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My Book, Your Life, Our Families, and the Revolution

I have written a totally honest book about the health we can have and what it takes to get there. I will be equally honest about the book: I would like you to buy it. I would like everyone you know and especially those you like or love to do the same. I want Disease Proof to make the best-seller lists. I will tell you why in a minute, and at least one of my reasons may surprise you.

As I hope all who read my work here routinely will agree, I am generally in the business of peddling only ideas. I see that as both my job and my mission, in the service of public health. In pursuit of that mission, I have logged an incalculable number of hours writing literally thousands of columns and blogs (including those that appear here) without monetary compensation for nearly 20 years. That’s fine — the compensation is advancement of the mission. I run a 501c3 (federally authorized non-profit), and we give away programs routinely for free that cost us money to build, and for which others would charge. That, too, is part of the mission. I am not a salesman.

It’s my job to address matters of importance to health and wellbeing. It’s my job to bring my training and expertise to bear, and interpret the moving target of research science in as objective and unbiased a manner as I can, while still rendering an actionable opinion and verdict. That is what I strive to do here. I know some of you don’t agree with every conclusion I reach in my columns, but the best and most illuminating information exchanges involve such dissent. As long as we listen to one another, we can agree to disagree and still benefit from the clash of perspectives. The right kind of friction generates light as well as heat; I welcome it.

So generally, it’s only ideas for sale — and at no cost. But this is different. You can only fit so much into any given column. A book is an opportunity to tell the whole story as one cohesive whole. I truly do want you to buy my new book, Disease Proof.

I want that for some fairly obvious reasons. First, because it’s a very good book. It provides an honest, comprehensive, empowering dose of the skills required to lose weight and find health. It really can help add years to lives, and life to years — and I would like your life and your family to be among the beneficiaries. Why? It’s probably selfish. I’m one of those people who has to do good, or at least try my best, to feel good about myself. If I can make a positive difference in the world, my life is better. I admit that’s selfish, but I think it’s a good kind of selfish. I want to help people get to health, and in doing so, I help myself to a feeling a fulfillment. Everybody wins.

Another obvious reason is money, although this has always been a less-important currency to me than honor and accomplishment. But, it would be disingenuous to ignore it; it matters to all of us. I am in the middle of putting my five children through college, and yes, a best-selling book would help that cause, too. I doubt you’re surprised to hear it.

But there is another reason, and it may be a surprise: I want to start a revolution. Actually, I want you to start one.

One of the best ways for a book to make a difference in the world is to be a best-seller. Partly, that’s because books on best-seller lists sell well; the rich get richer in this as in all things. Once a book is a best-seller, everyone feels they need to know what the buzz is about. And then, people who have written best-sellers have a bully pulpit thereafter- for years, and sometimes forever. So whatever your mission, a best-selling book advances it mightily.

But, alas, most of those missions in the domains of weight and health are misguided; I’m sure you know this as well as I. Best-seller lists in the areas of weight loss and health are overwhelmingly dominated by promises that are exaggerated if not overtly false, distortions or half-truths, gimmicks, magical thinking, well-intentioned nonsense, and outright hucksterism. These are very tantalizing at first, but they let us down — just look around to see what we have to show for all the snake oil we’ve bought. Epidemic obesity, epidemic chronic disease — years lost from life, life lost from years. And the threat of worse for our kids around the next bend.

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is truly different. It’s rarely tried because authors attempting it can’t get the time of day. Publishers are trepidatious about abandoning the sex appeal of the magical promise. I’ve been at this a long time — trust me here.

So as I see it, if we (and it has to be we) can get this book on the best-seller lists, it’s a potential game-changer. It says to every potential fad diet author out there: Your days are numbered. It says to legitimate experts and publishers alike: Yes, they (the shopping public) are ready for the empowering truth and don’t need magical thinking and silver bullets anymore. Yes, if you build the good and honest case for losing weight, and finding health — they will come, and they will buy it.

And then, the prevailing knowledge and lore in our whole culture can shift away from gimmicky, quick-fix nonsense, to a reliable, actionable, shareable truth. We can all get more and more knowledgeable and skillful about owning our health. And when enough of us have done just that, our whole culture will have changed — and put health on a path of lesser resistance for us all. When all the information about good nutrition, for instance, is actually good information, we can all make our choices with considerably more expertise. Our demand will change accordingly, and that, in turn, will change the supply. Little by little, our growing collective knowledge and skill power will reshape the world to accommodate us. We will be bequeathing to our children a much enhanced opportunity for the long, vital lives they deserve.

I will return to peddling nothing but ideas very soon, I promise. I prefer it, frankly; as noted, I am not a salesman. I have no idea if I’m doing this well.

But I do know that it’s important. When legitimate truths, unadorned, can make the best-seller lists, we will live in a world where we all get a lot more truth, and a lot less of the dangerous distractions, delays, and dead ends imposed by the nonsense that now predominates.

So, yes, I really do want to be the author of a best-selling book, and I need your help. I think we will be helping one another. To the extent you are helping me, my heartfelt thanks. You will be giving me a bullier pulpit and a higher soapbox. I will relish those and pledge to use them faithfully in the service of the mission that has motivated me all along.

To the extent I am helping you and those you love lose weight, find health, or both. You are most welcome.

Contrary to what common assumptions and the media sometimes lead us to believe, our genes do not determine our weight or future health. What they do is to tell us about our risks of developing certain diseases. It’s about possibility; nothing is set in stone. Our DNA simply cannot forecast that we will get a particular disease, unless it’s one that’s caused specifically by a genetic mutation (such as Huntington’s disease, cystic fibrosis, or sickle cell anemia). We are actually the ones driving the bus on our journeys toward wellness or illness, so don’t blame your genes for the future of your health. Most diseases are not random occurrences but the consequences of the things people do every day. They are the intermediate step between lifestyle habits and infirmity or death. This means that the leading causes of death and disease are largely within our control because they result from what we do or don’t do with our feet, our forks, and our fingers — namely, whether we are physically active, consume a healthy diet, or smoke — on a daily basis. With few exceptions, that is the new rule that’s been established by groundbreaking research — and it is the central premise of this book. As you’ve just read, there is now abundant evidence that getting just four things right — not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, being active, and eating well — could reduce the risk of all chronic diseases by 80 percent. That’s right: 80 percent! (There are four things on the list, but by eating well and being physically active, you will set yourself up for a healthy weight — so you really need to focus only on three things, with the final one being not smoking.) It’s a realization that could, and in my opinion should, remake the way we play the game of life, by inspiring us to make better lifestyle choices. If you do it right, you can write a new story for your future right down to the genetic level. To a preventive medicine specialist like me, this is of profound importance, because apathy and fatalism are among the biggest enemies of health and healing… … If you develop wholesome habits, you can give the DNA you were born with a second chance — a do-over, so to speak — to move in a healthier direction. You can reshuffle the genetic deck in your favor with healthful behaviors — enough to reduce the likelihood of a bad health outcome by 80 percent. Those are shockingly good odds! No medicine, supplement, or medical intervention can even come close to delivering results like that. Not even close.

In the short term, using your fork to feed yourself more wholesome foods and your feet to put your body into motion (and keep it there) can lead to more immediate benefits, including better mood and mental clarity, improved sleep, more energy, less pain and stress, and a greater overall sense of well-being … How can you argue with this many feel-good perks?

From DISEASE-PROOF by David L. Katz, MD, MPH with Stacey Colino. Reprinted by arrangement with Hudson Street Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © David L. Katz, MD, MPH, and Stacey Colino, 2013.

-fin

Disease-Proof is available at bookstores nationwide and at:

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