Eat to Live: an apologetic book review

At Cranky Fitness, we don't usually review books, because it's hard to be both polite and cranky. In this case, I thought it was necessary.

I first read about Dr. Fuhrman last year on Diet Blog. And -- I'm sorry if this sounds mean -- I wasn't quite sure if he was legit. Even allowing for the fact that a blog post doesn't allow room for a well-thrashed-out thesis, his talk of Toxic Hunger sounded very similar to catch phrases like Toxic Fat, which have a "marketing to scare people so they'll pay money" sort of feel about it. So I was prejudiced.

And it does seem counter-intuitive that hunger doesn't originate in the stomach but rather in the throat. I haven't experienced that myself -- but you know what? That really isn't relevant to the main point of this book Eat to Live so I'm going to skip over it.

I was impressed with this book. For one thing, it is very, very well researched. Some chapters, it seems like every other sentence has a footnote referring to a peer-reviewed research study that was published in a well-respected journal.

I’ve read diet books where all the references cited lead to other books written by the same author. Fuhrman’s references lead to studies reported in journals that even I have heard of. That’s impressive. One study, or two or three, I could refute/ignore/disagree with out of laziness or feeling contrary. When I find study after study after study all backing up what he’s selling, then it’s a lot harder to disagree with him.

On the other hand, this guy's never going to become a millionaire selling this book.

How not to get rich writing a diet book:

- He doesn’t use the book to promote a lot of His Own Special BrandTM supplements. He promotes eating fruit and vegetables. Unless he’s got a whole lot of stock in Safeway, he’s never going to make a million $ with this approach.

- He’s more concerned with health than with weight loss. (Yeah, like people are going to go for that. What was he thinking?)

- He’s not taking a few facts and stringing them together into a clever theory embellished with a lot of long, pseudo-scientific jargon. (How can you impress people if you don’t use jargon?)

I have to admit to a certain prejudice against Doctors Who Are Selling Something. This always causes me to go into auto-cynic mode, which is probably not fair since some of these doctors are well-intentioned, and doctors have as much right to make a living as anyone else. The thing is, I want them to sell knowledge rather than Success Pills for three easy payments of $45.99. What Dr. Fuhrman does is encourage you to eat foods that you can grow yourself, or at least can go down the road and buy at the grocery store. His website offers the chance to buy additional stuff, but that's not mentioned in the book.

I think I liked what he wrote because it agreed so much with what I've deduced from what I've read over several years. I don't see why he would limit the daily intake of flax seed to only one teaspoon, but aside from that I kinda like what he's saying.

The bad news

This guy's diet is strict. And permanent. The only way to make it following this lifelong diet is to learn to like vegetables. I'm actually getting there. Me, the confirmed carnivore, who can -- and has-- gone days eating only food that came from the meat and bakery departments, now spends most of my time in the produce section. I'm still not going to say I love vegetables, but I do love not feeling stuffed with saturated fat and greasy food.

How strict is strict?

This diet is more strict that Dean Ornish's diet plan, and he's always been my end-point for Strict.

The basic tenets of the diet

- 1 pound raw veggies & fruit (on my scale, that's 1 apple, 1 cucumber, and 1 cup green leafies)

- 1 pound cooked veggies

- limited quantities of grains and starchy veggies

- sayonara to meat,1 processed foods,2 caffeine,3 alcohol4

1That sound you just heard was several people leaving this blog and going to Mark's Daily Apple to complain. Hey, go with what works for you. I'm just telling you what Fuhrman says. Actually, he’s not far from the Primal approach. He figures it’s better to be a semi-vegetarian, i.e. it’s okay to eat some meat if you’re going to eat a whole lot of vegetables as well. (I think he would prefer you not eat meat, but he says it’s vastly better than being a vegetarian who goes around gorging on breads and pastries.)

2There go the Jenny Craig & WeightWatchers-meals groups.

3Ah, just lost the Starbucks crowd.

4The last Cranky Fitness reader shuts the door behind him as he leaves.

Um... is anyone still reading this? Fuhrman says that after six weeks or so, unless you're really looking to lose a lot of weight, re-introduce more grains and starchy vegetables. Avoid processed foods like the evil pesticide-ridden plague foods that they are.

Fuhrman himself says this diet is not for everyone. People will say "hey, this diet will make me so miserable that it's not worth it." I'm not sure I agree. Yeah, changing your mindset and getting your body used to a more healthy diet is no fun, but once you've made the adjustment it seems to me you'll be having a whole lot more fun in life. The quality of life is better if you eat healthy and work out.

Ever tried going mostly vegetarian? Did it help or hinder your health efforts?

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