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In my BS Detector guidebook, I have a "BS Checklist" - Things to look out for during a commercial, in a book or on the cover of a magazine. One of the items on that list is an authority claiming to have a "secret" in regards to gaining muscle, losing fat, or whatever.

SuperSecretSecret

The only secret is that there are no secrets.

So when you see the line:

"...I'm about to share with you the secret to weight loss."

followed by an extremely simplistic solution:

"The key to weight loss is avoiding and overcoming food intolerance."

Then your BS detector alarm needs to start ringing.  

Just think about that statement - she is saying that for the millions of people who struggle to lose weight and keep it off, the answer isn't that they're eating too much.  It's not that they move too little.  It's not that the food environment encourages over-consumption, it's not that long work hours and high amounts of stress are not conducive to home-cooked meals or taking walks.  

It's not the fact that people are notoriously terrible at reporting their food intake, even when they're taught how.  

It's not agricultural subsidies or that adults who don't cook raise children who never learn how.  It's not even the plethora of diet and exercise books out there with contradictory information, slashing your favorite foods left and right, and leaving you completely confused of how to proceed.  

It's having digestive issues with a certain food or foods.  

Does this sound right to you?  

Now I'm not discounting the discomfort that can occur from ingesting a food you don't handle well.  Let me tell you about the time I ate two protein bars totaling 22g in sugar alcohol before a 3 hour long seminar.  (Actually, I'm going to pass on that story.  Just read these reviews for sugar-alcohol gummy bears instead.) 

THE WARNING IS NOT JOKING.

But to say that intolerance is the sole cause of weight gain and difficulty in weight loss is asinine.  And to be clear, that is what she just stated above and what this whole book is about.  

"...if you weigh more than you like and look older than you'd prefer, you are most likely struggling with food intolerance." 

So if I'm 57 but would prefer to look 25, I have food intolerance?  Got it.

Here is a checklist given for how to tell if you have food intolerance: 

  • Have you tried unsuccessfully to lose weight?
  • Is what you used to do to lose weight no longer working?
  • Are you a yo-yo dieter?
  • Do you frequently experience discomfort after eating, such as bloating, gas or indigestion?
  • Can you only lose weight by starving yourself or exercising like a maniac - or possibly not even then?
  • Are you feeling and looking older than you should? 

She then states if you fit even one of those bullet points, you're likely eating foods you're intolerant too.  Doesn't that seem like a bit of a stretch? (Especially when the bolded point is the only real one that indicates any sort of digestive issue!) 

So you, like almost everyone else on the planet, want to lose weight and look younger.  Ergo, you have a food intolerance.  What are the foods you're probably intolerant to?

The 7 "High Food-Intolerance" Foods

  • Gluten
  • Eggs
  • Soy
  • Corn
  • Dairy
  • Peanuts
  • Sugar & Artificial Sweeteners 

Where did this list come from?  Well, it appears that parts of it came from the eight foods that comprise 90% of all food allergies, (soy, dairy, eggs, peanuts) part of it from hot topics of the day (sugar & artificial sweeteners, gluten) and one I'm not really sure of the origin of (corn). 

While this diet protocol has you re-introduce these foods after a 3-week washout period, she states that she would like for you to leave out sugar, artificial sweeteners, corn, and peanuts forever.  Why?  

Peanuts 

"Peanuts have a high risk for aflatoxin mold, which is toxic and provokes a lot of allergies.

Peanuts are also high in phytic acid and lectins..."

Corn

"[corn is] one of the worst of all the grains because it tends to be allergenic, is high on the glycemic index and has a pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid profile."

She also notes that it is high in lectins and that "almost all U.S. corn is genetically modified." 

Sugar & Artificial Sweeteners 

There is quite a long list of reasons given to avoid sugar, everything from saying it "disrupts your insulin metabolism," to "sugar depletes nutrients."  Yikes.  

Artificial sweeteners are stated to be horrible for the same reasons as sugar, on top of it being a "neurotoxin."  And then, aspartame turns into formaldehyde when "it's raised over a certain temperature"!  Doesn't that sound terrifying?!

Apples - just one of many foods that contain formaldehyde naturally. (taken from ameribestprayers.com)

Once we get to the actual chapter-by-chapter review of this book, we'll go over what's true and false about those statements.  For now, just know that you really don't have to be this scared of food.  It's certainly not the instrument of impending death and illness it's made out to be above.

What happens when you eat a food you are intolerant to?

This can be a difficult thing to ascertain, because it's difficult enough to just figure out who is intolerant to a particular food or component of food as we mentioned in Part I.  But we can get an idea by looking at lactose-intolerance, which tends to be better understood.

With lactose-intolerance, your body doesn't have (or have many of) the proper enzyme (lactase, to be specific) to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products.  Therefore, it doesn't get digested properly in your small intestine.

When the lactose shows up only partially broken-down in your large intestines, bacteria ferments it, which causes gas and bloating.  This is also often followed by diarrhea, as the lactose doesn't get fully absorbed or broken down before passing through.

While the mechanisms for other types of food intolerance are not well understood, we'll pretend it is something similar to the above.  One prevailing idea of why food allergies and intolerance are on the rise the the "hygiene hypothesis."

Because of modern society's obsession with cleanliness, the hypothesis goes, we're depriving ourselves of the helpful bacteria that have helped us with a multitude of functions, including digestion.  For instance, the human body only produces 20 enzymes that break down carbohydrates.  But a group of just one kind of bacteria has over 260 such enzymes.  It seems logical to me that depriving ourselves of helpful bacteria with a hand-sanitizer obsession could lead to an increase of food intolerance.

Must rid ourselves of evillll germmmmssss

(But again, this is just a hypothesis)

This leads back to the prevailing theme of our book...

So, is food intolerance really the "secret" to why so many of us can't lose weight?  Let's review what we've gone over about food intolerance:

  • Food allergies are on the rise, with some estimates saying 4% or more of the U.S. population having at least one.
  • Food intolerance could be rising as well, but with such difficulty in diagnosis, it is hard to say and impossible to give an accurate figure.
  • Food intolerance is characterized by an inability to digest a certain food or food component. (Malabsorption)

So we have no idea how many people have food intolerance, but for those that do it means digestive upset due to an inability to break down and absorb the food properly.

Think about that - the nutrition from the food item cannot be absorbed.  That's unabsorbed vitamins, minerals...and calories.

As well, it's uncertain how many people suffer from an intolerance.  How could anyone be confident enough to say that EVERYONE who struggles with weight loss has an intolerance?  There is no evidence to back up that assertion at all.

But that doesn't mean this whole book is worthless.

Yeah, it's shitty to make big, bold claims that can't be proven.  But for someone who does suffer from extreme bloating and misery after meals, this diet could be helpful.  Elimination diets can absolutely help you figure out if you have 'problem foods' (provided you do one correctly), and help you to find relief.  It may not be 100% accurate and you may not know the exact component that is causing you distress, but you'll likely feel better.

Just don't expect it to solve all of your weight-loss woes.

Next up: the up-and-coming buzzword of inflammation and how it relates to food intolerance / sensitivity.  How exciting!!

As always, leave me any questions, comments or suggestions below!

2 Comments

I'm definitely one of the lucky people when it comes to allergies.

My older brothers got the short end of the stick.  I think they must have taken the hit for me - both allergic to peanuts, one also allergic to tree nuts and pollen on top of cat and dog hair, the other raw eggs and peas.

Dogs and peanut butter - all a girl really needs in life.

Me?  None.  Zip.  Zero.  Even the list of foods I don't tolerate well can be limited to sugar alcohol.  This is becoming a less and less common thing as the years go on though.  Here are some fun statistics:

  • Eight foods account for 90% of all allergic reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. (1)
  • While most children grow out of food allergies, allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish and fish tend to be lifelong. (1)
  • In the UK, hospital admissions for food allergy increased by 500% from 1990 to 2006. (2)
  • Food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011. (3)
  • The increases in allergy prevalence is seen almost exclusively in developed nations.

More on why they included the increase in C-sections on this graph in my next post.

There are a lot of parallels between food intolerance and food allergies - but one should NOT consider food intolerance as a kind of 'light' food allergy.

The mechanisms between the two are very different:

  • Allergies cause an immune reaction, typically through increases in Immunoglobulin E (IgE)
  • Food Intolerance does not cause an immune reaction in the same way as allergies.  There may still be one, but it's unclear if there always is and how or why it may be caused. (4)
  • Gluten intolerance in particular does not appear to cause 'leaky gut' - aka causing your intestines to be more porous, allowing other matter in your gut to get into the bloodstream.  (4, 5)
  • Celiac disease in particular is neither an allergy nor an intolerance - rather it is an autoimmune condition.

A note on leaky guts

"Leaky gut" is a proposed mechanism for a lot of different conditions - from arthritis to heart disease.  While it is certainly a thing that can happen (such as in celiac disease), food intolerance does not seem to cause it.

In looking around for information on leaky gut, what exactly causes it seems to be a bit of controversy.  Only in the last decade or so are there many studies affirming that it's a thing that could happen from food in the first place.  The one clear thing I got through is this: how common, what causes, how to diagnose and how to treat 'leaky gut' is NOT clear.

Diagnosing is hard.

Pin-pointing exactly what compound you are having a reaction to is pretty tough.  Self-diagnosing can be even more unreliable.  Imagine this scenario:

You suspect that you may have a gluten intolerance.  You cut out regular noodles and replace it with cauliflower rice.  Your daily lunch-time sandwich gets replaced with a vibrant salad.  Instead of cereal for breakfast you're having two hard-boiled eggs and fruit.

The result?  You feel great!  Full of energy all day with none of your usual brain fog.  Must have been the gluten, right?

Or could it be that you're eating more fruits and vegetables and replaced your high-carbohydrate breakfast for a high-protein and fiber one? 

Okay, so what if you don't replace everything with healthful foods, but you still cut out gluten?

Your breakfast of a protein shake goes out the window.  Maybe you replace it with some gluten-free cereal or toast or something.

No more mid-morning protein bar for you!  Replace it with some kind of gluten-free treat from Whole Foods maybe.

Don't let going gluten-free keep you from delicious pastries! (Taken from wheatfreeliving.com)

Your gum-chewing habit is nixed.  (Even many gums have gluten in them, who knew?)  Replace it with diet soda.

Certainly didn't have a more nutritious diet there, but you still feel loads better than before.  Definitely the gluten then!

Or could it be that you've gotten rid of sugar alcohol and protein powder - two substances that often cause gas, diarrhea and discomfort in some individuals? 

Let's get even more precise!  Suppose you think you have an intolerance or allergy to fish - so you eliminate all fish from your diet.  Bam, feel better, but never eat fish again.  No more sushi nights for you, right?

But what if your intolerance or allergy wasn't to fish it all - it was to a compound found in the environments of Atlantic Cod fish, but not Nile Perch? (6)

Or you think that you're going to have to live a life without ice cream - everytime you have some Americone Dream you're running to the toilet 5 minutes later for a miserable half hour of digestive rioting.  (Worth it for ice cream, maybe?)

But actually you're just allergic to Carrageenan - thank goodness you went to the doctor to figure that out and now you can enjoy some Stonyfield ice cream in peace.

Okay, so you go to the doctor to get tested for a food sensitivity.  That's the way to actually find out exactly what's going on, right?

Maybe....but then again maybe not.

Diagnosing is hard.  Some people won't show the same symptoms as others, won't have the same reactions on their skin or in their blood.  Some people can handle different dosages of a particular substance before symptoms show up.  On top of these difficulties, with all of the buzz about the dangers of dairy, gluten or <insert dietary fear du jour>, nocebo effect can be a plausible explanation for some patients' symptoms.

Nocebo Effect: Negative reactions from a harmless substance as a result of a patient's expectations about how the substance will affect him or her.

If there's one thing I would like someone to take away from this post it would be this:

When it comes to food intolerances, sensitivites and how exactly they affect our system...we don't really seem to know.  Not yet.

But there are steps that you can take to improve how you feel.  And this book actually does have some pretty good ideas for how to do so.  Unfortunately it's presented in the context of massive weight loss and a manner that is anything but humble -

VirginDiet

and a little humility is exactly what's needed when it comes to new fields like this.

In Part II I'll include some choice quotes from the book on this subject so we can compare what we kinda know with what the book is trying to tell us.  Check back next week!

Is this popular diet book right for you?  With The Virgin Diet book review series, we'll be going over, point by point, what this book gets right and wrong, who it's for, and if it's worth purchasing.

With The Virgin Diet, we're getting into vastly different territory than Harper's books.  Some challenges we'll be facing include:

  • Little to no citations for claims, making our job of verifying information a lot tougher.
  • Venturing into some new, tricky, and controversial topics like food intolerance - where finding appropriate studies will be very difficult.
  • Legitimate points entangled with and lost in an underlying premise of exceptional fat loss.

But first, let's meet our author. JJ Virgin is a Certified Nutrition Specialist and a Certified Healing Foods Specialist.  She graduated from UCLA in 1985 with a bachelor's in English.  For two years (2005-2007) she was the nutrition expert on the "Dr. Phil Show", made appearances on "Extreme Makeover", and is the co-star of TLC's "Freaky Eaters." She's authored two books, Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy (2010), and The Virgin Diet (2012) and as well is a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post, Livestrong, and Prevention Magazine.

Note on Education & Certifications

JJVirginFakePhD

Her name often appears with a "Ph.D" next to it in her online contributions and first book.  However it is ominously missing from the front of her latest book.  A bit of digging reveals the Ph.D is from a non-accredited online program - which is to say, a much less rigorous program than the Ph.D you would normally think of.  As well, it has no obligation or oversight to provide sound, scientifically proven education.

As in, the curriculum can be made up and based on nothing.

Regarding certifications, in the United States, "nutritionist" is an unregulated term.  To be fair to JJ, however, a cursory glance at the CNS certification seems rigorous and substantial.  There are plenty of legitimate issues to take with the steps needed to get become a Registered Dietitian, in which case a CNS seems like a great alternative. I cannot give a judgement on CHFS.  While my instinct is that it sounds bogus, I haven't done near enough research on it to say for certain.

What is the Virgin Diet?

The tagline for this diet is "Drop 7 Foods, Lose 7 Pounds, Just 7 Days," however it is a 21-day protocol. This diet is based on a few different concepts:

  • Food Intolerance is behind many conditions, such as aging, skin conditions, bloating, and weight gain that's tough to lose.
  • There are a core seven groups of food that many people are "intolerant" to - their immune system believes them to be harmful and chronic ingestion of them will lead to chronic inflammation.
  • Going on an elimination diet - as in, eliminating certain food groups for a few weeks then adding them back in one at a time - will help you discover if food intolerance is causing your weight-loss woes.

The book then details the mechanisms behind food intolerance and how it causes the above symptoms.  It gives more information on the specifics of why each of the seven foods are more troublesome than others. Afterwards, you learn how to re-introduce the eliminated foods back into your diet, then how to sustain your weight loss and symptom relief for life.  The end of the book has a bunch of recipes that don't contain the seven eliminated food groups.

This book is THICK and has A TON to go over.  So here's how this critique is going to go down:

Part I - Food Intolerance: The Hidden Cause of Weight Gain

"So listen up, because I'm about to share with you the secret to weight loss.

It isn't calories."

In Part I, we will give a brief overview of our current knowledge on "food intolerance."  What is it, is it different from an allergy, how can you tell if you have one, what should you do about it?

Part II - Inflammation: Fanning the Flames

Is any of this actually true?  We'll go over it!

Is any of this actually true? We'll go over it!

Here we'll review what we know about chronic inflammation - a very buzz-worthy topic these days.  What IS inflammation, and why is it bad?  Is it really the cause of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, eczema and every other modern health problem ever?

Part III - Interpreting Testimonials

Each chapter ends with a very convincing-sounding testimonial.  In my Bullshit Detection book, I have an entire section dedicated to going over how testimonials and before & afters work, but this is a good chance to emphasize it!

Part IV - Chapter 2 and Beyond

From here on out we'll go over the book chapter by chapter, section by section, just like we did with The Skinny Rules.  It will be MUCH easier to do with the framework of Parts I-III in place.

For now though, you've learned some interested facts about Virgin's education history, controversial online education programs, and what's coming up!

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, for those who want to get more information you can find it at TheFitnessTribe.  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 12 - Lay off ALL Booze!

I'll start off with something positive here.  Going out to drink will not help you get closer to any weight loss goals you may have, I agree with Harper there, instead if you have  a drinking problem, you should take gold bali kratom.

However, I don't feel we need to demonize booze to get that point across.  You're smart, you know alcohol has calories.  If you recognize that and still want to go out and have a good time, by all means, go for it.  If you only give yourself 3 weeks to lose as much weight as possible, then yeah, it doesn't sound like a good plan.

But if you're getting ready for a wedding (one of the examples for why one may need this diet program that Harper states over and over), do you want to miss out having fun with your friends on your bachelor / bachelorette party?  Are you going to drink at your rehearsal dinners?  To each their own, and if you don't need to drink to have a good time, more power to you.  But personally I'd be a little upset if I didn't get every ounce of joy from those once-in-a-lifetime experiences to try and look slightly thinner in some pictures.

Anyway, that's all fluff.  Let's go over the justifications on why to not drink alcohol:

"Alcohol...is a central nervous system depressant.  You don't ever want that..."

Probably a time you'd want a little liquid courage.

Probably a time you'd want a little central nervous system depression.

Many bar-goers beg to differ! (Fun fact, did you know that archery competitions typically ban alcohol since it calms archer's nerves, decreasing hand tremors and improving accuracy?)

"Booze will alter your metabolism and slow down fat-burning."

Now this isn't an untrue statement.  But I think many people see statements like this and assume that consuming alcohol will decrease your metabolic rate in general, for which I haven't found any good evidence - please correct me if I'm wrong.  (I actually found a study - albeit a very old, small one - showing that it increases metabolism)

However, your body will process alcohol before anything else, by proxy lowering specifically "fat-burning."  We've mentioned before that it doesn't matter too much if your body is burning fat or carbohydrates - everything will catch up eventually if you're eating at a caloric deficit.

"...then there's the simple fact that this is a low-calorie, three-week diet, and alcohol contains calories..."

Very true.  If you're eating 800 calories a day, it would be best to get those calories from nutritious foods.  (But you should probably not only be eating 800 calories a day.  I think I've said that a couple of times.)

"Last but not least, it may surprise you that my objection to alcohol while on Jumpstart is less about calorie intake...

Every now and then, while driving home late at night...I see a line of guys outside the local open-late burger place.  All of them fat and...drunk."

Typically what the line at Cook-Out in Durham looks like at 1:00 AM.

Typically what the line at Cook Out in Durham looks like at 1:00 AM.

Harper then goes on to describe what all of us are probably familiar with - late night drunken food runs to Cook Out or Taco Bell.

(Sooo it is about calorie intake then?)

Who hasn't done that once or twice?  But I feel compelled to mention that there are plenty of skinny people who have this habit as well.  Will drinking 800 calories of beer followed by a 2,000 calorie hush-puppy & corndog combo help you lose weight?  No - but that doesn't mean there aren't people who do this on occasion without being fat.

I suppose my issue with him implying only fat people have this habit is that it says you're not allowed to party or have fun if you want to be at a reasonable weight, which is simply untrue.  Being thin does not mean subjecting yourself to a life of constant restriction and misery.

Moral: Alcohol doesn't seem to lower your metabolism.  (Correct me if I'm wrong) However, it does have calories and can lower your inhibitions towards food which will not help you achieve your weight loss goals.  Sure is fun though.

Chapter / Rule 13 - An espresso a day...or two or three

Coffee has had quite a few news articles singing its praises.  (Not endorsing that article, just showing there are a lot of claims around coffee)

Harper agrees with a few of them and gives us a couple of studies:

  1. This study showing that coffee consumption is correlated with lowered risk of metabolic syndrome in men.
  2. Another study showing that dark roast coffee had more antioxidants than light roast and that it contributed to "significant" body weight reduction.

A few issues with using the first study:

  • Diet was assessed through questionnaire, which as we know by this point can be prone to error.
  • There was no corresponding correlation with the women in the study, which is suspect.
  • The study acknowledged that this is an association and not enough to prove causation.

With study #2, the full text is really required.  I will try to get access to it and amend this post - the abstract gives no context to the claim of "significant" body weight reduction.

French people drink coffee.  French people are thin.  Therefore coffee makes you thin.

French people drink coffee. French people are thin. Therefore coffee makes you thin.

Anyway, coffee has claims to increase fat metabolism (although whether the broken down fat gets used more readily as fuel during exercise over existing carbohydrates doesn't seem to be clear), and it also serves as an appetite depressant! (it is possible that decaffeinated coffee does a better job of this)

Harper makes a last point about why you should drink coffee on this plan - it will get your energy up for the workouts he'll talk about later.  And on 800 calories a day, you'll need all the help you can get.  I personally drink caffeine during my workouts - it may be placebo but I feel it helps me stay focused and energized when I'm going up for my eighth set of squats or whatever.

Moral: Coffee can be helpful for the dieter due to appetite-suppressing qualities.  It could increase fat metabolism during exercise, maybe.  As well, the increase in energy can help improve your performance during workouts.

Whew!  Okay, that's a lot of rules.

But wait, there's more!

This book also contains a lovely workout plan, which I will enjoy reviewing in a bonus section!

'Let's Sharpen Our Bullshit Detectors' Update

Still working on my little guidebook for navigating the health & fitness industry.  I'm about done and all I need are a couple of people who would be willing to give it a critique.  I'm sure I've missed quite a few typos and there are probably some segments that don't make any sense.  I could use another pair of eyes, so if you'd like to help me out, just shoot me an email at:

kat@capitalstrength.com

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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.

2 Comments

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.

3 Comments

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!

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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.