Book review: Refuse to Regain not just for maintenance

I’ve become increasingly interested in nurtritional anthropology and “ancestor diets” and research.  It’s been on my “to read” list for quite some time.  However, as the subject matter is weight maintenance and not weight loss, I was in no particular rush to read it.  However, it kept coming up in the ancestor diet reading lists, that I finally decided I’d order it from the library.

I just finished reading it, and I was really impressed.  I could relate to and/or agreed with nearly everything the author had to say.  I think I thought “I’m not sure that would work well for me,” only once or twice.  I think it may have been the first book I can truly say that about. 

I wish I’d read it sooner.  It’s entirely compatible with my current food plan, except that I had to seriously review my views on moderate use of modern foods, and on the very concept of moderation itself.  I really appreciate the advice to review every choice, asking “is it worth it.”   If I’m honest with myself that’s where I fail most often, I tend to  ask “was it worth it,” more often than “would it be worth it.” 

I was so impressed, that I took a lot of notes, and am considering buying the book as it seems like a book I’d refer to repeatedly. 

4 Responses to “Book review: Refuse to Regain not just for maintenance”

  1. Screaming Fat Girl Says:

    I haven’t read this book, but I assume that it focuses on how man ate before agrarian techniques and is similar to the popular “cave man diets”. In theory, I think that it all sounds good, but in practice, I don’t think it works. Modern humans may have the same genes as their ancestors, but they don’t have the same mental life. Food culture isn’t something you can turn back the clock on psychologically. Our lives are very different and we can’t abandon our tastes merely because it is what is “best”. If we could, we’d all be in great health and no one would be overweight.

    Beyond that, there is the fact that life expectancy in the eras that such diets were consumed was quite low. Our ancestors ate what they had at hand, but they didn’t necessarily flourish as a result of that. They merely survived long enough to procreate and pass on their genetic material. I also have doubts that most modern humans could consume the richly varied diet that our ancestors likely ate because of squeamishness about the items consumed. They had access to and were willing to eat things we would not, which would have provided nutrients that our selective palates will put out of reach. I’m thinking of things like insects, unsavory sea creatures or reptiles, and plants that have mutated or no longer exist.

    I’m also not convinced that a varied diet that samples all things in moderation is something which puts one at risk relative to a diet akin to that of our ancestors. There is often a threshold effect with any type of food where eating it in one quantity has no negative impact on health, but in a larger quantity will have such an impact.

    Mainly, I think the biggest failing of modern diets is the extreme processing of grains and sugars as well as the manipulation of recipes in order to increase food addiction and the elimination of so-called “harmful” nutrients. In particular, I think that a low-fat diet is one of the worst things that has ever happened to Americans. The Japanese, for instance, eat a lot of fat in their diets relative to Americans and they remain a group of people who are largely thin and long-lived despite eating white rice in copious quantities.


  2. kaplods Says:

    It’s true that traditional hunter-gathers had/have shorter lifespans – but the causes-of-death were primarily accident, injury, illness, infection, starvation, hypothermia… not lifestyle diseases.

    When it comes to the overabundanced of processed carbohydrates, that is the very argument that is central to all of the ancestor diets. None that I’ve read yet, has advocated returning to a truly paleolithic food plan. There’s no mention of eating insects or even organ meats or other choces unpalatable to the modern palate. I have no plans to eat insects in the immediate future, but I am more committed to eating “ancestral foods,” than most people would ever wish to be (maybe I watched a little too many episodes of food television with Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain).

    As the author of Refuse to Regain points out, people who have been able to lose and maintain weight (or never had a problem to begin with) on a diet of moderation, with no ill effects, they will have done so. If you find that hasn’t worked for you, there is another option.

    As for culture and taste preferences, not only can they be changed, they have to be if you consider weight loss possible at all, because without change, either in quality or quantity, there can be no weight loss. You have to buck the cultural norm in order to lose any weight at all. If we’re prisoners of culture, then freewill is a myth and change is not possible.

    Taste preferences are actually quite easy to change. Most people don’t try, and it’s a very common assumption that they are fixed. If you’re dropped into a culture very different than your culture of origin, your palate will eventually change based on what is available, but you don’t have to be immersed in a foreign culture for tastes to change.

    Even though my attempts at avoiding processed carbs, and reducing agrarian foods has been very imperfect, my tastes have changed dramatically. I didn’t abandon my taste preferences, but I did radically transform them. My sweet tooth is much smaller. Fruit and even roasted vegetables taste much more intensely sweet. Old food enemies have become friends – foods I hated and thought of as bitter (like brussel sprouts) are now favorites.

    There’s nothing wrong with choosing a “less of what I like” foodplan for weight loss, if you can adhere to it. I spent nearly 40 years trying unsuccessfully to adhere to the “just learn moderation” philosophy. It never worked for me, because of the addictive qualities in some foods, as you mentioned.

    It’s interesting that your arguments are the very same that are central to the ancestral diets. Addressing the addictiveness of certain foods with moderation is often about as successful as addressing meth or heroine use with moderation. Moderation for some of us just doesn’t work, because that first “taste” makes refusing a second nearly impossible.

    Changing my palate and food preferences has actually been much easier than moderation has ever been.

  3. Screaming Fat Girl Says:

    “It’s true that traditional hunter-gathers had/have shorter lifespans – but the causes-of-death were primarily accident, injury, illness, infection, starvation, hypothermia… not lifestyle diseases.”

    Absolutely, but therein lies the rub. They died before any consequences of their food habits could manifest themselves. We have no evidence that there would not be negative consequences of a lifetime of Paleolithic eating because they died before any such evidence could manifest itself. We can only say that they did not show signs of modern lifestyle problems. As it is, more often then not, what we see are periods of malnutrition as evidenced by the bones of our ancestors. We attribute this malnutrition to a lack of available food rather than dietary shortcomings, but who is to say what the real cause was? I’d say there just is not enough evidence. That being said, clearly, high protein, high fat, high vegetable diets are definitely better for humans based on current evidence.

    I’ll grant that food tastes can change as mine have changed as well, but that they mainly broaden to include better options rather than narrow from the unhealthy to the healthy. One of the reasons so many people are absolute in their food choices when attempting to lose weight is that they never lose their taste for the things that contributed to their weight gain and are afraid of losing control when exposed to them. In essence, they learn to love newer, healthier food, but never stop being attracted to what made them fat in the first place. If people in general truly lost their tastes for their old food habits, they’d never be tempted. Those tastes are never really lost (as our biology makes that nearly impossible as the brain says salt, fat, and sweet things are what we want to eat most). They’re just set aside with the hopes that they’ll be forgotten.

    Moderation is something which most people don’t learn because it’s much harder to modify quantity than to incorporate quality into existing diets. One can learn moderation, but it takes time, patience, a solid plan, and is actually quite against our nature as humans who thrived by eating as much as possible when food was available. Also, frankly, I think most people have no idea how to “learn” moderation. They don’t know where to start, hence the reason there are so many “all or nothing” approaches to food. And what is more, I do believe that American culture does everything it can to actually discourage moderation in all aspects of life (because it is a consumerist culture), but people don’t want to accept that they can and are being influenced in this manner and reject that it is even happening.

  4. kaplods Says:

    I’ve spent the last twenty years or more on the path of “moderation.” And the fifteen years before that most of my weight loss attempts were through moderation, and it never worked for me, and I thought the fault lie with me. I was just an “extreme” person, but that made no sense. I’m moderate in every other aspect of my life, why not diet? I don’t drink in excess (I barely drink at all). I don’t smoke. I’ve never done illegal drugs of any kind. I’ve always suceeded in school and work. I always preferred “real” food to junk food. I almost never eat dessert (and haven’t all of my life. Dessert was rarely part of any meal growing up).

    Then I read more on the physiology of the insulin response and learned that there are actually physiological factors contributing to my overeating. Genetic factors may be partially at work, but even the flavor of modern food (not just the insulin/hunger response) makes modern foods inherently different than natural foods.

    Two books that explain very well why moderation is not an effective strategy for most people are

    The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by David Kessler


    Refuse to Regain!: 12 Tough Rules to Maintain the Body You’ve Earned! by Barbara Berkeley).

    High carb foods, and the salt/sweet/fatty flavors, especially when one is already overweight have more drug-like than food-like properties. Eating more foods closest to their natural state results in a much more inhibited response. Because the natural diet is so far from the SAD, “moderation” is a word that doesn’t apply very well. The “moderate” SAD is still a very unhealthy one.

    I’ve tried dozens if not hundreds of eating styles and only by virtually eliminating the drug-like foods, have I been able to lose weight and maintain the weight loss. I’m an incarnate example of the the very opposite of the theory “only moderation works.” For me, only virtual elimination of problem foods has helped.

    It’s been a lot easier to train my tastebuds than I was ever led to believe. So many people told me it couldn’t be done, that I was astonished to find it so easy and relatively quickly.

    That doesn’t mean it is procedurely easy, because whole foods are a lot less accesible in our current environment.

    Even “moderation” by SAD standards is far from moderation. It’s still a very extreme diet, if you look at in comparison to diet’s accross the globe. The areas of the world with the lowest incidence of obesity are those that include the least modern foods, and include the least labor-saving modern inventions. I don’t think it’s coincidence.

    The modern lifestyle is extremely sedentary. “Moderate” exercise by the modern definition would be considered sedentary only a couple decades ago, let alone 15,000 years ago.

    Returning to the stone age lifestyle isn’t possible, but a lot of progress can be made by heading in that direction by reducing calories and carbohydrates (not just the refined ones), increasing fiber intake and activity, increasing the proportion of Omega 3’s. Eliminating trans fats and hfcs would bring us.

    Some people may be able to make those changes gradually or to a lesser degree than others. Most of the ancestor diet books address that. Some folks do better on “modern” foods than others.

    I also think it’s ironic that my ideal diet is considered “extreme” when it consists of a much wider variety of foods than the modern diet does.

    The SAD consistes of only a few cuts of beef, pork, chicken, white potatoes, eggs, soy, wheat, corn, and a only few fruits and vegetables and lots and lots of sugar and starch mostly from sugar and grains.

    We eat a wider variety of foods than people did a few hundred years ago, but we eat a lot fewer than we did before agriculture was invented.

    The ancient diets had a much wider range of food (we think it’s smaller, because we tend to only “count” the foods that we would have eaten).

    I’m probably not going to be eating insects any time soon, though I’ve learned they’re extremely high in nutrition. Their eliminatin in the SAD was a nutritional loss.

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