Gone Crazy About Food with Leigh Peele

Has the whole world gone crazy about food? Before you answer, consider this: Some people think that as long as you eat “clean”, you’ll lose weight and calories don’t matter. Some think that processed foods must be totally forbidden or you’ll never lose weight. Some think carbs make you fat. Some think you’re a bad person if you eat animals (and you’ll die of cancer too). Some people think that if you eat non-organic fruits and vegetables, you’ll grow three heads (and die of cancer too). Phew. Food is a touchy subject, and you’re bound to strike nerves of one kind or another when you discuss these issues. Most people choose to believe the media fear-mongering and conform to the latest diet tribe rather than think critically and decide for themselves what to eat. Fortunately, a few people are are stopping to check the facts and analyze the claims, before jumping to conclusions or succumbing to scare stories. This 2-part exclusive interview with Leigh Peele might upset a few people, but on the other hand, it might get you thinking more clearly and sensibly about food than anything you’ve read all year long.

Tom Venuto: Hi Leigh. A lot of my long time readers already know you from our last interview. In fact, your “shocking fat loss video” created quite a stir. For my newer subscribers or anyone who doesn’t know you yet, could you give us your quick bio – who you are and what you do?leigh peele

Leigh Peele: You know it never gets easy to answer this question. Although, I answer “What is your favorite song?” with a 3-page essay, so I guess there are worst questions to ask me.

In the simplest of terms, and most convenient definitions, I am trainer and writer out of North Carolina. I specialize in working with people on improving their ability to lose fat. I study the research and I study people. It would be an understatement to say I am in a serious relationship with my job and strive to be the best I can be at it. I consult with athletes, actors, models, moms, you name it. And I don’t care how cliché it sounds, I love helping people, especially those who have been so frustrated for so long.

Tom Venuto: let’s dive right in with THE BIG QUESTION: Is it just me or does it seem that everyone in the United States has gone bat***t crazy about food – what’s healthy, what’s unhealthy, what to eat for weight loss, what makes you fat, what toxins are lurking in our food, etc., etc? I know that might seem like an odd question to some, but I have a feeling that it makes perfect sense to you

Leigh Peele: It makes complete sense to me. In fact, this being the first big question makes me want to jump up and down because I am obviously not the only one seeing it.

It’s funny because for me this is a really prevalent issue and has been for some time. A large amount of work I do is with women who are recovering or dealing with eating disorders. Time and time again this issue was coming up. “I can’t eat these foods, they are fat gaining foods.” “I was told my thyroid stopped working because of these chemicals so now I only eat xxxx.”

All of a sudden the health problems my girls were having were because of a type of carb, or chemical, or a combination of “fat gaining foods.” All of a sudden the reason they were so tired and dealing with massive exasperation was because they weren’t eating organic. It couldn’t possibly be because they were doing 5-6 day a week extreme training programs (HIIT, supersetting, high volume, heavy weights, etc) on no calories leading to the inevitable binge fests. No, apparently it was the type of spinach they were eating.

I had people diagnosing themselves with celiac disease, thyroid illness, allergies, toxin poisonings, and more. All because of these books, studies, articles, urban legends, and wives tales were scaring the crap of out them. I had men and women scared to death of eating perfectly healthy food because they didn’t know what to believe and “better safe than sorry.”body by eats by leigh peele

Tom Venuto: I recently wrote a 2 part series of articles that focused on clean eating and orthorexia. They tied in with much of what you wrote in your new book Body By Eats, which is one of the reasons I wanted to interview you again. Most people would agree that “clean eating” is purely a positive thing, if you define it as eating a balanced diet consisting mostly of natural, unprocessed food.

But some people don’t like the term “clean eating” because of the dichotomous thinking it might create and some even go as far as saying that extreme fixation on health food or diet food can lead to eating disorders or obsessive-compulsive behavior. When you hear “clean eating,” what comes to your mind and how would someone know if they are becoming unbalanced or obsessed about health food or clean eating?

Leigh Peele: Such a good question.

Most of the time when I hear that said, I honestly have these two thoughts run through my head.

-They aren’t getting it and have been mislead
-Do they have any idea what that means?

See Tom, when YOU say clean eating, I see it as a balanced view.

When someone is breaking down to me what their program is, or even how they train their clients – I think two thoughts from before. Most of the time I find people have no idea what they are doing, they just do it because they think they should.

A great example is the classic listing of meal plans. I just talked about this in my blog. On any internet forum across the fitness world you will see someone post up their meal plan.

Meal 1 – A type of oatmeal and egg whites
Meal 2 – A type of shake with fruit
Meal 3 – A rice or pasta with protein
Meal 4 – Something wife/mom/boyfriend made
Meal 5 – Peanut butter and cottage cheese

They always state, “So yeah, I eat clean guys! Is this meal plan right for what I need? I have been eating clean for a few months now and I am not seeing any change, help?”
Eating clean is not the only answer. You can get fat off of organic sweet potatoes and sick off of organic spinach.

Tom Venuto: The new issue of Prevention magazine has an article titled, 7 Foods That Should Never Cross your Lips. The subtitle reads, “Food scientists are shedding light on items loaded with toxins and chemicals – and simple swaps for a cleaner diet and supersized health.” The 7 foods were: Canned tomatoes (BPA in the cans), beef (if its corn fed), microwave popcorn (chemicals in bag lining), potatoes (if they aren’t organic), salmon (if its farmed), milk (if it contains artificial hormones) and apples, (if they’re not organic). Quite an interesting lineup that I’m sure you could rant about for hours and you addressed many of these issues in your new book, but what is your overall reaction to articles like this one?

Leigh Peele: I would love to break down each one of those myths like an episode of Mythbusters but it would take too much time and I don’t have the cool beard or glasses.

Don’t you just love the “It’s in your fridge and killing you, find out what at 11!” angles Tom? With these articles there is no fact checking, none. Sadly, the majority of people in these arenas wouldn’t know where to begin to fact check.

The way we come to conclusions on how to deal with our problems is a joke across the world. This goes beyond the realm of diet and physical health, it is in everything we do from global warming, educational systems, people relations, mental health, and more. There is no understanding of how these “facts” came to be, even by the people who are supposed to know. Even by the people running our countries.

I discuss this specifically in the book and show how one study released on pesticides and diabetes landed its way into major book publications, new sources, and even congress. One study, a study that is full of holes, errors and flawed data. A study which is now scaring people to death who read these materials.

You can’t take these news stories and research at face value or even one study as that value. It doesn’t work this way, yet everyone reads one article on why eggs are bad that quote a “new study” and go running scared.

Here is my final rant and kicker on the issue, or more so, an ironic statement. I find it extremely ironic that the crowd who is leading the lynch mob and misreading research on carbohydrates are always the ones up in arms about the way research was treated on fats. Pot, meet kettle.

Tom Venuto: There are a lot of people who make it a point to avoid as much processed food as possible, but how do we really define processed food? If you look at the evolution of farming and agriculture, couldn’t you show us examples of how almost all foods have been touched by technology, sometimes in surprising ways most people would never suspect? And if so, what does that mean for the health and fitness enthusiast?

Leigh Peele: Absolutely. Take farming, nothing is natural about farming, nothing. Farming doesn’t happen in nature. You don’t just walk in the woods and see organic tomatoes lined up in a row growing, waiting to be picked. If we weren’t doing it, it wouldn’t be there. That basically goes against the very definition of natural. Over the centuries we have completely manipulated our food system. The food we eat today was not the food of even 10 centuries ago.

As a people we are constantly confused about how much we embrace change and technology. We get scared of new things, we get scared of the unnatural, but it is in our very nature to survive longer and I can tell you now, the Paleo people, they had an average lifespan of 33.

In truth though, there are a lot of decisions people have to make because of an ethical and moral issue, and you or I can’t decide anything about that. I just want to provide an objective view as best as I can and I wish others would do the same.

Tom Venuto: My next few questions are about food and weight loss and are somewhat related to our last interview and your video, and tie in with your latest book, Body by Eats as well. First, why do you think so many people believe that as long as you eat certain foods or avoid certain foods, then calories don’t matter and you’ll lose weight? And what should we do about it?

Leigh Peele: I think there are two main culprits here.

The first and easiest is there are a lot of people who don’t “get” fat loss. They don’t get how it works and think they ate less or think they did what they needed to do but didn’t get results. To solve that problem, I think we (you and me, the good ones) are doing it. We are doing it with education, interviews like this, and trying to get the word out to help them realize the truth.

The other culprit, and the more frustrating one, is the people who have been manipulated and convinced by professionals in this industry. I can give you a direct url to 10 professionals right now who are highly “respected” who believe and preach that caloric intake doesn’t matter. They preach and back with “studies” that caloric intake is not the important factor to achieve your body composition.

Tom Venuto: Should everyone with a weight loss goal count calories and if so, what do you think is the best way to do it?

Leigh Peele: No, I don’t think everyone should or needs to count calories. In fact, ideally I wish no one ever had to count calories. The problem is that people get stuck and they can’t achieve their goals. When this happens I turn to a more fool-proof way to achieve the goals.

Here is how it breaks down for me.

Fat loss=the deficit. The deficit has to be achieved. I don’t care how it is achieved. Substitute a shake for a meal, use portion control, weigh your food, etc. I don’t care how it is achieved or the method you use (as long as it’s smart/informed).

However, if you are stuck, why mess around? For what, pride? Laziness? Scared of developing an issue? You want to know what develops a complex? Being stuck at the same weight for 10 years because you don’t know what is going on and some guru told you calories don’t count. That is what develops a complex.

Tom Venuto: Should we also be tracking calories burned and do you trust the wearable devices that do it for you electronically?

Leigh Peele: I have worked extensively with these armband devices (bodybugg/gowearfit) that monitor caloric expenditure.

Are they perfect? Nope. Do I think they give you an exact reading of what you are burning everyday? Nope, I think there is a margin of error (I estimate 10-15% possible in either direction).

Do I think they can open your eyes to how much you move in a day and get you closer to your goal and faster? Yes I do, and that is the only reason I suggest using them.

These things can gut punch you real quick about how much you move and in most cases, how much you don’t move.

Tom Venuto: There is a HUGE eye-opener in your book, at least I think so, and that is the way you explained NEAT – Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis and the amount of impact it has on your daily caloric expenditure as compared to formal training. For those not familiar with NEAT, would you explain what it is, and for everyone, would you share your major revelation about NEAT that most people don’t realize?

Leigh Peele: NEAT, as you stated, stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. In short, this is all activity in your life that isn’t based around specific exercise. An easy way to look at it would be to call it general activity. Walking in the grocery store, cooking, talking on the phone, etc. I would like to throw some credit to Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic for being the true pioneer of NEAT, though this hasn’t stopped me from doing my amateur experiments.

My biggest revelation with NEAT is how much it contributes to your daily burn and how everyday simple activities can make extreme changes in your results. You know we all have heard things like “take the stairs” or “park far away from your car” but what people don’t realize is making increase of general activity a focus of your daily life can be key to increase in happiness, fat loss, body pains, etc. Can’t be that simple though right? Couldn’t be that by simply cooking my meal instead of buying it, that could cause much change? It can and way more than our focus on the minute details like the calories of what protein burns, muscle or EPOC. It may not be “sexy” but it works, trust me.

One more thought for you – the average office worker burns no more calories than one large egg for every hour they are at work. One egg for one hour. Every hour you are sitting at your office job and you don’t move, give yourself an egg. This isn’t just a 5’1 and 130 pound female either (she doesn’t even burn an egg). Try a 5’9 199 pounds man.

Not moving is not moving and it catches up with all of us. Improve your daily NEAT and you improve your results.

Tom Venuto: I think we would both agree that a nutrition program for fat loss, long term health and ideal weight maintenance has to have structure and flexibility at the same time. What do you think are some good ways to keep your eating plan flexible enough that you don’t feel deprived, but structured enough that you still get the results you want?

Leigh Peele: I think there are so many ways to attack this really. I myself don’t even have one method, but one of my favorites is the method I use in the book. I like to work around a formula for your Minimum Macronutrient Intake (MMI). In short, this formula breaks down your intake needs based on your specific stats and activity level. Based on those stats you are assigned your minimum intake needs per macronutrition (Protein, Carbohydrates, Fats).

In a day, we have a certain “quota” of nutrients we should fill to best ensure we are getting what we need for our body to function at its best level. Can anyone give the exact formula for everyone? No of course not, however, based on current research we know roughly what we can take in based on size and activity.

So, once you have reached your quota you then get to do whatever you want with the rest of your days food. This is how you can fit a cookie in if you want it or add some extra almonds you plate and so forth. This isn’t just for average results either, you can achieve high level results utilizing a simple structure like this and still maintain a flexible diet habit. You can, for lack of better words, have “Non-clean foods” in your daily diet and still get lean and ripped to shreds. ;)

Tom Venuto: You have an entire new cookbook for vegetarians and vegans so I know you provide support for people who don’t eat meat, but would I be correct in saying that you’re not partial to either vegetarianism or omnivorism? And on that note, is there anything that vegans in particular need to know about nutrition if they want to successfully pursue strength and fitness training to improve their body composition?

Leigh Peele: I have been vegetarian, for ethical reasons, so absolutely I support both.

I think on average vegetarians should have little issue getting their daily nutrients from a variety in carbohydrates and dairy. With vegans I think it is tougher and they do have to be more watchful. It isn’t being vegan is bad, but it is stacking the cards against you on certain issues. If you are vegan you need to take special care to cover your bases with the use of a protein supplements and vitamins to ensure you are getting a balance of protein and nutrient support. In my opinion, I do not support the claims of veganism for health agendas, it doesn’t hold water. I support it for ethical reasons only. If you are a vegan for health reasons you may need to examine why you made that decision and the validity of that decision.

Tom Venuto: If it’s cool with you, in part two I’d like to pick your brain about some more of the points you bring up in your new book Body By Eats. First, you talk about the media’s reporting on food and food research. Why do you think there is so much food fear-mongering today and why are the books and documentaries about the food industry getting so much play in the media, from health experts and on the Internet discussion boards?

Leigh Peele: We are looking for the answers of why everything is messed up. Why is everyone obese, why are people getting cancer, why are people angry, unhappy, etc. This goes beyond health and fitness, this is our survival. What can we do to protect ourselves? Who is to blame for all of our problems?We have to use logic, not fear. Facts, not propaganda. Support, not dictatorships, even with the best of intentions. I have nothing against becoming healthier and saving lives, I just don’t believe in doing it at the cost of the truth, even when that truth sometimes is “I don’t know.”

Tom Venuto: So is there some kind of conspiracy to keep us unhealthy – either by the pharmaceutical companies, the current health care system, the food companies or government agencies? Or is the current state of the food industry’s product line and marketing strictly a matter of supply, demand and the pursuit of profits, where the same type of capitalism is taking place in non-food industries as well? Should we be mad or infuriated at the food industry in any way?

Leigh Peele: Here is what I always say when people ask me if there is some ultimate agenda by the “man” or the food industry to take us down – What do you think they eat? Do you think all those scientists, factory owners, farmers, congressmen, representatives, etc would take a risk with eating at restaurants or going grocery shopping? If you look at the fridge of our leaders, it is the same food and sometimes worse.

Now I certainly think there is a monopoly, but this is true with everything. People simply get more freaked out because it is food. How many car companies are there? Computer systems? The average person either has a Ipod or a zune mp3 player. Just because you don’t eat it doesn’t mean you aren’t supporting it. It isn’t just meat you buy that affects things, it’s your laptop too. It is all connected. The government or certain corporations may have an agenda to make money, they may do immoral things to get there, but that is a different discussion. There are arrays of moral and economical issues which can be discussed, but at the end of the day we all eat the same food.

Tom Venuto: Here’s a “conspiracy” theory to ponder: Do you think it’s possible that the agenda of some health writers and nutrition gurus is to intentionally take the position as alarmists or whistleblowers, rescuing us from the “evil food industry”, so they look like saviors to their followers and build their own platform to sell their own natural health cures and supplements (quite possibly, unproven or bogus cures)?

Leigh Peele: I think there are people who genuinely don’t get it and think they are saviors. I think there are people who are so devoted to this cause and believe 100% in the good they are doing.

Then I think there are people who are riding a very profitable coattail. The organic and health food industry is a real living breathing money making thing. It’s a nice story we buy into, great story. “Buy this bag of tortilla chips and you buy a better piece of tomorrow!” You buy a better land for your kids, your future, and your country. Doesn’t sound so bad to me and hell, if buying a bag of organic chips meant just a chance of things being better – call me your new customer.

The problem is, it just isn’t that simple and in my view it distracts us from the real answers.

Tom Venuto: Do you think there are any truly legitimate serious concerns about chemicals or toxins in our food today? Should we really be concerned or scared about what’s in our food or are we becoming a generation of paranoid hypochondriacs?Leigh Peele: I think there is genuine concern about our air, our land, and what we are eating. The problem is we are going about fixing it the wrong way. The solutions to these problems on big levels go against the “naturalist” way of thinking. The truth if that pieces of each puzzle work great and if we could marry ideas on all sides and come to a more middle ground we would have better results. Sound familiar? Remind you of anything else?

I am not a cynic, I am an idealist. ;)

Tom Venuto: Speaking of toxins (pesticides in this case), correct me if I’m mistaken, but you’re not sold on organic, which might surprise some people because it seems almost a matter of political correctness today for health professionals to support organic. Do you feel the evidence for the benefits of organic is lacking, or that there are some benefits, but not enough to justify the extra cost?

Leigh Peele: The problem with organics is thus far it just isn’t adding up to make any difference and could, in all honestly, be causing more problems. The pesticides they use are outdated and just as problematic for humans, insects, and animals if not more. We replaced them in the first place for a reason and people seem to not understand this.

Nutrient wise it is a mixed bag, some studies point to positives, some don’t. Overall it is landing in the middle just as if you were comparing any one food to another food. That is another thing, if you compare one tomato to a tomato you get different results, organic or not.

Are there any benefits? Sure. I like the potential future for some soil practices and a few other things. However, both health wise and economically I can’t find much of anything to embrace the concept.

Tom Venuto: Leigh, I’d like to get your quick thoughts on a short list of some food related issues and hot news items. The catch is – I really mean quick! You’re limited to just a few words or one sentence at most. Even one word if thats possible. It might be tough because I suspect the answer in some cases certainly deserves an explanation or the answer is “it depends,” but give it your best shot: Here ya go: Genetically modified foods (GMO’s). factory farming for poultry and beef, grass fed beef, whole eggs (yolks), buying locally, Food Inc (the movie), saturated fat, mandatory calorie info on restaurant menus, Splenda, Stevia, microwave ovens, tap water, rbST milk, corn syrup, soda taxLeigh Peele:
GMO’s – Monopoly; Ethical debates will always stall scientific progress.
Factory farming – Need an affordable and cruelty-free alternative.
Grass fed beef – Usually ideal to eat
Whole eggs (yolks) – Love ‘em
Buying locally – Established since dawn of man
Food Inc (the movie) – Good intentions; still misguided propaganda
Saturated fat – Not the enemy
Mandatory calorie info on restaurant menus – I vote yes
Splenda – Too much is harsh on the gut; moderation.
Stevia – We don’t know yet
Microwave ovens – Is not a stove
Tap water – Depends on location; bottle doesn’t mean better.
rbST milk – Growth for them doesn’t mean growth in us.
Corn syrup – Better things to eat than it.
Soda Tax – Silly

Tom Venuto: Right in the beginning of Body By Eats you say, embrace food. What do you mean by that? Should I hug my potatoes before I eat them?

Leigh Peele: I want you to hug it out Tom.

I know some might turn to me and say “um yeah, that is the problem! Too many people embracing food!” However, these people are embracing pain, disease, and miseducation. Embracing food is about understanding the power food has, understanding how much you really deserve, and how to eat to enjoy it and to use it for performance and appearance. Sure, I could scare you into being phobic about everything that touches your lips to the point a genuine disorder, but that isn’t my style.

Tom Venuto: I read the entire first part of Body By Eats, it was 77 pages if I recall correctly, and that part had all the info on calories, NEAT, organic, food history, food research and basically your entire program and philosophy for getting leaner and healthier without doing any crazy stuff. The rest of the book is recipes and there are additional cookbooks. I skimmed through your recipes – I didn’t get to try them yet, but some of them look pretty yummy. I’ve always thought there were too many general interest cookbooks out there and not nearly enough for health and fitness minded folks. What makes your recipes and cookbooks different and ideal for fitness minded folks like us?

Leigh Peele: One of the more obvious things I focused on was allowing the option of measuring in both grams/ounces or cups/tbsp. I haven’t seen a cookbook yet do this. It is very rare any American cookbooks utilize weight measurements. However, so many readers use scales to help achieve their goals I figured no matter what program you are using it would make it easier to implement these foods.

Another big focus is on protein intake overall. Most recipe books do not put enough focus on implementing protein into their meals enough. The majority of the main recipes, and even sides and desserts, feature higher protein amounts.

Lastly, it doesn’t do the normal “diet” recipe book thing where it tells you all the things you can’t eat and then gives you a list of the things you can. I try and paint a picture of what balance in a diet looks like. From protein heavy salads to Tiramisu, it’s in there.

Tom Venuto: If someone said to you, “Hey Leigh, I saw that you have a French toast recipe with sugar AND butter – OMG! That’s not clean eating!” What would you say?

Leigh Peele: You’ll clean your plate eating it. Let me tell you that makes one heck of a pre-workout meal.body by eats desserts

Tom Venuto: Can food really be highly nutritious and healthy and taste great at the same time or is there always going to be at least a little bit of a compromise?

Leigh Peele: No need at all for a compromise in taste in my opinion. Balance in attitude yes, compromise in taste no. Eating just one of anything all the time is bad. Eat only carrots everyday and you will get sick and turn orange. I have seen it by the way. It is the same thing with HFCS or white bread.If you look at the world’s greatest chef or ask any real foodie, they will tell you whole food is king. Fresh ingredients are king. Fat is king. Flavor rests in the quality and execution of ingredients. Canned Ravioli isn’t good; we only think it is because we haven’t tasted what good is. In my mind if you want the pasta, have the pasta, just have quality. Have fresh ingredients in the pasta, make it yourself and burn some calories or buy it but go for a walk after your meal. Get back to the roots of what fine living really is, but mix it with making your body lean and strong.

Tom Venuto: Do you have any quick and simple words of wisdom or encouragement for people – especially guys – who swear they can’t cook?

Leigh Peele: Mastering the general ability to cook is about two things in my opinion.

Being able to follow instructions is number one.
Having patience is number two.

I can’t tell you how many people ruin a meal because they turn their burners up as high as they can go. Fast usually means less flavor and fewer calories burned. Are you getting a fast meal to go play outside with your family? Fine. If you are getting a fast meal to go sit in front of your tv or computer for 2 hours, try giving your food a little more time. Not only will you enjoy the taste more, you will be moving more and feeling better.

Tom Venuto: Do you have any other food advice or anything else you want to share before we wrap up?

Leigh Peele: The goal of any professional who truly wants to help is to teach people how to make healthy living last for life. Scaring people into having a very tiny list of foods they can eat for the rest of their life, doesn’t seem like a good life to me. Stay away from the extremist in this industry. People who say that certain training or food is all bad either don’t understand what they are talking about or don’t care if it is wrong.In truth, the book is only the beginning. I want to reach people beyond the books with the my membership site, phone consults, and taking results and education to the next level.

Tom Venuto: Thanks so much for your time Leigh – it’s always a pleasure to get your perspective – it is most certainly a balanced one. If anyone wants to find you online or check out your new Body By Eats book and cookbooks where can they get more information?

Leigh Peele: Thank you Tom. This was by far my favorite interview I have ever done. There’s more details about the new book, cookbooks, audiobook, and membership at the Body By Eats Website and my earlier book, The Fat Loss Troubleshoot you can find at www.FatLossTroubleshooter.com

If you’d like to learn exactly how you should be eating to lose 2 lbs of fat per week, then visit http://www.burnthefat.com.

* This article is EXCLUSIVE to IronMagazine.com, NO reproduction is permitted unless permission is obtained directly from Tom Venuto!

About the Author:

Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural bodybuilder, personal trainer, gym owner, freelance writer and author ofBurn the Fat, Feed The Muscle: Fat Burning Secretsof the World’s Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom has writtenover 140 articles and has been featured in Iron Man Magazine, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development,Muscle-Zine, Exercise for Men and Men’s Exercise. Tom is the Fat Loss Expert for Global-Fitness.com andthe nutrition editor for Femalemuscle.com and his articles are featured regularly on literally dozens ofother websites.