Fat Loss

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Chapter / Rule 8 - Cut the Salt

When I read this title I was all ready to jump on the contradiction of telling you to reduce your salt (because it will cause you to retain more water) but to also take an electrolyte supplement (of which salt is a key ingredient)

But, to my pleasant surprise, Harper already addresses this:

"Yes you body needs some salt...(which is why you'll be drinking electrolyte replacements during this program), but too much leads to water retention, which leads nowhere good."

As we previously noted in the electrolytes section, there is little point in reducing simple water weight when you're going for an aesthetic change.  It just isn't going to make a big difference for the most part.  So while a lot of salt leads nowhere good, it doesn't lead anywhere particularly bad either.

This is all contingent on you not having an existing blood pressure issue.  People who have had their blood pressure checked by a medical professional and found it to be higher than it should could consider reducing their sodium intake.  Of course, you should listen to your doctor first before some random chick on the internet.

"...when you're looking to lose weight over the long haul and then stay thin, you should shoot for less than 2,000 milligrams [of salt] a day."

Here Harper just used "thin" and "lose weight" interchangeably.  Many weight-loss products will do this, since most of us associate weight loss with fat loss.  However when talking about water weight, it's important to make sure you're using the correct term.  If you lose scale weight, say 5 pounds, by dropping 5 pounds of water weight (a very feasible thing to do), then to keep that weight off for the long haul, you would likely need to continue eating less salt.  But why bother?  It's meaningless weight that will keep you from enjoying things like bread, french fries or popcorn.

As far as needing to keep sodium below 2,000 to "stay thin," that is completely baseless.  Sodium doesn't lead people to being un-thin.  So don't worry so much about it.

The end of this chapter is a little bit scary:

A box of how to become a big jerk with an eating disorder.

A box of how to become a big jerk with an eating disorder.

Goodness just look at some of this advice.  When your friend is kind enough to offer to make you dinner, you really need to be sure to let them know you've already had 778 milligrams of sodium today - could they make sure to only offer you a portion with 1,222 mg?  Oh, your mother-in-law wants to make you and your husband a delicious home-cooked meal?  Haha nope, you've got a DIET to uphold!  What's more important than that?  Instead of eating at the office party, follow around your hot intern.  She'll dig it.

Moral: Unless you have an existing blood pressure issue, don't worry about your sodium intake.  It won't help you lose fat, and the scale weight you lose is meaningless.

Chapter / Rule 9 - Take advantage of the restorative power of daily fish oil

Want to know a secret?

I'm not particularly knowledgeable about supplements.  It's not a subject that gets me very excited.

There, I admitted it.

So, here's what I'm going to do with this section: We'll use this as a little tutorial on how to traverse through a subject you're unfamiliar with.  This is also a great chapter to do so - Harper throws out a bunch of intimidating science-y terms.  What fun!

Let's start with the opening paragraph:

"You may have heard that taking a fish oil supplement every day is good for your heart...[scientists have] come across the benefits of fish oil for people who diet and exercise as well.  Fish oil can help with post-exercise soreness and also boost immunity."

So here we have 3 claims about fish oil:

  1. Good for your heart
  2. Help with post-exercise soreness
  3. Boost immunity

After this, there is a sensationalist paragraph about how soreness means you're probably going to find an excuse to not work out the next day, so take your fish oil.  This is fluff - entertaining fluff that is relevant to your life, to be sure - but it will not give you a better understanding of if you should take fish oil.

Next is a passage that is a bit tough to digest:

"Bear with me: in the human inflammatory cycle, a molecule dubbed E2, or PGE2 (for prostaglandin), signals other cells to become inflamed and, thus, painful.  So the research question was: Can we inhibit this process in a healthful way?

To find out, the investigators tested the effects of 8 different dietary oils containing high amounts of the anti-inflammatory molecule called docosahexaenoic acid.  Result: "It was identified that fish oil best inhibited the PGE2 signaling...[and] docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found in abundance in fish oil, was identified as a key factor of inhibition of PGE2 signaling."

Whew, that was a mouthful.  Confused yet?  Don't worry, Harper will sum it all up for you:

"In essence: yay fish oil!"

Well, I personally would like a bit of a deeper understanding - something between that difficult-to-comprehend first passage and a simple "yay!"  You deserve that too.

First, let's establish what we're trying to figure out here:

  • Harper is using a study to confirm his assertion that fish oil helps with soreness and inflammation.
  • We need to determine if this study actually does confirm that fish oil helps with soreness and inflammation.

So, let's look up this study.  I use PubMed to find almost all of the studies I've looked at in these series.  You could also just Google the title of the study.  (Harper has a works cited section in the back of the book, thankfully.)  We lucked out with this study - the full text is available for free.  Many journals require you to pay to access more than just the abstract (A brief summary of the study).  Sometimes you can miss crucial context without the full text - so it's best to reserve complete judgement on a piece until you can read and understand the whole thing.

After a cursory glance over this paper I have reached one conclusion:

This is WAY over my head.

I'd say it's over the head of most non-biologists.  I have very little hope of understanding what is going on in this paper - so I will stick with the parts that are generally in English: the "Discussion" and "Conclusion" sections:

"Finally, we conclude that fish oil is a promising dietary oil used to prevent and reduce inflammation-mediated diseases, such as heart diseases, cancers, arthritis, and pain."

"... taking 500 –1000 mg fish oil daily is recommended based on the findings in this study."

So we have determined that this study concludes what Harper says it does, and even gives us a recommendation for how much fish oil to take.  Sadly, the methods used to gather and analyze this data are way over my head.  It could be complete crap - I wouldn't know the difference.

What do you do when you don't understand a study?

The further you step away from the root of the study, the more caution you should take.  I do have a few trusted sources I turn to for nutrition information.  I went to 3 different sources who look at research and give layman's descriptions of them:

Alan Aragon

Examine

Precision Nutrition

So, in comparing these 3 different sources, there are some common conclusions:

  • Fish oil can help with inflammation.
  • Enough fish oil can help with muscle soreness.
  • Too much fish oil can have a negative effect on your immune system.

This last point makes a sort of sense to me (I could be wrong), since inflammation is a response of your immune system.  Reduce inflammation too much, you're compromising your immune system.  Maybe.

Based on this, I would conclude that taking fish oil to help with decreasing inflammation and muscle soreness may be a good idea and perhaps something worth pursuing.   1-6 grams is a wide range of recommendations, and is also a crap ton of pills.  The upper doses seem to be the ones that help best with soreness.

That doesn't sound very conclusive, Kat.  This didn't help at all.

Well, that's because I haven't devoted more than about 3 hours to look at all this stuff, compared to a lifetime of some of these researchers.  Yeah, 3 hours is how long I've spent reading everything above.  It probably sounds like a lot.  But even if it doesn't, imagine the fact that you may find yourself needing to do similar research for your multi-vitamin, calcium supplement, creatine, or even if you should eat eggs.

That's a lot of time.

That's especially a lot of time for not coming up with a very definitive answer.

If you don't have the time to devote towards researching a topic thoroughly, that's fine!  Most of us won't bother to do everything I just did above.  The answer then is to just not take yourself super seriously.  Don't take a hard moral stand on something you're not willing to look at the studies for.  

Moral: Fish oil has a ton of positive research around it.  It would appear that fish oil is helpful in reducing inflammation and even preventing muscle soreness if you take enough.  Too much, however, and you may suppress your immune system.  1-6 grams seems to be the range of recommendations.

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Chapter / Rule 6 - Do 45 minutes a day of low-intensity cardio, preferably before breakfast

Now, you may be shocked to know that I happen to think this is fantastic advice.  The first half of the sentence anyway.  And the second half works well for me too.

Can't say I recommend walking while doing bicep curls with 3lb weights though.

But not for fat loss.  Don't think of it in those terms.

Waking up and immediately getting moving in the morning is WONDERFUL for me because it's like adding momentum to my day.  If I start my day off by checking facebook and answering emails (which is what I do 9 times out of 10), I end up sitting at my desk until 11 or 12, and god knows by that point it's too late to do anything productive.  Like go grocery shopping, or make that doctor's appointment, or do laundry, or clean or any other number of mundane but critical tasks.

Plus, walking makes me feel AWESOME.  Especially if it's a nice crisp day.  Something about getting that blood moving I guess.  Probably also something to do with walking for 30 minutes a day being the #1 best thing you can do to improve your health in a wide variety of surprising ways.

So yes, walk.  Walk because it will make you feel good.  Whether you do it before breakfast or not is kind of up to you and when you'd like to do it.  Some people find their lunch break to be the perfect time.  Whatever floats your boat, really.

But let's see why Harper wants you to specifically do it before breakfast:

He starts out with some reasoning similar to what I mentioned above.  If you loathe exercise, getting it done earlier in the day may increase your chances of doing it.  But, again, that's all down to personal preference.  If you dread getting up an hour earlier to walk before work, there's a high chance you'll just say "screw it" and hit snooze.  So, again, whatever floats your boat.

Well except for some fancy science Harper wants to throw your way:

"...emerging science on exercise metabolics...suggests that exercise on an empty stomach has a direct link to weight loss in and of itself."

While it does seem that doing low to medium intensity exercise (say, walking) on an empty stomach will increase fat oxidation, it will not increase the number of calories you are burning anymore than if you had just eaten a stack of pancakes.

Just bear in mind, when it comes to losing body fat, the only thing that matters at the end of the day is if you burned more than you took in.

OVERLY SIMPLISTIC EXAMPLE BELOW: 

Let's say that you burned 75 calories of pure, glorious fat on your morning walk because you did it on an empty stomach.  Compare that to burning 75 calories of not-as-visible carbohydrate doing that same amount of walking at the same intensity.

If, at the end of the day, you took in the same calories as you expended, in situation #1, they would go back to refilling your fat stores.  In situation #2, some would be diverted to restoring any lost muscle glycogen.  At the end of the day, you're right back where you started, regardless.

Now, in some people, light exercise like this can dull hunger.  That would probably lead to some weight loss.  Or if you change nothing else and start going for walks 45 minutes a day, you'd probably lose a bit.  You can even find studies that say fasted cardio burns less calories than cardio after a small meal.  Even Harper admits to that:

"I admit that some science also suggests that eating before exercise might be better for daylong fat burning.  But...you clearly burn more fat during exercise when you do it in a fasted state."

Which misses the point that it doesn't matter for the average person reading this book whether you're burning fat or burning carbohydrates.  Again, that "fat burning zone" graph on your treadmill is meaningless.  Run if you like it.  Walk because it makes you feel awesome.

Harper also has some tips for if you feel woozy during your fasted cardio!

  1.  If you get dizzy, drop to your knees and put your head between your legs!  Hope that no one calls 911 when they see you doing this in the middle of the street!  Get up and KEEP GOING MAGGOT!  Unless it happens again, in which case uhh...try again later.
  2.  If you've been following his regimine correctly you should be looking good.  Totally.  If you look haggard or pale, you're clearly not drinking enough electrolytes or water.   You're just dehydrated.  Drink some more water.  That will help with the 800-calorie-a-day-barely-functioning-haze.  Totally.
  3.  Just keep drinking water and electrolytes.  Electrolyyyyyyytesssss.  You only feel like shit because you're dehydrated, promise.
  4.  If you always feel nauseous or dizzy when doing this fasted cardio then I GUESS you can eat beforehand.  But make sure that you still do your cardio "or be prepared to look chubby in three weeks"!  (fucking REALLY?)

Moral: By all means I think people should do some light exercise everyday.  Seriously, this more than what you're eating is going to have a huge impact on your health.  I cannot overstate the benefits of light walking everyday.  But you don't have to do it fasted, and you probably shouldn't count on it as your magic ticket to leanness.  Also if you constantly feel dizzy when walking, MAYBE THE PROBLEM IS YOU'RE ONLY EATING 800 CALORIES A DAY.

Have I mentioned that's a bad idea?

Chapter / Rule 7 - Five times a week, at any time of day, do 15 to 20 minutes of my Jumpstart Moves

Here's a chapter that I have a lot of grievances with, for a myriad of reasons.  Let's just get right into it:

"Met-con works the whole body quickly, efficiently.  Met-con movements use your own body weight to slim and trim yourself for the long, lean look you desire."

Ughhhhhhhhhhhh.  It's like a collection of my least favorite fitness buzz-words.  Oh yes, it's totally this workout that is the magical combination of the just right number of sets and reps and movements to get you totally slim and trim and long and lean and jacked and shredded and ripped and toned and tiny and huge ALL AT THE SAME TIME!!!  This is definitely NOT just some generic workout that anyone who took a bunch of darts and threw them at exercise names could come up with.  Nope.

In fact, I think I've just come to an epiphany of why I HATE magazine workouts so much.  It is literally like someone took a bunch of notecards with random exercises on them, closed their eyes, and picked them at random out of a hat.  Then they got a skinny model, put her in a designer sports bra and short shorts and made the title something along the lines of "Top 10 Total-Body Sculpting Moves For a Leaner, Meaner You!"  GOLDEN.  Who wants me on their corporate team??? (Yeah I stole that line from Daniel Tosh)

Anyway umm...I think I got a little off-topic there.

"Okay, quick and without overthinking:"

Yes, we wouldn't want to think about anything would we?

"What, exactly, is happening to your body while doing the burpee?  For one thing, by alternating and changing up exercise movements, you help delay a phenomenon in the science of movement known as adaptation - your muscles don't get a chance to "figure out" how to minimize caloric expenditure."

Here we see Harper trying to talk about what others will refer to as "muscle confusion" which is a really silly term that no one should use.

The gist is that you need to keep doing completely different movements so that your body will never become very 'efficient' at doing anything.  The idea being that efficient = less calories burned.  And you're only exercising to burn calories right?  Right.

Unfortunately, this misses out on the idea of progressing an exercise to keep things challenging.  Yes, if you do the same, say, burpee for the same amount of reps everyday, you'll stall out.  But you could progress it by:

  • Adding in a push-up at the bottom of the burpee
  • Doing more total reps
  • Doing the same number of reps in a shorter time period
  • Adding a weight vest

Burpees - The exercise everyone loves to hate! (They are pretty tough)

I am a MUCH bigger fan of practicing movements until you're proficient in them, and then progressing the movement from there - as opposed to just throwing a bunch of new movements at you everyday.  Here are few reasons why:

  1. You don't have to spend a bunch of time everyday figuring out how to do movements.
  2. You'll reduce your chance of injury while doing your workouts since you'll be very proficient in the exercise movements you do.
  3. You'll get a hell of a lot stronger.

Regardless, a burpee isn't some magic exercise that keeps your body guessing.  If you keep doing burpees, guess what, you'll get good at burpees.  Using one exercise for his argument against adaptation makes absolutely no sense.

"Second, in the burpee, you can feel your whole body stretching, flexing, and contracting while your heart pumps faster and harder.  You're working those big muscle groups that tend to burn more calories."

Oh, I can FEEL my body during this exercise?  Wow.  How profound.

My heart pumps faster and harder while exercising?  You don't say.  That's incredible.

I'll agree to that last statement though.  It's the reason why you'd want to do a squat over a calf raise if you were looking to get the most bang for your buck.

Anyway, if you're eating 800 calories a day and feeling woozy, as you probably will be, a burpee is not exactly the kind of exercise I'd recommend.  If someone were hell-bent on doing this 800 calorie a day thing, I'd probably suggest doing at most 2 days a week of weight training with each workout being:

  • Squat 2-3 x 5
  • Bench Press 2-3 x 5
  • Lat Pulldown, Cable Row or Pull-up 3 x 8
  • Go home

And that's about it.  If you're at such a steep deficit, your ONLY goal when working out should be to maintain muscle mass.  Doing a bunch of high-intensity crap is pointless and going to leave you passed out on the floor.  That's why I don't even have deadlifts up there.  Blacking out doesn't seem like a good time to me, personally.

And, go figure, Harper is a HUGE fan of CrossFit-style met-con.  Snatch AMRAPs anyone???

(On a side-note: I realize that not all CrossFit boxes are made alike and some are wonderful places to train with responsible coaching.  Snatch AMRAPs, however, do not fall under that category.)

Moral:  You do NOT need to mix up the movements you are doing constantly to burn calories or get an effect from your workouts.  You DO need to progress, but there are a lot of ways to do that with one single movement.

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Chapter / Rule 4 - Get rid of water weight by drinking more water

In bodybuilding competitions, The Biggest Loser weigh-ins and wrestlers trying to make weight, water manipulation is huge.

Look at how pure it is! Drinking a bunch if it MUST be good for me! You know, because toxins, and whatnot.

For bodybuilders it's because at 3% body fat, a little bit of water weight can be the difference between 1st and 5th place.  (Not so much of a big visual change for you and me)

For The Biggest Loser, it's to make it seem like you've lost more fat than you really have - but more importantly so that you can stay in the competition.  The only way to lose 20 pounds in a week is to shed a bunch of water weight - aka weight that isn't making a big difference in the way your pants fit.  (It's a great way to make yourself pee blood though!)

For wrestlers, a change in weight class can mean wrestling someone with 20 pounds more muscle than you.

For followers of Jumpstart to Skinny shedding water means basically zero positive change in appearance, but you'll sure feel like the program is working when you step on the scale and have pissed away 10 pounds of water!

Really that's the only benefit you'll see from getting rid of water weight.  You would have a similar effect going on a low-carb diet, since carbohydrates cause you to hold onto water.  This is also why low-carb diets are seemingly more 'effective' in the short-term.  Water doesn't actually mean any good changes in appearance unless you're a super-ultra-lean bodybuilder right before a show.

But Harper has a few other things to say about drinking massive amounts of water so let's take a closer look:

"Next, there's the scientifically complex but pretty straightforward truth that increased water intake lets the liver devote more resources to fat metabolism..."

'Scientifically complex but straightforward' sounds like an oxymoron to me.  Of course there is no citation for this particular gem, so let's do some digging ourselves:

Some things that your liver is good at doing in regards to fat -

  • Converting stored fat into energy
  • Converting excess carbohydrates and proteins into fat

Now, does water affect this?  Perhaps, if you're dehydrated.  I was unable to locate any studies regarding water intake and liver function aside from the obvious fact of dehydration not promoting optimal organ function.  Again, though, I couldn't find any studies backing this up.  (Here is a link to a little blurb in a Harvard Health newsletter though.  Take it with a grain of salt.)

Let's just assume though that dehydration adversely affects your liver's ability to metabolize fat.  Do you need to be drinking the amount of water that Harper recommends?  (80 ounces at MINIMUM, which is equal to almost 5 standard bottles of water)

Lots of time to get real familiar with our porcealin friend if you follow this rule.

As I discussed in my review of Harper's last book, there is very little evidence regarding the 'optimal' amount of water for an individual.  There isn't much backing up the assertion of '8 glasses a day,' or '1/2 your bodyweight in ounces of water.'  In the link to my last review above, there is also a discussion about what all can contribute to your water intake for the day.  (Soup, fruits and vegetables are big contributors, especially on this diet where you eat a lot of these)

That review also debunks Harper's assertion of water causing you to burn more calories in and of itself.  He mentions it again in this chapter.

Now it has been found that drinking water before and during meals can help you eat less.  Not only does it help fill your stomach some, but it also makes you take longer to finish your meal which leads to eating less overall.  (Some studies point to soup as being even better at keeping you satiated for a long time - it has a ton of water in it on top of being combined with more solid substances that prevent you from just passing it through 5 minutes later)

Really though, I don't think that there is any strategy you can use to ever feel satiated on this 800-calories-a-day diet.

You could stop reading this part of the review right here and skip to the moral.  What I'm going to post below is speculation on my part:

As far as the assertion that drinking crap tons of water will help you drop water weight, I don't think you'll see much of a difference.  Your body is rather good at regulating itself.  Drink less than you need and your body will conserve more of it and you'll urinate less.  Drink more than you need and it'll just pass right through you.  Losing water weight has to happen in a very short window, say for a competition.

Drink lots and lots of water for a week and your body regulates hormones so that it doesn't hold onto very much water.  Then you have a very brief window to cut out your water while you still have the hormone levels that promote losing water.  After a while of not drinking much, it will level off again.  Homeostasis is a wonderful thing.  It keeps us from doing stupid shit like dying from trying to lose pointless scale weight through water loss.

Moral: Manipulating your water weight is not going to do a lot for your physical appearance.  Don't bother.  Drinking water can help you feel full, but I doubt you could do anything to reduce your hunger cravings on this diet plan.

Chapter / Rule 5 - Get your electrolytes

Here's a rule I'm having a tough time understanding.

Electrolytes are most commonly seen in sport drinks:

Some electrolytes include: sodium, potassium, calcium, chloride, bicarbonate and phosphate. Wheee science-y terms!

Why are electrolytes so common in sport drinks you ask?  I AM SO GLAD YOU DID!

When you sweat, as you do during exercise (some of us more than others), you lose water and electrolytes like sodium. (Which is why it's salty.  Also if you don't take a shower for awhile after and all the sweat evaporates, you may find your skin a bit grainy from leftover salt.  Fun facts!)

Generally we need electrolytes for various bodily functions.  But another reason is because they promote water retention.  So if you just dehydrated yourself running a marathon, a combination of electrolytes, glucose and water are a super way to re-hydrate quickly.

Now the reason that I was SO EXCITED to explain that to you is because it is a DIRECT CONTRADICTION of the rule we just posted about above!  Drink a crap ton of water to lose water weight, then re-hydrate with your electrolytes - brilliant!

Generally in a normal diet you'd be getting enough electrolytes (presuming you aren't a marathon runner or doing 3-hour practices for your sport) and you wouldn't have to worry about it.  However since you'll only be eating 800 calories a day in this diet, you may be deficient - I'm not really sure to be honest.  I can't claim to be an expert on that.  However you're probably deficient in a bunch of other things as well (like, calories) so electrolytes is just one of many worries.

"After decades of irresponsibly selling high-sugar electrolyte replacements in the form of "sports drinks," manufacturers finally get it: we don't want or need the sugar.  We just need the electrolytes, thank you."

Now, I'm hardly a big defender of the food industry, if you couldn't tell.  In fact, sports drinks are really only necessary for people doing long endurance events or marathon practice sessions - not that you'd be able to tell that from their commercials.

But the purpose of a sports drink is to re-hydrate you and give you a little bit of fuel.  Sugar is needed for this.  It's not the sport drink manufacturers at fault here.  It's YOU for thinking you need a sport drink for your 45 minute strength training session.  Or for following a ridiculous 800 calorie diet.  Sports drinks serve their purpose.  Normal people do NOT need electrolyte supplements.

At the end of this chapter, Harper says that you should not take diuretics to lose weight.  Finally something we agree on!

Moral:  If you're trying to lose water weight, taking electrolyte supplements is perplexing.  I'm not sure if they're necessary on an 800 calorie a day diet - they might be.  Either way, you should really not only be eating 800 calories a day.  Have I mentioned that?

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This is a long one so grab some coffee and settle in!

Chapter / Rule 1 - Take Control with Proper Portions - 40/40/20

For Rule #1, Harper shows you the breakdown of macronutrients he wants you to be eating.  40% of you calories from carbohydrates, 40% from protein and 20% from fat.

Taken from teamripped.com

This is a fairly standard diet plan.  40/40/20 has been used as a starting point for many conscious eaters for ages.  Go around on any forum or website and you'll probably see this recommendation.  So when Harper states that he's

"...tinkered with this formula to get it right:  I've tried different percentages, added, subtracted, split things up one week and then tried something new the next...I know this is the formula that will work."

he's basically full of it.  He didn't come up with this "formula."  But it sure does make him sound smart and science-y!  On the other hand, I don't doubt that he's guinea-pigged many different kinds of diets and found this one to be the one that worked.  Most of the dedicated fitness enthusiasts I know have tried all different kinds of diets just for the fun of it or out of curiosity.  Self-experimentation is great fun if you do it right and it can teach you a lot about yourself.

However, I don't think that 40/40/20 works perfect for everyone.  There are many happy people out there who do something like 60/20/20 or 20/60/20.

40/40/20 isn't a bad place to start though if you're not sure what you're doing, so I am pretty cool with his recommendation here.  Many crash-diet plans you'll see involve much much lower carbohydrates than that!

Here's another thing I appreciate about this chapter: Harper has a couple of quotes about how no food is inherently bad -

"It's not that complex carbohydrates are evil or that you can never have them again..."

"Fats are not "bad"..."

So, thanks for that!  In an age where sugar is the devil (although...he did say that fructose and sucrose are "twin demon-spawn" in his last book...hmm...) and saturated fats are going to clog your arteries, it's nice to hear a public figure say that there isn't anything bad or evil about two major macronutrients.  Poor carbs and fats.  All they ever wanted to do was be delicious.

He also mentions that protein is key for preserving muscle mass while losing fat.  Very true as well.

Now onto the stuff he didn't get quite right:

"...protein helps control blood sugar and insulin..."

Protein stimulates insulin as much as, and in some cases more than, many carbohydrates.  This isn't really common knowledge, but it certainly should be.  So next time someone tells you that sugar and other carbs are bad because of insulin, point that fact out to them.

"...think of it this way: simple carbohydrates are found in fruits and vegetables...and are generally "good."  Complex carbohydrates are what we find in processed starchy food - breads, baked goods, pastas, crackers and potatoes."

You may be asking yourself, "Wait, I always heard we wanted complex carbohydrates?"  And you'd be right - in general that's been the advice doled out.  Harper is kind of tripping over himself a little here.  In his last book, he actually wanted you to eat whole-grain carbohydrates (Rule #4 - however he has made clear that this particular book is for special circumstances).  Here's a summary of why the advice is typically to eat complex carbs instead of refined carbs:

  • Complex carbs take longer to digest (due to fiber content and the fact that longer, more "complex" chains of carbohydrates take longer for your body to unravel and use)
  • The longer they take to digest, the more satiated you'll feel and the slower your blood sugar will go up.
  • This will lead you to be less hungry, thus consume less calories and lose weight.

So the reason that people don't generally suggest things like twinkies, pop-tarts, white bread and other refined carbohydrates is because, aside from their lack of nutritional value, they get digested quickly and cause your blood sugar to go up and crash back down.  Sometimes this can leave people hungry and/or tired.  Not generally things you want to be during a caloric deficit.

Fruits and vegetables do tend to be on the simpler side of carbohydrates.  This is why some people will tell you that apples and bananas are going to make you fat or some shit. (Because they have a lot of sugar in them) However most sane people will realize that the fiber and nutritional content of them off-sets and potential 'negatives'.  Plus they're delicious.

A basket full of simple sugars!

Harper could have been much more clear by leaving simple and complex carbohydrates out of the equation.  If he had simply said something like "fruits and vegetables have a lot of fiber and water content, leaving you much more full than a twinkie on your ridiculously low calorie diet.  So we're going to eat those instead of twinkies, woohoo!"  instead of trying to sound smart, it would have made much more sense.

"You'll have an amazing, for-the-ages wedding album, a jealousy-inducing reunion photo, a bathing-beauty shot that your spouse just can't stop looking at!"

YES, WE GET IT, WE'RE GOING TO LOOK SEXY.  Also, maybe it's just me, but I kinda think it's more important to look back at your wedding album with fondness not because of how tiny your waist might be, but because it memorializes the day you committed yourself to someone you (hopefully) love.  Haha nahh, it's more important to look smokin'.

Moral: 40/40/20 macronutrient breakdown is sensible to start with and pretty standard.  Not bad advice for someone just starting out.

Chapter / Rule 2 - Cut back on calories.  Then cut back again.

800 calories a day for women.  1200 for men.

So you're a 6'0 female waitress on her feet all day?  800 calories.

5'2, 230 pound female track and field athlete?  800 calories.

That makes sense, right?  I mean, haha, what are the chances of you blacking out in the middle of a shift at around day 18 of only eating 800 calories a day?  The price we pay for beauty.

I'm going to make this perfectly clear right here:

Unless you are under the surveillance of a medical team, you should never, under any circumstances, intentionally eat only 800 calories a day for an extended period of time (say, 21 days).

Harper says that these are special circumstances and that if the calories weren't this low you wouldn't meet your weight-loss goals.  That is probably true.  Because if you're trying to lose a significant amount of weight or drastically change your appearance in 3 weeks, you need to change your expectations.

As a fitness professional who isn't interested in creating drastic, insanely fast weight loss for maximum TV ratings or to sell a crap ton of books, I'm going to tell you that there is NO NEED to ever drop weight that quickly unless you are under the guidance of a medical team.  Your health and sanity is way more important than the need to look 2 inches slimmer in your reunion pictures.

Are you serious about losing weight?  Then do it in a sustainable way that HONORS your health - mind and body.  It will take longer, yes.  But I PROMISE you will be better off in the long run.  Honor your body by giving it the time it needs to change.

"[Diet experts and motivators] dress it up in pretty prose but never tell you the truth about the number of calories it takes (or doesn't take) to meet your goals."

Actually, most diet books and health magazines also give ridiculous calorie counts for women.  1,200 - 1,500 is pretty standard.  For most people (especially those with a lot to lose), THIS IS STILL TOO LOW.  Harper, you are just taking this one step further in the wrong direction.

He cites 3 different studies to back up his assertion that this is a safe, effective and sustainable way to lose weight.  (By sustainable, he means that you can sustain the weightloss from this 3-week diet by going back over to The Skinny Rules diet after this program is done - basically he asserts that you will not gain back any weight from this.) Let's take a look at these studies:

Study #1

"VLCDs [Very Low Calorie Diets] produce greater improvements in glycemic control than more moderate diets, even if weight losses are the same.  Better glycemic control means better weight control."

It is clear that Harper never expected anyone to look up the studies he cites.  Because if you did look this one up, you'd find a conclusion that is the complete opposite of Harper's arguments:

"However, to date, it has not been possible to develop treatment programs that maintain this weight loss long term. Neither intensive maintenance sessions nor intermittent VLCDs have been successful in maintaining the benefits of VLCDs long term. Thus, from the perspective of producing long-term weight loss, balanced low-calorie diets appear to be as effective as VLCDs."

However, it is true that VLCDs produce superior glycemic control in obese diabetic patients.  This is important for a diabetic since excess blood sugar is a dangerous problem for them.  Diets like this are supervised by a full medical staff.  If you do not meet both of these conditions, VLCDs are not for you.  See the above quote that says VLCDs have not been successful in maintaining weight-loss.

Study #2

Thankfully for this second study Harper cites, we can get the full text.  In this study, participants were put on a 800-calorie per day diet for 8 weeks.  After this intervention, there was a 6-month maintenance phase.  He read this study and concluded:

"positive metabolic changes that the low-calorie diet induced made weight regain much less likely."

The funny thing is, this study is only looking at participants who regained weight.  So using this study as an example of how VLCDs don't cause weight regain is a bit odd.

I think this may once again be a case of Harper citing a study just to have something to cite and sound official.

The primary finding of this study was that participants who lost the most weight and those who made the best improvements in insulin sensitivity regained less weight.  While this is certainly interesting and perhaps merits further investigation, it is a far cry from saying a VLCD will not lead to weight regain - especially considering everyone regained weight.  Some just did to a lesser degree.

Study #3

This study is an examination of existing literature on VLCDs.  It looked at 9 different trials to gather data.  They concluded:

VLCDs ... with an average intake between 400 and 800 [calories] do not differ in body weight loss. Nine randomized control trials, including VLCD treatment with long-term weight maintenance, show a large variation in the initial weight loss regain percentage, which ranged from -7% to 122% at the 1-year follow-up to 26% to 121% at the 5-year follow-up. There is evidence that a greater initial weight loss using VLCDs with an active follow-up weight-maintenance program, including behavior therapy, nutritional education and exercise, improves weight maintenance.

In other words, within 1 year, some people lost more weight, some people gained more weight than they lost.  After 5 years, no one had completely maintained their weight loss, with some again gaining more than they lost.  They conclude that, when it comes to using VLCDs to lose weight, it is best to lose a whole bunch of weight then continue treatment with exercise, therapy and seeing a nutritionist.

Sadly a lot of us don't have access to those last 2 options.  They certainly would be helpful in maintaining weight loss.

In any case, this study (I think, I could be wrong) was only looking at VLCDs, without comparing them to more modest diets.  This is not sufficient to say that using a VLCD is the best plan.  However, to assure you that this 800 calorie per day diet is a good plan, Harper concludes:

Short-term very low-calorie dieting can produce a whole bunch of positive changes that will keep you from getting fat again.

They can also be very difficult to follow outside of a laboratory and can produce a whole bunch of negative changes that will keep you from maintaining your hard-fought weight loss.

Moral: PLEASE DON'T ONLY EAT 800 CALORIES A DAY.

Chapter / Rule 3 - Eat no complex carbs after breakfast

If there's one thing I want you to get out of listening to me ramble about these books and nutrition in general it's this:

It's not as complicated as you'd think.

It doesn't matter when you eat.  It doesn't matter too much WHAT you eat.  What does matter is HOW MUCH you eat.

So rules like this annoy me.  They end up confusing people, there's conflicting opinions everywhere, and for the person just looking to get a bit leaner they really don't matter.  Sure you can argue about pre and post-workout nutrition a little, but if it confuses you or causes you stress you don't have to worry about it too much.  Honest.  Just do what you want.

I found this picture from an article talking about the evils of gluten. God stock photos are getting ridiculous. First it was "women laughing alone eating salad", now it will be "women looking terrified and guilty eating any kind of food."

"...sugar cues the pancreas to make more insulin.  And that process triggers appetite!"

He's being a little contradictory - simple sugars, like the kinds you find in fruit and vegetables, tend to be the ones that would cue the insulin response.  Yes, they have fiber and loads of nutrients and good stuff, but they are, in the end, sugars.  Also as we went over before, protein stimulates insulin as much as and sometimes more than carbohydrates.  So this point is kind of moot.

If he just said "we're cutting out grains of all kinds because they aren't very satiating for the calorie load" this would all be making a lot more sense.

"The later in the day you eat complex carbs, the more likely it is that you will get food cravings late at night."

I'm pretty sure if you follow this diet you're going to be having food cravings late at night, early at night, in the afternoon, late morning and early morning.  Ya know, because you're only eating EIGHT HUNDRED CALORIES!!

Moral: Meal and macronutrient timing is really not super important.  If you're more advanced when it comes to nutrition feel free to tinker, but if you're new to the whole thing, don't worry about it too much.

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It's that time again - to review an entire book chapter by chapter.  I've heard Harper's follow-up to "The Skinny Rules" is even worse than the original.  I CAN'T WAIT!

Introduction

This book, like any good advertisement, starts out with an anecdote.  Bob had a client.  A rockstar client.  A (supposedly overweight) rockstar client that had a show coming up in just three weeks.

"Now she needed some fast-acting advice to get her on stage feeling confident, comfortable and looking like the rock star she is."

For reference, here is what a rock star looks like:

Beth Ditto

Oh, wait, nope that can't be right.  She doesn't look like she goes to bed hungry.  Rock stars follow Rule #18.  Let's try that again:

Coheed and Cambria's Travis Stever

No...no okay that can't be right either.  His midsection isn't perfectly chiseled.  They say the third time's the charm:

Maya Ford from The Donnas

COME ON WHY WON'T YOU PEOPLE CONFORM TO MY WORLD VIEW OF ROCK STARS NEEDING TO BE SKINNY????

Jack Black

Bowling for Soup

The Hot Toddies

Birtha

NOT EVEN IN THE 70'S GOD DAMNIT!!!

Okay...so...you don't have to be thin to rock the fuck out.  Well, I guess Harper and his theoretical client missed that memo.  (Isn't rock supposed to be about kind of eschewing mainstream society and doing your own thing anyway...?)  I guess...I guess let's move on to some other points.

"If you've read my book The Skinny Rules..."Previous publication mention #1

"...you'll transition to The Skinny Rules."#2

"...and then you can transition to a sustainable (Author's Note: lol) regimen (aka The Skinny Rules)..."#3

Guys, just in case you didn't know, Harper has another book.  He's mentioned in a couple of times in the introduction here.  Did he mention that he has another book?  And that you should buy it?

Okay sorry that has nothing to do with actual advice.  But that's probably because the first 6 pages of the introduction are all about painting a picture in your head.  This introduction is one big, long sales copy.  It's designed to hook you in and make SURE that if you just picked up this book out of curiosity you'll buy it.

It hooks into common fears:  a looming important date such as a vacation, a reunion or a wedding.  It reinforces that right now, you look like shit.  And Harper is going to solve all of your problems.  You will become slim.  In shape.  Trim.  Fitting into your sexy dress or suave tux.  Envision how amazing it will feel to turn heads.  How?  Don't ask questions.  Just absorb.  Imagine.  Then give me your money.

Next is where things start to get scary...

I'd been told by other people that Harper promotes a really terrible caloric intake in this book.  He beings by asserting you won't be doing anything unsafe.  Challenging, yes, but not unsafe.  Just my thought, if you need to assure your client that the diet plan you're about to give them won't cause them medical duress, you should probably give yourself a little time to ponder over that plan as well.

Harper assures you that YOU are at fault for needing a quick-fix.  Let's ignore the part where he is supposed to be the professional who reminds you that seeing drastic results in 3 weeks is rather unrealistic.  Or the part where as someone genuinely concerned for your health and well-being it would be on him to mention the negative side-effects of crash dieting.  Not writing a whole book about how enthused he is about it.  Literally EVERYONE wants a quick fix.  It is the professional's responsibility to bring their client back down to Earth and see the bigger picture here.

A sane person would say "Couldn't doing this very low calorie diet launch me into yo-yo dieting?"  To which Harper says:

 "...don't worry so much Grandma!"

Apparently, because he cites this one study where participants saw improvements in health-outcomes on both short and long-term diets equally, dieting won't cause you to yo-yo.  Even though that study said nothing about what happened to the participants after the study was completed.  Which is what would be necessary to say that dieting doesn't cause yo-yo dieting.  And the abstract doesn't tell you how many calories the participants were eating.  And these were obese post-menopausal women.

VLCD can definitely have their place with the very obese.  However if you're the kind of person picking up this book to lose some weight to look noticeably "fabulous" for an event, you're probably not obese enough to warrant VLCD intervention.  Either way, it's not good information to pan out to the general public, especially without the advice to be guided by a medical professional.

"...detailed in The Skinny Rules..." I HAVE ANOTHER BOOK #4

What about cleanses?

No, those are no good.  Because according to Harper, those are unsustainable and too restrictive to stick with for 3 weeks.  Unlike his program.  Where you have a bunch of rules to follow and can only eat EIGHT HUNDRED calories a day.  That sounds soooo much better!

I like to eat pastries while reviewing diet books.  Lets me feel like I'm stickin' it to the man.

I like to eat pastries while reviewing diet books. Lets me feel like I'm stickin' it to the man.

However, he does say that cleanses don't actually cleanse anything and your liver does its job just fine without your help.  I do really have to give him props for that point.  It's rare to see big public figures speaking out against cleanses!

As well, he confirms that spot reduction is not a thing.  Another thing that you don't see a lot from public fitness figures.  Thanks Harper!

Just 13 rules.

That's all!  So easy to remember, just like those last 20 rules.  (What was rule #7...?  Wait can I eat sweet potatoes?)

"So, think of the Jumpstart Rules as the big reveal version of the final training regimens that athletes...use to get ready for their big event."

Funny, athletes get ready for big events by a general reduction in exercise and an increase in food consumption.  So basically the exact opposite of what you're about to do.  But I guess I get what you were trying to say, kinda.

What happened to his rockstar client?

She fell off the wagon on day 13 and binged on chocolate cake.

Haha just kidding, we're not talking about reality here.  She finished the whole thing, was super duper DUPER HAWT and

"from the stage she yelled out: "I love you, Bobby!""

I'll just bet she did.

7 Comments

Pinterest remains a constant source of fascination for me.

Sometimes I'm not sure if the pins I'm seeing are from companies or from the average user.  But regardless, every post on the Health & Fitness board is still about the same as when I posted about it a few months back.  The bad fitness ideas are still perpetuated.  It's still all about spot reduction, running for fat loss and toning with light weights.

However, I do think I've been seeing more posts about interest in lifting heavier, getting stronger and focusing on health.  (Even if the 'focus on health' motivation typically just happen to include fitness models.) I don't have any stats on that but, I suppose you could either call it wishful thinking, intuition or just spending waaaay too much of my time browsing the board in a kind of morbid curiosity.

But sometimes I still need to let off a little steam.  In particular, there is this one "beginner's routine" I see pushed around constantly.  I'm procrastinating on starting my next book review, so indulge me here.  Perhaps you've even seen this article here and there.

What's so bad about it?

Well, first of all it's hosted on PopSugar, one of several emerging websites that don't offer much in the way of quality, but mostly just exist to push out as much content as possible with as many ways to accidentally click on advertisement, sharing and affiliate links as can fit on your screen.

WebsiteMoney

I AM SO DISTRACTED BY ALL THESE SHINY POP UPS...what was I reading again?

I'm not sure if you caught onto it, but I'm not a fan.

But, let's focus on the routine.

This BEGINNER routine features 5 days a week of 90 minute workouts (more if you include the time to get there, change, warm-up, etc.) and 2 rest days.  They emphasize this is for people who are completely new to working out.

Do you remember the first time you tried a completely new activity?  Maybe you even remember the first time you tried to workout.  You were probably so sore the next day getting off the toilet took a few minutes of preparation.  This workout ensures your complete soreness by not only putting you through 80 minutes of working out your first day, but following it up with a 90-minute high-intensity one the very next day!

Not to mention, why are you telling a complete beginner to go to one of the more complex and intense yoga classes in the first place?

Why does the beginner need 4 days a week of cardio, especially if fat loss is the goal?

Why is a beginner being told only to do 10 minutes of either arms or legs followed by a quick 5 minutes of abs for strength training?

This routine ignores reality.

If you're a complete beginner, what are the chances you're counting your calories enough to even know what it would mean to 'cut out 200 calories'?

What are the chances you're going to be ready to just jump into an intense fitness class?

No really FitSugar, what do you mean by 'cut out 200 calories'?  Subtract 200 from what?

Does this routine sound enjoyable?  Does it sound like something a beginner would be able to stick to long-term?

Is this routine flexible?  What are you supposed to do when you are inevitably too sore to go to your intense spin class the day after your hot yoga class and abdominal routine?

Why am I phrasing all of my critiques in question form?  Because I want YOU to ask MORE QUESTIONS from EVERYTHING you see!

Here's what I'd like to see:

Sunday: Go for a 5 minute walk and think deeply about your fitness goals.  Why do you want to achieve them?  What is holding you back?  What are your priorities in life?

Monday: Try a total-body strength routine with just your bodyweight.  2 sets of 10 squats, incline push-ups, body rows and glute bridges would be enough.

Tuesday: Try another 5 minute walk.  Think about what kinds of activities you enjoy.  Did you totally hate that workout yesterday?  Why?  Did you love it, or feel just meh about it?  Why?

Wednesday: Take a couple of minutes in the middle of your workday and just focus on your breathing.  10 deep breaths.

Thursday: Let's go for another walk!  What about 10 minutes this time?  Think about how you feel while you're walking and how you feel after.

Friday: Even if you totally hated it last time, give that bodyweight routine another go.  Take your time and think about how you feel afterwards.

Saturday: Evaluate all you did this past week.  Take some time to think about those same questions from Sunday.  Did anything change?

That's about it.

Boring as hell to read probably.  I'd bet you wouldn't lose a pound.  It's not sexy.  It's not anything I can sell.

But it is realistic.  It is a great start.  Hell if you get out the door that first day, I'm ecstatic.  Obviously you'd progress week to week.  Progress would be slow.  But it would be a far more enjoyable and tenacious experience than 5 days a week for 90 minutes while cutting out an arbitrary amount of calories.

Sustainable weight loss is about sustainable changes.  If you make a change you can't stick with forever, it may not be worth making at all.

Find all the segments of my review in one easy place - The Book Review tab at the top!

_______________________________________________________________

So, there you have it.  All 20 rules.  So simple right?  All you have to remember is 20 simple, easy rules.  Wait, what was rule #9 again?  Uhh...wait he said that I can eat sweet potatoes right?  I think so...but there was something about not having them at...lunch?  Dinner?  For the first month?

THIS IS NOT SIMPLE.

THIS IS NOT NON-NEGOTIABLE.

Look, there is some decent advice in this book.  Eat vegetables, sleep well, protein is important, yeah, that's all well and good.  But what I found most amusing about this book is that he never mentioned the only ACTUAL non-negotiable rule for weight loss:

You must eat fewer calories than you expend.

He gave it lip service, and actually he does have ridiculous calorie ranges for men and women that I'll go over in a second.  But none of the non-negotiable rules are actually non-negotiable.  I think that's really the take-away from this.

These are some ideas to use for your own weight-loss journey at best.  At worst they're unnecessary, misinformed, neurosis-inducing pointless diet advice.  The only reason that there are 20 rules is to give it a little 'Harper' flair and make it seem like he has something unique to say.  He doesn't.  This book is 99% bullshit.

Bonus Section - Part II Introduction

So, the 20 rules actually are only about 1/3rd of the contents of the book.  The rest is fluff with recipes and menu plans and other junk I'm not going to cover.  However, the first 3 pages of Part II are rather silly, so I thought I'd get into it a little bit.

"...you'll know what to do when you find yourself in this pickle: Janie's serving tacos and rice for dinner tonight, but it's not your splurge night.  You'll remind yourself...[don't go to Janie's].  Rule 4!"

Yes, this sounds like a recipe for a wonderful and fulfilling life - ignore social invitations because they don't fit into your pointlessly-rigid diet!  What fun!

"...when you're about to try to convince yourself...you should just eat breakfast when you get to work...you'll remember Rule 14.  And you'll not only eat something nutritious before you leave, you'll also set the alarm a little earlier for tomorrow."

Oh really?  Will you?  Just like magic huh?  Or will you more than likely NOT eat breakfast because you're not prepared, then feel guilty about it all day for no reason at all, and then decide that this weight loss thing just isn't for you?

"For now, you've got to eat like I do."

Ugh.  This is EXACTLY the line to look out for when trying to determine if someone is full of shit or not.  If someone is trying to convince you that you MUST eat like they do or else you will not succeed with <insert goal here>, then it's probably time to look elsewhere for advice.  There is no one-size-fits-all diet.

"Guys need to keep their daily calories around 2,000.  Women have to aim for 1,200."

Aaghasdfouhsadfa.  1,200 calories a day are you fucking joking?

Please, stop listening to Bob Harper.

3 Comments

Chapter / Rule 17 - Eat Your Vegetables - Just Do It!

It's finally happened.  I found a chapter that I have basically no greivences with.  Vegetables are swell.  They can taste good if you learn to cook them right.  I agree with all this.

...What do I do now?  What do I use this space for?  No witty or sarcastic disagreements.  No silly pictures with ridiculous captions.  I got nothing.

Moral: Vegetables are a lovely weight loss tool.  They aren't magic, but they are very filling and tend to help you eat less, while simultaneously being nutritious.  Going to go sit in a corner and re-evaluate my life now.

Chapter / Rule 18 - Go To Bed Hungry

Oh good, something for me to vehemently disagree with.  I was a little concerned for my mental health after that last chapter there.  Let's take this opportunity to point out some really stupid quotes:

"...overweight people are often lonely and anxious; eating before bed is nerve-settling, comforting."

Well that sounds like a bit of an over-generalization...

"The absence of carbs in your bloodstream will let your body produce the hormones it needs for better sleep."

Come again?

In fact, in looking up what he could be talking about, I came across many articles that encouraged eating carbs before bed to help you get to sleep.  If you use Harper's logic about no carbs after lunch, it would make sense.  He says in that chapter that carbs make you sleepy.  So...why am I going to bed hungry again?  Sounds like a perfect occasion to eat cake to me.

This is me about 10 minutes post-Thanksgiving dessert.

"Denied fuel for more than 5 hours, your body will start burning its own fat and sugar.  That means that, if your dinner was at 8PM, you're burning fat by 1AM."

Again....what?

Your body doesn't work that simplistically.  It's not about trying to trick your body's processes into burning ONLY FAT EVER - it's about letting it do its own thing while just giving it a little less fuel total than it needs.  And that little less fuel could be done over the course of a day, over the course of a week, month, year, whatever.

And in any case, your body is probably burning mostly fat while you're sitting at your computer reading this.  It's just not burning very much of it.  Because you're just sitting around.  Same for when you're sleeping.

It doesn't even matter if your body is burning fat or glycogen anyway.  If you have eaten less than you need to function, your body will eventually get around to losing fat, whether you burned away fat directly or you burned out some glycogen stores.  IT DOES NOT MATTER.

So that 'fat-burning' zone on the treadmill?  You can forget about it.  Becoming 'fat-adapted'?  Pointless.  Calories reign supreme.

Moral: Going to bed hungry is not something we should aspire to.   When you are aspiring to the lifestyle forced upon people who can't afford food, you should really re-think your choices.

Chapter / Rule 19 - Sleep Right

Oh no...it's happening again.  A chapter I generally agree with.  Umm...okay...what did I do here last time.   Just cut straight to the moral.  Right.  But this time I'll add in a cute puppy:

Taken from 16-horsepower.tumblr.com

 Moral: Sleep is good.  It will make your weight-loss efforts easier to stick with.  You'll feel better, have more energy to do that exercise thing, and be less apt to over-eat the next day.  Sleep rules.

Chapter / Rules 20 - Plan One Splurge Meal a Week

One thing I do like about this chapter is that Harper concedes that there are many people who disagree with this rule.  It's easy when you've been restricting all week to have your cheat meal turn into a binge meal.  It would hardly be your fault.

Coming from someone who used to do things similar to this, it makes eating for me highly stressful.  The cheat meal is even stressful.  There are a million things I can't eat anymore, so what do I want to indulge in?  It was like trying to answer a trick question - if I didn't get exactly what I was craving (which was everything), I'd have to wait A WHOLE EXTRA WEEK to get it.  Pizza?  Ice cream?  Chinese food?  A sandwich?  Any dessert?  YES TO ALL OF THE ABOVE OM NOM NOM NOM.

I'm using this picture again because I love it.  OM NOM NOM NOM!

I'm using this picture again because I love it. OM NOM NOM NOM!

Then I'd feel guilty anyway.

So yeah, cheat meals don't work well with my brain.

But, again, that's me.  Just like Harper states, it has worked for him and his clients.  Doesn't mean it will work for you, and that's okay.

But either way, there are a few rules he gives even to your cheat meals:

  • No liquid calories except red wine
  • Make sure to count your calories anyway
  • Try to make your splurge at lunch or breakfast.  If it's dinner, make it before 7.
  • Only drink water, and don't get any of the bread.
  • No fast food.

This cheat meal certainly has an awful lot of caveats.  Some cheat.

Moral: Cheat days aren't for everyone.  They certainly aren't for me.  But, if it works for you, keep on keepin' on.

Chapter / Rule 14 - Eat A Real Breakfast

More studies showing that health-conscious people eat breakfast and thus weigh less.  People who don't eat breakfast usually don't do it intentionally for health reasons, and are more likely to be less concerned about health, thus weigh more.

I'll quote myself from a previous review:

Moral: "You do not have to eat breakfast.  It does not ‘jumpstart‘ your metabolism.  You do not have to eat breakfast."

Chapter / Rule 15 - Make your own food and eat at least ten meals a week at home

Not totally bad advice, and typically something that I can get behind.

Typically cooking your own meals is cheaper, it's easier to control what goes into your food, and usually (though of course, not always) you'll be eating less calories than if you got some fast food.

However, once again, it's not absolutely, utterly necessary to lose weight.

Mmmm Chipotle Burrito Bowl. Delicious, completely compatible with a weight-loss focused diet, and also happens to be fast food. Woo! (taken from livingtherun.com)

As well, a significant portion of the obese and overweight population live in areas with a distinct lack of access to grocery stores, cookware, and decent kitchen facilities.  As well, one shouldn't discount the fact that, especially if you're inexperienced, cooking takes time.  It's the time to get to the grocery store, pick out your groceries, store them, cook them, and clean up after them, as well as put away any leftovers.  Is it so hard to see why someone working 80 hours a week would be disinclined?  Does it make them doomed to be fat forever?

Other than that, I generally like this chapter.  While I don't do it, eating only at the table is good habit to have, and he gives a pretty good list of basic cookware that you'll need.

Moral: It's probably easier to lose weight eating mostly from home.  It's also typically cheaper.  However, it's not absolutely required.

Chapter / Rule 16 - Banish High-Salt Foods

Harper is correct about one thing.  Salt can cause water retention, which can create some serious scale fluctuations which many dieters may find discouraging.  However, I think this is one of many reasons that the scale is not a good way to measure body recomposition progress.

However, as far as salt being bad for you, unless you already have blood-pressure issues, you really need not concern yourself with how much sodium you're taking in.  In any case, if you've been following his advice of not eating fast food, you'll probably be fine.   I do think American cuisine could use a bit more when it comes to herbs and spices, though.  Salt, pepper and garlic powder aren't the only things out there!

Basil, oregano, Italian seasoning, cumin, curry powder, ginger, rosemary or chili powder are some of my favorites.  (I have no idea of their sodium content, however!)

Moral: Unless you have an existing blood-pressure condition, don't sweat your sodium content.  I would encourage experimenting with new spices and herbs however!

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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."

Whaaaaaaaaaat???

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.

Seriously?

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."

"Why don't you guys buy me anymore?  I...I love you guys.  What did I do wrong?"

"Why don't you guys buy me anymore? I...I love you guys. What did I do wrong?"

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.

Hey, Snooki eats pistachios, I saw it on that commercial. And she lost weight. She's famous, and that's all the proof I need, mister!

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."

Well then.

"Is there any way to eat fast foods...or fried foods and be healthy?  No."

Michael Phelps, winner of a bajillion gold medals. This must have been after that. It's impossible to be healthy and eat fast food at the same time.

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?

Okay then.

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.