How Not To Diet is Dr. Michael Greger’s follow up to his book How Not To Die. Where his first book focused on the leading diseases in the U.S. and how food can help prevent and reverse said diseases, this “sequel” is focused more on nutrition, weight loss, and how we should re-align our definition of what it means to “diet” (also known as eating food).
How Not To Die includes Dr. Greger’s daily dozen recommended foods to maintain a healthy lifestyle. He expands upon these and includes 21 tweaks to assist with weight loss. Most people go “on a diet” to lose weight with their definition of a diet being a temporary change to meet that goal. They then go back to their previous eating habits (or their established diet) which is what originally created the additional weight they want to lose. So, let’s first cover the definitions of diet. Oxford Languages has three primary definitions.
- the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats
- a special course of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons
- restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of foods in order to lose weight
I think the most common use is in verb form. An action that has a temporary goal to lose weight. We need to shift the common use of this term to the first definition meaning sustained, long-term habitual eating. When viewing a diet in this way, we (by definition) end the cyclical ups and downs and changes in eating. Also when using the terms first definition, we can actually eat more and lose weight or maintain a lean physical lifestyle.
Dr. Greger promotes this definition of diet, but part of the reason he focused on dieting in this book is to address the various dietary beliefs or uncertainties circulating society. He covers weight loss “solutions” such as bariatric surgeries, diet drugs, and supplements. He also covers several fad diets such as the Atkin’s and Keto diets and points out how they originated, are/were promoted, and how they fall short of being a sustainable lifestyle choice or even a successful weight-loss regiment. He instead promotes how to make adjustments, even temporary ones, to facilitate permanent, healthy weight loss.
I enjoyed this book because all of the topics discussed reference several studies (and points out studies that have bias or were proven false by additional testing). I was blown away by how organizations such as the FDA, and other agencies we would believe are in place to prevent companies from unethically influencing our eating choices or altering the food we eat, have been influenced or in some cases have been completely sidelined from making sure we can rely on product labeling or can even trust how our food is sourced.
If you are curious about this specifically, look up the Imitation Rule that was repealed in 1973. The rule was put in place in 1938 and forced any manufacturer to label something as an imitation if it did not align with the standard expectation of that food. For example, Kraft cheese would not be able to advertise its product as actual cheese and would need to label it imitation cheese. With the rule appealed, they can call it cheese as long as they put in the fine print (or ingredients label) that it is “cheese product” to let consumers know it is not actually cheese. Manufacturers felt that “imitation” had a pejorative connotation and that it would make consumers avoid purchasing their product. Now they have free reign to call fake substitutes the real deal without consequence.
How Not To Diet is a great resource for knowledge about how modern food (and food products) impact our health and our waistlines. Unfortunately, more people seem to care about the later than the former, but Dr. Greger is not disillusioned by public expectations. As with How Not To Die, he offers practical advice to help make nudges toward a healthier you. If putting ranch on your salad is what it takes for you to eat more dark, leafy greens, then that is better than not eating salads altogether. The hope is that gradual changes will create gradual improvements to the point where eating healthy is a habit and a lifelong, sustainable one at that.
The old adage “You are what you eat” still rings true. Unfortunately, we need to navigate a minefield of ultra-processed foods created to make them less satiating but delicious so you eat more and gain more because of them. A good rule of thumb is to question whether the marketing costs for the product outweigh the actual production costs. No one is spending millions on commercials for broccoli or apples.
Happy Reading (Happy Eating).