Diet books, pound for pound

Special to The Times

Guiding us through the diet-book swamplands are:

Dr. Caroline Apovian, professor of medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at Boston Medical Center and co-developer of DASH for Health; Dr. David Heber, professor of medicine at the UCLA Geffen School of Medicine, director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition and author of "The L.A. Shape Diet"; Susan Roberts, professor of nutrition and psychiatry at the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University; and Dr. Peter Vash, director of medical and scientific affairs for Lindora Medical Clinics.

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Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?

An Easy Plan for Losing Weight and Living More

Peter Walsh

Free Press, 2008

The principle: Reduce clutter in your kitchen, on your plates and in your body -- and lose weight.

Excerpt: "Clutter and fat -- they're not so different. . . . Consumption is king. We spend too much, we buy too much, and we eat too much."

Bottom line: Written not by a nutritionist but an organizational guru -- a regular guest on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and TLC's makeover show “Clean Sweep” -- this isn't a true diet book. It's a get-organized book for messy people who also have messy eating habits. Walsh taps into a well-known behavioral therapy trick: If you start taking care of yourself in one part of your life, you might find the energy to start taking care of yourself in other ways too. The book includes tips for organizing food's physical space as well as mental space, plus instructions for developing weekly plans for cooking and shopping.

"I'm a firm believer in planning. It's one of the things we stress to the volunteers who join our weight control research studies all the time," Roberts says. "And there is lots of good advice here to get you started." But while cleaning out your pantry is a great start for a new diet, it's only a first step, Heber cautions. "Unfortunately, there is a lot more to losing weight than thinking your way thin in a clean kitchen."

You might like this book if you like: "Clean Sweep"; the Container Store.

Worth the price: Tips to organize a kitchen for fun-and-easy cooking. Walsh's secret: a "magic triangle" between refrigerator, stove and sink.

Skinny Bitch

and

Skinny Bitch in the Kitch

Kick-Ass Recipes for Hungry Girls Who Want to Stop Cooking Crap (and Start Looking Hot!)

Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin

2005 and 2008, Running Press

The principle: Eschew simple carbohydrates, dairy and meat. Eat lots of fruit and fiber. Don't trust the government.

Excerpt: "Are you sick and tired of being fat? Good. If you can't stand one more day of self-loathing, you're ready to get skinny."

Bottom line: Written by a former model and a former modeling agent, the original book enjoyed a boost after Victoria Beckham was photographed with it in hand in L.A. last year. The opening page sets the tone: "The first thing you need to do is give up your gross vices," the authors say sweetly. They continue: "Soda is liquid Satan. . . . You need to exercise, you lazy. . . ." Less a diet book and more a raunchy vegan screed, the book devotes entire chapters to the evils of eating meat and dairy, plus why federal governmental agencies "don't give a . . . about your health." The authors' latest offering is a vegan cookbook, complete with faux-chicken noodle soup "just like mom used to make -- minus the pieces of decomposing, rotting chicken carcass." It might indeed be an appetite-killer.

"This one is definitely about the anger and how to fight back, not a how-to guide to healthy eating," Heber says. On the positive side, their eating principles are "nice and simple," Roberts says. "But vegan eating is pretty austere, and I don't think many people have to go to this extreme to lose weight."

You might like this book if you like: PETA; being ordered around by the loud rich girls at your junior high school.

Worth the price: Daily affirmations for the hipster crowd: "Every day in every way my ass is getting smaller."

The Spectrum

A Scientifically Proven Program to Feel Better, Live Longer, Lose Weight and Gain Health

Dr. Dean Ornish

Ballantine Books, 2007

The principle: Follow nutrition, stress management and exercise advice tailored for seven conditions: obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, prostate cancer and breast cancer.

Excerpt: "You have a broad spectrum of choices when it comes to what you eat, how much you exercise, how you manage stress, and how you live."

Bottom line: Ornish's serious academic cred -- professor of medicine at UC San Francisco and author of peer-reviewed journal articles -- makes diet-science wonks swoon. This latest book (which includes plugs from genome scientist Craig Venter as well as Clint Eastwood) emphasizes a range of healthy lifestyle choices for food, meditation and exercise. It also includes lucid explanations of recent research, including why it's the volume of food (not its calories) that determines how full you feel, and how microorganisms in your gut may affect how much you weigh.

Recipes by Art Smith (Oprah Winfrey's personal chef) offer surprisingly elegant fare, such as portobello mushroom napoleon with balsamic reduction, and even come with mini-cooking lessons.

But be warned, Apovian says: A very low-fat diet may be tough to follow and may not work for everyone. Overall, the book hews to a "grown-up approach," Heber says, which sets it apart from the typical feed-your-inner-child diet. "This book has something for everyone, but it's really about healthy eating. It's not for the typical diet-book audience looking to get into shape quickly and easily."

You might like this book if you like: your newspaper's science and health section; the New England Journal of Medicine; dark chocolate.

Worth the price: Ornish, shedding his ascetic ultra low-fat reputation, describes in four lush paragraphs the sensual pleasures of a daily chocolate bar.

The All-New Atkins Advantage

The 12-Week Low-Carb Program to Lose Weight, Achieve Peak Fitness & Health, and Maximize Your Willpower to Reach Life Goals

Stuart L. Trager and Colette Heimowitz

St. Martin's Press, 2007

The principle: The classic low-carb diet in a 12-week plan, with added motivation and exercise advice.

Excerpt: "Whether you like nothing better than a rare steak or you're a confirmed vegetarian, you can do Atkins your way."

Bottom line: Atkins may be dead, but the low-carb controversy is not. "Atkins had some good science," Vash says. "I think that lowering carbohydrate intake can help people lose weight." But that doesn't mean substituting bacon for bread and broccoli is always a great idea. Some studies, such as one published last month in the journal Hypertension, suggest that the higher fat content in the Atkins diet is not as effective in preventing heart disease as a low-fat diet is. Science aside, however, it's not clear where the Atkins empire is headed without its founder.

"Nobody does it quite like Atkins himself," Roberts says. "This book attempts to follow up, but it doesn't really seem to have the master's touch." New sections include tips for maintaining motivation ("choose your Atkins Advantage anthem" theme song, for example) and increasing fitness (with illustrated strength training exercises). But it may not succeed. "This is simply the old 12-week Atkins plan, with fitness thrown in," Heber says. "Do we really have to go back to this?"

You might like this book if you like: the old Atkins plan; prime rib and bacon after the gym.

Worth the price: A "fitness rewards" chart, showing carb-exercise swaps. (If you're a moderately fit, 175-pound person, for example, you can eat an extra 7.5 grams of carbohydrates for every half-hour of exercise!)

The Writing Diet

Write Yourself Right-Size

Julia Cameron

Tarcher Press, 2007

The principle: Use food journals, walking and stream-of-consciousness writing to unlock creativity and root out unhealthful eating habits.

Excerpt: "Believe it or not, writing is a weight-loss tool -- overlooked, underused, and extremely powerful."

Bottom line: Written by a creativity expert -- "novelist, playwright, songwriter and poet" -- this falls into the mindful-living, mindful-eating category of nondiet books. "You might alternatively call this 'the thinking person's guide to weight control,' " Roberts says. But there's more than feel-good fluff behind the writing-dieting link. According to studies of long-term weight loss, Vash says, "people who use food journaling to document what they eat and what they do stand a better chance of losing weight and keeping it off for [a] longer period of time." Cameron encourages readers to keep a food journal, walk 20 minutes daily and write three stream-of-consciousness pages every morning (a meditative process she calls "spiritual chiropractic"). Extra chapters give tips on dealing with night eating, finding a "body buddy" and buying a friendly mirror.

There's probably not a lot of weight loss to be had from the book, which "tends to oversimplify challenges," Roberts says, "but it is a great read." Plus, Heber points out, "writing only works if you aren't munching something at the same time."

You might like this book if you like: writing coach Natalie Goldberg; your freshman English class in college.

Worth the price: Inspirational stories of Cameron's creative writing students who were stuck with boring jobs, bad relationships and extra flab -- until they started journaling.

Eat This Not That

Thousands of Simple Food Swaps That Can Save You 10, 20, 30 Pounds -- or More!

David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding

Rodale, 2008

The principle: Alphabetized by restaurant and brand name, color pictures help you choose better food without having to work too hard at it.

Excerpt: "Do you really know if that burger is 250 calories, or 500 calories or 1,000 calories? No. And you'll be shocked and amazed when you discover the truth!"

Bottom line: Written by editors for Men’s Health magazine, this book aims for readers who want bit-by-bit weight loss without necessarily giving up their In-N-Out pit stops. Some food swaps are head-slappingly obvious (if you eat a burger without the bun, you save calories!), but others might give a hungry eater pause (Subway's double roast beef sandwich trumps the tuna sub; crispy carnitas tacos are actually one of Chipotle's healthiest meals.) Nutritional advice includes decent ideas for sneaking more spinach in your diet, along with the Reagan-era-esque gem to "pile on the ketchup" as a way to include more antioxidant-rich tomatoes in your diet.

"Not much new here in terms of premise," Heber says. "For people who don't know much about foods and calories, it might be helpful." Still, it's "nice and practical -- very much sounds like a food book written by men," Roberts says. Although it might be hard to tote around and whip out in restaurants and supermarkets, she adds, "it would make fine bathroom reading."

You might like this book if you like: Showtime's “Penn & Teller”; " junk food.

Worth the price: Why Chick-Fil-A earns an A-plus but Panera Bread gets a D in the restaurant report card; plus the "20 worst foods in America."

The No S Diet

The Strikingly Simple Weight-Loss Strategy That Has Dieters Raving -- and Dropping Pounds

Reinhard Engels and Ben Kallen

Perigree Press, 2008

The principle: No snacks, no sweets, no seconds, except on days that begin with S (Saturdays, Sundays and special days)

Excerpt: "Three rules and one exception may be simple, but they're sharp. They target the right problem -- excess -- with the right solution -- moderation."

Bottom line: The diet's developer is a librarian turned computer programmer who came up with a simple set of rules to help himself lose weight. His "cute, common sense formula" turned into a home-grown website, then spawned a book. Here he and his coauthor describe limits and rationales behind the rules: "No snacks" means no eating between meals; "no sweets" means nothing with added sugar; "no seconds" means everything must fit on one virtual plate. Weekends and documented "special days" (such as birthdays) serve as the release valve, a reward for good behavior. Billed simply as "a framework for controlling excess," the book assumes readers already know how to -- and will -- make sensible food choices. (Or, as they say in charming techie patois when debating whether a pretzel is a permissible lunch, "the No S Diet delegates that micro-decision to you.")

"This is just another attempt to organize unorganized emotional eaters," Heber says. And rules only go so far, Vash adds, because "when you're on a diet, every day is a 'special day.' " The authors have a rebuttal on hand, however: Yes, you can abuse the only-on-S-days rule, they write. "But you can't do it without knowing you're being a bozo."

You might like this book if you like: Lifehack.org; 43folders.com; alliterative rules.

Worth the price: The tech-speak sprinkled throughout the book, including a section on "Intelligent Dietary Defaults" that teaches you how to "Optimize your Oatmeal."

Women's Health

Perfect Body Diet

The Ultimate Weight Loss and Workout Plan to Drop Stubborn Pounds and Get Fit for Life

Cassandra Forsythe

Rodale, 2008

The principle: Add glucomannan (a food thickener/fiber supplement) to your food, with a choice of two eight-week eating plans.

Excerpt: "Glucomannan will make you feel so satisfied that you won't even realize that you're on a diet."

Bottom line: Readers choose an eating plan -- low-fat or low-carb -- based on their body shape, ideal weight and carbohydrate tolerance. But the diet's "secret weapon" comes from glucomannan, a fiber supplement derived from the konjac plant, which can expand up to 100 times its own water weight. It's often used as a supplement in pills, but the author (a doctoral student studying exercise science and nutrition at the University of Connecticut) recommends breaking open the capsules and mixing it with food for maximum effect. Indeed, nearly every one of the book's recipes has glucomannan added, including the chicken with pistachio pesto and the eggs with "gluco-salsa."

"It's one of those books that has taken some science -- fiber is good for you -- and transformed it into something different -- six grams a day of glucomannan is good for you," Roberts says. Not that glucomannan is bad for you, but is it really necessary? "It slows the absorption of carbohydrates from the stomach and intestine," Vash says. "But if you don't have the carbohydrates in the first place, you don't have to worry. By itself, glucomannan is not going to make you lose weight."

You might like this book if you like: Women’s Health magazine; gummy-thick smoothies.

Worth the price: The section describing how glucomannan powder swells when it soaks up available liquid: "Sit back and watch your serving size expand without any extra calories."

The Shangri-La Diet

The No Hunger Eat Anything Weight-Loss Plan

Seth Roberts

Perigee, 2006

The principle: Trick your body into thinking that food is scarce by ingesting small amounts of very bland (but calorie-dense) food between meals.

Excerpt: "It is not even true that to lose weight you must TRY to eat less. In fact, you can lose weight by eating MORE of certain foods."

Bottom line: It sounds too good to be true, and maybe it is, but at least it's simple to try. Drink about 350 calories of flavorless edible oil daily, in a two-hour window without any other flavors. Then simply eat when hungry. The idea is that your primitive mind-body system will miss the usual cues from appetizing calorie-rich foods, decide that nutritional supplies are scarce, drop your body-weight set point -- and your appetite will plummet, or so the book promises. Written by a psychology professor at UC Berkeley, an earlier online version of the diet was popularized after an enthusiastic mention on the New York Times' Freakonomics blog in 2005. In other quarters, however, Roberts was criticized for his unorthodox research methods: He developed the diet by experimenting on himself. Roberts encourages readers to post their progress on the book's website, but the diet has not yet gone through peer review of controlled clinical trials.

"This diet is a clever strategy that blunts bingeing," Heber says. "But the scientific claims are unsubstantiated, despite the many psychobabble articles and confusing animal studies." In fact, evidence shows you can change your body's set point, Apovian says, just not with food. "The only way is by lifting weights and building muscle mass," she says.

You might like this book if you like: Freakonomics; self-experimentation; libertarianism.

Worth the price: The "extra-credit" chapter with other weight-loss tips, including drinking unflavored sugar water or eating foods with your nose pinched.

The GenoType Diet

Change Your Genetic Destiny to Live the Longest, Fullest and Healthiest Life Possible

Dr. Peter J. D'Adamo with Catherine Whitney

The principle: We each belong to one of six GenoType profiles -- Hunter, Gatherer, Teacher, Explorer, Warrior and Nomad -- and our individual "superfoods" and "toxins" correspond accordingly.

Excerpt: "We have the power to alter our genes' behavior."

Bottom line: D'Adamo, a naturopathic physician and co-founder of the Institute for Human Individuality, follows up his previous blood-type diet with a genes-and-neonatal-exposure diet. But because one's genome and experiences in the womb are difficult to measure, he has devised six "GenoType" profiles (not to be confused with the strictly scientific term "genotype"). Readers classify themselves based on a variety of measurements, including finger-length ratios, blood type, fingerprint patterns and head shape. Subsequent chapters introduce the GenoTypes and lay out good and bad foods for each. For example, "Nomads are generally optimistic, rational, and fun-loving. . . . Their uncanny ability to control nitric oxide activity is at work with their ability to think or visualize their way to better health." Nomads should eat pecans (not cashews) while drinking beer (not coffee).

"I find this kind of untested storybook stuff very unhelpful for weight control," Roberts says. And it's not clear there's any evidence behind it either. "Once again Dr. D'Adamo is beyond his depth," Heber says. "This genotype diet is based on the fact that science has advanced since his last book, but it has not advanced far enough to make this book credible."

You might like this book if you like: D'Adamo's "Eat Right 4 Your Type"; horoscopes; fortune cookies.

Worth the price: How to determine whether your head is pre-Middle Ages brachycephalic-blockhead or post-Middle Ages dolichocephalic-egghead.

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