Sunday, November 29, 2009

Why Diet and Exercise Fail: How Current Research Contradicts Conventional Wisdom about Weight Loss by Daniel Matthew Korn

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

• Paperback: 182 pages

• Publisher: Daniel Korn Books, 2009 (First Edition)

• Price: $19.95

• ISBN-10: 0615290086

• ISBN-13: 978-0615290089

What better time to review a diet book than on the fatty tail end of a Thanksgiving holiday? The author had sent me a review copy of his book, which I accepted only after expressing resistance. I don’t read diet books. No more than I listen to ads for diet pills or pay attention to talk of various miracle diets and fads. In my mind, they are all balderdash.

Daniel Korn convinced me that this slim book, almost symbolically slim, had something different to say. I accepted the review copy, then let it languish. Picked it up, read a bit, let it languish again. My initial turn-off in reading it was that it has an approach of dissecting all the diet angles that don’t work. You must read right to the end to find out where the author is taking you, as if constructing a page-turner thriller. Well, for me, that doesn’t work well. I want to know what works, then build the case for me.

Korn begins by observing and comparing different cultures, different eating and lifestyle habits and how these reflect on body size. Some cultures include foods rich in fats, include sugar, include carbohydrates, yet people eating these diets are much slimmer than the increasingly overweight and obese Americans. Other cultures are sedentary, show little inclination for exercise, yet remain slim. Some eat and stay slim while others exercise themselves sore and silly and still tote the fat. One by one, Korn attempts to disarm all the common theories by finding examples where they don't work.

What to do?

Korn eliminates various accepted diet ideas, including counting calories, exercising regularly, and various diets many Americans have accepted as standbys. He cites various studies, while perhaps too carelessly ignoring others. It seems easy enough to dig up a few studies that show bizarre and unexpected results, but it would seem to hold merit to take into consideration an entire body of work in studying certain habits. While I did find some of Korn’s conclusions interesting and worthy of consideration, all in all, I have to stay with what I have found in my own life and observations to be true. That is, that age matters when slowing down our metabolisms. Exercise does make a difference. I refuse to be a slave to counting calories, but being aware of what one puts into one’s body—and choosing more fruits and vegetables, less meat, and going organic, seem to be smart and just good common sense.

The danger of picking on a few culprits—diet sodas and sodas in general along with whatever else contains caffeine—seems too simplistic to me. It is almost impossible to control all the variables that do or might affect the typical American diet, and do so in countless variations. While Korn states that caffeine may have something to do with our lardish size, I have only to look at my daughter, 29 years old, who thrives on caffeine (including diet sodas), but does a great deal of walking and biking, shops otherwise organic, and remains quite thin. I myself was at my thinnest when I drank the most caffeine. To my mind, the variables only begin with genetics, eating habits, exercise, environment, stress levels, sleep habits, and countless others and in countless variations and combinations. Personally, I think it makes good sense to stick as close to nature as possible, eliminating pollutants in our foods and environment, using the muscles we were given for surely some purpose, and listening to our bodies when they cry out for sleep, relaxation, or whatever it is we need to survive and thrive. My guess is the culprits, surely more than one, lie within our lifestyles in general, too far removed from where we should be in many ways.

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