Chapter / Rule 11 - Get rid of those white potatoes
A chapter filled with our favorite flawed and not-in-anyway conclusive Harvard Nurse's Health Study (this study has been referenced about 5 times at this point), anecdotal evidence and pointless food avoidance! How fun!
To his credit however, he does state,
"It's not that there is anything innately wrong with white potatoes; it's just that we consume so much of them, and in the most overweight-producing forms."
I can get on board with that. He points out most of our potato consumption is in the forms of french fries, chips and tater tots. Yes, if that comprises the bulk of your diet, then there is a bit of a problem. And I agree - there isn't anything wrong with potatoes. There's something wrong with too many potatoes when you want to lose weight.
However, despite this admission, he goes on to say that you are no longer allowed to eat white potatoes. Why?
"...I was thinking perhaps I was being unreasonable by making this a rule. But then I looked around at the people who were most successful at losing weight and keeping it off. None of them eat white potatoes in any form."
This isn't just an anecdote, it's an extremely hyperbolic anecdote that flies in the face of common sense. Especially since he goes on to say that sweet potatoes, on the other hand, are okay.
Poor white potatoes. They get such a bad reputation. But it's really quite undeserved. Why are sweet potatoes in any way more acceptable than white potatoes? They have very similar nutritional profiles:
"In a 100-gram portion, the white potato has 92 calories, 21 grams of carbs, 2.3 grams of dietary fiber, 2.3 g of protein and 17% of the recommended daily value of vitamin C. The same amount of sweet potato, on the other hand, has 90 calories, 21 grams of carbs, 3 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein, 35% of the recommended daily value of vitamin C and 380% of the daily recommended value of vitamin A."
They may have a lot more vitamin A, but as long as you're eating a varied diet you're probably not deficient in that. Otherwise, they have essentially the same calories, same fiber, same carbs, and same protein. So what is the big deal?
However, Harper wants you to cut out all potatoes and starchy tubers, including parsnips and turnips for the first month of your diet. Why? Your guess is as good as mine because I have no clue.
Moral: There is nothing wrong with white potatoes and they are similar in nutrition to a sweet potato. Just as with everything else, too many calories from potatoes will impede any weight loss goals.
Chapter / Rule 12 - Make one day a week meatless
Oh boy, I'm so excited for this one. Please Harper, enlighten us about why we shouldn't eat meat:
"One reason, and one reason only: it will help you lose weight and keep it off."
Oh...do go on...
Well...I read the whole chapter and there is not ONE line, anecdotal or not, that says why you should specifically avoid meat one day (actually he says the more the better) per week. Like he didn't even try.
What IS presented in this chapter is that, like, beans and nuts are healthy / good for you / help you lose weight / etc, etc.
But not just any nuts. Stay away from the salted kinds. Or the honey roasted kind. Or the kinds in mixed nut jars. (????) Why? Fuck if I know I'm pretty sure he's just making shit up at this point.
He mentions his de-bunked point of nuts being a food that "cause weight loss more than others, even if their calories are the same." Let's take a look at a couple of the studies he used to back this up.
The first study takes 2 groups of obese people and have them placed on a 500 calorie deficit diet. 1 group was given pretzels as a snack, and the other pistachios of the same caloric content. At the end of the 12-week study, both groups lost weight, though the pistachio group lost 1kg more than the pretzel group.
Unfortunately, I couldn't get a full text of this study. This is unfortunate because there are many other variables that could have contributed to the changes. Were both diet groups on the same amount of carb / protein total? If not, that would definitely have an effect. Were both groups under observation during the entire intervention so that they knew exactly what each group was eating? If not, that would absolutely have an effect. Pistachios are certainly going to be more satiating than pretzels. If they were under observation or had their food controlled, did both groups eat the same things outside of the pretzels / pistachios? If not, that would affect the outcome.
I wish that I had the full text so that I could answer those questions. However, based on the full studies that I do know of, if protein, carbohydrate and fat levels were constant, then this would be something worth looking into more. But I doubt that is the case.
He then cites another study and claims that it states nuts increase your Resting Energy Expenditure (REE), thus resulting in weight loss. The cited study itself doesn't do an experiment, rather it is reviewing conclusions from previous studies. Let's take a look at one of those.
"This study did not confirm previous results in lean and obese individuals, using peanuts, that there is a significant increase in RMR following chronic nut consumption9,21. As body weight is the predominant determinant of RMR, it is unclear whether the previous results are anomalous or are specific to peanuts, particularly as another study with almonds also did not observe changes of RMR5. Further research is required to clarify the effects of nuts on energy expenditure"
Well, that's not quite as exciting as what Harper was promising.
Moral: There is no reason to avoid meat when it comes to health or weight-loss. There are many reasons to go vegetarian or vegan that revolve around social and sustainability issues, but there is nothing in literature (or apparently in anecdote) to lead one to think they are 'healthier'. As well, peanuts and beans are great and satiating, but as with any other food if you over-eat them you will gain weight.
Chapter / Rule 13 - Get rid of fast foods and fried foods
This whole chapter is insane. I want to quote the specific parts of it that are crazy, but I'd be quoting the entire chapter. It is 4 pages of hyperbolic scare tactics meant to convince you that if you eat fast food, EVER, LIKE EVEN ONCE, you will become instantly obese, get diabetes, a heart attack and probably die, if not at the very least just end up in the ER. I am really not exaggerating. If you're curious just pick up the book and flip to page 62. Here's one of my favorite parts:
"Even standing inside a fast-food restaurant reinforces the problem. Your powerful sense of smell gets hijacked by all those high-fat molecules filling up the air around you. You also lose control of your sense of taste. Soon, anything that is not hyper-sweet or salty falls short of your desire and just doesn't do it for you. You're a prisoner of fast food. Not an addict. A prisoner."
"Is there any way to eat fast foods...or fried foods and be healthy? No."
Gonna back that up with anymore awful studies? Ooohhh how about something from the Nurse's Study here? No? Nothing? Not even going to back it up?
Moral: It's easy to over-eat fast foods and they won't be the most nutrient-dense foods you can find out there. They have a distinct lack of fiber, nutrients and variety. However, to say you can never eat them if you want to be healthy is asinine. Come on, you know better than that.
That potato is making me sad! Don’t cry, white potato! I still buy you and eat you all the time!
Also it’s really weak that Harper doesn’t cite any of the bazillion social and ethical reasons why one might want to try a meatless day, and instead just leaps to the assumption that eating less meat will make a person lose weight. This whole book is just maddening.
Haha I was feeling so sad just making that little crying potato. Poor thing doesn’t deserve all this abuse.
Yeah I’m not sure why he didn’t mention that, considering he used to be vegan. I’m guessing he didn’t want to alienate readers or something like that. Which is fine, whatever, but he doesn’t give any reason at all to why one should avoid meat. Not even a bad reason, just nothing. It’s weird.
He did mention elsewhere in the book (Chapter 3), about how he was vegan for ethical reasons, but stopped when his energy levels and physique suffered. So perhaps he thought that would cover all the reasons why one should avoid meat in this chapter. He should have brought it up again I think, for clarity’s sake.
The worst part of the book is yet to come. The conclusion / bonus section part will drive you up the wall, guaranteed.
Oh goody, I can’t wait. 🙂
Regarding the meat conversation, I guess I just have high expectations in that I like it when writers address all aspects of a given subject, especially when they are trying to be informative. (I’m not veg*n, btw.) I hate it when I read a polemic that cherry-picks information to make a point, but I guess that’s how the vast majority of pop fitness and nutrition books are these days.
Having looked at the articles he cited, my one comment would be that the studies he cites aren’t awful, but his interpretation of them is terrible.
For instance, the study about nuts versus pretzels clearly states its objective was to investigate the widely held belief that the high fat content of nuts will make you gain weight. The study was designed to determine whether this was true. The fact that Harper then takes this study, designed to determine whether or not nuts are bad for weight maintenance, and extrapolates it to say pretzels/carbs are *bad*, when the study itself wasn’t even designed to address that is a serious lack of ability/knowledge on his end. But it’s not a sign of a bad study. A study can be misinterpreted or misused by people, and they routinely are. That doesn’t make the study bad.
Oh absolutely, I agree. Most of the articles that he cites – even the ones I’m critical of – serve good purpose when used correctly.
This is one of the issues I have with misuse of science such as in this case or many science journalists. They take legitimate studies and completely misrepresent them. Then people tend to mistrust science itself, instead of the people who misrepresent it.
I was simply stating that I was limited in being able to analyze the study as it was not available in its entirety. There were a lot of factors that could have lead the results given – the full text would have provided us with that context.
If you glance through the rest of the reviews, Harper basically does this with every study. It’s a bastardization of the hard work that goes into the research.