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The Social Network Diet: Change Yourself and the World

The Social Network Diet: Book Review

The Social Network Diet: Change Yourself, Change the World, is a new book by New York Times Best-Selling authors Dr. Miriam Nelson and Jennifer Ackerman. In the book, they highlight the different ways you can change your diet and exercise patterns by changing your social networks, or the people and environments with whom you surround yourself.

Author Miriam Nelson points out at the beginning of the book that when most people think Social Network they think of Internet social networks, such as Facebook, MySpace or even LinkedIn, but these are not the kinds of social networks of which she speaks. She clarifies that in her book, social network means the people who surround is in our everyday lives and the environment that either works toward or against your will to exercise.

Throughout the book, the authors tell stories of various people they’ve included in their scientific studies to show real-life examples of how a person’s environment affects his or her ability to be healthy. Martha Peterson is one of the first examples given. She is written about in the introduction. At her heaviest, she was 210 pounds. At the time, she was 51 and living in Atlanta, GA. She said that not only were her other Southern friends heavier, making her feel like she had some wiggle room in her diet, but the city itself had obstacles to healthy living. First and foremost the roads, which were made primarily for driving, and were not friendly to bikers or walkers.

In 2009, Martha moved to Denver, CO. In Denver, she found a city designed with a healthier lifestyle in mind and friends who lived a healthier lifestyle, exercising regularly and eating healthfully.

One of the tools Nelson has used throughout her speaking engagements over the years is a series of maps, showing how the nation has grown fatter and fatter over the last few decades. She said people are always shocked to see the maps from several decades ago show blue – the sign for low obesity –and then transform to dark red or bright orange – the sign for high rates of obesity – in the early part of the millennium and on to now.

After one of her last speaking engagements, Nelson said her husband asked her what she was trying to accomplish. Was she having a positive effect on anyone? Thus, the impetus for the book.

One of the first tools the authors give to those attempting to change their lifestyle is the 7-day jumpstart, which involves focusing totally on eating healthy and incorporating exercise.

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During the first day, the authors say to focus on what you eat. Eat only whole vegetables, whole fruits, whole grains and protein-rich foods, and eat at least three servings of each. Eat as many as you want. There is no limit. And for the entirety of the week, avoid added sugars and refined grains.

The authors add that if you put the sugar bowl back on the table and add your own sugar to unsweetened foods and drinks, you’ll never add as much as the food manufacturers add themselves.

More eating tips from the authors include eating foods from the earth, eating for fuel instead of eating for fun and making time for meals. If meals are rushed, you will go for the quickest thing possible, which is never the healthiest.

As far as physical activity, the authors set out guidelines that let you start small and work toward a bigger goal. Tips include walking or biking instead of driving whenever possible, breaking a sweat at least three times a week, find active fun, so that all of your exercise is not regimented or boring. In addition, they say, create your own personal activity philosophy. Figure out what times are the best for you to be active and find activities that are fun for you and that you can participate in with your friends and family.

A big part of the Social Network Diet is changing your surroundings. The authors say to start in your kitchen. Remove the bad food from your kitchen and don’t bring any bad food back in. Instead, bring back whole grains, whole fruits and whole vegetables. Identify which shops in your area sell the healthiest foods and begin shopping there. When you are at the supermarket, limit your shopping to the outside aisles, with the fresher food, and stay away from the middle aisles with added sugar and preservatives. In your home, put healthy foods in sight. Instead of putting a plate of cookies out on the table, put cut-up fresh fruit in the front of the refrigerator. When you prepare a meal at home, make smaller portions and serve them out for your family.

The biggest change you can make for your family in regard to food, say the authors, is to have everyone sit down for a family meal at night as many times a week as possible. Multiple studies the authors site show that families who eat meals together continue to have better eating habits throughout their lives.

When thinking about changing your environment in regard to your physical activity, the book says to start in the home, just like with your eating habits. Manage the screen time of your entire family. Many studies show that family members will be more active if the television and video game time is limited within the home. If your children don’t have a TV to sit in front of, they will seek something out to do, and most of the time, that will be some sort of physical activity. The same goes for you. In addition to changing inside the home, you can locate all the parks and recreation centers outside your home to find opportunities to be active either by yourself or with your family. There are many places within communities that offer playground equipment, tracks or even small workout stations at local parks where you can get exercise for free. Organize a basketball game with your husband and kids or get a group of women together to walk a few evenings a week.

Overall, The Social Network Diet is about eliminating the bad, the harmful in your life and bringing in the good, or helpful. And much of this relies on you surrounding yourself with people who are like-minded. If your best friend is prone to eating unhealthy foods frequently, you’re probably going to do it, too. The authors don’t recommend getting rid of your friends but rather shifting your focus in your life to include time for eating well and staying active.