Chew it Over: Alex Nedvetsky’s 7 Steps 2 a Lean U Diets the Diet
– Book Review by Will Bahr – March 4, 2019
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound—or, in some cases, several hundred—of cure. This age-old-adage is the cornerstone of Alex Nedvetsky’s self-help health book, 7 Steps 2 a Lean U. Advertised as a dietary book for those who hate dietary books, Nedvetsky delivers. He spends a great deal of narrative time and space decrying different diets, their draconian strictures having turned off too many too soon. Among many other examples, he explains how stress, a common response prompted by dieting, actually leads to weight gain. While this may not appear like Dreamers’ usual fodder, 7 Steps is creatively written, marrying the scientific with the literary. Furthermore, the book’s advice is rooted firmly in the mental, affirming that altering the way one thinks about the culinary experience fundamentally alters the experience itself.
In lieu of the traditional diet, Nedvetsky offers a buffet of alternate solutions, from engaging in “food recall” to changing one’s dining atmosphere to revolutionizing the bite. It can be tempting, especially from a dieter’s position, to read this as more of the same mind-over-matter sermon, but Nedvetsky instead establishes an indelible connection between brain and gut. Indeed, much of the ethos behind the 7 Steps involves satisfying the brain or fooling it outright so that the stomach responds accordingly. Needless to say, the average American brain is not sated. Lack of education is a principal culprit —we are not being taught how to eat from the outset, a crucial skill that Nedvetsky suggests is a family matter. “The skills of healthy eating,” he attests, “have yet to become a staple of a child’s upbringing” (39).
While he stresses individual and familial confrontation as paramount in the battle to eat right, Nedvetsky also blames external forces. These are numerous and predatory. He reconciles these twin culprits with a list (of which he is a fan—how many steps are there, again?): “The four mechanisms that promote fast food addiction and overeating are: fast eating, big bites, big amounts, and addictive ingredients” (41). Even restaurants are culpable: “The noisy…activity, the small and uncomfortable chairs, the elbow to elbow proximity to other diners—all greatly contribute to the feeling of discomfort, desire to finish our meal quickly, and get out as fast as possible” (53). Nedvetsky doesn’t shy away from the political, punching up at those in the sugar and fast food industries. While far from the first to do so, he effectively likens the sugar industry’s insidious lobbying tactics to that of Big Tobacco. “Keep in mind,” he reminds us in avoiding sugar, “that you are on your own, since the US government has a far-too-cosy relationship with the sugar lobby” (73). It is, then, a combination of the deceptive efforts of the food industry and a lack of individual knowledge and/or willpower that damn the dieter. The bridge between the mental and the physical continues.
While proselytizing throughout the text—is there any other way in the self-help genre? — Nedvetsky takes pains to dismantle the soapbox. Still, his prose can read as holier-than-thou, though self-aware: “I am proud,” he admits, “not because I feel superior. I am proud because it has been a long and difficult road riddled with trial and error, but I finally reached my ultimate destination” (74). He establishes diet empathy with personal accounts of his own struggle with food and bodyweight before his eureka moment came (literally—he proclaims “Eureka!” on page 33): “I taught myself to swallow only when the food was thoroughly imbibed with saliva. Saliva has alkaline qualities and neutralizes the excessive acidity of our gastric juice, similar to what the over-the-counter heartburn medications do” (Nedvetsky, 32). It’s fascinatingly simple, really—the key is convincing the brain of its satiety, regardless of how much has actually been consumed. It’s a battle for longevity and endurance—the longer one can keep the food in one’s mouth, the more satiated the brain becomes and the less one overeats. Lo, the first of 7 Steps was taken.
The above is also a great example of Nedvetsky’s tone. “Eureka!” is inherently friendly, colloquial. Nedvetsky’s foreign tongue (he is a native Russian), between scrupulous chewing, is planted firmly in cheek throughout. He sprinkles in familiar sayings and pop references, serves up anecdotal tips and tricks (portion control, mastication style) and marinates them in scientific rationale. This is a definitive juggle, and, though not as well-balanced as the menu comprising the book’s final section, 7 Steps is colorful and occasionally delightful. When meeting with a colleague struggling with weight, for example, Nedvetsky quips, “I suggested changes in his eating patterns before putting his life in the hands of the scalpel-happy sawbones” (Nedvetsky, 71). Or: “There is an eerie similarity between the Great Pyramid of Giza and the USDA Food Pyramid: nobody knows the true purpose of either one” (24).
It should be noted that, especially for those bogged down by such a particular style, that 7 Steps is a picture book. Numerous drawings by Paul Gunson accompany Nedvetsky’s advice. In one depiction, a tortoise and hare are out to eat across from each other at a restaurant booth. The rabbit brings flatware to its mouth in rapid-fire ferocity, its many arms in a blur like a gastric Hindu god. The tortoise, true to form, munches peaceably at a salad. Aside from literally illustrating Nedvetsky’s theories—in this case, that the speed of food intake contributes significantly to weight gain and longevity—Gunson’s cute contributions imbue the 7 Steps with more personality, making it all the more palatable (52).
In sum, 7 Steps 2 a Lean U is easy to swallow. It’s a quick read, numbering just over 100 pages while managing to cheekily tackle some of the more pressing issues of our time. For those who are looking for a new spin on the diet book—and to be sure, most diet books claim the mantle—7 Steps seems a prime candidate. The information feels fresh, in part because it is predicated on disparaging tired methods. It empowers the reader to take matters into their own hands, while understanding that said hands have been tied, in part, by outside enterprises. It considers a holistic approach, body and mind, to dieting, and demonstrates the healing that can occur for both. With all considered—tasted, imbibed with saliva and chewed to oblivion—there are numerous paths by which one can change their eating habits and thus their lives, and Nedvetsky beats 7 Steps in the right direction.
About the Author – Will Bahr
Will Bahr is a senior at Warren Wilson College in the Swannanoa Valley of North Carolina. Unless something goes terribly awry, or he discovers that hand-crafting ottomans is more his speed, he’ll graduate with a BA in Creative Writing in Spring 2019. He’s honored to write for Dreamers, which provided him his first paid publication and writing gig as Book Review Editor .
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