Diet Cults: The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and a Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of Us

Diet Cults: The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and a Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of Us

Diet Cults: The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and a Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of Us

From the national bestselling author of Racing Weight, Matt Fitzgerald exposes the irrationality, half-truths, and downright impossibility of a “single right way” to eat, and reveals how to develop rational, healthy eating habits. From “The Four Hour Body,” to “Atkins,” there are diet cults to match seemingly any mood and personality type. Everywhere we turn, someone is preaching the “One True Way” to eat for maximum health. Paleo Diet advocates tell us that all foods less than 1

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3 thoughts on “Diet Cults: The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and a Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of Us

  1. 35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    A book people will either love or hate…, June 15, 2014
    Susan (North by Northwest USA) –

    Food and diet is a very touchy subject these days. Also we live in a society that loves labels. We live in a time where it’s kind of a badge of honor to have some condition that requires you to be on some special diet. No longer can you have people over for a meal without first asking what they are allergic or sensitive to or choose not to eat. Long ago it was so very rare to come across people with any sort of special needs diet. But not anymore.

    Why is that? Well, there are no easy answers of course. I am not a person who’s vegan, raw, gluten free, etc. etc. but I try to understand what’s behind those who are. This book is interesting to me in that the author brings out how diets do go through “cult” status for a time. For example, he brought out how a few decades ago, yeast was the big culprit to poor health. That fizzled out. Nowadays it’s like half the American population is gluten intolerant. He points out that while yes, there are people who are actually gluten intolerant, there are many people eating this way just because it’s a fad and they really don’t need to. Gluten is looked on as BAD. The author states it’s not gluten itself that’s the problem, but the “trigger” that causes the body to not be able to tolerate/digest it is the problem.

    He mentioned how as recently as the 1960s the average American got 20 to 30 percent of his daily calories from bread; people were ingesting way more gluten back then than now. I found that interesting that bread was such a major part of the diet in the recent past. He said that some people think that genetic modification of wheat, and it’s resulting higher gluten content is the cause of the rise of gluten intolerance. But he then asks why are all autoimmune diseases generally on the rise? (Not all autoimmune diseases are related to gluten).

    The author gives his opinion that perhaps it is stress that is a major trigger to so many of the health issues plaguing our society today. I so liked this statement in the book:

    “We are seeing more and more evidence that humans are not psychologically equipped to handle the world we’re creating, and it’s making us sick…The urbanization of the world is just one of the many ways in which modern life is increasingly testing our psychological limits and damaging our health. Others include the disappearance of community and the deepening of social isolation.” (pg. 213)

    I believe this to be right on- in my lifetime (I’m in my early 50s) I’ve seen an almost total 180 in social activities…back in the early 80s I could go drop in on my neighbors and the children would play together and we moms would talk. Life was so much calmer. People ate regular food and it was no big deal. Nowadays, one has to call in advance to set up an appointment to get together with friends. Everyone’s busy, busy, busy. Stress is surrounding us in our own daily life as people are called to do more work because an employer can’t afford enough workers. We suffer stress and anxiety as we hear the national and world news. I do believe stress is probably a HUGE trigger to what makes people intolerant of certain foods or substances in foods.

    I also agree with the author’s assessment that while we should food that is as pure and as close to nature as possible, that even if we do that, we may still have health issues. We live in a polluted world. The air we breathe when we step out the door if full of chemicals from exhaust fumes, chemical sprays on agriculture fields, sprays your neighbor puts on his grass and trees. Our water has contaminants. Our homes off gas formaldahyde and other toxins from the chemicals in the carpets, wall board, etc. We have to admit that it’s much more than food alone that is making us sick, much more than food alone that triggers our bodies not to handle certain foods.

    I don’t know the author at all, and I’m no expert. But I feel the author gives a balanced presentation for people to consider. Let’s not just rush from one diet craze to another. Sure, we must do our best to figure out what’s causing us or our loved one to feel sick, but also do so using common sense and moderation. I remember my grandmother often saying moderation was the best policy. Be moderate in your eating and drinking. It’s okay to have coffee, sugar, meat, cooked foods, potatoes, dairy, etc. in moderation. We children grew up healthy under my grandmother’s moderate view of cooking- we were rarely sick.

    I also agree with the author that there is no one “right” way to eat that fits everyone. Each person must work that out for himself. I also agree that a lot of diets/ways of eating are hyped because there’s a lot of money to be made- thousands of easily gullible people wanting a quick fix and will buy anything at any cost to lose weight, look good, feel better. How many of the crazy supplements sold really help that much across the whole board of the American population…

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  2. 29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Good book, but with one big fault, September 27, 2014
    Edward Durney (San Francisco) –

    In Diet Cults, Matt Fitzgerald has written an interesting book. Those interested in diet and weight loss will probably find a lot of useful information here. I did, so I recommend the book.

    In particular, the author’s views on potatoes make a lot of sense. People claim that potatoes are a bad food that we should avoid. The evidence doesn’t support that at all. As the author notes, “Human beings can live indefinitely on a diet in which potatoes are the sole source of food energy.”

    Sure, potato chips and french fries deserve their poor reputation. But that seems to come from the fact that they are greasy fried foods, not because they are made of potatoes. The résumé of the humble potato is an impressive one indeed, and Matt Fitzgerald provides that for us.

    He also cites the book Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent published by the Yale University Press that no serious scholar of human diet should fail to read. Beware, though. “Potato” is not an easy read. Nor is The History and Social Influence of the Potato, by Salaman, Redcliffe N. published by Cambridge University Press Paperback, an equally valuable work for information if not for reading enjoyment.

    Matt Fitzgerald’s view of exercise also makes a lot of sense. While exercise does not burn a lot of calories, there does appear to be a weight-loss benefit of exercise beyond just burning calories. As Martin Blaser notes in his book Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues, “Lack of exercise may play a role in weight gain disproportionate to its direct effect on calorie expenditure.” Matt Fitzgerald gives his personal experience to demonstrate that.

    But the main drawback of the book is that the author does the same thing that he condemns others for doing. He gives his views as though they are gospel, while criticizing others if they think differently, even though his views too are based as much on opinion as fact.

    For example, on page 123 he says:

    “Atkins himself defended the notion that carbs had made America fat by pointing out that a slight increase in the amount of carbohydrate consumed by the average American had occurred at about the same time the obesity crisis had started. But correlation is not causation.”

    Indeed, correlation is not causation, but it’s ironic that the author says this since he says below on page 213:

    “The incidence of all autoimmune diseases, not just celiac, has increased sharply in recent decades. So too has the amount of stress that the average person experiences in everyday life. Coincidence? Not likely.”

    So read the book to get some good information and some valid opinions. But you will have to suffer through a bit of sniping and opinion masquerading as fact as well. That’s a shame.


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  3. 21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    If only my clients could read this….., June 3, 2014
    Ryan D. Andrews (Boston, MA) –

    The author goes through all of the major diet trends from the past few decades and gives them a fair analysis. He includes many intriguing stories to keep the reader engaged. On my journey of learning about nutrition, I appreciate books like this that give me a unique perspective. And as a nutrition/exercise coach, I feel that my clients would really benefit from reading a book like this.

    Here are a few of my favorite clips:
    Science has established quite definitively that humans are able to thrive equally well on a variety of diets.

    The range of healthful nutrient intake is broad and foods from the earth, tree, or animal can be combined in a seemingly infinite number of ways to create diets that meet health goals.

    You’re almost as likely to meet someone who has been struck by lightning twice as you are to encounter a person who has lost more than 40% of her peak body weight and kept it all off longer than a year.

    Nearly all weight gain occurs on weekends and during the holiday season.

    Henry Tanner did a 40 day fast and lost 36 pounds. Within 8 days of quitting the fast, Tanner had regained all of that weight.


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