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Summer Reading List! #NutritionSummerReading

A little while ago I asked people to suggest books that would make great summer reading. The topic? Food & Nutrition, of course. Books suggested ran the gamut from healthy eating and diet fads to food history.

If you read along, tweet your thoughts using #NutritionSummerReading and join the conversation!

If you read them, please send along your thoughts (via email or Twitter) and I will add them to the book descriptions.

Image from the Summer Reading Program at the Osage City Public Library

Disclaimer: I have not read all these books yet. As I go through them, I'll add in a couple sentences on my thoughts.

Diet Cults by Matt Fitzgerald

The first food book I read this summer, "Diet Cults" explores why people are so drawn to ways of eating for weight loss or health that are extreme and not supported by the weight of evidence. Interestingly, Fitzgerald makes a case for using exercise as part of weight loss - something the fitness establishment has roundly dismissed as of late.

He advocates for a style of generalized healthy eating he calls "Agnostic Healthy Eating." Eat lots of veggies, whole grains, and high-quality protein, a little less of more processed foods, and much less foods that have been deep fried.

My Thoughts: This book had a refreshing take on what drives people to adopt "extreme" eating regimens, from highly restrictive Candida diets to raw food veganism. I personally love when anyone delves into various trendy diets of the past, and this book definitely does this. The diet advice is condensed to a chapter at the end and follows common sense. Since I listened to it on Audible, I'll admit that I coasted a bit through that part since it wasn't giving any revolutionary advice. I like the idea of creating a community around "agnostic healthy eating."

While I do know many people who have incorporated exercise into their weight loss journeys, I do think the preponderance of the evidence shows that diet, more than exercise, makes the difference.

What all these more extreme ways of eating have in common (besides diets restrictive enough to cause weight loss) is a sense of belonging and community that nutritionists should embrace rather than critique. Hence, the idea for "agnostic healthy eating," as a diet-name. It doesn't have the same ring as, "I'm Paleo," or "I'm Vegan" but it's a start.

What did YOU think? Tweet thoughts #NutritionSummerReading or Comment!

Ever Seen a Fat Fox? by Mike Gibney, PhD

This book is next on my list. By Mike Gibney, Professor of Food and Health at University College Dublin, this book covers why only humans (or animals fed by humans) develop obesity. He tracks the history of human obesity - it was a growing public health problem long before "The Obesity Epidemic" - and takes issue with the public's obsession with blaming all our problems on ONE thing, even though the problems are multifactorial.

My Thoughts: REQUIRED READING- SERIOUSLY

I have just completed reading "Ever Seen a Fat Fox" and I have to say I was extremely impressed. This is NOT a light read- it contains an extensive lit review and a slightly more academic tone that is occasionally punctuated with Professor Mike Gibney's irreverent (and sometimes not-so-PC) sense of humor.

These days, we are inundated with books that emphasize how obesity has been caused by the food industry and food adverts- and while that is definitely part of the problem, we rarely hear any other explanations! "Ever Seen a Fat Fox" starts right off the bat with dropping some truths we rarely hear:

1. Obesity was not invented in the 20th century and the "obesity epidemic" didn't just pop into existence in the 80's. Obesity has been around for as long as humans AND there have been (unsuccessful) attempts to prevent and cure it since the dawn of time (OK maybe not that far back, but you get the point).

2. Ditto "processed food." We've been eating it since humans learned to harness fire. Sure, there's more available now, but it isn't the PROCESSING itself that's the problem.

3. The history of the BMI and optimal BMI measurements - did you know the concept of "ideal weights" originally came from life insurance companies' actuarial tables? I did not!

Delving into the current science connecting intake and obesity, Gibney calls into question a lot of the facts that we take for granted- like, does reducing sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) in the diet REALLY cause a decrease in weight? (Maybe, but it certainly can't be the only intervention). Should we REALLY ask people who are overweight to lose weight? (Maybe- but only if there are risks that will only be reduced by weight loss. Otherwise, likelihood of success is so low that encouraging other healthy lifestyle changes like exercise and healthy eating are better bets than weight reduction).

Mike Gibney is a professor in Ireland, so a lot of his statistics on food intake data come from the Irish population, which is similar to US, but do seem to eat a greater percentage of their meals at home compared to Americans. However, the points Gibney makes are relevant to any developed nation (or developing nation) with an obesity problem.

This book is a refreshing change of pace because it is so incredibly level headed. Are fast food and SSBs good for you? No, and Gibney agrees. But are we placing too much blame at the hands at the level of the food creation PROCESS and not enough on total AVAILABILITY? Perhaps.

The best way to explain Gibney's POV in the book is to let him do it. Here, he outlines the common perceptions of the obesity epidemic and adds his own rebuttal:

"The rising levels of obesity are associated, and I stress associated, with an abundance of widely advertised cheap food and beverages, mainly industrially processed and high in sugar, fat and salt... Large companies get rich on poor quality, even addictive foods and are in denial of any responsibility. Until their power is curbed with taxes, until cheap food product promotion and availability is restricted and until powerful and shocking images are displayed to the obese, the obesity epidemic will continue to grow, particularly among the most vulnerable such as all children and the socially disadvantaged.

"So, do I agree with the above? If the answer were unequivocally 'yes' then, clearly, I wouldn't have written this book. So let's ask the converse question: 'Do I comprehensively deny the general truth of this narrative?' The answer to that is also 'no'." [Emphasis mine]

Did you breathe a sigh of relief? Perhaps it will affect the marketability of the book, but as a nutrition person (wonk?) - it was amazing to read a book that tackled the issue of obesity and its health risks and acknowledged that the causes and solutions are complex.

Did I agree with all of Mike Gibney's points? Not at all- for instance, he talks about using The Step Diet for maintaining calorie balance. Now, I have not read this book but a) Just the description of how you converted daily calories into steps and then back again sounded insanely confusing and b) While calorie balance is essential, I still feel wary of quantifying foods as "units of physical activity" as if food is ONLY energy and nothing else. There were a number of other points where I wasn't in 100% agreement. But, I think his points were all extremely well made.

My nitpick? I wasn't convinced that foxes- given a surplus of food by good luck, let's say - wouldn't get fat in the wild. It was implied that foxes would only eat what they needed and nothing more but there wasn't really any evidence provided to show this was true. Perhaps all people in Ireland have a strong baseline knowledge of fox behavior?

Anyway, the fox example was just meant to give a counterpoint to the way humans eat- an understanding of fox physiology wasn't actually essential to the purpose of the book, so I did get over it, but the fact that it was the title of the book made me feel like there should be some actual animal behavior science within.

Bonus points:

- It included references to the old Judy Garland musical "Harvey Girls" - which was one of my favorite movies growing up and features a YOUNG ANGELA LANDSBURY as the vampy showgirl. (Warning, this is not, like, a super good movie? But is also a great movie. Know what I mean?)

- Reference to Cool Hand Luke eating 50 eggs

- Dolly Parton is quoted

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review; all opinions are my own. If you'd like me to review your book feel free to email contact@thenuritionwonk.com. Keep in mind I will be BRUTALLY HONEST so don't send me a juice cleanse, thanks.

Have you read it? Weigh in! #NutritionSummerReading

Thou Shalt Not Eat: How Diet Gurus and the Media Use Bad Science to Make Your Fat, Fearful, and Coming Back for More by Scott Kustes

This one was a suggestion on Twitter and I haven't read it yet, so keep that in mind. Scott Kustes was a Paleo blogger (back in the early days of Paleo blogging) and restricted eater, who apparently had a severe change of heart leading to this book. It sounds interesting - here is a quote from the Amazon description:

"In Thou Shalt Not Eat, Scott Kustes lays out an owner’s manual for anyone caught up in the diet, health, and nutrition world. Discover the logical fallacies you’ll likely come across in health blogs, forums, and diet books. Meet the guru archetypes dishing out twisted dietary “facts.” Learn how easy it is to come up with a diet book when you follow six simple steps. When you wrap up the whole package presented by the diet industry, it becomes a burden to live a normal life. Free your mind and get your life back—no gurus, commandments, or tribal associations required."

My Thoughts: Coming soon

Have you read it? Weigh in! #NutritionSummerReading

Fear of Food: A History of Why We Worry about What We Eat by Harvey Levenstein

Can you sense a trend here? Another Twitter suggestion, this book from U Chicago Press by food historian Harvey Levenstein talks about what causes Americans to be so fraught with worry about their food choices. With chapter titles like "Germophobia," "Milk: 'The Most Valuable and Dangerous Food'", and my personal favorite, “Lucrezia Borgias in the Kitchen,” this certainly seems like a compelling and impeccably researched book.

My Thoughts: On the way

Have you read it? Weigh in! #NutritionSummerReading

First Bite and Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson

Yet another suggestion from Twitter! Thanks everyone for your input! First Bite - how do we learn what we like to eat? In this book, Wilson examines how children in different nations learn different eating habits and how it can affect their health.

In Consider the Fork, Wilson examines all the tools of cooking and eating over the ages! Both of these books together will help any nutrition nerd better understand the cultural evolution of cuisine and eating habits.

My Thoughts on First Bite: This book is an excellent read with fascinating insights into the science and history of how humans *learn* to eat from birth to death. For nutrition wonks, this book is refreshing because it is NOT a diet book in the traditional sense. It does delve into tools for expanding adult palates so that we can all enjoy healthy foods like fruit and veggies, but never introduces any sort of diet plan.

Instead, the book explores the different ways cultures have fed children over time, from treating them like "mini adults" to feeding them only foods thought to be good for their sensitive digestive systems (lots of rice pudding and porridge, it seems). She covers, in detail, issues that come up when kids and adults deal with eating disorders and extreme picky eating -- refusing all food except for, say, potato chips and plain pasta -- and talks about the more successful ways for treating these conditions.

The book, which I read on Audible, was fast-paced, organized, and extremely engaging! I would recommend that any dietitian or health care practitioner dealing with nutrition pick up this book!

Have you read it? Weigh in! #NutritionSummerReading

Leave your comments on any of the books in the FB comments, tweet them (#NutritionSummerReading) or email them - contact@thenutritionwonk.com - and I will add them to the post.

Happy reading!

#DietBooks #bookreview #dietcults #haveyoueverseenafatfox #Thoushaltnoteat #fearoffood #beewilson #harveylevenstein #scottkustes #mikegibney #mattfitzgerald

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