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I like Mika Brzezinski, the co-anchor on Morning Joe at MSNBC. I watch MJ most mornings. I do confess, though, that was worried I wouldn't like the book she has been promoting all year on the show. Almost daily, she admonishes the pundits and the audience about eating junk food. She scolds Joe Scarborough for his naughty eating habits.
"I'm writing a book about this," she keeps saying. And now that book is out.
Sure enough, the tone of her book is the same tone she takes on the show: "I know so much more about this than any of you, because I wrote a book about it."
I find that sad, but not as sad as most of the book's recommendations.
Mika knows so much about what's good for us because she has done her research.
Except she hasn't done good research.
She has consulted with "experts" on dieting including the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine about what's contributing to America's obesity epidemic. She also offers insights from Governor Chris Christie who has just announced that he has had weight loss surgery. Certainly Christie is an expert on what it's like to be fat, but not an expert on how to lose weight. Brzezinski's co-author Diane Smith writes a good portion of the book chronicling her epic struggle with weight loss. The two authors are having a "contest" to develop healthier eating habits.
Mika wants to gain a little weight and a couple of dress sizes and win her struggle over food addiction and body image issues. Diane wants to lose 100 pounds because she weighs over 250 pounds and is in her fifties.
I powered through "Obsessed: America's Food Obsession on My Own" in an afternoon. Here's the problem: Mika offers the same advice that the government, nutritionists, doctors and personal trainers have been telling us for the last 30 years: Eat less and exercise more. Year's ago, we called exercising "working up an appetite." Today, we're supposed to exercise at least 30-minutes a day and, then, eat less. This is the prescription for ravenous hunger.
Oh, yeah, and make sure to avoid "artery-clogging-saturated-fat" and eat plenty of "healthy whole grains."
Mika passes along the advice of the American Council on Exercise's to exercise at least two and a half hours per week. To her credit, she cites a study where people who exercised too much actually were hungrier and ate more so they didn't lose as much weight.
She quotes NBC's medical specialist Dr. Nancy Snyderman about the importance of calorie balance. "Our bodies are a factory and you must run on a debit system. You've got to balance calories in and calories out."
However, Gary Taubes debunked this idea in his YouTube lecture called "Adiposity 101: Why We Get Fat." "Practicing energy balance is impossible," is how he puts it and he proves it the video at about the 30-minute mark of his lecture. (On YouTube search for "Why We Get Fat-Gary Taubes at OSUMC).
Ms. Brzezinski even gives us advice on which electronic monitoring devices we can purchase to help us keep track of every step we take and calorie we burn. This makes the impossible task of balancing calories even more expensive.
I gave "Obsessed" one star for mentioning Dr. Robert Lustig, who appeared on Morning Joe earlier this year to promote his own book, "Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease" If her book nudges some of her readers to watch Lustig's YouTube sensation, "Sugar: The Bitter Truth," then Mika has accomplished something. She has connected them to the real science of weight gain. Lustig blames metabolic syndrome. But after a few pages devoted to the scientist, Mika Brzezinski wants to get back to the pop psychology of it all.
Mika has struggled her whole life with incessant thoughts and cravings for foods that she knows aren't good for her and, often, she has succumbed to those cravings. Then, she compulsively runs mile after mile to burn off the calories she feels so terrible about ingesting.
So I gave her a second star for her brutal honesty and painful self-disclosure about her lifelong food obsessions. The scene in her psychologist's office as she is diagnosed with orthorexia, the obsession with eating health foods is especially poignant.
Here's where the book goes off the rails. She actually thinks she is eating healthy by switching from sugary breakfast cereals to shredded wheat, granola and Bran Chex.
Ingredients of Bran Chex:
Corn Meal, Sugar, Corn Bran, Rice Bran, Wheat Bran, Corn Whole Grain, Flavor(s) Artificial, BHT To Preserve Freshness, Calcium Carbonate, Color(s) Added, Molasses, Salt, Vitamin E (Tocopherols Mixed (Vitamin E) and) , Vitamins And Minerals :, Niacinamide (Vitamin aB), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (HCL) (Vitamin B6) , Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) (Vitamin B2) , Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C) (Vitamin C) , Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1) (Vitamin B1) , Vitamin B12, Vitamin D3, Zinc, Iron, Vitamin A Palmitate
A 3/4 cup serving contains 40g of carbohydrate and 10g of sugar.
She has apparently not looked up the glycemic index of the oatmeal, flaxseed, honey and banana she often eats after hosting Morning Joe. It's 58 for the oatmeal alone, which is higher than a Snickers bar. She is fueling her body with starch and fructose instead of fat. Her protein is lean, the occasional chicken breast. She describes her "healthy" omelet as containing five egg whites and only one yolk.
Mika is fat-phobic and carbo-loaded.
Then, she jumps the shark by including Christie Hefner's boast: "She believes," Mika writes, "that magazines and other media need to show more images of vigorous women. When she was head of Playboy, she presided over a gradual change in the look of the women who appeared on the magazine's pages. `For many of the early years, you would never have seen athletic women in the magazine,' she (Hefner) recalls. `That changed, not just the appearance of women who were modeling in the magazine but in the appearance of actual athletes like Gabrielle Reece, a volleyball player, or Katarina Witt, the skater. We featured women with strong physiques, and they were both powerful and sexy.' Those kinds of images help to shift attitudes about what we consider beautiful and encourage the next generation of girls to value exercise."
One can only wonder whether Hefner oversaw this gradual change as something that would benefit the young men or the young women who read Playboy.
While she offers up the counsel of Jennifer Hudson and Gayle King, she makes no mention of the meticulously researched "Good Calories, Bad Calories" by Gary Taubes which makes the scientific claim that "Fat doesn't make you fat. Carbohydrates do."
Taubes so beautifully posits that obesity is a disease of fat accumulation. Once we understand what causes fat accumulation we can begin to reverse it. The cause is the hormone insulin. This has been known, but not widely embraced, for decades.
If I could reach out to Mika, I would urge here to use full fat milk or, even better, cream in her coffee and eat a couple of real scrambled eggs with some shredded cheese stirred in and get some fat into her system. The apple she eats before the show contains fructose. More sugar. Better than a Pop-Tart, but not her best choice.
She would be pleasantly surprised that by having a grass fed hamburger for lunch (with no bun), she could stave off cravings (hunger really) for hours.
Nobody binges on prime rib or cheese omelets because they satisfy your hunger for hours. "Haagen-Daz coffee ice cream, or a pizza in a pocket or a bag of chips" have been her go-to binge foods.
Is it not obvious to Mika that she is ravenously hungry and not obsessed? She wouldn't be obsessed if she would eat more fat. Hunger is the feeling that keeps her thinking constantly about food. She's talking to Colin Powell at a reception and can only think about where the waiter with the cocktail weenies is. That's hunger. Kids can't concentrate in school when they're hungry. Nor can Mika semi-starve herself and concentrate on the General. Her "rigid low calorie diet" is the culprit. It's high carbohydrate content means she is constantly hungry.
Hunger isn't a craving. It's a signal. Hunger is not a disease. It's biology.
She admits that the Atkins Diet may be beneficial for some, but everybody is different. That's the big mistake. Everybody isn't different. We are human beings who evolved to eat meat and enjoy fat. She admits a Paleo diet might work for some, but others might need to go vegan.
Please. Required reading for all vegans and vegetarians is "The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability."
The Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs chaired by the late Senator George McGovern foisted "Dietary Goals for America" on us in 1977. Americans have heeded our government's advice to lower our consumption of fat from 40% to 30% and get carbohydrate consumption up to 55 to 60%. The obesity epidemic started a few years later as food processors rushed to create low fat alternatives.
The low fat craze meant that food processors substituted sugar, salt and artificial flavoring for the fat they reduced.
That resulted in mild insanity in Mika's case and an obesity epidemic in our Nation's case. Both conditions are a direct result of these misguided guidelines, which were based on opinions and politics rather than hard science.
The science is that your body can't make fat if insulin levels are low. And your body can live of its own stored fat when insulin isn't coursing through your veins. If it is coursing through your veins, your fat cells can't release fatty acids into your bloodstream so your blood sugar plummets and you get hungry.
This is biology, not mental illness.
While I admire Mika's intention to shed light on the problem, she adds little the conversation except a rehashing of the "conventional wisdom" which got us here. And in doing that, she sadly wastes the money of people who purchase this book.
Full disclosure: I am the co-owner of a diet business with thousands of successful clients and 92.3% satisfaction rate. My partner and wife spent 40 years and a small fortune (way north of $100,000) following the advice of nutritionists, therapists, personal trainers, obesity clinic doctors and books like Mika Brzezinski's. Together we are 100 pounds lighter than we were a few years ago. We keep the weight off easily and effortlessly. That's because we got connected to the real science of weight gain and weight loss and know now that being fat is not a mental condition, it's a hormonal one.
You will find much more scientific and efficacious advice in "Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health" or Gary Taubes' more accessible "Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It." Do watch Dr. Lustig's video Sugar, The Bitter Truth on YouTube. While you're there search for a few clips from the Fathead, The Movie by Tom Naughton which got our weight loss journey off to a much faster start than Mika Brzezinski's "Obsessed" ever could.