Sunday, December 28, 2008

Book Review: Refuse to Regain

As some of my readers know, weight is a struggle that I've had over the years. I was a chubby child, a too-skinny 18-year old (crash diet), an obese woman in my late 20's to early 30's...I worked pretty hard to lose 57 lbs in 2002. Then again last year to lose the last 20 lbs of baby weight. My method of weight loss is weight watchers. I enjoy reading about weight loss and reading health and fitness books, blogs, and magazines.

Sometime last year I was reading CNN and saw a headline about someone's amazing weight loss. It's pretty typical to see these...they are doing a series. I clicked the link and the location said "Clarion, PA". Now, I'm from Clarion. Graduated from high school there. So I had an instant interest. I didn't know the woman profiled (Lynn Bering), as she moved there after marriage. But I enjoyed reading her story. She's lost 158 lbs. Occasionally I read her blog.

She has teamed with an obesity doctor to start a new website dedicated to helping people MAINTAIN weight loss (often harder than losing it in the first place). It was here that I learned about the book "Refuse to Regain: 12 Tough Rules to Maintain the Body You've Earned", by Barbara Berkeley, M.D. I placed it on my wish list, and promptly forgot about it. Until Christmas, when I received it as a gift. (I think my in-laws have given up, and understand that I just have weird book requests...I also got a vegetarian cookbook for kids, "Vegan Express" by Nava Atlas, and "The Complete Book of Running for Women".)

I spent a fair bit of time on Christmas day with a runny nose, reading the book. I picked it because of reviews that mentioned things specific to maintenance.

In general, I think it's a good book filled with some practical tips. She's definitely experience (this is her field). She discusses the differences betweeen NOWs (never overweights) and POWs (previously overweights) in physical and emotional terms.

She discusses, for example (as rule #1), that you have to be TOUGH, not MODERATE. Most people and dietitians, doctors, espouse "moderation". In reality, for weight maintenance, that doesn't work. Saying you'll have only "one" cookie heads you on the road to failure. However, being tough and strict is the way to success. I have to say that I mostly agree. When I have to be serious about weight loss and maintenance, I simply make sure there is no candy in the house. Over the holidays, I just decided to lose some weight and told myself I couldn't have any of the snacks at work. And I didn't. I still use measuring cups to measure my food.

Rule #2 says that you need to have a strict diet for 3 months. This actually does work for me (though 6-8 weeks is usually enough). That's about as long as it takes to develop a new habit. It's very difficult, for example, for me to lose 5 lbs and maintain that weight loss. It only takes 3-4 weeks. For 10 lbs, it generally takes 5-6 weeks. So at the end of that, it's a new habit.

Dr. Berkeley also recommends weighing yourself every day, in the morning, naked. Yep, I do this during maintenance. During weight loss, no. It's good to be honest. To get a feel for how your weight fluctuates by the day, week, months. You stop fearing the number so much, but can also reverse small increases.

Rule #4 is to establish a "scream weight". This is the weight that when you hit it, you IMMEDIATELY try to reverse it. My "scream weight" is 135, and I hit it in early December.

Rule #5 is to eat 90% "Primarian", which is her definition of what the diet of our ancestors tended to be. With a few small changes. I will discuss this one later. This is the big rule that I mostly disagree with.

Rule #6 is to eat one major meal and then mini-meals and snacks for the rest of the day. I tend to do this anyway.

Another point that Dr. Berkeley makes is to "scan and plan". Take a look at your day's schedule. Figure out what you will eat and when. What will be your major meal? Will it be in or out? What will your snacks be? I like this idea...I plan my meals a day or more in advance. On occasion, I have to be at work at 6 am, and I know that I won't be able to eat again until 11 am. On those days, I eat a big breakfast (that I can barely get down), because it will hold me until 11.

Rule #8 is to stop eating after 8 pm. Can't disagree with that (half the time I'm asleep by 8:30).

The next rule is to eat from a limited menu. The more variety available, the more likely you are to overeat. This is one reason why I am trying to stick to whole grains, beans, and veggies. I'm not quite at the limited menu as the folks at

Rule #10 is to allow yourself 1 treat per day. Even during weight loss, I find I have to allow myself one piece of chocolate, or one glass of wine, or some good cheese.

Dr. Berkeley recommends developing a "love affair with exercise." I couldn't agree more. My typical schedule is:

Mon: 30-40 min of elliptical or treadmill, 40-60 min of weightlifting (with or without a trainer).
Tue: Bike to work (45-50 min)
Wed: See Monday, but no trainer
Thu: off
Fri: See Tues
Sat: See Weds, but generally it's 40 min or more of cardio. I try to run to the gym (25 min), then do cardio with my friend, then lift.
Sun: varies. Running, walking, biking, or a day off.

In agreement with rule #1, she points out that successful maintainers exercise for an hour a day, which isn't exactly "moderate".

Her final rule is to get, an on-line group, friends.

So back to #5. Here's where my big beef with her book is: She espouses the "primarian" diet. Which means no starches. No rice, no beans, no potatoes, no bread. Now, this is based on her experience with POW people and the "addictive" quality of these foods. Starches tend to trigger both weight gain and hunger in people who have been overweight. She also points out that our bodies are descended from hunter-gatherers who ate meat and vegetables and grains - they didn't cultivate them.

I see her point. When I need to get serious and lose a few pounds, I cut back on carbs, to about 6 servings per day. However, I don't necessarily agree that a diet with a fair bit of meat is good for the environment, the earth, or your body.

For example, her book quotes Michael Pollan, but his recommended diet is considerably lower in meat than hers. (The recommendations in her book include meat daily). She allows the use of sugar substitutes (aka, fake food), low-fat dairy (which certainly wasn't available to the hunter-gatherers). And didn't hunter-gatherers die VERY young?

The book seems to have absolutely no place in it for vegetarians...which I find interesting, because Lynn Bering is a vegetarian. The China Study discusses the health benefits of a vegetarian diet (and the problems associated with meat). I can't understand how you can ignore that.

In reality, I think bodies are different. Just as a lot of Asians thrive on rice and beans, the Inuits thrive on meat. Some people are gluten intolerant. Some can't eat very much grain at all. Others thrive on a vegan diet. This seems to be ignored in this book.

In short, except for a big, glaring disagreement on #5 (eating a Primarian diet), it's a good book. And I agree that starches should be limited. But not eliminated.

1 comment:

Lynn Haraldson-Bering said...

Hey, Marcia. Thank you for your well-balanced review of Barbara's book. While she and I differ on our approaches to meat and legumes, she's always been supportive of my choice to eat vegetarian (otherwise we wouldn't be working together! LOL). I really like your blog. I'm glad I found it. I look forward to reading more in 2009.