how not to diet

I just devoured Dr. Michael Greger’s new 575-page, evidence-based book, How Not to Diet. It’s hard to embellish how good and useful this book is, especially amid the confluence of noise, contradictions, and biases generated by health and fitness mass marketing and “Big Food” in particular.

Greger–who donates every cent of his book profits to charity–has done his homework, citing thousands of research studies throughout the book to justify his recommendations; producing so many footnotes, in fact, that rather than add another 200 pages to this nutrition bible he’s placed them online here. 

I’ve always thought that most if not all diets were not sustainable–and proved this for myself during the past two years, when I lost 20 pounds only to gain it all back across time. Greger’s scientific approach to nutrition (and exercise) is not only optimal for weight loss but for overall health in general.

Here’s 14 of the more salient points I’ve captured from the book. I still highly recommend that you read it yourself, because it will impact you emotionally, elicit numerous epiphanies, and deepen your commitment to sound, sustainable eating and other healthy habits.

  1. Our biggest health risk from typical eating habits is the visceral fat that coils around and infiltrates our internal organs and causes our bellies to bulge. Measuring our waistlines is the best way to keep track of this abdominal fat. Our waist should be less than half our height, and this waist-to-height ratio might be the best indicator of body fat percentage and visceral fat mass.
  2. Exercise, including strength training, is very important for overall health and enhances weight loss, but what and how we eat is by far the biggest impact on weight loss and health.
  3. “Low carb vs low fat vs high protein,” etc. etc., are all false dichotomies, grounded in either-or thinking. We need all three macro-nutrients, but the quality--not the divvying up–of them is what matters the most.
  4. The largest calorie contributors in the typical American diet are refined grains, added fats, meat, and added sugars.
  5. The healthiest way to eat for weight loss, inflammation reduction, gut health, and overall health optimization is focusing on lower glycemic foods: leafy vegetables and fresh fruits, followed in priority by starchy vegetables (including beans), other vegetables such as carrots, whole grains, legumes, and, more sparingly, nuts. Plus, adding certain herbs and spices such as tumeric, ginger, cinnamon, and garlic powder when preparing food.
  6. Meat, poultry, fish, and dairy, as well as refined grains, oils, butter, and sweeteners, should be kept to a minimum. In fact, much to my surprise, evidence reveals that chicken–even chicken breast without the skin–is much more fattening than typically believed.
  7. All soda and juice are crap for our health. No exceptions. Sorry!
  8. Supplements do more harm than good with the exception of B-12, which is difficult to get through food consumption.
  9. Our palates and taste buds quickly adjust to new eating habits, which is good news.
  10. The healthiest foods also satiate us the most, reducing the likelihood of overeating, and all calories are not created equal.
  11. There are strategies regarding the timing of what and how we eat, including how well we chew, that can accelerate weight loss. These are crucial  to implement, given the fact that when we lose weight our metabolism actually slows down and our appetite increases.
  12. Fasting from 7 pm to 7 am is the most effective kind of fast for weight loss.
  13. Daily calorie amount for optimal weight loss is 1,200 max for women and 1,500 for men. I’ve been consistently eating less than 1,500 and I’m not starving!
  14. All of the top food recommendations (called the “Daily Dozen”) and Dr. Greger’s aforementioned weight loss accelerating habits (called the 21 Tweaks”) are available in the author’s Daily Dozen app that makes it easy to track these positive habits on our phones.

Next steps? Throw out your diets–and diet books–get this book, use the accompanying Daily Dozen app, and start fresh. We’ve got this.

Growing Your Strengths

I’m a Nashville-based writer, talent strategist, and certified executive coach. On this website, I share insights and actionable practices concerning mindfulness, learning agility, and storytelling: lifelong strengths that will help you love your career and enhance your quality of life.

Most of us are facing similar pain points: nonstop change, accelerating economic and technological disruption, and the collective “noise” that grows louder each day. The impact, for so many of us, has been confusion, distraction, and stress. Mindfulness, learning agility, and storytelling can make the difference between being overwhelmed by all of these dynamics…or leveraging them for success and well-being.

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John M. DeMarco is a writer, strategist, and executive coach based in Nashville, Tennessee.