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Disclosure: I participated as a member of the “Insider Launch Team” to help promote the May 2019 release of The Latte Factor. As a participant, I received a complimentary review copy (advance reader’s edition paperback) of this book. The hardback book that is the giveaway prize? I purchased that at full release price. I was not asked to write a blog post. As always, all opinions below are my own.

As a runner who could easily spend all of my disposable income on travel to races, and a woman who statistically will live longer than any man I might marry, I know that managing my personal finances well is in my best interest. While I’m putting money in my 401(k), and saving to buy a house, and otherwise trying to be responsible, it never hurts to read another book.

The Latte Factor is the latest offering from David Bach (author of a dozen books on personal finance) and John David Mann (author of a dozen books on leadership and business). Initially, the book reads like a novel, with all the classic elements that you studied in English class: an interesting opener, characters you care about, starting en media res. Finance doesn’t enter the picture until page 10–and the book only has about 120 pages. If you have read any of Bach’s prior books (e.g. Smart Women Finish Rich), nothing in this book will be new to you; I suspect that you are not the target audience. If you prefer a novel to a non-fiction book, or are a Millenial who never learned how to balance a check book (or even write checks, actually), this is your book.

The main character, Zoey, starts out as a 27-year-old New Yorker, working at a magazine. Her spending habits are based on a client composite Bach has used in at least one prior book. (I can’t remember which one, though I clearly remember the pattern of her spending habits: pre-work Starbucks, mid-morning Jamba Juice break, lunch out every day, afternoon decaff.) The other central characters include a caring boss who befriended Zoey when she first started, a cafe worker, and one of Zoey’s friends who works freelance in app development (who is the mouth-piece for what I believe are supposed to be “skeptical things Millenials say about money”). Instead of following the more impersonal and direct finance lessons of his prior books, this book is a novelization where the lessons are communicated to Zoey by other characters. These lessons take place while Zoey is facing a major career decision, and the story includes Zoey’s internal thoughts and feelings. You might find yourself comparing Zoey’s life to yours–as I did (even though 27 was a long time ago!)

The core concept, and the book’s title, is “the latte factor.” It represents all of the small, unimportant things you spend money on that don’t contribute to living richly in the moment. The concept is not that lattes are bad, or that you should always make your own coffee; maybe that latte contributes immense happiness to your day. Instead, the concept is that spending $4-5 (or more) per day on things that don’t really add to the quality of your life isn’t your best bet; rather than spend $150 each month on coffee you don’t think about, you could use that money for purposes that would better enrich your life: paying off debt, funding your 401(k), or a savings account to pay for the things you really want to do with your life. Or, say, lots of race entries and some airplane tickets.

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Like Bach’s other books, this one also touches on financial concepts like the magic of compound interest, paying yourself first, and using automation to make it easier to manage your money. If you are interested in learning more, you could buy your own copy (and claim bonuses from the authors); you might also check out The Latte Factor Podcast, available on Stitcher and iTunes.

Or you could win your copy here!

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Disclosure: I received advance access to the e-book version of Following Fit in exchange for my feedback and honest review. The author also graciously offered a copy of the printed book, which is the prize in this giveaway. All of the words and opinions in this post are my own.

Following Fit book cover
Available now in Kindle format, coming soon in print!

When I started to read Following Fit, I knew from the first pages of the introduction that I was going to rip through this book like college kids rip through a bag of Doritos. Like Kristen Perillo, I was a “bread thief” (and even had extra rolls and a tiny amount of butter instead of dessert in the no-fat, high-carb 90s). I also dropped athletic pursuits early. We had the same early experiences with self-imposed perfectionism and anything less than 100% meaning failure. If you grew up in the 80s and 90s, you’ll recognize parts of your own life in Kristen’s story, too.

Like blogs? You’ll love the book. This book evolved from Kristen’s former blog, so it is written in bite-sized pieces. Each short chapter tells part of the story, and could stand alone as an essay. I could see an English class using this book as a study in essays, one chapter each week; I could see reading one chapter each night as a light and easy read before bed. Her commentary on how popular media treat the female body in a number of contexts is particularly on point.

It’s not just about the fitness. Even if you’re not an avid reader of health and fitness books, there’s something in here for you. This book touches on the very personal meanings of concepts like commitment, worthiness, motivation, health, and failure. I particularly enjoyed that several of the sections focused on fitness myths (e.g. “women should never lift weights over five pounds”), and how even a basic non-professional knowledge of weight lifting allowed Kristen to connect with her male high school students. Ultimately this is less a book about fitness, and more a book about identity and self-knowledge.

It’s not a “how to” book. Unlike many books in the health/fitness/healthy-diet space, this is not a how-to. Kristen does not pretend she has all the answers, or dole out advice claiming it is “one size fits all.” Instead, Kristen tells HER story—not in the social media highlights-reel-only style, instead including the parts of her life that film editors would leave on the cutting room floor. The scenes of lost motivation, feelings of disconnection between mind and body, and looking back on past choices and habits and wishing they were different are all a part of life, and all included in the book. One of the chapters I found most challenging to read was about Kristen’s decision to transition away from vegetarianism (being a vegetarian myself, and being constantly told this is “just a phase” punches my buttons to this day). It’s clear that this was the very best choice for her, and as I read through her process I found myself internally finding more empathy for my friends who are ex-vegans and ex-vegetarians. (I have always maintained that it’s not my job to decide what eating pattern is best for your body; the “I was vegetarian for x years” comments feed into my annoyance with the whole “just a phase” thing.)

Author, Teacher, Certified Personal Trainer: Kristen Perillo

Kristen is not one of those “fake experts.” I also really appreciated how—unlike most fitness bloggers—Kristen consistently reminds the reader she’s not a medical professional, sticks to facts when writing about medical issues, and always consults a medical professional when it is appropriate for her. If other bloggers learned nothing else from her book but this, she’d be doing a massive service to the fitness community. If her readers learned nothing beyond “hey, this is the pattern that reliable, legitimate bloggers follow,” again, that’s a massive service to the fitness community.

It’s not all sunshine and unicorns. Throughout the book, Kristen keeps it real. As a blogger myself, I’m sure she had plenty of material to work with and had to pick and choose which posts would become book chapters and which would be omitted. Yet instead of showing only the shiny happy moments, Kristen also shares her struggles with gaining weight due to binge eating, frustrations with a post-surgery shoulder that isn’t as strong as she would like, and nerves before her first session working as a personal trainer.

Just Read It. Following Fit is a delightful departure from the books that dominate the health and fitness market. I highly recommend this book, and wouldn’t be surprised if you find yourself re-reading sections, or making notes in the margins and at the end of each chapter. Wherever YOU are in your relationship with yourself, this book will remind you that you are not alone. More important, you are fine just where you are.

Where to get it. Following Fit is on my Amazon list of books for runners (affiliate link). Once you’ve read it, why not leave a review on GoodReads? If you want to learn more about Kristen, check out her website. Or follow her on Instagram or Twitter.

Win Yours Here!

Rules: This giveaway is NOT sponsored by anyone or anything. You must have a mailing address in the United States or Canada to enter. (Sorry, international readers–postage overseas is killer.) Entries will be verified, so please follow the instructions. Winner will be notified by email and have a reasonable amount of time to respond and claim the prize. Winner must be patient! The printed book has not yet been released! You’ll get it when I get it, grasshopper.

 

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I AM HUMAN.
My body needs exercise.
My body will always need exercise.
This will never change.
It’s not negotiable—it’s science.

The world is filled with workouts and meal plans, most of them making promises that in X amount of time you can achieve Y result (and all you have to do is stop being so lazy and commit already). A quick walk through the exercise and fitness section of any bookstore demonstrates just how popular this formula is: 40 Days to Personal Revolution, 8 Minutes in the Morning… The last thing the world needs is  another book laying out a rigid plan and making promises that “all you have to do” is follow the plan. So Lyn Lindbergh did NOT write that book.

Couch to Active is a book for anyone who wants to transition from couch-ing to exercising. Though the subtitle is “The Missing Link That Takes You From Sedentary to Active,” I personally hate the term “sedentary” as the starting point.  Truthfully, many people who don’t exercise are not sedentary; instead, they are caring for young children or aging parents, working full time at demanding jobs, and otherwise constantly in motion mentally, if not physically. Lyn’s got your back, perfectly normal, average person with a full, busy life, and this book is for you.

Couch to Active–this could be YOU!

The typical fitness book is written with a mixture of tough love (“suck it up, buttercup”) and praise (“you finished today’s workout—see you tomorrow!”) that can leave you feeling bad and discouraged when you can’t follow the plan to a T. Couch to Active is written with compassion and understanding. A big focus of the book is finding self-compassion while creating YOUR exercise plan for life. I can’t really say “it starts with baby steps” because you, the reader, get to decide how big the steps are, but it does start with self-inquiry and the entire program is about tailoring the plan to your actual life (not the hypothetical one where you sleep 8+ hours every night and have a personal Pilates trainer).

The typical fitness book has a plan laid out and orders you to follow it. While this may work for people with an abundance of motivation, energy, and free time, it doesn’t work for the rest of us. Instead of starting with a one-size-fits-most plan, Couch to Active begins with the premise that “We need to actually enjoy the exercise we do.” From there, Lyn skillfully guides you through some basic premises—injury-free is always the goal, social media can be a help or a harm—and then walks you through a step-by-step system to create your active life. Over the span of eight weeks, Couch to Active asks you to think critically and creatively about your life, your needs, and the barriers and obstacles to the active life you want to lead. While the process is broken down into bite-sized pieces distributed over two months, Lyn points out that you can tackle the work at your own speed—take two weeks, take a year—as long as you tackle it in order. If you’re like me and you hate being told what to do, go ahead and read the whole thing before you start—I concluded the process is laid out in a logical fashion that nudges each participant to succeed.

Couch to Active doubles as a workbook and Lyn encourages readers to write in the book. Each chapter is set up as a week with a theme, a worksheet to plan your exercise, and thinking/writing assignments. There is plenty of space to write in the book, including response pages within each chapter. Exercise worksheets, and extra pages for notes, though you may prefer a separate journal for some of the more introspective portions. Each week, the exercise plan is up to you, and Couch to Active is not snobby about what constitutes “exercise,” recognizing that each reader will start in their own place. Instead of formulaic  workout grids with 10 reps of each exercise, Lyn has created templates that reflect different circumstances that might parallel a real person. Instead of beginner, intermediate, and advanced, the samples have names like “I Hate Exercise, But My Doctor Is Making Me Do This” and “I’m a Chronic Mess of Health Issues.”  Similarly, instead of generic checklists, Couch to Active has the reader create checklists tailored to their exact life circumstances.

Couch to Active is peppered with stories from real people, using their real names, though Lyn has also created two composite characters. These are people you can relate to–with jobs and kids and responsibilities–not celebrities with personal trainers on the payroll and unlimited me-time.

You CAN do this!

 

 

Unlike the typical fitness book, the only promise Couch to Active makes is that if you do the work to design your own active life, tailored to your situation and needs, and then follow your plan, you will end up living an active life. That’s the goal: an Active life.

Need some guidance on how to get to YOUR active life? Win a copy of Couch to Active! I have two to give away. Can’t wait to win one? Buy one here (affiliate link) via Amazon. Want a better price? Go to Lyn’s website, https://www.couchtoactive.com/shop  and get the book directly from the author! You can also join the brand new “Couch to Active” club, for just $11/month. More details at Lyn’s website, HERE.

 

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Disclosure: I’m a member of the 2016 Rock’n’ Blog team. This year one of our perks was to select two books from VeloPress, a publisher focused on books for cyclists, runners, and triathletes. I was not required to write a review or offer this book for giveaway (though I have chosen to do both). All words and opinions are my own.

If you’ve poked around on the blog, you might have noticed one of my very first reviews for trail running shoes. That was also my very first experience with trail running, and my questionable decision to sign up for three half marathon trail runs taking place within a single week. (Note: don’t do that.) Despite my lack of judgment, or perhaps because ignorance is bliss, I had a great time and have continued to take on a trail run here and there. If you’re in Northern California, I highly recommend you take a look at Brazen Racing; if you have nothing to do on my birthday (October 9) the Sasquatch Racing Honey Badger has options for a 5k, 10k, and half marathon. (If you are one of the first ten people to use the code BAIN, you can save $10!)

Psst! Click here to tip off your friends: October is Giveaway-A-Palooza here on the blog.Click To Tweet

In hindsight, there are plenty of things I wish I’d known about trail running before I went out and picked a trail race. (It might have been nice to have a training run or two on a trail, for example!) For a fun romp through some trail advice, check out the Runner of a Certain Age Podcast Embrace the Chaos Edition

Trailhead by Lisa Jhung with illustrations by Charlie Layton (image from VeloPress)
Trailhead by Lisa Jhung with illustrations by Charlie Layton (image from VeloPress)

That’s where Trailhead comes in. Lisa Jhung’s book, subtitled “The Dirt on All Things Trail Running,” is playfully illustrated by Charlie Layton. It’s a great guide to running on trails for the beginner or someone who is otherwise newer to trail running. (If you’re already a die-hard trail runner, maybe you’d like to win a copy to give to a friend who is hesitant about off-roading?)

It comically begins by assuming you’re not sure what is and is not a trail. (Okay, maybe you’re actually not sure–there are plenty of “rails to trails” program “trails” that are really paved bike pants.)

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The first two chapters cover the potential benefits of trail running for your body and your mind. Some of them are the same as any exercise, but there are specific benefits to trail running, including a balance challenge that you don’t get from running on the road. Jhung covers the specific physical benefits of trail running for a variety of athletes, including yogis and swimmers and cross-fitters (oh my!).

The next few chapters are dedicated to the “hows” of trail running: how do you find a trail? How should you dress? How much gear do you need? While some of the basics are the same as running on the road (e.g. good socks are key, cotton clothing is like bad), some considerations are trail-specific. For example, you’re not going to find a drinking fountain or a Circle K on the trail, so you have to carry fluid–but what is the best way to do that? There’s a chapter devoted to weather and conditions on the trail (you probably don’t think about avoiding poison ivy when you run in the city), and another chapter about nutrition for trail running including special hydration issues (since again, you’re not going to find a water fountain to refill your bottle…and it might not be a great idea to drink directly from that stream).

"You haven't read Trailhead? Nope, not running that trail with you."
“You haven’t read Trailhead? Nope, not running that trail with you.”

Running on the pavement, wildlife encounters are generally limited. Sure, I stop to pet every cute dog I see (and sometimes the cats), but those are domestic-life not wildlife. Maybe you see squirrels, or a skunk, or a hedgehog (depending on where you are running). But on trails, you might run into wildlife that is actually wild, undomesticated, not likely to be seen regularly wandering suburbia: coyotes, wolves, bobcats, mountain lions…bears! Deer! Elk! Bison! Alligators! Snakes! What do you do if you find one in your path? Don’t worry, Jhung’s got you covered. (Because while the book is pretty funny, getting trampled by a moose while out on a run is not.)

Trail running also has some etiquette points that differ from pavement running. There are no garbage cans, so plan to pack out your trash. That’s obvious, but the rules for who has the right-of-way on a single-track trail are not always obvious. And what do you do if you need to take a leak in the woods? (Hint: nature does not come equipped with porta-potties. Also, you don’t want to pop a squat in poison oak.) Paved running surfaces are pretty easy to destroy and generally either take care of themselves or have assigned minders. Trails, on the other hand, are subject to erosion, and can be easily damaged or destroyed by bad behavior. Jhung also covers the basics for trail running with animals (dogs, horses, burros), so you can keep your non-human companions on their best behavior too.

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The end of Trailhead briefly covers some specific training for trail runs (including strength exercises that will benefit your running overall, but are especially suited to trail running), and trail races. I wish I’d had this advice before I signed up for my first trail runs!

Contest details: enter via Rafflecopter. I’ll pay postage to the U.S. and Canada (if you win and live elsewhere, you pay the postage). Prize consists of one copy of the book Trailhead, which is pre-read but looks like new (no creases, bent pages, cracked spine, etc.) This contest is not sponsored by, endorsed by, or affiliated with anyone other than Train With Bain. Please expect slow shipping, as Bain is running every weekend in October in a different state!

 

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Disclosure: I am a proud Ambassador for the 2016 Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon (and Half Marathon, Relay, 5k, and Kids Fun Run). The race supplied the books I’m giving away in this post. All words and opinions are my own.

2016-ambassador-logo-black-text

As I’m writing this, there are 20 days left until race day! (So, um, I guess I’d better buy some plane tickets and make a travel plan, eh?) If you’re not registered, it’s too late–but only for the international races. (Since the marathon, marathon relay, and international half marathon all cross the Ambassador Bridge into Canada, there’s that pesky business of giving the races’ registration lists to the U.S. Border Patrol and the Canada Border Services Agency to pre-clear everyone to enter. Can you imagine what your race times would look like if you had to wait in line at the border??) There IS still time to register for the U.S.-only half, the 5k, and the kids fun run. So hurry over to the race website and use code TRAINWITHBAIN to save 10% off of the current prices!

The 2012 Detroit International Half Marathon was the first race I did any serious training to run, and I still wasn’t fast. (It wasn’t even a PR.) I ran it for Mom, and for DetermiNation (which raises funds for the American Cancer Society). In the process, I also convinced my best friend, my Dad, and two cousins to run with us. In subsequent years I got one of my brothers to run (he likes to gloat about how much faster he is) and my best friend’s husband joined us too.

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My 2012 Race Crew, post race, at the DetermiNation tent

I remember how cold it was at the starting line and as I sit here sweating my buns off in California (hello, isn’t it supposed to be fall?) a crisp fall breeze blowing in my face as I run to Canada sounds delicious! It was chilly enough that while I slipped off the arms of the sweatshirt, I still wore my gloves for the entire race. At the same time, it was quite sunny and otherwise beautiful weather. Given how much I dislike the heat, I’ve found this race to have the perfect running weather.

Note the fashionable addition of Dad's old sweatshirt to my outfit to combat the cold! P.S. I did pay for this download, so I'm not sure what's up with the watermark.
Note the fashionable addition of Dad’s old sweatshirt to my outfit to combat the cold! P.S. I did pay for this download, so I’m not sure what’s up with the watermark.

2016 is the 39th running of the Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon. The race has a colorful history filled with “firsts” and “onlys.” For example, this race was the very first event to ever close down the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, which runners have playfully nicknamed “the underwater mile.”

The Under Water Mile, and quite possibly the world's worst selfie
The Under Water Mile, and quite possibly the world’s worst selfie

As a runner, I love this race. It shows off the best of Detroit, and while it doesn’t necessarily show off “the worst” it doesn’t hide that Detroit is a city undergoing big changes. Detroit has some magnificent architecture and a pretty great history; I like to try to imagine what it looked like when my great-grandmother went to Detroit to meet with the rum runners who supplied her bar during Prohibition. The crowd support is amazing, especially along the Windsor waterfront where the streets are lined with cheering Canadians, and there’s always a giant crowd right before you hit the runnel to run back to Michigan. Speaking of the tunnel, there is a great selfie opportunity at the U.S./Canada border. As Emma Tranter (the women’s winner of the 1978 marathon) said, “The people along the route were great to us and the course was great. There’s just not enough I can say about it. It was a really great event.” Thirty-nine years later, that’s still true. But don’t just take my word for it; check out my fellow ambassador Meghan Warzecha’s reasons she loves this race.

As one of the inaugural Ambassadors for this race, I only love it more! (I still can’t believe they picked me to be on the team.) The entire race team welcomed us aboard with a meeting in February, and it was scheduled during my visit to Michigan for Dad’s wedding so that I would be able to attend. New Balance Detroit provided us with some sweet Ambassador swag, including tech shirts and pullovers. Ambassadors have been invited to subsequent planning meetings (though I haven’t been able to attend). We have regularly been invited to give input, and our suggestions are taken seriously. This year we are even going to host a #WeRunSocial meetup at the expo!

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By the way, if you aren’t prepared to run the race but are going to be in the area, you are still very welcome to join us at the meetup–#werunsocial is for all runners! If you can’t make the meet-up, come say hi at the

This week, three of the race staff took time out from their Sunday evening to join us on the Runner of a Certain Age podcast too. (Did you know there are 4,000 runners who will run Detroit for charity?) You can check out the episode and the show notes for The Gotta Lose Your Mind In Detroit edition. The podcast is filled with race details and excellent trivia.

A little more than half of the 2016 Ambassadors
A little more than half of the 2016 Ambassadors

I’m really just thrilled to be able to share one of the best races in the country with my friends! Before I forget, the medals for this race are also pretty sweet. The bling itself pays homage to Detroit’s heritage as The Motor City. Each year features a different car (see above and below). The ribbon weaves elements of the U.S. flag and Canadian flag together.

I'm in line for coffee while displaying the 2012 bling
I’m in line for coffee while displaying the 2012 bling

In combination with the Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon weekend, I’m giving away three copies of The Long Run. This book is a history of the first 30 years of the race. It’s filled with facts, but also with pictures, and covers not just the runners but also the wheelchair division and the handcycle division. It’s interesting both as a history of this particular race and as a a chronicle of the development of a major marathon.

This is the prize!
This is the prize!

If you want to get a sneak preview, you can check out the “Look Inside!” feature on Amazon.com. (Or you can just trust me that it is a great read!)

Details: this contest is not sponsored, endorsed, or otherwise related to anyone or any entity with two exceptions. One, Bain is an ambassador and this is her blog; she is 100% responsible for this contest. Two, the Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon has generously provided copies of the book. Shipping will be slow! This contest closes on the first day of the race expo, and Bain and the race team are going to be super busy!!

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I’ve been a huge fan of keeping a food and exercise log/journal since I first started to dip my toes into the health and fitness arena. I call it “tracking,” largely because that’s how my Weight Watchers peeps refer to it. Yes, it’s kind of a pain in the butt sometimes, and I’m not 100% compliant with my own goal of tracking every day, but in my experience it’s been a huge help. When I write it down, I stick to my plans. I tend to eat healthier (because who wants to write down, “Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby, 1 pint”??). I tend to workout more because I can see lots of blank space when I haven’t been exercising.

There are many electronic options to track, including free and paid apps and websites where you can track both exercise and food (e.g. My Fitness Pal, Livestrong, FitBit) but I do best when I write things down. For one, I spend so much time on my phone and computer that I don’t really need to find another reason to do that. For two, when I’m using pen and paper it’s easy to track what I had planned versus what I actually did. Or doodle in the margins. Or reward myself with a cool gel pen with funky ink. Finally, I’m more like to review my data if I can thumb through the pages and compare multiple pages at once.

So you might wonder, why bother with tracking? Trust me, it’s not just my personal obsession.

Three reasons you might track

1. Lose Weight

My first experience with tracking was actually when my office started a Weight Watchers group. As part of the program, we kept track of what we ate each day, working to stay within our “points” allowance. Tracking to lose weight is a proven method for adherence to a weight loss program.A study called Long Term Weight Loss Maintenance indicates tracking is also useful for maintenance, noting that some of the factors for long-term success (taken from the National Weight Loss Registry data) include “self-monitoring weight, and maintaining a consistent eating pattern across weekdays and weekends.” (You can read the rest of the abstract for more.)

Mileage Data (Believe Journal)
Mileage Data (Believe Journal)

2. Collect Data

If you’re tracking food intake, you probably know to write down what you ate. Don’t forget to write down how much! You might also write down how you felt afterwards. (I know people who have discovered food sensitivities this way.) Food is really tied up in emotions, and you might discover you’re eating because you are upset or bored!

If you’re tracking workout data, what you track probably depends on what you’re doing. In the P90X programs, Tony Horton recommends writing down how many reps you got through of each exercise (in addition to how much weight you used). If you’re running, you probably want to track time and distance, but you might also want to track weather, road conditions, and other factors that could affect your run.

Tracking both food and exercise allows you to see whether there are correlations (I always run better after a half cup of coffee, I’m miserable if I had champagne the night before), or if you’ve fallen into a habit you’d like to keep up or break up with. Right now I’m also tracking my water intake and hours of sleep.

If you’re really into the idea of collecting up data, you might want to check out the Quantified Self movement and see if there is a meet-up or conference near you.

The big picture page (FitBook)
The big picture page (FitBook)

3. Plan Ahead

If you are training for an event, you probably have some kind of training plan. Runners often plan a certain number of miles or minutes per training day. But planning isn’t just for “those people” (if you’re not one of them!). Maybe you need to plan out your workouts because you’ve got a busy schedule and a full plate, and planning it out ensures it will happen. You could put the workout in your regular calendar like an appointment, then write out the details in your tracker. If you’re following a training plan from a book or magazine, you can pre-write your workout in your tracker. I find carrying my small FitBook much more convenient than bringing the magazine, and I can always note where I made changes or did more reps. Another example, you can use a tracker to plan meals for you or your family (and from that, create your grocery list!). It can save you a bunch of time and money if you plan your meals that way.

Trackers I have known and loved

First, true confession, I’m actually tracking different things in different places. I have a FitBook for food and workouts. I have the Believe Journal for running, where I also write about how the run felt, what I got right and wrong, and my general thoughts about events, etc. I track my weight in the FitBit app. It might seem horribly inefficient to have all this data in different places, but it works for me–I want the graph the FitBit app makes, but I want space to write about my runs. I use the food section of FitBook to track container equivalents from the 21-Day Fix eating plan, but formerly used it to track points.

While you can just grab any notebook and start your own tracker, I’ve not have great success with this. The main issue for me is that since the pages are not organized into days and weeks, it is just too easy to skip a day, and “just for today” turns into “I don’t track anymore.” When I first started tracking I wasn’t sure what I wanted to track, and I tried to do too much, which also made the blank notebooks less than effective. I enjoy the graphic elements of the published trackers as well.

An example of my inspiration collages
An example of my inspiration collages

Weight Watchers

There is a WeWa app now, and some of my friends love it. I’ve never tried it, in part because I found the website quite buggy when I tried to use it to track. Instead, I used the spiral-bound purse-sized trackers. Note that there is a free downloadable tracker, and those attending meetings can pick up single-week trackers (or used to be able to do so–I’ve not checking up on it lately). The link leads to the current journal, which is a 12-week hardcover, because I couldn’t find the spiral-bound one online. Pros: highly portable, used the covers for inspiration collages. Cons: not much room to track exercise, frequently ran out of room to write.

Red for 2015; Lavender for 2016!
Red for 2015; Lavender for 2016!

Believe Journal

This is a running-specific journal, with information, inspiration, and worksheet-like activities between the regular weekly tracking pages. It was created by professional runners Lauren Fleshman and Roisin McGettigan-Dumas. You don’t have to be a runner to use it though–you could use the weekly pages for any activity, the yearly overview for planning, and the worksheets apply to almost every sport. There are some runner-specific information sections that don’t cross-apply though, including a variety of speed workouts, pace charts, and training plans.  Pros: plenty of room to write, spaces are customizable, textured cover, knowledge bombs/content. Cons: too large to carry around in a purse, not designed to track both exercise and food.

Workouts on the left, foods on the right
FitBook: Workouts on the left, foods on the right

FitBook

I first met FitBook at IDEA World in…wow, 2010. FitBook had a table at the expo, and I was so excited at how much better the format would be for my purposes. FitBook has a place to record stats other than weight, a weekly planning page, and a weekly summary page with space to journal, reflect on the week and how to move forward. There are two daily pages; the left side is for exercise and the right side is for food. The FitBook website and email newsletter deliver some great content for free, including inspiration, receipts, and printable calendars and goals worksheets. Pros: lots of space to track both food and exercise, largely blank areas are highly customizable, spiral binding lays flat for easy use. Cons: some might find it too big to carry daily.

A giveaway!

FitBook and FitBook Lite
FitBook and FitBook Lite

I’ve got ONE brand new FitBook Lite! The “lite” version of FitBook is a six week version of it’s big sister, FitBook. Once you’ve got FitBook Lite in your hands, you can downdload a free kickstart ebook with a meal plan, recipes, tips, and a workout plan guide. Please note: this giveaway is not sponsored by FitBook (or anyone else) in any way.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosures: (1) I received an advance copy of The Food Babe Way. In consideration for the advance book, I committed to review the book. I was not asked to say (or refrain from saying!) anything. (For the record, I would never accept anything for review that required me to include specific content in my review and pass it off as my opinion.) Prior to receiving the advance copy, I had ordered a copy through Amazon.com All opinions in this review are my own. (2) I have monitored Ms. Hari’s blog, Food Babe, for several years and have signed some of her petitions asking food manufacturers to disclose ingredients or reformulate products without certain ingredients.

In order to evaluate a book review, you need to know a little bit about the reviewer and the reviewer’s bias. The following points may help you evaluate my opinions on this book:

  • I’ve spent a lot of time in school and otherwise immersed in academic writing. Nutrition and food fascinate me, and I’m studying for a nutrition certification with Precision Nutrition. I read research and papers on topics that interest me for fun. My job requires me to read voluminous medical records and published medical studies. When evaluating claims, I want to read published studies and reports as well as criticism of them. Not every claim has been scientifically studied, of course, but I want to read the state-of-the-art whether that is peer-reviewed research or the pros and cons of an untested theory.
  • Food is not just “fuel,” because what your body builds and rebuilds itself by using the food you eat. “You are what you eat” is more than a trite saying, it is a scientific truth. I’m not suggesting that you’re going to turn into a chickpea, but if you eat a chickpea, your body will act like the Star Trek’s Borg and assimilate it. (Science and science-fiction in one sentence! Nerd alert!)
  • I believe people have the right to know what is in the food they are eating. I think every ingredient in a food product should be on the label. I think packaged food should be much more regulated than it is in the United States (as it is currently much more highly regulated in Europe, for example, and the economy hasn’t died). Realistically, very few people are going to just stop eating all packaged or processed food and for some–including those living in domestic violence shelters or other situations without access to refrigeration–it is impossible.
  • Not every “chemical” is a “toxin” or “poison” that deserves a bunch of hype. I understand that “chemicals” include things that are beneficial and that I absolutely want to consume every day. (Dihydrous oxide, anyone? Bottoms up!) I understand that heavy metals are harmful to human health when present in large quantities, and that heavy metals occur naturally in even the best soil and thereby become part of plants. Whether something is a “toxin” often depends on the dose; it is possible to die from drinking too much water, for example, and eating apple seeds (which contain a trace amount of arsenic) is not harmful to health over the long term. Further, some substances–such as fluoride–are still hotly debated and there is a lack of scientific consensus on their use. Finally, your body uses the digestive system, including the kidneys and liver, to remove the majority of “toxins” from your body. The easiest way to “detox” is to drink water, get some exercise, and stop putting “toxins” into your body. (People trying to sell you a juice cleanse, detox cleanse, herbal cleanse, herbal detox, etc. just want your money.)
  • I’m aware that the word “natural” is not legally regulated on product or food packages, and that manufacturers can use the word “natural” on product labels to mean anything they want. Not all “natural” things are good for human beings to eat, drink, or breathe. Crocidolite asbestos and arsenic are both “natural” by just about any definition of the term, but I don’t want either in my food.
  • As for GMOs, whether you believe that eating them is harmful to humans doesn’t matter to me. There are plenty of other reasons not to eat GMO foods, including, for example, my extreme distaste for Monsanto’s actions in and out of the U.S. and Canadian courts, and the fact that GMO crops are designed to be doused with pesticides (the opposite of the organic farming methods I’d like to see take over the majority of food production).

Let’s Review A Book!

Since the majority of this review is turning out to be constructive criticism (with very little cheerleaderage in there), I want to point out that I like this book. This book does three specific things that I find valuable. First, it encourages readers to think about what they eat, read labels, and make deliberate choices. Second, it provides an example (granted it is the author) of one person who changed her eating habits and benefitted from it.  Third, the most important part, this book outlines very specific steps the reader can take to improve food habits.

Is this a good book? That depends on your criteria for a “good” book. If you want to know where Vani Hari (aka Food Babe) comes from, her personal experience with food and changing her food choices, specific steps Ms. Hari recommends for changing eating habits, and some tasty recipes, this is a great book. If you are looking for an in-depth treatise on nutrition, or a scientific explanation that cites every study in favor of food additives as well as those against it, this isn’t your book. Ms. Hari is a food blogger, not an ivory tower academic, and a person with strong opinions–she makes absolutely zero pretense to be an unbiased journalist.

At the outset, I’m not a fan of the book’s full title, The Food Babe Way: Break Free from the Hidden Toxins in Your Food and Lose Weight, Look Years Younger, and Get Healthy in Just 21 Days! I’m sure the editors and publishing house had a great deal of say in this, as their job is to market the book and sell books. Also, from reading about advertising, public relations, and the book industry, I’m aware that books that promise to deliver a result within a specific number of weeks or days sell very, very well. (Examples: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 10-Day Detox Diet, 40 Days to Personal Revolution.) Book marketing experts suggest making a big promise in the title to help sell the book. (See “Book Marketing, the 10 Commandments of Nonfiction Book Title Success” by Roger C. Parker, on bookbuzzr.com He also recommends the numbers strategy.) Personally, I think the subtitle hurts Ms. Hari’s big-picture message, which is about making informed food choices and creating food habits that are sustainable in the long term. It also begs to have the credibility questioned due to the big claims and use of “Hidden Toxins.” Seriously, even my eyes rolled when I saw that! At least they didn’t try to put the word “diet” in the title. (I hate the word “diet,” but that is a topic for a separate post.)

One of the things that sets Vani Hari apart from other food bloggers is that when she publishes a post (or “investigation”) dedicated to a specific topic, she doesn’t just rely on fear-mongering (chemicals!) or her own opinion (it’s bad!). Instead, she takes the time to do some research on her subject. For example, in her February 5, 2015 post regarding the use of BHT in breakfast cereals, Ms. Hari backs her claims with citations to outside sources. Even if you disagree with the politics of the Environmental Working Group, the citation she provides is to their summary of publications about BHT, which includes the information necessary to go read those publications yourself. She also cites to articles available via PubMed, including one from the Oxford University publication Carcinogenosis, and articles available via Wiley; there are also citations to publications by the European Food Safety Authority (a European Union agency). You can click on the citations and go read the research–you can see for yourself if Ms. Hari is blowing smoke or accurately representing the research. That’s transparency, and it is a good thing. (See “Kellogg’s & General Mills: Drop the BHT From Your Cereal – Like You Do In Other Countries!” at Food Babe.)

FB book

But let’s talk about the actual book now, right?

The Foreward by Mark Hyman is very complimentary, yet the excessive hyperbole–comparing Ms. Hari to Rachel Carson and Marin Luther King Jr.–is a bit much. Dr. Hyman made a more apt comparison when he described Ms. Hari as “a modern-day David, facing the Goliath of the trillion-dollar food industry[.]” Since Ms. Hari cites his work and lists his books in the recommended reading list, it looks a little mutual-love-festy. Meh. I’m not sure that anyone but me and the other dyed-in-the-wool nerds actually reads forewards anymore, so let’s move along.

The Introduction begins en media res, just as any good tale should (at least according to what I learned in my college literature classes): with Ms. Hari in a conference room trying to convince Kraft Foods to take the artificial dyes out of their macaroni and cheese in North America. (As she points out, they had already done this in Europe, so it wasn’t some impossible quest.) Ms. Hari is very opinionated and refers to the artificial dyes as poison and chemicals, which is a legitimate point of view–they are petroleum products that can cause allergic reactions–but starting the book out this way is going to turn off a large percentage of potential readers. It’s clear to me at the outset that this book was written specifically for the “Food Babe army” (people who read Ms. Hari’s blog or follow her on social media and often join her in petitions to change the way processed foods are made) and not to convert the unbelievers. The Introduction continues with a brief before and after of Ms. Hari. It explains how she ate growing up as a kid, and later as an independent young adult. You learn how she got the name “Food Babe” and how she attributes positive changes in her life and body to radically changing how she ate (basically moving from eating mostly fast food and packaged foods while drinking tons of soda, and towards eating mostly whole and unprocessed foods while drinking tons of water and some teas). Like any good social media offering should, the Introduction ends with a “call to action,” first by asking questions (e.g. “Do you find yourself unable to focus during the day?”) and then by making promises (e.g. “I will show you how to…Develop twenty-one positive, everlasting habits, a day at a time, that will get you off chemical-laced food.”)

Part I: THOSE TRICKY SONS OF…

Chapter 1. Easing readers into the “why” behind the call to action, Ms. Hari continues with stories about the ingredients in Yogoforia, Chipotle, Chik-fil-A, and Subway. She also tells how she ran for a delegate seat to the Democratic National Convention so she could start a conversation about genetically modified organisms (GMOS). In the two days since the book launched, I’ve read multiple criticisms of Ms. Hari’s extremely simplified explanation of what a GMO is, but I have read zero criticisms of the reason Ms. Hari gives for fighting GMOs: “Genetic modification is done to make a fruit or vegetable more hardy or impervious to the application of specific pesticides. These pesticides are linked to myriad diseases.” Unfortunately the end notes don’t include a citation to back that claim. I’m not bothered by this because I’ve listened to enough radio reports on asthma, lung ailments, and cancer in the farmworkers of California’s Central Valley, where pesticide application is epidemiologically linked to these health problems. (Remember Cesar Chavez and the grapes, anyone?) Further, I’d add (because Ms. Hari does not) that pesticides don’t just “go away” after they are sprayed on crops or rinsed off of produce, and there are more sustainable farming methods available to us. After explaining why she targets food companies instead of the government, she gives a super-short history of the FDA. (For a longer, more thorough explanation with a more neutral tone, I highly recommend reading Pandora’s Lunchbox by Melanie Warner. Ms. Hari cites it in Appendix B: Recommended Reading and Resources, and I found it a quit and easy read.)

Chapter 2 focuses on what Ms. Hari calls “The Sickening 15.” These are:

1. Growth Hormones in Meat
2. Antibiotics
3. Pesticides
4. Refined and Enriched Flour
5. Bisphenol (BPA)
6. High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
7. Artificial Sweeteners
8. Preservatives
9. Trans Fats
10. Artificial and Natural Flavors
11. Food Dyes
12. Dough Conditioners
13. Carrageenan
14. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
15. Heavy Metals and Neurotoxins

This section is overly ambitious in the amount of material it tries to cover. Each of the 15 gets just a cursory treatment (though there are citations relevant to some of them in the end notes, but most people won’t read them). Some of the items on this list are pretty easy and don’t require a lot of space to convince most people they probably don’t want to eat them. For example, BPA, MSG, and trans-fats have been widely covered by the news media, and it’s going to be hard to find anyone who actively promotes eating antibiotics and pesticides or something called a “neurotoxin.” (Side note: Ms. Hari puts the hotly debated fluoride in this category, right in between ethanol and lead and along with arsenic PCBs, and DDT.) A few of the other categories are much less convincing.

Let’s take #4, for example. Ms. Hari gives a two paragraph critique/explanation. First, this flour is stripped of its fiber and nutrients during processing, and the manufacturers then add “synthetic nutrients” back in, and may bleach it to obtain a whiter color by using chlorine or peroxide. Second, “a number of breads are loaded with added sugar to make them taste better.” A critical reader is not going to find this a convincing reason to put white flour on the same list as pesticides. I get that the fiber is taken out and Americans have notoriously low fiber-intake. To be more convincing, I would like Ms. Hari to explain why “synthetic” nutrients are inferior to non-“synthetic” nutrients. While it sounds scary to say the flour is then bleached with chlorine or peroxide, is there any evidence that chlorine residue or peroxide residue remains in the finished ingredient (flour) or product (bread or other baked good)? If so, is there any evidence that chlorine or peroxide residue is harmful if eaten? I mean, I’m CERTAIN that I’ve swallowed some swimming pool water so surely I’ve gulped down in a few mouthfuls of pool water more chlorine than is in a slice of Wonder bread. As for peroxide, I used a home remedy mouth and tooth wash after getting my wisdom teeth removed that contained (among other things) hydrogen peroxide. Wouldn’t two weeks of brushing with that concoction give me a higher dose than eating a muffin? Finally, the entire second paragraph is about sugar added to bread, not about what makes “refined and enriched flour” something to leave out of my diet. (Though that–and “the Food Babe Way” paragraph following it–are good arguments for avoiding junky white bread and reading labels.) While there is more information on white flour later in the book in the section about choosing carbs, it really belongs here, where it might encourage someone to read far enough to get to the section about choosing carbs.

To be clear, I am not a giant fan of refined and processed white flour. I think Ms. Hari is right on the money, but could have done a much better job of explaining it and documenting the state of the science and nutritional knowledge.

Chapter 3‘s title, “Cut Out the Chemical Calories” is, again, an indicator this is preaching to the already-converted. Over-reliance on the word “chemical” is a legitimate criticism of this book. (I would have called this chapter, “Cut Out the Fake Food.” Not that anybody asked.) This section is again overly ambitious, in that it attempts to cover a large amount of territory in a small amount of space. As a result, the quality of the information presented is somewhat uneven. The topic of obesogens gets a mere two pages (of which only two and a half paragraphs explain it), sufficient to potentially induce panic or fear but insufficient to provide an education. The claim that fructose is “metabolized in the body like a fat,” is not exactly true. (See: “All About Fructose” by Ryan Andrews at Precision Nutrition.) Fructose is initially digested like any other monosaccharide, though it has some unique properties. Fructose is then metabolized exclusively in the liver, where it can be converted to glucose derivatives and eventually stored in the liver as glycogen. Because the liver has a limited amount of space to store this glycogen, any excess fructose will be stored as fat. As Mr. Andrews explains, “a very high single-serving dose of fructose is much more likely to find a home around your middle.” Hopefully Ms. Hari will correct this in subsequent editions of the book, explaining that due to the manner in which it is metabolized in the liver, fructose is more likely to be stored as fat than used as energy.

One area where Ms. Hari could have saved space is in her critique of various “diet” plans, as her criticisms of the various diets are basically the same (i.e. all can include GMOs, pesticides, and those nasty “chemicals” and for those that include meat they can include antiobiotics). She could also have omitted every one of the sections titled “the chemicals you might eat on this diet” as with the exception of raw foods and paleo, each one is just another example of how processed foods contain a wide variety of additives that we might want to reconsider eating. This wasn’t particularly helpful or persuasive. By skipping this section, Ms. Hari could have spent more time clearly explaining obesogens and presenting more of the science and facts about the “Sickening 15.” By the way, may of Ms. Hari’s critics have written Amazon reviews that claim nothing she says in the book is backed by research. This clearly indicates they have not read the book, which includes 10 pages of end notes in Appendix D. I assume the choice to use end notes instead of footnotes was made by the publisher, as many readers are turned off or intimidated by footnotes. Personally I find it unfortunate, as it means critical readers have to constantly flip from the chapter they are reading back to the end notes to determine whether there is a note applicable to the fact, claim, or recommendation they are reading.

Part II: 21 Days of Good Food and Good Habits

This section is broken up into three sections that roughly translate to habits around drinks, habits around food at home, and habits around food elsewhere (e.g. travel, grocery store). Think of it as eat, drink, and be merry. (Or in order, drink, eat, and be merry.) These are a set of 21 habits Ms. Hari personally practices and recommends. It is set up so the reader can add one new habit each day for three weeks.

Chapter 4: “Fluid Assets for Food Babes.” The first seven habits can be summarized as follows: (1) warm lemon water each morning; (2) green juice or green smoothie daily; (3) NO drinks with meals (also don’t chew gum and maybe drink ginger tea); (4) “Be Aware of What’s in Your Water” (filter all water, also applies to showering); (5) eat less dairy; (6) quit soda; and (7) “Love Your Liver” (a discussion of alcohol, including additives in beer). In principle, I think most people who are on board with consuming fewer additives (or avoiding the “Sickening 15”) would be on board here. Drink more water? Get some of your greens in by hiding them in a drink? Quit soda? Of course! We all know we should be better at hydrating ourselves, right? And if you want to avoid hormones and antibiotics, conventionally produced dairy is a good way to start. All of these recommendations sound like fine and healthy habits to me. At the minimum, even the most conservative reader or the most voracious critic is going to have a hard time arguing any of these habits are harmful.

While none of the habits recommended in this section are actually harmful, this is an area where the skeptics are going to have a “Where’s the science?” field day. For starters, there are no citations to back up the claims Ms. Hari makes in the chapter on drinking hot lemon water or apple cider vinegar.

  • Of the six citations in the end notes, two are to The Townsend Letter, a source of dubious credibility and quality: (1) content includes articles on practices not backed by any science, such as iridology; (2) the doctor who maintains Quackwatch.com lists it as “not recommended;” (3) the publication website admits in the disclaimer that “We encourage reports which frequently are not data-based but are anecdotal. Hence, information presented may not be proven or factually correct.”; (4) publisher and editor, Dr. Jonathan Collins, has been publicly criticized for using chelation therapy (FDA approved for treatment of mercury and lead poisoning) for vascular disorders (See http://www.ncahf.org/nl/1996/7-8.html) but there is no evidence that chelation therapy is effective for this use, according to the Mayo Clinic (see http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/chelation-therapy/basics/definition/prc-20013013).
  • A third citation from a more than dubious source is to the Gerson Healing Newsletter, which is published by the Gerson Institute, which describes itself as ” a non-profit organization located in San Diego, California, dedicated to providing education and training in the Gerson Therapy, an alternative, non-toxic treatment for cancer and other chronic degenerative diseases.” (Text taken from http://gerson.org/gerpress/about-us/). Yet Gerson Therapy, which includes coffee enemas, juicing, and supplements, hasn’t proven to cure cancer, and has caused life-threatening infections via their treatments. (See http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/cancer.html for a thorough explanation and citation to sources of underlying facts.) So that’s 3 out of 6 references that are untrustworthy.
  • A fourth reference is to Reverse Aging, a book that recommends drinking alkaline water (not acidic water like lemon water) and isn’t a worthy reference even on the topic of “reverse aging.” (See The Healthy Skeptic by medical journalist Robert J. Davis, especially chapter 9 and “Position Statement on Human Aging” written and joined by a crowd of MDs and PhDs published in the Journal of Gerontology at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12145354?dopt=Abstract or http://www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/antiagingpp.html).
  • That leaves us with the only two citations for the entire chapter that have any merit:
    • One, an article from the peer-reviewed European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “Vinegar supplementation lowers glucose and insulin responses and increases satiety after a bread meal in healthy subjects.” Nothing at all to back the claims about drinking warm lemon water or apple cider vinegar every morning (and who eats “a bread meal”??).
    • Two, an article from the Environmental Nutrition newsletter, “Pucker up for lemons and limes: tart, refreshing and healthful.” Unfortunately this article is only available to subscribers, so I wasn’t able to see more than the first paragraph. I actually found two articles with this title, both of which appeared to have recipes.

I spent about an hour with Google, PubMed, Precision Nutrition, and WebMD, looking for any publications to back the claims about drinking lemon juice and came up with nothing. What I don’t understand is why Ms. Hari didn’t either cite to a respected publication about Ayurveda or interview an Ayurvedic clinician who also teaches; drinking warm lemon water in the morning is a practice I recognize as recommended by some yoga teachers and Ayurvedic practitioners. No, this is not the same as providing a citation to peer-reviewed, published research, but as others will point out if I don’t: who is going to fund and conduct a study on drinking lemon water? (You can’t patent it. You can’t put it in a pill and sell it.)

Does this  mean there is no benefit to drinking lemon water in the morning? NO! In fact, I’m actually going to try it out for a few weeks and see how it feels in my body. It seems logical that starting the day by hydrating is a good thing, since sleeping means hours spent losing water through respiration and not taking in any fluids. Since dehydration is often confused with hunger signals, I’m not at all surprised to read individual anecdotal reports that people ate less after adding more fluid to their bodies.  At least one article I read hypothesizes there might be a psychological effect, in that starting the day with what feels like a virtuous act may encourage you to make better choices throughout the rest of the day. Plus hey, it tastes nice.

As for apple cider vinegar, I think it is lovely in salad dressings.  Alas, WedMD reports there is insufficient evidence to support health claims. See Apple Cider Vinegar. If you really want to drink it, go right ahead–just be sure to dilute so you don’t get an unpleasant burning sensation in your mouth/throat or take the enamel off of your teeth.

Two more points I’d be remiss without addressing.

One, in the section that discusses drinking more water–specifically filtered water–Ms. Hari also recommends installing water filters for the shower/bath. Initially this sounded a little extreme to me, but then I rent a place connected to plumbing laid down in the 1950s that does all it can just to pump the water to my house, and I have neither permission nor incentive to install water filters. (Also, I’ve read my local water utility reports on water quality, and investigated where my water comes from and how it is processed.) Setting that aside, if you are worried about additives and chemicals in your bath water, you’d probably better step out of the bath and examine the bath products, soap, shampoo, conditioner, hair spray, cosmetics, and other lotions and potions you apply to your skin. You think processed food is complicated? It doesn’t hold a candle to beauty products! (If you are interested, check out Look Great, Live Green: Choosing Bodycare Products that Are Safe for You, Safe for the Planet by Deborah Burnes and start making your own body care products.)

Two, in the part about reducing dairy intake, Ms. Hari recommends raw milk, which is unpasteurized (non-homogenized) milk. She does not even pay lip service to the potential hazards of raw milk or explain what pasteurization is or why milk in this country is generally pasteurized. Since she didn’t explain, I will. Pasteurization is a process that prevents infected milk from entering the food supply. The process was invented after the initial discovery of germ theory in the 1890s. The idea was that treating the milk would prevent the milk from spreading diseases from cows to humans. Before we had a way to test milk for bacteria, pasteurization was the best way to prevent diseases from spreading. Unfortunately, the old version of “Big Food” wasn’t any more trustworthy than the modern one, and after the discovery of tests to determine which cows were infected with things that could be passed on to humans there were some unscrupulous farmers who lied and falsified test results, so unpasteurized milk still had a decent chance of passing on a disease or two.

Now we know that E coli, Listeria, Salmonella, tuberculosis, diphtheria, thyphoid, strep, and other potential disease-causing organisms can be present in raw milk. These are especially dangerous to people with weak immune systems (including very young children, very old people, pregnant women, and those going through chemotherapy). That’s why the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services, and other agencies recommend those people avoid raw milk. This isn’t to say there is no safe raw milk in the world. (I find it very reasonable that Ms. Hari’s grandparents and neighbors, who shared a cow they had a vested interest in keeping very healthy, drank and cooked with that cow’s raw milk.) This IS to say that if you choose to consume raw milk, you need to be aware of the potential dangers and be very careful about where you buy raw milk and how you handle and store it. I also recommend you read the article, “Got E. Coli? Raw Milk’s Appeal Grows Despite Health Risks” in Scientific American, and keep yourself up to date on the state of the research regarding raw milk and the motivations for the political arguments on both sides of the raw milk debate.

Chapter 5: “Food Habits for Food Babes.” The next group of habits revolves around making better food choices. If you are following the 21-day plan, habits #8 through #14 are about making little changes in how you choose what to chew. Skip fast food? Makes total sense. Eat less sugar? Of course that’s a healthier habit! Get choosey about which meat you choose to eat (if you eat meat at all–I don’t)? Yes, all for it! Eat more fresh, raw produce? Great idea!

Again, there are many items that could be better researched, documented, and explained.  Yes, cellulose is “the same ingredient that is in sawdust” [page 149] but it is also in kombucha (“The kombucha culture is a collection of yeast and bacteria encased in cellulose.” Precision Nutrition article, “All About Kombucha”) and in most plants, including plants you eat (see discussion in “All About Raw Food” on Precision Nutrition, and “All About Fiber” on Precision Nutrition, as well as any basic biology textbook). Day 9, “Detox from Added Sugar,” could be much better documented, especially regarding the potentially unhealthy effects of consuming artificial sweeteners. I know there are reputable publications because I’ve seen them. While Ms. Hari accurately points out that Truvia, the Coca-Cola Company’s “stevia sweetener,” also contains erythritol, she doesn’t point out that erythritol is actually the main ingredient! Day 10, “Eat Meat Responsibly,” spends more time explaining Ms. Hari’s relationship to meat than explaining exactly how grain-fed (factory farmed) beef differs nutritionally from grass-fed beef; this would have been a great opportunity to set out a more detailed explanation of the Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio, foreshadowing Day 13’s focus on a healthy fat balance.

Since she spent half of page 69 dumping on the raw food diet, Day 11 (“Eat Raw More Than Half the Time”) would have been a great location to remind readers that the nutritional content of some foods increases when cooked (Ms. Hari cites carrots and tomatoes on page 69), set out those foods and some credible sources explaining why and how that is true. She also misses a prime opportunity to re-hook the reformed dieters in her readership with the fact that because raw produce has a larger volume than cooked food (or meat or processed food) with similar caloric value. Read: raw foods full up your tummy, triggering the satiety hormones that signal your brain to stop eating. I take issue with the Day 13 proclamation that “cooking oils are largely responsible” for screwing up the omega-3 to omega-6 relationship (because clearly factory farm, grain-fed beef–what’s in the processed food and fast food and even the butcher shops in this country–plays a gigantic role here). Also, Ms. Hari falls prey to the “coconut oil is healthy!” fad, without addressing the differences between what the only published research studied (coconut oil with a very high medium-chain fatty acid content) and what we can buy at the store (not so much with the medium-chain fatty acids). Day 14’s discussion of adding in superfoods could have referenced Mario Villacorta’s new book, The Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Super Foods Diet to Detoxify, Energize, and Supercharge Fat Loss, especially regarding pichuberries (which I suspect are the same as the “golden berries” discussed on page 209). I’m a little surprised Ms. Hari didn’t mention Energy Bits (a small U.S. company that produces algae tablets that are 100% pure algae and third-party certified GMO-free). Perhaps in the second edition? (Ms. Hari if you are reading this, I’d happily send you a sample of Energy Bits. I love them!)

There are some things that are done well too, of course. The day focused on carbs briefly addresses ancient grains, using zucchini and squash “noodles,” bean pasta (processed food, to be sure), and intact grains. Most people think “carbs” means “white bread and pasta” and don’t think beyond that to the better-for-you choices, like sprouted breads. Each time one of the new habits involved “taking away” something–like fast food–Ms. Hari points out a variety of substitutes or better choices. Plus there are recipes in the back of the book, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Chapter 6: “Feats of A Real Food Babe” is the last piece in the third section of this book. This section is all about habits involving food choices and environments. It addresses GMOs, dining out,  what to keep in the kitchen, the grocery store, cooking (as opposed to heating up things from packages), sleep (“fast every day”), and travel.

This section is where the very hands-on advice comes into  play, and is probably my favorite of the three chapters in this section of the book. The pages on shopping provide concrete advice on how to keep the grocery bills down, directly contradicting the naysayers who complain, “eating healthy is to expensive!” For example, she points to private-label (“store brand” or “house brand”) options available at even Walmart and Target. She provides a list of priorities for choosing organic over conventional (to avoid pesticides, etc.) and refers to the Environmental Working Group’s “Clean 15” and “Dirty Dozen” lists for more information. Ms. Hari also provides a list of places to find coupons, online shopping choices, what to freeze, what to make from scratch to save; she also highlights strategies such as planning in advance (how many people do you know that either shop without a list or buy random things not on the list?), shopping at farmers’ markets, and CSAs.

Part III: The 21-Day Food Babe Way Eating Plan and Recipes

True confession: I’m not a big meal-plan follower. It’s a combination of things…I’m lazy (or busy, or tired, or whatever), I travel a lot for work, and I don’t like to cook on weeknights. If you are a fan of a plan, there are 21 days of meals set out for you, as well as a bullet point list of multiple snack options.

The eating plan starts out with a brief note on ingredients–guidelines for choosing the staples you need to cook (butter, flour, oils, soy sauce, etc.). There are more than 50 recipes for beverages, breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, desserts, and pretty much any other ordinary occasion you might want to eat. The recipes include relatively ordinary options that probably won’t scare your average American too much: sweet potato fries, lemon lime cooler, frittatas, tomato kale soup, white bean chili, mac ‘n’ cheese. There are also some more adventurous choices, such as My Perfect Green Juice, quinoa veggie scramble, carrot ginger salad dressing, Moroccan veggie and chickpea soup. None of the recipes calls for fancy cooking skills or complicated techniques. Most of them are limited to 6 or fewer steps, and include instructions to chop/slice/dice, heat/simmer/boil, and similarly familiar actions. The My Basic Green Smoothie recipe translates roughly to “throw this stuff in a blender and hit go.” These are non-intimidating recipes that should be accessible to most people, even some kids who are old enough to be trusted with sharp objects.

The End

When I was a kid, we wanted to stay up as late as possible. When the movie credits started to roll for The Wizard of Oz (a once-a-year televised treat in those pre-VCR days), we begged Mom to let us “watch the over part.” The appendices in this book are a pretty good over part.

Appendix A outlines the basic steps for creating an online petition to change the food system.

Appendix B is a list of recommended resources. The items on the list are principally things intended for popular consumption, such as Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser; the list of blogs is longer than the list of books. The recommended websites don’t include Pub Med (or even WebMD). The items on the list vary wildly in quality. It is my personal opinion that Ms. Hari’s continued recommendation of Dr. Oz and Dr. Mercola tarnishes her reputation and needlessly opens her to criticism. (For those who are unaware, a recent review of the advice and recommendations on the Dr. Oz show found that “For recommendations in The Dr Oz Show, evidence supported 46%, contradicted 15%, and was not found for 39%.” This study was led by Cristina Koronwynk at the University of Alberta and can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g7346 Mercola, an osteopath–not MD–who has appeared on the Dr. Oz show much to the dismay of most of the medical profession, and has received repeated warning from the FDA to stop making illegal claims about the supplements and other devices he peddles on his website–which include a tanning bed and multiple types of vitamins. Read “FDA Orders Dr. Mercola to Stop Illegal Claims” on Quackwatch for the dates and descriptions of the FDA warnings, as well as other citations.
While there is a decent set of end notes, Ms. Hari does not clearly distinguish between and among peer-reviewed published research, published articles, studies, news articles, and publications that are editorial or opinion.

Appendix C is a chart listing companies and the amounts of money they contributed to fight bills for mandatory GMO labeling from Oregon, Washington, California, and Colorado. Since all bills are subject to unsavory amendments and additions or deletions, and many are poorly drafted at the outset, I would have liked to see the texts of these bills included. (I might be the only one though; I’m nerdy like that).

Appendix D is the bibliography/end notes

 

CONCLUSION

Writing a book is a TON of work. Vani Hari’s first foray into the book world is an ambitious attempt to cover a lot of material in one volume. While it falls short of my expectations in terms of fact-checking and documentation, I recognize that I’m trained to be a critical reader and that the vast majority of the Food Babe Army (and the rest of the world) is likely to find me a nit-picky rhymes-with-witch. (I’m good with that.) I’m excited to try out the recipes, and implement some of the suggestions for eating while traveling. I really do hope there is a second, expanded edition in which Ms. Hari edits and adds, explains and educates, and maybe reorganizes some of the contents a bit.

We need a reasonably sane “voice of the people” type of food activist on our side, the side of the people who need to eat and would to know what it is we are eating and how it might affect us. Publicly criticizing large, rich food manufacturers is not a recipe for popularity. It makes you a target. I’m glad there is someone willing and able to publicly take concrete actions. A big old-fashioned protest is nice, but mass mob scenes don’t get results. Focused and carefully thought out demands, backed by a small army of consumers, DO get results–as Vani Hari has demonstrated repeatedly.

Win a book!

Want to win a copy of The Food Babe Way? Since I now have two–the one I pre-ordered and the one I received to review–I’m giving one away. It’s an easy read, and even with all the things I criticized about the book I still think it is a worthy read. If nothing else, it is guaranteed to give you some new things to think about food AND some tasty recipes that are pretty easy to make.
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