It defies common logic: myriad approaches (five-minute cardio blasts! two-week yoga retreats! juice fasts! frequent, small meals! low-carb! high fiber!) and innumerable hours and dollars have yielded no budge in our decades-long battle with the bulge. Americans diet in record numbers—nearly seven in 10 say they are trying to eat healthy in order to lose weight, according to the International Food Information Council Foundation—but the newest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that almost as many (two out of three) are either overweight or obese.
Is it, as the popular new Weight Watchers' ad campaign suggests, that diets don't work? That, as many studies have shown, the results don't last? Or is it simply that many readers do their heaviest lifting when hoisting a promising new diet or fitness title off the shelf?
Most agree that publishers looking to stand out in this crowded category will need a new angle to captivate readers. That's why many have shifted their energy away from books that offer highly specific, prescriptive advice, precise calorie counts and carefully delineated dos and don'ts and toward more holistic examinations of why we're so fat and what long-term lifestyle-oriented solutions will help us, both individually and collectively. “People seem in the mood to cut to the chase... even if it's tough and not a magic bullet,” says Elizabeth Beier, executive editor at St. Martin's. She cites The Four Day Diet by Ian Smith, M.D. (Dec.), the New York Times bestselling author of TheFat Smash Diet and TheExtremeFat Smash Diet, as an example of smart but realistic fodder for “that serious, motivated diet crowd.
There hasn't been a new national diet phenomenon since readers inhaled Arthur Agatston's The South Beach Diet or Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution before that, says Heather Jackson, executive editor at Crown. “There have been some great books, but nothing that has created a new model of eating,” she says. What's being served up in place of this prescriptive approach? A whole new attitude about food.
Think Globally, Eat Moderately
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” These seven words from Michael Pollan, award-winning author of this past January's In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, may capture the heart of how writers, editors and publishers have changed their approach. True, in the end what counts is calories-in versus calories-out, but Pollan suggests that long-term health may be best achieved by ruminating less on what and when and more about why.
“Broadly, the trend is away from calorie-counting books and toward lifestyle books,” says Jeff Galas, an editor at Avery, which will publish The World Is Fat by Barry Popkin, director of the University of North Carolina's Interdisciplinary Center for Obesity (Jan.). The book's central argument is that the increased availability of high-calorie sugary drinks like sweet teas and sodas, dramatic decline in physical activity and the replacement of traditional foods (think China's noodles and Mexico's tortillas) have all but flipped our global concerns about food and nutrition. Today, more than 1.6 billion people worldwide are overweight, while around 700 million suffer from malnutrition.
Decades of clinical research and careful study of others' findings about food and weight have prompted Susan B. Roberts, a professor of nutrition and psychiatry at Tufts, to write The Instinct Diet. Roberts's theory is that everyone has five biologically based food tendencies (such as a search for comfort, a yen for variety and an attraction to highly caloric foods) that undermine our attempts to diet. “Her idea is that if you control those instincts and change the way you think about food and eating, you'll lose the weight and keep it off,” says Suzie Bolotin, editor-in-chief of Workman, which will launch the book in January with a $100,000 marketing campaign.
Pam Krauss, v-p and publishing director at Rodale, says there is always an audience for a new diet book based on good science. “That knowledge is being used as the foundation of some really innovative, effective regimens,” she says. “[And] many of these new books are focusing on supporting good health, not just weight loss.” Among the titles Workman will offer this season is Diabetes Diet Cookbook from the editors of Prevention magazine, which contains more than 200 recipes as well as menu plans and tips for controlling blood sugar levels with food.
The frightening but inevitable effect of Americans' expanding waistlines is the growing prevalence of obesity-related diseases, so diabetes guides have a captive audience: more than 20 million people have the condition, according to the American Diabetes Association. “Every 20 seconds someone is newly diagnosed,” says ADA marketing manager Heschel Falek. “Typically, people in the doctor's office struggle with what to do and the implications of the disease.” The ADA has responded with Your First Year with Diabetes, a comprehensive guide to living with the condition.
But What Makes a Weight-Loss Expert?
One of the most successful indictments of the industrialization of food in recent years was written by two women whose voice and approach is less like a medical journal and more like a fashion mag—or gossip rag. In 2005, Running Press rolled out Skinny Bitch—written by Rory Freedman, a former modeling agent, and Kim Barnouin, a former model who holds a master's degree in holistic nutrition—which plainly states in its introduction: “You don't need a degree in biology to get skinny.” The book decries meat and dairy—among other evils, including soda, or “liquid Lucifer”—in favor of a diet favoring fruits, vegetables, whole grains. Though the argument is compelling—and controversial—its success has more to do with its biting wit: “When I first read the manuscript, it felt like a gamble—it didn't follow the rule of 'always acquire a [diet] book from authors with letters after their last name,” says Jennifer Kasius, executive editor at Running Press. “But it made me laugh out loud, and I liked the 'cut the crap attitude.' ”
The follow-up, Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, sold well; after recently publishing a pregnancy guide (Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven), the duo is at work on a journal (Skinny Bitchin', Dec.) and a men's version of the diet, Skinny Bastard, slated for summer.
Some say that Skinny Bitch's true spike in sales came after the size-00 Victoria Beckham, aka Posh Spice, was photographed with a copy. Which suggests that no matter what's inside the covers, where that title surfaces may spell the difference between well-respected and bestseller. “Platform is the biggest boost,” says Mary Ellen O'Neill, v-p/publisher of Collins Living, which will publish Joy's Life Diet by frequent Today Show contributor Joy Bauer (Jan.). “She'll have the support of the Today Show and all the fans she's made appearing on that show. And the fact that she has her own successful practice makes her more appealing to cautious consumers who want a medically sound plan.”
With the popularity of reality TV best illustrated, in this area, by the diet and fitness juggernaut The Biggest Loser, the definition of “expert” has broadened. A variety of characters from the NBC series, which rewards the person who drops the most weight, will share their suggestions with American readers. Tennessee-born fitness trainer Bob Harper will publish his diet and exercise plan, Are You Ready! with Broadway Books (Jan.), while Crown will publish Stop Trashing Your Metabolism: The 3-Phase Metabolic Makeover Diet by another one of the show's high-energy fitness gurus, Jillian Michaels (Mar.). And Skyhorse released Matt Hoover's Guide to Life, Love, and Losing Weight in trade paper in September. The popularity of the show and the colorful journey of Matt, who won the $250,000 grand prize during the show's second season, will help the book to stand out in an oversaturated market, says Bill Wolfsthal, associate publisher and director of sales and marketing. “If you look at any successful book, it includes a personal story. Since Matt is a known quantity, his book will have a much better chance of success.”
Another new author whose compelling personal story may trump the need for traditional credentials is Rip Esselstyn, a professional athlete-turned firefighter who, upon discovering that he, as well as several members of his engine house, had dangerously high cholesterol levels, did the research and developed a remarkably successful 28-day plan. “A reader is interested in whether someone has an M.D., but they're also interested in results,” says Diana Baroni, editorial director of Grand Central Publishing's Wellness Central, which will release Esselstyn's The Engine 2 Diet in late February. “Rip has done the research, and the results speak for themselves. In four weeks, people were losing weight; their cholesterol dropped 30 points, 80 points.”
Other writers take a more philosophical approach based on their hard-won weight loss. Kim Benson, who'd struggled with her weight all her life, was finally able to lose 212 pounds with Weight Watchers and to keep it off for five years. Her success story, and the 10 steps she developed to get her there, are in Finally Thin! (Broadway, Dec.). Jayne Williams, best-known as the slow fat triathlete (the title of her first book, published by Da Capo, in 2004), offers in Shape Up with the Slow Fat Triathlete (Dec.) 50 suggestions to help women of all shapes and sizes get moving, more for their health than their reflection in the mirror. “She's become a voice for the rest of us,” says her editor, Renee Sedliar.
What's the Goal? And How Soon Can I Get There?
Many of us would love to embrace Jayne Williams's idea of “fitness for fitness' sake”—if we only had the time. If some diet books are beginning to take a longer view of weight loss, several new fitness titles promise harried would-be exercise buffs that they can have their workout and their 14-hour workday, too.
The newest angle may be to approach folks who want to look their most svelte for a particular event, but haven't thought about how—'till just this moment. Celebrity trainer Gina Lombardi often works with stars who have 30 days to look red-carpet ready; in Deadline Fitness (Wiley, Jan.), she'll provide five individualized workout plans, each with a specific time frame. “We haven't seen a book like this before,” says Wiley's executive editor, Thomas Miller. “This book focuses on specific life moments. The proposal appealed to us because everyone has some kind of deadline.”
For those who prefer a steady, incremental approach, so long as it doesn't much encroach on the calendar, Parragon Books has rolled out a new series called 6 Minute Morning. Each of the four 48-page books covers a different goal—from Flat Stomach to Thighs & Hips—and includes a series of easy exercises designed to fit in a six-minute routine.
McGraw-Hill's Body by Science (Jan.), promises even more for less time. According to the subtitle, readers will see the results they want in as few as 12 minutes a week. “This is aimed squarely at body builders,” says publisher Judith McCarthy. “You don't need to spend tons of time in the gym if you're doing very intensive weight training for very short periods of time.”
But one new fitness title, coauthored by a very famous face, takes a very different tack. “I see the same guys lifting the same amount of weight for years and not getting into any better shape and wonder: what are they reading?” says Patrick Mulligan, an editor at Dutton, who first became interested in the more-is-more training regimen of former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber when he read about it in Sports Illustrated. “The one thing they stressed is that he actually works hard in the gym,” says Mulligan. “There are so many fad fitness programs, but the key to getting bigger and stronger is to lift heavy weights until you can't any more.” Tiki Barber's Pure Hard Workout is on shelves this month. Another retired pro athlete, former major league pitcher and current Texas Rangers president Nolan Ryan, pens the foreword to a fitness title targeted at people who want to stay strong as time goes by: Amacom's Fitness After 40, by Vonda Wright, M.D., coming in January.
But no matter how long it takes to arrive at the goal, staying there once that initial resolve wanes is perhaps the greatest challenge. Frustrated by a lack of practical material for post-dieters, board-certified internist Barbara Berkeley has penned her “12 tough rules” for lifelong weight-control and fitness in Refuse to Regain! (Quill Driver Books, Oct.). And if all else fails, there's always a higher power: Morehouse Publishing's Grace on the Go offers a series of 60-second prayers for determined dieters who may stumble or stray on their path to enlightenment.