Summary: This is a science book that covers science the way that I most like to learn it — from history. The book begins with a definition of calorie in the first chapter, but then takes us all the way back to Ancient Greece to trace the knowledge of food energy forward from that point. The history covers two separate but related branches — how calories are counted in foods and how calorie use is measured in living bodies.
With that solid background, we’re then ready to tackle what calories do for us, the complexity of determining how many calories we need, and the problems of too few and too many calories. The final section covers the current “eat more” environment and the economic, political, and social factors that created it and make it difficult to change.
While this is not a diet book, a concluding chapter “How to Cope with the Calorie Environment” provides a framework for maintaining a healthy weight.
If you view gaining weight as a matter of personal responsibility you may blame yourself — or others — for an inability to control calorie intake. You may overlook the need to develop strategies to deal with biological and marketing pressure to eat more. (p. 218).
The authors present a multi-pronged approach to weight maintenance with specific suggestions in each of five areas: get organized, eat less, eat better, move more, and get political.
Thoughts: I read Marion Nestle’s blog, Food Politics, so I’m familiar with much of what is covered in this book but I still learned new things.
The book helped me understand her objection to health claims on foods. It’s because of the “health halo” effect — that when we perceive a food as healthy, we also believe it has fewer calories. That’s the trap I fell into with muffins and wrote about last month: The Betrayal of the Muffin — Musings on Julia’s Child.
I continue to fall for a related version of wishful thinking. Study subjects guess that there are 700 calories in a bowl of chili. But, if they are presented with a bowl of chili and a side green salad, the meal is estimated to contain 655 calories. Yep, the presence of a salad means the salad has no calories and the chili has fewer calories. I especially love this observation: “People who said they were dieting were twice as likely as nondieters to make this error.” p. 189.
I was reminded, again, to Sit Less.
As we’ve seen, the number of calories expended in spontaneous movement can be large enough to account for individual variations in weight gain during overeating. This idea suggests simple strategies for adding to calorie expenditure. Whenever possible, stand rather than sit. Stand while using a computer or reading. Spend less time watching television. Pace the back of the room while attending long meetings. If people seem distracted by your behavior, you can simply explain that fidgeting is part of your weight-maintenance program. p. 153
That paragraph led me to start listening to music more often. I move more when there is music playing. I’m also coveting a treadmill desk.
The concluding chapter on how to lose weight is a complete and succinct structure, covering everything I’ve observed that really works in our modern eating environment to attain and maintain a healthy weight. Given my recent fascination with muffins, I love this quote in the “Insist on smaller portions” paragraph:
Bakery items are especially challenging, as they are often big enough to share with three or four friends. Try this: friends don’t let friends eat whole portions. p. 220.
Appeal: I would love it if everyone who eats would read this book, but that’s too broad for an appeal group. The most obvious appeal is for people who like to read about food, its impact on society, and society’s impact on food. The book, in my mind, falls squarely into the popular science category and should be of interest to those who get a kick out of learning about how scientists work and the progress they have made through history. At the same time, the science isn’t too difficult or overwhelming for the general reader.
Challenges: This is my 9th of 19 books to complete the Foodies Read 2 challenge. So, I’m about half-way there in the middle of the year.
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