Chris Masterjohn, PhD Talked About The Hungry Brain with Stephan Guyenet
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Chris Masterjohn, PhD Talked About The Hungry Brain with Stephan Guyenet

Stephan Guyenet made a book! The Hungry Brain is available now, and in episode 34, Stephan and I talk all about it.

Stephan is a long-time friend and colleague. He has a PhD in neuroscience, and studies the role of the brain in controlling the food we eat and the other behaviors we engage in that affect our body composition and risk of obesity. His book lays out how the brain makes these decisions and what we can do to outsmart these deeply rooted instincts in today's challenging environment.

We begin by talking about what makes us fat, why we are now fatter than ever, why our environment affects some of us so much more strongly than others, and what we can do about it on both an individual and societal level. Then we move on to the book: what you can get out of reading it, why Stephan decided to write it, and the process he used during the three years of research, writing, and publication. In the last part, I get Stephan's advice for people who want to follow a similar career path, and ask Stephan how he sees his career evolving now that he's left academia but has stayed so intimately involved with science.

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Show Notes for the Stephan Guyenet Interview on The Hungry Brain

In this episode, you will find all of the following and more:

0:35 Introduction, Stephan’s bio, overview of the interview
1:00 Why do we get fat and why are we fatter than ever before?
13:00 Teasing apart increased food intake from decreased physical activity
15:53 If the Hadza (hunter-gatherers in Tanzania) don’t have higher energy expenditure than we do, why are they so lean?
19:03 Food reward hit our society after a long decline in physical activity; what happens when high food reward hits a society where physical activity remains high?
22:25 What is the most fattening diet in the world?
28:15 Are effort costs more powerful than exercise?
33:52 The effect of the “built environment,” the effort costs of exercise and the cultural honor we bestow on convenience
35:17 If our environment has become so obesogenic, how come so many of us are lean?
39:23 In Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Weston A. Price took hundreds of photos of people all over the globe who ate themselves into very ill health with diets rich in refined flour and refined sugar, yet none of them are fat. Why not?
43:03 What are the most impactful things we can do as individuals to maintain healthy body composition?
46:50 What are the most impactful things we can do as a society to encourage healthy body composition?
48:56 The risks of food taxes and similar political tools, and the risks of inaction

51:09 Who should read Stephan’s book, “The Hungry Brain,” and what does he hope they’ll get out of it?

53:26 How did he decide to write “The Hungry Brain,” and why did he find the concept so compelling and book-worthy?
55:20 That the brain regulates body fatness seems obvious in retrospect. What hid its obviousness for so long?
59:56 How receptive are nutrition scientists to the food behavior concepts being studied by neuroscientists?

1:02:35 How researching this topic in such depth caused Stephan to recalibrate the evidence and understanding he needs before he would be willing to challenge the perspectives of experts.

1:05:27 A day in the life of writing The Hungry Brain.
1:06:35 How Stephan got experts to talk to him.
1:09:15 How Stephan made the decision to leave academia from his postdoc to write a book rather than pursuing a tenure-track faculty position, and how he sees his career path evolving.
1:12:53 If someone were to follow in Stephan’s footsteps and write a scientifically rigorous book for a general audience, what do they need to lay the foundations for success? Audience building, funding and frugality, time for writing, pitching a proposal, illustrations, keeping the gears of the publishing gears turning, publicity.
1:16:30 How much time did Stephan spend on this?
1:18:15 Managing a book advance
1:19:38 The surprising hurdles of self-employment: will Stephan keep jumping them, or get a job?

1:20:00 Wrapping up: where people can find the book, where people can find Stephan’s other work

Links Related to Stephan Guyenet's “The Hungry Brain”

Stephan's book is available in hardcover, Kindle, and Audible formats.

Stephan's web site contains hundreds of thickly referenced scientific posts, including many that led him on the path to writing this book, as well as posts on many other topics.

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  1. I stumble on your podcast as I scroll through my podcast client feed listening to another podcast on nutrition. I’ll come back for more from you. First, I’d like to commend you on your audio sound being pleasantly loud compared to other podcasts that with their volume turned up high still cannot be heard without any software amplifier!
    Gary is a great guest! Yes, I read ‘The Psychology of Eating’ back when I was in college taking a Clinical Nutrition class. So the neuroscience of eating does exist.

  2. Just a question: In his answer to Gary Taubes’ book he basically said sugar wasn’t the problem then in your podcast he was in favour of taxing soda pop. So does he think sugar really is the problem ? Or was that just a random example. Or did I misunderstand.

    1. Catherine,

      That’s better addressed to him rather than me. However, sugar-sweetened beverages in my opinion are likely to add to calorie intake in a way that other foods with sugar aren’t because liquid calories in that way don’t provide much satiation. Also, soda contains lots of phosphorus additives that have negative health effects and doesn’t provide any nutrition, so it’s negative on the whole separately from sugar. My impression of Stephan’s view from his book and other writings is that sugar itself isn’t the problem, but the way in which sugar is combined into foods to promote hyperpalatability.


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