Book Review. The Smarter Science of Slim. Scientific Proof. Fat Loss Facts

( Smarter Science of SlimThe Smarter Science of Slim is the brainchild of author Jonathon Bailor who states it’s the compilation of 10 years worth of research on the science of weight gain, weight loss, and exercise. The list of references is impressive to say the least, some 70 pages worth of science-based research to support it. Despite the nature of scientific studies [think dry and loaded with jargon], Bailor does a superb job at distilling the data down to its essence in easy-to-understand and accessible language – perfect for both science and non-science folks alike.

The bottom line is this: no one will successfully lose weight [body fat] and keep it off by striving to maintain a negative balance in calories whether that’s by creating a caloric deficit by eating less, exercising more or a combination of both. Our weight is maintained around a set point, give or take a kilogram or two, at most. This is actually not a new idea, but rather has been around for years. I remember reading about this in high school over 25 years ago in an exercise physiology text as part of a course I was taking for physical education.

What determines our body fat, Bailor says the evidence points to, is our set-point and our set-point is determined by our hormones, our hormones in turn are controlled by calorie quality [not quantity], calorie quality is controlled by the SANEity of our food choices, specifically the water, fiber and protein content of those foods. SANE is the acronym he uses to describe the quality of a food and how it affects body fat gain:

  • Satiety – how quickly calories fill us up, and how long they keep us full.
  • Aggression – how likely calories are to be stored as fat.
  • Nutrition – the nutrient density, or how many nutrients [protein, vitamins, minerals, water, essential fatty acids etc] the calories provide.
  • Efficiency – how many calories in a food can be stored as fat.

The more Satisfying, unAggressive, Nutritious, and inEfficient a calorie is, the higher its quality; the more SANE it is and therefore the more fat-burning hormones it triggers and the more it clears our metabolic clog. These SANE calories help to restore our ability to burn body fat and maximizes our need to burn fat since these kinds of calories tell our body to turn up the furnace, to increase our metabolism and burn more fat in order to protect the set point.

Believe it or not, the body wants to avoid weight gain. There is no shortage of feeding studies where researches tried to get people to gain weight by feeding them more calories than they needed. Some gained weight, some didn’t, those that did, did not gain as much as the ‘calorie quantity’ or ‘calorie balance’ [energy in/energy out] equation predicted. To drive the point home, when the participants returned to normal eating, the weight [body fat] fell off easily.

In the first part of the book, Bailor challenges many of the assumptions of the weight loss world and nutritional dogma such as we must balance calories in with calories out for weight maintenance and that it’s calorie quantity and not quality that matters.

I think intuitively we know that. If the average adult gains 20-30 pounds over the course of his or her adult lifetime, a close monitoring of calories would be paramount since according to the calories in/calories out model, it would only take an excess of 7-10 calories per day to put on this much weight – clearly there’s something else going on. Likewise, does anyone really think that 2000 calories of raw vegetables will be broken down/digested and used to the same degree of 2000 calories of pasta, ice cream and milk chocolate?

Remember that the calories of a food are measured in a bomb calorimeter, a closed system that incinerates food to ash and the subsequent energy measured. Note to self, the human body is not a bomb calorimeter and energy extraction from food is anything but 100% efficient.

To shed body fat long term, we need to clear what Bailor refers to as a metabolic, or hormonal, clog in the fat burning metabolism. He cites many studies, and calls on personal experience, that losing weight is easy, it can be done by reducing calories, or by reducing calories and by trying to create a greater deficit by increasing exercise, but in the long run, weight loss maintenance is elusive precisely because the set-point has not been adjusted down. This is way ‘diets’ don’t work. To make matters worse, traditional weight loss methods of eat less and exercise causes the body to go into starvation mode and slows down the metabolism. Adding insult to injury, the body will lose muscle, the very tissue that drives our metabolic weight – the set point doesn’t stand a chance.

On a side note, these concepts of weight loss: eat less, exercise more, portion control is what matters is still being written and talked about today

Not surprisingly, SANE foods include non-starchy vegetables, meats, seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, fruit, some dairy and small amounts of fats. inSANE foods are sugars, refined starches such as breads, pasta and rice, refined fats, trans fat and excessive amounts omega-6 polyunsaturated fats.

At first pass this book seems like a low-carb or Paleo eating plan but there are obvious differences. For one, while he doesn’t shun fat per se, he does recommend a ratio of protein, fat and carbohydrate [33-33-33 ish] that is closer to the Zone diet [30-40-30] versus low-carb and Paleo, which, advocates a fat intake in the neighbourhood of 60% fat. He states that foods found in nature [that are easily eaten without excessive processing like grains and grain based foods] have a ratio of fats, carbohydrates, and protein in the ratios he’s suggesting but I don’t quite follow. Eggs for example are essentially protein and fat while non-starchy vegetables like asparagus are mostly fiber and carbohydrate. In times past when food was more scare, there was no guarantee that foods could be eaten in such a way so as to ensure the golden proportions; to achieve it, some attention to detail is needed when building meals, although it’s easy to do in the way that Bailor outlines.

A couple of other points where Bailor and I differ is on the suggestion to use flax oil, an oil that has been implicated in the development of breast and prostate cancer due to the high amount of alpha-linolenic acid [ALA] it contains. He does suggest eating milled flax seed, a sound approach, but it not only provides enough ALA [significantly less that flax oil] but also lignans. I am not a huge fan of artificial sweeteners nor would I suggest quite as much protein. I believe fat, despite being more ‘aggressive’ as a calorie, is a great way to get non-starch/carbohydrate calories that are also highly satiating. Of course these differences are minor and don’t discredit the book at all. Where I couldn’t agree more is his, and others’ suggestion, that refined grains and grain products are the most nutrient-poor foods out there and don’t offer much more than glucose and a lot of calories in a small amount of food – non-starchy vegetables should be the foundation of eating along with smaller amounts of fruit and for me, nutrient-rich root vegetables.

The last part of the book is dedicated to exercise. While he’s clear that exercise is beneficial to health, the way it’s currently pursued by most is not helpful when it comes to weight loss. High volume exercise such as an hour of cardio, several days a week has no impact on weight loss. One need not look any further from their own experience or those sad folks at the gym, putting in endless amounts of time. I know, I used to be one of them. The reality is, changing body composition, a.k.a. fat loss, is next to impossible with exercise. A better fat burning approach, according to the Smarter Science of Slim, is with HIIT or high intensity interval training along with eccentric training. Eccentric training, or the ‘negative’ phase of exercise creates infinitely more force on a muscle and does more for muscle gain/growth, fat hormone stimulating and metabolic clog clearing than any amount of monotonous treadmill jogging will do.

Lending support to the central thesis of the book is the who’s who of nutrition research including heavy weights like Walter Willet, Chair Department of Nutrition, the Harvard School of Public Health, Dr John J Ratey, Harvard Medical School, Dr Uffe Ravnskov, PhD and more. The support for this book is overwhelming and it wouldn’t be so if the data weren’t sound or the logic valid.

At the end of the day, I LOVED this book and devoured it in a couple of days. This book is a must for anyone involved in health where body weight is involved. The reader might be uncomfortable at first as a sense of tension takes over, as old assumptions are challenged and new points of view considered, but hey, isn’t that what true learning is all about? I hope that all of my dietitian colleagues and peers pick up a copy – stat!

To burn more fat and to unclog your metabolism, Bailor and the Smarter Science of Slim’s offers the following:

We must eat more water, fiber, and protein-packed foods and avoid water, fiber and protein-poor foods so we can increase the SANEity (quality) of our calories as much as possible so we can decrease our set-point as much as possible so we automatically burn as much body fat as possible.

Comments 2

  1. April 27, 2012

    Thank you for the review. I haven’t read the book but absolutely agree with the concepts. Quality is more important than quantity when it comes to weight loss. It’s not easy though to get 33% fat, protein, and carb. I track what I eat every now and then and getting to 30% protein needs good planning.

    1. dougie_c
      April 27, 2012

      I totally agree, we’ve lost site of quality. We tend to be in the mindset of what I called the 3 dimensions of nutrition: quantity of fat, protein and carbohydrate and therefore by extension, calories. Looking at the food label for puffed wheat or rice, and we think we’ve struck gold because it would be so low in calories, ‘perfect for those watching their waistline’ etc…vitamins? minerals? phyto-nutrients? fibre?

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