Things to Remember When Reading Your Next Diet Book

To those of us who write books, January is synonymous with the phrase “New Year New You”. There’s a “New You” section at every brick and mortar bookstore still in existence, and you won’t have to surf online for more than a minute to find literally dozens of new diet and exercise books “guaranteed” to change your life in 2015.

The two words you’re guaranteed to see the most on every book cover, DVD or infomercial program promising you quick results—besides, of course, the words “burn fat”—are the following.

“Simple” and “Easy”.

As I explain on a recent video blog,  that’s a lie. Weight loss may be “simple” (in the sense that stopping smoking is “simple”), but easy? Not so much.

So here’s the thing to remember when you get tempted to double down on the next diet book that promises instant transformation. Whatever variations exist among diet plans, the following are truths that apply in all and every case, forever and always, and anyone who implies differently is, well, lying. Or, if you’d prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt, ignorant (of both science and of human beings).

  1. Everybody’s different. The basic nutritional principle on which my nutritional education was based is the concept of biochemical individuality. The term was first introduced by Dr. Roger Williams in the 1950’s and basically means that everybody’s different— and in a spectacular number of ways. Translated: No diet works for everyone.
  1. The ways in which people differ can have profound effects on weight loss. We’re all different metabolically, hormonally, culturally, psychologically, behaviorally, biochemically, neurologically, enzymatically, ad infinitum. All these differences mean that the likelihood that everyone will respond the same way to a food plan is utter nonsense. Honor- and understand—our differences, and adjust accordingly.
  1. Anyone who says we know all there is to know about obesity is either lying or deluded. The best researchers admit that we are just scratching the surface. We now know that what your grandmother ate influences your weight. And that there are many chemicals in the environment that mimic hormones which in turn lead to weight gain. (Many of those chemicals are known as “obesogens”, which means they make you fat, possibly regardless of what you eat.)
  1. The most insidious and destructive half-truth ever told in the field of weight loss is that it’s “all about calories”. The human body doesn’t behave like a calorimeter, it behaves like a chemistry set. Different foods and combinations of foods beget different metabolic reactions. All calories are not created equal and never have been, despite the American Dietetic Association’s decades-long battle to convince you that “a calorie is a calorie”.
  1. Weight gain is driven by hormones. Any food plan that doesn’t take that into account is doomed to failure. Some foods trigger your “fat storage” hormones (insulin), some don’t. Some trigger hormones that tear down muscle (cortisol). Some trigger hormones that release fat from cells (glucagon). Ignoring that is idiotic, yet most nutrition advice of the past few decades does exactly that.

I’d add a few things to the above list. It’s probably a good idea to eat a lot of plant foods, that locally grown and organic will trump everything else for a myriad of reasons, that you have nothing to fear from saturated fat (particularly in the context of a low-carb diet), that we have no idea of the long-term consequences of GMO, that cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease, that you’d be smart to supplement with fish oil, that sugar is one of the most addictive substances on the planet, that it’s a good idea to drink a lot of water and get a little sun, that you’re free to eat whole eggs. And that you don’t need grains in your diet (though you’re welcome to eat them if you’re not gluten sensitive, don’t have weight problems, and don’t mind the addictive gluteomorphins in wheat.)

And as long as we’re talking about principles upon which to design a happy life, let’s not leave out the stuff that has nothing to do with what goes into your mouth but rather what comes out of it. Make kindness, encouragement, praise, gratitude, appreciation and warmth part of your daily “output”, just as you make the foods and supplements I talk about on this website part of your daily “input”.

Now that’s a diet in the true sense of the original Greek word: A manner of life.

A loving, happy, peaceful, healthy and prosperous 2015 to everyone!