Coming soon: the book!

Why_Diets_Make_Us_Fat_coverI’m excited to announce the upcoming publication of my new book, Why Diets Make Us Fat: The Unintended Consequences of Our Obsession with Weight Loss, which explains the research behind my TED talk in detail. It will be released by the Current imprint of Penguin Random House on June 7th.

We talk a lot about weight loss, in the media and around the dinner table, but scientific research is largely absent from these discussions. This book answers the questions you probably didn’t know enough to ask. Why do dieters have to cut more calories to lose weight than they had to add in order to gain the same number of pounds? Why is cutting 3500 calories unlikely to cause anyone to lose one pound? Why might one person lose ten times as much weight as another person on the exact same diet? (No, it’s not cheating.) Why does trying to micromanage weight often backfire? Why is teasing a teenage girl about her weight likely to make her fatter? Plus the most important question: what should you do about your weight, and how do you make it work?

13 thoughts on “Coming soon: the book!

  1. I am posting your Ted talk on my blog: It’s scheduled for Dec 23, 2015. For the next week I’m referring people to other people’s posts and videos because I’m sick. If you don’t want me to, please let me know and I will unschedule it.

    • I don’t see any peer-reviewed research cited on that web site. Testimonials are meaningless without rigorous measurements to back them up. To be convinced, I would need to see evidence from at least two years after the diet, preferably five, showing that participants aren’t experiencing metabolic suppression.

  2. For some diet really works. We can not say for hundred percent diet does not work for everybody. I gave up 30 pounds working with a dietician two years ago and never gained weight since. I get much less hungry after I disciplined myself to sticking to a more healthy and satisfying eating schedule. I feel more energetic and can move my body much more easily. If I read your book before I started the diet I would be truly discouraged. Even if your claim is true, which I highly doubt based on the statistical errors (I am a statistician) commonly found in all medical studies (thats why we get opposing views every two years almost on every issue), there might be people for whom diet can work albeit with a low probability. So, there is a chance. Also, most dietitians I know always suggest exercise coupled with a diet. The dichotomy that you create between diet and exercise might be the selling point of your book but unfortunately it does not exist in real practice. And more importantly since the health and psychological benefits of a diet are immediate it is still useful no matter what happens after 2-5 years.

    • There are a lot of false positive findings in the medical literature, but it would be surprising for something that actually worked to fail trial after trial after trial, as long-term weight loss has done. A few people do manage to lose weight and keep it off. The vast majority who lose weight later regain it, and I think people who are contemplating a weight-loss diet should know that. I certainly hear from a lot more people who lost weight two years ago than from people who lost weight ten years ago and kept it off. That’s probably not a coincidence. In addition, dieting greatly increases the risk of eating disorders and later weight gain, so I don’t think it’s harmless to try.

      I also think we have some confusion around the word diet. I’m not at all saying that people shouldn’t worry about the quality of what they eat. Instead I believe that improving eating habits and getting regular exercise are much easier to do than losing weight – and much more important for health. So my message is that people should focus their attention on healthy behaviors like eating vegetables and exercising, rather than making weight loss a goal.

  3. I just finished reading this book and I must thank you. I am 70 years old. I have been on the yo-yo diet merry-go-round for 30 of those years and I’m exhausted!!! I have experienced most of the things and feelings you write about. At last I see a glimmer of hope, thanks to you!! I appreciate your explanation of the entire eating process. I got rid of all my diet books. I’m working on mindful and intuitive eating. I have even started to exercise again, for my health, not to lose weight and the motivation has returned!! I have my next doctor visit and blood work done in Sept. I know there will be an improvement over last year. I feel like a 500 lb. weight has been lifted off my back!

    • I’m really pleased that you found the book helpful – and SO excited to hear that it’s motivated you to start exercising again. We do a lot of harm to health by allowing people to believe that the primary purpose of exercise is for weight loss (wrong!), when there’s overwhelming evidence that it’s great for health.

  4. Sondra, I’m sending for your book. But even before getting it, I’m writing with a few questions. I’m 90 years old, living in an Assisted Living community: I think, at 232 pounds, that I’m almost the fattest person here.

    Most of the other residents are nice little old ladies. Few are obese. Out of some 65 residents, I find there are only about 15 men. More than half of us geezers, I think, have various forms of dementia.

    Back in the middle of the last century, Random House published my novel, Stowaway. TimeBeing Books published a book of my poems, Fragments of a Myth. And I’ve been published with a bunch of lesser stuff, short pulp stuff, military training manuals, and commercial direct mail, at which I made most of my living. (I also taught English at CCNY.)

    Twice I’ve taken courses given by doctors in their hospital settings, courses in weight control. Each class of about 25 people met weekly, were weighed, drank a special suppliment (it was Optifast was one of the groups,) recorded everything we ate, counted calories, exercised appropriately, discussed our meals and our progress, and lost weight. There were no pills, no “trick” diets, proper attention attention paid to calorie counts, portions, and nutrition, and a certain emphasis on fruits and vegetables. There was never a discussion of the near-certain probability that the weight we lost would return. In a fairly intense month or two, we were trying to radically change the habits we’d been developing all our lives.
    In the first group, after losing about 30 pounds, I found I had bladder cancer, quit eating carefully, quit exercising, and instantly returned to eating the way I wanted to. The cancer was removed; the weight came back. No surprise.
    I joined the other group after retiring about 25 years ago. The routine was almost the same. So was the weight loss, until I hit my goal of, I think, of 135 pounds. Since then, eating with some knowledge, and doing very little exercise — and reading all of the weight control articles in the Health Section of the New York Times — about 100 pounds have come back to me, creeping back at the nearly invisible slow rate of roughly 3 to 4 pounds a year, though with worse upward bumps in a couple of those years.
    Then, well into retirement, and weighing about 180 – 190 pounds some ten years ago, I decided that I needed to write a book on weight control. Well, the book is more than half done, and so far it pleases me very much, though I know the advice in it won’t work…not permanently. Short time, yes: permanently, no.
    Reading the bits I can find about your material in the Internet, and sending for your book, I think I need to change the direction of mine. Not a book on getting thin, but a book on rules for living with the weight-control ups and downs that seem to be ahead of us as we try to stay reasonably healthy as we age. Hundreds of small rules like: “If you simply won’t give up eating French fried potatoes in restaurants, never eat more than four of the damn things. Four. That’s your limit.”
    What should I do now? I’m hunting in the internet for reasonable research, though most seems based on weak statistics and small samples. My alternative is to switch direction and finish writing a book-length series of sonnets on getting old. There’s such a lot of sentimental twaddle available!

    • The good news for you is that weight matters less and less for health as people get older, as you can see in this article from Nature. The bad news is that most of our information about healthy lifestyles comes from epidemiology, which (because of the problem of confounding variables) doesn’t support very strong conclusions. Randomized controlled trials would be much better, but it’s hard to get people to stick with dietary changes consistently for decades – especially when we don’t yet know if they’ll prove to be helpful. Good luck with your book!

    • We don’t yet have good scientific evidence on intermittent fasting diets. The longest-term study of them that I’ve seen lasted only a year, which is the time of maximum weight loss for most diets, so there’s no reason to believe that this approach would be more effective than other diets in years 2-5, when regain normally occurs. I’m not optimistic, given that alternating fasting with feeding is a common way to produce binge eating in animal models. That’s more likely to lead to weight gain than weight loss in the long run.

      • Check out Delay Dont Deny by Gin Stephens…she is not a medical professional but has been living an intermittent fasting lifestyle for over 2 years I believe with great success. It really is a lifestyle and not a diet…I have been fasting 16/8 to 21/3 for the last 8 weeks and it does not feel like work to me. My inflammation in my shoulder and elbow are gone, my scars are reducing, I have lost 17 pounds and I have energy on my nightshifts. During my window I try to listen to my body and only continue eating if I am hungry. So while I know this is anecdotal I just want you to realize that a lot of people are experiencing benefits from simply fasting 16+ hours per day.

        • As I told another commenter, we don’t yet have good scientific evidence on intermittent fasting diets. The longest-term study of them that I’ve seen lasted only a year, which is the time of maximum weight loss for most diets, so there’s no reason to believe that this approach would be more effective than other diets in years 2-5, when regain normally occurs. I’m not optimistic, given that alternating fasting with feeding is a common way to produce binge eating in animal models. That’s more likely to lead to weight gain than weight loss in the long run.

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