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Book Review of: Conquer the Fat-Loss Code
New ways to reprogram your metabolism and lose weight forever
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Conquer the Fat-Loss Code, by Wendy Chant (Softcover, 2009)|
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)
Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
This book is written for the ordinary American. This person hasn't spent hundreds of hours poring over the (often dry) literature about health and fitness, but has been bombarded by the disease culture marketing messages all around us. For such people, it's impossible to sort out what to do for a reasonably lean physique without help from the right source. This book is such a source.
People at a high level of physical conditioning (see my photo on www.supplecity.com) and health (I haven't been sick since 1971, despite having an immune system deficiency) could easily find fault with this book, if we lose sight of what this book is trying to accomplish and for whom it is written. Remember, most people haven't met with success in keeping their waistline the same--much less in body sculpting.
A person freed from our nation's disease culture would be horrified to find soda pop (osteoporosis in a can) or wheat flour products (typically made with hydrogenated oil, which is highly carcinogenic) seriously discussed in the context of dietary recommendations. Read again the title of this book. That's what it delivers on, not obtaining total health. It focuses on a goal that is achievable for the average person--optimal health can come later. Trying to do it all at once just isn't smart.
Reaching people where they are
People well into double digit fat territory aren't there because they are conscientious about their food choices (quite the opposite) and are simply getting too many calories from the extra large portions of kale they heap on at every meal. No, it's something else.
Those people are there because of many poor choices integrated into their lifestyle. Asking such people to completely revise the way they eat and exercise is a recipe for failure.
But there is a middle ground, and that's where this book comes in. It provides a way to stake out that middle ground, a way that anyone can do to obtain a life free from obesity. As obesity is a significant risk factor for disease and the primary cause of most illness in America today, this is no minor point.
For example, every 10 pounds of excess body fat raises the risk of prostate cancer by an order of magnitude in a male of average height. If you can get him to drop to 6 or 7 % body fat through a plan he can handle, you drastically reduce his cancer risks.
But the book recommends foods that contain hydrogenated oil--isn't this wrong? That depends on a lot of factors. In this context, it isn't wrong. Tell him he has to stop eating bread in addition to everything else, and is he going to stick with the program? Probably not. So, start from where he is and tackle his biggest problem. Refine other things later. Once he's conquered the fat-loss code, he can slowly work into eating safe foods in place of refined wheat flour and hydrogenated oils.
Sure, hydrogenated oil is also causing him additional cancer risk. But think of his far higher risk level if he's doing that plus carrying 40 extra pounds of body fat. Once he's at a safe body fat level, he could refine things further into the optimum health range. But just getting to the safe body fat level is not going to happen if he has to make many changes unrelated to the goal of getting there.
With Wendy's plan, people can still eat the foods they like (acquired a taste for) rather than switch over to foods they don't like. If you don't enjoy the foods you eat, then you're not going to stick with an eating plan that requires those foods.
Bill Phillips embraces the philosophy of reaching people where they are rather than imposing something impossible on them. Because of the stunning results, we know his recommendations work (it also helps when we are up on dietary and exercise theory and can see why those recommendations work). Can the same be said of Wendy Chant?
In a word, yes. But let's put a few more words into answering that question.
First, it may help to name some other experts who are successful with this philosophy:
As you can see, Wendy isn't some oddball with yet another fad diet. The specifics of her diet program aren't the real secret to success, either. If you adopt her program exactly as it is, you will lose body fat. A knowledgeable person can modify that program along the lines of its underlying concepts and still achieve success or even move to the next level. Or not. Just having a healthy body fat composition is a huge leap forward for many people. With Wendy's program, it's a leap anyone can make.
Wendy has taken several concepts from the fitness and bodybuilding literature (and practice). For example, she recommends the HITT (High Intensity Interval Training) method. This is a favorite of Gary Matthews (a trainer in the U.K.). Take a look at Sylvester Stallone and Demi Moore if you want to see the results of this method. Shawn Phillips relies heavily on this method, so look him up online and see his photos--with abs like that, do you think he's doing something that works?
Not perfect, but they work
As mentioned earlier, this book's dietary recommendations aren't perfect. I think for the audience she's trying to reach, they are correct. The same is true of her exercise recommendations. There is some disagreement in the fitness expert community as to what type of workout program is best. I think that controversy exists because people respond in different ways, not just physically but also emotionally. If you're trying to help the largest number of people get to a good place to be, then getting 80% results with a 5% dropout rate is much better than getting 95% results with a 95% dropout rate.
For maximum results, you do 5 or 6 intense workouts per week with each workout devoted to a specific group of muscles. These workouts are short and brutal, and it takes several days for each targeted group of muscles to recover. Very few people can tolerate these workouts, so very few people do them. Sandy Miller (mentioned earlier) will push clients only as far as she believes they are willing to work. She holds the door to higher achievement open, but doesn't shove the unwilling through it. Some clients never get a high intensity workout, others get nothing but.
A very obese person is a poor candidate for high intensity workouts. So is a person who is profoundly under muscled. A circuit training approach is the typical introductory routine for such folks, and it's what nearly every fitness center wants its "new to fitness" members to do. Such an approach gets a person to a baseline level and for many people that's enough. They don't want to do the harder training required for further gain, and where they are isn't bad.
Wendy has considered all of this, and her exercise recommendations fall into the "doable" range for everyone. Once you've conquered your fat and want to move to the next level, you can modify the exact program without learning any new concepts. Or you can stay with it exactly as is and still be way ahead of average. Also, the exercises she recommends are the classic ones that bodybuilders have proven to be effective. She's chosen ones that use simple (and inexpensive) equipment, so you don't have to join a gym to do them.
Points of disagreement
One point I don't like is Wendy's recommendation to eat 5 times a day. My article, "Single Digit Body Fat on 6 Meals A Day" obviously recommends something different. Perhaps 5 is yet another way to reach people where they are, but I don't think a 6 meal schedule is any harder to do than 5. With only 5, you give up a window of nutrient optimization / insulin management / metabolism igniting.
Possibly, the problem is people are used to overeating three times a day and if you ask them to eat half as much twice as often, they instead just eat twice as much. As I'm not a trainer working with "regular people," I don't know the logic behind this and it may be right on target for that group. As with other concepts already discussed, it's a big step in the right direction.
Wendy says your muscles don't know if you are using a heavy weight and a few reps or a light weight and many reps. I don't know of anyone in the bodybuilding community who would agree with that contention. It's well-documented that muscles respond very differently to peak loading than to low-level loading.
When you fire enough muscle fibers strongly enough (due to the load on the muscles), the whole body responds with hormonal changes. These changes involve elevated cortisol (the stress hormone) followed by depressed insulin, depressed cortisol, and elevated testosterone.
These changes cause the body to store calcium in the bones, store less fat, and grow more muscle. This is why we do such exercises as dead lifts, front squats, and bench presses--all of which, when done intensely, raise testosterone for several days following the exercise. These changes are primarily why HITT works, as these changes are primarily what you get from HITT. If you look at sprinters and then look at Marathon runners, you see the difference between what high intensity gives you and what low intensity gives you. Sprinters have noticeably less subcutaneous body fat and more muscle than their Marathon-running counterparts. If you want that beautiful sprinter body, don't do high rep / low weight workouts.
Wendy talks about adaptation, and that is exactly the process involved here--it's why the body does that hormone dance. Endurance and power require different body compositions, and the body adapts according to the stresses you put on it.
The changes just mentioned are also why a man who does nothing but squats twice a month for three months will have larger, more chiseled-looking arms than if he did nothing but biceps curls every week for six months (all else being the same).
For someone just starting out, lack of intensity may not matter in terms of productivity. The body will undergo positive adaptation regardless of the reps/resistance formula. My article on intensity sheds light on why high-rep workouts are, nonetheless, limited in their effectiveness. It's also worth noting that for someone who hasn't learned good form it is much better to do low resistance and high reps than to aim for intensity and be side-lined by an injury.
A final note on diet. Wendy keeps insisting on egg whites. I have seen this mistake in many other books. There is nothing wrong with a whole egg, provided it's not a "factory egg" produced by a stressed out chicken confined to a two-foot cage and feed grain. Buy eggs laid by healthy chickens, and you have an ideal food. You can identify such an egg readily. It has a tough shell that you have to smack pretty hard to break, and it has a flavor quite different from that of the typical grocery store egg. Many grocery stores now carry such eggs, often under a label saying "free range."
Tossing out the yolk wastes a good nutrition source. This mistaken notion of tossing out egg yolks comes from flawed research on cholesterol, conducted with the wrong kind of eggs. Buy the right eggs, and eat them whole. Your cholesterol profile will have your doctor asking you what you are doing, it will look that good.
Just to put some numbers to it, in my senior year of high school I ate one dozen eggs each day and my total cholesterol was under 120. That was in the days when total cholesterol was all we measured. In the decades since then, I have still been a big egg-eater and when I've had blood tests my cholesterol profile has been in the ideal range every time. I never discard a yolk.
This book consists of four Parts:
Part One explains the concepts in simple terms. People who reach a state of "truly shredded" could add more, but this is just about right for someone who just wants to look good instead of obese.
Part Two is very prescriptive. It lays out a specific plan for the target audience of this book. I don't like its particular mix of ingredients, but again Wendy is reaching people where they are and this plan will result in fat loss.
Part Three explains how to fit the plan in around the realities of every day life. It includes tips for travel, holidays, and other situations that are known to derail fat loss commitments.
Part Four contains recipes. I personally find most of these too simple and limited, but perhaps that's why they are included. You can find other recipes at www.supplecity.com and in a few health-savvy recipe books. Also, the recipe for five alarm chili is wrong. The hottest you can get with using cayenne pepper is three-alarm chili. Wendy has obviously never lived in west Texas. My five-alarm chili makes Mexicans sweat and just barely misses melting porcelain.
Follow the plan laid out in this book, and you can get to a healthy body fat level. If you have struggled to get there before, struggle no more. Wendy's plan is one anybody can do.
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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.