Everyday Systems: Podcast : Episode 29

Top 5 health and fitness books (sort of)

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Hi, this is Reinhard from everydaysystems.com. I've been asked to talk about the top five health and fitness books I've read. Unfortunately I don't think I've read that many health and fitness books in my entire life, and they certainly weren't all worth recommending. So I'm going to have to narrow it down to four. And I'll be cheating a little because one of them hasn't even been published yet.

Recommendation #1: Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink of the Cornell food and brand lab. In this book, the author describes the experiments he has done to figure out the environmental cues that make people mindlessly overeat and how you can reengineer your life to just as mindlessly avoid them. Example: he did this one experiment where he fed people soup except there was secretly a hose attached to the bowl that kept refilling it, it was a bottomless soup bowl. People kept eating and eating because they didn't get the visual cue of an empty bowl to tell them to stop. Another example: when products are marketed as healthy, people eat more of them because they think, hey, it's healthy. They'll even go on to eat more of some obviously unhealthy food because they think, hey, I just ate something healthy, I've got virtue to burn -- they feel blessed by this contact with the healthy food. This is called the healthy halo effect. And it's obviously very unhealthy. There are a lot more great little tidbits like these. It's very entertaining reading, if nothing else. My problem with the book is that the pitfalls get a lot more attention than the solutions. Although seeing how silly these behaviors of ours are is in itself a step toward a solution.

For my second recommendation I'm not going to recommend a particular book, but a class of books. Any normal cookbook. Not a diet cookbook, not a healthy cook book, but a regular old fashioned cookbook where the emphasis is on food that tastes good. Preparing recipes from any cookbook is likely to lose you weight over the long run. Why? Because when you cook you eat in. And when you eat in, you'll usually eat less food than you will at restaurants with their increasingly enormous portions. Normal cookbooks, cookbooks that make no pretensions to healthfulness, are much better than diet cookbooks in terms of weight management because their recipes taste good enough that you'll actually make them. Healthy recipes that you never make or avoid eating because you don't enjoy them are bad for your health, because they keep you from cooking and prompt you to eat out -- to overeat out -- instead. It is much better to see the stick of butter your putting into your home cooked mashed potatoes than not see the 2 sticks of trans fat they're stuffing into your restaurant mystery meal.

Recommendation #3: the autobiography of Ben Franklin. This guy took what he saw as moral problems -- among them, gluttony and sloth, seriously. But not dreadfully seriously. He saw that he had these problems and he saw that they were serious and that yes, they were his fault, but he didn't get all depresseed and moan about them. He was cheerful and practical about solving them. He treated self improvement like a game. Yes, the stakes are high, but that doesn't mean you can't have fun. You may have heard about how he made a list of 13 virtues that he wanted to cultivate. He'd cycle through this list, focusing on one virtue a week and ticking off any infractions in a kind of ledger. It's a great approach. It's a great attitude. And if you want to do something similar, I just set up a free online habit calendar at everydaysystems.com called HabitCal to provide a bit of helpful infrastructure.

Recommendation #4: my book, of course, the No S Diet. Last I heard it was due to be published in spring 2008, but I'm a few months ahead of schedule in terms of the writing, so maybe that'll translate to an earlier release date. I have no idea. This book has a great gimmick. The entire rule system fits on the cover: no snacks, no sweets, no seconds, -- except on days that start with S. You could look at the cover (or listen to what I just said), walk away, and start losing weight. So why buy the book? Not to be blaspehmous, but it's a little like saying why should I buy the bible when I already know the 10 commandments? It's hard to stick to those rules, simple and right as they are. The nos diet book covers all the possible excuses your stubborn sneaky mind is going to come up with to get out of following them. So among other things, I give a whole chapter to each rule (and the exception). There's a lot more stuff in there too, like a chapter on habit management, which I've touched on a bit in these podcasts, but not in the same depth.

Well, that's it. Two actual books. One category of books. And one as of yet non-existent book. Thanks for listening.

By Reinhard Engels

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