Sunday, May 10, 2009

You on a Diet: book review

During my various attempts to get in good shape over the years I've wasted my share of money on various diet & exercise books that try to tell you what exercise you should do, what muscles they benefit, what foods you should eat and why, and recipes that will make it more enjoyable. Big surprise, lack of willpower has tanked many of my efforts to stay on any kind of healthy eating program. But I really don't think that willpower is the whole story for me or other dieters. What about our ingrained habits of using food for reward, food to fix a poor mood, hedonistic eating, addiction to various kinds of foods (like my favorite, the Sticky Pecan Roll from Au Bon Pan)?

One diet approach that I thought took a step forward in talking about the psychology of diet was the Low-Carb diet (or "Atkins" in its most popular form). It talks about the role that carbs have in making us feel full, and thereby feel good. But I think you could do a lot better. I want to know the mechanics behind appetite, satisfaction and digestion: what actually occurs in the body to make you want to eat huge portions of your favorite foods, what happens as that urge becomes satisfied, and how you can use that knowledge to change your behavior.

I discovered the book You On a Diet while standing in line at a Jamba Juice one day. Using entertaining illustrations, it nails exactly what I was looking for. Some of the points in makes on the mechanics of body chemistry, food and appetite include:
  • The lower gut contains 95% of the body's serotonin, which suggests that eating is self-medicating.
  • Our caveman ancestors were more fit than us because the stresses of survival kept them lean. Stress, like fight-or-flight stress, means that Peptide NPY is inhibited and you don't feel like eating.
  • When fat makes the liver work extra hard, it prevents glucose from getting to our cells, and produces hunger.
  • Fiber is good for diet because it slows "the transit of food across the ileocecal valve, keeping your stomach fuller for longer." (p. 68)
The book identifies these foods that make you feel full, or suppresses appetite in some way:
  • Nuts
  • Cinnamon
  • Whole Grains
  • Fiber
  • Red Peppers
  • Smell of grapefruit (p. 88)
  • Brightly-colored food
  • Mint breath strips (p. 239)
  • Fiber supplements (e.g. 1 tbsp Psyllium Husks with a glass of water)
Other eating strategies the book recommends revolve around easing the process of digestion. When the intestines are breaking down food, separating the good nutrients (to go into the bloodstream) from the bad nutrients (to be eliminated), a natural process of inflammation occurs. The intestines do their job well when that inflammation is kept to a healthy level. Bad foods increase the inflammation, and the separation of good vs. bad is impaired. Inflammation-fighting foods include:
  • Lactobaccillus CG, a healthy bacteria found in yogurt
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, such as Fish oil, walnuts
  • Green tea
  • Beer (hops)
  • Tumeric
  • Jojoba beans (available in supplements)
  • Soybeans (isoflavins)
  • Lignans, such as Flaxseed oil, rye bread
  • Polyphenols, such as tea, coffee, fruit, vegetables
  • Glucosinulates, such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower
  • Carnosol, found in Rosemary
  • Resveratrol, found in red grapes, juice and wine
  • Dark Cacao
  • Quercetin, as found in cabbage, spinich, garlic, capers, apples, tea, red onion, red grapes, citrus fruit, tomato, broccoli, leafy green vegetables, cherry, raspberry, and lingonberry
  • Antioxidants, as in vegetables and fruits (especially bananas), Vitamin E, Vegetable oils, Tea, coffee, soy, fruit, olive oil, chocolate, cinnamon, oregano and red wine
The book covers some interesting facts on the mechanics of exercise and weight loss:
  • Weight loss improves cholesterol by a factor of three. For example, a 7% weight loss leads to a 20% improvement in cholesterol levels. (p. 120)
  • The beneficial effect of exercise in producing weight loss is greater than the detrimental effect of eating in producing weight gain. So even if you're getting in only a little exercise each day, the effect is significant. (pp. 141-142)
  • Without exercise, we lose 5% of our muscle mass every 10 years after the age of 35. If you don't exercise (rebuild muscle) every 10 years, you need to eat 120-420 fewer calories a day to maintain your current weight. (p. 142)
  • Focus on reducing the size of your belly, not weight loss. Exercise not only reduced fat but bulks up muscles, which can result in a net loss of zero.
The material on "good fats" vs. "bad fats" is helpful:

  • Bad Fats are the ones that stay solid at room temperature: animal fat, butter, stick margarine & lard. Food manufacturers push these because they have a long shelf life.
  • Good Fats are the ones that are liquid at room temperature are the good, omega-3 and -6 fats: olive, vegetable, sesame & canola oil, fish oil, flaxseed, avocados, nuts (especially walnuts). Nutrients that fight bad fats are: niacin and vitamin B5
Everyone know that whole grains are good for you, although we use the term so frequently it's helpful to review what this actually means. In a whole grain, "the grain still has all three of its original elements: the outer shell or gran, which contains fiber and B vitamins; the germ, which contains phytochemicals and B vitamins; and the endosperm which contains carbohydrates and protein." (p. 256) "'Refined' grains means only endosperm is enclosed." (p. 257)
Here's a fun subject the book covers: what gives you gas? It's important because it's a byproduct of the way you eat and what you are forcing digestion to do for you:

  • Gas is a normal result of the intestinal inflammation during digestion, as good nutrients go to the bloodstream and bad nutrients to to the lower intestines (and produce gas). So bad gas can be attributed to too much bad foods in your diet. Also, when inflammation is too high, some bad nutrients get into the bloodstream, leading to cholesterol.
  • Sulfur-rich foods such as eggs, meat, beer, beans and cauliflower make gas smell worse
  • Drinking cola means swallowing more air, which means more gas
Other interesting things I found in the book:

  • No evidence yet shows that artificial sweeteners are unhealthy (p. 97)
  • It's the fat around our waist that gets us into trouble. Fat in other parts of your body cause relatively little harm to your health or eating chemistry. (p. 102)
  • Alcholic drinks fight bad fats (p. 123)
  • The liver is the heaviest organ in the body (p. 77)
  • Your deoderant can make you gain weight, if it contains aluminum or polychlorobiphenols (p. 92)
  • The more brightly colored the food, the better it is for you (p. 95)
So I can give a strong recommendation for You On a Diet if want to learn alot about the mechanics behind appetite, satisfaction and digestion.


Anonymous said...

Does the you on a diet book allow for raw foods? I think that by eating raw foods, and following forums that talk about how to implement them into your life, like at, can help you to lose weight.

Anonymous said...

Nice synopsis Greg. It lookes like a good book to have for those of us trying to lose weight(15 lbs so far for me.)