The Science of Slim: A New Book Talks Real Facts

The author Jonathan Bailor, and yes, he looks pretty darned cute.

I recently read the new book by Jonathan Bailor, "The Smarter Science of Slim: What the Actual Experts Have Proven About Weight Loss, Dieting, & Exercise, Plus, The Harvard Medical School Endorsed Program to Burn Fat Permanently" (Amazon affiliate link).  Halfway through chapter 10, I remember looking at my husband and saying, "This book is blowing my mind!" To say I strongly endorse this book is an understatement.  I'm embracing it, giving it a full bear hug. You will not look at your dinner plate or exercise the same way again. I know that my regular readers are raising an eyebrow.  I do not normally endorse anything this strongly, so yeah, that should say something. I also had the chance to interview Bailor and he provided further answers about all the information he writes about in the book. Bailor is a bit of a "lifehacker," but a research-based one.  Tim Ferriss, author of "The 4-Hour Body," used a similar approach, but he wrote about how things affected him and came up with a diet based on that.  It was very centered on Ferriss, personally, and his results and advice is a bit more theory than analysis. Bailor's approach was to research all the data out there and come up with a criteria for healthy living.  His research of over 1,000 studies created a filter for what food to put on your plate and what to do for a workout.  His first assumption was that we've all been asking the wrong question.
"The question isn't 'How can I lose ten pounds,'" said Bailor.  "The question is 'How can we burn fat without slowing down our metabolism?'"
The conventional diet plan is eat less, exercise more.  Bailor writes, and his 1,000 studies show, that this is the wrong approach.  "Does it work short term?  Yes. Does it work long term?  Absolutely no.  You’re going to hate life because you’re going to be tired and depressed, and then you'll just gain the weight right back when you're done and be worse off because you'll have more fat and less muscle." Bailor's analysis demonstrates that when you exercise too much or eat too little the body goes into starvation mode and does three things, always in this order:
  1. Slows down metabolism so your body requires less fuel.
  2. Starts breaking down muscle and using it as fuel, partly because it's readily available and partly because it burns a lot of calories just by being there.  (Getting rid of the muscle means you don't have to feed it, a big a-ha moment for me there.)
  3. Starts tapping fat supplies, but will do all it can to preserve the fat because it's in "starvation mode" and doesn't know how long it will be there.
Yes, you can do resistance training to help slow down the muscle loss, but it's not going to do much.  The body's DNA-programmed order will win every time.  There's no way to change your genetics. What can you eat that will keep your metabolism high, your muscles intact, and just burn fat?  It's going to sound awfully familiar: lean meats, seafood, non-starchy vegetables, fruit (especially citrus and berries), and a select few dairy products, specifically low or non-fat cottage cheese and low or non-fat Greek yogurt. Bailor describes an overall balance to the diet as follows:
  • 5% milled flax seeds and nuts
  • 15% fruit, eggs
  • 30% seafood, lean meats, select dairy, egg whites
  • 50% non-starchy vegetables
  • water and green tea to drink
I know, you're nodding your head knowingly.  And wondering "Can I really live like that?"  There are zero starches listed.  No wheat, no rice, not even whole grains. Nothing. Nada.  Bailor counters that his balance is a continuum and you can eat at different levels of the diet, so it's not a be-all, end-all.

Eat Your Way From Obese to Fitness Model

He breaks eating down into six categories: How to become obese. The "standard" American diet of 10+ servings of starches or sweets, 30 grams of protein, one serving of non-starchy vegetable, zero servings of berries or citrus fruits. How to become overweight. Eight servings of starches or sweets, two 30-gram servings of protein, two servings of non-starchy vegetables, one serving of berries or citrus fruits. How to be typical. Four servings of starches or sweets, three 30-gram servings of protein, four servings of non-starchy vegetables, two servings of berries or citrus fruit. How to become fit. Two servings of starches or sweets, four 30-gram servings of protein, seven servings of non-starchy vegetables, three servings of berries or citrus fruit, 1/4 cup milled flax seeds. How to become hot. One serving of starches or sweets, five 30-gram servings of protein, nine servings of non-starchy vegetables, four servings of berries or citrus fruits, 1/4 cup milled flax seeds. How to become a fitness model. Zero starches or sweets, six 30-gram servings of protein, 12 servings of non-starchy vegetables, five servings of berries or citrus fruits, 3/8 cup of milled flax seeds.

Exercise Plan for The Science of Slim

Bailor's exercise program is pretty mind-blowing as well:  only 10 - 20 minutes of exercise per week.  This is geared solely to increase your metabolism, not your overall health, so don't get all excited about parking your butt on the couch full-time.  The two 10-minute sessions are actually quite grueling, and are only that short because you can't possibly do more.  It's definitely no walk in the park and I'll be doing another blog post on that next week. When you first pick up "The Smarter Science of Slim" you literally thumb through pages and pages of endorsements from such research luminaries as Dr. Theodoros Kelesidis from Harvard Medical School and the UCLA School of Medicince; Dr. Jan Friden from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden; and Dr. Wayne Westcott of the YMCA (one of my personal heros).  I asked Bailor, point blank, if he pad for the endorsements. He replied, "No, these researchers are just happy to get the information out there and they really liked what I was doing." So let's open up the discussion: what do you think of Bailor's eating plan?  Do you like the idea that you can eat at different levels?  Do you think it's just another diet book?  I'd love to hear your thoughts. Cheers, Lisa Here's a collection of all my "Smarter Science of Slim" posts

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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35 Responses to The Science of Slim: A New Book Talks Real Facts

  1. Joe Williams January 6, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    Fascinating read, Lisa. I’ve been logging my food intake since May. I’m going to review that in comparison with the above levels. I might be in for a surprise.

  2. Lisa Johnson January 6, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

    It was interesting for me too Joe. I’ve been reading all around the information for years, but this was succinct and science based. It wasn’t a “philosophy” like Paleo, just the distillation of research. It was refreshing! L–

  3. Sonia Simone January 6, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

    So do we get to do more exercise than that if we want to? :)

  4. Chad Anderson January 6, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

    I agree and think it’s a refreshing approach. Based on science, not opinion, and doesn’t come across as gimmicky. Will have to give it a read.

  5. Lisa Johnson January 6, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

    yes, absolutely. The 10 to 20 minutes is ONLY to produce a fat burning effect. You still need to stay limber and healthy and use those pieces parts. L–

  6. Kerri O January 6, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

    So…paleo? ha ha ha. I’ll have to read this. Sounds fascinating.

  7. Lisa Johnson January 6, 2012 at 5:17 pm #

    Kerri I was thinking of you from time to time :-) It is and it isn’t. For instance there is dairy products and Paleo would say eat the chicken skin and this diet plan says not to. But yes buy and large it’s in that realm.

    I never said Paleo was bad, I said it should be studied more … and also the people who have “cult like status” over the diet scare me. I always shy away from zealots …

    No, not you!


  8. Kerri O January 6, 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    I know you didn’t, lol. I was just teasing with you. I absolutely agree it should be studied more.

  9. Lisa Johnson January 6, 2012 at 8:53 pm #

    :-) LOL, thanks Kerri L–

  10. Jessica January 6, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    Hey Lisa!
    Happy New Year! I haven’t read this book yet, but the idea of scientific backing (even if it is a review of other studies and not a study itself) for a diet is incredibly appealing. I’m tired of hearing about miracle diets with zero science behind them, so I will definitely be picking this one up! Like Kerri, the first thing I thought of when I read this was the Paleo diet and perhaps eating at a different level of the ‘diet’ described here would be very Paleo-ish. It shouldn’t be revolutionary to consume a diet of fruit, vegetables and lean meat, but we’ve gotten so used to processed food that it’s difficult to imagine life without pizza and pasta (I’m hungry, so my empty stomach is talking, haha). I had great results from eating Paleo: drop in weight, changes in body composition but worried that consuming so much fat long term would eventually show up on my metabolic profile. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention!

  11. Lisa Johnson January 6, 2012 at 9:53 pm #

    Jessica well said, it shouldn’t be revolutionary to consume a diet of fruit, vegetables and lean meat …

  12. Lena January 8, 2012 at 9:18 am #

    So, how would this apply to vegetarians, or those that prefer a plant based diet? Are there other ways to achieve what the author describes? I’m not big on starches at all. I work out regularly and eat mostly fruits and vegetables. I don’t plan on changing that.

  13. Lisa Johnson January 8, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

    Hi Lena, the book does list a whole bunch of vegetarian and vegan proteins. But yes, it is a little more difficult.

  14. Dean Ouellette January 9, 2012 at 9:52 am #

    Thanks Lisa, this is like the third review of this book I have seen in a week. All three are glowing. Downloading now, maybe you will make .25 off the affilate link!

    notice how these usually all come back to the same thing. eat real food and stop eating processed crap. That processed crap can be pasta, bread or little debbies star crunch. Just eat real food.

    Does he make a big difference between lean protein and not? I am looking forward to reading why he does that and why he is so anti-fat. Guess I will find out soon enough.

    Thanks again and keep up the great work.

    BTW when are the whole foods updates coming?

  15. Lisa Johnson January 9, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    Dean I think I made 30 cents! Woot! lol … ;-)

    As for the lean protein vs. not. Yes he leans towards lean protein, he’s not against fat in a Forks over Knives kind of way (no added fat ever!). He just has a filter for healthy eating. He takes each food and puts it up to that light. So he’d say chicken breast with no skin is the best, dark meat is ok. And he has people eat on the continuum, some of it can be super healthy, some of it ok, but hopefully limit the not so great. I really do like this book!


  16. Sonia Simone January 9, 2012 at 6:00 pm #

    So Lisa, are you trying it out?

    I’m giving it a go, so far on day one the biggest problem is I’ve been way overfull all day. Trying to get that much protein is tricky. (And I’m just trying the “fit” level.) I never eat this much food.

  17. Dean Ouellette January 9, 2012 at 9:57 pm #

    Three chapter in, one of the most interesting books I have read in a long long time. I cannot put it down. Setpoint is fascinating!

  18. Lisa Johnson January 9, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

    Sonia, I will be doing it, but we’re doing a 30 day Thrifty challenge (USDA lowest budgetary guidelines) and frankly I need to eat starches because that’s what I can afford! But after the 30th yes, I will. I’ve done the Spinning workout and I almost threw up … I’m going to do the weights tomorrow. L–

  19. Lisa Johnson January 9, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

    Glad you and Sonia like it. See? Different perspective! I like the viewpoint. L–

  20. Sonia Simone January 10, 2012 at 12:31 am #

    I have a few issues. :) But it’s interesting and it strikes me as sane, so I’m giving it a try. Who knows, maybe I will look really amazing for SXSW. :)

    Made myself a smoothie from chocolate protein powder, cocoa, frozen raspberries, flaxseed and a little greek yogurt today, plus a half avocado, with a small amount of splenda. It was really awesome. Had 2/3 between lunch & dinner, and the rest as dessert after dinner. Never thought to put cocoa in a smoothie before, it is an *excellent* addition.

  21. Lisa Johnson January 11, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

    I’ll have to try that variation when I’m off the Thrifty Food Challenge. I’m bummed I have to wait until February and a bunch of people are way ahead of me! LOL …

  22. Sonia Simone January 12, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    I want the workout post! :)

    (Impatient? Me? Nevah.)

  23. Lisa Johnson January 12, 2012 at 9:21 pm #

    tomorrow! Crazy week … :)

  24. Mark Osborne January 18, 2012 at 9:25 pm #

    I have read this book.

    While the scientific evidence that a low carb, high protein diet leads to weight – I wonder at what cost?

    He suggests way more protein that we require and high protein loads (especially from animal products) have been shown to be unhealthy over the long run.

    Personally I have been successful losing weight with a relatively low protein whole food vegan diet.

  25. Lisa Johnson January 18, 2012 at 10:00 pm #

    Hi Mark it’s not a high protein diet? I’m not sure why you say that … he’s only advocating between 3 and 6 ounces of protein a day. That’s not a lot … :-) But if you’re happy and healthy with your lifestyle, more power to you. I bet the diets are that different. :) L–

  26. Mark Osborne January 19, 2012 at 3:16 am #

    Interesting, he is promoting a “natural balanced diet” of one third protein, one third fat and one third carbs – I assume he means by weight. This is about 1.25g protein per pound for a moderately active man, 2.75g per kilo. He also say to eat at least one gram of protein per pound of body weight. Which is 2.2g per kilo.

    So we have a suggestion of between 2.2g to 2.75g of protein per kilo of body weight. The USDA Estimated Average Amount of protein is 0.66g per kilo and the DRI (which includes a safety margin – 97.5th percentile) is 0.8g per kilo.

    So we have a recommendation that is 3.33 to 4.17 times the EAR and 2.75 to 3.44 times the RDI.

    That sounds a lot like a high protein diet to me!
    Did I miss something?

  27. Lisa Johnson January 19, 2012 at 8:28 am #

    Mark you have me at a loss, so I went to go look at your blog page and just realized that your a Forks over Knives person. Just so my readers understand that’s a no-oil added vegan lifestyle. (this means things like olive oil is considered a no-no). I’m actually a fan of FOK and have seen the movie twice, I’ve also read the book by the husband/wife doctors in the book and even got to interview the husband.

    I was surprised for you to say that the 4 to 6 ounces of protein is too high for most people … I think most people reading this would be confused. Way back in the beginning of my personal training career I was surprised to learn the 2.2 g ratio which for me was about 4 ounces.

    I’d open this up to anyone else, especially if there’s a nutritionist/RD around. What do you think? L–

  28. Jonathan Bailor January 19, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    Hi Mark – I’m delighted to hear that you’ve found a lifestyle which works for you. I’m also always interested in learning about new scientific studies. Which studies are you referring to which prove that a diet consisting of (in order of volume) non-starchy vegetables, seafood, lean meat, berries, citrus fruits, seeds, and nuts is unhealthy in the long run?

    The Smarter Science of Slim arrived at this set of optimal foods after an analysis of over 1,100 studies and ten years of collaboration with top research institutions such as The Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins, UCLA, and The Mayo Clinic. For example, The Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed 147 studies on the impact of diet on health. They found zero correlation between meat consumption and cardiovascular disease. T.L. Halton with Harvard University found: “Exchange of protein for carbohydrates has been shown to improve blood lipids…. Higher protein diets have been associated with lower blood pressure and reduced risk of coronary heart disease.” Similarly, W.C. Willett, the Chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health notes “…the Nurses’ Health Study is the only large prospective study to have examined the link between dietary protein and cardiovascular disease….The group of women who ate the most protein…were 25% less likely to have had a heart attack or to have died of heart disease…eating a lot of protein doesn’t harm the heart.” Finally, J.H. O’Keefe at the Mid America Heart Institute noted: “Diets high in lean protein can improve lipid profiles and overall health…Lean animal protein eaten at regular intervals improves satiety levels, increases thermogenesis [calorie burning], improves insulin sensitivity, and thereby facilitates weight loss while providing many essential nutrients.”

    To your second comment, which studies did you find which prove the USDA’s recommendations to be the correct baseline to use when evaluating a diet? I ask because my investigations showed the research community to take great issue with our government’s involvement in dietary guidelines. The Chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health has stated: “…the USDA Pyramid is wrong…at best, the USDA Pyramid offers wishy-washy, scientifically unfounded advice…it ignores the evidence that has been carefully assembled over the past forty years.” The Journal of the American College of Cardiology goes even further: “The low-fat-high-carbohydrate diet, promulgated [encouraged] vigorously by the…food pyramid may well have played an unintended role in the current epidemics of obesity…diabetes, and metabolic syndromes.”

    Studies further back this up. For example, the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism published a study which found that people: “…following the UK dietary guidelines [very similar to the guidelines in the US] resulted in changes in the lipid profile that were more likely to favor an increased risk of coronary artery disease.” Also, from The Diabetes Care Journal put out by the American Diabetes Association: “Although low-fat high-carbohydrate diets are recommended for patients with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) in an effort to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease (CAD), the results of short-term studies have shown that these diets can lead to changes in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism associated with an increased risk of CAD.”

    Regarding the vegan lifestyle: The research I reviewed over the past decade shows that plant foods such as non-starchy vegetables, citrus fruits, berries, nuts, and seeds, should make up the majority of the food we eat. The research I reviewed also showed that animal foods such as fish are some of the healthiest foods around. Myriad studies also show that the plant foods sugar and starch are unhealthy. Science shows that our diet should consist of SANE foods. SANE foods can come from plants or animals.

    In closing, I’m delighted to hear that you’ve found a lifestyle which works for you. It’s also wonderful to note that the research underlying The Smarter Science of Slim does not *require* anyone to eat any animal products…it simply discusses studies demonstrating the many health benefits of seafood and lean meat in addition to the plant foods non-starchy vegetables, citrus fruits, berries, nuts, and seeds (which I agree should make up the bulk of an optimal diet). At the end of the day, it’s about each individual’s tastes and goals because The Smarter Science of Slim is not a set of ridged laws, but a body of knowledge that enables people to most effectively accomplish their particular health and fitness aspirations.

    Thank you for your passion in promoting long-term health.

    – Jonathan Bailor

  29. Lisa Johnson January 19, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    Jonathan and Mark, I’m loving the discourse and that you’re both being respectful of each other’s viewpoints.

    This is a great discussion to watch. I feel educated :-)


  30. Tania Dakka January 19, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

    I’ve been intrigued by the little bit I’ve read about this book. But my thoughts are this:

    I tend to eat the Mediterranean way(just the way I was raised) and it sort of subscribes to the overall healthy eating Jonathan talks about (from what I can tell from the post, at least). What concerns me as a Productive Creative/writerpreneur/mom of three is that struggling and stressing over percentages might be a little exasperating.

    Still interesting and thinking seriously about checking this out. Could be a testament for my readers and what I’ve been trying to encourage them to do (which is eat clean and move).

    Thanks for this post and your recommendation!

  31. Sonia Simone January 20, 2012 at 12:35 am #

    Jonathan, I’m curious — what would you recommend for protein for a vegan who was interested in trying out SSoS? I’m guessing mainly soy?

    Just intellectual interest, as I’m not vegan. :)

  32. Jonathan Bailor January 20, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    Hi Sonia – My research didn’t cover veganism specifically. I’ve heard that there are many protein supplements for vegans (in doing a quick web search for “vegan protein supplement” this appears to be true.) There even appears to be a wonderful vegan body building community:

    – Jonathan Bailor

  33. Mark Osborne January 21, 2012 at 2:56 am #

    I’ve been offline a bit due to snow, ice storms and power cuts. But I have been wanting to get back to this thread. It was a nice surprise to see Jonathan chiming in. I’m still in the middle of reading the referenced research in your book – or at least all the studies I can access for free!

    My point was simply that this is a high protein diet with respect to the amount suggested by the USDA.

    Now whether the USDA’s recommendations are optimal is obviously another matter entirely – if the USDA recommendations represent the standard American diet and that diet makes a good number of us fat and sick – then something is obviously amiss.

    The method used by the USDA to determine optimal protein is nitrogen balance, the details can be found here. There are 500+ references at the end of the document if you are interested.

    Another way to look at typical levels of protein intake is epidemiological studies: the one I am most familiar with, the China study, shows a protein intake between 0.6262 and 1.2738 g/kg/d – close to the USDA 0.8 g/kg/d but lower than the 2.2 to 2.75 g/kg/d recommended by Jonathan. According to this study Americans consume 1.5 g/kg/d about twice the USDA recommendation.

    It would be interesting to see epidemiological studies showing mortality rates for populations with protein intakes close to those that Jonathan recommends.

  34. Lisa Johnson January 21, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    Mark, it sounds like you and Jonathan are kindred spirits in a lot of ways. I’m very much enjoying the discussion and I’m going to go click through to the links you showed. Thanks for sharing them. :)

  35. markthetrigeek February 9, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    “Yes, you can do resistance training to help slow down the muscle loss, but it’s not going to do much. The body’s DNA-programmed order will win every time. There’s no way to change your genetics.”

    Maybe I’m reading your comment wrong so bear with me. Resistance training, ie weights not only stops muscle loss but helps to build. A marathon runner doesn’t have the same calorie/protein requirements as a body builder. So if a marathoner got into power lifting wouldn’t he raise his daily requirements independent of his/her dna??

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