

EC: [42:33] Oh yeah.

Kelly: [42:33] Or do I have to have a scale?

EC: [42:35] Oh yeah, you can get started. Yeah. It’s about six cups. And your closed fist is about the size of a cup. So you can kind of think six closed fists throughout the day and you are good to go. And here’s the thing. I mean I get a lot of, again, people in the CrossFit community who are used to measuring their workouts and being real precise about that, and I love that. But again, people can’t think that necessarily having something be 100 percent accurate is necessarily better than approximation because the idea here is, we’re eating enough fruits and vegetables to push out other foods and get a healthy dose of micronutrients. And that could happen maybe at 720 grams, that could happen at 950. It’s just about a certain volume in a day that really needs to be enough to have kind of a significant effect.

Kelly: [43:18] Let me ask you a really serious question. And I’ve asked this to you before. For everyone listening, I have known EC for a long time. And one of my favorite things is to take pictures of random fruits and to say could this work. And I think I sent you a picture of 800 grams of rutabaga. And you’re like, you could do it.

Juliet: [43:37] What even is rutabaga?

Kelly: [43:37] Exactly. 

Juliet: [43:39] I have a story for you, which I’ve told you before, but I think our listeners will enjoy. Our staff at The Ready State has totally embraced the 800 Gram Challenge. And obviously, now that we’re all working at home, this has ceased to be a problem. But our staff literally will measure out their 800 grams of vegetables in the form of a salad for lunch. And they’ll bring sort of a Tupperware full of peppers and apples and other fruits and veggies that they’ve weighed out. And then everybody gets very defensive of their Tupperware. You know, we’re all sitting there in this open office and it’s easy to walk by and grab someone’s mini pepper or their apple or their blueberry.

Kelly: [44:16] Juliet’s staring at me because I love to just be like oh, oh.

Juliet: [44:17] And then the owner of said Tupperware is like, oh my God, now I’m down to 790 grams. So this has been a funny side effect of our all enjoying the 800 Gram Challenge. 

EC: [44:30] Yeah. I love it. I mean I try to do a little bit in my TEDx talk, I try to do it a little bit with Instagram, and it’s like make nutrition fun again. I mean —

Kelly: [44:40] Whoa, bro. Pump the brakes.

EC: [44:42] I know. Everyone’s made it so complicated and like this war zone of what really is insulin sensitivity and my diet’s more insulin sensitive than yours and all these mechanistic discussions. And it’s like, oh my God, nobody wants to do all of this, let’s be real. And so just sort of to bring a little bit of fun to it. And I think that’s also by no restrictions and allowing you to have some self autonomy. And I don’t know, I hope that’s out there and I like to hear stories like that and that people really are excited about it because it’s like yeah, I just sort of feel like I’ve done 15 years of nutrition drudgery, so have some fun with it.

Kelly: [45:14] It does. It feels drudgery. You know, and I’ll just tell you that it’s a little trickier now sometimes because I just don’t have access as much. But mine is the 8 x 800.

EC: [45:26] That’s right.

Kelly: [45:26] And you know this. And that means I’ve been trying to get eight different kinds of vegetables and fruits in a day and 800 grams of those different kinds. And —

EC: [45:34] It’s the German volume training.

Kelly: [45:36] It’s the German — it’s 8 x 800. And I just once again, just thank you for spinning this into a really digestible — pun intended — actionable, practicable methodology that really does put the cart behind the horse correctly. And I just want to appreciate out of the chaos and mayhem and division and tribalism, you’ve come up with an approach that is so agnostic. So thank you so much.

EC: [46:09] Awesome. Thank you.

Juliet: [46:10] So EC, before we let you go, I know you teach a course called Nutrition Essentials Master Class. What is that? Who is it for? Give us a little summary.

EC: [46:19] Yeah. Yeah. It was just almost like a data dump of what I think people should know about nutrition. And it’s divided into two halves. First half is more theory. And then the second half is how to put it into practice. And it’s direct to consumer, so individuals take because it includes like an eight-week diet program they can implement directly. And of course, it includes 800 Gram Challenge and lazy macros and action macros. So yeah.

Juliet: [46:42] Great. Well, I mean that seems like a good place that people could start if they want to try your program. So we’ll obviously link to that in our show notes. Before we let you go, tell us what’s next for you. What are you working on?

EC: [46:52] Yeah. So I think you’ve known I’ve kind of had the challenges out there for gyms, both the 800 Gram Challenge and the lazy macros. 

Kelly: [46:59] Gyms and communities, right? It doesn’t have to be a gym.

EC: [47:00] Yeah. Correct. That’s a good point. And I think they’ve been great and people seem to have liked them. But then what I realize is it’s for a limited length of time. Like you run it for a month and then it’s over. So what I’m launching in the next couple of weeks is an affiliate program where people can onboard their members to nutrition by using my resources. And so they can kind of outsource nutrition continuously as opposed to having to do it in a set, challenged timeframe. So I’m pretty excited about that.

Kelly: [47:26] One of my favorite pictures of you is sort of this ridiculous laugh that you have where you throw your head back. And it’s like when people say they’ve won the 800 Gram Challenge or they’re tired of eating the 800 Gram Challenge. And I think what I appreciate is sort of the gamification of this. You know, and I — Juliet knows, I’m an only child and I detest games. Juliet’s like let’s play Risk, and I’m like, I’m dead. I’m over here. No thanks. But this resets every single day. And I really have appreciated that you never win nutrition. You don’t win health. You just keep playing better and better. And some days, man, there’s been a few days where I’m like wow, I have not eaten a vegetable or a fruit today. You know, it happened. And then the next day I’m back on the 800 grams. I get to sort of reset my food quality every day. And I think that that’s sort of lost in this notion, that the sustainability of this thing is really the crux piece.

EC: [48:24] Yeah. That’s awesome to hear. I mean I think any success that I’ve had in any sort of either academically, professionally, or even nutritionally, is not because I’m like that skilled or because I’m that perfect. It’s just because I keep doing it. And so yeah, that’s some of my main message with this. It’s like we don’t need perfection, but we do need you to kind of commit to kind of a basic standard. 

Kelly: [48:48] Yeah. People like to get heroic, but they’re definitely not consistent.

Juliet: [48:51] Yeah, I know.

EC: [48:51] Yes.

Juliet: [48:52] EC, where can listeners find you on the internet?

EC: [48:56] Yeah., and then that same handle on the social medias. 

Juliet: [49:01] Perfect. Well, again, thank you for being the voice of reason in this mad world of nutrition, and keep it up. We’re just such huge fans. 

EC: [49:10] Thank you guys. Stay healthy out there.

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