BOSTON PUBLIC RADIO
4:26 pm
Mon February 10, 2014

Alex Beam On The Great Diet-Book Swindle

Overwhelmed by diet books? Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam wrote about diet book hype in his latest column.
Overwhelmed by diet books? Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam wrote about diet book hype in his latest column.
Credit Joel / Flickr

By this point in February, steadfast New Year's dieters have given the shake to 2014 resolutions. A brilliant plan to lose weight and exercise more can turn into a chore, or a misery, no matter how earnestly we start. What's worse than the shame of a blown resolution? According to Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam, two things: friends who foist their diet plans on you, and diet-book hucksters eager to move books that peddle questionable medical advice.

Beam joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on Boston Public Radio to talk about the world of diet books. Beam also talked about the Sochi Olympics, Gov. Mitt Romney's two failed White House bids, and the kerfuffle over Trinity Church's purchase of a $3.6 million home for its rector.

Read Alex Beam's column here: "That diet book won't work."

How did you get onto this diet book premise?

When something happens to you twice — usually it has to happen to you three times to be a column — but with things as they are in print journalism, [I wrote about it].

Twice is a trend, three times is a column.

I agree. I would sit down for these lunches with legitimate people, normal people as if I'm sitting down with you. And [when I reach for a second roll], they say, 'No, no.' They give you their whole ludicrous, absurd new scheme for how they're going to live forever by eating only corkboard, or something. It's a friend of yours, someone you've liked, someone you've been hanging with for decades. You just want to scream! You just want to go, Let's have a salad, let's relax. Let me have a piece of bread.

It happened to me twice in a row. The second time was with my in-laws, which was like really shocking. We were at a fish house. 'We're gluten-free.' And [they're] super-healthy people! They don't have celiac disease, give me a break. I just screamed. I said, 'You've got to be kidding me. You're normally sane people, you're laying this stupid trip on me.' (...)

There's always this appeal to the text. It's like a Muslim fanatic talking about the Koran. 'Oh, Alex, well you haven't read the book.' Like I'm going to waste a day-and-a-half of my life reading 280 pages of b.s. by some renegade doctor? Forget it.

We want to know what 'wheat belly' is.

People think it's about what Jim used to have, and what I still have. Men get this thing. Over-consumption of certain grains and wheat can make you fat. Beer is — let's face it — wheat. It's grain. 'Wheat belly' (...) starts from a relatively interesting premise, that there's no more grain. Every time we consume grain it's a genetically-modified form of grain.

If you've ever read Jared Diamond's interminable "Guns, Germs and Steel," which is really hard to get through — a lot of evolutionary biologists make a big deal about when we stopped being hunter-gatherers and start growing our own food. It doesn't matter about that because there's no such thing as grain, we're all eating tainted grains.

There's this astonishing list of diseases that are brought on by [tainted grains]. Forget whole wheat, it's all the same [according to some experts].

Oh no, I've been buying all this bread at Whole Foods!

Yeah, $4.25 a loaf.

You've spent time in Russia. When we asked, you sent us a memo saying, 'Sochi is shaping up nicely.' Still true?

Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of totalitarians. What's sort of depressing is that once the NBC, fantasy, b.s., sports hype machine begins (...) a lot of this is going to be swept under the carpet.

Bob Costas is willing to ask hard questions.

He made one comment in Beijing? I'm still smarting from Beijing [Olympics]. That's the world's most totalitarian regime.

How about during a pro football game, his halftime commentary where he said he wouldn't let his kids play football?

Bob Costas may be a wonderful person. He's not going to be biting into this event that NBC News has paid billions of dollars to sell ads against. He's not going to turn it into some kind of op-ed column.

You don't think NBC's smart enough to realize this is one of the most appealing points of the story — the problems in Russia, from gay rights, to security, to hotel problems?

No, you're wrong. Because they have nothing else to talk about [right now]. With all due respect, when the figure skaters get on the ice, good luck talking to your wife about [Pres.] Putin's totalitarian regime. I don't think so.

Does your wife like the figure skaters?

Oh god. They're horrible Margery, from beginning to end.

Can we talk religion for a second? You wrote a column about whether Mormon leaders wanted former Gov. Mitt Romney to win the presidential election.

That was an idea I had, it just occurred to me. (...) I test-drove it. I asked Latter-Day Saints people, asked them, Is this arguable, that they might've wanted him to lose the election? Several people said, Yes, it's arguable. Not everybody agreed with me, but that was enough for me.

I thought it was a sort of interesting case. I spent two years with the Mormons working on a book about Joseph Smith, and one of the guys I quoted [in my book] — Richard Bushman, extremely prominent, mainstream academic at Columbia University — once gave a speech to a group of Mormons in Salt Lake City. [Bushman] said, We are the weird religion. Everyone laughed.

They self-described as weird. (...) They are a very odd bunch, they see themselves as an odd bunch.

They're a pretty healthy bunch. That's not weird.

They are. I've quit drinking again. That's just — the inner Mormon.

One of the most appealing parts of Mitt Romney's biography, to me, is his time in France as a missionary. It's the most compelling side of him, but he didn't talk about it much during the presidential campaign.

Rejection is actually part of the religion, that if people reject your religion it strengthens your commitment to your religion. (...) Asking young people to do what's called "tracting," eight hours a day, opening doors that are slammed in your faces, that's very powerful. It binds the people who do the work together, and also binds them to their religion. Or, of course, the opposite happens and they completely abandon it.

In one [Boston Globe] column, I got away with analogizing the [Mormons'] situation to the Jews in the 1950s. When Jews were really breaking through in the US, after World War II, there was a phrase that was current, 'Is it good for the Jews?'

Both of my grandparents who were religious — but not wildly religious — said it all the time.

It's hard to explain, because people think it sounds a little anti-Semitic, [but] it's not. It's what Jews said about themselves. This idea that, If we get so exposed again, look what happened to us in central Europe. We started getting very exposed on the economic and social fronts, and people decided to do away with us.

I feel — the point I was making — was that it was certainly not at all bad [that Romney lost]. It was bad for Mitt and his family, perhaps, that he didn't win the election. But the Mormon Church takes the long view (...), they didn't need this win at all. I don't think they're unhappy that they didn't get it.

Before you leave, what do you make of the Trinity Church's purchase of a $3.6 million home for the new rector, Rev. Sam Lloyd?

The female rector who preceded Sam Lloyd walked to the church from her apartment in Jamaica Plain.

Is that true?

No $3.6 million home [for her]. It's all super inside-baseball. She only was there five or six years, so they figured, Oh, she wasn't committed. (...) It's a very rich and powerful church. I think it's a wonderful church to attend. I'm not a dues-paying member, I'm a free rider, and I believe in luxury accoutrements for everyone.

>> Listen to the entire conversation with Alex Beam:

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