BOOK REVIEW: The Economists’ Diet – Two Formerly Obese Economists Find the Formula for Losing Weight and Keeping It Off by Christopher Payne PhD and Rob Barnet

BOOK REVIEW: The Economists’ Diet – Two Formerly Obese Economists Find the Formula for Losing Weight and Keeping It Off by Christopher Payne PhD and Rob Barnett

Pan Macmillan Australia
December 2017
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Non-Fiction / Family & Health / Popular Medicine & Health

8/10

The Economists’ Diet was written by two men who practice what they preach. Christopher Payne PhD and Rob Barnett are two formerly obese economists. They discovered and formulated some principles for weight-loss and diet and this resulted in their shedding the excess weight and keeping it off for several years. Their book is ultimately a practical and no-nonsense guide to eating, lifestyle, and nutrition. It explains some concepts affecting human choices and behaviours and they manage to present this in an engaging and easy-to-follow way so that you don’t need to be an economist in order to incorporate these things in your daily life.

Rather than subscribing to a particular food plan or program, we lost weight by applying what we know best—economics—to our waistlines. By carefully considering economic theories, real-world data, and our personal experiences, we developed behavioral best practices that helped us control our impulses to overeat as well as approach food in a healthier way…
Although this book is rooted in economics, we want to emphasize that this is not a theoretical guide to weight loss. It’s a practical guide written by two individuals who have achieved lasting weight loss results. We designed the Economists’ Diet so that anyone can follow it, whether you have a PhD or barely understand the difference between supply and demand.

The authors are not nutritional experts, yet some of the advice they espouse is so logical and sensible that you could imagine it being recommended by a dietitian or another such expert. Some of the advice may be the kind of stuff the reader already knows themselves (most people understand that in order to lose weight they should eat less, for instance). Their prose can be a bit repetitive at times but you get the sense that they have done so intentionally, in order to emphasise their key points.

Their text ultimately straddles the lines between offering up personal details of their own weight loss journeys and well as providing some scientific studies and other research about human psychology and behavioural economics. The authors’ key messages could perhaps be summed up by the following micro-habits that they advocate:

– Weigh yourself every day
– Eat one square meal a day
– Be calorie conscious
– Don’t waste money on fad diets or diet food
– Limit variety in your diet
– Adopt a mini-feast/mini-fast lifestyle

The idea of weighing yourself daily is not one that is encouraged by all health practitioners. But the writers quite rationally argue that in order to control and measure your weight you really need to be aware of what that figure is. They say that you can experiment with the foods you eat but you really should only have one square meal and two lighter ones each today. Irrespective of what you consume, you will be given immediate feedback about your diet’s effects on your weight through the figure on the scales the following day.

This advice also supports their notion of being calorie conscious rather than having to count every calorie because you are getting that necessary feedback. They say it can be difficult to count every last calorie because the size of fruits and vegetables can vary so you can’t always accurately compute this figure and they cite a study from the U.S. which found that many packaged food producers underreport the caloric content of their foods. The authors argue that by being mindful of calorie content, one can make better choices with respect to their diets and avoid traps like foods that appear healthy but are actually calorie dense (like a chicken caesar salad) or packed with other nasties (like some low-fat yoghurt containing high portions of sugar, for instance).

Learning to eat with intention instead of on autopilot is one of the key messages of the Economists’ Diet. Over time we, Rob and Chris, got fat because our eating habits and routines came to drown out the signals (hunger and fullness) that our bodies were sending us. The most pernicious of these habits was eating three square meals a day. Regardless of how empty our stomachs were, we sat down and ate our next large meal at the same time every day because we had formed the habit of doing so. This had to stop.

There are thousands of diet books published every year so the fundamental question remains, what make this one so different? Perhaps the big drawcard here is that the authors aren’t trying to give readers detailed recipes or impossible meal plans. Instead they offer advice and principles that can be employed for a healthier life. They recommend things like limiting eating out to once or twice a week; to never buy groceries on an empty stomach; to write a shopping list and stick to what you need and shop online to avoid temptations in the supermarket; and also to avoid food commercials and advertising by watching ad-free streaming services like Netflix and the like. The authors also write that people can have a splurge with respect to a meal every so often but that this also needs to be counterbalanced with a form of austerity (or restricted) eating/fasting at other times.

Just like a thrifty individual saving prudently for retirement, or a government curbing spending now in order to be able to afford entitlement programs in the future, a dieter needs to eat less now in order to enhance the enjoyment, quality, and most likely, length of his or her life down the line. By making a commitment to lose weight, you are essentially recognizing that the satisfaction (delayed gratification) of being thin and healthy tomorrow will be greater than any satisfaction (instant gratification) you get from indulging in that extra slice of pizza or cake today. We won’t say that thinking in these terms will make dieting easier, but it will help you stay focused and motivated knowing that you are working toward a long-term goal.

From reading this book you get the sense that weight loss and management takes discipline and moderation but that it is also not impossible. It’s also interesting to read about things that are framed in terms of short and long-term costs and benefits. So we need to learn how to overcome the desire for instant gratification that we might get from eating junk food or an extra slice of pizza and instead actively consider the long-term costs of this choice (the impacts on our health and wellbeing, having to buy a new wardrobe, etc.) As humans we often undervalue the future so it’s important that a book like this educates people about this phenomena so we can all make more-informed and better decisions.

Try these meta-rules
– Unless it’s a special occasion, never have seconds
– During the week, always have whole grain cereal for breakfast
– During the week, always have salad for lunch
– Always opt for the smallest portion of food or drink available
– Eat out only once a week
– At business lunches order only a salad or fish entrée
– Never eat more than two-thirds of what’s on your plate

Another fascinating phenomena that the authors describe is one of diminishing returns. They state that eating more of the same kinds of meals will mean we derive less pleasure from eating this food in the long-term. This act can then help prevent us from overeating in the first place. It can also help reward us by giving us a greater sense of pleasure when we do find ourselves eating something different and having a mini-splurge, for instance. At the end of the day a lot of this stuff isn’t rocket science, because the idea of weight loss itself – the notion that we need to expend more energy then we consume via food and drink – is simple enough to grasp, even if so many of us struggle to employ it ourselves. (A side note, the authors also advise people not to drink their calories, giving the example of one Starbucks item that contains an eye-watering number of calories in a single cup, a sure-fire way to exceed the number of calories your body requires on any given day.)

For now, here’s a quick pep talk: embrace hunger with open arms. We know from our own experience that losing weight without ever feeling hungry is impossible. Accepting this truth is critical to preparing yourself for successful, long-lasting weight loss. There is simply no way to avoid hunger if you want to lose weight, so you might as well get used to the idea now rather than later. But here’s the good news: hunger won’t kill you, and over time, you’ll start to experience it differently.

The Economists’ Diet has some intelligent solutions that can be employed by people wanting to embark on a weight-loss journey. The advice is easy-enough to follow, makes sense, and offers enough flexibility to allow the individual to tailor it in order to suit their lifestyles and keep it up in the long-term. This book is a sobering and sensible approach to a complex problem and is a good reminder that weight-loss need not be as difficult as we have previously thought.

BOOK REVIEW: The Economists’ Diet - Two Formerly Obese Economists Find the Formula for Losing Weight and Keeping It Off by Christopher Payne PhD and Rob Barnet

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