Tag Archives: diet

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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!

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!

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

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

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

Taken from teamripped.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Fats are not "bad"..."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A basket full of simple sugars!

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

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

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

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

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

800 calories a day for women.  1200 for men.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Study #1

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

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

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

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

Study #2

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

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

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

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

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

Study #3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter / Rule 3 - Eat no complex carbs after breakfast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

Beth Ditto

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

Coheed and Cambria's Travis Stever

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

Maya Ford from The Donnas

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

Jack Black

Bowling for Soup

The Hot Toddies

Birtha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next is where things start to get scary...

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

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

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

 "...don't worry so much Grandma!"

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

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

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

What about cleanses?

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

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

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

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

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

Just 13 rules.

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

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

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

What happened to his rockstar client?

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

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

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

I'll just bet she did.

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

_______________________________________________________________

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

THIS IS NOT SIMPLE.

THIS IS NOT NON-NEGOTIABLE.

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

You must eat fewer calories than you expend.

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

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

Bonus Section - Part II Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please, stop listening to Bob Harper.

3 Comments

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

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

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

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

Chapter / Rule 18 - Go To Bed Hungry

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

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

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

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

Come again?

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

This is me about 10 minutes post-Thanksgiving dessert.

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

Again....what?

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter / Rule 19 - Sleep Right

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

Taken from 16-horsepower.tumblr.com

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

Chapter / Rules 20 - Plan One Splurge Meal a Week

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

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

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

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

Then I'd feel guilty anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Comments

A few things have changed from my last super-positive and optimistic post about my new 'counting calories' diet regime.

First, and most importantly, I gained weight.

Well, at first anyway.  I did in fact get down to 160 from 163, but then promptly went back up to 164.  I won't deny it, I was greatly upset.  I felt like a hack, and a failure.  Even worse, a hack and a failure who had to post about how she was a hack and a failure on the internet.  Oh the humanity.

The shame

The shame

Let's ignore how when I looked in the mirror I swore I looked leaner.  Or that when I tried to demonstrate how a pair of shorts didn't fit me anymore, magically they fit me.  Or that I knew I was in a caloric deficit and, seriously, you can't gain fat in a caloric deficit.

Let's also ignore that, aside from my neurosis over the scale, I was pretty happy.  I was enjoying food.  All kinds of food.  I was eating a substantial amount of carbohydrates and protein consistently for the first time in...I dunno.  I hit a couple PR's in the gym.  Forget all that.

THE SCALE WENT UP - REMEMBER WHAT'S REALLY IMPORTANT HERE.

(just so no one is confused, the above sentence is sarcastic) And, actually, I did go back down to 162ish after a few days.  But even typing out how much I weighed just sounds vapid to me now.

Anyway, thankfully I took some pictures.  For full disclosure, for 5 days prior to this I was testing out a program my gym will be offering.  The diet part included a super-duper low carb meal plan.  I was eating around 1800 calories per day, which was about the same as I was doing before.  However, I did lose about 4 pounds.  Don't worry I've gained all but one of those pounds back since.

8-24-13

Taken this past weekend

 

Before (After 'Clean Eating' Phase)

Before (After 'Clean Eating' Phase)

So, not a ton of progress, as we can see.  But, definitely got a little leaner around my stomach.  Progress?

Should I Trust the Process?

It's hard to say whether or not I've made any positive impact on my body composition when the pictures are so small in difference and the main metric I used last year - the scale - isn't changing like it did.  I always say that the scale is useless and yet when it comes to applying that knowledge to myself, I am struggling.  Partly because part of my goal was to compete in the sub-148's, but also partly because I don't want to fool myself.

It really is rather absurd, however, that a little number carries so many of our emotions with it.  How petty.

Cutting it Short

Unfortunately, whether I wanted to trust the process or not, I'm cutting this little experiment short, for a few reasons:

1) I have a Powerlifting competition coming up in November and potentially December and I don't want to suck.

2) I'm feeling a little burnt out of thinking about food and dieting so damn much.  Seriously, it's exhausting sometimes.

So, in all likelihood I won't be picking this back up again until January or so.  (DID SOMEONE SAY NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION???)  (No, because I think that's silly)

In a way, this makes me feel like a failure.  A failure on the internet.  But I think it's best for me right now.  The little bit of shame I get from the proclamation is outweighed by the relief I feel.

I will be continuing to count calories, but not as stringently as I was, and I probably will keep it around 2,200 rather than 1,800 - 2,000 depending on if I get morbidly obese or not.  I'll still take pictures intermittently, but I probably won't be posting them.  Speaking of counting calories, here's my overall impression:

Pros

  • No 'rules' on what you can and can't eat
  • Can reasonably eat out at restaurants
  • Always knowing you're getting adequate protein

Cons

  • Counting calories can be really annoying sometimes
  • Counting calories is basically never 100% accurate
  • Many of the better local restaurants don't have nutrition information.

Well that's the end of my little post on insecurity.  On the plus side think of how much more intellectual focus I'll have now that I can divert to more useful projects, like MSPainting all over Pinterest posts and bashing critiquing Bob Harper!

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!

1 Comment

This post was mainly inspired by an article I read in the latest issue of Health magazine - but it's also from the million of articles I've seen around the internet about how to burn calories in your daily activities.

Hiking - Cover

Taken from Health Magazine (July-August 2013), pg. 40

Want to buff up?  Slim down!  ...Wait what?

During your hike why not do some lunges up the mountain top to get that metabolism running?  While spending time with family and friends at the pool, why not get in a great calorie burn?  Take dancing lessons with your partner - you'll get fit together!  Getting some serious work or studying done?  Why focus on actually accomplishing something when you could be doing these sneaky ab exercises?

Maybe this sounds like great motivation for getting more activity and healthy movement into your life.  But tell me what you think about this proposition:

Alternatively, why not go for a hike because you want to enjoy the great fucking outdoors?  Why not actually enjoy time with family and friends at the pool instead of anxiously trying to get a calorie burn to assuage the guilt of that lemonade?  Why not take dance lessons with your partner so that you have something to relate about and bond over?  WHY DOES EVERYTHING HAVE TO BE ABOUT BURNING CALORIES?!

Taken from Health Magazine (July-August 2013), Pg. 43

Taken from Health Magazine (July-August 2013), Pg. 43

I'm trying to think of a caption to appropriately encapsulate how ridiculous this is, but I'm finding myself at a loss.

I'm going to take this a step further.  Why not sprint because running fast feels like you're fucking flying?  Why not pick up ultimate frisbee because it's amazingly fun?  Why not lift weights because you'd like to play airplane with your kid without throwing out your back?

If you've reduced the activities in your life into ways that you can justify eating food or try to cancel out something you feel guilty about, you're destroying the point.  Try to enjoy what you're doing for the sake of doing it - not because you feel like you need to look better in a bikini or you feel like you need to earn some birthday cake you're going to eat later that week.  Is that living?  Is that mentally healthy?

I'm a personal trainer and oftentimes I work to try and help people lose weight.  We also exercise together - so maybe it's a bit odd to hear from me that I would really like to get people to get away from associating exercise with burning calories and losing weight.  Exercise because you want your body to perform better, not just because you want to lose fat.  If the only reason you're working out is for the latter reason, you'll end up sorely disappointed - not to mention missing out on some INCREDIBLE benefits of working out that don't involve fitting into skinny jeans.