Food is one of the most powerful forces of change for our health. But why is it so confusing?
In his new book, Eat Smarter (Little, Brown and Company, 2020), Shawn Stevenson—bestselling author and creator of “The Model Health Show,” one of the top health podcasts in the U.S.—explores and demystifies the physical and mental influences of food and shares an easy-to-follow, science-backed plan for making the best nutritional choices to transform your body, mood and life. We caught up with him to learn more.
As a nutritionist, this is the kind of book I’ve always wanted to write. There are many paths to a goal—food was the path that got me physically healthier. Food is information. It changed the way I was thinking. Eating better made me a better person, gave me more clarity and unlocked so many capacities in me.
At this time in human history, our health is so dismal and overlooked as a way we can become more resilient. For me, this book is a testament that, whether we realize it or not, we want to be healthy and resilient. It’s a powerful resource.
Why is food so confusing to many people?
There is this unsaid thing that people aren’t smart enough to understand complex things about food. As humans, we have genius capacity, but the food and health and wellness industries, plus our health-care system, have overcomplicated things. There’s a saying: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t know it well enough.”
In this book, I take people behind the scenes on how their metabolism works, how fat loss really works. I demystify things around food, so they become more tangible. Food and health should be fun.
How does food impact the health and happiness of personal relationships?
When you look in a mirror, you “see” what food you’ve eaten. It controls everything about you, your heart, your brain.
With this relationship in mind, I centered the book around a study by Oxford researchers on how nutrition affects proclivity toward violence. The study involved a group of prison inmates prone to aggression and violence, and what would happen if their nutrition was improved. Very rudimentary nutrition was given to one group; another received a placebo.
The results were shocking. The group with better nutrition had a 40 percent reduction in behavioral issues and a 30 percent reduction in violent offenses.
It boils down to function of the human brain and what happens when it’s malnourished. In everyday life, I know through top experts in psychology and neuroscience that most of our conflicts are related to biological issues.
Researchers at The Ohio State University monitored the glucose levels of several married couples and how loved ones would respond related to their blood sugar. When levels were abnormal, they were more aggressive and far less likely to resolve relationship conflicts.
In the book, I use monster analogies about being “hangry.” I’m a werewolf; I’m good most of the time, but every now and then I can lash out. We might lash out on someone we love simply because of our biological versus logical issues.
You write that eating smarter isn’t just about what you eat, but about when you eat. Tell us more.
There is a study that tracked eating habits of a group and how often an average person eats—it analyzed the 15 hours a day while we’re awake. In the study, researchers wanted to find what would happen if they condensed that eating window to 10 to 12 hours a day, with no restrictions, no shifts in food or nutrients. The result: After 16 weeks, people lost over seven pounds, were sleeping better and had more energy.
A lot of people don’t realize that our number-one utilization of energy in the body is to digest food. When we eat a meal, we have an uptick in stress hormones. When we take in any food, the body has a big immune response to determine if this stuff is OK. If we have a bit longer window when we’re not eating, we kick into cellular cleansing. We have thrifty genes that work when we’re not eating.