How Deviating from Nature Made America Fat: My Reaction to Ray Cronise’s Take on Weight Loss

The latest Rich Roll Podcast is an interview with Ray Cronise, a NASA scientist-turned-weight loss aficionado, about his experiments and ideas on nutritional science (which you can listen to here). I initially didn’t think much of the guest, but it turned out to be one of the more thought-provoking interviews I’ve listened to– enough to make me reevaluate my thoughts on nutrition, diet and exercise (and write a blog post about it).

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He’s known as being a once overweight and unhealthy guy who struggled to lose weight, who then doubled his weight loss through his “Metabolic Winter Hypothesis,” aka exposure to cold temperature.

After learning that Michael Phelps eats 12,000 calories a day to maintain his weight, he decided there had to be more to weight loss than just diet and exercise. Cronise argues the secret ingredient to more efficient weight loss is exposure to the cold. He realized maintaining our normal body temperature requires a lot of energy, and by exposing ourselves to the cold, for instance a pool, we burn more calories and thus lose more weight. You can hear more about this topic from his TEDMED talk below.

As fascinating as his theory on the correlation between thermodynamics and weight loss is, I am intrigued more by his relationship and attitude toward nutrition. He sees food not as something to be enjoyed or as something to fill our bodies with. Rather, he sees it as something to be used for longevity, not entertainment. We live in a world of excess, a constant stream of meal after meal, with no threat of scarcity. This is an issue, since “in nature, food is rare.” (From an interview with Sandra Wolfer, read it here)

In the past, food was more restricted and winter was a real threat to our survival, and thus our relationship to food was different. In this day in age, we don’t experience true differences in temperature or the availability of food the way we would in nature, and this has broken our relationship with food. Cronise believes we don’t need to be feeding ourselves the way we currently are in order to be healthy or maintain our metabolism. In our society, “we have over-nutrition 365 days a year,” where food is continuous and constant. He even did a 24 day water fast to test the necessity of food– and was apparently fine afterward, both physically and mentally. (I couldn’t find any articles about this so if you want to learn more about the fast I recommend listening to the podcast.)

As I listened to his story and ideas, I began to think of my own relationship with food and exercise. It’s always a little hard for me to relate to stories about weight loss struggle because my focus for the last few years has been more with weight gain. However, this episode had me asking myself if I should stop trying to gain weight and just accept it, and if I should stop over-nourishing myself.

I feel like I eat constantly throughout the day, even when I’m not hungry, just to make sure I am consuming enough calories to avoid losing weight. Maybe all my worries about calorie intake and nutrition aren’t as important as I believe. Maybe sufficient nutrition is all I really need. It’s also not such a bad thing to be skinny– it’s certainly much better health-wise to be skinny than to be fat.

Or could I be misapplying his theory? It’s clearly meant to help explain the causes of obesity in America, so perhaps I should not apply it to my life. I feel like this is a recurring pattern in my life– scientists, writers and the media put out messages on weight loss, and I’m left feeling confused about what the message is for people like me who are not trying to lose weight. Should I be treating food differently too?

I’d love to see him take his research further and do some experiments and studies on weight gain and/or maintenance. I’m hoping I’ll find more clarity once his book, Our Broken Plate, comes out sometime this year. In any case, I highly recommend you all to give the podcast a listen. Let me know your own reactions to his ideas in the comments below :)

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