We are constantly bombarded with health tips, new practices and diets that promise excellent results within a short time span. As the average person tends to lack in expertise in the fields of medicine, biology, biochemistry and nutrition, it is difficult to decide what is credible and what is totally unfounded mumbo-jumbo.
A good example of a controversial weight loss regime is associated with a TV show aired on the UK’s Channel 4 between 2004 and 2007 and with the associated book, both entitled “You Are What You Eat”. The programme was hosted, and the book written, by (Dr.) Gillian McKeith, a holistic nutritionist. She came to attention as she delivered excellent results in her above mentioned TV show. She quickly became a celebrity and a best-selling author, whose dietary programme was subsequently scrutinised by medical practitioners and nutritionists. That scrutiny revealed substantial controversies with regard to the science behind her dietary programme and her academic credentials, including her MA and PhD degrees from the already closed down, unaccredited Clayton College in the United States.
For example, Ben Goldacre, a doctor and Guardian columnist extensively criticised McKeith’s regime on the pages of the Guardian and on his web site http://www.badscience.net. He even called her “The Awful Poo Lady” referring to her diagnosing methods, (namely analysing stool samples) and referred to her dietary programme as “cargo cult science”. Professor John Garrow, the emeritus professor of human nutrition at the University of London also questioned the scientific claims of McKeith. So did Amanda Wynne, senior dietician with the British Dietetic Association, who suggested that if McKeith’s regime was to be “followed to the limit, her advice could be dangerous” (Daily Mail: http://dailym.ai/197aPTi).
Being only a nutrition enthusiast, not a medical professional or qualified nutritionist, I am not in a position to judge her regime, question her methods or evaluate her credentials. Nonetheless, I have read her book and reviewed some of the criticism against her regime. While I concluded that the science behind her regime may not be well-founded and may be questionable, I do believe in some of her tips and I find some of her advice actually very much helpful for those who wish to lead a healthier lifestyle and wish to lose weight or shape up.
In my opinion, the book is very readable and its presentation style is good, catchy and attractive. It is not too text-heavy, it is illustrated with beautiful photography and is right in its tone to address a general audience.
I like the fact that McKeith gives a review of her personal story which led her from being a junk food eater to being passionate about food and health. In the foreword of the book, she suggests that “it’s simply going to be about changing a few habits and recognising the harm that certain foods are inflicting on you”. As long as one takes this as the core message of the book, uses it as a general guidance and does not get overly concerned about the science behind it, then it is a good and helpful book.
In Chapter 1, we get a review of negative nutrition-related health facts and a calorific overview of the most commonly consumed foods in the United Kingdom. She tells us about the benefits of eating good food and the negative impacts of consuming junk food on our health. In Chapter 2, we are presented with stories of overweight and obese people; and a list of common symptoms of bad eating habits, in a generic sense. This overview, I believe, is intended to provide a tool for a self-assessment and is based on some diagnostic principles from Traditional Chinese Medicine. However, it does not elaborate on the source and principles of the diagnostic tools, so perhaps we should not take these too seriously.
In Chapter 3, we get insights about good and bad foods. We get an overview about the benefits of grains, healthy protein sources, good sweets and the reasons why “the nasties” are bad for us. We also get tips for food combination principles, which may or may not be scientifically founded. Nonetheless, “The Abundant Food List” does contain foods that are definitely from the healthy group, based on general, common knowledge.
Chapter 4 goes through the “Top 5 Bummers”, i.e. conditions that can be improved with healthy eating habits. Nutritional tips are offered for all and a self-help questionnaire is provided too. This aiming to help the reader find out whether they suffer from any of these “bummers”. Chapter 5 elaborates on the importance of detoxifying the body, offers ideas and recipes and useful tips that help the reader to go through a detox day. Also, it elaborates on the importance of exercise.
Chapter 6 offers specific advice for certain conditions, including acne, stretch-marks, eczema, varicose veins, dull hair, unhealthy teeth & gums and a dull sex life. Again, I am not in a position to evaluate the advice here, but if anyone suffers from these conditions, perhaps the tips are worth giving a go and see whether they deliver any positive change. Chapter 7 offers a 7-day plan to boost the reader into a healthier eating regime. It offers recipes and shopping tips, including how to read labels and what to avoid in packaged food. (If you are interested in knowing more about food labels, check out my previous blog post in this topic: “Understanding What Is In Your Food”).
Chapter 8 offers “20 Super Quick Tips” that are quick fixes for dietary & other habits, while Chapter 9 give an overview on some “superfoods”, including greens, grasses, herbs, sea vegetables, leafy vegetables and sprouts. It also gives a few reasons for eating raw food. (On the topic of superfoods, perhaps you might be interested in checking out my previous blog post: “Superfoods in Action”).
I think the message of the book about healthy eating habits is definitely welcome. It emphasises the importance of eating a balanced diet that consists of lots of fresh and organic produce and fibre. Fresh fruit & veg, complex carbs, whole grains, nuts, seeds, seaweeds and healthy fats are recommended to be consumed in abundance. McKeith’s regime does not exclude the occasional egg, fish and chicken from a healthy diet, either. The book also draws advocates for variety and moderation. Some supplements are also recommended, in certain cases. It is mentioned that a healthy diet must be supplemented with mild exercise that the reader finds enjoyable. I also like the “holistic” approach of the book toward overall health and wellbeing, happiness and fitness.
Having read this book, I don’t think it is a hardcore or fanatical health programme. I cannot judge the science behind it, but common sense suggest that its nutritional tips are largely beneficial to the health-conscious reader, who is interested in dropping a few pounds, or managing their weight more effectively. I would recommend trying a few recipes from its jumpstart or from its detox programme and seeing how they work for you. Giving it a go may help you decide for yourself, whether it is something for you to pursue. In order to achieve balanced health and wellbeing by way of choosing to eat healthy food, one may not need to go very deep into the science of nutrition anyway.