Episode 173 | June 18, 2019

The Secret Life of Fat with Sylvia Tara

A Personal Note from Orion

The war on fat sometimes feels like a lost, never-ending battle. The diet industry is making billions in weight-loss products every year, and there are hundreds of potions, lotions, and magic pills on the market as well as thousands of different diets that can leave you in worse shape than before. Most of these solutions are short-lived, and regardless of the promises and the great marketing behind them, they just don’t work. The truth is that there is no “one size fits all” in terms of what will work for you, will not work for another, and vice versa. It depends on your personal genetics, metabolism, gender, etc. There is more to weight loss than meets the eye.

Fat is an organ, it’s a fascinating part of our body. Fat is essential to your body; from hormone regulation to the female reproductive system. That’s why your fat doesn’t want to let go of you when you are trying to shed the pounds, leaving you frustrated, wondering if fat loss is even possible for you.

Good news is, there is a right way to lose fat, and there is a science behind it. Today’s guest is Sylvia Tara, a biochemist who has researched fat and is the author of a bestselling book, The Secret Life of Fat. Today she reveals the complex biology of fat and what it means to each and every one of us.



About Today’s Show

Hello, welcome to Stellar Life Podcast. This is your host, Orion. I hope you are having a fantastic day. Today we’re going to talk about fat loss. Not weight loss, but fat loss. The weight loss industry is making billions and billions and billions of dollars on people like you and I. You sometimes just want to wear your old jeans and maybe look or feel a little better. There are so many diets out there, there are so many magic pills and not everything is one size fit all. Sometimes what works for you will not work for your friend.

Image result for the secret life of fat

The Secret Life of Fat by Sylvia Tara

We really need to be more discerning and listen to our bodies and our intuition so we can lose fat the right way. To help you do that, I brought an incredible expert. Her name is Sylvia Tara. She was driven to research fat, science, and lifestyle after she finally got fed up with eating less and exercising more than her slimmer friends throughout her life. Her experiences told her that there was more to weight loss than just calories in, calories out.

As a biochemist, she was driven to get to the bottom of fats mysteries, and the reasons it hinders us. In her bestselling book, The Secret Life of Fat, she reveals the complex biology of fat and what it means to each and every one of us. And now without further ado, on to the show.

Hey, Sylvia, and welcome to Stellar Life Podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you here.

Hi, it’s nice to be here.

Today, we’re going to speak about one of my favorite topics which is the fat. Fat is such a big deal, especially for women. There are all these cultural expectations. I feel women, especially, are obsessed with fat. Today, we’re going to get into what it is, the mindset of fat, and all that.

Sounds great.

Before we start, can you share with me how you got into researching fat?

It started with my own fat. Since puberty, I always gained weight really easily. I watched other people around me eat what they want and not gain weight, or they go on a diet and they lose a lot more weight than I do on the same diet. I was really perplexed with this. I finally got really tired of this experience and I decided, “You know what? If anyone can understand fat, I certainly can. I have a Ph.D. in biochemistry and I’m going to study fat.”

I spent around five years doing research on fat. The science of fat, why it’s so hard for some people to lose fat versus other people. What I found out about fat was so astounding that I decided to write a book and share it with everybody. The Secret Life of Fat is that book and it’s full of all kinds of secrets. The science of fat really illuminates people; help them understand why they might have trouble losing it.

The title is brilliant too.


Fat has a life of its own. Is it an organ? What is fat?

Fat is an organ. People don’t realize it at all. Fat is like skin. If you just think of a piece of skin, it’s just a piece of skin tissue. But skin in its totality, all around our body, is actually an organ. It functions as an organ. Our fat is the same way. Just a piece of fat—the piece of fat tissue—in its entirety, it actually functions as an organ. When I say that, what I mean is that fat can release hormones that our body depends on. You actually can’t live without your fat. Not just for the energy but because it’s releasing a hormone called leptin, which is critical for our body. Our reproductive system depends on leptin. Our immune system depends on leptin. Wound healing, our bone strength, even brain size, so much depends on this hormone that comes from your fat.

Fat is the primary organ that produces leptin. Our fat also produces estrogen and a number of other hormones as well. It’s an endocrine organ and people don’t know that. That’s why when you try to lose fat, your body will actually try to keep fat on you. It knows it’s really important. It doesn’t want to lose this. It has some long-standing effects. When you lose some fat, your body gets very sensitized and it tries its best to put it back on so our metabolism gets lower.

In fact, someone who has to lose 20 pounds, they will have to eat less than someone who’s not the same weight. But someone who gained 20 pounds—they’re 150 pounds and they went to 170 pounds, then they lose 20 pounds and get it back to 150 pounds—when you compare that person to someone who’s naturally 150 pounds to begin with, and never had to lose weight to get there, the person who loses 20 pounds to get to 150 pounds actually has to eat 22% fewer calories for years and years afterward. Twenty percent of pure calories in a person is naturally at that weight, I should clarify, for years afterward in order to maintain that lower weight. There’s a caloric penalty once we lose some fat and it’s because your body didn’t want to lose it. Now it’s very sensitized and it wants to be able to gain back quickly when there’s another loss.

Fat is a clever organ. You have to understand it to lose it. Click To Tweet

That’s so depressing.

And empowering once you understand it. I think once you understand it, you get why you’re gaining weight easier, why you can’t go back to eating the way you used to, or you’ve been eating compared to how someone who ends up the same weight if eating. For me, it was enlightening and it helped me make changes that kept the fat off long-term.

That’s wonderful. I’m a foodie. I’ll have to find creative solutions for eating fewer calories. What does fat do in our body?

As I said, it’s an endocrine organ and it’s releasing hormones. Primarily, fat is a reserve of calories. That’s what we know it for and that is a key function of fat is that whole extra calories for us. It releases hormones like leptin, estrogen, and another one called adiponectin.

But then, there’s also more than just one type of fat in our body. We have white fat which is the fat we’re used to seeing and the kind of fat we want to lose when we have too much. There’s also brown fat. That’s fat around our hearts and in our backs. That fat actually burns energy. It burns calories, so it’s very interesting. Then, there’s beige fat. This is the fat that can turn brown once it’s triggered to turn brown through exercise or cold exposure. So, different types of fat and not only is fat very complicated onto itself—life itself is very complicated—but in addition, we have different types of fat in our body as well.

Brown fat is good. Beige fat is okay, might turn into brown if you’ll do some exercise or right therapy or something like that.

That’s right.

Then there is the white fat. What is the white fat and where it is?

There are two types of white fat. The subcutaneous white fat and that’s the fat that’s right underneath your skin. You have fat in your arms, in your buttocks, in your thighs, it’s right underneath your skin there. And then we also have visceral fat and that’s the fat that’s underneath your stomach wall.

There are two types of stomach fat. It’s that type of subcutaneous fat right underneath your skin on your stomach. Then, there’s visceral fat which is underneath your stomach wall. The visceral fat is the dangerous fat. That’s the fat that’s tied to diabetes type 2. It’s tied to heart disease. When we get too much visceral fat, it causes inflammation. That inflammation causes those diseases. You can actually be fit for fat if you have fat in the right areas which are the subcutaneous area and not in your visceral area.

When you said the right areas, I was thinking about my boobs and my butt.

That is safer. In the book, I tell the story of sumo wrestlers because they’re clearly very obese. What researchers have found is that they’re actually healthy. They don’t have a metabolic disease like other really obese people do or can. What they found out when they studied them, they actually don’t have visceral fat. All that fat on their belly is subcutaneous fat. The way they can do that is because they exercise for about 6-7 hours a day.

When we exercise a lot, our fat releases another hormone called adiponectin. What adiponectin does, it clears fat out of your bloodstream and it puts it in the subcutaneous fat. It deposits that fat where that fat belongs. It keeps it away from your visceral area. Because they’re doing all these exercises, they can eat a lot, they can be really fat, and they managed to stay healthy. They don’t have a lot of visceral fat. That’s really fascinating. Always best to not have too much fat but if you’re going to have extra fat, keep it in the safe areas as best as you can.

A diet that you can't stand will never work for you. Click To Tweet

Wow. That’s amazing. The visceral fat, is it true that fat holds toxins in it?

It does sequester things out of our blood. It’s kind of a safe deposit for a lot of things, for extra nutrients that we have, for toxins as well. It’s a prefiltration deposit. It holds things away from our body. The liver can do so too, but that’s another organ that can do the same.

When we lose it, do the toxins or whatever it holds releases into our bloodstream again?

I think, naturally, that would happen to some extent. Yes, I think so. You’re always in a metabolic state where you’re storing some toxins and releasing some toxins that are always going on and I think if you lose weight and lose fat very quickly, it can happen at a faster rate.

And then what’s the side effects of that? Headaches? Nausea?

Yes. Probably a little bit of hardship on your kidneys but you’ll probably get through it. I think the headaches are the key thing that you hear about when people are losing weight. It’s just a different metabolic stage. You’re using different biochemistry now, so it’s different. It’s an adjustment for your body.

One of your book chapter’s title is How Do Fats Fight to Stay on You? That’s my question.

That’s the key one. That was really the reason I wrote it when I learned more about it. I mentioned that fat releases a hormone called leptin. Leptin actually enters into the bloodstream from fat and it goes to our brain where it binds within the hypothalamus. What it does is it signals to the brain that, “You know? We’re satiated. We’re happy. All’s good in the world. We have adequate levels of fat, adequate calories in our environment. All’s good,” and you don’t feel too hungry. It helps keep you satiated.

When we lose fat, we start to lose leptin. Our brain’s senses that less leptin in the bloodstream now. It reacts by actually making us pretty obsessive about food. Again, your body doesn’t want to lose any fat. People who’ve lost 10%–20% of their body weight went to do MRI images of their brains. They showed them pictures of food. They noticed that they react very highly to pictures of food compared to someone who has not lost any weight. They will also put more on their plate to overcompensate and load up their plates more.

Not only that but then our muscles react as well. The coordinated system will put to burn fewer calories once there’s less leptin in the system. Again, the body’s trying to preserve its fat level. It’s trying to get fat back. During exercise, we’ll have a 25% slower metabolism and during rest about 22% slower metabolism. So it’s really interesting. When we lose fat, it’s a signal to your body through leptin that’s something amiss. There’s a shortage of food. Everyone conserves, muscles conserve, resting metabolic rate get conserved. We think more about food. We seek it more.

This is why dieters, it’s very easy to gain your weight back because you have to eat a little bit less than you did before or someone who’s naturally at that weight. You’ll be a little bit more hungry. Unfortunately, this effect can go on for years and you just have to get through it. I think it’s depressing to hear that, but once you really understand that, you get why you’re feeling hungry, why you’ll say things like, “Hey, I eat as much as that thin person yet they’re thinner than me.” You can start to understand it and I think that helps you with the long term plan if you just plan you have to eat a little bit less or exercise a little bit more in order to maintain that lower weight.

You actually can’t live without your fat. Not just for the energy but because it’s releasing a hormone called leptin, which is critical for our body.

It seems like you lose the fat but your brain keeps the attachment to food. It’s almost like an addiction or an obsession because you want to eat after you lose.

Yeah. What’s funny is that it controls our mind in a way. It controls what we think about. If we think more about food, it controls how we react to pictures and images of food. It even controls our metabolism. It’s all that hormone called leptin which is what fat secretes. It’s a very tricky fat. It’s very smart. It’s a clever organ and you really have to understand it if you want to lose it.

I never thought about fat as smart, but I guess it is. We lose the weight and we have those cravings. Will a high-fat diet help with that?

What I found really helpful and what makes sense scientifically is a high fiber diet seemed to help a lot. I do a chapter on the microbiome as well. Depending on what bacteria you have in your gut, you might have bacteria that are either harvesting more calories out of your food or bacteria that’s letting a lot more pass than go out as waste.

High fiber foods like cabbage, lettuce, leafy greens, things like that, they do a great job of filling up our stomach. It’s fibrous and a lot more will pass as waste. Not only that, it starts to change your microbiome in your gut to a type of bacteria that actually lets more pass as waste and doesn’t extract many more calories out of it.

You have to be balanced. You do need fat in your diet but fiber, I found, is a great way to be filling, lasts longer, you pass more of it out of your body, and it changes your microbiome to help you lose weight. In a way, fat lost to eating a lot of salad, if it gets more fat lost because now you’re changing your whole body to adapt to that. You’re actually extracting calories out of food to get microbiome. I found that to be very useful.

All right. What are some of the most impactful diets out there? There’s intermittent fasting. There’s Paleo. What are some that will work well beyond just eating fiber?

I think a diet has to work for you in all kinds of ways. When you pick a diet, it has to work for you socially, it fits into your life, it has to work for you, and your body’s reacting to it. One thing I learned in this research is that we don’t all react to the same diet. Different people have a different type of weight loss profile on a diet because we’re so individual. Our genetics play into that. Our gender plays into that. What kind of bacteria or viruses we have played into that. There’s a lot that goes into it. You have to tune to a diet that’s actually helping you lose weight. One thing that works for a 20-year-old male might not work for a 55-year-old female. It’s very different.

For very stubborn fat, in addition to a salad like I mentioned which is a great major meal of the day, intermittent fasting is excellent. There’s a number of reasons for that. One is that you extend the release of growth hormones. The growth hormones release starts at the peak at night and it’s a great, great fat buster. When we eat, we mitigate the effect of growth hormones. If you can maintain that overnight fat, extends it to be able a bit longer, you’re increasing the release of growth hormone there. It’s also increasing glucagon which comes up from the pancreas and acting as a fat burner as well.

Amazingly, intermittent fasting helps suppress appetite. For people who’ve done this for a while, they’re not as hungry in the long term as people who aren’t. What I think works well is either maybe 12 hours for men, 14 hours after that, 16 hours for women, I think works well. I have very stubborn fat. I’ve just noticed that between eating the main meal of salad during the day and fasting for a good 16 hour period, it helped me bust through my incredibly stubborn fat.

Forgive and learn to love yourself. That is the secret to a healthier life. Click To Tweet

I tried that and I did lose the fat, but I also lost my sanity.

You’re too hungry, I guess.

I wasn’t only hungry. I became moody, foggy, and felt dizzy.

How long did you stay on it?

I did 16/10. Does it make sense?

How many days were you on it?

I think, by the fifth day, I started feeling awful. I got it for 12 hours or 13 hours. Twelve hours, it was fine but it didn’t have the same potent effect.

As I said, you have to tune in to a diet that works for you. If it doesn’t work for you psychologically, socially, you’re not losing weight, or you just hate the diet and can’t stay on, take another diet. There are lots of good diets out there.

The one I like best is intermittent fasting. I know people who do multiple small meals during the day and they lose weight on that. I know people who will skip breakfast and just eat dinner, they’ve lost weight on that. You bring up an important point which is if you can’t stand it, it’s not going to work.

Low carb works too. The paleo diet works. The low carb diet works. It depends. For me, low carb and paleo are too restrictive. I don’t like to have to watch what I eat so much. This is what I found which is great in intermittent fasting. I could eat almost whatever I wanted to in the day as long as I eat it at the right time of the day—in the morning, or before lunch, or just after lunch. I could eat a cookie. I could eat a piece of candy if I wanted to and nothing bad would happen as long as I did the overnight fast, I extended the fast.

Obviously, you can let go of that kind of food and you can just eat low carbs throughout the day, be left hungry, and not have to get through the stretch where you’re not having dinner, or you’re either with company, or family, or whatever. That can work, too. Pick the diet that works socially, psychologically, and biologically that’s working with your system.

Now, it seems like men have a much easier time losing fat. It’s almost unfair.

That’s true.

What’s the difference between men and women when it comes to fat loss?

Women partition more nutrients into fat compared to men. If you think of it like a 401(k) or an IRA, it’s a part of your salary that’s going right into your 401(k), right into your retirement program. For women, it’s more. They put more into that 401(k) compared to men. So, they get more fat. This has been shown very early on when girls are born. Girl babies are fatter than boy babies. They’ll probably even fatter in the womb compared to the boy babies. Right away, whatever they eat, more of it is going into fat.

Women are also different in that they react to exercise differently than men. When we exercise, say, we burn off 600 calories or so, a really good and vigorous workout, women produce more ghrelin. Ghrelin is a hormone that’s released by the stomach and it causes hunger. Women have 33% more ghrelin in their system after a hard workout compared to men, so they’re hungrier. Indeed, when they go to a buffet after a hard workout, women will overcompensate and put more in their plate after that.

Our bodies are tuned to want to put that back on as well. Lots of reasons for that. That’s really important for reproduction. That’s important for making estrogen. It’s important for lactation. There are so many reasons why fat is important for women. It’s very important for bone strength for women, surprisingly. Women, teenagers, or girls, when they’re growing up, that’s a big component of how they build bones. It’s very ironic at the time that girls want to be thinnest in high school and they’re trying to lose weight, that’s actually when their fat is the most important because that has a big component of the bone building that you can’t get back later. Nature wants a little bit extra padding on women. It’s meant to be and once you realize that, you can rest a little easier.

Pick the diet that works socially, psychologically, and biologically that’s working with your system.

How do conditions like thyroid affect fat loss?

There’s a lot of hormones that affect our metabolism. It affects how fast we burn calories, how much our muscles will burn if we exercise. The thyroid is another one. People who have low clinical thyroid level, they just have a lower metabolism. For them, they have to eat less. They have to exercise a little bit more. It has a big effect. Sometimes when as they get older, going to our 60s we start to get lower thyroid level as well.

As we age, we lose a lot of great fat busting hormones in general. We get lower growth hormone levels and that’s a great fat burning hormone. We get lower levels of estrogen and testosterone which are also fat burning hormones. For some people, not all, get lower thyroid hormone too. It’s almost like fat is a force of nature as we age. If we want to keep staying in shape, we just have to work a lot harder at it as we get from 40, 50, 60, and beyond.

Just a kind of force of nature but there is some evidence at least that shows that having fat later in life actually helps improve mortality rate. We don’t die usually from the disease if we have a little bit of extra padding. There’s an upside, too, and nature might have intended that, a little more fat towards the end.

Can heavy metal exposure or mold exposure affect our fat loss?

I don’t know about that. I haven’t done research into that level. I’m not sure why there’s something you’ve read or heard that makes you think it would.

I heard something in passing. I don’t remember exactly. You said we have leptin. Can we intake leptin externally to lose fat?

It doesn’t work the same. Actually, when people have lost weight and they have low leptin, the body senses that low leptin. They have noticed that replenishing leptin helps keep them satiated. But they’re not having that response of getting too hungry or their metabolism going down drastically. It’s not been approved for that usage. I don’t think it’s going to be out there anytime soon. I think there has been some research looking at that but there’s been some negative effect of injecting leptin into people. Unfortunately, no. We can’t care less into injecting it to ourselves. Although, it would definitely help with weight loss.

I think the method is mind over matter and that you have to just get through it. I wrote a chapter called Mind Over Fat. It’s all the mental tricks that you can use to get through that period where your brain’s reacting to lower leptin. There’s a distraction method you can use to keep your mind off of whatever hunger sensation you’re feeling. There’s something called Temptation Bundling. We pair in an unwanted activity with a wanted activity.

Say, some people will keep a really juicy audio novel at the gym. They can only use it at the gym. The gym locks it away. They find that people go to the gym more. You’re pairing something really cool, something that you maybe not supposed to really do but it’s a guilty pleasure and you’re pairing it with something you don’t want to do like exercise. Even if they want to take those novels away, they find that those people still going to the gym more. They did build a habit.  Habit-forming is really important to get mind over fat. Build on the right habits so things become automatic.

The ultimate goal should be to live with a realistic body image where you have a healthy weight and a happy life. Click To Tweet

There’s something called dichotomous thinking that I always want to tell people about. It’s like when we go off the wagon and we eat ice cream on a diet, then we’ll feel really guilty, and we feel like, “Well, I messed up my diet. I might as well have a steak on top of the ice cream. I might have a lot of cake after the steak,” and you just go down this slippery slope of wanting to eat a lot. Unfortunately, women do this a lot more.

Losing weight is really hard especially with everything that I write about the book, what I learned about fat, how clever it is, and how it has all these tricks to come back. You’re going to have cravings. You’re going to want to go off every once and awhile. That’s completely normal and it might even be a good thing because you can exhaust your willpower. If you keep at it every day, they find that people who had been keeping it can be forcing themselves to do for a long period of time, they start to lose the drive to do anything. Yet, when they give these people a break, they can go watch a movie or do something else, they’re better able to get back on task and stay on it again.

You actually want to engineer in some really good pleasant experiences while you’re dieting. It can be food if you want. Do a little guilty pleasure once in a while. If you find that you are going down the slippery slope where you keep eating a lot, try something else. Try going on a shopping spree. Try doing something else fun. Meet-up with friends or whatever. But definitely engineering some fun times during a diet will help you keep on for the long haul.

Some of these learning is what people who run obesity clinics, this is what they found. The biggest contribution for the patient is to help coach them back onto their diet once they come off. They have patients who always talk about this but they feel really guilty, they came off. “What’s the point in trying?” Because of an authority figure that is efficient, they can coach them back on and they stay on. They end up losing plenty of weight in the end. The trick is, can you come off, have that guilty pleasure, or just have a break from your diet and get back on? If you can’t forgive yourself, then learn to love yourself with everything that it encompasses. You’ll have a healthier diet in the end and a healthier weight.

At some point, for some people, food is an addiction. Usually, when addicts go to rehab, they’re great. But then, they go back to their own home, in their own environment, in their peer group, and the addiction comes back because they are coming back to the same environment that triggered the addiction.

Yes, that’s really important. We could only control our environment so much. I applaud people who started hanging out with different friends and doing new things. I have kids, my kids don’t diet the way I do. There’s just the building of inner strength that I think you just have to do to get through life. If I’m on business travel or something like that and I have to eat the business dinner, I eat it even if I normally do intermittent fasting. You can only control your environment so much. I find that what’s still important in that case is you can come off and get back on quickly without thinking that you’re down the slippery slope and you might as well just give up everything now.

You can be in this careful diet environment where everything is controlled all the time and it’s not as hard but in real life, it’s all over the place. There are all different types of people around you, you’re in so many different situations, mind over matter, mind over fat helped, and then also just can you come off and get back on the very next moment? That’s what’s going to count.

If you have five extra pounds, I always think, so what? Put it in healthy places, make sure it’s not in your visceral area, and just move on. We are going to look like Sports Illustrated models our whole life. I don’t think it’s even meant to be. If you can live with the realistic body image, just know that you’re healthy, you have a healthy weight, and healthy life, I think that’s really the goal for most of us.

Nature wants a little bit extra padding on women. It’s meant to be and once you realize that, you can rest a little easier.

I like what you said about triggers because it’s easier to be spiritual on a top of a mountain surrounded by monks, chants, and beautiful nature than in the middle of LA traffic, for example.

That’s right. You have a mixed bag of experiences every day. Just be forgiving of yourself. It’s not all going to be perfect every day. Let go of perfection. Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the possible.

When you say the words mind over matter, what comes to my mind is the work of Louise Hay with affirmations, visualizations, and seeing yourself as the person you want to become. Do you have any thoughts about that? About the way we see ourselves can help the person, we become when it comes to weight loss and fat loss?

Certainly, as long as it’s a realistic expectation. I think if we’re looking at pictures of very thin models or very low body fat athletes, that’s going to be harder to tune to. I think affirmations can certainly help having the right goal, the right affirmations that you’re dealing with. Of course, saying a mantra like that daily, getting it inculcated into your brain is going to help you stay on. I would make sure it includes some of that forgiveness, that you’re doing the best that you can, that it’s okay if it’s imperfect in there. If you don’t become that perfect vision of the body, it’s okay because there are just all kinds of acceptable body weight you can have.

I liked what you said about forgiveness because many times people build layers of fat as a shield from the outside world. Women who went throughto trauma – the fat becomes an isolated layer between them and the outside world. It becomes a protective layer.

There’s a lot of psychology on fat as well. If you really want to lose it, it is a battle. I don’t sugarcoat it. I don’t say it’s easy. It’s hard. If you have stubborn fat—there’s all kinds of fat—it’s easy to lose fat which you get in a young male and any young female too. It’s very hard stubborn fat, the other end of the spectrum, it is not easy to lose.

In order to get on the path to really getting it under control, you have to be in the right mental mindset. If you’re going through a lot of stress in your life—divorce, a job loss, or something like that—it’s really hard because that loss will take a lot of willpower. It’ll take a lot of effort, a lot of your mind share. There are times that’s right to start a diet and times that it’s not. I think if something is going in your life,  your best off healing that first, healing your mental state, and working on that. Once you have that more in a place that’s a little bit stronger, a little bit more fortitude, the fat loss becomes easier. You can take on the other battle of now getting your fat under control.

There are good and bad times to start a diet. I think what you don’t want to do is there’s some trauma going on and you can’t lose weight at the same time. It’s hard to lose weight and you go off your diet more because the girl power is not quite there. It’s a stressor. Then, you think you’re failing at your diet and becomes this compounding effect of this feeling like a failure. Not only you put every job loss, divorce, but now you can’t lose weight. You can’t stay on a diet.

So, go on at the right time, when you feel strong and you’re ready for that battle. It will take you a long time and it will take you a lot of effort. Not only a lot of effort to lose the fat but to maintain that fat loss will take years as well. So, get help in order, do it as fast as you can, and then certainly forgive. There are all kinds of reasons to go off and just get back on.

Let go of perfection. Don't let it get in the way of what is possible. Click To Tweet

That’s such an important point that you just shared. We need to be kind to ourselves. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself with all those stressors. If something is already stressful and taking all your energy, then focus on that. Don’t just add more stressors. It’s unnecessary.


It’s beautiful. What are some of the biggest lies you heard from the weight loss industry?

I think the first one is that it’s easy to lose fat because the fat melts off. I mean, come on. I think it’s easy for some people if you’re going to feel at ease you will lose fat. I know young men, all they do is exercise a little bit more and fat melts off of them. I think that’s the biggest lie. Certainly, for other people, there’s nothing easy about it. It actually takes quite a bit of effort. That’s the first lie.

I think this idea of one diet fits all, is a lie. People are very different. There’s actually some good research showing that different foods create different effects in different people. Some people can eat a muffin or a cookie and they don’t get a blood sugar spike. There are other people that even a crumb or even a bite of a cookie, they get this huge blood sugar spike. Not every diet is for everyone. Some people can get away with more. They can eat more and stay thin. Other people, they have a different reaction to food.

Your genetics play in. Your microbiome play in, your gender, your age. All kinds of things will play into how your metabolizing food and how much fat you’re storing. You’ll definitely get off of these things, all this Paleo diet or whatever diet. “Diet X worked for this person, so I’m going to get on it. Why am I not losing weight the same way?” It might not be working for you, that diet. It might be tuned to somebody else.

The third one that really bothers me is there’s almost little guilt that goes on with the dieting industry is that you can’t do it because you have no self-control. Certainly, if you follow our very easy diet, you should be losing weight. For all the reasons I just said, diets are very individual. Bodies are individual. That’s not necessarily true. I’ve been on a diet where I actually gained weight. I didn’t lose weight because it was a wrong diet for me. I have a body that loves to take on fat. It’s very sensitive to sugar. It’s still just somebody else like young males or someone else. It’s not going to work for me. I can gain weight on a diet.

Part of my research is I tried a lot of diets. There are so many mixed signals and mixed plans in the diet world, it’s hard to know what to go on, what’s going to work for me, and I got really fed up with this. I’m just going to understand my fat. I’m going to do tons of research. In less than five years, I pulled out about a thousand articles that are scientific literature. I talked to about 50 scientists around the world about this research on fat. I start understanding how complicated it was.

That whole thing of going on a diet and definitely not working or not working like they were on someone else, led me down this path. But just know that I don’t feel guilty about it. Don’t let the diet industry makes you feel guilty because whatever diet is not working for you. Just start tuning in. Keep a log of what you’re eating, weigh yourself every morning before you eat, and see what’s working for you. You’ll start to know the correlations. “When I eat this thing that I don’t lose weight,” or, “When I eat this at this hour, I don’t lose weight or I gain weight,” and you’ll start to see what works for you. That’s what I did. It helped me hone into what actually was working in the end.

Sylvia, what do youwould you think of diet pills and the gel that you put on your waist that can help you lose the fat and all those products?

Whether they work? Does anyone use a gel? Gel on the waist? I haven’t heard of that one.   medical interventions for fat, depending on the state you’re in, depending on your health. Of course, you have to do this with a physician but there’s a risk-reward benefit to everything we do. There’s a risk-reward benefit to even diet, to what you eat. There’s risk-reward to surgeries, to pills, and medications. If you’re seriously overweight that is causing a health problem, I can’t say diet pills are a bad thing to do necessarily. It might be a recommended intervention at that point. I’m sure everyone wishes they could just have the willpower to do it and it just melts off. That’s just not the case for everybody.

I think it’s very individual once again depending on what your state is, how dangerous your weight is to have on you at your stage in life. I think medical intervention can sometimes be a good thing for people, depending on the situation.

We all want to have that magical pill that will fix our relationship, our life, our weight loss, and everything. It’s the same with over-the-counter pills. There’s so many chemicals and things that go in there. It can create liver problems and heart problems. Everything needs to be considered thoroughly.

Definitely. There’s definitely heart issues. We all read about the side effects of diet pills, but at the same time having massive excess weight also has side effects. You just set to discuss that really, you know a very good physician and weigh the risks and benefits, and see what is right for you. I never liked to just give a blanket statement that this one thing is all that for everybody. It’s really very individual.

That’s a sign of high consciousness. I just had a conversation about it. When people are very attached to their method or to a certain method, it’s under a little rigid with it. It shows a lower state of consciousness.

Good. I’m ascending, I’m happy.

You’re ascending, you’re awakened. How does our epigenetics affect our weight loss?

Apparently, a lot. There’s more and more research on this all the time. It’s a fascinating area of fat research, really. I do talk about the story of Pima Indians in my book. It’s funny because they come from a lineage where there was famine in their history. They tuned their genetics to where they can hoard a lot of calories and they store a lot of fat because they come from this lineage of a history of famine. Their bodies have developed in this way that their genes and the different alleles that they have, build them up in a way that they can store a lot of fat.

You see the difference in genetics right there. These Pima Indians, when they started eating more western food in the 1800s or early 1900s, they started packing on fat like crazy whereas the Caucasians around them weren’t packing on fat. They had a Caucasian type of diet with more starch, flour, and they were doing fine, but the Pima Indians once they started eating they started really getting fat. You see this in other cultures as well. When people come here to the US and they start eating more of the western diet, some cultures and races will gain a lot more weight than others. There’s definitely a genetic component to this.

More specifically, I write about the FTO gene. I write about the RIS1 gene as well, or different variations that either affects appetite or they affect how much fat is sequestered in our body. Your genetics will play a part here. What are those really is it just makes it harder to maintain weight than it does for someone else. I don’t like to use genetics as an excuse. “I need to be obese. I can’t do anything about it because… look at my family, we’re all obese, and it’s genetic.” It just means it’s harder. It’s a bit harder. Your appetite might be affected. Your body might be tuned to gain more fat.

I write about this in my book. I’m Indian. My parents were from India. It’s another culture that had famine and it’s just tricky as well. I’m sure I’m very much like the Pima Indians where I gained fat quickly. It just means I work harder at it. I do fasting, I do exercise, and I’m not a very perfectly lean body, but I’m thin enough that I’m happy. I fit into clothes that I want to fit into and I feel pretty healthy. But even just for that, I work harder at it and probably eat less than other people, with a different genetic profile, to stay thin.

I think I heard from Deepak Chopra, we can change 50% of our DNA or something like that. Whatever we think is set in stone can be actually changed. Even our brains can change.

Our DNA can change?

Yeah, the DNA.

You’re probably getting at epigenetics. How we have patterns from the DNA that can change based on the things that we do like our experiences. That’s a really interesting area of research now.

That’s the next book.


The freezing of fat in fat loss surgery, do they work? Do they have a long term effect? Is it recommended?

I don’t know about that. I know for liposuction, they’ve seen fat grow back. I write about this in the Secret Life of Fat, that people who get liposuction stay off their size, they’re off their buttocks. If they don’t exercise really regularly after liposuction, the fat will come back, and it doesn’t come back where you took it from. It actually comes back in your visceral area. It’s more dangerous fat than you had before.

Research shows that when people exercise two times a week for a good 45 minutes or so and watch their weight, they could maintain that weight loss. It’s almost like our body has a count of how many fat cells we have. When we start losing, it starts reacting and wanted to put that fat back. Any way you lose fat either by dieting or by liposuction, it kind of wants to come back.

I don’t think I’ve seen research that shows fat freezing, that the fat comes back. That’s a very new method right now. There is no research ever done on that, I don’t think it’s been observed so far anyway.

How does the loss of fat affect fertility? What can women, who after pregnancy, can handle fat loss?

It can affect fertility if you have too little fat. I think the normal amount of fat run around 25% or so for women and it really only affects people who went with a very low fat like 17% or so. They said leptin is tied to reproduction. If you have lower leptins, it’s going to affect menstruation, it will affect your ability to get pregnant. Fat also produces estrogen. Again, very low levels of fat, you don’t have the right amount of estrogen. You got to get hormone replacement if you want to stay thin and you can get that injected into you. I think that works. Or just gain some fat back.

You see this a lot with athletes, ballerinas, people like this. When the time comes to have a kid, they step out for a moment, they gain some fat, they conceive, and they can go back. It has a lot of effects on women is actually quite important. It’s not just extra calories. It’s part of our bodies. Our bodies depend on it for so many reasons. Like I said, the bone strength for reproduction, even for brain size is linked to fat—the amount of fat we have—to wound healing, immune system, all kinds of things.

What about fat loss after pregnancy?

Your body almost tends to do that. Most of us gain weight during pregnancy. During lactation, we can melt fat off very quickly. We get into our higher energy burning state and then it comes off. Right after pregnancy is the best time to lose that baby weight. After that, it gets a little bit harder, so it certainly comes off. It’s not important to have as much fat after pregnancy as it is before and during.

That’s great to know. This is a little different question. What are your three top tips to living a stellar life?

Stellar life. Wow. I think having goals to yourself. That, for me really works. If I don’t have goals I’m pursuing, I feel like I don’t know what I’m aiming for anymore. Goals that are achievable, that I really believe in, they just help everything else falls into line. I think that’s one for a stellar life. I think, too, it’s realistic goals is really gets into.

Stop comparing yourself to everybody. Everyone came borne into a different situation, different experiences, reacted differently to them. It’s just so variable life. You can make yourself quite miserable constantly comparing yourself to other people’s success or feel quite arrogant compared to someone else’s losses. We’re like a billiard ball. When we’re set off,  different things are going to happen in different people. You just try your best all along the way.

The third thing I learned to do and I learned to do this more recently, just really engineers happiness into life. I find that you can get so busy with everything. There’s lots of pressure, there are jobs, there are kids, there’s having a diet, there’s having to exercise, and do all kinds of things. I’ve actually learned to schedule it on my calendar. Times where I’m going to have fun and just how much fun I’m going to have. I make sure I get them there so I can feel whole. I can like I’ve got a worthwhile existence. It’s not just all work but there’s plenty of hard fun in there, too.

What is fun for you?

You’re going to laugh at this. I like going out to eat. That’s everything that I just said. I really like it. If we’re going out at night, I will just eat a little bit. When I was dieting, when I was trying to lose weight, I wouldn’t won’t eat much at night. When I’m more into a maintenance mode, I can relax a little bit. I always eat a few bites of something that’s very small, take the rest for the next day. I love experiencing new food, new cuisine, and just having fun. Sitting back with a little bit of wine with friends, that’s my favorite thing to do. Travel is good. New experiences with my family, I love that, too. Kind of experiential things is what I find really fun.

That’s beautiful. Before the show, we talked, and you told me that you have a new course coming up?

That’s right. The book I have, The Secret Life of Fat, is just chock full of so many facts, so many things in it, that some people find it hard to digest and know how to make it operational for them. I’m developing a course now, very comprehensive. Taking people through the learnings in The Secret Life of Fat and then trying to help them how to use it for them, how do you do a diet for you.

First of all, what kind of fat do you have? How do you diagnose it? Is it easy fat? Is it very stubborn fat? Is it somewhere in the middle? How do you tell if you’re going to have stubborn fat or not? Kind of diagnosis guide, and then how to ratch it up your diet to tune it to you in that case? How do you monitor your food? What changes can you make along the way if you find you’re just not getting the weight loss, that you’re really stuck?

It’s kind of a funnel, if you will, going from easy to very hard and making changes along the way until you get to a weight loss regimen. And it’s still the difference that takes into consideration also the psychological state. Like I said, not every diet is going to work for people. There are certain diets I just don’t like being on even though I know they work, so that has to be considered as well for people on their diet. We’ll try to cover all of it. It’s a massive work. I’m still working on it but it will be out there depending on when one’s interested. Go to thesecretlifeoffat.com and put in your email. I’ll just notify everyone. You can also reach me on Facebook at facebook.com/sylviataraphd. I’ll announce there too.

And get the book. That’s a really good book.


Thank you so much, Sylvia. This was a pleasure. I appreciate you being on this show.

Great. Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Thank you. And thank you, listeners. Remember to set goals especially realistic goals. Compare yourself to yourself only and not to others. Schedule fun and happiness. Be kind to yourself and others. Have a stellar life. This is Orion. Until next time.

Your Checklist of Actions to Take

✓ Develop a healthy psychology towards food. Don’t treat your body fat as the enemy. The harder you push yourself in your weight loss journey, the more likely it is that you’ll experience negative side effects.
✓ Understand what the hormone leptin does to your body. Leptin acts on the brain to regulate food intake and energy expenditure. Weight gain and weight loss directly affect the amount of leptin in your body, which can also impact your immune system, bone strength, reproductive system, and ability to heal.  
✓ Eat a high-fiber diet. Incorporate a lot of green leafy vegetables and high-fiber fruits to your daily meals for a faster metabolism.
✓ Make sure your diet includes foods that boost your microbiome, like kefir, kombucha, and kim chi. Having the right bacteria can help burn more calories.
✓ Choose a type of diet that works for you socially, biologically, and psychologically. There’s intermittent fasting, Paleo, Keto, etc., but make sure that whatever you choose fits your lifestyle.
✓ Form habits that allow your weight loss practices become automatic. Committing to a program will make you realize how committed and disciplined your mind and body can be.
✓ Don’t be too hard on yourself if you occasionally give in to cravings, but don’t let yourself lose your drive in achieving your ideal weight.
✓ Be mindful of your environment. If you aren’t surrounded by a support system, it may be harder for you to lose weight.
✓ Develop a realistic body image. Remember that not everything the media portrays is real. In fact, most of the images we see are altered and photoshopped, creating false expectations of what is achievable.
✓ Grab a copy of Sylvia Tara’s book, The Secret Life of Fat, to find out how you can conquer your own body fat by understanding the science behind weight loss.

Links and Resources

About Sylvia Tara

Sylvia Tara was driven to research fat, science, and lifestyle after she finally got “fed up” with eating less and exercising more than her slimmer friends throughout her life. Her experiences told her there was more to weight loss than just calorie in, calorie out. As a biochemist, she was driven to get to the bottom of fats mysteries and the reasons it vexes us. In her best-selling book, The Secret Life of Fat, she reveals the complex biology of fat, how it resists loss, and what it means for each of us. Dr. Tara holds a PhD in biochemistry from the University of California at San Diego and an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She was a consultant with McKinsey & Company and has worked at the world’s largest biotechnology companies.

Disclaimer: The medical, fitness, psychological, mindset, lifestyle, and nutritional information provided on this website and through any materials, downloads, videos, webinars, podcasts, or emails are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical/fitness/nutritional advice, diagnoses, or treatment. Always seek the help of your physician, psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, certified trainer, or dietitian with any questions regarding starting any new programs or treatments or stopping any current programs or treatments. This website is for information purposes only, and the creators and editors, including Orion Talmay, accept no liability for any injury or illness arising out of the use of the material contained herein, and make no warranty, express or implied, with respect to the contents of this website and affiliated materials.

Facebook Comments