The Calorie Myth: How to Eat More, Exercise Less, Lose Weight, and Live Better by Jonathan Bailor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
After many years of formal education and practical hands on experience, I have come to the conclusion that both diet and exercise are as much an art as a science.
The premise presented in The Calorie Myth is that we need to rethink how we view weight and weight loss. Clearly, not all calories are created equal, yet there are still many people out there, a number of my health coaching clients included, who seem to believe that they are. Misled by labels that tout "fat free," "reduced calories," "whole grains," and "natural" to name a few, they are genuinely confused. Case in point, I recently had a client who was concerned about eating a baked potato, but viewed "whole grain" "low-fat" crackers as a "health food."
Bailor addresses this misconception and emphasizes the importance of quality calories. Luckily, it's a message that many health and wellness professionals have finally bought into but that still has not made its way to the average person.
He references the set point theory, the idea that our bodies naturally gravitate to a set weight range. They do this by becoming either more or less efficient with the calories we do consume. The set point theory is thought to explain the high failure rate of weight loss that is achieved through dieting (95% of weight lost on diets will be regained).
He claims that the only way to change your set point is to unclog the body's metabolic pathways. This clogging is the result of poor lifestyle (particularly dietary) choices. Bad foods clog the system, whereas good foods help to unclog the system and keep it from clogging in the first place.
He ultimately recommends a diet high in non-starchy vegetables (at least 10 servings a day), 3 servings of low sugar fruits, and high quality fats (like nuts and seeds) and protein (animal and/or plant). He particularly likes cacao powder, flax seed, chia seeds, seafood, and green tea.
And as far as exercise goes, he seems to think we are wasting our time with low and moderate intensity cardio like jogging and running. He thinks our time would be better spent with HIIT, and specifically with weight training that emphasizes eccentric loading. Eccentric is the lengthening phase of an exercise where the muscle is generating force to control the lowering of a weight. Some people refer to this as the negative.
He provides a fairly impressive reference section as well as a rather long list of authors whose work has influenced his ideas.
I don't agree with every point he makes, but agree with his overall approach and message.
Clearly, anyone eating his suggested diet is going to find it hard to also eat the crappy processed stuff. Furthermore, there is a lot of science out there to support the numerous benefits of a whole-foods plant-based diet, which is basically what he is recommending.
I also think he's onto something with the analogy of a clogged drain. I often work with people who are barely eating, yet still they struggle with their weight. Sometimes even when they are eating healthier foods. It's as if they are metabolically sick and/or metabolically inflexible from years of bad choices. And it can sometimes take a while doing the right thing to see an improvement, which is frustrating for the average person, since most people want results as of yesterday.
As far as his thoughts on exercise? I think they are interesting. I've always included weight training into my fitness regimen, and even though I'm a woman, I've never shied away from lifting heavier weights. I also often use eccentric training as a PT helping to rehab patients as it's well understood that we are stronger eccentrically. For this reason, it's a good way to build strength, particularly in situations where strength is significantly impaired.
All in all, I felt this was a great read. There is a lot here that resonates with my professional experiences as well as my personal experiences. Of course, I'm reading this from the vantage point of someone who has a Nutritional Sciences degree, a physical therapy degree, and close to 3 decades as a clinician with too many continuing education classes on various diet and exercise topics to count. I have not only been certified as a personal trainer, I teach a certification course for future personal trainers. My point is that I appreciate the complexity of these topics in a way that others may not. I've also been around long enough to see the health and wellness industry in action, for better or worse. Interestingly, in my personal life, my diet looks very similar to what Bailor recommends, and I've had a lot of success with it. I tend to eat huge volumes of delicious, gourmet foods (with an emphasis on fruits and veggies) and yet have no trouble with weight (or any health problems) despite having had four children, being female, and in my 49th year of life. The traditional practice of "dieting" doesn't even register on my radar. The idea of not eating something I wanted whenever I wanted is foreign to me. In fact, I am often shocked when I talk to a new client and find out how little they are eating, yet still struggling. Of course, I don't want to eat McDonalds. The very thought of eating at a fast food restaurant makes my stomach turn. And why on earth would I ever eat crap like that when I can eat the most scrumptious and sumptuous foods whenever I want?
Bottom line: I think Bailor has much more right than wrong.