There are a lot of crappy books out there about weight loss. I’ve read many of them.
I’m still conflicted about weight loss. And I totally understand why a sane person would choose to walk away from that goal forever. I’ve written lots about it. Start with Questions and Quibbles about Impossible Weight Loss. But of course I’d still love to be smaller. Why? See Fat, fit, and why I want to be leaner anyway and more recently Wishing for Weight Loss.
So I read about it and think about it and I’m making slow steady progress.
But back to the books on my shelf of weight loss themed books. Three stand out as decidedly less crappy, as positively sensible.
They’re James Fell’s Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3 Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind and Matt Fitzgerald’s Diet Cults: The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and a Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of Us and Yoni Freedhoff’s The Diet Fix: Why Diets Fail and How to Make Yours Work.
First a bit about Fell. I really like James Fell but I get that he’s not to everyone’s taste. That’s fine. You do you. He’s Canadian and moderate in a very Canadian kind of way.
Maybe even a bit dull even. His website quotes a rejection letter he received when he was pitching the book: “There’s so much I really like here, David. James has a brash and audacious voice, and a sensible and straightforward message. His column in the LA Times is great, and I like the way he approaches the material … But my main concern, I hate to admit, is the sensible, measured nature of his program. Despite his flashy prose, he actually writes like the informed journalist that he is … sane, levelheaded, with proven advice. And while that’s great journalism, I worry that it’s not as salable of a diet plan.”
Here’s a piece of his advice that makes excellent sense to me: “Eat food that tastes “good” rather than “amazing” Perfectly ripe mangoes contain about 130 calories and taste really good, but after one, you probably won’t want a second. Potato chips and ice cream and cookies and chocolate cake are all designed to taste amazing and override the satiety signals in your brain so that you can take in well over a thousand calories of such treat foods in a single sitting.”
It’s boring advice in many many ways. There are no miracle foods, don’t demonize treats, go to bed hungry, eat til you’re satisfied but not full, etc etc. But I suspect when it comes to weight loss the truth is dull. It’s hard work and it doesn’t end. Maintaining weight loss is as much work as taking off in the first place, maybe more.
Matt Fitzgerald is probably best known to readers of this blog for his books on racing weight.
But this book is more thoughtful than prescriptive.
From the raw food movement to Atkins, a vast and ever-increasing number of health and weight-loss diets are engaged in an overheated sectarian struggle to recruit new converts. Paleo Diet advocates tell us that all foods less than 12,000 years old are the enemy. Vegan gurus demonize animal foods. Then there are the low-fat prophets and supplement devotees. But underneath such superficial differences, Fitzgerald observes, these preachers of dietary righteousness all agree on one thing: that there is only “One True Way” to eat for maximum health.
The first clue that this shared assumption is untrue is the sheer variety of diets advocated. Indeed, while all of competing “diet cults” claim to be backed by science, a good look at actual nutritional science suggests that it is impossible to identify a single best way to eat. What makes us human is our ability to eat—and enjoy—a wide variety of foods from all around the globe.
The appeal of the diet cults is their hypnotic power to make healthy eating easier for some people by offering a food-based identity and morality to latch on to. Yet many more of us are turned off by the arbitrariness of the diet cults’ rules and by the speciousness of their dogma.
What’s his positive advice? Well, you likely already know it. The truth is dull. His approach is “an “agnostic,” reasonable approach to healthy eating that is flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of personal preferences and lifestyles. Many professional athletes (who are only interested in what works) already practice this agnostic healthy diet, and now we too can ditch the brainwashing of the diet cults for good.”
And then there’s another Canadian readers of this blog may know, Yoni Freedhoff.
What is the biggest misconception you wish people could shake off about dieting?
The biggest misconception that I wish people could shake off about dieting is that suffering and sacrifice are dieting’s true determinants of success. Unfortunately, as a species, we just aren’t built to suffer in perpetuity. Consequently, weight that’s lost through suffering, through some combination of under-eating and/or over-exercising, is bound to come back.
What’s the best diet?
There really is no one “best” diet – if there were, there wouldn’t be tens of thousands of different diet books available, and weight struggles would be rare to non-existent. Ultimately a person’s “best” diet is the healthiest diet that they can enjoy, as diets that are merely tolerable, given food’s star billing as one of life’s most seminal pleasures, simply don’t last. Real life does, and frankly must, still include chocolate.
Word of worry about all three books: They’re all written by guys with a very straightforward style and approach. If you’ve got emotional issues about food, a history of disordered eating, and need a more counselling-like approach to weight loss these books might not be for you. I also worry a bit that all three thin men haven’t dealt personally with the issues around menopause and metabolism. Still, I think these books are the best that’s out there in terms of sensible weight loss advice.