It was Sir Francis Bacon who first coined the phrase “Knowledge is Power” way back in the 16th century. It’s been more than 400 years, but I believe that statement is as true today as ever, particularly when it comes to our health. There are literally thousands of voices out there on the topic, much of which gives us conflicting information. So I am always on the search for a good book recommendation. Today, I am here to return the favor and give you my honest health book review of my latest read: Wired to Eat by Robb Wolf.
Wolf previously authored the bestseller The Paleo Solution. Even though I haven’t read that (yet), I had a good sense going into this book of what I was getting myself into. Obviously, he is a proponent of the Paleo diet. I haven’t studied the Paleo diet extensively but know the basics. I have a healthy skepticism of anyone who pushes a certain diet agenda so I was not sure what I would be getting myself into with this. I was pleased to find out that even Wolf is a skeptic about a lot of health info though.
Wolf is a biochemist by training so he approaches life and nutrition exactly the way you would expect a scientist would… but with one major deviation. He goes beyond the data and believes anecdotal evidence matters too. Having battled some major health issues in his early adulthood, Wolf completely changed his lifestyle and discovered new found health success with the Paleo diet. And despite some healthcare providers arguing it was ‘nice but coincidental,’ maintaining that diet and lifestyle has maintained a much healthier version of himself ever since.
In Wired to Eat, Wolf takes a step back from the ins and outs of the Paleo diet to talk more about the mind-body connection as it relates to nutrition. Why we crave certain foods, why we gain weight and how we even got to this point! The basic premise is that our bodies have been designed to function a certain way and as our society has changed, our bodies haven’t necessarily evolved as quickly. Our caveman ancestors woke with the sun and had to hunt or forage for their food. It took work to find their next meal and they were limited to what was available in nature that season.
So basically, our brains are hardwired to always want more food and our bodies are designed to store those nutrients in case it takes a while to refuel. Pretty simple. Our advancements in technology have changed everything though. All kinds of food are now readily available. Our bodies weren’t really designed for this abundance and evolution takes a really long time to catch up.
This is the basis for the Paleo diet, and at its core, I believe there is merit in that. Many have taken the principles of Paleo to extremes, giving it a bad name (and leading many like myself to skepticism.) But the idea that we are designed to eat local food that is in season and natural – seems like common sense to me.
What I really enjoyed was extending that thought process of Paleo into other parts of our life today, such as exercise and sleep. Hunting and foraging for food was work, and it meant bodies were constantly in motion and burning stored energy. “Exercise” wasn’t a thing. Activity was just innate and even required to survive. And all of that work had to happen during daylight hours! So our ancestors woke with the sun and slept with the moon. These days, most people work sedentary jobs and stare at phone or computer screens into the wee hours of the night. So much like the Paleo diet aims to fuel your body in an ancient way, you can do the same with fitness and sleep. Incorporating small amounts of activity throughout the entire day adds up over time. Limiting the amount of artificial light you use when the sun goes down gets your brain and body back to a natural circadian rhythm and promotes better sleep. Who doesn’t want that?!
Maybe the biggest takeaway of all for me is the 7 Day Carb Test, which I am absolutely going to try. I come from a family full of diabetics so glucose monitoring is nothing unfamiliar to me. But using it to understand how your body is affected by specific foods? That is new and fascinating for me. I am looking forward to trying the test and gathering data on how my blood sugar responds to specific foods. I don’t believe this test is really necessary for everyone, but I’m intrigued! (And anyone who has seen my hangry mood swings probably also has a vested interest in my results…)
So far so good right? Where Wolf loses me a little is discussing how to make these changes. He explains that food is inanimate and therefore describing a relationship with food is ridiculous. I sincerely disagree. I think that, as humans, we have developed relationships with many things. Some people name their cars for God’s sake! If that isn’t a relationship with an inanimate object, I don’t know what is. As someone who has struggled with how I eat, I know that food has been woven with certain emotions, be it stress, sadness or love. Personally, I’ve enjoyed my emotional ties to food in blissful times and I’ve fought with those ties in the hard times. That relationship exists. And much like any human relationship, you have to work at it. I’ve worked hard on my relationship with food to stop seeing it as a crutch in hard times. It has taken a focused effort to see food for the amazing (and delicious) benefits it can give me if I allow it to fuel my body and not my emotions.
My other skepticism is his brief (and I mean really brief) discussion on the benefits of the Keto Diet for certain individuals such as diabetics and those with neurodegenerative diseases. I have always been extremely skeptical of the Keto Diet, so no surprise I had a little bias coming into this chapter. Frankly, it isn’t that I don’t believe him. It’s that I just don’t think there is enough work and evidence in this area to support it yet. I appreciate that he does not blanket statement the benefits of Keto though. Instead, Wolf describes it as a tool to be used in certain scenarios, the same way a mechanic uses a specific tool to fix a car. I am intrigued now to read much more on the topic. It has opened my eyes quite a bit and ignited a curiosity to learn more. Knowledge is power, remember?
So what’s my verdict? After all, this is a health book review. Like most things, this book isn’t for everyone. But this book is really worth reading if you believe in a balanced approach of common sense, scientific research and anecdotal evidence. I truly appreciate that Wolf starts with laying the foundation and explaining the science before diving into his recommendations. However, you have to trust the science in order to buy into his plan. Some will scoff at the information he provides. But if you do buy in, he is very detailed in his recommendations, even providing meal plans and recipes to get you started. That can be extremely valuable for people and I can’t say every book is that helpful!
I personally am inspired to look at my diet more critically and focus on consuming naturally occurring foods (especially plant-based) that are seasonally relevant and locally sourced. Will I be transitioning to a full-blow Paleo diet? No. I’m going to stick to my Moderation Diet. But the basics make sense and I would implore more people to think about what food they choose, in addition to other environmental factors, as the basis for lifestyle improvement. I absolutely recommend this book for anyone with a passion for health information, especially those looking to make an improvement in their life and aren’t sure where to start.