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Diet Cults: The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and a Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of US

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  1,139 ratings  ·  188 reviews
From “The Four Hour Body,” to “Atkins,” there are diet cults to match seemingly any mood and personality type. Everywhere we turn, someone is preaching the “One True Way” to eat for maximum health. Paleo Diet advocates tell us that all foods less than 12,000 years old are the enemy. Low-carb gurus demonize carbs, then there are the low-fat prophets. But they agree on one t ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published May 15th 2014 by Pegasus Books (first published May 8th 2014)
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Average rating 3.75  · 
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Jess Dollar
May 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
I gave it 4 stars because it was a lot of fun to read, not because I thought it was particularly insightful or well researched. In fact, I disagree with a lot of what Fitzgerald writes here and feel he missed a big piece of the diet puzzle.

I am an all or nothing person and terrible at moderating. I used to consider this a fault until I realized/learned that all people are either moderators or abstainers and there is no moral superiority to either predisposition. Moderators are just that - good
Nov 06, 2014 rated it did not like it
This book is truly awful. While it has an honorable intention, to discredit many of the bogus fad diets that appear and disappear with astonishing regularity in the media, it utterly fails in its execution. The author relies on anecdotes, faulty science (correlation does not equal causation, which he states in his book, and then goes on to negate several times) and dubious sources (including an "according to wikipedia" mention that made my jaw drop).

Diet Cults is also not terribly cohesive or we
Emily Crow
I agree with the author's premise--that there is no one "perfect" diet that works for everyone, and that most of the rules and restrictions of popular diets are unnecessary, and sometimes silly. I also think that the "agnostic healthy eating" guidelines he provides in the last chapter seem sensible. And overall, the writing style is snappy and entertaining.

The book could have been much better, though. I thought that the overall structure was rather disorganized (it seemed more like a series of
John Gurney
Apr 20, 2015 rated it liked it
Diet Cults surveys the scientific literature on many trendy diets like raw food, Atkins, South Beach, Zone, Paleo, Vegan, Superfoods, gluten-free, as well as protein supplements and shows that almost all have no scientific merit. To take the case of gluten-free, most people don't even know what gluten is and, unless you are one of the very rare people with celiac disease, there is no reason for you to even think of gluten. If anything, Fitzgerald goes out of his way to be fair, giving the diet f ...more
Sarah Obsesses over Books & Cookies
I wasn't expecting to read this and definitely wasn't expecting to finish it but I did. I've never heard of Matt Fitzgerald but I guess he's a big sports writer and long distance racer and stuff. He seems to have thoroughly researched this book. You get a sample of each kind of diet craze and why people subscribe to it and what they get out of out and also what is false about it and what doesn't work and you the reader get to take whatever information you've learned from it and apply it (if you ...more
May 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
There were many things that I liked about Diet Cults: the cover (and I can't even articulate why), the layout, the tone, the reassurance, and the Agnostic Eating Plan.

I loved the layout of Diet Cults. Each chapter addressed a different type of "diet cult" until the very last chapter, which discussed the author's Agnostic Eating Plan. Personally, I find comfort in reading a book with good, predictable cadence. There's a time and a place for thrillers and suspense, but a nonfiction book about diet
Dennis Mitton
Dec 19, 2014 rated it liked it
If you want to piss off a whole lot of people then start poking holes in their religious beliefs. This is exactly what Matt Fitzgerald has done in Diet Cults. And if you don’t think some dieters are religious just consider that they put belief in their experience ahead of any verifiable science. And just like religions, what many of these diets share is a belief that only one way of eating leads to the path of true health. If you think theological battles between Southern Baptists and Roman Cath ...more
delancey  | reading_brb
GREAT take-home message - more people need to hear this! A little overly aggressive in tone though. Could just be the author's humor, but it didn't read well for me. Also aims at low hanging fruit.
Watch my full review here:
Aug 24, 2016 rated it liked it
I can't say that the style of writing in this book really impressed me much but if the author was aiming to make it easy to read and accessible, I suppose he's done that. It really came across as more chatty rather than scientific, like a neighbour leaning over the fence and saying, hey did you hear about so and so?
I could have gone for something a little more scientific, maybe with some better facts and figures, though I do not in general disagree with his view of these fad diets I don't think
Emily Kirik
Jun 20, 2018 rated it liked it
I felt it rather ironic in the last chapter Fitzgerald describes his “Diet Quality Score” test because it sounds an awfully lot like Weight Watchers points system which he of course ridiculed for being a diet cult. I don’t see anything wrong with either of these “keeping score” on diet ideas. How else are people going to motivate themselves and take responsibility for what they eat. However, I accept his hierarchy of foods because vegetables and fruits should be staples in our diets. As for the ...more
Apr 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: food, science
I will admit that I have been a member of many diet cults. Along with compulsive exercising, self-experimenting with diets is practically a sport for me. Adding on a biochemistry background on top of that, the simple act of eating can be as complex as calculus.

When I stumbled upon The Diet Cult, I was more than eager to dig in. With the recent onslaught of social media, diets have taken on a religious halo as different camps start to unabashedly defend their “One True Way” of eating. Guilty as c
Aug 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: health
I'm a big fan of the website, "Science Based Medicine". So when I saw that they had actually recommended an eating book, I was intrigued. Matt Fitzgerald spends a lot of time in this book debunking commonly practiced diets and long-held food myths in such a way that I was interested the entire time. In the end, he presents a science-based approach to eating where no food is forbidden (unless you have food allergies or lactose intolerance). He argues that we should focus MOST on the healthier foo ...more
Jul 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Better than I thought it would be. Fun walk through diet fads up to present day, which offers good perspective. The author defines a diet cult as one where a certain food is either completely banned or touted as a cure-all. Good reminder to eat good food in a smart way.
Sandy Su
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was a great book for those seeking to improve their lives! Debunks all the "diet fads" out there and promotes the main message of overall healthier eating and exercise. This book was motivational as well as informative and an interesting read about the history of food and the social/evolutionary/psychological/cultural relationship with food. ...more
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There are so many fad diet books, normally based on some "One True Path" to lead the reader into the inner circle they create. This is the antithesis of those books.
Part history, part nutrition science, part psychology, and all practicality. Loved this.
Jun 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Fitzgerald's major premise is that people don't succeed on diets because of any biological needs that make one diet more effective than another, but because adhering to a diet -- any diet -- makes you a part of a community that gives you a sense of self and a source of encouragement.

I was fascinated with the way Fitzgerald plainly lays out the case against each of the diets -- Paleo, Atkins, gluten-free, raw-food, Weight Watchers, what-have-you -- while simultaneously describing the lives of peo
Sep 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The author appropriately portrays food as fuel, not medicine. His premise is that diet cult members don't eat more pragmatically but more ritualistically. He says all anyone needs to know about weight the right amount and eating well is what a 10-year old would know. Eat more fruits and vegetables than sweets. It isn't about the food someone eats but her/his behavior that makes them overweight and feel crappy. It's about portion control and exercise. But fads offer rules and rituals so people ca ...more
Jul 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Diet Cults by Matt Fitzgerald gives us a strong analogy to frame the intense marketing of diets and nutritional supplements that are so common today. Fitzgerald outlines how sometimes well meaning but misguided nutrition "experts" villify healthy foods (think: potatoes, fruit) and tap into the human instinct to be a part of a group of like minded people. Fitzgerald's assessment that every diet fad promotes its plan as "The One True Way" of eating is spot on, and he clearly demonstrates over the ...more
Jun 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Science + Humor = my kind of book. This one has both. It’s down to earth and full of common sense, as well as some little-known facts. Like Alan Levinovitz (The Glueten Lie And Other Myths About What You Eat), Fitzgerald highlights the parallels between religious cults and diet fads. And I think he’s right on the money.

There are no secrets to weight loss. There are no superfoods. There are no absolute do’s and don’ts. There’s no best diet. In fact, “no diet” is best. Bottom line: Pollan’s advice
Sep 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
I highly and wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who wants to eat healthy and still enjoy life! Also, easy and fun to read, with a lot of impressive examples.

I'm only giving it 4 and not 5 stars because of I feel the explanations of the diferent categories of food in the last chapter could have been more detailed, with more examples and maybe a bit more precise. However, this feeling might be a result of my own inclination to keep to a precisely defined "cult" rather than thinking on my own :)
Oct 20, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science-health
Although I generally agree that diets have frequently turned into cult-like groups where various foods are demonized and certain rules and restrictions are imposed that are claimed to be the Only True Way to eat, this was just a poorly written book. Using speculation about how people ate millions of years ago, criticizing (and also poorly paraphrasing) different religious groups beliefs about food, occasionally throwing in bad language and a general condescending attitude ruined the content for ...more
Jeff Hayes
Nov 13, 2015 rated it did not like it
Complete waste of time. There is nothing new here, Fitzgerald is condescending, and it's not sourced. Save your time - Fitzgerald tells us to eat the same things we have always known to be healthy, and says that motivation is the key to being healthy. Overwhelming evidence shows that this mainstream view doesn't work for the majority of people, so this book is only useful to those who have no idea how to eat. ...more
Oct 23, 2016 rated it did not like it
I was interested in a study of different diets, but instead got mostly anecdotes, tangents, and other filler material.
The only diet that seemed to be well-discussed was paleo, the rest was name-dropped a few times, or had a few paragraphs.
The "easy" diet proposed by the author seems confusing and comes with hardly any explanation, but I wasn't interested in it so that might just be me.
May 20, 2015 rated it it was ok
premise interesting, but utterly unoriginal and boring. I am not a cult food member. But is clear he propose exactly what he is criticizing on others. I didn't like style also, very annoying. couldn't finish.... ...more
Angie Gravelle
Jun 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Awesome read. Fitzgerald methodically picks apart why each diet is not perfect, that there will never be a 'perfect' diet, since the human body has evolved over the years to become adaptable to whatever the hell we feed it ...more
May 01, 2015 rated it did not like it
Wasted a few hours of my life that I will never get back....
May 07, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: health
A cult is defined at a high-level as, “a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing.” Cults exist for nearly anything or anyone, and they do not have to be religious focused. Matt Fitzgerald intention with his book “Diet Cults: The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and a Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of Us” is to point out the many different diet cults, their leaders, and why so many people blindly follow them with little or no long-term success. The ...more
matt fitzgerald examines diet fads—which he terms cults, due to their ritualistic nature and their adherents' often fanatical belief in them—their actual efficacy, and what eating practices actually ensure good health.

His Findings
* the earliest human diets were incredibly varied (refuting any claim that only one specific diet is the most natural to all humans).
* humans are biologically adapted to cooked food (refuting the claim that it's unnatural to process food).
* diets choose people (based on
Henrik Haapala
Aug 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, health, how-to
There is no "one way" to eat despite various "diet cults":

"But science has not identified the healthiest way to eat. In fact, it has come as close as possible (because you can't prove a negative) to confirming that there is no such thing as the healthiest diet. To the contrary, science has established quite definitively that humans are able to thrive equally well on a variety of diets. Adaptability is the hallmark of man as eater. For us, many diets are good while none is perfect." P.10

"A potat
Sep 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
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Matt Fitzgerald is the author of numerous books on sports history and endurance sports. He has enjoyed unprecedented access to professional endurance athletes over the course of his career. His best-sellers include Racing Weight and Brain Training for Runners. He has also written extensively for Triathlete, Men's Fitness, Men's Health, Outside, Runner's World, Bicycling, Competitor, and countless ...more

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