The Next Chapter

Novelist and food lover Brian Francis tests 3 diet books

In the spirit of New Year's resolutions, Brian Francis puts three diet books to the test - and loses seven pounds!
Brian Francis wears many hats: author of two novels (Fruit and Natural Order), Quill and Quire's Ask the Agony editor, columnist for The Next Chapter and former food blogger of Caker Cooking. (brian-francis.com/Doubleday Canada)
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After Brian Francis decided to close his popular food blog Caker Cooking to "save his arteries," he moved on to new food experiments — namely, testing weight-loss regimens prescribed in diet books. In an act of "gonzo journalism," Francis chose three books to try out, and share his findings with The Next Chapter. Here is his report:

1. The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet by Dr. Herman Tarnower and Samm Sinclair Baker

The Scarsdale Diet became a popular fad in the late 1970s when the book was published.

It is a very, very, very strict, old school diet. I have to tell you: I was very crabby.

It's so cliché thinking about having a grapefruit for breakfast, but you do on the Scarsdale diet. And you get a piece of protein bread. I don't know what protein bread is; I just went out to the store and bought whatever. There are some variations throughout the day. You can have your tuna fish, you can have your salads, roast lamb of all things. They say you can lose up to 20 pounds in 14 days. I wasn't able to last two full weeks.

I wouldn't want to die while I was on the Scarsdale diet. What a depressing way to die.- Brian Francis

I went on this diet for five days. I started it on Monday, I made it through to Thursday, and then something happened. I went over to my brother-in-law's and there was some wine and food out. I mean, what are you going to do? You have to live your life. I wouldn't want to die while I was on the Scarsdale diet. What a depressing way to die.

The four days I was on the diet, I lost 3.5 pounds. But I can't imagine anyone staying on this for two weeks.

2. The Real Paleo Diet Cookbook by Loren Cordain

The Paleo diet, also known as the caveman diet, first emerged in the early 2000s.

Basically, if you like pork chops for breakfast, this is the diet for you. You have to have three servings of protein every day and you can have all the fresh vegetables and fresh fruit you want. But that's basically it: it's meat, fruit and vegetables. It's based on cavemen. Apparently, much to my dismay, cavemen didn't have Dairy Queen back in the day. It's trying to take you back to their diet.

I think in principle it's a very good diet because it is about simplicity, it's about real foods. It's about taking the time to cook your foods and taking away the added fats and salts. It did make me feel better. It's just you can't have dairy, you can't have wheat, legumes. I wasn't hungry, but I also felt deprived. And I lasted until Thursday on this one as well... I was waiting for the streetcar and I don't know what happened but I ran into the variety store and grabbed some white chocolate Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. This is the problem that happens on the diet — once you slide off of that, you are tumbling down the hill so fast. I lost 3.5 pounds on this one as well.

3. The Diet Fix by Yoni Friedhoff

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff is a professor at the University of Ottawa. His book, The Diet Fix, was published in 2014.

His theory is that diets don't work, so stop beating yourself up. There are a lot of issues that come with diets like the guilt, feeling deprived, the shame that comes with diets when you end up eating some Reese's Peanut Butter cups at 11 p.m. His approach is about more common sense. Stop, think about your eating, look at calories the same way you would look at a price tag on an article of clothing before you would buy it. Keep a food diary. Write down what you would eat every day. Weigh yourself regularly.

It is about common sense and it is about a lifestyle change. At the end of the day, I think people just don't want to hear that. They're looking for that quick fix, that miracle pill.

I tried out some of the recipes at the back of the book. I haven't gotten to the food diary part of the book. But I have been thinking more about what I'm eating. When you eat a lot of protein you feel full. I would never think of loading up on my protein at breakfast, but now I've started to sprinkle a few nuts on my Lucky Charms as a way of filling myself. It is the least exciting [diet of the three] — it doesn't have the sizzle of losing 20 pounds — but it is about making conscious, aware decisions about what you're taking in and being accountable for what you eat.

Brian Francis' comments have been edited and condensed.