The Information Age has not been kind to the dieter. The sheer volume of nutritional data available today can be overwhelming. And dietary advice seems to change with the season -- eat more carbs, don't eat carbs, count calories, don't count calories, cut back on fats, eat all the fats you want. Who can keep up?
NBC News chief medical editor, physician and author Dr. Nancy L. Snyderman attempts to bring some sanity to the table with her book "Diet Myths That Keep Us Fat," now out in paperback.
In it, she examines the many diet and nutrition beliefs floating around today -- some that she says are true and others that are anything but. She looks at popular weight-loss strategies and describes their origins, how they work, whether they're effective and how they stack up medically and nutritionally.
Snyderman's perspective is both personal and professional. She writes about gaining the typical "freshman 15" when she started college -- and how she kept gaining until she eventually tipped the scales at 200 pounds. She experimented with fad diets to lose weight and spent years going up and down in weight. She writes, "I've starved myself, and I've pigged out; I've binged, dieted, skipped meals, and lived to tell about it."
She eventually saw a therapist and gained insight into her overeating. "Although I still consider myself a work in progress, I learned to lay the foundation for a healthier life, in much the same way I was laying a foundation for my medical career," she writes. Today she looks at food as fuel, eating foods she likes in moderation and letting herself indulge in treats now and then. She exercises regularly with activities that are convenient for her and that she enjoys. For her, this is an effective and healthy way to keep off the extra pounds.
It's this relaxed approach to eating and exercise that she brings to "Diet Myths." Written in a conversational style, the book is engaging even as it's discussing the glycemic index, the pros and cons of diet drugs and surgeries and how hormones can influence your hunger and weight.
One of Snyderman's major points is that calories do count. (High-protein, low-carb diets, she says, work primarily by restricting calories.) She offers easy ways to think about calories and keep track of them without feeling as if you're doing so. She does the same thing with carbs -- and emphasizes that because our bodies need them to function properly they shouldn't be eliminated from our diets.
Snyderman devotes a chapter to body shape, looking at the health risks and factors connected with apple- and pear-shaped bodies, and the kinds of exercise and lifestyle changes useful in paring them down.
Her book is sprinkled with small boxes containing factoids and research results she calls "truths." She highlights one study suggesting that regular family meals may help prevent the risk of eating disorders in teenage girls, for example, and another study in which liposuction resulted in weight loss for participants but didn't change blood pressure, cholesterol levels or insulin resistance.
She challenges the "myth" that you can't keep weight off and shares advice on how to do it: follow a livable diet, be realistic about goals, seek support, keep track of what you eat and continue to exercise, among other things. Toward the end of the book she provides sample menus from her "treat yourself" diet.
Snyderman's approach to weight loss may not be revolutionary, but it's sensible. Her easy-to-understand explanations and moderate, upbeat advice make this book worth a read.
-- Anne Colby
Photo: "Diet Myths That Keep Us Fat: And the 101 Truths That Will Help You Shed the Pounds Permanently," Nancy L. Snyderman, Three Rivers Press, $15.
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