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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 _UnderTow_ (86073) on Monday August 12, 2013 @01:47PM (#44544453)
    There's an almost magic weight loss formula I've followed that just works. I was going to write a book about it, but as it turns out it would be more of a pamphlet or brochure in length.

    Just make sure the following is true: calories consumed
    I've been monitoring my calorie intake using a free app (My Fitness Pal) and it's been working great. I can scan barcode for just about anything that has one (it sometimes doesn't find odd things I might purchase in, say, an Asian Grocery). You punch in what your goal weight is, and how much you want to lose per week and it calculates your calorie intake and keeps track of how much of various nutrients you're getting (Sodium, Potassium, etc).

    I told the app I wanted to lose 2 pounds per week, and over 15 weeks lost exactly 30 pounds. It takes a bit of discipline, but it helps develop the habits you'll need to keep the weight off.
  • The Hacker's Diet (Score:4, Informative)

    by jones_supa (887896) on Monday August 12, 2013 @01:50PM (#44544511)
    Well, as we are looking at the category of "diets tailored for programmers", I guess The Hacker's Diet [fourmilab.ch] is an obligatory mention. I guess most of you know that book already though. Tell me if you know any others.
  • Dime a Dozen (Score:5, Informative)

    by SleazyRidr (1563649) on Monday August 12, 2013 @01:55PM (#44544563)

    Did I miss the special on Amazon where you get 12 books for 10 cents?

    Words have meanings: literally has a meaning.

  • What? (Score:4, Informative)

    by canadiannomad (1745008) on Monday August 12, 2013 @02:01PM (#44544647) Homepage

    No digital version? No Kindle, epub, mobi, PDF versions? I find it odd to come across a book for programmers that isn't available in digital form.

    + $27, that feels a bit much for a diet book.

    Here we go The Healthy Programmer: Get Fit, Feel Better, and Keep Coding DRM-free Format [pragprog.com]
    Still awfully expensive for my tastes, I'll wait till it goes down in price before I check it out.

  • Re:Hunger diet (Score:5, Informative)

    by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Monday August 12, 2013 @02:11PM (#44544789)

    I have a better diet.

    Eat less. Exercise more.

    You're done here.

  • by AAWood (918613) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `doowaa'> on Monday August 12, 2013 @02:52PM (#44545275)
    I stopped after "literally a dime a dozen". Unless we're talking at a discount book shop closing sale or a car boot, the word is "figuratively".
  • by AAWood (918613) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `doowaa'> on Monday August 12, 2013 @02:54PM (#44545299)
    As long as you're fixing thing, take "literally" out of there. It's literally the exact wrong way to use it.
  • by hsthompson69 (1674722) on Monday August 12, 2013 @03:04PM (#44545389)

    Imagine for a moment you were invited to a gourmet dinner, and your host said "bring your appetite". What might you do?

    Maybe skip a meal? (eat less)

    Maybe work up an appetite with a brisk walk? (exercise more)

    Now, what makes you think advice that makes people *hungry* is going to help them lose weight?

    Fat accumulation is driven by insulin, which is driven by blood sugar, which is driven by carbohydrate intake.

    Stop eating carbohydrates. It's simple.

  • Re:Not a new concept (Score:3, Informative)

    by hsthompson69 (1674722) on Monday August 12, 2013 @03:07PM (#44545423)

    Fat accumulation isn't driven by caloric intake levels, it's driven by insulin.

    If you consume calories which drive insulin up, you'll accumulate more fat. Consume calories which don't drive insulin up, and you won't accumulate more fat.

    The concept is pretty simple: to lose weight, don't consume calories that cause fat accumulation. We call these "carbohydrates".

  • Re:Not a new concept (Score:4, Informative)

    by DeadCatX2 (950953) on Monday August 12, 2013 @04:30PM (#44546343) Journal

    Agreed.It's amazing how the food industry fooled everyone into thinking that lipids were the bad guy making everyone fat, when all evidence seems to show that it's the abundance of carbs causing the problem.

    Every single person I know who has restricted carbs to 1-2 days a week only has seen incredible success in managing their weight - a gradual loss of weight that does not come back. It's a mostly ketogenic diet, like what they put some epileptic kids on, but with a weekly "cheat day" where one can consume as many carbs as desired, which helps reset the metabolism and prevents the body from going all the way into ketosis, which can be hard on the kidneys (as evidenced by the high rate of kidney stones for those on ketogenic diets).

    It's actually interesting in my wife's case, as once a year she has a "cheat week" where she eats carbs all week long. It's really remarkable to see how fast she gains and subsequently loses weight once she returns to her normal carb-restricted diet.

  • Re:Hunger diet (Score:2, Informative)

    by judoguy (534886) on Monday August 12, 2013 @04:52PM (#44546561) Homepage
    Nope.

    The incorrect calories in/calories out model doesn't work. Our bodies don't count calories. They store or use fat completely based on hormones. Insulin and glucagon primarily. These hormones are hugely affected by the type of calories, not the number of calories.

    And yes I am an expert. I'm a USA Judo coach concerned with keeping competitors literally lean and mean.

    I follow my on advice. After decades of eating massive carbs, I weighed around 215 and had terrible lipid panels. 3 years after learning about the hormonal effects of diet, I'm around 175 lbs (less than 81kg), eat several dozen eggs a week, lots of meat and fats. Fabulous lipid panels and feel great. So do other people who eat like me.

    The "conventional diet knowledge" is foisted on us by the true fad diet market, i.e., the people who ignore the massive amount of research because they KNOW fat is bad for you. They don't need no steekin' research!

This process can check if this value is zero, and if it is, it does something child-like. -- Forbes Burkowski, CS 454, University of Washington

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