1. Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes
This 2007 tome needs to be the foundation of anyone’s understanding of how humans became remarkably heavier in conjunction with the advice to avoid dietary fat. The book is an exhaustive examination of obesity research in the 20th century that I used as a sort of bible for the better part of a year. Before turning out the light each night, I would tell my wife that I needed to do some “Reading of The Taubes.” Whether you end up agreeing with his conclusion, that carbohydrates cause obesity, you will learn most of what you need to know about obesity if you read this book.
2. The Nature of Nutrition: A Unifying Framework from Animal Adaptation to Human Obesity, by Stephen J. Simpson and David Raubenheimer
Published in 2012, this book represents a fascinating, concise introduction to the field of Nutritional Ecology as it pertains to humans. Using examples from slime molds to monkeys, these two professors from Australia show, with a bit of math and graphing, how nutrient intake is regulated to specific targets. All creatures must balance their need for energy, in the form of fat and carbohydrate, with the their need for protein, the basic building block of life. How each species adapts its appetite and behavior to the environment around it determines the size, shape, longevity and reproductive success of that species. In a way, it seems like biology 101, but then they shock the reader in Chapter 10 by applying the same reasoning to humans. It is humbling and enlightening to be reminded that we are animals responding to environmental cues.
3. What Is Fat For? By Ignatius Brady
Including my book as the third best obesity book ever written is not just a case of shameless self-promotion for two reasons: 1) I am terribly ashamed. 2) This is truly where my book belongs. Simply proceeding in order, if you were to read Taubes, letting him de-bunk every diet myth you’ve absorbed, then Simpson and Raubenheimer, which would open your eyes to the bigger questions, my book would enable you to bring it altogether. Seasoning the “carbs are evil” advice of Taubes with some healthy skepticism from a doctor who’s worked with actual patients trying to implement diet regimens, my book is meant to be about balance. To a large extent, it was written with the intention of spreading the ideas from The Nature of Nutrition, which haven’t become popular yet in the U.S. But I could not help throwing in the other observations I’ve made about obesity biology and behavior, making this book somewhat of a primer for medical types.
4. Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, by Brian Wansink
Dr. Wansink is a researcher whose main interest is in portion control. In this entertaining, very approachable science book, he enumerates his findings from over a decade of research into why we eat so much. His experiments are generally tricks played on college students from his university, such as measuring the quantity of soup eaten when the bowl is surreptitiously refilled from a pump below (spoiler: you eat more if your bowl remains full). Using such playful tactics, he shows how suggestible we are and how we’ve drifted into our overeating habits by the size of the bag, the cup and the plate that we are given. We aren’t really choosing to eat poorly, it’s being chosen for us. To the extent that portion control is an important consideration for weight loss, this is the book that will show you what you might do about it.
5. The End of Overeating, by David Kessler
A former FDA commissioner, Dr. Kessler is an MD with a tremendous breadth of knowledge regarding how the food industry works. If he had not changed roles prior to publishing in 2010, this book certainly would have gotten him fired (or at least made most of the meetings on his schedule very uncomfortable). The End of Overeating is a fearless examination of the tactics used by the people who make our sodas and burgers to get us to consume more and more junk. He also uses his medical expertise to give a pretty convincing argument that sugar, salt and fat are akin to tobacco in cigarettes: they can be manipulated to manipulate us. My only complaint with the book is suggested by its title -he turns this into a solution book about midway through. This is a mistake, as the book is brilliant without trying to provide easy weight loss solutions.
6. Eat Bacon, Don’t Jog, by Grant Petersen.
This is a remarkable little guide book that is a scientifically accurate from within the “carbs are bad” paradigm. Petersen, who makes custom bikes in California showed previously that he can write with his book Just Ride, a sort of manifesto for daily bike riding as a way to get around and a way of life. Eat Bacon, Don’t Jog (2014)uses the same format (each page contains one idea, explained with gusto and humor)to present a very simple, very complete approach to weight issues that would actually work for most people. I’ve been recommending this to co-workers and friends who ask me for a simple answer for weight problems. It’s readable, fun, and true enough that it’s a good start for anyone.
7. The State of Slim, by James Hill, Holly Wyatt and Christie Aschwanden
Jim Hill and Holly Wyatt are researchers who created the National Weight Control Registry, which was a brilliant idea: the registry is an online entity that exists to collect data from people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off. Why not ask the very few exceptions what works for them, rather than lament that diets don’t work in general? They also run a state of the art weight loss research and treatment center at my Alma Mater in Colorado (which unfortunately has been featured for several seasons on The Biggest Loser, which is just sort of embarrassing -but whatever works to keep the lights on, the treadmills charged and the VO2 max equipment analyzing). From their weight loss practice perspective, these two researchers have gathered (in 2013) what they’ve seen work into a very practical, simple, easy to understand and implement program. It is exercise heavy, which reflects the bias of anyone who has spent time in Colorado: people move a lot there! If you just wanted to lose weight, the diet, which starts with Atkins but then gets very reasonable, would be an excellent tool, even without the exercise.
8. Fat Chance, by Robert Lustig
Dr. Lustig is an endocrinologist who works in pediatrics in California. On the list of authors here, he is the best trained to truly explain how obesity works. He is a popular youtube interviewee and has been featured in many documentaries about obesity, because he is smart and very passionate in his hatred of fructose. Unlike his interview style, his book is rock solid on the science and very balanced. I had once published a blogpost entitled “Robert Lustig is smarter than you, but he’s still wrong about fructose.” I pulled that when his book came out, because he no longer deserved such a roasting. The book is a complete, yet not difficult, discussion of how our body signals that we are empty or full, how sugar interacts with insulin, where metabolic syndrome comes from, and why much of diabetes can be reversed by diet.
9. Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution: I’m just kidding, his books are garbage . . .
9. Health At Every Size, by Linda Bacon
Dr. Bacon is a PhD researcher who conducts her own research on health outcomes related to weight. In this astute book, she reviews the known obesity research with a skeptical eye. She’s not examining whether individual diets work, but rather, whether we should try to diet in the first place! Without cherry-picking, she shows numerous inconsistencies in the research that equates obesity with poor health and finds countless examples of studies which find no effect. At the same time, she writes with compassion to those who are unhappy with their weight, providing reassurance, support and empowerment to change what can be changed, given a certain body type. If I wasn’t an MD (which is to say, someone arrogant enough to think that the body is meant to be meddled with by his pills and potions) I would recommend this book as a first line of defense for weight problems.
10. The Abs Diet, by David Zinczenko and Ted Spiker (2005 version)
I have mixed feelings about the Chief Editor of Men’s Health Magazine. The writing is on the Esquire level: sassy, smart and superficial. It’s half nonsense and half accurate, or at least half-interesting. From a weight loss doctor perspective, the magazine is basically sound -advocating for a controlled carb, vegetable and protein-focused diet that doesn’t abide starvation tactics. So, how can a book called “The Abs Diet” be anything but a testament to our insecurities? Because the book self-assesses and debunks the very health magazine cover abdominal muscles that we covet. From the outset, Zinczenko explains that a cover model starves for a few days, eliminating carbs and becoming dehydrated, and performs 200 sit-ups immediately before rubbing lotion on for the ridiculous photo-shoot. He tells us not to worry about the abs and seek better health. It’s a convincing book, with sound diet advice by an insider who can understand both our desire to want to be beautiful and the reality that we have all been given the bodies that we’ve been given, but should take some effort make the best of it.