‘The Diet Fix’: How to fix your broken diet… with chocolate

Bariatric physician Dr. Yoni Freedhoff felt so compelled to write a book on dieting that, on a momentous day in 2009, he holed himself up in a 500-square-foot shack in northern Ontario with no Internet, no cable television, and no cell phone reception. Forty-eight hours later he’d written 30,000 words of which he used to craft a book proposal for what would become the beginnings of The Diet Fix: Why Diets Fail and How to Make Yours Work (to be released on March 4 and available for pre-order at Amazon now).

Dr. Freedhoff’s inspiration had come two years before, just after he’d finished writing his share of a handbook for clinicians, which he co-authored with Dr. Arya Sharma, professor of medicine and chair of obesity management at the University of Alberta. It was then that Dr. Freedhoff thought that the public deserved a book with a clinician’s advice. The Diet Fix draws from nearly a decade of Dr. Freedhoff’s clinical experience as founder and medical director at the Bariatric Medical Institute at the University of Ottawa—more than 13,500 hours, and nearly 40,000 one-on-one patient interactions.

Summing up what he’s learned over all that time about what was missing from his early days in helping patients, Dr. Freedhoff writes, “It was prescriptions for chocolate.”

In a time where more than 37,000 books currently make up the “diet and weight loss” category on Amazon, it’s practical advice based on clinical experience that sets the book apart from others. And, it’s a positive message that any food, such as chocolate, is not off the table.

The book is not a repeat of calorie-counting basics. Nor does it prescribe some foods while forbidding others. Nor does it espouse any specific “good/bad diet,” “scientific or pseudoscientific diet,” “crash diet,” “exercise diet,” “magic pill diet,” or “eat smarter diet.” The book’s message is simple: Any diet can work with the right know-how. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the actual foods people eat while on any one of a number of popular diets—be it low-fat or low-carb, vegetarian or paleo, Ornish or Atkins, mostly “processed” or “whole”. These diets (plus many others) all successfully produce weight loss, according to the scientific literature.

“At the end of the day, all diets work, every last one. Even diets with nonsensical approaches can help people lose weight,” according Dr. Freedhoff.

Why, then, do the majority of dieters fail to lose weight and keep it off? Blame it on hundreds of millions of years of human evolution that has made hunger a physiological force to be reckoned with, Dr. Freedhoff argues. Then, combine that hunger with human nature’s inherent drive to satisfy our pleasure-related desires. “We’re just not built to needlessly suffer forever,” he writes. Continue reading

A reprisal from the breakfast club

Allison figure from AJCN

“Hypothetical model of how BRR [biased research reporting] and RLPV [research lacking probative value] may be involved in perpetuation presumptions” [or, an accurate representation of David's thinking process]. Source: Brown, Bohan Brown, Allison. AJCN. 2013.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Excuse me if I’m a little biased. Apparently, I’m not alone. I like to eat breakfast. I’ve long told everyone they should eat breakfast. And I make sure my children eat breakfast every day, often cooking up their favorite sorts of breakfast meals on the weekends.

Breakfast is a great time to eat the types of foods (like yogurt and muesli, granola, cereal, or egg omelets) that can provide valuable nutrients like protein, calcium, iron, and a range of vitamins. For nutritionists, that’s a big deal. These nutrients are especially important in children and teens, who should be eating breakfast daily to better concentrate in school and who might not get these nutrients in other meals.

Besides, it’s useful to remind that eating breakfast can help you avoid weight gain by satisfying your appetite and keeping you from bingeing on high-sugar, high-fat foods later in the day. That’s a well-known fact. Everyone knows that, right?

So on that morning last September when well-respected researchers Andrew Brown, Michelle Bohan Brown, and David Allison of the University of Alabama at Birmingham dared to question breakfast’s sanctity in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1), I just figured I’d ignore it. “Discarded information,” that’s all it was.

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In defense of better junk food


Not too long ago, I had the luck of joining a small group of food scientists in touring P.F. Chang’s headquarters, in Scottsdale, Ariz. We were led through a maze of test kitchens and that’s where I came to appreciate how the restaurant company decides what ends up on their menus. Our tour guide was the senior product development manager for the company’s “fast casual” spinoff Pei Wei Asian Diner. He gave us a brief look into his job traveling through countries like China, Vietnam, and Thailand looking for the “best of the best” of ingredients. “It all began with the sauce,” he said, “flavor was king.” Then came the decision of what food items (e.g. chicken) on which to place the sauce. Once a novel concept was thoroughly developed came sensory analysis testing with trained focus groups and, finally, pilot runs at a handful of restaurants. Collecting pilot data was a critical step to be sure a product wouldn’t fail once launched. He gave examples of some of his successes and that’s when I became curious.

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Review: For God, Country, & Coca-Cola (revised 3rd Edition)

coca cola

When Mark Pendergrast was a boy, his mother refused to allow Coca-Cola in the house. She told him it would rot his teeth, disturb his sleep, and pollute his body with chemicals. Her warnings backfired, however, only making “something mysterious and enticing about the dark, bubbly liquid.” He’d go on to sneak a sip of the forbidden drink at a friend’s house, a moment he describes as when “nothing has ever tasted so sinfully good.”

The soft drink was far from the witches’ brew he was led to believe, although there was some wickedness in it. As another surreptitious Coke drinker described it, Pendergrast writes, “the effervescence was boldly astringent and as clean as a knife; the flavor suggested the corrupt spices of Araby and a hint, perhaps, of brimstone.” Continue reading

Want to stick it to Monsanto? March for public investment and open data

Cacao seeds

A while back, I interviewed a plant geneticist who expressed extreme frustration over the measly funds that were available for research into biotechnology.

The scientist’s own research was quite exciting in and of itself because of its potential to profoundly improve current agricultural problems across the world by improving yield, while reducing fertilizer overuse.

Intrigued, I asked the scientist about possibilities of commercializing the plant varieties soon. In response, I was told there were only a few companies motivated to invest in the research and there was little chance of raising public funds — given wide sentiment against genetic engineering.

The only hope, the plant researcher said, was that Monsanto would be interested and, then, the scientist suggested — off the record — to me that, “maybe Monsanto likes it that way.” Without competition from other companies or public funds, the company basically had cornered the market on opportunities regarding agricultural biotechnology. Continue reading

Is it time to stop blaming insulin for “fat storage”?

insulin paths

Source: Saltiel & Kahn 2001.

Crack open any physiology textbook and chances are you’ll learn that after eating any normal meal, the release of insulin from the pancreas then signals the shutdown of the release of fatty acids from adipose (body fat) tissue and the increase of fatty acid uptake.

Because of this well-known role of insulin, one of the more puzzling explanations offered by some – including a few respected scientists and medical professionals — for weight gain is that elevated insulin is to blame because of its involvement in “fat storage”. In addition, they argue that the reason why a diet lower in carbohydrates works for weight loss is because of reduced levels of the peptide hormone.

It’s an easy conclusion to make. The logic goes that carbohydrates through their stimulation of insulin are fattening beyond their contribution of energy as kilocalories. It doesn’t matter how much you eat, so long as you avoid carbs to lose weight.

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When my former girlfriend told me she was dying

breast cancer stages 

“It’s too late, David. I’m dying,” she told me.

“No. No. That’s impossible,” I said. “You’re only 24.”

Less than 0.1 percent of all breast cancers occurred in women under 30 years of age from 1975 to 2000, according to the National Cancer Institute. In comparison to older women, those young women who were diagnosed had lower survival rates. My former girlfriend, Angie, was one of these young women and I couldn’t believe it. She didn’t deserve (nor does anyone) her diagnosis. She could not have played any role in causing the cancer anymore than anyone else. She had no family history of breast cancer. And I’d challenge anyone’s absurd assertion that its etiology had anything to do with more than just the fickle finger of fate.

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