Friday, July 24, 2009

Tom Venuto's Body Fat Solution: Will It Be Mine?

Too soon to say, as I only recently acquired The Body Fat Solution, and still have a few pages more to read. So far so good, though.

I like Tom Venuto a lot. For those who've not heard of him, he's a lifetime natural bodybuilder, motivational coach and freelance writer with about 20 years’ experience in the fitness industry. His articles have appeared in major fitness magazines and on countless websites, and he is the author of the popular fat-loss e-book, Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle: Fat Burning Secrets Of The World’s Best Bodybuilders And Fitness Models, a copy of which I have on my computer somewhere.

His new book, The Body Fat Solution, is aimed at those of us who are not bodybuilders or fitness models, who need to lose body fat, but for whom the strict by-the-numbers approach of Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle is overkill. According to Mr. Venuto most people don’t need to hit their macros with precision or worry overmuch about the timing of their meals in order to lose fat. A handful of behavioral changes will do it. Sounds simple, right? Well, it is … but as any diehard Enter the Kettlebell! fan can tell you, simple doesn’t mean easy!

Citing Einstein Mr. Venuto states that a problem cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that created it. To solve the problem of excess body fat, therefore, people must change their way of thinking about food, dieting, exercise, and so forth. They must learn to distinguish fact from belief, and replace the beliefs and thoughts that are holding them back with other ways of thinking that will help them reach their fat loss goals.

Refreshingly, Mr. Venuto acknowledges that lack of willpower is not the problem for most dieters. Rather, it’s that willpower involves the exercise of the conscious mind … and up to 95 percent of human behavior is unconscious. The solution, therefore, is to reprogram the unconscious mind using affirmations and positive visualization. He calls this “mental training” and recommends that it be done morning and night until healthy habits become ingrained.

Although the “mental training” component is what sets The Body Fat Solution apart from most other fat loss books on the market, Mr. Venuto also gives due attention to nutrition and exercise. There’s nothing in the chapters on diet and exercise that will not be familiar to anyone who has ever picked up a copy of Men’s Health or Oxygen; not that that’s a bad thing necessarily, but readers who are looking for something new may be disappointed.

The chapter on resistance training in particular seems to be written with novice lifters in mind. The recommendations are very similar to those set forth in The New Rules of Lifting: supersets for maximum efficiency and a secondary cardio boost, total body workouts for maximum calorie burn, free weights instead of machines, and so forth. The only possible criticism I might make is that I don’t believe dumbbell deadlifts, which are included in one of the introductory workouts, are appropriate for most beginners.

People who’ve had good luck on Atkins and similar regimens will not care for Mr. Venuto’s nutrition solution. (Of course people who’ve had good luck on those regimens presumably don’t have a body fat problem and therefore will not be reading the book. But whatever.) Mr. Venuto is adamant that it’s all about the calories, and that the reason diets like Atkins work is that they put their followers into a negative energy balance due to the high satiety value of protein-rich and fatty foods.

If you accept the premise that a calorie deficit is the key to fat loss, Mr. Venuto has lots of useful suggestions for achieving that all-important deficit relatively painlessly. He does not promise you will never feel hunger on his program; indeed, he acknowledges that at times you probably will. But he suggests that hunger pangs can be minimized by choosing foods that have high nutritional value and high satiety value. Since fruits and leafy green vegetables, nuts and nut oils, vegetable oils, poultry, fish, nonfat dairy, and lean cuts of meat satisfy on both counts, he recommends that dieters make these foods their mainstays, with whole grains and starchy vegetables such as potatoes added in as needed in order to achieve the desired energy balance. He acknowledges that as long as a calorie deficit is achieved, a dieter can lose fat even if he or she eats nothing but crap (he phrases it more elegantly than that), but that for health quality is paramount.

Of course the flip side is that no matter how well a person eats, he or she will not lose weight if he or she does not achieve a negative energy balance. Even organic, locally produced, sustainably farmed, free-range, nutrient-laden foods are fattening if eaten in excessive quantities. If you’re stuffing yourself at Chez Panisse you will probably be somewhat healthier than if you’re doing it at Mickey D.’s, but you’ll still be overfat and not as healthy as you could be.

One of The Body Fat Solution’s strengths is that it acknowledges that excess fat is a problem with multiple causes. It’s not just processed food that’s to blame. Nor is the problem caused solely by excess carbs, excess fat, emotional eating, malfunctioning hormones, sedentary lifestyles, or any other single thing. Instead it’s all those factors working together synergistically that are responsible for America’s weight problem.

People like easy answers and quick fixes, and The Body Fat Solution is neither. Just as it doesn’t oversimplify the problem, it doesn’t oversimplify the solution. Attitude adjustment, nutrition, cardio, strength training, and social support: all five are important, though the first, attitude adjustment, is perhaps the sine qua non. It’s easy to imagine a reader putting down the book and deciding that maybe he or she would rather just eat Jenny Craig food after all. But that would be a mistake. Nothing against Jenny Craig, which I don’t believe is any worse than any other quick-fix program out there. I just don’t like to see people waste their time on such things when there are better alternatives, such as The Body Fat Solution.