18 September 2016

Presto! by @PennJillette the non diet book about weight loss, food and health (@NLi10)


The phrase itself is well understood by anyone who has seen a magician either live or on TV. It's the word that simply suggests that the magic is over, and the effect is done.  Like magic, this one simple phrase doesn't really convey the baffling amount of work that's gone on behind the scenes.

I guess this is part 4 of the series of these odd health review articles - starting with Fuhrman, finishing with Fuhrman, Exploring Cronise and now, after a year, getting my hands on the Penn Jillette book.

In short, if you are an overweight guy with a fun sense of humour then get this book and apply as much of it's wisdom as you can.  It could save your life.  If you know someone fitting that description then it's a pretty good recommendation or present because you aren't buying a diet book, you are buying some stories - which happen to also coincide with the time Penn saved his life by eating better.

You don't really have to read all my short reviews to appreciate what we have here, but it's worth me taking a second to summarise.  I've never been overweight - ever - but since birth have always been a little underweight.  I always thought I ate healthily (except maybe at uni) but rarely made it over 10 stone.  I'm also 6' 4" so that's a lot of frame for not much weight.  I discovered I had a chronic respiratory condition that predominantly effects obese people and had a look around for diet improvements.  Then I found out Penn lost 100lb and figured that he'd be using cutting edge science with a hint of crazy and that I too could use this to help me.  I discovered a second chronic illness (got to catch em all - right?) which is chronicled in this huge article, and moped about for a few months on painkillers.

I'd tried to keep the knowledge I'd learnt from Fuhrman et al in mind and managed to put on a stone - in fact I'm now the heaviest I've ever been at just over 11st.  I'm officially no longer underweight - but am I healthy.

The Presto! book details Penn's crazy journey from Sick Penn to Well Penn, and the friends he made and shrank along the way.  It's told in his usual style, with great anecdotes and just enough facts to hang the evidence on along the way.  I'd not recommend it to my easily shocked relatives (they will have to stick to the Fuhrman books), but I have recommended it to my large gamer buddies.  Essentially it's about understanding health and exploring the relationship that we as society have with food.

Like the scene in recent Indy film Captain Fantastic where the children raised in the woods are all confused by the fact that seemingly everyone is overweight I find myself on the opposite end of the spectrum.  Not only is it a difficult task to stop my body just shedding weight, but it's also hard for me to gain weight through exercise due to my arthritis.

Penn has a short note which covers this.

If you think about this from an overweight perspective it's a cautionary tale, but from my perspective this is sound advice.  As long as I'm eating my fatty foods off the Fuhrman list - nuts and avocados are a joy - then if I can manage pain free exercise I'll continue to gain weight.

This is what lunch looks like now:

Or this, when they don't have the veg:

While I'm not going to go full potato fast like Penn (I really, really don't want to lose any body fat without turning it into useful muscle) I am trying to get back to the core principles of the book of dumping the S.O.S. of salt, oil and sugar.  The science seems to suggest that for overweight people the abundance of these three things mean that the body is always storing energy for that metabolic winter that never comes.  For me, never giving my body food that doesn't carry it's weight in terms of nutrition has had some bonuses.

Firstly - after a year - I came off the pain killers.  It wasn't great at first, but your body naturally readjusts.  I've been swimming for the first time without just painfully sinking today, and while I took some Ibuprofen afterwards just to make sure I can write today and work tomorrow it's a fraction of what I'd have taken previously just to get out of bed.  Like Penn, I'm not saying this is all diet related, but it coincided with going back on the Fuhrman style plan. And I'm still on two tablets a day, but that's not 10 tablets a day, and none of them are painkillers.  

Before reading Penn's book I'd not truly grasped the "rare and appropriate" part of the Cronise diet (whose book by the way is still in production).  I'd assumed that my rare and appropriate was a single thing every two weeks and realising that this wasn't possible when writing two reviews a week had kind of abandoned it heavily.  In the book Penn details Romanesque feats of eating where every meal on a single day was off plan (usually due to a special occasion) and how it wasn't even something that caused his weight to soar.  Turns out eating healthily in general and having a one day feast didn't really do that much to your body, unlike having a little bit of bad food every day which it turns out is killing a lot of people.

I'm going to continue to explore the fringes of this way of eating, while slotting in the reviews, but I do think that maybe having one day a fortnight that I eat all the snacks and write them up would be possible and maybe even make me write more quality reviews.

Eitherway, this book is a good read - I bought it a month ago, read it in a weekend and have been digesting and evangelising it ever since.  While I don't think I'll go into the exercise books and routines on here I'll probably start taking that side a bit more seriously and see where it takes me and update you all when Ray Cronise's book Our Broken Plate is finally released.

Penn's journey is a fascinating and at some times unbelievable one.  Having listened to a lot of the podcasts that happened after Penn came out as a CroNut I knew the story arc, but I'd really not appreciated the emotional details and just how many similarities there were between how bad we were feeling.  My family now own TWO Withings Smart Scales and most of us have some kind of activity tracker to keep an eye on our vital statistics (for us it's more O2 levels than steps!).  It's given my own healthy eating a much needed kick, and I've even started a little secret peer group chat with some friends (some under and some over) heading towards that mythical BMI of 22 that has eluded us all for so long.

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