Diet Books: Are They Worth the Read?

May 5, 2015
Diet Books

What to eat? This is a big, fat question, one that many of us feel consumed by – and oftentimes we turn to diet books to provide us with an answer.

I’ve read a lot about food over the past few years. I’ve made my way through some of the so-called revolutionary diet books, like Grain Brain, Why We Get Fat, The Big Fat Surprise, and The Warrior Diet. I’ve followed popular bloggers, like The Fat Burning Man and James ClearI’ve scoured the internet for new and interesting theories about nutrition.

With everything I’ve learned, two things stick out as the most important:

  • Diet books are a great resource of information on healthy eating
  • Diet books are not the solution to healthy eating

Now, you might be thinking: That’s a contradiction!

But please, bear with me as I explain this madness of which I speak.

Why I Think Diet Books Are Not the Solution

As much as diet books are written to convey an idea or approach to nutrition, they are also written in such a way as to keep you – the reader – entertained. Diet books are filled with a-ha logic and reasoning, the type that “just makes sense” to you as you’re flipping over the pages.

While a-ha logic and reasoning certainly isn’t a bad thing, nor do I think the ideas diet books present to be necessarily false or misleading (there are tons of great ideas out there!), the issue I’m taking is the disconnect that sometimes occurs between reading diet books and developing a long-term pattern of behaviour.

Behaviourally speaking, truly good nutrition is a pattern of eating habits you maintain over an extended period of time. While this may seem obvious, sometimes – because of the here-and-now reality we exist in – we reserve our efforts at eating nutritiously to here-and-now moments in time.

Take, for example, the individual who has recently learned the health benefits of cutting sugar out of her diet after reading a book by Gary Taubes. Later the next week, she attends a birthday party, and as slices of birthday cake are being passed around, she decides to skip her piece – feeling an instant sense of accomplishment having made a healthy choice.

But the next morning, on her way to work, she drops a teaspoon of sugar into her coffee because, she thinks to herself, it’s such a small amount of sugar. She does the same the next day, and the next day, and continues repeating this behaviour every morning of every week of every month, year over year.

Given her long-term behaviour, that sense of accomplishment she experienced having skipped the birthday cake is misleading at best, and a complete trick of the mind at worst.

This is what I mean by a disconnect. We might be easily seduced by the moments of a-ha logic presented in diets book, but healthy nutrition is not a fleeting, momentary a-ha occurrence – it’s a long-term pattern of behaviour that never really culminates into an a-ha moment.

The Most Important Takeaway from Reading Diet Books

What I’m not saying is that you shouldn’t read about nutrition, try to learn as much as you can, and consider what might be right for you. On the contrary, reading about nutrition is a vital step towards changing your habits because it means that you have consciously made the choice to start thinking about food differently – not as a ritual you perform unconsciously three times a day, but rather something you do to fuel your mind and your body the best way you know how.

And that’s the single most important thing to take away from reading diets book: it signals to you that you have made the choice to be open to new ideas about food and different ways of eating. Once you make that choice, things will begin to fall into place for you and your habits will slowly change. The diet books you pick up to read are just something that’s coming along for the ride.

Now let’s eat! All this writing has made me hungry.

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