Thursday, March 20, 2008

Book Review: The Jerusalem Diet

Diet books tend to fall into two major categories: those truly designed to help people, and those shamelessly designed to exploit a readership desperately searching for help. The Jerusalem Diet, sad to say, seems to fall firmly into the latter category.

The book starts to fall apart before you even open the cover. The Jerusalem Diet is not (as the authors repeatedly admit) a diet book. This is easy enough to believe, considering the book contains no specific nutritional information, but rather vague hints and suggestions, like eat healthier foods, and don’t eat cake. Cake is actually one of the few foods mentioned specifically, and it is brought up repeatedly throughout the first third of the book. Apparently, the authors believe that the overwhelming cause of obesity is an overabundance of cake eating.

It also has nothing to do with Jerusalem, other than that the principles of the book are loosely founded on the teachings of a deceased spiritual guru based in Jerusalem. The introduction claims that the book is dedicated to her memory, although the actual dedication singles out the daughters of the authors instead. The picture of a nondescript wall on the cover (behind a silhouette of a thin woman wearing a tape measure like a belt, of course), while made out of Jerusalem Stone, has nothing to do with anything, to say the least.

Two misrepresentations and a contradiction, and we aren’t even into the diet part of the book yet.

Not that there’s anything resembling a diet in there. Barely any nutritional information is mentioned, and what little that does appear is frustratingly vague. Oh, there is mention of calories, carbs, and deciding between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods, but the reader is pretty much left to decipher the meanings behind these for themselves.

Instead, the JD spends most of its time proposing thinking exercises reminiscent of The Secret. Why offer a structured diet plan with menu suggestions when you can tell your reader to ask themselves “Am I eating this to make myself thin” before each meal? Where most diet books would offer recipes and healthy snack alternatives, roughly two-thirds of the JD consists of imaging exercises designed to help you think yourself thin, like fixing a clock or trying to get your fist out of a jar. My personal favorite: visualize yourself unzipping a fat suit and stepping out of it. Yes sir, I can feel the pounds melting away with that one.

The implication behind most of these thought exercises is that overweight people are that way due solely to impulsive and emotional eating habits (like eating too much cake, as the author repeatedly admonishes). This attitude doesn’t take into account weight problems brought on by undiagnosed medical problems, varying metabolic rates, and poor nutritional education. Such an approach also gives the authors any easy out; if the diet doesn’t work for you, than you obviously don’t want to be thin, or are subconsciously sabotaging yourself. What’s worse, this kind of diet approach turns the dieter against themselves, making it a battle against some phantom enemy within rather than the fight to control the body’s consumption of calories for energy.

Of course, I might feel this way about the JD because I’m a man. The authors state in the beginning of the book that, while men might read the JD, it is really meant for women. (Why not mention this somewhere on the cover?). The reason, according to the author, is that men and women eat for different reasons. This is news to me. Men may be from Mars and women may be from Venus, but both are motivated to eat by hunger, comfort, and habit. And both are capable of losing weight.

Then again, maybe I’m biased because I don’t trust a diet book written by a Psychologist and an Editor, neither with a nutritional background. Or maybe I just can't any diet book seriously that suggests the reader purchase a journal and plenty of crayons. A scale and a pedometer, maybe. A coloring book, no can do.

If you are the kind of person who believes that simply thinking about good things actually makes them happen, by all means, enjoy The Jerusalem Diet. If you a rational human being in serious need of weight loss guidance, then your money will be better spent on a visit with a nutritionist and healthy cookbook.

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