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Book Review of: The Weight Loss Plan for Beating Diabetes
The 5-step program that removes
metabolic roadblocks, sheds pounds safely,
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The Weight Loss Plan for Beating Diabetes, by Dr. Frederic Vagnini
and Lawrence D. Chilnick (Softcover, 2009)|
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)
This book delivers on the promise made in its title and its subtitle. But it could do better.
With some exceptions, the nutritional material in this book is highly accurate and good to implement. Though this book was written specifically for diabetics, it's one of the best diet-related books I've ever read and even the average non-diabetic would be wise to read it and heed it. On the exercise front, it's good only for people just starting out from the "very unfit" category.
My qualifications for reviewing books that deal with diet, exercise, or health are extensive. A picture's worth 1,000 words and you can see mine at www.supplecity.com. I reviewed this book as a fitness expert, not as someone with diabetes (I don't have it).
The book is well-written and well-founded on the science of diet and nutrition. With few exceptions, its recommendations are in harmony with the current theory on diet. This is a stark departure from the typical "diet" book, which is based on something other than fact. This book isn't based on whacky theories that don't work. It's based on sound nutritional facts.
The book falls down, however, on the exercise recommendations. Many of those conflict with the science of exercise and I will address those points shortly. They are, however, "OK" for someone who is very out of shape. And they do follow the recommendations of gyms and personal trainers for such people. But they don't fit a long-term plan and after a few months they provide increasing benefit only at a glacial pace or not at all.
I want to emphasize here that there is nothing in this book that will harm you. But some of the information will limit you, and if you have the correct information you can do better.
Mostly, the recommendations are based on hard facts. But some of the dietary recommendations step out beyond the hard science into what may be called "expert opinion." For example, on page 99 Dr. Vagnini says, "I recommend limiting or even omitting wheat products altogether." There isn't hard science for this recommendation, but that doesn't mean it's wrong.
I live in Kansas, and our number one product is wheat. That said, I have been making this very same recommendation for many years. I rarely buy any wheat products. I do not eat wheat products if presented with them in a (rare) visit to a restaurant. And I don't mean just rolls or bread. You find wheat even in soy sauce.
My restaurant philosophy is very self-protective: if I can't identify it, I won't eat it. So anything I order in a restaurant is plain. That isn't how I like my food. I prefer my food well-seasoned, and at home I can choose from many non-toxic approaches to flavoring. You can't do that in the typical restaurant, and one reason why is the reliance on wheat products.
My guess is Dr. Vagnini would agree with me that wheat in itself isn't bad. But there are some problems with it, and if you avoid wheat you avoid those problems:
If we flip the page, we come to a recommendation that's based on misinformation. Dr. Vagnini suggests using egg whites rather than the whole egg. This same suggestion appears in the bodybuilding literature, and there's no factual basis for it. In fact, the whole egg is good for you and eggs should be eaten whole. There isn't a toxic part of an egg thrown into the shell with a good part. The yolk contains vitamin D, Omega 3, and other nutrients, and it's in balance with the white. The only purpose served by tossing an egg yolk is the wasting of good food. This assumes, of course, you are properly sourcing your eggs.
The yolk does contain fat, including cholesterol. But the cholesterol breaks down in the stomach's hydrochloric acid and the body does not stupidly reconstitute the results into cholesterol and start jamming up your blood vessels out of some crazy desire to give you coronary disease. That just does not happen. If you were so inclined, you could drink a glass of cholesterol (assuming you could get it) every day and not see your blood cholesterol rise (assuming you kept your total calories to what you actually burn).
The problem with cholesterol ingestion is not the cholesterol itself, but the calories (fat is calorie-dense). So, you just don't want to overdo it. The calories in an egg give you plenty of room, there. I have yet to see a single double-blind study showing causation from cholesterol ingestion to blood cholesterol. There is an incidental link, but incidental links are what we use to form logical fallacies.
Let's keep in mind that cholesterol is a precursor to important hormones like testosterone. You actually need cholesterol to survive. There's a good article on cholesterol in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons Volume 13 Number 3 (Fall of 2008). There are many more primary source (the most reliable kind of source) articles that explain the role of cholesterol.
This role has been deliberately misportrayed so that big pharma companies can make millions of dollars selling health-antagonistic anti-cholesterol drugs. The medical literature and medical practice are in conflict on this issue. Unfortunately, doctors are inundated with propaganda from big pharma and have been accepting cholesterol lies as fact. They need to turn to the validated literature.
Here's an anecdote. In my late teens, I began a breakfast regimen of tossing a dozen eggs into a blender every morning and drinking down the slurry (thanks, Sly, for that tip--it really helped me). They were eggs from free range farms in Wisconsin and Illinois, and at the time my rationale for sourcing them that way was they just tasted so much better than the supermarket eggs. I didn't know then what we know now--factory farmed eggs are low in omega 3 (heart healthy) and free range or unmolested chicken eggs are loaded with it. Forget fish, I'll have my eggs please. And by the way, that omega 3 is in the yolk that many "experts" advise us to throw away.
Sometimes I picked eggs right from the nest--no little cages--and occasionally suffered the wrath of a mad hen. It was worth it. There was no danger of salmonella or whatever you get from eggs that are factory farmed in deplorable conditions. Raw was good. It still is, if you source your eggs properly.
This was my breakfast for years, until I mistakenly got scared off raw eggs for a while. But before I stopped, I had a blood test for a job interview and my total cholesterol was 110. When I related this to a doctor, he replied that I was just constricting other sources of cholesterol. I said, "You mean the New York Strip steak I have every day?"
Also on page 100, the authors recommend veal. Do not eat veal. It's toxic. The means of producing veal is sadistic, and the results of that show up in the meat you put into your body if you eat the veal. Go to the Humane Society Website and find the video clip that shows how these animals are starved, beaten, kicked, and jabbed repeatedly with cattle prods by people who need serious psychiatric care. The animals are so weak, they can barely stand up. You want to eat the meat of an animal whose body is pumping out stress hormones at astronomical levels? And who is so nutritionally deprived it can't even walk to its own slaughter?
Also on this page, the authors recommend "whole-grain, non-wheat bread." They need to mention that bread is typically made with two cancer-causing substances, the second of which is also highly implicated in diabetes: hydrogenated oil and high fructose corn syrup. Read the label. If these poisons are on it, don't buy the product. You can find bread that isn't contaminated with these things, but such bread makes up a small percentage of the offerings.
If we really wanted a "national health care plan" we'd forget about the medical insurance part and just stop these purveyors of poison from making people sick with corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. But that would require common sense, so it's not an option for government. Poisoning people is illegal, unless you fund a lobby that has key members of CONgress on its payroll.
Another anecdote. I discovered, to my horror, that Libby's now puts out "pumpkin pie filling" with corn syrup in it. I discovered this while making a pie per the Fit Pumpkin Pie recipe on Supplecity (no sugar, no hydrogenated oil, and it's superbly delicious). I had to toss the filling mix (eggs, milk, spices) down the drain, because I added the Libby's product last and only then realized something wasn't right (it smelled wrong and was too thin). Watch those labels--the sugar people are infiltrating everything. Libby's also makes a non-toxic pumpkin pie filling, and if they had scruples they would make that their only version of pumpkin pie filling.
On page 103, the authors mention brown rice. This is misleading. The color of the rice is not relevant. Brown rice isn't necessarily whole grain rice. The key is you need to eat whole grain rice instead of rice that has had those outer layers removed. Ideally, you will always eat rice with beans so that you get a completed protein. If you buy canned kidney beans, they are probably in sugar water. A crock pot and dry beans will solve this problem.
Not an exercise expert
While Dr. Vagnini hits the nutrition points expertly (except as noted above), he (along with his co-author) errs greatly in the exercise area. As noted earlier, their advice works OK for people who are very unfit. But it will plateau you out very early in your fitness program if you stick with it.
On page 128, they talk about serious weight training and say "...working on one or two body parts per machine." Serious weight training does not use machines. With free weights, you activate the stabilizer muscles and properly load the muscle chain you're working. This produces several benefits that don't occur with machines.
On the next page, they recommend resistance exercise three times a week. This directly contradicts the body building literature, basic physiological science, and actual results over decades of practice. You will quickly plateau on this limited schedule. One reason why is you either extend the recovery cycle too far out between workouts, or you overtrain in every workout while sacrificing intensity. Gyms like to have people on this schedule for a variety of reasons, none of which have to do with putting your body in its best condition.
Gyms also like "circuit training" which involves insufficient-intensity exercising of all muscle groups in the same workout. This violates several fundamental concepts of training, but it's easy to stick to if you don't mind getting poor results. If you get poor results, you're likely to quit before using up your annual membership fee. Good gyms discourage circuit training and encourage actual workouts because they want long-term memberships and they want to deliver maximum value to their members. Most gyms focus on that one-year cycle, which is rather cynical and short-sighted in my opinion.
If all you want is to be minimally fit with minimal effort then, yes, you can do three times a week. But the real benefits come in "the last 10%" and you never get into that zone on a three times a week schedule.
On the page 130, the authors recommend doing cardio and weights together. This directly contradicts the body building literature and basic physiological science. It is appropriate for someone just starting out, because that person isn't capable of generating the intensity required for proper resistance training. But after you reach a "ground level" of fitness--typically that takes less than a month--this practice works against you. If you are doing your weight training properly, you've already pushed your cardiovascular system hard (front squats, for example, make my heart feel like it's about come out of my chest because they heavily load the core) and you are too drained to "do cardio."
If you still have energy for "cardio" after your weight workout, you did that workout wrong. If you do cardio before that workout, you will do that workout wrong. The human body is capable of only so much. The points I just made assume you are at the intermediate or higher level of fitness and capable of intense workouts.
On page 131, they provide an intensity scale from 1 to 10 with 10 being maximum intensity. They recommend keeping your workout intensity between 3 and 4. This flies in the face of exercise physiology. At this level, you will not get the hormonal response or the adaptation that should be the goal of your workout in the first place. If your body never approaches anywhere near its limits, there is no reason for it to adapt. So you make no further progress no matter how many years you work out.
This low intensity issue is exactly why 3x/wk gym rats look about the same after five years as they did on month number six of their gym membership. They usually do lift more weight, but only because they cheat on the exercises (for example, rounding shoulders forward in the bench press). In my own case, I shoot for a 10 with every workout. I usually hit an 8 or a 9.
Intensity doesn't mean "more weight." There's a good article about it on www.supplecity.com, and it's titled "1 Key to Fitness." If you get everything else right but don't have intensity, your workouts are simply maintenance and not the best use of your time.
So, what do I think of this book overall? It's perfect for someone who is in the condition Dr. Vagnini was in when he started his fitness quest. Very obese, really out of control physically. But once you get things stabilized and your eating habits corrected, you need to move beyond the entry level exercise recommendations to things that give you a high return on the time you spend exercising. It's very motivating when you see outstanding results. Why limit your motivation by limiting your workouts?
This book consists of two Parts and six Chapters, plus two Appendices.
Part One consists of two chapters and explains what this program is about, what you can expect from it, how it can benefit you, and what you need to do. It also lays out five sensible, achievable steps you can take toward putting yourself in control of your eating and your diabetes. Amazingly, these chapters focused on the needs of the reader rather than the needs of the author.
Part Two consists of three chapters. These are, in sequence:
Appendix 1 looks common medications for diabetes and discusses their effects (in medical parlance, "side effects" by which they mean the effects of the drug).
Appendix 2 provides some quick recipes. If you eat exactly as laid out here, you will be orders of magnitude healthier than the typical American--who is on a diet of processed grain and damaged fats. I'm aghast when I look in the typical shopping cart, and you should be too. For 90% of the population, this is "can't go wrong" advice--diabetes or not. But you can go beyond these recommendations to optimal nutrition.
One thing I noticed about these meals is the portion size. These are all small meals, which is key to having a healthy body composition (% body fat).
Another thing I noticed is there are only three meals given per day, and that's not good. However, this may be remedied by substituting a fruit and small protein for each of the other three. Supplecity has an article, "Single Digit Body Fat on Six Meals A Day" and it explains the six meal a day concept. It's a fundamental concept in nutrition in the body building world; it's a useful concept outside that world as well.
As a final note, the authors look favorably upon the Body Mass Index (BMI). This is a crude, inaccurate tool. As you move from obesity toward a healthy body composition, it becomes increasingly useless. Body fat scales are inexpensive and give you useful information. In my own case, I'm lean and muscular as my photo at Supplecity shows. I'm 6 feet tall and in that photo weigh 153 pounds (5.5% body fat). Per the BMI, I'm suffering from lack of muscle. That obviously is not the case. So don't use BMI. Use a body fat scale.
About these reviews
You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?
I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?
And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.
This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.
My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.
A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.
About your reviewer
About reading style
No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.
Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.