A steady diet of advice

New books emerge constantly, all giving their own takes on losing weight. But are they really offering anything different?

Published January 30, 2007

The holidays are history. Now it's the season to be slim, or to try to be.

It seems as though all those cookbooks given as gifts just a few weeks ago have magically morphed into diet books, as Americans try to lose those Christmas cookies now stored as fat around their waistlines.

Then again, diet books don't have a season - they're in season year-round. Harvard Law School researcher Ethan Zuckerman, using sales rank data found on Amazon.com, has estimated that nearly 11,000 books on dieting - with a value of $150,967.19 - are purchased just on that Web site every day.

Every day!

As everyone knows, all diet books say essentially the same thing: Eat less and exercise more.

But each book tries to set itself apart from the pack by coming up with new and quirky techniques for doing this. Don't eat fat. Eat all the fat you want. Eat carbs. Don't eat carbs. Eat protein. Don't eat too much protein. Fruits and vegetables, fruits and vegetables, fruits and vegetables.

And then there are the recipes, added to these books apparently to add a little meat to the skeletal premise each one contains.

But are they so different?

Here are four books pulled at random from the river of new diet volumes flowing into bookstores. Each book promises to lead you to the promised land of weight loss, but each takes a different path.

Are they taking you for a ride?

Or will they really get you where you want to go?

Let's take a look.

The Serotonin Power Diet, by Judith J. Wurtman and Nina Frusztajer. Rodale Books, 290 pages, $24.95.

The premise: Eat carbs, because they will help you produce more serotonin, the brain neurotransmitter that enhances mood.

The promise: You will feel happier and less hungry, since serotonin also curbs appetite.

Plausible? Stress causes some people to overeat and may reduce levels of serotonin, but claiming that certain foods will boost serotonin is a stretch. However, the authors - a cell biologist and a physician - cite scientific papers to support some of their claims.

The Feel Good Diet, by Cheryle Hart and Mary Kay Grossman. McGraw Hill, 274 pages, $22.95.

The premise: Eat a balance of carbs and protein, because together they will help you boost your levels of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters that produce pleasurable sensations.

The promise: You will enhance your brain's "feel-good power" and curb your appetite at the same time by following the authors' guidelines.

Plausible? Diet may affect hormones somewhat, and hormones do influence appetite and mood, but the authors -a physician and a dietitian - stretch the scientific evidence which they include at the back of the book by claiming they have devised a "feel-good diet."

Weight Loss Confidential, by Anne M. Fletcher, a dietitian. Houghton Mifflin, 253 pages, $26.

The premise: Teens won't lose weight unless they develop the motivation to do so on their own. Parental nagging won't help, but teens do listen to their peers, whose support can be crucial to any weight loss plan.

The promise: Teens will lose weight if you don't nag them, do accept them no matter how much they weigh and guide them toward sensible eating habits.

Plausible? Yes, and rather obvious since teenagers assert their independence at every opportunity and devote considerable energy to pursuing what they want. But does anyone really know what a teenager thinks?

The Entrepreneur Diet, by Tom Weede, a former senior editor at Men's Fitness magazine. Entrepreneur Press, 296 pages, $22.95.

The premise: Fitness achieved through a sensible diet and exercise promotes entrepreneurial success.

The promise: Even the time-crunched entrepreneur can eat well and exercise by following the plan the book lays out.

Plausible? A sensible diet takes planning and exercise certainly takes time, but do you really need a book to tell you that? Mostly a rehash of the obvious.

Freelancer Tom Valeo writes about medical and health issues. Write to him in care of Pulse, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail features@sptimes.com.