In the battle of the bulge, most dieters relying on willpower alone are destined to lose the fight, according to the recently revised and updated bestseller "You: On a Diet."
There are just too many small obstacles that collectively are enough to defeat us, say authors Dr. Michael F. Roizen and Dr. Mehmet C. Oz. To name a few: We're hard-wired to want sugar, salt and fat; our bodies store fat to protect against famine; our moods subject us to cravings; many of us have desk jobs; junk food is ubiquitous; and our car culture has reduced the exercise we get.
It's like trying to battle a powerful storm in a rowboat, the authors say. "A rowboat will get clobbered in a perfect storm no matter what measures it takes. But if you know the factors contributing to the storm and can track the storm to avoid it in the first place, you can beat it."
Using text and illustrations liberally laced with topical, sometimes silly humor and puns, Roizen and Oz try to help readers do just that. In their 530-page hardcover book, they explain the scientific theories behind digestion, fat, metabolism and emotions. And they outline a diet and activity program that they say can end yo-yo dieting and help people lose weight permanently.
The well-known doctors start off with a two-week plan that they say will take up to 2 inches off your waist. That waist measurement is what they say people should be focusing on. That's because weight stored around the waist is the biggest predictor of obesity-related health problems. (The ideal waist measurement, they say, is 32 1/2 inches or less for women, and 35 inches or less for men.)
What secret dieting weapons do they share? One is the permission to stop beating yourself up when you slip -- something they say is an inevitable part of the process. The key is to get back up and do a "You-turn," as they call it, rather than slide back into a pattern of unhealthy eating.
They suggest changing your environment instead of trying to fight hardwired behavior. For example, choose a fish restaurant rather than a burger place when eating out. Keep fruit in your pantry instead of chips. When the urge to overeat strikes, head out the door for a short walk and contemplate what's driving the cravings. And consider your friends' habits, which can influence your own. Meet friends for breakfast at a juice bar rather than the pancake house. Schedule a walk instead of coffee and dessert.
To improve the odds of success they suggest making dieting "automatic" by limiting the variety of foods you eat to minimize temptation and by choosing foods that are quick to prepare. And make exercise easy (they recommend at least 30 minutes of walking and five minutes of stretches a day, plus additional strength-building workouts three times a week). They also emphasize the importance of eating regular meals because undereating slows down the metabolism.
The other important tool in your arsenal is your mind, they say. The authors discuss at length the role emotions play in regard to self-image and eating habits. They urge dieters to take back the power that food holds over them and to seek power elsewhere -- in spirituality, in work, in relationships.
It's easy to see why this book -- and their larger "You" series it's a part of -- has been so successful. (The original edition of "You: On a Diet," published in 2006, sold upward of 3 million copies.) There's something in it for everyone, and the authors make the tough medicine go down easily with their breezy writing style, tips, quizzes, factoids and "myth busters." The revised edition includes more than 100 new recipes, a new section on emotional eating, updated research on the biology of fat and answers to reader questions they've received since the first edition came out.
Here's one factoid: You can lose 10 permanent pounds and 3 inches off your waist every year just by cutting back your food intake by 100 calories a day, according to the book. Something to keep in mind when you're eyeing that candy bar or bag of chips at the checkout counter.
-- Anne Colby
Photo credit: "You: On a Diet: The Owner's Manual for Waist Management," by Dr. Michael F. Roizen and Dr. Mehmet C. Oz, Free Press, $26.99