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Book Review – Secrets from the Eating Lab

As soon as I read about Traci Mann, PhD’s book, Secrets from the Eating Lab—The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again, I rushed out and bought it. I thought it might be a bit dry, filled with jargon I didn’t understand, and overrun with facts I’d never remember, so imagine my delight when I found her writing style to the point and highly humorous. I several times embarrassed myself by laughing aloud reading it in an airport terminal during a five-hour layover.

Mann starts out by presenting scientific evidence debunking the value of diets and goes on to write about how they’ve made us fat. I could share the points she makes, but I assume that if you’ve been reading my books, you’re already not a big fan of diets. Next she tackles why we can’t depend on willpower to restrict our food intake, citing studies on how willpower can be used in other facets of life but not with food. Why not? Because “Humans were simply not made to willfully resist food. We evolved through famines, hunting and gathering, eating whatever we could get, when we could get it. We evolved to keep fat on out bones by eating the foods that we see, not resisting them.”

She comes out strongly against the oft promoted idea that obesity and high weights cause disease or death, citing a host of research on weight, health and longevity. Only in the morbidly obese, she says, do studies show a correlation between these three factors, and that in fact, high weight actually can be protective in the case of some diseases. This is called “the obesity paradox.” She stresses that most research on obesity that purports to show cause and effect actually shows only correlation.

Part 3 of the book is entitled “How to Reach Your Leanest Livable Weight (No Willpower Required).” It contains evidence-based techniques to help you eat less but more healthfully. She considers our leanest livable weight to be the lower end of our set point, the range of pounds that a body is biologically, genetically set for. Mann makes a case for being able to eat “normally” and remain at the bottom of this continuum with stress reduction, high activity, and the strategies she describes. For instance, she advises dining with healthy eaters, getting intimates to change their eating habits so eating becomes a group endeavor, not overfocusing on eating “healthy” food (because doing so will backfire), and changing your view of temptation.

One of the best things about this book is that Mann provides practical, proven advice which replaces dieting and willpower. Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted?