The author, Traci Mann PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota, where she founded the Health and Eating Lab, is an expert on the psychology of eating, dieting and self control. This book (2015 HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY) is subtitled “The science of weight loss, the myth of willpower and why you should never diet again.”
Professor Mann describes lots of her primary research where subjects are always given a distracting cover story, otherwise known as a lie, when their eating behavior is really what is being watched. But she says they always explain the truth at the end and nobody gets mad. In addition to that research, though, she reviews all the standard classic evidence that you fat science experts know so well and there are 46 pages of references. She has done a lot of homework on this difficult subject. Like me she does not conform to the party line = diet and exercise can change your weight and shape. I also appreciated the fact that she does not fall into the standard gambit of popular books about weight loss – not totally anyway. That standard strategy is to explain a lot of true stuff in the beginning about why what everybody says and thinks about obesity is wrong but then at the end proclaim that if you just do this new idea then you can painlessly lose as much weight as you want – that’s also wrong. She says you are going to weigh what you set point says you’re going to weigh. Also the book is well written and fun to read.
However, inevitably, one obesity expert reading another obesity expert is going to have some quibbles. The first two parts of the book explain why weight loss dieting doesn’t work and is a bad idea. The third part of the book titled “How to reach your leanest livable weight (no will power required)” explains tricks to eating right but also eating less. How is eating less not dieting? Most of the tricks might not work very well if you ever did manage to lose some weight. She calls the set point the set range so you can move you weight a little bit to the lower part of that range.
Chapter 5, “Obesity is not a death sentence,” starts out showing that obese people, at least those up to stage III or morbid obesity range of BMI criteria, do not have a higher mortality rate when compared to healthy weight people. But the rest of the chapter explains why obese people have a higher mortality rate for other, mostly non-biological, reasons – disinclination to physical fitness, constant dieting, discrimination and socioeconomics – that should cause them to have a higher mortality rate. So these things are controlled for in the overall death rate studies? She says mostly not. So that means that obese people should have a higher mortality rate. Since they don’t, obesity must be healthier than “healthy” weight. It is only for these other things that they die at the same rate as the non-obese? I don’t think that this logical glitch is satisfactorily dealt with.
One classic study, the kid’s with a marshmallow study of Walter Mischel (1) is mentioned more than once. In this line of research it was found that kids left alone with a marshmallow and told that they could get two marshmallows if they waited, were more likely to succeed in life if they were able to delay their gratification and wait for the second marshmallow. This doesn’t necessarily pertain to the willpower you would need if you were dieting and really hungry. I must be a really high achiever because I have never eaten a marshmallow. That fact, together with having seen and squeezed a marshmallow, made me decide that I don’t like marshmallows.
John DiTraglia M.D. is a Pediatrician in Portsmouth. He can be reached by e-mail- firstname.lastname@example.org or phone-354-6605.