The Secret Life of Fat - Book Review
- POSTED ON: Oct 05, 2017



The Secret Life of Fat, the Science Behind the Body’s Least Understood Organ and What it Means for Youby Sylvia Tara, PhD (2017)


This book brings cutting-edge research together with historical perspectives to reveal fat's true identity: an endocrine organ that is critical to our health.

The Secret Life of Fat is not a diet book.  It’s a book about how fat works, about understanding body fat - specifically, its role, why it is so difficult to fight, and how it works differently for different people.

Beginning with the question “Why is it easier for some people to stay thin than others?”  Biochemist, Sylvia Tara, investigates the biology of fat and its vital purposes in the body, from reproduction to immunity. Then she examines the genetic, dietary, and other types of influences on body fat. 

She states:


“Fat enhances our brain size, strengthens our bones and immune system, helps wound healing, and can even prolong our lives.”


“Through its most powerful messenger, leptin, fat can influence our appetites. 

It can cause our muscles to reduce their energy usage. 

It can alter our sympathetic nervous system, and control the flow of hormones such as thyroid, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. 

Most profoundly, it can influence our thoughts and elicit stronger responses to food, lower our inhibition to eating, and cause us to misjudge how much we’ve eaten. 

Fat, it turns out, is capable of mind control !”


Once we swallow food we each process it differently.  Science has shown us that food affects our hormones, and hormones affect our fat.  Insulin, leptin, ghrelin, adiponectin, estrogen, testosterone, thyroid, and other hormones influence our weight.”


Biology explains why it’s so hard to keep off the weight once you’ve lost it: People who are at a particular weight because of dieting, metabolize food differently than people who are at that same weight naturally. “Somehow, the remaining body fat of the reduced-obese,” Tara writes, manages “to survive on fewer calories than before, as though it had found another means to thrive.”

After discussing the scientific nature of fat, Tara describes her own weight struggles, and recommends persistence as the main tool for dieters, combined with any diet that is “customized for you biologically, psychologically, and socially”.


The Angry Chef - Book Review
- POSTED ON: Jul 03, 2017


The Angry Chef: Bad Science and the Truth About Healthy Eating by Anthony Warner (2017)

This brilliant book is an investigation of bad science in the food world.  It is full of forceful, amusing, and convincing information which explodes the “theories” of health and wellness bloggers by the application of rock solid science. Warner shows the falsehoods which pervade the healthy eating industry.  He uses evidence to attack the myths, quackery, and nonsense claimed for coconut oil, paleo, sugar, detox diets, eating disorders, cancer, and convenience foods.

The author has spent 25 years working first as a chef and then in food development in the UK, after obtaining a University Degree in Biochemistry.  He is outspoken and well-informed, and his goal is to get people to see beyond the  “clean eating” and “superfoods” craze to a place where eating is actually a joy.

He challenges our culture’s current value judgments on “processed food”; along with the perception that sugar is our most dangerous foodstuff; and provides cutting criticisms of health and wellness gurus, including unqualified bloggers, who spout nutritional nonsense. 

In the book Warner explains the difference between causation and correlation. He  says: “paleo is about as realistic as The Flintstones.”; and “The phrase ‘you are what you eat’ is a commonly held wisdom within the bullshit-nutrition community. Of course we are not what we eat.  Vegans are quite clearly made of meat.”

Warner explains why people choose pseudoscience over science.   He argues that the problem lies in the nature of science and its inability to give definitive answers. Our brains prefer things to be simple, and in patterns, even if they aren’t backed up by proof. It is human nature to search for answers, and we tend to take answers where we can find them, even when they lack proof.

This is a thoughtful, scientifically researched and referenced work on healthy eating, which is also an entertaining read.  It makes us think carefully about why we are really looking for quick and easy fixes for something complex and long-term.  It questions why so many of us are slaves to programs that blame us for our illnesses, humiliate overweight people, and expect us to swallow the logic that if something “works for me” it equals a solution for all.



Body of Truth - Book Review
- POSTED ON: Nov 14, 2015

Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight — and What We Can Do about it, by Harriet Brown (2015)

Body of Truth is an inspired and inspiring well-researched book about our cultural obsession with weight, our fetishization of thinness, and our demonization of fat. It is a compelling read which will make us think more deeply about the attitudes we have about our bodies and our health.

Over the past twenty-five years, our quest for thinness has morphed into a relentless obsession with weight and body image. In our culture, "fat" has become a four-letter word. Or, as Lance Armstrong said to the wife of a former teammate, "I called you crazy. I called you a bitch. But I never called you fat."

How did we get to this place where the worst insult you can hurl at someone is "fat"? Where women and girls (and increasingly men and boys) will diet, purge, overeat, undereat, and berate themselves and others, all in the name of being thin?

As a science journalist, Harriet Brown has explored this collective longing and fixation from an objective perspective; as a mother, wife, and woman with "weight issues," she has struggled to understand it on a personal level. Now, in Body of Truth, Brown systematically unpacks what's been offered as "truth" about weight and health.

Starting with the four biggest lies, Brown shows how research has been manipulated; how the medical profession is complicit in keeping us in the dark; how big pharma and big, empty promises equal big, big dollars; how much of what we know (or think we know) about health and weight is wrong. And how all of those affect all of us every day, whether we know it or not.

The quest for health and wellness has never been more urgent, yet most of us continue to buy into fad diets and unattainable body ideals, unaware of the damage we're doing to ourselves. Through interviews, research, and her own experience, Brown not only gives us the real story on weight, health, and beauty, but also offers concrete suggestions for how each of us can sort through the lies and misconceptions and make peace with and for ourselves.

The video below is an example of determination in dealing with a desire for food.


The Diet Fix, Why Diets Fail, How to Make Yours Work - Book Review
- POSTED ON: Aug 30, 2015



The Diet Fix, Why Diets Fail, And How To Make Yours Work (2014) by Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, M.D.  promotes a sane, compassionate approach to getting a grip on food and weight. He points out that 90% of all diets end in failure and addresses how to fix the way we lose weight to make results last. 

Dr. Freedhoff, says, "at the end of the day if you don't like the life you're living while you're losing weight, you're virtually certain to gain it back." This book doesn't push or demonize any food group and provides a step-by-step process for a frustrated person trying to lose weight and keep it off in a healthy manner.

I've chosen The Diet Fix as the next book for discussion here in DietHobby's BOOKTALK. If you are interested in discussing the book or seeing videos about it be sure to check out that section.

This diet book doesn’t recommend any particular diet. It has no strict meal plan with foods that are either celebrated or demonized. There are no traumatic sacrifices required. No starvation, no cleanses, and no miracle supplements.

The Diet Fix contains no outlandish promises, no strict dietary rules, no excessive exercise, and no recommendations for supplements and potions. The book is a excellent science-based guide for anyone looking for credible advice on permanently sustainable weight loss.

Dr. Freedhoff starts out by listing “Dieting’s Seven Deadly Sins” which is the label he attaches to commonly held beliefs about dieting. These are:

  1. Hunger . "If I'm not hungry, my diet's not working." Dr. Freedhoff argues that any diet plan that leaves you hungry won’t be sustainable.

  2. Sacrifice. "No, no birthday cake for me, thanks". Dr. Freedhoff says that perpetual sacrifice of things that you enjoy will make any diet fail.

  3. Willpower. "If I close my eyes and run past the cupboard, I can make it to the bedroom without hitting the chips." Dr. Freedhoff says that willpower is important, but permanent resistance is almost certainly futile.

  4. Blind food restrictions. "The only way to lose weight is to kick this (insert food or food group here) out of my life".  Dr. Freedhoff is adamant we need to manage, but not banish, certain food groups.

  5. Sweat. "You have to sweat, and sweat a lot. Bonus points if you feel like puking.Dr. Freedhoff reminds us that moving more is not going to cause significant weight loss, and in the long run, you can’t outrun your fork.

  6. Perfection. "I have to be perfectly perfect or else I'll never lose weight".   Dr. Freedhoff says that striving for perfection will only bring disappointment, and that real diets must be flexible enough to accommodate setbacks.

  7. Denial. "Nothing tastes as good as thin feels" The diet was great—I just couldn’t stick with it” is a common refrain. But why couldn't they?  Dr. Freedhoff says it's because people need a payoff to offset their suffering. When weight is dropping, people can live in denial of their actual suffering, but when the scale slows down, stops, or starts going back up, suffering gets harder to sustain, and harder to deny.

 Next, Dr. Freedhoff lists “Dieting’s Seven Deadly Traumas”, which are going to kill your diet if you experience them for a prolonged period of time. These are:

1. Guilt
2. Shame
3. Failure
4. Depression
5. Despair
6. Binge Eating
7. Weight Cycling and Metabolic Shutdown

The core of the book is focused on what Dr. Freedhoff calls the “Ten Day Reset” that is designed to “reset” behaviors and recalibrate expectation about what a “diet” really should be.

Each day describes how to develop a new set of skills to support permanent behavior change.

One of the points that Dr. Freedhoff repeatedly emphasizes is in order to make permanent changes in your weight, you must be prepared to make permanent changes in your life. And the more weight you want to lose, the more of your life you must be prepared to permanently change.

Any intervention that is too difficult to sustain will eventually be abandoned, so Dr. Freedhoff emphasizes that one’s target weight must be based on a “best weight”.

The “best weight” is the point at which you’ve found a balance between your weight and your own satisfaction and willingness to stick to a plan. There are no promises of magical and unsustainable weight loss. This is an approach for a lifetime.

The ten days of Dr. Freedhoff's reset process are as follows:

1.  Gearing up: Scales, for you and for your kitchen, to measure and weigh food, and yourself, accurately. A journal for a food diary is essential. And buy food. Dr. Freedhoff emphasizes healthier choices and thoughtful selections, and recommends minimizing refined carbs, including juice, while promoting whole foods. He doesn’t demonize any food group, except artificially-created trans fats.

2. The food diary: All food has a metabolic cost, and it’s measured in calories. It’s promoted as a tool to guide eating, and make eating more conscientious. Dr. Freedhoff not only encourages logging what was eaten, but also the calories, when it was eaten, and any hunger cravings. There are a number of online sites and phone apps that make logging take only minutes per day.

3. Banishing hunger: Keep hunger pains at bay by eating regularly: Don’t skip breakfast, eat every 2-3 hours, and include adequate protein, for satiety, every time you eat. Your daily calorie “budget” needs to be allocated across your meals.

4. Cook: Regularly eating purchased and prepared meals make it more difficult to control portions and calories. Cook real foods focusing on healthy ingredients. Minimize using refined and processed foods as much as possible, but not so much that you’ll give up.

5. Think: Describe your best weight—one in which you’re living the healthiest life you can honestly enjoy.

6. Exercise: You can’t out-exercise a bad diet, but regular exercise helps keep weight off, and changes your attitude for the better. And exercise has enormous health benefits beyond any impact on weight. What exercise? Something. Anything. “Some is good, more is better, everything counts”

7. Indulge: There are no forbidden foods. Real life includes indulgences, and permanently denying yourself pleasurable foods, whatever they may be, makes any diet plan unsustainable. So one must learn to manage indulgences in a calorically-responsible way. Dr Freedhoff suggests asking yourself two questions: “Is it worth the calories?” and “How much of it do I need to be happy?”

8. Eat out: Cooking is crucial, but eating out is part of life for many—so navigating a restaurant successfully is an essential weight management skill. Dr. Freedhoff suggests knowing your calories, pre-eating, moderating alcohol, and making thoughtful choices between calories and food you’ll actually enjoy.

9. Goal setting: Behavior change is accelerated when goals are achieved. The two most important goals are (1) to eat the smallest number of calories possible --while still liking your life --and (2) to exercise as much as you can enjoy.

10. Troubleshoot: Making permanent change can inevitably lead to roadblocks, and Dr. Freedhoff looks at the commonly encountered roadblocks to sustainability.


Dr. Freedhoff is adamant that there is no one perfect “diet” for everyone, and while The Diet Fix provides some general guidelines for successful dieting, it doesn’t prescribe any one particular diet.

The behaviors and skills recommended by Dr. Freedhoff are relevant to any approach to weight loss. He says that as long as you’re enjoying any type of dieting approach, and you see that behavior as sustainable for you in the long-term, then that diet will work for you.

Dr. Freedhoff says, "If you don't like the life you're living while you're losing, eventually you're going to find yourself going back to the life you were living before you lost. " Doing this will cause your body to re-gain the weight-loss.

Dr. Freedhoff repeatedly emphasizes that healthy living is a lifelong approach—not something you can repair with a “quick fix” diet or detox.

Dr. Freedhoff tackles a number of diet and obesity issues throughout the book, blowing up cherished myths throughout. He says that:

Calories do matter.

Low carb/Low fat/Paleo/Vegan are all acceptable—if you can sustain it, and as long as you watch caloric balance. Dr. Freedhoff argues against demonizing any food, even chocolate, and he cautions that your diet must be sustainable.

The enemy isn’t carbs/fat/glucose/gluten. Cutting out food groups can sometimes deliver short term results, but they’re difficult to maintain over the long term.

Dietary fats are not the enemy. Saturated fat is not the health risk it was once believed to be. Unsaturated fats may offer health benefits, so ensuring these are part of your diet is probably a good idea.

There are no magical supplements. There is no persuasive evidence to support the long-term effectiveness of any supplement.

Artificial sweeteners are safe, and can be beneficial as part of a weight loss strategy.

Dr. Freedhoff talks about weighing and scale addiction.

He says that physiologically, plateaus don't exist. Unless it's a temporary trick of the scale, . . . if you're not losing, either you're burning fewer calories than you think; you're eating more than you think; or some combination thereof.

He says although there's no Plateau, but there IS such a thing as a "FLOOR". If you've truly stopped losing weight, there are really only two questions you need to ask yourself.

1. Could I happily eat any less?
2. Could I happily exercise any more?

If the answer is "yes" then you can tighten things up, but If the answer to both is "no", there's nothing left for you to do.

This is because if you can't happily eat any less and you can't happily exercise any more -- then it's unlikely that this will ever become part of your permanent behavior.

I enjoyed this book, and use many of its principles.  I am a long-time fan of Dr. Yoni Freedhoff's blog, Weighty Matters, and I've quoted many of his ideas and articles here at DietHobby.

Dr. Freedhoff has set up a special website for this book which contains an interesting and useful calculator to help people with his recommendations. It gives calculations for RMR, Calories, Exercise Activities, as well as a division of protein grams between meals and snacks based on individual caloric intake. I've included a link to this calculator here at DietHobby under RESOURCES, links.

You can also click HERE to go directly to his calculator.

Originally posted on May 21, 2014, updated for new viewers.


The WillPower Instinct - Book Review
- POSTED ON: Jul 07, 2015

The Willpower Instinct (2011) was written by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., who is a health psychologist at Stanford School of Medicine where she teaches a course called “The Science of Willpower”.

This book combines insights from psychology, economics, neuroscience, and medicine to explain exactly what willpower is, how it works, and why it matters. The book has 10 chapters which reflect the author’s 10-week course, and is written in an interesting and easy style, without academic pompousness:

1. Effective willpower - just noticing what's happening is key.

2. The willpower instinct - anything that puts a stress on your mind or body can sabotage self-control but too much willpower is stressful.

3. Self-control is like a muscle - it gets tired from use but regular exercise makes it stronger.

4. Why being good encourages bad behavior - we use past good behavior to justify indulgences.

5. Why we mistake wanting for happiness - even false promises of reward make us feel alert and captivated, so we chase satisfaction from things that don't deliver.

6. How feeling bad leads to giving in - self-compassion is a far better strategy than beating ourselves up.

7. We discount both future rewards and future costs - we consistently act against our own long-term interests and we illogically believe our future selves will (magically) have more willpower.

8. Why willpower is contagious - humans are hardwired to connect and we mimic and mirror both willpower failures and willpower successes of our social network.

9. Inner acceptance improves outer control - attempts to fight instincts and desires ironically make them worse.

10. Final thoughts - the aha moment.

If one wants to change a Habit or understand why one has failed at doing this in the past, "The Willpower Instinct" is worth reading. Kelly McGonigal presents neuroscience and psychology in a way that a reader can understand, and provides concepts that one can use to improve the quality of daily life. She encourages experimentation and self-inquiry, while presenting practical, tried and true methods to help to kick bad habits and to create new ones.

This book could be a valuable resource for those who are struggling with a Diet, or dealing with an “Eating Disorder”, as it can help to provide insight and understanding. At the end of the day, creating or sustaining a habit or an addiction involves making choices.

Turning to a substance in a time of stress, or whenever, is a choice one makes, and through repeatedly performing this action, one’s brain creates "shortcuts" that enable one to do it more often/efficiently and make refusing very difficult and anxiety-inducing. The author explains this in a very clear, well-researched manner, including the ways our primitive brains trick us into saying "yes", and she then provides strategies for improving one's ability to say no.

Originally posted on November 4, 2012, updated for new viewers.


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