Book Review – ‘The Skinny Rules’ by Bob Harper || Introduction

I think it’s a new pre-requisite for every fitness and diet book to start out with a statement on HOW MUCH INFORMATION about fitness there is out there.

POWEROVERWHELMING

“With so much conflicting information…” “Everywhere you look there’s an expert proclaiming the truth…” YOU ARE LITERALLY CONTRIBUTING TO THAT. Oh wait, so am I. Oh God.

“With so much conflicting weight-loss advice out there to confuse your efforts, it’s no wonder you haven’t been successful losing weight and keeping it off,” he starts.  Will his book be any different?  Will it be just another over-valued diet book proclaiming certain guidelines are THE WAY and nothing else?  Or perhaps this will finally be the voice of reason and the end to all of your searching.

…If you’ve been keeping up with me thus far, I think you can predict where this is going.  Read on as I dissect this book chapter by chapter.

Introduction

I’ll go ahead and warn readers in advance that this is going to to delve into dry scientific studies.  I wouldn’t do this unless it was ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY for your understanding, so please bear with me.  It’s for your own good, promise.  Bob Harper thinks you’re smart enough for scientific studies, and goodness knows I think you are too.

The introduction starts out like any good book, with a story.  An anecdote, if you will.  The inspiration for why Harper decided to make the ‘rules’ he’s going to outline.  He describes the husband of a contestant on “The Biggest Loser” show who lost 100 pounds himself during taping.  He did so by following meals and tips posted by Harper on twitter, saying they gave him structure like a set of rules.

And thus, Harper concludes, all people need is a set of rules:

“So, what if we eliminated the clutter? I began to think. What if I could come up with a list of simple, nonnegotiable rules that the average Jane or Joe can follow in daily life—rules you can always fall back on in a pinch, rules you can use not just when you are trying to lose weight, but for when you are trying to stay slender.

Skinny Rules!”

I bolded “Non-negotiable” because I want to draw attention to that.  According to Harper, one MUST follow these rules in order to succeed.  At least, I’m fairly certain that’s what someone means when they say non-negotiable.

Harper then lists 7 ‘myths’ about diet and weight loss to get out of the way.  Fair enough!  It’s always good to make sure everyone is on the same page first.  Some of these are sound: You can’t out-exercise a bad diet, starving yourself is generally a really bad way to try and lose weight, you don’t need to completely cut out carbs or fat and in some cases losing a lot of weight really quickly is NOT a bad thing.  (For instance in very obese clients, which is his specialty being on The Biggest Loser.)
Here are some points that have contention:

1) You can weigh yourself more often than once per week.
 

You can, and maybe it might help you.  I know I weigh myself everyday for the weight loss experiments.  But to say everyone needs to check the scale on a frequent basis is a bit of a stretch.  He cites a study that showed people who weighed more frequently lost more weight than those who did not.

Unfortunately, the article in its entirety is not available for free so I wasn’t able to read the whole thing.  From what I did read, however, it seemed that people were not told how frequently to weigh themselves – it was completely voluntary.  That leads to a host a correlation problems: is it not logical that people concerned about their weight would weigh-in more frequently and those who weren’t actively attempting to lose weight would not?  It’s hard to reach too many conclusions based on the little I was able to read, but it seems likely.

Moral: Does weighing-in too much depress you and cause you to reach for the nearest pack of Oreos in defeat?  If so, frequent weighing may not be for you.  Does weighing-in everyday keep you on track and let you know when you need to back down on the eating?  If so, frequent weighing may be for you.  SCIENCE. 

2) It’s not as simple as calories in calories out

This one is pretty tricky.  You’ve probably heard over the years some combination of “FAT BAD” “NO CARBS BAD” “MEAT IS BAD AND WILL LITERALLY GIVE YOU A HEART ATTACK.”So what’s the deal?  If you eat 1200 calories of Oreos is that not equivalent to 1200 calories of chicken?  The answer is yes and no.  So anticlimactic, I know.  Oreos don’t have a lot going for them in terms of nutrition and protein, it’s true.  They won’t really help you out too much in terms of muscle repair and growth.  If your energy expenditure for the day is 2000 calories though you’ll still lose weight.  You’ll probably feel like complete shit, but still lose weight.  If your energy expenditure for the day is 2000 calories and you eat 3200 calories of skinless, boiled, rubbery, disgustingly healthy chicken, you’ll still get fat.  Sad day

Tricky part: If all you eat is carbs and not enough fat or protein, your body will start slowing down.  You’ll lose muscle (especially if you’re not performing resistance exercise), lowering that energy expenditure from 2000 to 1800 to 1600. (One of the key factors in why metabolism decreases as you age) Without adequate fat intake, cells and hormones don’t function quite like they used to – this too may decrease metabolism.

Harper cites one of my favorite improperly-used series of studies of all time: The Harvard Nurse’s Study!  Wondering where you heard that red meat was bad for you?  Hormone replacement therapy decreases risk of heart attack? (completely false)  It’s all from right here, in a study that, while extensive, doesn’t offer much in the way of SOLID science.  In general the study went something like this:

1) Recruit a bunch of nurses to get baseline weight / BMI / lifestyle and dietary habits.  Get rid of outliers and those with confounding variables such as disease or advanced age.

2) Every 4 years, retest weight, BMI, lifestyle and dietary habits.
3) Over time, analyze data to show what lifestyle and dietary habits are correlated with a higher / lower weight.  Repeat over 20 years.

Sounds pretty simple right?  Unfortunately the lifestyle and dietary habits were self-reported.  This means no one followed around the participants during the 20 years to make sure their reported intake of fruits and veggies was accurate.  This is also an observational study, which means it can’t give you a cause for why you’re observing what you are.  Harper summarizes the results:

“The answer stunned a lot of traditionalists. Predictably, increases in fruits and veggies were associated with weight loss, while caloric increases in potato chips were associated with weight gain.

The shocker came in the less-intuitive items. Increases in nuts,whole grains, and—usefully for us, as you’ll see later— yogurt were associated with substantial weight loss.  No one is quite sure why, but we can guess: these foods don’t spike your blood sugar and insulin responses the way other foods do, so they don’t make you hungry.”

Most of this seems pretty common-sense.  People who eat more fruits, veggies, nuts, <insert healthy food here> tend to weigh less than those who don’t.  I don’t think we’ve stunned anyone quite yet.  However, Harper seems to look at this data and reach the conclusion that there is something inherently special about these foods that cause you to lose weight.  I look at this data and conclude that those who are more conscious about their health and weight tend to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Even though there is absolutely nothing wrong with meat, people used to think fat was bad so those who were health-conscious (and thus weighed less) avoided things like meat.  Now people think that it’s meat that was the culprit and so those who are health-conscious don’t eat so much, reinforcing that meat is what makes one unhealthy rather than simply eating too much in general.

Two other issues with this study:

1) BMI and weight are fucking ridiculous metrics for one’s health.
2) This study depended on people reliably self-reporting their food intake for the past TWO YEARS.  I don’t even fucking know what I had for dinner two nights ago, let alone two YEARS ago.

Also, whole grain shredded wheat raises your blood sugar more than a Snicker’s bar – fun fact.

I’m not disagreeing with the premise that one should eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, yogurt, etc.  I’m just saying it’s not that these foods magically cause one to lose weight, it’s that they generally promote satiety better than say, pop-tarts, for fewer calories.  They also provide you with super-awesome vitamins and minerals that leave you feeling super-awesome rather than wanting to take a nap.

Moral
: These foods do not, by themselves, cause you to lose weight.  They typically cause one to eat less.  They also typically make you feel more energetic and inclined to do active things.  This in turn will probably help you sleep better and be a happier person in general.  These benefits, among many others, are a chain reaction that causes you to lose fat.
Harper concludes this section with:

I mean, just how wrong could 129,000 nurses be?

Actually it was only 50,422 nurses after they got rid of those who didn’t meet the qualifications for the study.  I also only included this part to be snarky.  And to say that humanity has a rich history of large groups of people believing completely false shit.

Oh…uhh…whoops.
3) Eat Breakfast

I mean everyone had to see that one coming.  He does mention that having a bagel with low-fat cream cheese is probably not the best idea for your meal, which I completely agree with.  However he does say that breakfast is the “most important meal of the day,” so let me take this opportunity again to restate:
You do not have to eat breakfast.  It does not ‘jumpstart‘ your metabolism.  You do not have to eat breakfast.  SERIOUSLY IF YOU AREN’T HUNGRY DON’T EAT.

All right.  That took a lot longer than I thought it would.  Hope you’re still with me here.  Look for reviews of Chapters 1-3 in the future!

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About katwhit

Coffee shop blogger by day, personal trainer by night. My interests include lifting weights, puppies, teaching people how to lift weights and dogs. Head on over to my blog and you'll find: reviews of best-selling diet books in extensive detail, critiques of various fitness publications, and even the occasional rant on the latest TV fitness segments.
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3 Responses to Book Review – ‘The Skinny Rules’ by Bob Harper || Introduction

  1. twilcox says:

    ah, Kat. Thank you for affirming (again) that I do not have to eat breakfast if I don’t want to. Oh, and the rest of your post was excellent as well.

    • katwhit says:

      Yay Tina! If you ever get the inkling that perhaps you’re destroying your metabolism via lack of breakfast, give me a call. And thank you, I tried to keep it brief but I think my enthusiasm got the best of me.

  2. Pingback: Making Sense of Modern Fitness | Book Review – ‘The Skinny Rules’ by Bob Harper || Chapters 1-3

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