Book Review – ‘The Skinny Rules’ by Bob Harper || Chapters 1-3

In my last post we went over the introduction to “The Skinny Rules” by Bob Harper.  He had a few good points, but also some points of contention.  We’ll continue with the analysis here, going over rules 1 through 3.

Chapter // Rule 1 – Drink a large glass of water before every meal – no excuses!

Harper states that this is his first rule, not just because it is so easy, but because “…nothing is so crucial to your success [as drinking water is].”  In fact, drinking a glass before each meal is the minimum, he’d prefer at least 5 glasses.

Unfortunately he never states exactly how much is considered a ‘large glass,’ so we’ll just assume it’s somewhere between 8 – 16 oz.  At 5 times per day, he seems to suggest 40 – 80 oz per day.  Let’s compare to some other recommendations:

Institute of Medicine – Men: 104 oz // Women: 72 oz

Old Adage – 8oz 8 times a day: 64 oz

USDA – Newborns: ~27 oz // Toddler – 8yrs: 44 – 57 oz // Teenage boys, adult men & women: at least 91 oz

Yet Another Adage – Half of your bodyweight in ounces: 160lb = 80 oz

So recommendations are kind of all over the place.  This makes sense because it’s a little tricky to try and give a blanket recommendation when you could be dealing with a 100lb sedentary teenage girl or a 240lb professional male athlete.  Think those two might need different intakes of water?

Another thing: it’s REALLY tough to find studies on this kind of thing because no one actually knows.  What is the defining point of dehydration?  Mild dehydration is stated as a loss of 5% of the body’s fluid.  How do you know how much that actually is?  What exactly is being measured to make that determination?  No, seriously, I have no clue so if someone could fill me in that’d be great.

But even if you were concerned about your water intake, here are some things to consider:

-Soda contains water.

-Milk contains water.

-Fruit contains water.

-Vegetables contain water.

-Soup, Tea and Coffee are basically water.

First ingredient is indeed water.  I know, it's not kosher to mention it.

First ingredient is indeed water. I know, it’s not kosher to mention it.

So if you are consuming the above, I’d venture to say you’re probably taking in enough water for health purposes.  HOWEVER, water has been shown to possibly help in decreasing the amount of food consumption during a meal.  So if you’re looking to increase your feelings of satiety, it may help to drink water before and during your meal.  Whether that is due to actually filling your stomach or because drinking during your meal will typically elongate its duration, which has been shown many times to decrease overall caloric consumption, I’m not sure.

Harper cites a study showing that water itself will increase your caloric expenditure.  The study recruited 21 overweight children and measured their baseline resting energy expenditure (REE) – or the amount of calories they burn at rest.  They then gave them each 10 ml of water per kilo bodyweight, cooled to 39 degrees Fahrenheit. (This is a pretty large amount of water for one sitting)

Their resting energy expenditure decreased from ~0.8 cal / min to ~0.6 cal / min for about 20 minutes.  REE then increased to ~0.9 cal / min for about 30 – 35 minutes.  The maximal amount of increase was about 1 cal / min.  Unfortunately I was unable to get the entire text of the study, but it seemed that these increases lasted about an hour.

This may seem very exciting, but overall this is really not a huge increase for the time duration.  There was a brief decrease followed by a less-brief increase, sure, but the MAXIMAL increase in caloric burn was only .2 calories per minute.  For some perspective, even if that increase had been the whole hour you would have seen only an extra 12 calories burned.  We’re not sure how more or less water affects this, if the same applies to warmer or colder water, or if this would happen more than once a day; at least not according to this study.

Not to say you shouldn’t drink water, but I’d take the idea that it will help you burn a significant portion of calories with a grain of salt.

Moral: I’m still speculative about the extreme amounts of water people recommend drinking.  I’ve been having a rough time just coming up with studies to support ANY of the health benefit claims.  If you drink tea, coffee, milk or soda in any regular amounts you are consuming water.  It takes a LARGE (5-7 cups of coffee worth) amount of caffeine to counter-act their water content.  However, drinking water can decrease caloric intake by increasing satiety, increasing meal duration, and decreasing consumption of caloric beverages.

Chapter // Rule 2 – Don’t Drink your Calories

Here is one thing Harper and I agree on: drinking a large portion of your daily calories is a pretty good way to ensure that weight-loss won’t be long-term.  Liquids just don’t seem to trigger satiety the same way solids do – even solids that are mostly water like watermelon.  It’s pretty easy to down a couple sodas and still be hungry.  Try that caloric equivalent with broccoli.  Not quite the same sensation.

However, just as I said in the Introduction review, if you were to only take in 1,200 calories a day in soda and nothing else when your total daily energy expenditure(TDEE) is 2,000 you’re still gonna lose weight.  Again, you will feel like shit, but you will still lose weight.

One point that Harper makes is about artificial sweeteners: “If you’re a diet soda drinker, you haven’t dodged the problem…You’re guzzling artificial sweeteners and…I don’t think highly of these at all.  They only serve to whet your appetite for more sweet.”

I wish I could give a consensus about artificial sweeteners.  I wish I had an answer.  There are studies that show it may blunt insulin sensitivity, there are studies that show they don’t.  They probably don’t cause cancer.  They may increase your appetite, then again, they might not.

Anecdotal Aside:

I drink diet soda a fair amount.  I usually use about 1/2 a pack of splenda in my coffee.  I’ll use artificial sweetener in my desserts.   I think it’s asinine to say that it’s ‘just as bad’ as real sugar in terms of weight gain.  How many more calories would I have ingested over my lifetime had I been drinking regular soda the whole time?  While they may ‘increase your appetite’ or ‘make you continue to crave sweets,’ whether or not that adversely affects your food choices depends on you.

I’m counting my calories right now (will make a post about moving on to phase 2 of my diet experiment soon), so drinking a diet soda actually won’t make me eat more.  It doesn’t matter at all if it increases my appetite (I’m usually pretty full at the end of the day which is nice), because I’m still not going to eat over a certain number of calories.

Back to Harper:

He gives a ‘step-down’ option for those having a hard time ditching flavored liquids.  In the introduction, he states that the step-down options are an “…intermediary step [that] is meant to be temporary.”  His flavored liquid step-down is to experiment with flavored drinks such as seltzer water with lime / lemon juice or tea.

I don’t understand why those options should be temporary.  They sound perfectly acceptable to me.  Most people would agree that naturally flavored water, coffee and tea are all acceptable drink options.  I think I get that he’s just trying to provide options, but it’s confusing to put those in the ‘temporary solution’ box.  Those are permanent solutions.

Another step-down he gives is to stop putting cream in your coffee – opt for 2% or non-fat milk.  This is another point I disagree with.  Please tell me how a splash of cream is going to ruin your calorie intake.  I find that when using cream a splash is all you need to make the coffee taste a million times better, but skim milk needs to be roughly half the cup.  Of course, this is contingent on the person.  I drink maybe 2 cups of coffee per day, to which I’ll add about a tablespoon of half and half.  That’s 40 calories per day.  Big whoop.  However if you drink 5 cups per day and add a lot more than a splash, perhaps consider weaning yourself off.  Again, it’s not that his advice is inherently bad – it’s just that it’s not non-negotiable.  It’s not a necessary rule.  Think about your circumstances, your tendencies, your lifestyle and what fits.  Think for yourself.

Here are some things I agree with though:

-Juice and fruit smoothies have been improperly labeled as ‘healthy.’  They are just sugar and calories.  As Harper says, just eat the fruit.

-You do not need a Gatorade for your hour-long run or lifting session.  These are applicable for people running marathons / ironmans and the like.  If you need an energy drink to get through the day, you should take a good look at your life habits and try to fix them rather than giving tons of your money away to put a band-aid on your problems.

-Most coffees at a Starbucks are basically dessert.

One of these things is not like the other.

One of these things is not like the other.

-Alcohol has like, a lot of calories.

Moral: Drink your coffee with full-fat milk if you’d like.  The jury is still out on artificial sweeteners, so use at your own discretion.  They probably don’t cause cancer.  Tea and lemon / lime / whatever flavored water are great.  Drinking calories isn’t very filling which is why you should try not to do so.  But it is entirely possible to lose weight while drinking soda as long as your calorie intake is still below TDEE.

Extra Note: While taking notes for this chapter, I wrote this down but couldn’t find a really good place to put it above.  I thought it was funny so I’ll share below:

“Interesting how he demonizes all sugars – honey, juices, white sugar, high fructose corn-syrup – yet he LOVES him some damn oatmeal.

Rule // Chapter 3 – Eat Protein at Every Meal, or Stay Hungry and Grouchy

I’m going to start this segment out with one of the most ridiculous things I read in this whole book:

“Let me be blunt: if you don’t start eating fish, you’re going to get fat again.”

WHAT.

….WHAT.

I hope you read that and burst out laughing like I did, or just stare dumbfounded that anyone could say anything so fucking stupid.

Let ME be blunt: if you don’t start eating fish….you’re…uhh…probably not going to frequent Red Lobster.

That’s about all I could come up with.  EATING FISH IS IN NO WAY REQUIRED TO LOSE OR MAINTAIN FAT LOSS.

All those lean and healthy vegetarians out there must be using secret voodoo magic to stay that way.  I don’t really eat fish and I stay not-fat by making sacrifices to the Gods of Leanness every fortnight.

Here is vegetarian and often-times vegan Natalie Portman, famous for her portrayal of an incredibly obese ballet dancer in “Black Swan.”

I almost don’t even want to review the rest of this chapter because of how mind-blowingly idiotic that one statement was.  But I’ll push through:

Harper starts out with a strong, and true statement.  Protein is crucial for people who want to lose fat.  It’s satiating, it preserves muscle mass and helps you recover from the strength-training you should be doing.  In fact, one of the reasons people experience success on low-carb diets isn’t because they’re low-carb, but because they force people to increase their protein intake.

Different bodies have different recommendations.  The FDA and most government recommendations are notorious for their high-carb, low protein levels, which many other bodies disagree with.  Rejection of these recommendations can be seen with the raging popularity of the Paleo Diet, books such as “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and “Wheat Belly.”  Not saying I agree with any of the above, but alternative recommendations are out there.

FDA: 65g protein per 2,000 calories

USDA: .36g per pound bodyweight

Harper: .5g per pound bodyweight

Other recommendations out there typically range from .8 – 1.5g per pound bodyweight.  If you’re weight training (and you should be if you’re trying to lose fat), I usually say .8 – 1.2g / lb.   That’s going to be more than the FDA recommendation for sure.

Back to the fish thing – Harper cites a study and says “Like we talked about in the beginning, some foods seem to boost weight loss, and not just because they are low in calories.  Fish is a perfect example.”  Well, we already debunked that part in the introduction.  But let’s take a look at the study.

In it, a few hundred young, overweight men and women were recruited and BMI was recorded.  It was measured at 3 points during the study – at the start, mid-point, and end.  The study lasted 8 weeks.  Participants seafood intake was recorded by questionnaire, along with activity level which the researchers recommended they keep at the same level.

The subjects were split into 4 groups, one taking a placebo pill and no seafood, one taking in a certain amount of lean fish, another fatty fish, and another took fish oil capsules.  Macronutrient levels were kept relatively level across all groups.  In the end, the men who took in fatty fish and fish oil lost a significant amount more weight than the lean fish / no fish groups. (Around ~1 pound difference in weight loss)  However, women experienced no difference in weight loss across groups.

To me this study isn’t very convincing for a few reasons.  First and most importantly, it’s another study that relies on questionnaire rather than an actual controlled setting.  It’s really hard to say you’ve concluded anything definitive when there is such a high opportunity for mis-judging and under or over-reporting on the part of the participants.  Secondly, women saw no difference, which makes me suspicious of any significance in the finding with men.

To read this study and determine that one MUST eat fish in order to lose and keep off weight is, again, asinine.

Omega-3 fatty acid intake does certainly have health benefits especially in regards to inflammation, so I’m not trying to dissuade someone from looking into fish-oil supplementation or including fish – or grass-fed beef for that matter.

Harper then goes on to talk about his time as a vegan.  His biggest reason was morals, which I can completely get behind.  Animals are often treated very cruelly, there’s no denying it.  However, he then speaks about the supposed superior health benefits of a vegan diet, citing the much-loved “China Study” made famous by the documentary “Forks over Knives.”  Now, debunking that study would take a textbook, so if you’re interested in reading a second opinion, check out this really detailed review by an awesome lady over at her awesome blog.

Moral: Meat is awesome, and you should definitely take in a healthy amount of protein when you’re trying to lose fat – more than the USDA or FDA recommends.  Fish is great for omega-3’s, but they aren’t magic.  Please read a review of the China Study before you proclaim how much Forks over Knives changed your life.  And seriously, you DO NOT HAVE TO EAT FISH TO MAINTAIN WEIGHT LOSS.

Check back next week for a few more chapters!

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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 || Chapters 1-3

  1. Mike R says:

    I am pretty sure in the study on the chilled water was similar to the “ice chip diet”. In this diet you would eat ice chips all day long in an effort to burn more calories. It did indeed burn more calories, however we measure food in kilocalories. Meaning you aren’t really burning anything at all! Kind of funny how far some people will go to burn a few extra calories.

    • katwhit says:

      Hah, actually now that you mention it I misread the study myself and the effect is in fact even more useless than I thought before. (I read kJ as kC…and 1 kJ is only 0.24 kC) Time to edit already!

      Edit: Actually I didn’t misread and had it correct the first time. Not sure why I didn’t remember that.

      And yeah, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard ‘drink cold water, your body burns calories to warm yourself back up’ as weight loss advice. It’s sad. Never heard of the ice chip one before though!

  2. Pingback: Making Sense of Modern Fitness | Book Review – “Jumpstart to Skinny” by Bob Harper || Chapters 4-5

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