Diet Cults

Diet Cults

The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and A Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of Us

Book - 2014
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From the raw food movement to Atkins, an ever-increasing number of health and weight-loss diets are engaged in an overheated struggle for new converts. Paleo Diet advocates tell us that all foods less than 12,000 years old are the enemy. Vegans demonize animal foods. Then there are the low-fat prophets and supplement devotees. But underneath such differences, author Fitzgerald observes, these disparate groups all agree on one thing: that there is only "One True Way" to eat. The first clue that this is untrue is the sheer variety of diets. Indeed, while all of these competing "diet cults" claim to be backed by science, a good look at actual nutritional science suggests that there is no single best way to eat. What makes us human is our ability to eat--and enjoy--a wide variety of foods. The appeal of diet cults is their power to offer a food-based identity to latch onto--yet many more of us are turned off by their arbitrary rules. Fitzgerald offers an alternative: an "agnostic," reasonable approach to healthy eating that is flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of personal preferences and lifestyles.--From publisher description.
Publisher: New York : Pegasus Books, ©2014.
Edition: First Pegasus Books edition.
ISBN: 9781605985602
Characteristics: 303 pages :,illustrations ;,24 cm.


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Jun 29, 2017

I quite enjoyed this. He's an excellent writer and it was refreshing to hear something sensible regarding diet, Lord knows there's enough quackery out there.

Dec 07, 2016

I can't say that the style of writing in this book really impressed me much but if the author was aiming to make it easy to read and accessible, I suppose he's done that. It really came across as more chatty rather than scientific, like a neighbour leaning over the fence and saying, hey did you hear about so and so?
I could have gone for something a little more scientific, maybe with some better facts and figures, though I do not in general disagree with his view of these fad diets I don't think he really came across as knowledgeable as he could have.
His alternative to these diets is a practical plan he calls 'agnostic healthy eating' that really just breaks down into eating more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff, though he does seem to be assuming that anyone following this plan will be exercising a fair bit.
None of the diets in this book are really bad for you though, they all work for some and not for others, as the anecdotes show. They tend to be adopted by particular types of people and it works for them. If the body builders want to eat Paleo, so be it.
What I really got from this book is that humans are determined to be judgemental, with every proponent of a diet insistent that it's the only way and what we need to learn is that the human body is super adaptable, just pick something that works for you and try not to bore all your friends and family with constant talk about food and exercise.

ksoles Aug 22, 2014

Most will know prolific nutrition and fitness writer, Matt Fitzgerald, from his books on achieving the ideal racing weight. In "Diet Cults," however, he targets the barrage of diets that promise the "One True Way" to eat healthily. As implied, he attempts to debunk the major fads: Paleo, vegan, low carb, low fat, raw etc. but his self-contradition and the obvious paucity of research in his work ensure that devoted adherents to these popular diets won't change their ways after reading his book.

Fitzgerald begins with some evolutionary and sociological musing on why humans feel inclined to choose a dietary tribe in the first place. Thankfully he keeps the intro short as the bored tone of his opening thoughts does not inspire further reading! He does correctly point out, though, that so many diet crazes can coexist because none can really prove itself as superior: "science has established quite definitively that humans are able to thrive equally well on a variety of diets. Adaptability is the hallmark of man as eater. For us, many diets are good while none is perfect."

"Diet Cults," then, endorses "agnostic healthy eating," which basically amounts to the (obvious) recognition that some foods have more health benefits than others. He cites professional endurance athletes as models for this type of eating: "they simply eat as the dietary guidelines based on mainstream nutrition science would have them eat, which is to say they eat everything, but they eat a lot more of the healthiest foods...than they do of the least healthy foods."

Fair enough. Except, in advocating for the Standard American Diet (SAD) based on said recommendations, he neglects to mention that 2/3 of Americans are overweight or obese. If having these guidelines in place actually proved effectiveness, the population would enjoy much better health. So how to enforce beneficial dietary guidelines? Fitzgerald introduces a non-scientific but sensical ranking and a points system as a guide to healthy agnostic eating. The key lies in recognizing where a food falls in the hierarchy, eating more of what's above it and less of what's below. First on the hierarchy comes vegetables, then fruit, nuts/seeds/healthy oil, high-quality meat and seafood, whole grains, dairy, refined grains, low -quality meat and seafood, sweets and, finally, fried foods.

One could certainly quibble about the details: Is sugar really better than trans fat? Should meat and seafood have separate categories? Are almonds really a superior choice to low-fat yogurt? But generally, the ladder promotes healthy eating and nicely sums up an "agnostic" diet.

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