Tag Archives: Bob Harper

Get the whole review of Jumpstart to Skinny in one easy location under the 'book reviews' tab at the top.

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I'll go ahead and preface this post by saying I don't have a lot of disagreements with Harper's exercise instruction.  It's better than I've seen from a lot of other trainers for sure.  I like to think that pre-The Biggest Loser, Harper was a wonderful trainer with integrity.  I suppose I can see how easy it is to compromise your morals when millions of dollars are on the line and it doesn't really seem like you're hurting anyone - even more so when hundreds of thousands of people tell you daily what a wonderful thing you're doing.

While I have few problems with his technique instruction or his form (only problem I have is with his kettlebell swing instruction), I do disagree with what he's asking of people on 800 calorie per day diets.

I much prefer people to do Russian swings over American (pictured above).

Your only goal on so little fuel should be to maintain your muscle mass - not to try and burn off what little fumes you may have left.  He provides 7 different workouts, some of which I like more than others.

Workout 1: 

  • 20 sit-ups
  • 15 squats
  • 10 push-ups
  • AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) in 20 minutes

This workout is decent - but I fear that 10 push-ups may not be feasible for many of the people reading this book, especially any beginner women.  As well, 20 minute AMRAPs for beginners is usually pretty tough.

But, I understand he is trying to make a semi-difficult workout for a wide variety of skill levels with minimum equipment.  That's a tall order.  AMRAPs are one way to try and take care of that problem - people who are less experienced would just go more slowly and complete fewer rounds than more seasoned workout veterans.

Unfortunately, there are going to be plenty of readers who can't do a proper squat or push-up - what about them?  I think it would have been a good idea to provide alternatives to commonly problematic exercises.  Maybe something like:

Workout 1 - Advanced Level

  • 15 Reverse Crunches (bring hips off floor)
  • 10 squats (3-8-x) Meaning, take 3 seconds to lower yourself to the bottom of the squat, hold for 8 seconds and come back up.
  • 10 push-ups
  • 3-5 rounds

Workout 2 - Beginner Level

  • 10 Reverse Crunches (keep hips on floor)
  • 10 chair squats
  • 3 push-up negatives
  • 3-5 rounds

Anyway, I appreciate that it is difficult to write programs suitable for whatever number of people is required to have your book become a New York Times bestseller.  But with just a tad more content, the most obvious problems can be rectified.  I'm sure Harper is a good enough trainer to know that, so I'm not sure why it's not included.

There are some workouts that I really have to question the intent of, however:

Workout 4:

  • 20 medicine ball push-ups
  • 20 medicine ball sit-ups
  • 20 medicine ball squats
  • 20 no-wall balls
  • 20 medicine ball burpees
  • One round for time

Now, I get that it's only one round, but just imagine: it's day 16 in a row of eating 800 calories.  You've already done 12 exhausting workouts and you're sore, famished and completely exhausted.  It's all you can do to walk up the stairs without getting light-headed.  What would be the best thing to do?  Apparently push-ups and burpees on an unstable surface!  Brilliant!

Not the training effect we're going for

Not to mention this workout is very unsuitable for a beginner.  It's unsuitable even for people with a couple months of basic training under their belts.  To be fair, he does state on the burpees and push-ups that if it's too difficult to do with a medicine ball you can go without.  I think that this would be another good time for an Advanced / Beginner split.

Burpees are hard.  Burpees are really hard when you're light-headed from only eating 800 calories per day.  Burpees are really really hard when you're only eating 800 calories a day and you just did a bunch of other exercises that make the blood rush to your head.  (Push-ups / Squats / Wall balls (involve squatting))

Moral:  Generally the main gripe I have is just that it's unrealistic and miserable for a half-starved person to be given high-intensity crossfit-esque workouts.  You need the proper fuel to even get anything out of it.

Again, the best you should hope for on this steep of a deficit is to maintain your muscle mass if you want this to be a little bit less of an awful experience.

Review

Again, you can find all the segments of Jumpstart to Skinny's review under the "book reviews" tab at the top.  You'll find all the segments of The Skinny Rules there as well.

As far as a final word on this book, I have to say that I'm greatly saddened by what's in here.  I'm sad because so many people read this book and think that quick weight loss is something attainable, normal and even desirable.  I'm sad because there is not a single peep from Harper about the drawbacks to following a crash diet.  I'm sad because there are probably thousands of people who bought this book with high hopes only to find themselves facing failure after being unable to keep up with unreasonable restrictions and rules.

This book, and The Skinny Rules, will give the impression to people who try it that weight loss simply must not be for them.  If these rules are non-negotiable and necessary to lose weight, while at the same time being unsustainable, then what's the point?  Why even try?

If you tried to follow the rules in this book and came up short, it's not your fault.  Harper mentions his 'expert' status several times in this book - no true expert in healthy weight loss would give out these suggestions.  You are being misled.

If you want to lose weight, here's a more realistic plan:

  1. Manage your expectations.  You do not need to lose 20 pounds in 3 weeks to have a good time at your reunion, wedding or vacation.  If you want to lose weight, recognize that to do so and keep it off it necessitates a long, slow process.
  2. Maintain a small deficit.  If you're counting calories, try something small and barely noticeable, like 200-300 calories.  If you're not counting, try just eating 80% of what you're eating now.  One less spoonful of potatoes at dinner.  Half of a normal piece of toast at breakfast.  Manageable stuff.
  3. Strength train in a way that makes you happy to maintain your muscle mass.  This could be doing bodyweight exercises, training with weights, hiking, pole dancing, whatever.

When you're just starting out, that is seriously all you need.  Could you do more?  Sure.  But if you've been hopping from one diet to the next for years with no lasting results, why not try something a little more manageable?

Chapter / Rule 10 - Fall back on veggies!

This chapter is short and sweet.  And it also makes sense, for the most part.

Vegetables

On this diet, you are allowed to eat an unlimited amounts of a long list of vegetables Harper provides you.  They are, for the most part, very low in calories but very satiating.  And when you're only eating 800 calories per day, if you want any hope of your stomach not rumbling all day, tons of vegetables are a good plan.  Have you ever tried to eat 500 calories of broccoli?  It's tough.

Harper takes note that if you are eating all these vegetables, you'll be taking in a lot of fiber.  While he comments on the benefits of fiber - feeling full, regular bowel movements, moving digestion along - it should be noted that if you are going from a low-fiber diet to a nearly all-fiber diet, you might have a bad time adjusting.

For some, too much fiber too quickly can result in cramping, bloating and constipation.  You'd probably get over this after 3 weeks though.

He also notes that some vegetables are "natural diuretics" as an extra benefit.  Considering he was very anti-diuretics in chapter 5, I find that worth mentioning.  Obviously any diuretic properties of a vegetable likely nothing compared to a concentrated drug, but it's still just another gimmicky way to lose unnecessary water weight.

Moral: Vegetables are filling.  They might help make a 800 calorie-a-day diet more bearable.  They can be pretty tasty too.  (If you follow me on facebook, you'll remember: FUCK YEAH ROASTED BROCCOLI!)

Chapter / Rule 11 - No fruit during week 3

I got a little depressed reading this chapter, I'm not going to lie.

There's just...so much bullshit guys.  I'm sorry.  I need a moment.

There's just...so much bullshit guys. I'm sorry. I need a moment.

Well it looks like Harper listened to that popular lecture by Dr. Lustig.  The gist of the lecture being, fructose is more harmful than other sugars like maltose or glucose.

Fructose is known as the "fruit" sugar since you can find it in most fruits like apples or berries.  In fact, Harper has an entire chapter in "The Skinny Rules" dedicated to you eating plenty of apples and berries everyday.  (Every. Single. Day!) He also wants you to eat simple sugars for this diet (see rule 3), of which fructose is a big one.

However, he wants you to cut out the fructose in week 3.  Why?

"[Fructose's] metabolic profile is different from that of sucrose (usually made from cane or beet sugar) in one critical way: over-consumption of it skews our metabolism toward fat storage rather than fat burning."

Everytime you spout nutrition bullshit, a puppy cries. Why do you hate puppies Harper?

There is only one kind of over-consumption that drives our bodies to store fat rather than burn it: calories.  Whether those calories come in the form of fructose or sucrose or skinless baked chicken breasts and steamed broccoli, it doesn't matter.  If you are eating 800 calories per day (assuming you are not a 100 pound girl in a coma), regardless of where you are getting those calories from, you WILL lose fat.  (until the inevitable binge happens)

"Many believe that our stepped-up consumption of fructose, usually through ingestion of all that high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in soft and "fruit" drinks, plays a key factor in America's twin scourges of obesity and diabetes.  That's why New York passed its ban on large soft drinks recently."

The attempted ban on soft drinks was not due to their HFCS content - it was due to their caloric content.  If it truly had anything to do with HFCS, they would have made the law to replace it with sugar.

I was also going to point out how HFCS is nearly identical to sucrose in terms of fructose content - it's only got about 5% more fructose.  But I'll let Harper explain with flawless logic why that's not good enough:

"Other researchers...believe that HFCS has been unjustly maligned, pointing out that the syrup contains only 5 to 10 percent more fructose than regular sugar.

I wonder what those guys would say if their mother's prescription for say, Lipitor, contained 10 percent more than she was supposed to take!"

This is a very bad argument.  When I originally typed that sentence out, there were so many negative adjectives that I just gave up trying to articulate how bad it was.

As far as we are aware now, fructose does not appear worse for human consumption than simple sugar.  The negative health effects of sugar result from eating a caloric surplus of sugar - and the nature of sugar makes it easy to do that.  However, many cultures have thrived off high carbohydrate diets (Japanese, for instance). Comparing fructose consumption (of which we can take in vastly varying amounts and be okay) to altering a sensitive drug that requires a doctor's permission to take is asinine.

He then cites a study and concludes that fructose consumption impairs insulin sensitivity and makes it difficult to bring blood sugar down.

Unfortunately in this study, they were limited by the fact it was not conducted in a metabolic ward.  Subjects were only required to log 3 days worth of food between visiting researchers (Which happened after 3 weeks).  While that's certainly something, we are notorious at counting and measuring our food, even with kitchen scales.   The fact that many foods contain high fructose corn syrup and sucrose outside of the sweetened beverages the participants were required to drink makes this study difficult to verify for accuracy.

"Does one week of [not eating fruit] really make a difference?  Yes.  It's one more way to cut calories, one more way to push your body into fat-burning mode, one more way to curb your sweet tooth.  And: it works for me and my clients."

If you're already counting out 800 calories a day, removing fruit will not cut your calories anymore because you'll make up for it with string beans or Persian cucumbers or something.  Is it the removing fruit that works for you and your clients, or is it the lack of calories?

Moral: Fructose has not been proven to be any worse for your health than sucrose.  Neither seem to be particularly bad.  There isn't a good reason given in this chapter to avoid fruit consumption in the last week of this diet.  Harper made 4 puppies cry this chapter.

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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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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.

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.

Chapter / Rule 4 - Slash your intake of refined flours and grains

First of all I would like to point out that I am eating a white bread sandwich while writing this part of the review.  Just wanted everyone else to appreciate the irony.

Secondly, here is a rule that I can generally get on board with - but not exactly for the same reasons as Harper.

"Grains - mainly in the form of refined flours - dominate our modern diet."

A pretty true statement to start out with.  Harper does a decent job of perpetuating this by advocating everyone start out their day with some refined carbohydrates in the form of sugary oatmeal...but I guess that's me attacking the person instead of the argument.  Whoops.

(If you look up the definition of "Pandering" on google, this video appears)

"...if they are at all refined - from rice to bread - they make you fat."

Harper sure doesn't shy away from making really bold statements.  Pretty much all of them are wrong, like any kind of blanket statement, but there it is.  Let's clarify: refined breads won't make you fat, too many refined breads will make you fat.  It is easier to eat too many refined breads than say, broccoli.

He then goes on to describe some paleo-diet-esque statements about how we weren't created to eat grains, our ancestors didn't so we don't digest them properly, etc.  I'll just leave this video below to let someone much more informed on that topic than I to talk about some of those points:

(Skip to 8:26.  Video isn't working properly for some reason.)

A couple snippets:

"We have...evidence from at least 30,000 years ago of people using stone tools...to grind up seeds and grains."

"Even with the limited research we have...these things include grains, include barley...we even have legumes and tubers."

Now, am I not saying that anyone who feels they don't tolerate grains or legumes or whatever well is wrong.  Regardless of what human history says, you are a unique individual and you have different tolerances / sensitivities from other people.  But to say that all people all the time are not meant to eat grains or legumes is a bit of a stretch.  Do you tolerate them well?  Do you feel well when you eat them?  Are you in good health?  Are you staying within your caloric range and getting in enough protein?  Great!  Have some beans/bread/rice/whatever.

Harper then goes on to describe some grain anatomy, and states that the "bran" of the germ is,

"...utterly indispensable for digestion..."

Grain Anatomy - Taken from runnerbeans.files.wordpress.com

I'm not sure if we have the same definition of 'indispensable.'  One can, indeed quite well, digest grains without the bran.  IN FACT it is far EASIER to digest a grain when it does not contain the bran.  The bran of a grain contains most of the fiber.  You know, that stuff your body can't digest.  The bran also contains a fair amount of gluten.  I'm far from someone who would advocate a gluten-free diet unless you actually have celiac disease (you probably don't), but it's just another point that makes his assertion of 'bran required for digestion' peculiar.

When you remove the bran from a grain, you're removing the fiber, the 'whole grain' part of the grain if you will.  One of the most well-known reasons to eat whole grains over refined grains is that they digest more slowly.  So WHY he would say

"Without the bran, starchy carbs get stuck in our gut for much longer than they should..."

I have no idea.  Maybe I'm missing something, so if anyone has insight into that point, please let me know.  It's true that refined carbohydrates offer one very little in the nutrition department.  I will most certainly agree on that point.  However, many whole grains aren't exactly a cornucopia of vitamins and minerals either.  You'll find far more nutrition and fiber for less calories in vegetables and fruits.  So feel free to enjoy grains if you tolerate them well, but don't fool yourself into thinking they're some kind of 'super-food.' (Aghhhhhh I hate that term SO MUCH)

Harper then tries to make some point about whole grains being awesome but I'm still not really sure what it is.  He references this study, where he says the scientists

"...had [participants] eat a very small serving of barley with their evening meal; other patients ate the same meal without the barley.  In the morning, the researchers drew blood samples and measured blood sugar levels.  The barley eaters' were better."

That could be true.  It might not.  I have no idea because THE STUDY HE REFERENCES HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH WHAT HE JUST SAID.

Seriously, go look at the reference link.  I triple-checked to make sure I got the right study.  What he describes in the book is a COMPLETELY UNRELATED EXPERIMENT.  I can't verify it because I have no idea what he is talking about.  The study that he references is about amylose-spiked bread (the study does not say it was made with any form of barley), not barley.  The participants were asked to eat low-fiber foods and white bread the night before, not barley.

So.  That's pretty bad.  Once again, perhaps I am missing something.  After all I'm not a scientist, I may have misread the study.  It is hard for me to believe that someone cited something completely unrelated to prove a point in a widely-published book.  I do really hope I'm missing something here.

To be fair, the study in the discussion section does mention barley products and potential positive benefits of them, but it is referencing other studies.

Also he mentions in this chapter that your daily allotment for calories is 1750.  I'm not sure where that number is coming from.  That's like how much a pre-pubescent girl should be eating so I am not sure who his target audience here is exactly.

Harper then gives the step-down for this rule: eat brown rice, though he'd like you to get off of rice entirely.  Because it's like, bad for you or something.  Do you eat a traditional Japanese / Chinese / any number of cultures that routinely eat rice diet?  TOO BAD THESE RULES ARE NON-NEGOTIABLE.

Here we see a picture of a traditional Japanese dinner with its trademark white rice and consequently severely obese family. Taken from news-walker.net.

Moral

Yes the American diet is refined-carbohydrate heavy.  Refined carbohydrates have very little to offer your body in terms of vitamins and minerals.  It is EXTREMELY easy to over-eat on cookies and bread than it is on broccoli or carrots.  This is why people advise eating vegetables over grains in general.

However, if you stay within your caloric limits, eat enough protein and don't feel like crap, it is 100% possible to lose weight while incorporating cookies into your diet.  You won't feel much hunger satiety from them though, unfortunately.

3 Comments

In my last post we went over the introduction to "The Skinny Rules" by Bob Harper.  He had a few good points, but also some points of contention.  We'll continue with the analysis here, going over rules 1 through 3.

Chapter // Rule 1 - Drink a large glass of water before every meal - no excuses!

Harper states that this is his first rule, not just because it is so easy, but because "...nothing is so crucial to your success [as drinking water is]."  In fact, drinking a glass before each meal is the minimum, he'd prefer at least 5 glasses.

Unfortunately he never states exactly how much is considered a 'large glass,' so we'll just assume it's somewhere between 8 - 16 oz.  At 5 times per day, he seems to suggest 40 - 80 oz per day.  Let's compare to some other recommendations:

Institute of Medicine - Men: 104 oz // Women: 72 oz

Old Adage - 8oz 8 times a day: 64 oz

USDA - Newborns: ~27 oz // Toddler - 8yrs: 44 - 57 oz // Teenage boys, adult men & women: at least 91 oz

Yet Another Adage - Half of your bodyweight in ounces: 160lb = 80 oz

So recommendations are kind of all over the place.  This makes sense because it's a little tricky to try and give a blanket recommendation when you could be dealing with a 100lb sedentary teenage girl or a 240lb professional male athlete.  Think those two might need different intakes of water?

Another thing: it's REALLY tough to find studies on this kind of thing because no one actually knows.  What is the defining point of dehydration?  Mild dehydration is stated as a loss of 5% of the body's fluid.  How do you know how much that actually is?  What exactly is being measured to make that determination?  No, seriously, I have no clue so if someone could fill me in that'd be great.

But even if you were concerned about your water intake, here are some things to consider:

-Soda contains water.

-Milk contains water.

-Fruit contains water.

-Vegetables contain water.

-Soup, Tea and Coffee are basically water.

First ingredient is indeed water.  I know, it's not kosher to mention it.

First ingredient is indeed water. I know, it's not kosher to mention it.

So if you are consuming the above, I'd venture to say you're probably taking in enough water for health purposes.  HOWEVER, water has been shown to possibly help in decreasing the amount of food consumption during a meal.  So if you're looking to increase your feelings of satiety, it may help to drink water before and during your meal.  Whether that is due to actually filling your stomach or because drinking during your meal will typically elongate its duration, which has been shown many times to decrease overall caloric consumption, I'm not sure.

Harper cites a study showing that water itself will increase your caloric expenditure.  The study recruited 21 overweight children and measured their baseline resting energy expenditure (REE) - or the amount of calories they burn at rest.  They then gave them each 10 ml of water per kilo bodyweight, cooled to 39 degrees Fahrenheit. (This is a pretty large amount of water for one sitting)

Their resting energy expenditure decreased from ~0.8 cal / min to ~0.6 cal / min for about 20 minutes.  REE then increased to ~0.9 cal / min for about 30 - 35 minutes.  The maximal amount of increase was about 1 cal / min.  Unfortunately I was unable to get the entire text of the study, but it seemed that these increases lasted about an hour.

This may seem very exciting, but overall this is really not a huge increase for the time duration.  There was a brief decrease followed by a less-brief increase, sure, but the MAXIMAL increase in caloric burn was only .2 calories per minute.  For some perspective, even if that increase had been the whole hour you would have seen only an extra 12 calories burned.  We're not sure how more or less water affects this, if the same applies to warmer or colder water, or if this would happen more than once a day; at least not according to this study.

Not to say you shouldn't drink water, but I'd take the idea that it will help you burn a significant portion of calories with a grain of salt.

Moral: I'm still speculative about the extreme amounts of water people recommend drinking.  I've been having a rough time just coming up with studies to support ANY of the health benefit claims.  If you drink tea, coffee, milk or soda in any regular amounts you are consuming water.  It takes a LARGE (5-7 cups of coffee worth) amount of caffeine to counter-act their water content.  However, drinking water can decrease caloric intake by increasing satiety, increasing meal duration, and decreasing consumption of caloric beverages.

Chapter // Rule 2 - Don't Drink your Calories

Here is one thing Harper and I agree on: drinking a large portion of your daily calories is a pretty good way to ensure that weight-loss won't be long-term.  Liquids just don't seem to trigger satiety the same way solids do - even solids that are mostly water like watermelon.  It's pretty easy to down a couple sodas and still be hungry.  Try that caloric equivalent with broccoli.  Not quite the same sensation.

However, just as I said in the Introduction review, if you were to only take in 1,200 calories a day in soda and nothing else when your total daily energy expenditure(TDEE) is 2,000 you're still gonna lose weight.  Again, you will feel like shit, but you will still lose weight.

One point that Harper makes is about artificial sweeteners: "If you're a diet soda drinker, you haven't dodged the problem...You're guzzling artificial sweeteners and...I don't think highly of these at all.  They only serve to whet your appetite for more sweet."

I wish I could give a consensus about artificial sweeteners.  I wish I had an answer.  There are studies that show it may blunt insulin sensitivity, there are studies that show they don't.  They probably don't cause cancer.  They may increase your appetite, then again, they might not.

Anecdotal Aside:

I drink diet soda a fair amount.  I usually use about 1/2 a pack of splenda in my coffee.  I'll use artificial sweetener in my desserts.   I think it's asinine to say that it's 'just as bad' as real sugar in terms of weight gain.  How many more calories would I have ingested over my lifetime had I been drinking regular soda the whole time?  While they may 'increase your appetite' or 'make you continue to crave sweets,' whether or not that adversely affects your food choices depends on you.

I'm counting my calories right now (will make a post about moving on to phase 2 of my diet experiment soon), so drinking a diet soda actually won't make me eat more.  It doesn't matter at all if it increases my appetite (I'm usually pretty full at the end of the day which is nice), because I'm still not going to eat over a certain number of calories.

Back to Harper:

He gives a 'step-down' option for those having a hard time ditching flavored liquids.  In the introduction, he states that the step-down options are an "...intermediary step [that] is meant to be temporary."  His flavored liquid step-down is to experiment with flavored drinks such as seltzer water with lime / lemon juice or tea.

I don't understand why those options should be temporary.  They sound perfectly acceptable to me.  Most people would agree that naturally flavored water, coffee and tea are all acceptable drink options.  I think I get that he's just trying to provide options, but it's confusing to put those in the 'temporary solution' box.  Those are permanent solutions.

Another step-down he gives is to stop putting cream in your coffee - opt for 2% or non-fat milk.  This is another point I disagree with.  Please tell me how a splash of cream is going to ruin your calorie intake.  I find that when using cream a splash is all you need to make the coffee taste a million times better, but skim milk needs to be roughly half the cup.  Of course, this is contingent on the person.  I drink maybe 2 cups of coffee per day, to which I'll add about a tablespoon of half and half.  That's 40 calories per day.  Big whoop.  However if you drink 5 cups per day and add a lot more than a splash, perhaps consider weaning yourself off.  Again, it's not that his advice is inherently bad - it's just that it's not non-negotiable.  It's not a necessary rule.  Think about your circumstances, your tendencies, your lifestyle and what fits.  Think for yourself.

Here are some things I agree with though:

-Juice and fruit smoothies have been improperly labeled as 'healthy.'  They are just sugar and calories.  As Harper says, just eat the fruit.

-You do not need a Gatorade for your hour-long run or lifting session.  These are applicable for people running marathons / ironmans and the like.  If you need an energy drink to get through the day, you should take a good look at your life habits and try to fix them rather than giving tons of your money away to put a band-aid on your problems.

-Most coffees at a Starbucks are basically dessert.

One of these things is not like the other.

One of these things is not like the other.

-Alcohol has like, a lot of calories.

Moral: Drink your coffee with full-fat milk if you'd like.  The jury is still out on artificial sweeteners, so use at your own discretion.  They probably don't cause cancer.  Tea and lemon / lime / whatever flavored water are great.  Drinking calories isn't very filling which is why you should try not to do so.  But it is entirely possible to lose weight while drinking soda as long as your calorie intake is still below TDEE.

Extra Note: While taking notes for this chapter, I wrote this down but couldn't find a really good place to put it above.  I thought it was funny so I'll share below:

"Interesting how he demonizes all sugars – honey, juices, white sugar, high fructose corn-syrup – yet he LOVES him some damn oatmeal."

Rule // Chapter 3 - Eat Protein at Every Meal, or Stay Hungry and Grouchy

I'm going to start this segment out with one of the most ridiculous things I read in this whole book:

"Let me be blunt: if you don't start eating fish, you're going to get fat again."

WHAT.

....WHAT.

I hope you read that and burst out laughing like I did, or just stare dumbfounded that anyone could say anything so fucking stupid.

Let ME be blunt: if you don't start eating fish....you're...uhh...probably not going to frequent Red Lobster.

That's about all I could come up with.  EATING FISH IS IN NO WAY REQUIRED TO LOSE OR MAINTAIN FAT LOSS.

All those lean and healthy vegetarians out there must be using secret voodoo magic to stay that way.  I don't really eat fish and I stay not-fat by making sacrifices to the Gods of Leanness every fortnight.

Here is vegetarian and often-times vegan Natalie Portman, famous for her portrayal of an incredibly obese ballet dancer in "Black Swan."

I almost don't even want to review the rest of this chapter because of how mind-blowingly idiotic that one statement was.  But I'll push through:

Harper starts out with a strong, and true statement.  Protein is crucial for people who want to lose fat.  It's satiating, it preserves muscle mass and helps you recover from the strength-training you should be doing.  In fact, one of the reasons people experience success on low-carb diets isn't because they're low-carb, but because they force people to increase their protein intake.

Different bodies have different recommendations.  The FDA and most government recommendations are notorious for their high-carb, low protein levels, which many other bodies disagree with.  Rejection of these recommendations can be seen with the raging popularity of the Paleo Diet, books such as "Good Calories, Bad Calories" and "Wheat Belly."  Not saying I agree with any of the above, but alternative recommendations are out there.

FDA: 65g protein per 2,000 calories

USDA: .36g per pound bodyweight

Harper: .5g per pound bodyweight

Other recommendations out there typically range from .8 - 1.5g per pound bodyweight.  If you're weight training (and you should be if you're trying to lose fat), I usually say .8 - 1.2g / lb.   That's going to be more than the FDA recommendation for sure.

Back to the fish thing - Harper cites a study and says "Like we talked about in the beginning, some foods seem to boost weight loss, and not just because they are low in calories.  Fish is a perfect example."  Well, we already debunked that part in the introduction.  But let's take a look at the study.

In it, a few hundred young, overweight men and women were recruited and BMI was recorded.  It was measured at 3 points during the study - at the start, mid-point, and end.  The study lasted 8 weeks.  Participants seafood intake was recorded by questionnaire, along with activity level which the researchers recommended they keep at the same level.

The subjects were split into 4 groups, one taking a placebo pill and no seafood, one taking in a certain amount of lean fish, another fatty fish, and another took fish oil capsules.  Macronutrient levels were kept relatively level across all groups.  In the end, the men who took in fatty fish and fish oil lost a significant amount more weight than the lean fish / no fish groups. (Around ~1 pound difference in weight loss)  However, women experienced no difference in weight loss across groups.

To me this study isn't very convincing for a few reasons.  First and most importantly, it's another study that relies on questionnaire rather than an actual controlled setting.  It's really hard to say you've concluded anything definitive when there is such a high opportunity for mis-judging and under or over-reporting on the part of the participants.  Secondly, women saw no difference, which makes me suspicious of any significance in the finding with men.

To read this study and determine that one MUST eat fish in order to lose and keep off weight is, again, asinine.

Omega-3 fatty acid intake does certainly have health benefits especially in regards to inflammation, so I'm not trying to dissuade someone from looking into fish-oil supplementation or including fish - or grass-fed beef for that matter.

Harper then goes on to talk about his time as a vegan.  His biggest reason was morals, which I can completely get behind.  Animals are often treated very cruelly, there's no denying it.  However, he then speaks about the supposed superior health benefits of a vegan diet, citing the much-loved "China Study" made famous by the documentary "Forks over Knives."  Now, debunking that study would take a textbook, so if you're interested in reading a second opinion, check out this really detailed review by an awesome lady over at her awesome blog.

Moral: Meat is awesome, and you should definitely take in a healthy amount of protein when you're trying to lose fat - more than the USDA or FDA recommends.  Fish is great for omega-3's, but they aren't magic.  Please read a review of the China Study before you proclaim how much Forks over Knives changed your life.  And seriously, you DO NOT HAVE TO EAT FISH TO MAINTAIN WEIGHT LOSS.

Check back next week for a few more chapters!

3 Comments

I think it's a new pre-requisite for every fitness and diet book to start out with a statement on HOW MUCH INFORMATION about fitness there is out there.

POWEROVERWHELMING

"With so much conflicting information..." "Everywhere you look there's an expert proclaiming the truth..." YOU ARE LITERALLY CONTRIBUTING TO THAT. Oh wait, so am I. Oh God.

"With so much conflicting weight-loss advice out there to confuse your efforts, it's no wonder you haven't been successful losing weight and keeping it off," he starts.  Will his book be any different?  Will it be just another over-valued diet book proclaiming certain guidelines are THE WAY and nothing else?  Or perhaps this will finally be the voice of reason and the end to all of your searching.

...If you've been keeping up with me thus far, I think you can predict where this is going.  Read on as I dissect this book chapter by chapter.

Introduction

I'll go ahead and warn readers in advance that this is going to to delve into dry scientific studies.  I wouldn't do this unless it was ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY for your understanding, so please bear with me.  It's for your own good, promise.  Bob Harper thinks you're smart enough for scientific studies, and goodness knows I think you are too.

The introduction starts out like any good book, with a story.  An anecdote, if you will.  The inspiration for why Harper decided to make the 'rules' he's going to outline.  He describes the husband of a contestant on "The Biggest Loser" show who lost 100 pounds himself during taping.  He did so by following meals and tips posted by Harper on twitter, saying they gave him structure like a set of rules.

And thus, Harper concludes, all people need is a set of rules:

"So, what if we eliminated the clutter? I began to think. What if I could come up with a list of simple, nonnegotiable rules that the average Jane or Joe can follow in daily life—rules you can always fall back on in a pinch, rules you can use not just when you are trying to lose weight, but for when you are trying to stay slender.

Skinny Rules!"

I bolded "Non-negotiable" because I want to draw attention to that.  According to Harper, one MUST follow these rules in order to succeed.  At least, I'm fairly certain that's what someone means when they say non-negotiable.

Harper then lists 7 'myths' about diet and weight loss to get out of the way.  Fair enough!  It's always good to make sure everyone is on the same page first.  Some of these are sound: You can't out-exercise a bad diet, starving yourself is generally a really bad way to try and lose weight, you don't need to completely cut out carbs or fat and in some cases losing a lot of weight really quickly is NOT a bad thing.  (For instance in very obese clients, which is his specialty being on The Biggest Loser.)
Here are some points that have contention:

1) You can weigh yourself more often than once per week.
 

You can, and maybe it might help you.  I know I weigh myself everyday for the weight loss experiments.  But to say everyone needs to check the scale on a frequent basis is a bit of a stretch.  He cites a study that showed people who weighed more frequently lost more weight than those who did not.

Unfortunately, the article in its entirety is not available for free so I wasn't able to read the whole thing.  From what I did read, however, it seemed that people were not told how frequently to weigh themselves - it was completely voluntary.  That leads to a host a correlation problems: is it not logical that people concerned about their weight would weigh-in more frequently and those who weren't actively attempting to lose weight would not?  It's hard to reach too many conclusions based on the little I was able to read, but it seems likely.

Moral: Does weighing-in too much depress you and cause you to reach for the nearest pack of Oreos in defeat?  If so, frequent weighing may not be for you.  Does weighing-in everyday keep you on track and let you know when you need to back down on the eating?  If so, frequent weighing may be for you.  SCIENCE. 

2) It's not as simple as calories in calories out

This one is pretty tricky.  You've probably heard over the years some combination of "FAT BAD" "NO CARBS BAD" "MEAT IS BAD AND WILL LITERALLY GIVE YOU A HEART ATTACK."So what's the deal?  If you eat 1200 calories of Oreos is that not equivalent to 1200 calories of chicken?  The answer is yes and no.  So anticlimactic, I know.  Oreos don't have a lot going for them in terms of nutrition and protein, it's true.  They won't really help you out too much in terms of muscle repair and growth.  If your energy expenditure for the day is 2000 calories though you'll still lose weight.  You'll probably feel like complete shit, but still lose weight.  If your energy expenditure for the day is 2000 calories and you eat 3200 calories of skinless, boiled, rubbery, disgustingly healthy chicken, you'll still get fat.  Sad day

Tricky part: If all you eat is carbs and not enough fat or protein, your body will start slowing down.  You'll lose muscle (especially if you're not performing resistance exercise), lowering that energy expenditure from 2000 to 1800 to 1600. (One of the key factors in why metabolism decreases as you age) Without adequate fat intake, cells and hormones don't function quite like they used to - this too may decrease metabolism.

Harper cites one of my favorite improperly-used series of studies of all time: The Harvard Nurse's Study!  Wondering where you heard that red meat was bad for you?  Hormone replacement therapy decreases risk of heart attack? (completely false)  It's all from right here, in a study that, while extensive, doesn't offer much in the way of SOLID science.  In general the study went something like this:

1) Recruit a bunch of nurses to get baseline weight / BMI / lifestyle and dietary habits.  Get rid of outliers and those with confounding variables such as disease or advanced age.

2) Every 4 years, retest weight, BMI, lifestyle and dietary habits.
3) Over time, analyze data to show what lifestyle and dietary habits are correlated with a higher / lower weight.  Repeat over 20 years.

Sounds pretty simple right?  Unfortunately the lifestyle and dietary habits were self-reported.  This means no one followed around the participants during the 20 years to make sure their reported intake of fruits and veggies was accurate.  This is also an observational study, which means it can't give you a cause for why you're observing what you are.  Harper summarizes the results:

"The answer stunned a lot of traditionalists. Predictably, increases in fruits and veggies were associated with weight loss, while caloric increases in potato chips were associated with weight gain.

The shocker came in the less-intuitive items. Increases in nuts,whole grains, and—usefully for us, as you’ll see later— yogurt were associated with substantial weight loss.  No one is quite sure why, but we can guess: these foods don’t spike your blood sugar and insulin responses the way other foods do, so they don’t make you hungry."

Most of this seems pretty common-sense.  People who eat more fruits, veggies, nuts, <insert healthy food here> tend to weigh less than those who don't.  I don't think we've stunned anyone quite yet.  However, Harper seems to look at this data and reach the conclusion that there is something inherently special about these foods that cause you to lose weight.  I look at this data and conclude that those who are more conscious about their health and weight tend to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Even though there is absolutely nothing wrong with meat, people used to think fat was bad so those who were health-conscious (and thus weighed less) avoided things like meat.  Now people think that it's meat that was the culprit and so those who are health-conscious don't eat so much, reinforcing that meat is what makes one unhealthy rather than simply eating too much in general.

Two other issues with this study:

1) BMI and weight are fucking ridiculous metrics for one's health.
2) This study depended on people reliably self-reporting their food intake for the past TWO YEARS.  I don't even fucking know what I had for dinner two nights ago, let alone two YEARS ago.

Also, whole grain shredded wheat raises your blood sugar more than a Snicker's bar - fun fact.

I'm not disagreeing with the premise that one should eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, yogurt, etc.  I'm just saying it's not that these foods magically cause one to lose weight, it's that they generally promote satiety better than say, pop-tarts, for fewer calories.  They also provide you with super-awesome vitamins and minerals that leave you feeling super-awesome rather than wanting to take a nap.

Moral
: These foods do not, by themselves, cause you to lose weight.  They typically cause one to eat less.  They also typically make you feel more energetic and inclined to do active things.  This in turn will probably help you sleep better and be a happier person in general.  These benefits, among many others, are a chain reaction that causes you to lose fat.
Harper concludes this section with:

I mean, just how wrong could 129,000 nurses be?

Actually it was only 50,422 nurses after they got rid of those who didn't meet the qualifications for the study.  I also only included this part to be snarky.  And to say that humanity has a rich history of large groups of people believing completely false shit.

Oh...uhh...whoops.
3) Eat Breakfast

I mean everyone had to see that one coming.  He does mention that having a bagel with low-fat cream cheese is probably not the best idea for your meal, which I completely agree with.  However he does say that breakfast is the "most important meal of the day," so let me take this opportunity again to restate:
You do not have to eat breakfast.  It does not 'jumpstart' your metabolism.  You do not have to eat breakfast.  SERIOUSLY IF YOU AREN'T HUNGRY DON'T EAT.

All right.  That took a lot longer than I thought it would.  Hope you're still with me here.  Look for reviews of Chapters 1-3 in the future!