This week’s theme for Nonfiction November (hosted by Kim at Sophisticated DorkinessΒ and Leslie at Regular Rumination) is Become the Expert. Check out the links for Nonfiction November Week 2.Β 

As I revealed in a post about Reinvention in September, one of the key pieces to my 70-pound weight loss was to read a book for every pound — 70 pounds, 70 books. The books supported my healthy lifestyle and, so, many of them were diet books. Yep, my expertise is in the least-respected section of nonfiction, self-help, and the most-maligned sub-section of self-help: diet books. Like most experts, I can be both apologist and critic. So, let’s see if I can increase your respect for diet books while offering a caution.

cover of Shred by Ian K. Smith

Many diet books are published in late December for the New Year’s resolution season. The hot title for 2013 was Shred. Did any one try this diet?

First, let’s dispense with the statement “diets don’t work.” That depends entirely on your definition of the word diet. Its broadest definition, the food a creature eats, renders the statement nonsensical. We all have diets. Pandas eat bamboo. Modern Americans eat fast food, junk food, and other processed food.

The question is whether or not the diet is suitable for the creature consuming it. For bamboo-eating pandas, their diet is suitable. For the nearly 70% of overweight and obese Americans, the Modern American Diet (MAD) is clearly failing us. Those of us who don’t function well on MAD need to check out of the American food culture in significant ways. It’s difficult to sustain an alternative eating style and many of us require some structure to make it easier. That structure might be labeled a “diet.” Many diets have books that motivate, instruct, and provide structures and techniques for sticking to the plan.

The first part of any diet book, sometimes as much as the first half of the book, is devoted to convincing you that this is the Best Diet Ever. Common techniques include anecdotes about successful dieters, descriptions of compelling scientific research, and logical arguments to support the underlying theories of the diet. Don’t knock this motivational patter. Every diet success begins with believing that it will work for you and that you can do it.

cover of The Beck Diet Solution by Judith S. Beck

The title makes this sound like a diet book but, in fact, there’s no diet in it. Instead, it is all about how to apply Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques to stick to a food plan of your own choosing.

The problem, of course, is “What if it doesn’t work?” If the motivational patter was too convincing, the dieter is likely to blame herself rather than the diet. After all, the book said it was the Best Diet Ever. Here’s where the advantage of reading 70 books comes in — it’s obvious pretty quickly that there are many ways to lose weight, so if one doesn’t work, then try another. One of my favorite books, The Beck Diet Solution by Judith S. Beck, has you choose two diets from the beginning. One to start and a back-up plan in case the first one fails.

I’m still reading books to support my healthy lifestyle because I still struggle sometimes. What are your favorite diet or healthy lifestyle books that I should add to my list?

This post also works for Weekend Cooking. Check out Beth Fish Reads on Saturday for more links to food posts.

Signature of Joy Weese Moll


The Shocking Truth about Diet Books — 19 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing, Joy! I think I’ve read the Beck book before. I believe CBT works really well in general, helping us to investigate/challenge our thoughts and influence our behaviors. Good luck with your goal!

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  3. What I think is interesting about your post is that you became and expert and have the books read and the pounds lost to prove it. I wish more experts were like you, the real deal!

  4. I agree Joy – our diets are our choice. Any book that helps us to make healthier choices is a good one.
    For me, I choose books by Michael Pollan and I use the Fast Diet approach to eating. I also have a great book by Cyndi O’Meara (Australian) that reinforces the Pollan message.
    A balanced diet, smaller portions & fresh produce are my motto – I’ve been much healthier and happier since following these simple ‘rules.’

    Good luck with your investigations πŸ™‚

  5. I couldn’t agree more — what works for one person is not necessarily going to work for another. And people really need to get the idea that dieting is something short term: drop some pounds and go back to the way you used to eat just won’t keep the pounds off. A lifestyle change is what’s needed, which is why it’s so hard to drop a few (or a lot) of pounds.

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  7. I have read many of diet books but not these two. You sound like me when I pursue something I turn to books to learn everything I can about it πŸ™‚ I particularly like the idea behind Tosca Reno’s book, not necessarily her recipes but the idea – eating clean and this is what I try to do.

  8. You are right, it’s all about lifestyle changes. I try and eat healthy foods but there are always temptations at work. Hard sometimes.
    Glad you liked my Cooking Light recipe. It’s a keeper.

  9. At the library, I see a lot of diet books going out that seem to be simply more reading material. I have a tendency to check them out, myself, without any intention of following the diet, just to see if it’s something I might want to try! One thing I’ve noticed tends to be true that thinner people tend to have thinner people as friends, because you’re on the outs if you’re managing to successfully lose weight among a group of perpetual “dieters”!

  10. Wow, you lost 70 pounds? Good for you! That is an amazing accomplishment.

    I have been eating a healthy diet for decades, so losing weight is more of a challenge – there isn’t a lot for me to improve on in terms of diet, other than less sugar (I do have a sweet tooth!) and smaller portions.

    Anyway, your story is an inspiring one, and these books sound very helpful.


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  11. This is an interesting read, thank you for sharing! While I haven’t read any diet books before, I do believe healthy choices and being mindful of what we eat can make a world of difference even before we might want to lose weight.
    Good luck on your goal πŸ™‚

  12. An interesting post as always Joy. Modern diets around the world have similar problems, and there is so much contradictory advice out there. I think the advice needs to get simple too- Pollans mantra of eat food, not too much, most plants is perfect. I think of that often, but don’t always succeed in following it.

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