Thursday, June 28, 2012

Book Review: The Belly Melt Diet

Book Title: The Belly Melt Diet

Author: Editors of Prevention magazine

Date: 2012

Publisher: Rodale Press

Length: 368 pages

ISBN: 1609618424

Illustrations: black-and-white photos

Who needs to read this book? Not just the figure-conscious women at whom it's aimed. The research in this book can also help those who think that blaming a specific food, or group of foods, is the way to fight our "epidemic of obesity."

Not that the logic is hard to follow. We have two problems in the United States: (1) that epidemic of obesity, and (2) a widespread belief, shared by many elected officials, that our country needs to do for people far more than people can do for their country. To some people, adding new "sin taxes" on junkfood seems like a logical solution to both problems.

Very young people think this kind of solution will actually work. People of age and guile think it will at least make them sound "caring" enough to get them elected and reelected to lucrative positions. But this web site predicts three possible outcomes of imposing "sin taxes" on any food, however junky:

(1) As with wine and cigars, using the food that has now become much more expensive than its fair market value would become a status symbol for rich people, and government would actually become dependent on the continuing sale of more of the product.

(2) Poor people, especially the teenyboppers who supposedly need to be protected from junkfood, would find other ways to maintain, or increase, their existing intake of sugar, salt, grease, caffeine, and/or monosodium glutamate. They'd substitute other forms of junkfood that weren't taxed. Or a black market for bootlegged junkfood could develop.

(3) Politicians would continue to campaign on the platform that Uncle Sam can afford to keep on spending money like a drunken sailor. Since the root cause of the economic problem would not be addressed, the problem would grow: government's expenses would continue to rise while government's income, from taxes on private products, would continue to drop.

And...according to the medical research summarized in The Belly Melt Book, blaming specific food products is even less likely to help victims of that "epidemic of obesity" than we thought.

Does soda pop cause obesity? Nobody could prove it by me. I've never avoided soda pop; for twenty years I've consumed at least some soda pop almost every day. I've never been obese. I've worn the same shirt and dress size, and some of the same shirts and dresses, since grade ten. I've bought jeans in six different sizes, all of which have fit at one time or another, as I've fluctuated between: flabby and sickly at 35-24-34 and 117 pounds; sleek and fit at 35-19-32 and 118 pounds; gaunt, haggard, and scary-looking at 35-27-35 and 96 pounds; and just plain fat at 35-32-37 and 148 pounds. (All this time, the woman-haters in New York have been saying that I ought to measure 32-24-34, weigh 120 pounds, and also have narrower shoulders and a longer back than I've ever had. That's just a subtle form of racism.) There has been no correlation between my body shape and my soda pop intake.

I hadn't thought about it until I read The Belly Melt Diet, but there has been a correlation between my body shape and my exposure to light at night. What I do when I notice that my baggy jeans are starting to fit too well is reduce the attention I pay to food and increase the time I spend walking, or doing other kinds of exercise. That works. But what's been going on each time I've noticed the baggy jeans beginning to fit too well? Well...sometimes I was staying with sick patients who used night lights to make getting up several times during the night easier, and sometimes I was living in neighborhoods where people apparently got some sense of security by burning bright street lights all night.

The Belly Melt Diet begins by summarizing the evidence that our "epidemic of obesity" is more likely to be correlated with what's changed during the past forty years. Specifically, the number of people who live in overcrowded, over-lighted places. Grandpa may have grabbed an RC Cola and a Moon Pie to enjoy while listening to "Maple on the Hill" on the jukebox at the store where people who weren't members of his church might have been dancing, but he was slim, because he walked back to the farmhouse and snuffed out his oil lamp by nine o'clock. Then most of my generation moved into town to raise our children, and offered them the modern alleged conveniences as they came along: street lights, low-wattage night lights in the house, TV, digital clocks, videos, computers, now lit-up phone pads...and their bodies are showing that more than simple calorie intake has affected their metabolism as they've grown up, although most of them have ingested too many calories and burned too few.

Our children aren't just tall, strong, and muscular. We love them, so we want to see them as burly or beefy, but look at them again with a detached eye: increasing numbers of young people are suffering from pathological giantism. It's not just that Junior is taller than his teacher, or even hit puberty at age eleven--that's always been the case for maybe five percent of the population. It's that Princess hit puberty at age seven, and Junior, tall, obese, diabetic, and badly sight-impaired, had his first stroke at age nine...and these stories don't even rate mentioning on "News of the Weird" any more. There are kids like that in every middle school class these days.

Want to lose weight? The Belly Melt Diet isn't going to tell you, nor am I going to tell you, that you don't still need to eat less and exercise more. But The Belly Melt Diet opens with the breaking news that eating less and exercising more is likely to work better if you begin by simplifying your life. Banish all those blinking boxes from your home. Leave lights on only indoors, in rooms where someone is actually using them. Make sure any outside lights on your property are close enough to the ground, and well enough hooded, to direct all the light to the ground and not light up the sky. Try to avoid living on a street where you're exposed to car lights, and work to get street lights lowered, hooded, and dimmed. You'll sleep better in the dark...and that may be the key not only to losing weight as an adult, but protecting your children from developing middle-aged diseases while they're still in middle school.

Now, about the actual diet: The Belly Melt Diet has not officially hit the stores yet. Grandma Bonnie Peters got a chance to preview it through a Rodale Press book club. Well, she and I previewed it, and although we found some good recipes, I can tell you that neither of us would be able to try the diet. Bodies differ. A high-protein diet works for long-term weight maintenance for some people, but when I read a menu that suggested an omelet for breakfast, milk at coffee-break time, turkey sandwich for lunch, and milkshake at after-school-snack time, I didn't even want to read what was suggested for dinner. I don't think I could choke down that much protein in that much time.

Also GBP was miffed by the writers' virtually ignoring food intolerance issues, although almost half the population are gluten, lactose, and/or casein-intolerant. There's a vague mention that gluten intolerance can be a factor in "metabolic syndrome"--cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, depression, and thyroid dysfunction. If you're gluten-intolerant that's not news; it's probably a short description of your relatives. Gluten intolerance is a gene that can be identified these days by a blood or DNA test before serious symptoms appear. Can those of us who inherit the gene postpone the appearance of serious symptoms by manipulating our diet without giving up all wheat products, or is it better just to quit wheat "cold turkey" and see how many trivial symptoms disappear from your life? Nobody knows.

Will The Belly Melt Diet work for you if you can follow it? Probably; it's low enough in calories. What about the exercises? Spot-reducing exercises do help tone the muscles that control flab, especially female-hormone-linked flab, so if you want your curves to have that taut, trim, youthful look The Belly Melt Diet contains a good list of spot-reducing exercises.

But what you really need to read this book for is the evidence pinpointing the villain in our "epidemic of obesity." There are fat kids who don't drink soda pop (maybe their poison of choice is Cheetos) and skinny kids who do. Soda pop may be the easiest source of empty calories to banish from your diet, but cutting out soda pop not only won't make fat people trim, it may cause some shapely bodies to gain weight (if they're habituated to caffeine). But what's making what used to be a really freakish degree of obesity into an epidemic? Something that used to be science-fiction material: all those blue-toned electronic lights.

Maybe the British have the right idea. They've been taxing, or "licensing," TV sets for a long time.