Monday, April 25, 2016

Secrets from the Eating Lab

Secrets from the Eating Lab. Traci Mann. 2015. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

Traci Mann's Secrets From The Eating Lab is divided into four parts: "Why Diets Fail You," "Why You Are Better Off Without the Battle," "How To Reach your Leanest Livable Weight," and "Your Weight is Really Not the Point." In the book, Mann argues three things: diets do not work, dieting is bad for your health, being obese does not shorten your life.

The first subject she tackles is that diets do not work. Essentially, she argues that "there are two problems with saying these diets work: people don't lose enough weight, and they don't keep it off" (4). She argues that there is a huge discrepancy between how any (sane) person would define success, and, how the diet industry defines success. Sure, diets work if you lower the standards and measures of success enough. For example, a diet is "successful" if the dieter loses 5% of their body weight (their starting weight) and keeps it off three to six months. Does that sound like success to you? Say you weigh 250 pounds. Would losing 12 pounds and keeping it off three to six months...before gaining ten to fifteen pounds back...be your idea of success?

She spends some time discussing dieters expectations, how dieters themselves define success. She presents research from a study--not her own--that look at various weight goals: "Ideal weight," "dream weight," "goal weight," "acceptable weight," and "disappointed weight." Ideal weight is a now out-dated concept of a chart at the doctor's office telling you what you should weigh based on your gender, your height, your frame. Dream weight is self explanatory, I think! "Acceptable weight" is not their goal weight, where they really want to weigh at the end of their diet, but, it's a weight they could come to terms with being. "Disappointed weight" was defined as being less than their starting point, but, not enough to view as successful in any way. The study reveals that 47% fail to reach their disappointed weight. 20% reach their disappointed weight. 24% reach their acceptable weight. 9% reach their goal weight. I think you'll agree that there is a big discrepancy in how people selling diets define success and how people buying diets define success.

She spends equal amount of time talking about regaining weight lost during dieting. She writes, "the fact that diets don't lead to long-term weight loss isn't new to diet researchers. In 1991 researchers stated that "it is only the rate of weight regain, not the fact of weight regain that appears open to debate" (15).

One of her chapters focus on WHY diets don't work. She discusses our almost inescapable environment, our biology, and our psychology. One thing she mentions is that while you know you are on a diet, and, there is a purpose to your actions, your body itself doesn't. It thinks you are starving and goes into survival mode, making it increasingly difficult to lose weight and oh-so-easy to gain weight. But. It isn't just a matter of "survival." She talks genes. She writes that 70% of our weight is determined by our genes. There is nothing we can do with that 70% we've inherited. We may have some say on the remaining 30% of variables. You cannot make yourself fatter than your genes think you should be--and sustain it--and you cannot make yourself thinner than your genes think you should be--and sustain it. Every person has a set range--of about thirty or perhaps forty pounds--of what they can weigh naturally, comfortably without effort or stress.

In addition to going into survival mode, our body can turn our hormones--did you know that fat cells play a large role in producing the body's hormones?--against us.

And then there's metabolism. She writes, "When you lose weight, even if starvation has no effect on your metabolism, your body will still burn fewer calories, simply because it is now a smaller body to run. This means that the number of calories you ate to lose weight eventually become too many calories to eat if you want to keep losing weight." (23) Essentially, "A person who loses weight to reach 150 pounds, for example, is not the same physiologically, as a person who normally weighs 150 pounds. To maintain 150 pounds after dieting down to that weight, dieters must eat fewer calories per day than people who were 150 pounds all along (not to mention fewer calories per day than they ate to get to that weight) or else they will gain weight" (24).

She also looks at stress. That shouldn't come as a surprise--that stress makes you gain weight, and, that all diets involve a good amount of unavoidable stress.

She next turns to self-control or will power. And debunking the myth that the way to best control weight is to use will power.

In the second part of her book, Mann focuses on several things. First, that diets are in fact bad for your overall physical health. They leave you in worse shape than you were originally--in terms of health, not exactly appearances. Second, that one's health is not a matter of how much or how little one weighs. There are a lot of factors and variables in being healthy. One's weight is just a small factor, and, not the most important factor. She acknowledges--at some point--that unless you're in the 6% that qualify as Obese Class III--you are not at any more risk for a shortened lifespan than a normal weight person. Being stressed is bad for your health. Smoking is bad for your health. Being inactive is bad for your health. You can be healthy and overweight. If you're active and overweight. If you're an active, nonsmoker who is overweight. Third, diets aren't just bad for you physically. Diets are also bad for your mental and emotional health. Perhaps IF and only IF diets were successful--you could lose the weight AND keep it off forever, it would be "worth" doing for your health. But since 95% of diets end in you weighing more (and more and more and more and more) than when you first went on the diet, you'd be better off not dieting. (Consider how many people have dieted by the time they're in high school. People spend decades of their life dieting. Each diet that fails ends up harming your body, your health.)

The third part of the book focuses on smart regulation principles for helping readers reach their own leanest livable weight. There are twelve strategies in all shared through five chapters. I'll share just a few to give you an idea of what to expect:
  • Encounter Less Temptation By Creating Obstacles
  • Make Healthy Foods More Accessible and Noticeable
  • Be Alone With A Vegetable
  • Eat with Healthy Eaters
  • Don't Eat Healthy Food Because It's "Healthy"
  • Turn Healthy Choices Into Habits
  • Don't Eat Unhealthy Food For Comfort
The fourth and final part of this one focuses on being okay with your body AND striving to be healthy with the body you have. Part of being healthy is to be as active as possible, to make exercise a part of your daily routine. Her message is not exercise to lose weight and lose weight so you become model-thin. Her message is that exercise is good for your health: mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and, PHYSICALLY. Even if you don't lose a pound, exercise is worth doing. Don't equate exercise with reaching your dream weight or goal weight. Focus on health for health's sake. She shares three reasons why everyone--no matter their weight or shape--should exercise. She writes, "Exercise prevents death. Not forever, of course, but it does increase your life span" (170).

I personally would have loved it if Mann's book had included research on gut flora--or microbiomes--as to how it relates to health and weight. I do believe--strongly believe--that a happy gut is the key to health and happiness. And when your bad "buggies" outnumber your "good buggies" then your weight is definitely effected! The gut rules your brain, essentially--in terms of *what* you eat and *how* you feel. I'd love to read a book--or article--discussing what this might mean--or does mean--in terms of sustainability. If your body no longer "craves" and feels "hungry" are you more likely to keep the weight off? You might not ever be model-thin. But could a healthy gut keep you from regaining the weight you lost?


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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