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Books Book Reviews

Book Review: The Healthy Programmer 461

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
benrothke writes "Diet books are literally a dime a dozen. They generally benefit only the author, publisher and Amazon, leaving the reader frustrated and bloated. With a failure rate of over 99%, diet books are the epitome of a sucker born every minute. One of the few diet books that can offer change you can believe in is The Healthy Programmer: Get Fit, Feel Better, and Keep Coding. Author Joe Kutner observes that nearly every popular diet fails and the reason is that they are based on the premise of a quick fix without focusing on the long-term core issues. It is inevitable that these diets will fail and the dieters at heart know that. It is simply that they are taking the wrong approach. This book is about the right approach; namely a slow one. With all of the failed diet books, Kutner is one of the few that has gotten it right." Keep reading for the rest of Ben's review.
The Healthy Programmer: Get Fit, Feel Better, and Keep Coding
author Joe Kutner
pages 220
publisher Pragmatic Bookshelf
rating 9/10
reviewer Ben Rothke
ISBN 978-1937785314
summary A diet and lifestyle guide that works for all, not just for programmers.
While the title of the book says it's for programmers, it is germane to anyone whose job requires them to be at a desk for extended amounts of time.

Kutner is himself a programmer who builds Ruby and Rails applications, and a former college athlete and Army Reserve physical fitness trainer.

The book focuses on two areas that require change: regular exercise and proper nutrition; and it details the steps necessary to create a balanced lifestyle.

While popular diet books require rapid and major lifestyle changes and promise quick weight-loss, the book notes that small changes to your habits can provide the long-term effects that can improve your health. The book focuses on incremental changes and sustainability, not about losing x pounds in x weeks.

The book is different (read: effective) as opposed to other diet and lifestyle books, in that its goal is to make your healthy lifestyle pragmatic, attainable, and fun. It is only with those aspects that long-term change be possible.

As to programmers, Kutner writes that programming requires intense concentration that often causes them to neglect other aspects of their lives; the most common of which is their health. People's bodies have not evolved to accommodate a lifestyle of sitting and there are many negative health effects from it.

The book takes a start small approach, rather than one of drastic changes. In chapter 2, it notes the myriad benefits of walking. It states that walking is a powerful activity that can stimulate creative thinking (a required trait for a good programmer) and is a great way to bootstrap your health. The chapter details the ways in which a few short walks during the day can have a dramatic positive effect on your life.

Chapter 3 is about the dangers of chairs and sitting for long periods of time. It details a number of ways to counter the dangers of sitting. It also notes that while sometimes you simply can't get away from your chair, and when that happens, you can make sitting less dangerous by forcing your muscles to contract without even getting up. It then details a number of different calisthenics to use to do this.

Chapter 4 – Agile Dieting — is perhaps the best part of the book. It details how to fight the real causes of weight gain and details proven solutions that work. That chapter repeatedly uses terms like iterative, sustainable, slow to show what it really takes to lose weight and achieve a healthy lifestyle.

Kutner notes that most of the popular fad diets are idiosyncratic and unbalanced. They will provide short-term benefits, but ultimately fail miserably. The chapter quotes research data on what needs to be in a balanced diet. It then notes that almost every fad diet violates those needs. Nutrition needs to be rounded and well-balanced and the fad diets for that reason will only work in the short term.

This book is everything the fad diet books are not and this is most manifest in chapter 4 where Kutner writes one should cut calories slowly. This is based on research which shows that quick drastic weight loss is counterproductive. While the fad diets talk about drastic caloric changes, Kutner suggests dropping your intake slower, about 100 calories every two weeks until you get you your targeted caloric intake level.

While much of the book is on fitness and nutrition, it takes a complete body approach. Chapter 5 details the importance of eye health. This is an important topic since the average programmer spends much of their week behind a monitor.

Kutner writes about computer vision syndrome (CVS); an eye condition resulting from focusing the eyes on a monitor for extended amounts of time. Symptoms of CVS include headaches, blurred vision, neck pain, redness in the eyes, fatigue, eye strain, dry eyes, irritated eyes, double vision, vertigo/dizziness, polyopia, and difficulty refocusing the eyes. The book also details methods in which to minimize the effects of CVS, and how not to become a victim of it. Kutner writes that CVS is what most programmers refer to as life. But it does not have to be that way.

The rest of the book covers other physical ailments that plague programmers. This runs the gamut from headaches, backaches, wrist problem, carpel tunnel, head strain and much more. Most of these problems can be obviated if one follows proper ergonomics practices and employs some of the physical conditioning detailed in the book.

Another theme of the book is using goals as an impetus for change. The book lists 16 goals which can be used as a progressive framework to improve your health. These goals include buying a pedometer, finding your resting heart rate, getting a negative result on Reverse Phalens test and other lifestyle changes.

Given the preponderance of obesity, diabetes and other maladies associated with a sedentary lifestyle, this may be one of the most important non-programming books that every developer should read and take to heart.

The book has hundreds of bits of excellent advice and subtle lifestyle suggestions that over time can make a significant difference to your health.

The author has a web site and an iPhone app that can be referenced for additional help. The book is full of sage and pragmatic advice. It has no celebrity endorsement, no gimmicks or false claims; meaning it has a high chance of working.

The book concludes with the observation that programmers often say the hardest part of software development begins when a product is released. The real work, maintenance, continues on, much like your health. You must sustain a stat of wellness for the rest of your life, and you need to continue setting goals, iterating and making small improvements.

For many programmers, they love their job but not the lifestyle problems that come with it. For the programmer that wants the challenges of the professional and the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, The Healthy Programmer: Get Fit, Feel Better, and Keep Coding, may be a life changing book, and should find its rightful place on every programmer's desk.

Reviewed by Ben Rothke.

You can purchase The Healthy Programmer: Get Fit, Feel Better, and Keep Coding from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews (sci-fi included) -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Book Review: The Healthy Programmer

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 12, 2013 @02:39PM (#44544339)

    Diet books are literally a dime a dozen. They generally benefit only the author, publisher and Amazon, leaving the reader frustrated and bloated. With a failure rate of over 99%, diet books are the epitome of a sucker born every minute. One of the few diet books that can offer change

    That is where you should stop reading. When someone tells you nearly everything in a category is ineffective, then offers you something in that category as somehow worth your money, something stinks.

  • Didn't we just... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by barlevg (2111272) on Monday August 12, 2013 @02:47PM (#44544459)
    Didn't we just have an article this morning (EST) about how Twinkies were the programmer's "Breakfast of Champions?" [slashdot.org]
  • Not a new concept (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dkleinsc (563838) on Monday August 12, 2013 @02:52PM (#44544543) Homepage

    The Hacker's Diet [fourmilab.ch] did this quite a while ago.

    The concept is pretty simple: To lose weight, eat fewer calories than you burn. To not gain weight, eat only as much as you burn. You can increase how much you burn with exercise, or you can decrease how much you eat, or both. Anything else as far as dieting is concerned is window dressing.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 12, 2013 @02:52PM (#44544547)

    If more goes in your mouth hole than comes out your butt hole, you get fat.

    Oddly, no.

    Carbohydrates used as an energy source are oxidized into carbon dioxide and water (vapor); these are exhausted by breathing them out your "mouth hole." Not all the calories input come out your "butt hole." So, you could have put it: "if more (caloric content) goes in via your mouth hole than you exhale via your mouth hole, the difference is incorporated into your body in the form of fat."

    The amount oxidized is proportional to how many calories you expend in the form of metabolism and physical effort

  • reddit.com/r/keto/ (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mister_Stoopid (1222674) on Monday August 12, 2013 @03:03PM (#44544693)
    All you have to do to lose weight is eat less calories than you burn. That's it. Simple, right?

    It's dead simple as long as you enjoy feeling hungry and irritable all day, have a magical body that burns the same amount of energy regardless of food input, and don't mind losing a ton of muscle mass during your diet.

    The real answer is to cut out most of the carbohydrates that you eat (or at least lose the grains, there's some debate about potatoes and such) and replace them with fats instead. After a brief adaptation period, you can just eat when you're hungry and, because fat is more satiating, you'll naturally consume only what you need. Because you're not shoving tons of sugar down your throat, you won't experience the insulin surge-crash cycle, you'll have more energy and be less hungry than you would on a traditional "diet". Because you're eating more protein you'll lose less muscle mass than you would on a typical weight loss diet.

    It might seem "extreme" or "fad" at first, but there's a growing body of evidence that suggests cutting carb intake is actually a very healthy and sustainable long-term choice. I do it and I recommend it to everyone who is looking to make a long-term diet adjustment.

    Keto FAQ:

    Q:But won't eating more fat give me a heart attack?
    A:No, the idea that saturated fats lead to heart disease was never more than speculation and has never had any scientific evidence behind it.

    Q:It's too hard to eat that way in modern America/I don't have time to cook that much.
    A:Get a crock pot.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 12, 2013 @03:07PM (#44544729)

    For a lot of people, eating only what their body needs leaves them feeling hungry all the time. That feels different for everybody. I don't mind feeling hungry. I actually prefer it over feeling full. When my wife is hungry, she feels MISERABLE.

    So the key to a lot of these diets is finding food that's bulky, slow to digest, yet still low in calories. A healthy low calorie dinner doesn't do her any good if she's starving two hours later.

  • Re:Hunger diet (Score:4, Insightful)

    by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Monday August 12, 2013 @03:09PM (#44544771) Journal

    Well said.

    I knew a physical education instructor and his rules were simple:

    1. If you're not hungry, don't eat
    2. If you're hungry, eat.
    3. When you're not hungry anymore, stop eating.

    This sounds simple, but it can be difficult to practice. First, food is a social thing. We all get together and have lunch or dinner. So it's tough to tell the crowd, "You go ahead--I'm not hungry yet."

    Also, if you're going out, the restaurant decides the portions and they do so based upon various factors that have nothing to do with your appetite. Yet, many of us were told to clean the plate because children are starving in Europe. [youtube.com] At the very least, it was considered rude to not finish your food--your mother spent some time cooking it so you'd better eat it. And that lives with us into our adult lives.

    The other good point about this is time. My sister is quite overweight. She's done some things about it and she's losing the weight. But as an instructor pointed out, "You spent 20 years putting on that weight. It's not going to all come off in 20 days."

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