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“How Not To Get Fat” Book Review

May 10, 2011

Thank you to everyone who commented on Sunday’s post and wished me luck with Level 2 of the 30 Day Shred. I survived, although I agree with Kate that it was literally a “jump”. Hmm … I wonder if my neighbours mind my impression of a baby elephant at 6am?!

Today I thought I would write a little about a book that has done a lot to change the way I eat for the better – “How Not to Get Fat” by Ian Marber (aka The Food Doctor).

Honestly, when I first bought the book back in November last year it was the title that caught my attention. I’d been maintaining a healthy weight for just over a year and I was looking for a way to eat that I could maintain for the rest of my life for minimal effort. For me, losing weight was the easy bit – I saw progress on the scales most weeks (in all my time at Weight Watchers I only saw a small gain a couple of times) and I got complements on my changing appearance. Maintenance is hard, and I think it’s about changing my relationship with food, which also means escaping a diet mentality. I think “How Not to Get Fat”, despite its (maybe unnecessarily) emotive title provides the tools to do this.

The first section explains how the body works in relation to food and energy production. In simple terms it explains the processes of digestion and how food is made into energy by cells. It goes on to describe how the three different food groups (carbs, protein and fat) affect glucose levels and how other factors such as stress and caffeine also influence glucose levels. I found this section really interesting and gave an explanation in a way that’s easy to understand and made me think more in terms of food as fuel for my body. I always loved biology at school, so I actually went away and did some more internet research (until it got really really complicated!).

The second section was the most enlightening for me – it deals with the way we think. For most of us when we decide we need to lose weight we learn how to diet, not how to eat well for our health in the long term. Marber writes about how hunger has become an emotional issue for a lot of people. Instead of satisfying our hunger we fight it or go for “healthy” snacks that just don’t cut it. He also talks about the reasons we eat, other than hunger, such as boredom, habit, politeness and taste. This section goes on to discuss social attitudes towards weight, the influence of genetics, media advertising and the food industry, the influence of family and friends, the problem of choice, portion control, gender, fad diets, counting calories, all-or-nothing dieting, alcohol and chocolate, and exercise.

There’s a lot of detail in there, so I’d recommend you read it if you’re interested. I found that this chapter helped me to confront some of my emotions and attitudes when it comes to food. For example I had fallen into an “all-or-nothing” approach. This time last year I was under-eating through the week and then at the weekend I’d eat whatever I wanted (and more!). Yes, I maintained my weight, but I felt under-fuelled during the week and lethargic at the weekends.

The third section explains the principles of how to eat so that you never have to diet. The principles are really simple:

  • Eat little and often – 3 meals and 2/3 snacks
  • Always eat protein and complex carbs for each meal or snack
  • BUT, for your evening meal leave out the carbs and combine protein with vegetables
  • Eat within an hour of waking in the morning
  • Avoid sugar
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine

So, between November and March I roughly followed these principles and started reading health blogs which gave me even more ideas on following a healthy diet. I lost a little weight initially and then maintained well. Then I read “Intuitive Eating” (read my thoughts here) and wondered if I was following too many rules by rigidly eating every 2-3 hours and avoiding sugar. I think The Food Doctor’s book and Intuitive Eating actually have a lot of parallels, but I interpreted “How Not to Get Fat” as a set of rules.

Over the past couple of months I’ve been eating more sugar, but I think I felt better when I was eating less – I had fewer cravings and my energy levels were more stable. My current attitude is that sugar is a treat and I’m not avoiding it altogether, but eating much less. The Nourishing Circle has a great post today on cutting out particular foods which is relevant.

Eating every 2-3 hours tends to work for me, but I’m now listening to my hunger signals and not eating if I’m not hungry and having an extra snack if I am.

The Food Doctor has also written “How Not to Get Fat: Your Daily Diet”. I won’t review it in detail, but it’s a useful resource with lists of healthy foods from all the food groups and suggestions about how to prepare them. It also provides examples of “diet plans” to demonstrate what meals and snacks might be suitable. I didn’t really look at the diet plans as I felt that they didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know, but I will be trying out some of the recipes because I can lack imagination sometimes – the curried quinoa and vegetable pilaf with toasted coconut looks delicious.

What have you read that has influenced the way that you eat and your attitude towards food?

Do you follow any particular principles of eating?

16 Comments leave one →
  1. May 10, 2011 7:29 pm

    Excellent review! I tend to find the more I read around nutrition the more conflicting advice I come across. I have tended to absorb all of that information and then try out some of the key aspects to see what works best for my body and then go with what works. I have read books that recommend that your biggest meal should be at lunch and then others that say it should be on an evening – I have personally found that I prefer to have carbs on an evening instead of at lunch. As for principles for eating I go for whole vegan foods as offen as possible, a mix of carbs, protein and healthy fats, 3 main meals and 2 – 3 snacks a day – that approach seems to serve me well!

    • May 11, 2011 6:20 pm

      I agree that there’s some real confusion out there. How Not to Get Fat actually deals with that in one of its chapters. I definitely approach health books with a healthy dose of skeptism. This book really resonated with me and for the most part is just common sense.

  2. May 10, 2011 7:55 pm

    Great review! I also read this book and found it informative and useful – l am leaning more towards ‘eat when you feel you need to’ than ‘eat every 2’4 hours’ but the food science and the info about sugar I found really useful. I have not eliminated sugar but have drastically reduced it, and I try to have protein with all of my meals, and it has really evened out my energy levels – and when I don’t stick to it, I notice the difference.

    Love your blog by the way, inspiring!

  3. May 10, 2011 10:12 pm

    My sister does the Shred upstairs and it freaks out my family to hear her jumping up and down, haha!

  4. May 11, 2011 6:35 am

    A great review.
    At the moment I still count calories, but I try hard to make sure I have a balance of fat, carbs, protein, and make my diet healthier overall. But it is hard, and I don’t want to do it all my life, so I am trying to move over to a more natural way of eating.
    I now have more snacks, and smaller meals, which really seem to help, but I do think everyone works differently.

  5. DonnyFan permalink
    May 11, 2011 7:29 am

    a great review – I would be really interested to know how it broaches and tackles the subject of the ‘all or nothing’ mentality (ie, ME!) as this is something that I struggle to deal with (especially when I’m in the ‘nothing’ zone.)

    my greatest influences over my eating have been the blogs that I have followed, particularly in the last couple of years.

    I now have a lot more protein in my diet which leaves me more sated, and I’ve cut out a lot of the ‘diet’ foods (special k bars, WW bars (sorry WW!) opting for more natural, cleaner foods.

    on the whole though, I’m still trying to find my own way as what works for one won’t necessarily work for another.


    • May 11, 2011 6:18 pm

      It tackles the subject of all-or-nothing by confronting some of the emotions that go through our head when we’re in that mind-set – the fact that we feel that we’ve already “blown it”, so may as well carry on. It also deals with the “I deserve it” mentality and the cycle of boom and bust caused my holidays and Christmas.
      If I stray I try to get back on track as soon as possible in order to try to beat “all-or-nothing” thinking. That’s easier said than done, especially when there’s a few vodka and tonics involved!

  6. May 11, 2011 12:13 pm

    Great review. A lot of it sounds like familiar, common sense stuff, yet it’s amazing how we forget these things once left to our own devices.

    Thanks also for the link to Nourishing Circle. Great post, and it really resonated with me. Like you, I am worried about developing really restrictive rules, and what my motivations behind those might be. As a result, I’ve made a point of constantly assessing and evaluating my “appetite” (i.e. not hunger, but desire for certain foods), and in cases where I genuinely think it’s there, I’ve given way. So for example I shared a (huge!) piece of cake with a friend at the weekend, and also had a beer the other night, despite having cut sugar and alcohol out of my diet (for the time being). I think there are times when not having something (as a treat) would make you feel so deprived that any health / weightloss benefits are outweighed by the longer term psychological burden. That seems to be both what you and NC are saying: that in pursuit of your longer term goals its sometimes more prudent to give in than to stick to the rules.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post!

  7. May 11, 2011 5:14 pm

    Great review. I’m always on the lookout for healthy living books, especially ones that advocate a balanced approach.

    Two books I’ve read recently that have influenced my attitude to food are Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters by Courtney Martin and The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf (ok, I haven’t finished that one yet).

    Perfect Girls – Starving Daughters women’s relationships with their bodies and how this can be distorted by the quest for ‘perfection’ has influenced my attitude toward food in that it is helping me stop seeing running as a high-calorie burning cardio exercise to earn extra calories I can use to eat ‘naughty’ food and see it purely as an exercise I do to improve that my fitness. I’ve stopped doing too much exercise for my fitness level.

    The Beauty Myth’s chapter on religion and how parts of the diet industry have used the sin of greed to guilt people into feeling they are fundamentally bad or unloveable people because they’re overweight or that food can be ‘naughty’, which is helping how I feel about cake etc! The book was publish in 1990 and it’s not quite as relevant nowadays, as the diet industry seems to be more about pushing a healthy lifestyle rather than admonishing and shaming the overweight, but I’ll try to never again attribute a moral value to a mixture of eggs, sugar, flour etc that has been baked in a hot oven for 20 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean…

    I count calories to lose weight and try to make sure I don’t eat too much fat or sugar. I’m a veggie so I’m very careful about making sure I get enough protein, but aside from trying to eat a balanced diet that’s about it. I find it hard to eat according to hard and fast rules because I’m inconsistent in applying them.

    I’d love to try intuitive eating, but I don’t trust myself yet to stop eating emotionally. Maybe in a few months or so.

    • May 11, 2011 6:13 pm

      Thanks for these recommendations, they both sound really interesting books. In terms of intuitive eating, I’ve read a bit about it and try apply some of the principles that I find useful, but I wouldn’t say that I’ve conquered emotional eating.

  8. May 11, 2011 9:21 pm

    This is a great review. I am always watching, counting points and calories. Nice to read about something different.

  9. May 12, 2011 7:39 pm

    I was munching on popcorn out of boredom until half-way through your post when I read about eating out of boredom. Thanks for helping me put the snack food down.

  10. May 13, 2011 10:52 am

    It’s interesting that you say the maintenance phase is hard. I’m still losing weight but I guess there’s a perception (at least for me) that once the weight is gone life will magically become easier, and I’ll eat healthily all the time. I guess I’m just realising that I will still be Me, even after the weight loss; I’ll still want the cake over the carrot kind of thing (or make a healthified carrot cake – who knows ;). Iiiiinteresting.


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