Food Rules – A Book by Michael Pollan

Being on a diet for over 8 years – essentially the same diet for 8 years – gives one a different perspective on dieting than most folks.

I’ve come to reject a lot of the thinking surrounding the popular notion of diets, and am currently trying to sort out just how am I different from all the other folks over the years who have come to this site, commented, lost some weight – even had blogs of their own – only to pull the blogs down or stop posting.

I fear it wasn’t because they succeeded in their hard-won goal of losing weight and keeping it off for the rest of their life.

Here’s a random post, from a random fellow, found on a random weight loss forum:

Hello everyone I have a few questions for the trainers and the morbidly obese who have managed to meet their goals and lose weight to gain a happier life.I have recently decided to make a lifestyle change and get my self  in shape ,but i am very in experienced at doing this so I have decided to come here for advice ok so far I am 6 days in and I have lowered my calorie intake and for the last 3 days i figured i could walk non stop for 1hr possibly even more with being to tired or winded but i believe i could push my self to do something a little more rewarding.I have also purchased a stability ball from ball dynamics and i was wondering could you guys give me tips on what type a exercise a very big guy can do standing by himself or on a stability ball to shed weight and build strength IM still a rookie and i cant do push up yet so something looking for something low impact but effective i was also wondering could you guys refer to some workout videos for big guys thats not grueling that i can use to lose some weight.any tips would be highly appreciated it

It struck me that this person is probably going to fail. He’s eating Stouffer’s TV dinners and seems ashamed of eating a BBQ chicken – and wants to exercise to lose the weight.

I thought of posting something – but what? That he’s going about it all wrong? Do I have the right to do this? Do I know what I’m talking about?

The problem with starting a diet is that there is something wrong with the whole concept of ‘diet’ as we know it. Check out Everydiet.org, which attempts to give an overview of 400 + diets.

I wonder how many of them led to even a single person losing the weight they wanted and keeping it off.

I will bet you that each one of them laid claim to some science to back up whatever gimmick their diet was built around. And here’s partly the reason we go off the rails.

Science has become the new God – the supreme power that even God must bow to. Let me prove it. In the past year, I have had a Baptist and Jehovah’s Witnesses come to my door in order to share with me their messages of God.

Both mentioned very early in the discussions that God was ‘proven by science’. These nice folks didn’t realize it, but they had made Science superior to their diety.

The problem with Science is three-fold:

  1. Science is done by humans, and sometimes it’s wrong – willfully or through a genuine misunderstanding.
  2. People – even scientists – sometimes think all science it the same. The science that put a man on the moon is a very different body of work than the science that is used in determining why people get fat or can’t lose weight. Unlike rocket science, which obviously works and everybody agrees with the principles, nutrition science has ‘proof’ that is unclear and debated by intelligent people of integrity.
  3. Science, to a lot of people, is inscrutable. Like God, if they are told things are a certain way and can’t understand the explanation, science becomes a belief system.
This is where Michael Pollan’s Food Rules comes in. To me, one quote sums up my thinking nicely:
Nutrition Science…is today approximately where surgery was in 1650-very promising, and very interesting to watch, but are you ready to let them operate on you? I think I’ll wait a while.
In this tiny, science-light book, he lists a number of simple rules about eating that I believe would be a great start for anyone trying to sort out how to be healthier – and maybe slimmer.
I don’t agree with every item, but it is a noble attempt at a different approach on eating healthy.
Here’s 6 rules from the excerpt on his site:

#11 Avoid foods you see advertised on television.

Food marketers are ingenious at turning criticisms of their products—and rules like these—into new ways to sell slightly different versions of the same processed foods:

They simply reformulate (to be low-fat, have no HFCS or transfats, or to contain fewer ingredients) and then boast about their implied healthfulness, whether the boast is meaningful or not. The best way to escape these marketing ploys is to tune out the marketing itself, by refusing to buy heavily promoted foods. Only the biggest food manufacturers can afford to advertise their products on television: More than two thirds of food advertising is spent promoting processed foods (and alcohol), so if you avoid products with big ad budgets, you’ll automatically be avoiding edible foodlike substances. As for the 5 percent of food ads that promote whole foods (the prune or walnut growers or the beef ranchers), common sense will, one hopes, keep you from tarring them with the same brush—these are the exceptions that prove the rule.

#19 If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.

#36 Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.

This should go without saying. Such cereals are highly processed and full of refined carbohydrates as well as chemical additives.

#39 Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.

There is nothing wrong with eating sweets, fried foods, pastries, even drinking soda every now and then, but food manufacturers have made eating these formerly expensive and hard-to-make treats so cheap and easy that we’re eating them every day. The french fry did not become America’s most popular vegetable until industry took over the jobs of washing, peeling, cutting, and frying the potatoes—and cleaning up the mess. If you made all the french fries you ate, you would eat them much less often, if only because they’re so much work. The same holds true for fried chicken, chips, cakes, pies, and ice cream. Enjoy these treats as often as you’re willing to prepare them—chances are good it won’t be every day.

#47 Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored.

For many of us, eating has surprisingly little to do with hunger. We eat out of boredom, for entertainment, to comfort or reward ourselves. Try to be aware of why you’re eating, and ask yourself if you’re really hungry—before you eat and then again along the way. (One old wive’s test: If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you’re not hungry.) Food is a costly antidepressant.

#58 Do all your eating at a table.

No, a desk is not a table. If we eat while we’re working, or while watching TV or driving, we eat mindlessly—and as a result eat a lot more than we would if we were eating at a table, paying attention to what we’re doing. This phenomenon can be tested (and put to good use): Place a child in front of a television set and place a bowl of fresh vegetables in front of him or her. The child will eat everything in the bowl, often even vegetables that he or she doesn’t ordinarily touch, without noticing what’s going on. Which suggests an exception to the rule: When eating somewhere other than at a table, stick to fruits and vegetables.

It’s not a diet book, but would be a much better place for fat folks to start at than most on that list of 400.
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