The diet and fitness shelves are lined with promises. A reader perusing them could be excused for thinking that he or she can lose a toddler’s worth of weight in 30 days or have a tortoiseshell-hard abdomen in a matter of weeks. But these claims don’t always line up with reality.

Might a softer approach produce better results? Are all “bad” foods really bad? Does thinness necessarily equate to health? Several forthcoming books ask these questions and offer advice to readers looking for a more forgiving path to wellness.

One title, Eat Your Feelings (Wednesday, Jan. 2018), by food blogger Lindsey Smith, seeks to redefine the term “emotional eating,” which has long been code for “eating too much.” “We were all born emotional eaters,” Smith says. “I look at it as a positive thing.”

Her book suggests ways that readers can satisfy their cravings for comfort foods without resorting to processed ingredients, and offers insights into what our bodies may really be saying when our craving sirens begin to call. A jones for chocolate, for example, may signal that your body needs magnesium, present in foods such as raw nuts and fruit.

Smith hopes to reduce the shame many feel about their diets: “If you feel guilty about what you eat, it transfers into stress and anxiety, which then transfers into gastrointestinal issues and, often, more weight gain,” she says.

Ryan Parsons, a mixed martial arts coach and coauthor, with MMA fighter Chael Sonnen, of The Four-Pack Revolution (Rodale, Jan. 2018), says he developed his approach to diet and fitness after watching fighters take weight loss to dangerous extremes. “I think Chael’s record is 36 pounds in 21 days,” he says of his coauthor, “and he almost killed himself to do it. I’ve seen people pass out in the sauna trying to lose water weight.”

As its title suggests, The Four-Pack Revolution, which includes a meal plan and 10-minute workouts, insists on reasonable, rather than extreme, health goals. The book, Parsons says, is intended for the reader “who’s sick of some unrealistic expectation that someone else placed upon them.”

In The Bad Food Bible (HMH, Nov.), Aaron Carroll, a professor of pediatrics and dean at Indiana University’s School of Medicine, seeks to dispel myths about so-called “unhealthy” foods. Carroll, who has contributed articles on health to the New York Times’s Upshot column, makes the case that many items commonly vilified by health experts—red meat, coffee, salt, booze—aren’t as deleterious as we’re led to believe.

“Sometimes we make intuitive leaps that don’t bear out,” he says, such as confusing moderation (don’t eat too much too salt) with abstinence (cut out salt altogether). Often, he adds, there’s a financial incentive behind such crazes: “People will push diets, or push fads, because they know that they can get a following. [Readers] should become a little more skeptical in general about what people say is absolutely and positively.”

Like a Vegan

The skeptical, pragmatic, forgiving approach to wellness has found its way into books about veganism, a diet (or philosophy, if you prefer) not typically associated with laxity. The Wicked Healthy Cookbook (Grand Central, May 2018), by sibling-chefs Chad Sarno and Derek Sarno, who hail from New England, advises an “80% health, 20% wicked” eating plan, to quote the book’s subtitle.

“Some diets pushed by health care professionals are quite intimidating and reductionist,” Chad says. The “wicked” element of the book’s diet—i.e., the part that allows for indulgence—“gives people that slack, that common-sense approach to health,” he says. The Sarnos even shy away from the term “vegan.” “When you push vegan,” Chad says, “immediately people think about what they can’t have, not about the abundance that’s available to them.”

Sean O’Callaghan also seeks to make over the popular image of plant-based eating. The subtitle of his forthcoming Fat Gay Vegan: Eat, Drink and Live Like You Give a Sh*t (Nourish, Jan. 2018), recalls that of the 2014 blockbuster Thug Kitchen (Rodale), a similarly irreverent vegan cookbook whose subtitle is “Eat Like You Give a F*ck.”

The term vegan, O’Callahan says, has been corrupted by popular culture: where it once denoted an opposition to consuming animals and animal products, it’s now seen as a path to thinness and vague health goals like “glowing skin.”

“There’s this huge wave of people conflating veganism with healthy eating, and I wanted to turn that on its head,” O’Callaghan, a freelance journalist in the U.K., says. “Telling people that they will have a better body, or better skin, or age more gracefully—those sentiments don’t do a lot of positive things for our community,” he says. He’s referring to the vegan community, of course, but his argument—which is taken up, in different ways, by all of these books—is one that many readers might welcome.­

Return to the main feature.