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48,328 Diet Books

Posted 02/02/2010

That’s the number of titles that pops up when you enter “diet books” into amazon.com, and this reflects only books still in print. Diet books have been regularly published for more than 100 years, including such gems as the Cigarette Diet (“Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet”), The Drinking Man’s Diet, The Beautiful People’s Diet, and even The Eskimo Diet.

Click here for a look at more diet books from the past.

My own first diet book (sadly, many would follow) was the immensely popular, early-1960s Calories Don’t Count, whose author was later jailed for mail fraud. On this gem of a diet, you could eat as much pure protein as you wanted (and I did just that, gorging on meat and cottage cheese) washed down with three ounces of safflower oil daily. To this day, I can’t look at cottage cheese without feeling slightly ill. I also tried the Scarsdale Diet , whose physician-author was later gunned down by his mistress. Based on these admittedly limited experiences, it’s probably risky for any author to send me a diet book to test.

The Eat Right 4 Your (Blood) Type diet has also been very popular, but it’s about as scientific as eating right for your zip code. Is there any known “best” diet book? No. It’s really all up to you: many diets work when you’re following them and virtually all fail when you stop. If you want to lose anything, lose your diet book.

What about diet drugs?
Various diet pills were first introduced in the 1930s and none worked except the famous fen-phen of the 1990s, even as it wrecked your heart valves. Most diet pills of the past either suppressed appetite, sped up metabolism, or both, but our human bodies outsmarted the pills every time and the drugs would stop working after a month or so.

The modern prescription drug Meridia is supposed to work on the brain’s appetite control centers, but was banned in Europe just last week (though not in the US) because of an unacceptable number of strokes and heart attacks among its users. Orlistat (Xenical, Alli) blocks fat absorption and its most notorious side effect, fecal leakage, is better imagined than described.

What about gizmos?
A century’s worth of diet books has managed to do little except eliminate a great many trees. A smart ecological alternative is the iPhone app called Lose It!, which calculates how many calories you can consume each day (based on your current weight, target weight, and other stats) to start moving toward Weight Loss City. My editor and her partner lost a collective 65 pounds last year using it, reminding us that calories do count and portion size rules the day.

Seven steps to weight loss
We all know that being overweight can render us susceptible to a wide variety of chronic illnesses. Here are seven steps you can take to start losing weight. Gentle reminder: gratefully enjoy every mouthful you eat.
1. Donate all 11-inch plates to a resale shop. Never eat another meal off anything larger than a 9-inch plate and you’ll immediately reduce calories by 20%.
2. When you’re done preparing a meal, place portions on your 9-inch plates and leftovers in the fridge (nothing like cold food to chill a desire for second helpings).
3. Never bring a serving platter to the table unless it’s piled high with fresh fruit and veggies. These are “free” foods you can–and should–load up on daily.
4. Read all labels and never buy or eat any food containing refined wheat flour, white flour, or high fructose corn syrup.
5. Prepare most of your own food to avoid the excesses of packaged foods and eating out. When you cook use mostly whole foods–fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
6. If you do eat out: when your meal arrives, divide it in half and for half to be wrapped right then to take home.
7. Increase your calorie burn by doing more walking, stair climbing, weight-lifting, and biking.

And really, that’s it.

Ending with some cheery news, a study showed that a daily 1.5-ounce portion of dark chocolate was effective in reducing brain chemicals linked to chronic stress. If you’re stressing about your weight, calm yourself with a tasty bit of dark chocolate, but do please keep it to a small bite, since 1.5 ounces is worth about 240 calories. And yes, repeating myself, calories do count.


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