Thursday, January 1, 2015

Smart People Don't Diet

Being on a diet is a miserable experience for most people, and it rarely leads to the desired goal of shedding fat. In fact, studies show that dieters often gain weight rather than lose it because most diets’ intensity, restrictions, and short duration are ill-equipped to produce long-term effects. In Smart People Don’t Diet, Dr. Charlotte N. Markey offers a refreshingly different approach to weight management.

Based on more than 100 years of research by scientists, doctors, nutritionists, and psychologists, Dr. Markey’s plan addresses the underlying causes of weight gain and offers proven strategies for healthful, lasting weight management, including advice on how to eat well, lose weight, and keep it off. The gimmicks don’t work, but Dr. Markey’s reasonable, accessible advice will help you get—and stay—healthy.

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Two out of Five Stars

I wanted to love this book as much as I loved Body Respect by Linda Bacon. For me, that book is a must read and the bar to which I hold all other books on eliminating diets. My review of it is at my old blog.

First, what I liked about this book because there were some parts I enjoyed.

Markey pulls no punches when it comes to the diet industry which, as she reminds us, "is the only profitable business in the world with a 98% failure rate." She goes on to say that sustained weight loss is a life long process. Anyone who tells you differently is lying. 

A diet is a plan, generally hopeless, for reducing your weight, which tests your will power but does little for your waistline. --Herbet B. Prochnow

Markey outlines and then backs up with science several reasons why hopeless plans don't work.
  1. Dieting makes you feel bad
  2. Dieting leads to false hope
  3. Dieting leads to overeating
  4. Dieting can lead to weight gain
  5. Dieting negatively affects your metabolism
Anyone who has read studies on diets knows this, but the "un-dieting" movement is just starting to take hold. It's great to have another resource for chronic dieters ready for something new. Unlike other un-dieting books, Markey does something risky and refreshingly different. She gives suggestions on how and what to eat.

This could have blown up in her face, but it didn't. The examples of how and what to eat weren't presented in a dogmatic way, and she made it clear that eating this way would result in steady weight loss...over the course of two or more years

One of the best-kept secrets of healthy weight loss and management is to come to terms with the habits that don't facilitate health and gradually change them. 
Smart People Don't Diet by Charlotte Markey
She doesn't encourage calorie counting, but she does want us to be cognizant of what and how we eat initially. For example, she suggests we reduce our liquid calorie intake by 200 if we drink our calories in the form of juice, soda, alcohol, and coffee. In the short term, the result is negligible. Reducing your intake of daily soda by one can amounts to a weight loss of .04 pounds in one day. Over the course of one year, however, reducing your daily soda intake by one can is a 15 pound weight loss. Not bad!

Tips like this set the book apart and effectively make the argument that long term weight loss is about making a permanent lifestyle change.

When I educate parents and children about healthy eating, I refer to these "junky foods" as "sometimes foods"; it is okay to have them sometimes. In contrast, healthy foods (e.g. fruits and vegetables) are "everyday foods" because we should eat them every day. Our bodies are like cars in that cars need gas to work; our bodies need everyday foods to work, and, although the may be delicious, "sometimes foods" don't fill up the tank. 
Smart People Don't Diet by Charlotte Markey

At this point, the book was a solid 3.5 stars, which is generous for me, as those of you familiar with my book reviews already know. Then she hung a hard left into IDon'tKnowMyAudience-Town.

I assumed chapter 10, The Big Picture, was a conclusion chapter that wrapped everything up in a neat package. It wasn't. It was a chapter on health policy, the obesity epidemic, and the cost it puts on our economy.

The obesity epidemic one can ostensibly blame on the vast majority of the people reading this book? That obesity epidemic?

Here are some facts to chew on when you think of reaching for that second serving of pie. Around the world, it is estimated that at least 2.8 million adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese. [source] In addition, 65 percent of the global population resides in countries where obesity kills more people than malnourishment. 
When I think of the serious--even deadly--health consequences of overeating (and under-exercising) and the growing majority of people who will suffer the consequences, I feel a wide range of emotions: frustrated that people don't take better care of themselves, upset that people don't seem to realize the problems they may be setting themselves up for, mad that medical professionals and politicians are doing more to protect vulnerable citizens, sad to think of the human suffering that will ensue, and even amazed that food has become such a big physical and psychological problem for so many people. 
Smart People Don't Diet by Charlotte Markey
No joke: five paragraphs later she goes on to state that blaming people for their health problems and/or shaming a person into losing weight is "not an effective technique for encouraging them to maintain a healthy weight. [source]"

The very next paragraph starts with, "To give you a clear picture of why obesity can happen even to the smartest people..." 

Even if we are healthy, eat well, and don't need to be told that the double cheeseburger at McDonald's has more calories in it than the regular cheeseburger, other people are not going to make the better choice. Even if you don't care about their health, the cheeseburgers that they consume will affect you financially. Even if your medical costs are not high (in part because your weight is not high), these estimates are relevant to you for the same reason you pay a given rate for car insurance. Your car insurance rate is based on your driving record but also on general market conditions. (emphasis in the original)
Smart People Don't Diet by Charlotte Markey 
This is a portion of her argument for policy changes that would tax or limit the consumption of fast food and soda, which she never outright proposes. Instead, she tap dances around the issue with expository text. If she's going to make an argument like that one, she needs to own it and prove to me with strong, confident language (supported by concrete data) that she is right. Even then, if she wants any buy-in from me, she needs to make that bullet proof argument in a book about health policy rather than tacking it to the end of a book about dieting targeted to overweight individuals. 

This chapter was unorganized, contradictory in message, borderline insulting, and should be deleted in its entirety. I am amazed it made it past an editor.

I can't recommend that anyone purchase this book the way it reads now. The good parts of the book are available elsewhere, and even the calorie tips and tricks are those you would find in a textbook on nutrition. That soda fact I mentioned earlier is one I read almost 20 years ago in a nutrition textbook I bought in a college bookstore.

Sorry, everyone, but this one is a pass.


  1. Good to know. I appreiate you taking one or the team. Have you read Yoni Freedhof's The Diet Fix?

  2. "Obesity, not just for dumb people" was the featured picture on my feedly account. Laughed so hard.


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