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Book Review: Master Your Metabolism: The 3 Diet Secrets to Naturally Balancing Your Hormones for a Hot and Healthy Body! by Jillian Michaels and Mariska Van Aalst

January 17, 2015 Leave a comment

cover_masterSummary:
Jillian Michaels became famous for being a personal trainer on The Biggest Loser, a show she has since left.  In addition to being a personal trainer, she is also a woman with PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome), an illness that messes with hormones and often makes the sufferer gain weight due to these hormonal problems.  Jillian, with the help of her doctor, takes her years of experience both dealing with her own hormonal issues and training others with them and offers up advice on how to adjust your diet and lifestyle to optimize your hormonal balance for easier health and weight loss.

Review:
Despite its title, this book primarily focuses on achieving health through making permanent changes to your lifestyle, advocating a gradual overhaul with the focus on improving health, with weight loss as a side bonus.

The book opens with an introduction from Dr. Christine Darwin.  It then moves to Jillian giving a brief introduction to her own health journey.  It was fascinating to learn about how she became a trainer in her late teens, got her job on The Biggest Loser, and was diagnosed with PCOS.  This lends a personal touch to the entire book.  Jillian isn’t “naturally fit.” She works hard at it and has an illness that actually makes it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight.  This book is honest about the fact that achieving fitness is varying levels of difficult for people, but also takes a no-nonsense, if you want health you’ll fight for it, attitude.  That attitude may rub some readers the wrong way, but I appreciate it.

The book next tackles explaining how your biochemistry impacts your health and weight and why it’s therefore important to keep them balanced.  Readers who enjoy knowing the why’s behind certain bits of health advice (such as keeping your stress levels low, getting enough sleep, not eating after 9pm) will particularly enjoy this section, as it explains the biochemistry behind this advice.  Readers who prefer to just get the advice without knowing the why’s can easily skip this bit and just partake of the advice if they so choose.  My favorite part of this section is how kind Jillian is about how people may have beat up their bodies so far in life.  She’s very encouraging that what’s in the past is in the past, and every body can be improved.

No matter how you’ve abused your body up until now–and I’m willing to bet you have, even if you didn’t mean to–you can make it better. (loc 583)

The next section talks about how various chemicals and hormones in our environments contribute to messed up hormones.  Jillian is quite passionate about how things like BPA in cans and hormones in non-organic dairy can pile up to mess up human hormones.  Jillian makes a point of saying that even changing one of these things (for instance, buying organic dairy) can help your body, because every little bit helps.  However, she is also so passionate about these hormonal and chemical pollutants that it can sometimes seem as if she is telling the reader to change everything all at once, and that can be a bit overwhelming.

Next the recommended diet is tackled, and it’s actually fairly straight-forward.  Limit processed foods (and all the HFCS and artificial sweeteners and preservatives that come with it).  Focus on eating only things that grew in the ground or had a mother. Limit starchy root vegetables (less than 2 servings a day), alcohol (1 drink per day), caffeine (stick to green tea), soy (2 servings per week), full fat dairy and fatty meats, and canned food (to avoid BPA).  She encourages including power nutrients, such as: legumes, alliums, berries, meat and eggs, colorful and cruciferous fruits and vegetables, dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, organic dairy, and whole grains.  Perhaps the most difficult part of the diet, besides cutting out processed food, is the timing of eating she recommends.  Eat within an hour of waking up. Eat three more times in the day, once every four hours.  Eat until you’re full but not stuffed. Don’t eat after 9pm.  The explanation for the timing issue is to help balance your hormones.  She also states that you must have fat, protein, and carbs at every meal, but to aim for higher protein, particularly in the evening meal and as you age.  The reasoning behind this is you feel more satisfied with all three macros and also are more likely to not lack in any particular nutrient.  Two other reasons are that protein increases your metabolism and as people age they need more protein to retain muscles.  This is not a particularly challenging diet, nor is it far off from what is generally recommended by doctors and nutritionists as a healthy diet.  Again, the most challenging part is the timing issue.  Not everyone’s life lets them perfectly space out their meals.

For those readers who are new to eating a whole foods, unprocessed diet, the book includes a sample menu (I believe it covers two weeks, but can’t double-check as it was a library copy).  The recipes are perfect for beginner cooks with nothing too complex and not too much time required.  Jillian teamed up with a professional for the recipes, and is straight-forward about that.

The book next tackles the six most common hormonal disorders, including PMS, hypothyroid, metabolic syndrome, and PCOS.  These hormonal issues require special recommendations and guidelines, and Jillian explains them quickly and clearly.

Finally the book ends with some tips on how to live out the recommended lifestyle, including how to afford and/or find organic food, how to clean your house without chemicals, etc…  Just as earlier, Jillian is so passionate about this that it’s possible for the reader to feel overwhelmed at the thought of doing everything, even though Jillian does make a point to state that changing even one thing, or one thing at a time, will help.  Perhaps it would help if the book ended with a checklist of the most important changes or how to adapt gradually or something like that to make it feel less overwhelming for the reader.

Besides the fact that sometimes the book can make the lifestyle feel a bit overwhelming, my only other issue with the book was when Jillian recommends that women stop taking hormonal birth control pills and use condoms instead.  Condoms are nowhere near as good a form of birth control as hormonal methods, and randomly recommending everyone stop using hormonal birth control is more than just a bit irresponsible.  It would have been far more responsible to do something such as suggest that if the reader is concerned about the level of hormones in her birth control to speak to her doctor about lower level hormone options, such as the mini-pill or the IUD, and see if those may work for her.  Just flat-out saying everyone use condoms is not helpful.  Plus, there is a risk/reward calculation that every individual must make for themselves.

Overall, this book mostly recommends diet and lifestyle changes that would also be recommended by most doctors and nutritionists.  The timing of eating is something that is up for debate, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt the reader to try it.  Jillian sometimes gets so passionate about all of the lifestyle and diet changes that it can feel overwhelming to the reader.  Recommended to those interested in the science behind generally recommended lifestyle changes.  Just remember that you don’t have to do everything at once and take the advice with a piece of salt. Do your own research and talk to your doctor before dropping medication/birth control.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: The Alkaline Cure: Lose Weight, Gain Energy, Feel Young and Stay Healthy for the Rest of Your Life by Stephan Domenig

November 12, 2014 Leave a comment

Book Review: The Alkaline Cure by Stephan DomenigSummary:
This book offers an introduction to the Alkaline Diet, as well as a 14 day meal plan and lifestyle guide to jump-start the reader into the Alkaline way.

Review:
The introduction to the Alkaline Diet in the first half of the book is wonderfully written and easy to understand.  The 14 day meal plan and lifestyle guide falters, however, with dull, complex to make meals and a shortage of exercise tips.

For those who don’t know, the Alkaline Diet basically is the idea that our bodies function best with a pH balance between 7.3 and 7.5, but modern lifestyles wreak havoc with this balance, making us too acidic.  What impacts our pH balance is our food and lifestyle.  Each food can be either acidic or alkaline.  Stress is acidic. Meditation is alkaline. Etc… Whether or not this idea that the body should be at a certain pH balance is valid is rather irrelevant, honestly.  The tips offered for creating this balance are all good, healthy ones.  The book never veers into extremism, indeed cautioning that acidic foods, such as meat and processed items, do not need to be cut out of the diet entirely in order for the reader to be healthy.  It encourages a 2:1 ratio.  Two parts alkaline food and activities for every one part acidic food and activities.  Essentially, the idea that health is not all or nothing.  It is a balancing act.  Indeed, balance is a theme of the book.

Your body doesn’t want extremes–it wants balance. (loc 480)

The two parts alkaline it encourages are basically fresh produce, time for self-care, and low-stress exercise.  So basically, eat whole foods, stress less, and move more.  Fairly common fitness and health advice.  The acidic parts include processed food, meat, dairy, stress, and high-stress exercise.  Again, the reader is not told to stop enjoying any of these things, but simply to find a balance.  The only thing I really disagree with is I think the book underemphasizes the importance of exercise for health.  In fact, the book seems a bit concerned with not doing too much “high-stress” cardio or weight lifting.  It seems to be more inclined toward the lower-impact, more moderate exercises.  I don’t think this is an idea that could claim to have much science behind it.  Indeed, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is written about in over 200 articles on PubMed (a free biomedical database), and most of these articles are talking about the positive effects of HIIT on abilities and cardiovascular health.  (List of articles)  So essentially the food and lifestyle advice is mostly good but take the exercise advice with a grain of salt.  Advising moderate walking and stretching every other day or so is really only appropriate for the most beginner levels of fitness.

After introducing these ideas, the book next offers a 14 day meal plan and lifestyle plan for the person new to Alkaline.  The first week is basically a cleanse, and the second week is supposed to be a model of what the non-cleanse Alkaline lifestyle is like.  This is the part where I became disappointed.  The recipes, including the ones for the non-cleanse week, come across as bland, dull, and labor-intensive, and this is coming from a person who does an awful lot of cooking to minimize the amount of processed foods in her diet.  I usually spend at least two hours prepping food for the workweek and cook a minimum of 4 meals at home a week.  This plan seemed like an overwhelming amount of work to me.  I can only imagine how it might seem to a reader who normally cooks processed meals or picks up fast food most days of the week.  Many of the recipes were also not particularly simple.  For both of these reasons, I feel the meal plan isn’t particularly appropriate for a beginner, which is odd given that the rest of the book is toned as for a beginner.  I would expect an easier, more approachable meal plan from this book.

Each day also has beauty, exercise, and lifestyle suggestions.  I particularly enjoyed the beauty suggestions, as they were mostly things that are easy to do at home and seemed enjoyable, such as an alkalizing foot bath or a hair mask.  The lifestyle suggestions were good for beginners who maybe are new to the ideas of meditation and stress relief.  The exercise sections suffered from the same issue I went into in-depth earlier.

What the book lacks is a clear idea of who its audience is.  Is it a person completely new to fitness and healthy eating who is currently a beginner in every way?  Is it meant for every person wherever they are on their journey to health?  Is it meant for intermediates, looking to amp up their fitness and health regime?  Because it lacks a focus, the content veers around between these three options, suggesting extremely beginner level exercises but rather advanced cooking and preparation ideas.  For this reason, it would probably frustrate a beginner who finds the first half of the book do-able and understandable but then finds an overwhelming amount to do for an introductory 14 day plan.  It would also frustrate someone who is not new to fitness and health who wants more details on how to amp up their regime and who may be a bit insulted at the idea that they will be fine if they just go for walks every few days.  Recommended to those interested in a quick introduction to the ideas behind the Alkaline Diet to tweak their diet on their own but who is not so invested in using a 14 day introductory plan.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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