Book (?) Review: A Guide to Flexible Dieting by Lyle McDonald

Since I seem to spend more time reading about training for climbing than I do training for climbing I always have lots of fodder for book reviews. This review is more of my general interest in nutrition than climbing specific so here’s a quick test to see if this book review or book is for you.

  1. Stand up
  2. Lift up your shirt (preferably in the comfort of your own home)
  3. Grab your stomach

If you bruised your knuckles on your glistening six pack or had a hard time grabbing anything of substance in your hangboard-sharpened talons, then congratulations on your hard work and I’ll catch you next time. Otherwise, follow along.

I’ve written before how I’ve had a consistently difficult time cutting weight. In normal life vanity isn’t an issue for me at all. I’m normal weighted enough that people don’t throw sardines at me and chairs don’t (usually) groan when I sit on them. However, gravity isn’t kind to 230lb individuals so this is something I try and pay attention to.

I’ve tried most of the fad diets you can think of, generally out of curiosity to see if they’d do anything. I tried being gluten free for fun once (it wasn’t fun). I’ve written on here about my 6 month experiment with low-carb diets (no fun). I had some success with Weight Watchers in my pre-climbing days cutting from 280 down to 240 or so. The problem with all of these is that where they are so restrictive you’re either on them or off them. It’s great for me for the short term but then I lose focus and the wheels fall off. My latest kick at the can has been to just try and eat some vegetables at every meal and don’t worry too much about anything else. This dovetailed nicely with a book I just finished called ‘A Guide To Flexible Dieting: How Being Less Strict with Your Diet Can Make it Work Better,’ by Lyle McDonald.

I think I’ve referenced McDonald before on the blog. He writes mostly through his blog called Body Recomposition. I love it because he’s basically a talking meta-analysis of diet and exercise literature. He also doesn’t care at all about formal writing structures like references. After a while I just ended up trusting that what he writes is backed up by research so it’s not a huge deal. He also puts together books that seem to mirror a lot of content on his blog (I can’t tell if the blog leads to the books or if he pilfers his books for blog posts but it doesn’t matter much). Most of his focus is on fat loss in the context of weight training along with writing about nutrition and health impacts. He also writes a lot about weight training technique and comes from a background of an ‘almost-Olympian’ speed skater so understands nutrition in the context of sports performances that are likelier higher than most of us will achieve. If you have a few days I’d strongly suggest scrolling through the posts, you’ll likely learn something.

In ‘Flexible Dieting,’ McDonald writes not about a singular diet. In fact, he explicitly states over and over about how he doesn’t really think the specific diet matters that much as long as the person sticks to it and they eat fewer calories than they burn. This is certainly not revolutionary. He focuses more on the psychological aspects of dieting and how these responses are driven by biological changes brought on by reducing calories. My interests fall exactly on the level of detail in which he writes. He talks specifically about how a number off different hormones regulate hunger, appetite, satiety and weight loss and how to best manipulate these hormones using controlled refeeds of carbohydrates at certain periods to maintain a functioning hormonal system and keeping sane in the face of restricted calories on a day to day basis.

I’m not going to regurgitate his content (so I guess this is probably a shitty review?). I’ll also mention that it was published in 2005 so is well before the current research output saying that all carbs are bad and they’re going to kill you. McDonald’s more metered approach is, not shockingly, to say that some carbs are good, healthier carbs are healthier and people shouldn’t eat too much junk food. I tend to agree with him.

If you’re looking for a different perspective on diets than what we’re sold through the current spat of be-all, end-all diet programs that preach exclusion and restriction and are also interested in some of the metabolic and hormonal background of why we feel hungry and why most of us suck at trying to lose weight then I suggest picking this up. You can buy it through his blog, and I think I’ve seen PDFs floating around online that you can read.


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