Episode 35 | Siphiwe Baleka | Is Your Job Making You Fat?


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Kathy Smith: Siphiwe, welcome to the show.

Siphiwe Baleka: Thank you. I’m so excited to be here, Kathy. You really set it all quite nicely.

Kathy Smith:Well, here’s the thing. Before we get going, I wanted to say a couple of things. I think this is kind of six degrees of separation. You went to Yale. My daughter went to Yale and graduated a few years ago. You were Olympic bound. My daughter went to the Olympics this year in track and made it to the finals in track. So, just in case you didn’t know, we have a little bit of connection there as well as we both love fitness. So, I feel like we’re on the right road here at least.

Siphiwe Baleka: Well, how wonderful. Congratulations to your daughter and you as parent.

Kathy Smith: I know. I take full credit, by the way. No. Ok, so, let’s get into it. You were a college swimmer. You attended Yale. So, where do you go from there to getting in the trucking industry? Take us through that story a little bit.

Siphiwe Baleka: Well, yes, my goal was to become the first African American on the U.S. Olympic swim team. In the 1992, that was sort of my best opportunity, and I missed Olympic trials. I didn’t even make it to Olympic trials. I missed the cut by 8/10 of a second, so that kind of–

Kathy Smith: That was close.

Siphiwe Baleka: Yeah, it close and it was heartbreaking, and I knew that I didn’t have another four years in me to train – that that was it. So, that was the end of a 12-year commitment, and I didn’t want to swim anymore.

When I was finished with school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I studied philosophy and physics and I just wanted to travel the world. I wanted to be like Jesus and Buddha and just go out and experience the world and be free and help people, and I did that for about 15 years. It was amazing. I travelled on four or five different continents and about 30 different countries and met all kinds of amazing people and did all kinds of amazing things, but I got older. I was starting to feel burned out. The one thing I hadn’t done was make any money, and I knew I needed a career change, I needed to do something different.

I came back to America, and I had a friend who was truck driver. He was like, ‘You should drive a truck. It kind of suits your nomadic personality. You’ve got plenty of time to think. You don’t have a family yet, so you can save money.’ It just seemed like a good fit at the time, Kathy.

I had never been in a truck, didn’t know anything about truck driving, ended up at this company called Prime, which is based in Springfield, Missouri because they had this great student driver training program. Then, they give you a job and it was a great company. That’s how I got into truck driving was kind of by default.

Kathy Smith: Ok, then you started driving the truck, and from what I understand from your book, you started to go from this great Olympic swimmer body and energy and whatever, you started to gain weight and feel a little lethargic and just kind of out of sorts. How long was that time period that you noticed the shift?

Siphiwe Baleka: No, I didn’t just kind of like start to gain weight. I gained 10% of my body weight in the first two months. I was 140 pounds the day I started. Two months later, I was 155 pounds. That’s 15 pounds. Now, that might not sound like a lot to some people, but anytime you gain 10% of your body weight in such a short period of time, that’s extreme.

That was the moment I realized, if I don’t take responsibility for my health and my wellness and my weight while I’m out on the road, I was going to end up like almost 70% of truck drivers that you mentioned that are overweight or obese and, then, have the highest rate of metabolic syndrome and the lowest life expectancy of any occupation in America. So, that was my aha, wake up moment, you know, I’ve got to do this.

Kathy Smith: So, you came up with a program, but backing up, I mean, you’ve had your years of training, you had where you spent those 12 years, you dedicated your life. Those were long days, hard intense workouts. How did you develop a program that could be done while you’re on the road for these long road trips, while you’re sitting all day long? How did you come up with this program?

Siphiwe Baleka: At first, I tried all the conventional things that I knew and every kind of fitness product, every kind of fitness program from P90X to GSP Rushfit and X-Factor and Tae Bo and Zumba, every kind of diet – meta training, Atkins, paleo.

I tried everything that was out there to find out what would work and what didn’t work in the unique environment of long-haul truck driving. Because I’m living in a box, I don’t have access to a kitchen, I have food storage issues. I’m not able to store a week’s worth of fresh food on the truck. I’m not able to get to the local organic farmer’s market or the specialty store selling the grass-fed hormone free meat. Plus, I’m driving a tractor and a 53-foot trailer which means I’m not able to get off the major highways and interstates too easily. I’m not able to get to the gym, and even if I can get to the gym, they’re not set up for truck parking.

So, there are all of these challenges and limitations that I had to deal with that made it very challenging. On top of all that, in truck driving, the way you make money is you drive when the freight dictates. That means sometimes you’re driving at night, sometimes you’re driving in the day, sometimes you’re not driving at all. Your schedule is always changing. So, what happens is that throws off your circadian rhythms, which ultimately throws off your hormone production, specifically the hormones that regulate metabolisms – serum leptin, serum ghrelin. What’s happening to 86% of America’s truck drivers is that their hormones are changing and they are literally losing the ability to regulate their metabolism. So, either they don’t get the signal that they’re hungry and that they need to start eating. They’re not getting that signal so they don’t feel hungry, so they skip meals or they’re not getting the signal that they’re full and they need to stop eating, in which case they will eat and eat and overeat. It’s not because they lack willpower or it’s a personality disorder or a character flaw or anything like that. It’s literally their hormones. They’re not getting the signal, but they don’t realize it.

So, that was the root of the problem. It’s a hormonal issue. None of these programs address the hormonal issue and all of these challenges I was facing.

Kathy Smith: Let me just stop you for one second there to kind of recap this a little bit but, also, to point out how similar it is to so many other people in America. Like, you talked about the excuses and I thought those were great excuses. Like, you’re right. How do you get your truck off the road and park it in a Subway? How do you do these things?

But those excuses all of a sudden where “I can’t get to a gym,” or “I can’t find time throughout the day,” we all make those excuses whether we’re driving a truck or whether we’re going to the office that happens to be 10 blocks away. We have deadlines, we have kids, we have whatever and the excuses come up. So, I think that’s a really relevant point that what you’re talking about is true for everybody.

Then, I think honestly one of the most fascinating things you said and I loved about your book and, so, I want to make sure we don’t gloss over it, because it’s really important. This is this idea that you talk about weight loss thinking is all about calorie burning as the goal, but this fat loss thinking is all about hormones. You mentioned the two biggies, the leptin and the ghrelin. One tells you it’s time to eat and one tells you it’s time to stop eating.

What I’ve always found fascinating–and you talk about it in the book–but I’m naturally tuned into that with my body and I have been through the years. If I drop three or four pounds for whatever reason, my body wants to eat all the time. If I gain three or four pounds, all of a sudden, I naturally don’t really want to eat that much. That’s something that’s kind of built in to our bodies, built in to our genetic makeup. It’s an evolutionary type of process that’s built into us.

But what you’re saying is that when things go right–and I want to talk about what throws it off. You mentioned the circadian rhythms get off and I want to talk about how that happens, but what you’re saying is that these hormones really aren’t doing their job anymore, and it causes havoc in the body. Because your body never feels like it’s full and you just want to keep eating.

Siphiwe Baleka: Yes, and with the truck drivers, I mean, I was able to use some really great digital health devices that could measure metabolism directly. We put these on the drivers and observed for 91 days exactly what was going on with their physiology and their metabolism.

So, it helped me to really isolate–the real problem, it had very little to do with calories. We track all of that too, and every single drive that entered my 13-week program that was overweight or obese, they all had a calorie deficit to start with. They were already burning more calories than they were consuming which goes against every conventional school of weight loss theory that we’ve ever been taught. The real issue was their metabolic set point was so low, and they were sedentary not just for the 10 or 11 hours they were driving all day, but what are these drivers doing when they’re not driving. They’re still sitting down. Whether they’re sleeping in the back of the cab or sitting down at the truck stop and eating, they’re still sedentary.

We were able to track this, and the average long-haul driver was sedentary 23 hours and 20 minutes every single day. What we learned was they were never engaging their fat burning system. They never turned it on. When I worked out my program and figured out all the things, what it really came down to was we don’t exercise to burn calories anymore.

What I teach the drivers is you need to move to turn your fat burning system on. Once you do that, you can go sit back down and you’re going to be burning fat at an accelerated rate. Now, the easiest and most effective way to turn your fat burning system on is you’ve got to move with maximum intensity for four minutes. It doesn’t matter what the movement is. It’s any movement you can do.

So, this means anybody can do this. As long as you can move, you can do this program, but you have to move with so much intensity that you’re breathing so hard you can barely finish a sentence. If you do that, you’ve engaged your fat burning system. Now, you’re burning fat at an accelerated rate. This is the missing element for so many people who are sedentary. Why start your day with your metabolism on off when you can turn it on in four minutes; hence, the book.

Kathy Smith: So, the four minutes, what you’re saying is the four-minute time period, if you can spike that metabolism, if you can increase that metabolism throughout the day with these spikes, then you can shift that metabolic set point so it’s not so low?

Siphiwe Baleka: Yes. It’s actually a two-step. First, you’ve got to turn the metabolism on, then once you have it on, you’ve got to keep it on.

So, the fitness part of it is the turning it on. I came to this conclusion–it was by empirical evidence. We had these drivers going through my 13-week program that I designed and we had this digital health equipment, and we studied the first 51 drivers who went through the program. So, we’re talking men and women who are overweight, obese – 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 100 pounds overweight. By the end of the program – 13 weeks – the average weight loss was 19 pounds. We had drivers who were losing 20, 30, 40, 50, even 60 pounds in the 13 weeks, and when we looked at all the data and broke it down, what we discovered was fascinating.

First, the average change in calories by the end of the program was only 70 calories. So right away, Kathy, 70 calories, that’s like what – half of a cookie?

Kathy Smith: Yeah. A few M & Ms. Half a bag of M & Ms, yeah.

Siphiwe Baleka: So, if the calories only changed by 70 calories, it wasn’t the calories that were responsible for the weight loss. So, we looked at meal frequency. The meal frequency actually increased. Not by a lot. It was like 1/10 or 2/10, but it increased a little bit. The thing that blew my mind was this. The activity–we’ve all heard if you want to lose weight it’s calories in/calories out. You’ve got to move more, eat less. Well, these drivers were actually moving less. They went from 108 minutes of moderate activity down to just 88 and they were taking 833 less steps.

So, now, I’m scratching my head, Kathy. I’m like, “How did these drivers lose so much weight when their calories barely changed and they were moving less?” It goes against everything we’ve ever been taught.

So, we looked deeper into the data and what we found was this: it didn’t matter who you were – male or female, old, young, new driver, veteran driver, white, black – it didn’t matter who you were. If you did the following three things, you lost, on average, 19 pound or seven percent of your body weight.

Those three things were you had to gradually reduce your carbs by a minimum of 10% while increasing your protein by five percent. But the key to all of it, you had to get at least four minutes of vigorous activity. If you did those three things simultaneously every day for 91 days, you lost 19 pounds across the board. It blew my mind. That’s where this whole idea of four minutes.

So, you were talking about excuses. They’re not excuses. People really don’t have the time. I’m not going to say my kids are an excuse or my business concerns are an excuse. I’m very busy. You’re right I can’t get to–that’s not an excuse. That’s a reality. I don’t have an hour and 30 minutes to go to the gym, but I do have four minutes.

If I can turn my metabolism on in four minutes, I can do that in the space of brushing my teeth and taking a shower in the morning. I have four minutes. So, that was the revolutionary breakthrough is I can show drivers right on the side of their truck with no equipment. You don’t even need to change clothes. Any movement you can do four minutes, turn your metabolism on and, then, once you have it on, you just have to eat every three hours. Because when you eat, you give your metabolism work to do.

The key is you’ve got to eat the right thing. In this case, the right thing is protein. If I can get you to eat protein every three hours after turning on your metabolism, you’re going to lose weight. I know it sounds so simple and easy, Kathy. You’re like, “Come on. This can’t possibly work.” But this goes back to what you said in the introduction. One out of three Americans is obese. We have the highest rate of obesity of any country, I think, except for maybe Mexico. It’s an epidemic.

Obesity is costing America $150 billion a year. I’ve heard generals talk about the biggest threat to our military is the fact that right now only three out of 10 adult Americans can qualify, and the number one reason why they get disqualified for enlisting in our armed services is because of obesity. It’s affecting every sector of the economy. So, if we can find a solution that’s working for the occupation that has the highest level of obesity and the most restrictions and challenges, if it can work for them, now, we’ve got a foundational solution that can work for America.

Kathy Smith:What I love about what you just said is that you can do it any time of day, but even that period where you painted that picture between brushing your teeth and jumping in the shower. So, take us either to your routine or to a routine. I just spread the Colgate on my toothbrush, I’m brushing, brushing, brushing. I’m getting white, white, white and, now, I put my toothbrush down. What would you do in that next four minutes to get your heart rate up before you jump in the shower?

Siphiwe Baleka: Me, I’m standing in my bathroom. I do this in my bathroom at home, but I would do this when I was out on the road too. At the truck stops, they have showers available to the drivers. They’re these little shower stalls that you get. They’re private. I was known to do this in the bathroom but I would also do this at the laundry mat or anywhere. I’m running in place, I’m doing jumping jacks. I’m doing this move that I call knee crushers. All of these things are kind of explained in the book and there’s pictures. My favorite is shadow boxing. You just shadow box with as much intensity as you can. It’s running in place.

I have clients, though, that can’t do all of that. So, for them, simply marching in place for a lot of them is causing to breathe so hard they can’t finish a sentence, and they’re going to get the same effect.

What I tell all the clients, whether they’re my CEO clients or they’re my driver clients is that every behavior has a trigger. When it comes to behavior change–and I’m sure you know this as well especially when it comes to committing to a new fitness lifestyle–it has to be convenient.

The more you have to go out of your way, the more disruptive the new behavior it is, the least likely you’re going to stick to it. So, with the drivers, the trigger I always tell them is whenever they open the door to get into the truck to start driving, if they’re opening the door, aren’t they already outside the truck? Yeah. Aren’t they already standing? Yeah. Ok, so, you’re ready to work out. You don’t even have to plan this. So, your trigger is whenever you open the door, you know you’re going to be driving. It’s your choice. You can either drive with your metabolism on off or you can drive with it on high. It only takes four minutes to turn it on. It’s your choice. So, you open that door, do your four minutes and, then, go and drive.

So, likewise, my non-drivers, I love the brushing your teeth as a trigger because you’re already engaged in doing something that you don’t really think about. It’s almost automatic for most adults. You get up in the morning, you brush your teeth. At least, I hope you do.

What is it you’re doing? You’re doing a behavior that you learned at some point, you’ve got to do whether you feel like it or not. Most of the people I know, Kathy, they do not get off on brushing their teeth. They’re not like, “Oh, my God. These bristles, I can’t wait to put them in my mouth,” and “The fluoride, I just love the fluoride and how it makes my tongue feel.” No, that’s not how people think about brushing their teeth. They don’t get excited about it. It’s just a habit that they formed because you can’t afford not to. If you don’t brush your teeth, you’re going to have nasty breath, you’re not going to be attractive, you’re going to have social problems. So, at some point, you made this a habit.

So, as long as you’re in the habit of what – taking care of yourself – brushing your teeth. After you brush your teeth, let that be the trigger. “Ok, before I start my day, before I get busy, before I go off to the job and take the kids to school and do all the things I’ve got to do, let me turn my metabolism on, so while I’m doing all the things I’ve got to do during the day, I’m burning fat.

Kathy Smith: It’s interesting when I hear you talk. I don’t know if you’re going to like this comparison or not, but I think about you as sort of the Richard Simmons for truckers. I say that with all the love and respect, because Richard really has claimed to fame as helping a group of people and especially women start to move and use their bodies and to motivate them. He motivated millions of people across the country living sedentary lifestyles to get up and move, and it was because of his passion and his way he could just explain things

I think that’s what you’re so good at is just this passion because of I’m sure a lot of different reasons. But one of the things that just is exciting that I hear you talk about this and, yet, at the same time, I want to know how do you get those truckers when you say just open the door and start shadow boxing or doing jumping jacks, how do you make them feel like they’re not going to look like they’re crazy to all the other people driving by? Like, what is that person doing? Have they gone nuts? How do you overcome that obstacle with people of not feeling self-conscious about doing this in any kind of environment including, I think, for ourselves in our own home? Sometimes it’s like, “Oh, that feels a little like not my regular routine.” Like, I’ll be jumping up and down in my bathroom. I’ll look a little nuts. So, what do have to say about that?

Siphiwe Baleka: Ok, very insightful of you, Kathy. I’m glad you brought this up. So, let’s deal with the individual first and particularly my drivers who, if they’re obese and they haven’t been exercising and they’ve already got some self-esteem issues, you’re absolutely right. A big factor is, “I don’t do anything active because I don’t want to be seen. I feel embarrassed, I feel ashamed, I feel humiliated.” Nine times out of 10 this is something that they experienced early in their life like in second grade. So, they’ve reinforced this programming, “I don’t want to be seen, I don’t want to be active, which is why I’m in the condition I’m in now.”

So, here’s what I tell them. Imagine this driver, they’re at a truck stop and I’m telling them, “Right on the side of your truck, I want you to do the shadow boxing.” I don’t tell them, “You’re not going to look silly.” I tell them straight up, “Yeah, you are going to look silly.” Now, watch this.

So, if you’re worried that somebody is looking at you and laughing and mocking you and all of that and that’s the reason you don’t want to do this, first off, let’s admit, that’s a speculation. You don’t know if somebody’s actually doing that because nine times out of 10, they’re not coming up to your face and laughing at you. You think they’re in their truck looking at you.

But let’s assume that somebody is. So, what I tell these drivers is, “Who is this somebody that’s so important, so powerful that they have so much power over your life that they would prevent you from doing something that you need to do take care of yourself? Do you know their name? Are you ever going to see them again? And even if you knew their name and you were going to see them, who are they that they’re so important that they have this kind of power and control?”

So, that’s how I start the conversation with them, get them thinking like that. Then, I tell them this, “Let’s go back to the fact that you’re speculating somebody is looking at you and laughing. That’s a speculation. That’s something that’s going on in your head and your imagination. As long as you’re speculating on that, you’re free to speculate on whatever. For every person who may, in fact, be looking and laughing, there’s somebody else that’s looking at you and you’re inspiring them. They’re looking at you and they’re like, ‘Man, I need to be doing that and I’m not.'”

All of a sudden, you are setting an example and you are the light in the world and you are the inspiration that can change somebody else’s life. So, as long as you’re going to speculate, man, choose to speculate to be the hero. Just like taking care of yourself, you can be the motivator, you can be the hero in this script. That’s a much more positive speculation.

If you don’t believe me, look at the show The Biggest Loser. Millions of people love that show, and they get inspired because they see these people struggling and transforming themselves and people love that.

So, Kathy, to be quite honest with you, people look at me as a fitness guru. I don’t inspire them anymore. They’re like, “Oh, you can do that. You were an athlete. You can do all that stuff. You’re in great shape.” But when you get a man or a woman who’s 200, 250, 300, 350 that’s doing this, then all those other people who can identify and relate and they’re like, “Well, if he is doing it or she can do it, I can do it too.” So, I try plant that seed that you don’t have to be a fitness icon to be a fitness inspiration.

Kathy Smith: Yeah, there’s a saying, “If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you won’t.” This idea of setting that intention, as you said, setting it, monitoring the positive side of that–and I will tell you, I was at a conference this last week. There was music all around and I was teaching at this convention and as we’re walking to sign in, there was music going, and I love to move.

So, I, through the years, have no shame with movement. I love it, so I’m walking in the conference and it’s like, “I feel good! Da da da. Just like I should that I would now.” And the song’s on and my arms are going and, then, everybody around, it’s just almost a knee jerk reaction for me. Then, everybody around me starts dancing. Then, all of a sudden there’s a cameraman, then, he comes over and starts taping. Then, we have the whole crowd dancing. It’s like starting that movement, because people, in general, like the energy that comes from movement.

I think that’s another big thing that people forget. We sort of equate movement and weight loss and, obviously, a lot of people need to lose weight. What I have preached and taught and tried to inspire throughout my career is that this movement creates energy and that creates brain energy and emotional energy and sexual energy and all kinds of energy that you can use in every other aspect of your life. When you’re creating that through the day, yes, you’re continuing to lose weight, but life just gets a little happier, there’s more light in your life. I think that’s one of the things that comes across loud and clear in your book.

Siphiwe Baleka: You hit on it again. There’s a direct relationship between how much energy you have and what you experience in life. The amount of energy that you have is, in part, a function of your physical condition.

The amount of mitochondria you have, which is the energy-producing capacity in all of your cells and how much weight you have to carry around. So, if you’re lacking muscle mass and you’re lacking mitochondria, you have less energy-producing capacity, and if you’re carrying around a lot of dead weight in the form of fat, you have less energy to carry around more weight

So, at the end of the day, you’re exhausted, you’re tired, once you’ve met your sort of primary responsibilities you don’t feel like doing anything extra. So, you might not feel like playing with your kids, you might not feel like going to the park or getting out and doing something active so you miss out on experiences. Then when you miss out on experiences, you miss out on lessons, you miss out on growth. So, one of the things I like to do is talk about the direct relationship between your physical health, the amount of energy you have and what I call the abundant life.

You also said something earlier, Kathy, and I meant to hit on this when you were talking about getting people to get over the embarrassment and to get out there and be active. You were saying how when you started dancing, then the next person starts dancing, then all of a sudden it becomes acceptable.

Well, right now, this obesity problem that America has, if we think about it, there are all kinds of solutions and products. There’s apps, there’s books, there’s fitness gurus, there’s gym club memberships, there’s diets, there’s training programs, there are digital health devices. There are an incredible amount of things that you can do to improve your health and, yet, the obesity problem in America has been getting worse and worse in spite of all these choices available to us.

What I realized was the one thing that’s missing from our war against obesity is one single national movement that everybody does as your patriotic duty to support the war effort. Because if this really is a war against obesity, in times past, when we fought a war, there was something every American was supposed to do to support the war. Whether it was taking off your gold wedding band and melting that down and contributing that or buying war savings bonds or even just flying an American flag, there was something that everyone did to support the war effort.

We don’t have a single national movement for that, and I’m suggesting that this four-minute fit is that movement because anybody and everybody can do it, and we’ve proven that if this is working for the group with the highest rate of obesity of any occupation in America, the most unhealthy group with the lowest life expectancy, if it’s working for them, it can work for everyone.

So, the way we get over the embarrassment is if we do build a public movement where–I always like to say, So, Joe pulls into his driveway and he’s like, “Hey, Dave. I was at the game last night. I saw your kid pitch. It was great. He almost had a no-hitter. Oh, yeah, by the way, did you do your four minutes today?”

“Oh, yeah, I did mine after brushing my teeth.” “Oh, yeah, I did mine before I left the parking lot at work today, because I knew I was going to get home and the kids were going to jump on me.”

If it’s something that everyone is doing, whether they’re normal weight, overweight, can’t wait, whatever. It’s this, hey, we have a patriotic duty to win this war against obesity. It’s preventable, and here’s what everyone will do. It’s kids, it’s everyone. Then, everyone feels safe and comfortable and it’s not this goofy thing that only you’re doing.

Kathy Smith: Ok. Well, listen, I did my part today for the war effort. I did my four minutes just so you know. I have my hand up, I’m pledging my allegiance to your four minutes.

It’s been great talking to you. I have so many other questions, but we’ve got to go. So, I just wanted to wrap up by telling everybody if you travel for work, if you sit for long periods of time or you feel like you just don’t have enough time to exercise, remember that there is this option to accelerate your metabolism throughout the day. So, every time you take a break, push yourself. As, Siphiwe says, “Pass that comfort zone. Pass that place to where you’re out of breath, you can’t finish a sentence, you’re going to be sparking your fat burning and your hormonal systems.”

Siphiwe’s 13-week program is really radically changing lives across America. It can change yours. So, you should check out his book, 4-Minute Fit.

Lastly, if you’ve come here because you’re interested in living a healthy lifestyle, you might be interested in some of our other episodes. I hope so, because we just did one recently with Dr. Oz where he reveals the single most under-appreciated problem in America or you might want to check out Diana Nyad, where she shared what it’s like to push past your limits and how she did that swimming from Cuba to Florida. And recently, I interviewed Dr. Sara Gottfried and she shared her explanation of how to reset your genes, reverse aging and turn back the clock.

So, with all that in mind, it’s been a pleasure. We’ll see you next time. Thank you, Siphiwe. You were just an inspiration beyond belief.

Siphiwe Baleka: Thank you, Kathy. I really enjoyed being on your show.