If you're looking for advice and motivation to keep a handle on your weight during the holidays -- and maybe shed some weight afterward -- these latest diet tomes offer something for everyone, from college students to crafty types:
The Vice-Busting Diet: A 12-Week Plan to Break Your Worst Food Habits and Change Your Life Forever
Most of us can name a food vice or 20 -- some item we can't resist and can't control how much we devour of it. Conquering those dependencies is the idea behind "The Vice-Busting Diet" (St. Martin's Press, 2006) by Julia Griggs Havey with J. Patrick Havey.
The Good: Havey, motivation expert for the online diet resource eDiets.com, offers sound, doable suggestions. A few of these: altering poor food and exercise habits in stages instead of going for all-or-nothing changes that often result in defeat in a matter of weeks, and substituting a good option (low-fat turkey sandwich) for a bad one (fatty hamburger), choices that can bring about big changes.
The Bad: Havey is a big proponent of water, recommending even more than the standard eight 8-oz. glasses daily. She proposes that people drink half their body weight in ounces of water -- which, for a 200-pound person, would be 12 1/2 glasses of water a day. Sure, water is better than high-sugar sodas and fruit juices. But there's debate among health professionals on what daily water intake should be -- and some say you don't even need those eight glasses.
The Dorm Room Diet: The 8-Step Program for Creating a Healthy Lifestyle Plan That Really Works
This book is aimed at warding off the infamous Freshman 15, the weight gain that happens when college students leave home and discover the joys of the dorm buffet. (A recent study revealed that the average weight gain for males and females alike is several pounds less, but that the gain doesn't stop after year one.) "The Dorm Room Diet" (Newmarket Press, 2006) by Daphne Oz isn't so much a traditional diet with meal plans and recipes. It's more a survival guide to eating healthfully and exercising during this precarious time when parental controls are off. Author Oz is the Princeton-attending daughter of Dr. Mehmet Oz, a noted heart surgeon and occasional guest on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," who also wrote the foreword.
The Good: Oz does a fine job of urging students to think about their choices before they make them: Do they really want that pint of ice cream at 3 a.m., or are they eating it out of habit or sociability? She pinpoints the danger zones where overeating traditionally goes on: parties, late-night study sessions, bonding sessions with the roomie. And she offers suggestions to help you resist, such as keeping a glass of water in your hand at a party to avoid reaching for high-fat, high-calorie junk.
The Bad: Although readers may find revelations in these pages, much of the information may be too primer-basic for those who have ever attempted a diet or eating healthily. An entire chapter touts the benefits of supplements, such as vitamins and echinacea, some of which have questionable benefits. Oz does allow that some health professionals don't think all supplements are necessary, and cautions to check with a doctor before taking anything.
The Ultimate New York Diet
People who make lifestyle changes can be separated into two groups: loosey-goosey types who hate being tied to menus, calorie counts and exercise schedules; and regimented ones who like to know they're going to eat exactly two egg whites, then spend exactly 28 minutes on the elliptical trainer. The latter category might enjoy "The Ultimate New York Diet" (McGraw Hill, 2006) by David Kirsch, a lawyer turned trainer who has whipped several famous glutes into shape, including those of Heidi Klum and Liv Tyler. There's yet another forward by Dr. Oz, who seems to get around the diet book circuit.
The Good: Kirsch takes a no-excuses, play-by-my-rules approach to diet and exercise: No whiners allowed. Meal plans and workout schedules are plainly laid out. Step-by-step exercises will definitely work those underused muscles, although he cautions that many are advanced moves that beginners should work up to.
The Bad: Kirsch's diet program is big on lean proteins, vegetables and fruits, with almost no grain-based carbs such as pasta or cereal, which may be difficult to sustain for those who love their breads. He recommends some controversial supplements, such as senna leaf extract for constipation and hoodia as an appetite suppressant, both of which come with possibly dangerous side effects. Recipes for such dishes as cauliflower hash and chopped salad with salmon use scant herbs and seasonings and, frankly, sound unappealing, especially if eaten day after day. There are far better ways of creating easy-to-prepare, low-calorie, healthful and tasty food.
Our Lady of Weight Loss: Miraculous and Motivational Musings From the Patron Saint of Permanent Fat Removal
Many diet and exercise books lack two ingredients: humor and creativity. If those are missing from your current slim-down regimen, seek out "Our Lady of Weight Loss" (Viking Studio, 2006) by Janice Taylor. A weight-loss coach and artist, Taylor combines sane tips and tricks with wittiness and funky projects (a macaroni and cheese box turned glittered shrine) to shepherd the diet-weary toward everlasting trimness.
The Good: Although cutting back on favorite foods and inducing a sweat can be painful for many, Taylor makes the journey enjoyable with fun suggestions (such as sending yourself encouraging notes via postcards, a la: "Hi Jane, I know how hard it was for you to say no to that cake. Bravo and thanks. Love, Jane.") Crafty types will love projects such as painting one's sneakers (creating more motivation to exercise) and making a toy soldier-embellished army helmet to help fight that battle of the bulge. Weight loss may be difficult, but it doesn't have to be completely serious. If laughter is the best medicine, it also may be the best diet aid.
The Bad: Don't look for brave new insights into healthful eating or working out. Most of what Taylor says has been said before -- rid your pantry of evil foods, drink water, eat slowly -- but not with this much verve. You may not be instantly inspired to drop and do 20 push-ups, but you will want to grab a girlfriend and go for a nice, long walk.
-- Jeannine Stein