What to Expect the First Year by Heidi Murkoff, 3/5
My husband and I were fortunate enough to have the world’s most chill baby, so I didn’t bother reading most of this book until we were halfway through year two of parenthood. Though raising our little guy has definitely become more challenging as he matures, the first twelve months were relatively straightforward; most issues that came up were easily addressed by a quick internet search, knowledgeable friends and family, or at medical check-ups. I didn’t feel the anxious anticipation, curiosity, and solitariness of first-time pregnancy that made What to Expect When You’re Expecting so comforting and helpful. For me, this book occupies a weirdly unhelpful middle ground, at times too hyper-focused to be practical or too general to be a reliable source for researching complex issues (especially controversial ones like vaccinations or discipline).
Why I read it: a friend and parent of two young children recommended it very highly.
Training for the Uphill Athlete: A Manual for Mountain Runners and Ski Mountaineers by Steve House, Scott Johnston and Kílian Jornet, 5/5
This bible for uphill endurance athletes accomplishes what most other sports and fitness books promise and fail to do: give readers a solid understanding of the physiological effects that specific training has on their bodies and the ability to use that knowledge flexibly in the pursuit of their own athletic goals. The fact that a book could never fully substitute for a good coach does not seem to discourage the authors from trying, and their approach to the topic is extremely well-conceived. They avoid the common shortcomings of only providing information that is too general (here are some good exercises!) or too specific (here is a complete training plan for a 125lb female athlete with 3 years of experience, coming off an ankle injury!). Additionally, the photographs in this book are abundant and exceptional. If there were such a thing as an armchair athlete, this book would be very satisfying for them.
Every sport deserves to have a training guide like this one but, selfishly, I’m kind of bummed out that it exists for such a niche and not for any of the martial arts or even “normal” running. Mountain running seems so…extra…and I’d never even heard of ski mountaineering (skimo) before. Still, as the authors point out, “Increasing aerobic capacity has major benefits to all athletes regardless of the duration of the event they are training for” (54). Perhaps the most broadly-applicable chapter is the one titled “The Physiology of Endurance,” which debunks the VO2 max as the holy grail of fitness and explains how and why plentiful training at low- to moderate-level intensity, interspersed strategically with short, high intensity workouts, can raise one’s aerobic threshold to within 10% of one’s lactate (anaerobic) threshold. Think about it. Who wouldn’t want the ability to perform at a higher level for longer? I’m not an endurance nerd, but the more of the science I read, the more I coveted the “big aerobic motor” this book describes.
Why I read it: a recommendation from my sister.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel, 5/5
This ubiquitous book is well-deserving of its reputation as the bible of pregnancy. It contains a ton of helpful information but what makes it truly outstanding, in my opinion, is the comforting and positive tone with which the info is conveyed. Reading it feels more like having a conversation with your mom than referencing a textbook or encyclopedia. Pregnancy can be a scary experience and it’s such a relief to read that whatever bizarre symptom you are dealing with is perfectly normal. I do wish that the book ended on a happier note instead of a chapter on complications and pregnancy loss, though.
I also really like the What to Expect website’s week-to-week feature and forums.
Why I read it: I am pregnant and remember seeing this book on my parents’ shelf as a kid. I was lucky that a friend passed along this copy to me.
Roar: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life by Stacy T. Sims, PhD, 3/5
It is so refreshing to read a book written specifically for female athletes that pragmatically and constructively addresses the comparative strengths and weaknesses of our sex. I am often the only woman on our martial arts fight team and it is tempting to think of myself simply as a smaller, weaker man, cursed with monthly inconsistency in performance. Sims makes it clear that things are not that simple and offers helpful ideas for navigating the ups and downs of the menstrual cycle, menopause, and pregnancy, in addition to the basics of general strength and conditioning, nutrition, hydration and recovery for women. I found the section on different types of birth control and their effects on athletic performance to be particularly interesting. I was also fascinated to find out that I should be eating protein as a recovery snack instead of carbs.
While I definitely plan to refer to this book in future, I do wish it contained specific footnotes for many of its claims instead of general endnotes. Sims’ recommendations for PMS supplements were particularly unsupported by any obvious science or reasoning, which did not inspire confidence. I also wish the advice was more easily scalable; while Sims gives many examples of specific guidelines for specific clients, there is obviously considerable guesswork that would be involved in applying her principles to one’s own situation. This is a definite obstacle to the practical application of her ideas, especially for a perfectionist like myself. Of course, no book can be a substitute for one-on-one coaching, so perhaps I am asking too much. But while I’m at it, I would love to ask for a book like this to be written specifically for female MMA athletes!
Why I read it: a recommendation from my sister.
Expectant Motherhood by Nicholson J. Eastman, M.D., 3/5
In the last eight months, since I first found out that I was expecting a baby of my own, I have learned a lot about pregnancy and childbirth from a variety of sources. This vintage book from 1957 is the oldest of all, but I was delighted to discover that a surprisingly large amount of the information and advice it gives still survives, little changed, in our modern age. To me, this is encouraging proof that the process of growing and delivering a baby to the world is natural and something most women are innately empowered to accomplish.
Of course, much has changed in the field of medicine in the 60-plus years since the third edition of this book was published, leading to some fascinating insights into the past. For example, I had never thought to wonder how pregnancy tests worked before the modern “pee stick” was invented in the 1970s. I learned that the easiest and cheapest method was simply to wait until an expected menstrual cycle was at least ten days late, at which point chances were good that you were pregnant. The downside of this approach is obviously that you do not receive positive proof of pregnancy, just an ever-increasing likelihood of it. For those requiring more certainty, a much more expensive option was to wait two weeks past the missed menstrual cycle, inject a mouse or rabbit with the woman’s urine and, forty-eight to seventy-two hours later, dissect the unfortunate creature to check its ovaries for changes! The “frog test” also involved the injection of urine, but pregnancy was confirmed by the development of frog eggs in only eight to eighteen hours and the frog would happily survive. Needless to say, peeing on a stick seems much less gross and inconvenient after learning about these alternate methods of the past!
Why I read it: a gift from my sister.
Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon-Rosegg, with Peter Rosegg, 4/5
I read this book for a laugh, expecting that almost 40 years of advancements in the field of medicine would have rendered it largely useless by now. To my surprise, I found myself being won over by the commonsense advice it presents, emphasizing mindful relaxation, supportive coaching, patience and faith in the natural process. After all, the act of childbirth is as old as time and if, as so many experts assert, we still experience primitive influences on a biological level, why should we rush to intervene with little excuse?
Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy–Until You’re 80 and Beyond by Chris Crowley & Henry S. Lodge, M.D., 3/5
Clearly, the target audience for this book is aging guys who will appreciate the old-fashioned generalizations and cringey humor that make Younger Next Year pretty unrelatable to anyone else. Fortunately though, you don’t have to be an old man to be encouraged by the premise that consistent exercise, smart eating (but not “dieting”), and healthy relationships can make old age a less terrifying prospect. This book also confirms something I’ve suspected for a long time–that we often associate increasing age with loneliness, misery and a sedentary lifestyle because those are the most available and memorable role models (thanks, negativity bias). All the healthy, adventurous, active, passionate old people are too busy out doing things to stop and convince us that a post-prime life can be amazing.
On a sad side note, I learned that the younger co-author, Dr. Lodge, died at the age of only 58 from prostate cancer. I’m tempted to conclude that one shouldn’t sacrifice happiness for health, since the latter is never guaranteed.
Why I read it: my dad gave me a copy because he enjoyed it.
Sugar and Salt–Foods or Poison? by Axel Emil Gibson, 3/5
As a sugar addict in a state of near-constant relapse, I have first-hand experience with the bizarre, drug-like power of sugar and the rarely-acknowledged withdrawal symptoms that accompany any serious attempt to resist it. Over-dramatic as this may sound, it’s positively restrained compared to Dr. Axel Emil Gibson’s opinion on the topic:
The dominating ingredient in most of our dishes, sugar perverts our taste, blinds our instincts, bewilders our gastric consciousness, and leaves us guidelessly and aimlessly adrift in the rapids and breakers of morbid and despotic cravings, not infrequently decoying the individual into body-and-mind-destroying excesses (13).
Though a proponent of naturally-occurring sugars in fruits and vegetables, Dr. Gibson fervently denounces “free sweets” (extracted or concentrated sugar) and has no qualm about addressing the metaphysical and moral implications of one’s nutritional choices. Written in 1913, this eyebrow-raising rhetoric, accompanied by old-fashioned science, makes it tempting to dismiss the book as outdated and of historic rather than practical value. After all, if current, more-enlightened times see numerous fad diets fueling a multi-billion dollar weight loss industry, what crazier, more ignorant, unscientific advice might this doctor from over 100 years ago recommend? The answer is extremely embarrassing. Gibson’s dietary recommendations are simple, commonsense, and inarguable: he preaches moderation and “[nature’s] own faultless cuisine, where the sun does the cooking and the earth the seasoning” (26). And yet, it is just in recent years that science and popular culture have started to catch up with this hundred-year-old wisdom, after spending decades hardheadedly demonizing fat. To me, this supports the “sugar conspiracy,” which is a rabbit hole well-worth traveling down since the “evidence” against it actually seems to argue for it instead. Just read a summary of Science magazine’s article claiming to prove there is no “sugar conspiracy,” or this Verge article on the topic. Both focus on salvaging the scientific community’s credibility and denying the conspiracy, while at the same time verifying and attempting to excuse the sugar industry’s underhanded dealings.
Why I read it: The title caught my eye in an antique store and for $5, I couldn’t resist discovering 100-year-old opinions on a still-controversial topic.
Wired to Eat: Turn Off Cravings, Rewire Your Appetite for Weight Loss, and Determine the Foods that Work for You by Robb Wolf, 3/5
If lack of information is the reason you struggle with weight loss, then you may find this book to be life-changing–it certainly contains a lot of information. If lack of motivation is what’s holding you back, then you may find this book to be helpful–its tone is very motivational. However, if you are already familiar with the ultimate weight loss triumvirate Sleep More, Move More, Eat Less Processed Food, but you simply lack the self control to put it into practice, then you will likely find this to be just another useless diet book.
Many of Wolf’s observations are in line with my personal experience, especially that junk food makes you feel hungrier beyond reason and hyper-palatable, highly-processed foods are pure evil. However, I think of these facts as incidental to weight loss; in other words, learning them was simply the by-product of successful weight loss and maintenance in my case, not the cause. If knowledge gained through personal experience is insufficiently motivating, how much less is knowledge gained from merely reading a book? Such pessimistic practicalities aside, Wolf does his best to get his readers fired up and seems genuinely motivated to help people. His use of pop science/psychology is purposeful at least, though somewhat nauseating, and I respect his unusual advice that each person find the foods that work for them (within limits, obviously) instead of slavishly following some one-size-fits-all diet/religion. However, I feel that Wolf does not make nearly as convincing, scientific or detailed a case for the paleo diet as Good Food, Great Medicine makes for the Mediterranean diet (with the added benefit of much less hype and pop science).
Why I read it: My boyfriend thought it sounded interesting but I thought it sounded sketchy, so I read it first to save him time in case it sucked.
This homey guide to healthy living contains all the information I imagine one could possibly need about the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, including medical research, advice on nutrition, sleeping habits and exercise, and a large collection of recipes. The authors’ approach is good-humored, unpatronizing and realistic–well-suited to the common-sense advice they give and the varying amounts of commitment they can expect from their readers. I haven’t tried any of the recipes, which is why I give the book four stars instead of five.
Eat more simple, natural food that is close to its original form and eat less prepackaged, processed or sugary junk…thanks in part, I guess, to a relatively healthy upbringing, most of this book fit into the “well, duh!” category for me and it is the duh-factor that I find most convincing about the Mediterranean lifestyle. This is no silver bullet, no gimmicky fad diet; it can’t be boiled down to “oh, I don’t eat carbs” or “I count calories” or “I fast intermittently” or “I only eat raw food,” etc. Unfortunately, there’s nothing very sexy about a well-balanced, natural, sustainable approach to eating that requires lots of common sense and self-control.
Self-control–there’s the rub. From both observation and first-hand experience, I’ve found that lack of self-control and lack of motivation, not lack of information, are at the root of unhealthy, excessive eating habits. Knowledge may be power but it isn’t will power. I can read a million studies about how doing x lowers your risk of dying by 35% and not doing y makes you 20% less likely to get cancer, but when I stop reading, it’s often because I need to put Nutella on my toast while it’s still warm. Still, we all make decisions every day that affect our health, whether positively or negatively; for me, this book’s value is in helping me make a few better, more informed, eating decisions than I might have made before. In this way, I hope to continue refining my approach to eating from merely counting calories to emphasizing those foods that are both good for me and make me feel good.
Why I read it: my dad had some heart trouble last year and his doctor recommended this book to him.
A picture quote I made: