The Smarter Science of Slim

Our fat metabolism system automatically regulates our weight around a “set point.” That set-point is why no matter how little we eat or how much we exercise, we generally end up weighing the same.

— Jonathan Bailor.

Despite the chilling thought that we are doomed by our set points, this book is full of optimism. Jonathan Bailor has collected a wide-ranging set of experts who all say basically the same thing: we are victims of bad theories of health. We eat way too much starch, in the form of government-recommended foods like bread and starchy vegetables. We eat too much corn, rice and potatoes. Three of my favorite foods, of course. Who doesn’t get a little giddy when a fresh crop of corn shows up at the store, still warm from the Oklahoma sun? How can you make pilaf without rice? Who doesn’t like a baked potato? Okay, I’m really killing myself here.

USDA food pyramid

The pyramid of shame

Do you remember the food pyramid that was foisted upon us in our dim past? The one that was created by politicians coveting contributions from the corn and wheat growers? At the bottom of the pyramid — the section from which we were to consume the most — was bread and pasta. At the very top, like icing on a scone, was fat and sugar. Which, come to think of it, is exactly how you make icing.

It was a nice try, but the USDA is the department of agriculture, not the department of good nutrition, so the pyramid was more about pleasing major agriculture clients, and the population be damned. If people like Bailor are to be believed, this was a weighty victory for love handles across the country. Bailor draws on recent clinical research to buttress the notion that we need to stand the pyramid on its head. Or at least tip it a bit. His recommendation: stop eating processed starches. That obviously includes white bread, but potatoes? God’s golden tuber? No more fries? What a terrible price to pay for slinkier slacks!

Bailor trashes the obvious-sounding admonitions to eat less and exercise. As he points out, if you choose a high-protein diet, you can eat your fill. That immediately cheered me up. I can hold my breath longer than I can resist the come-hither look of a Cheeto. Unfortunately, Cheetos are off the list. Damn corn! But eggs and meat can certainly take the edge off your hunger.

Food guide

At least it’s not a pyramid

Bailor talks about the set-point as a clog in the fat metabolism system. He recommends a different “quality” food regimen that cuts starches close to zero. Unlike some writers, he still can’t bring himself to recommend fat, just lowering starch. The gap is filled with non-starchy foods, but everything is relative here, and veggies, except for the leafy stuff, all have some starch. Likewise, fruits have sugar and so things stay refreshingly messy. But the bottom line for Bailor is that it is the quality of the food (non-starchy) that counts, not the quantity you can shove into your mouth.

Bailor cites study after study where various tormented animals who find themselves on the fat end of the experiment, happily snarking down junk food, manage to maintain a set point. That set point can rise — thus obesity — but is damned difficult to lower. In the studies, the only way to reduce a set point is by eliminating starchy foods– the ones that the government has been pushing on you for decades. In a rare fit of bipartisanship, I would like to blame Republicans and Democrats alike. A pox on both their parties!

Considering the wealth of research crammed between the covers, this is a fairly easy read. My only complaint is that there is a lot of repetition, but considering how long we’ve lived with misinformation, a little repetition may actually be required. I kept saying, “But this isn’t what I learned in college!” Of course, my memory of college is a little sketchy. But after having the recipe for a fat-food nation burned into our psyches for several decades, the new eating paradigm presented by Bailor bears repeating.

I read this book while vacationing in Mexico and took the seafood recommendation to heart. I ate shrimp as often as I could, cooked every which way: in wine, in tomatillo sauce, deep-fried and with coconut. Ay, Dios, that was good! But not the nasty case of gout which ensued. Okay, perhaps the tequila contributed to that condition. But it brings up a good point (at my expense, as usual): don’t just fling yourself into a new diet. Everyone is different and it pays to pace yourself. I hope you can follow that advice better than I did.

The second part of this book is about exercise, and although interesting, it seems a little less grounded in science and more informed by Bailor’s own preferred form of eccentric exercise. But for that, you’ll need to read the book!

Check out the paperback at Amazon. It doesn’t cost you a penny extra, but when you buy through us, Amazon kicks back a nickel to Notch by Notch which we use to feed our hungry editors. Hey, just because we’re dieting doesn’t mean we don’t eat! Better yet, grab the Kindle edition and start reading now!