Review of the Schwarzbein Principle Series

Why do I like the Schwarzbein Principle series?

Before I delve into reviewing three books (what was I thinking reviewing three at once?!?), I want to explain why I’m such a fan of Diana Schwarzbein's books:

Firstly, all three books are about achieving health, putting weight loss in the back seat where it belongs. As I said on Wednesday, sacrificing your health for a number on the scale will not result in a positive outcome. Dr. Diana Schwarzbein wants you to achieve your ideal body composition, but assures you this comes naturally when you are truly healthy.

For the most part, I agree with the "how" of getting healthy that Schwarzbein recommends: real food, stress management, sensible exercise, etc. Her approach to nutrition is balanced, not low-carb but definitely not high-carb. Plenty of natural proteins and fats, too.

These books may not be the end-all-be-all of healthy living, but they lay a great foundation in a world of diet books that usually resemble more of a shaky house of cards than a healthy life plan for health.

Plus, these books were what got me started on the path to health. Even though I've dug into tons more information since I first read these books, I still find mysself referring to to the Schwarzbein Principle series frequently. I consider them a valuable addition to my nutritional library.

And as for why I was crazy enough to take on three books at once: I think Diana Schwarzbein's books are often lumped together. You know: read one, read 'em all. And this is not the case. Each book is distinctly different and I really wanted to lay out why, and hopefully help you figure out which book(s) will benefit you the most.

The Schwarzbein Principle

The Schwarzbein Principle: The Truth About Losing Weight, Being Healthy, and Feeling YoungerWritten at the peak of the low-fat movement, in this book Dr. Schwarzbein dispels a lot of the myths surrounding dietary fat and cholesterol. She details why we need plenty of fat and protein in our diets so our bodies can rebuild at the appropriate rate. This is a theme that remains constant through all three of her books.

Since low-fat, high-carb diets were the most common dietary recommendation of the time, Dr. Schwarzbein discusses why a diet based mostly on carbs can adversely affect your health by causing chronic high insulin levels. You learn a lot about insulin and blood sugar in this book.

She also discusses a variety of other topics, including:

  • The real risk factors for heart disease and cancer (two of the most common degenerative diseases), and why we should stop blaming fat and cholesterol.
  • What causes a low serotonin state and why so many people are suffering from low serotonin.
  • She blasts modern diets, and explains why low-fat and low-calorie diets are damaging and counterproductive. She also looks at the terrible effects of chronic, yo-yo dieting.
  • Schwarzbein talks a little about her own experience with sugar addiction and how that affected her health.
  • She delves deep into why being thin isn’t necessarily healthy, and how focusing too much on your weight is destructive to your health.
  • Why osteoporosis can be caused by your diet and other poor lifestyle habits (it’s not just about calcium!).
  • Short quizzes to see if you are on the accelerated metabolic aging track, or if you have habits that raise insulin levels.
  • She mentions exercise, but her recommendations are much more sound in her other two books.
  • She discusses nutrition, with an emphasis on protein and fat. She lowers the carbs more for overweight people with excess fat around the middle, but raises the carbs over time. Although she discusses damaged fats (like trans fat and oxidation), in my opinion she does not provide enough warning about vegetable oils and soy.
  • There are personal stories throughout the book that make the plan more real because they are so relatable.
Overall I give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. It’s really going in the right direction, but in light of her second and third book, this one is not my favorite.

The Schwarzbein Principle II: The Transition

The Schwarzbein Principle II: The "Transition" - A Regeneration Program to Prevent and Reverse Accelerated AgingIf I had to pick a personal favorite of Dr. Schwarzbein’s books, this would be it. To quote from the first paragraph:

Did you know that the maximum life span for the human race is 120 years, yet most of us do not even live to be 100 years old? Why is that? What is keeping you from reaching your potential life span?
Those first sentences promise a lot, and in my opinion this book delivers. While the first book focused mostly on the hormon insulin, in The Transition Dr. Schwarzbein emphasizes that all hormones in the body influence each other, with an in-depth look at cortisol and adrenaline in addition to insulin. The goal is to bring all hormones into balance with healthy lifestyle habits.

In this book, you’ll learn:

  • Hormones and biochemicals regulate every action in the body, including rebuilding and recovering from daily living.
  • While there are some rare glandular-based hormone disorders (like Cushing’s disease and type 1 diabetes), hormones can also be disrupted by unhealthy lifestyle habits. Luckily these lifestyle-based imbalances can also be corrected with healthy lifestyle habits.
  • High adrenaline levels can feel great at first, but this feeling fades and will lead to chronic health problems in the long run. There is a quiz to determine if you’re living a high-adrenaline lifestyle.
  • Myths and truths about metabolism, including calories-in/calories-out, low-fat, weight gain, and more.
  • Keeping insulin levels in balance (not chronically high or low) to prevent insulin resistance is an important part of staying healthy.
  • In this book, Schwarzbein explains even more about low serotonin levels and how we can recover from them with good habits.
  • She also takes another look at how diet and lifestyle affect bone density.
  • Cortisol is an important life-giving hormone, but when out of balance it can cause major health problems like weight gain and heart disease over time.
  • You’ll learn about everything that triggers these hormones to go out of balance, and there are quizzes to help you determine where you might have bad habits.
  • In this book, Schwarzbein goes into greater detail about her own healing experience. You learn that she wasn’t always the picture of health (not in the least!), and why she’s much healthier at 39 than she ever was when she was younger.
  • Schwarzbein admits that sometimes part of the healing process means you’ll go through a transition phase (thus the title of the book). When the body is focused on healing and getting over bad habits, it’s not always an easy path, but in the long-term it’s the path to health.
  • Her general nutrition recommendations are basically the same as the first book (with the same problems I mentioned above, too). Her carb suggestions are higher, though, and based on your metabolism type (but this is not a metabolic typing book, by the way).
  • She provides sound supplement recommendations, although I prefer to avoid most supplements if you can. Sometimes they can be useful, however, and she lists some helpful amino acids like those recommended in The Mood Cure.
  • She also goes more into exercise (such as don’t over-exercise!), tapering off toxic chemicals, healthy sleep/stress habits and hormone replacement (when absolutely necessary). Overall there is a lot more helpful information here.
  • Also, plenty more personal stories to relate to. The ones in this book really helped me see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel during the healing phase.
She provides separate diet/lifestyle plans for four types of metabolisms:

Insulin-sensitive with healthy adrenal glands (the healthiest metabolism).

Insulin-sensitive with burned-out adrenals.

Insulin-resistant with healthy adrenals.

Insulin-resistant with burned-out adrenals (the least healthy metabolism).

This part may seem too complicated for some, especially if you don’t want to bother with testing. The recommendations are generally the same for all four types with slight differences, but I found the plan in the next book, The Program, to be much more concise and applicable.

Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars. Great book with some seriously good information about hormones, metabolism and staying healthy. May be an information overload for some, nutrition recommendations are generally sound but not perfect. Figuring out which "plan" you’re supposed to be on might distract from the real point of the book.

The Schwarzbein Principle: The Program

The Schwarzbein Principle, The Program: Losing Weight the Healthy WayThis one comes close to being my favorite, for two reasons:

1. It’s a shorter read with an easy system most people will be able to use readily. The recommendations she provides are more complete and yet much more simple than what you find in her previous books.

2. Her nutrition recommendations improve somewhat in this book: she gives a small warning about canola oil, she recommends only fermented soy with a little tofu, she advises to soak your legumes before cooking, and she even recommends raw milk, with a shout-out to Nourishing Traditions and! Gotta love that.

This book provides two simple plans: a healing plan for someone with a damaged metabolism, and a maintenance plan for someone with a healthy metabolism. There is a short quiz to help you figure out which one applies to you, and also a questionnaire so you can focus on areas you’re having the most trouble in.

There is a chapter devoted to each part of her plans: nutrition, stress/sleep, exercise, tapering off of toxic chemicals and replacing hormones when necessary.

Carb recommendations are more balanced in this book: 125 grams per day if you’re healing, 150 grams if you’re healthy. She also recommends more carbs if you’re exercising heavily.

Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars. Same rating as The Transition, but for different reasons. The plans in this book are concise and easy to follow, and the nutritional information is more updated and favorable. However, this one doesn't offer the same wealth of information as The Transition.

One thing I don’t like about all three books:

Diana Schwarzbein is quick to reduce saturated fat intake, though fundamentally she agrees saturated fat is very good for you and should be the foundation of the fats you eat. Her low-saturated fat plan includes short- and medium- chain fats like dairy, butter and coconut oil, but restricts long-chain fatty acids like those found in red meat and pork.

I feel like telling some people to eat less saturated fat is just confusing and may lead to the over consumption of vegetable oils (which is not good, by the way) or an overall reduction in fat intake (also not good - you need healthy fats!).

But if you can ignore this fact, the books are still worth reading, especially The Transition and The Program.

Question: I only want to get one book right now. Which one should I choose?

Answer: I really can’t settle on just one. I’d say The Transition for the amazing wealth of information and to get proper focus on healing your body. But The Program by far provides the most comprehensive program, and includes most of the lifestyle recommendations mentioned in the second book. So get The Program if you’re looking for a balanced life plan for health, but get The Transition if you’re interested in learning a lot more about how this works. Then get The Schwarzbein Principle (the original) if you want some excellent further reading on the subject of metabolism, aging and insulin.

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