Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The World's Shortest Diet Book

It's All There in Clear, Concise Messages
I went to my local bookstore the other day to look at the management and leadership books. It was a mission to do a little competitive intelligence, since I'm working on one myself. (Yes, I do think there's room for one more! And if you know of an agent or publisher willing to work with a first time book author let me know.) On the way to my target, though, some catchy titles in the aisle of diet and weight loss books caught my eye. I diverted over there and... yikes. What a mess. How could anyone make heads or tails out of all the claims and contradictions?

Could this be an opportunity to work on a second book? Could I retrieve some of my long ago training in nutritional biochemistry, and meld it with my career in communications and passion for health and science literacy?

There's a huge need to be sure. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases reports that two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese and nearly one-third are obese. Attempting to meet this vast market are the hundreds of fat-burning, colon-cleansing miracle products seen in advertisements and infomercials, and the thousands of books that claim to be the solitary answer to such a vexing and pervasive problem. (Message to the FTC and FDA: please help protect a desperate public from these purveyors of junk science.)

So, I got serious for a moment but then realized that I couldn't put an entire book together. I couldn't even think of enough material to fill a page much less a chapter. Why? Because it would be the world's shortest book. In my view, it all boils down to four words:

Eat less. Exercise more.

As communicators, we're taught to make the messages few, simple and memorable. I think I aced that test with my book title and book in one.

OK. Maybe there's a little bit more. There are different body shapes, different rates of metabolism, different personality types as well as economic issues. Unfortunately, when trying to stretch a dollar, junk food can often fill the belly at a lower cost. There are some people who must have a thorough medical examination to search for underlying causes of weight gain, and others who need some intervention to help them get jump-started be it through counseling, pharmaceuticals or surgery.

But the formula is pretty simple, nevertheless. If you don't put enough gas in your car, it dies while you're driving. Put too much in when it doesn't need it, you have an overflowing, dangerous mess. The key, therefore, is balance.

Michael Phelps, the record-shattering swimmer, gives us balance in the extreme. Did you happen to see one of those "up close and personal" vignettes from the Beijing Olympics where he was eating one of his meals? It was like Nathan's hot dog eating contest came to Animal House. Anything and everything was going down his gut. Yet, he's won more medals than anyone in history and hangs in poster form in many a teenager's room. He balances the ingestion of 10,000 calories with 10,000 worth of exercise.

I know my message is simplistic and I know also that the execution is not always so easy. Our bodies and our lifestyles change with age. Keeping in balance gets harder. We all know that we should eat a nutritious, varied, well-balanced diet. So, if one key is balance the other is expectation. We need to take the long view and not hope for or plan on a rapid reduction in weight. The goals must be achievable and bite-sized. With this in mind, I should double the length of my diet book:

Eat a little less. Exercise a little more.

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