Books,  Weight Loss

Book Review | The Serotonin Power Diet

The Serotonin Power Diet: Eat Carbs–Nature’s Own Appetite Suppressant–to Stop Emotional Overeating and Halt Antidepressant-Associated Weight Gain
By Judith J. Wurtman, PhD, and Nina T. Frusztajer, MD
Rodale, 2006


If your Mom told you not to nibble because we’ll be having dinner soon and you don’t want to spoil your appetite, some of the advice given in THE SEROTONIN POWER DIET will surprise you. Authors Wurtman and Frusztajer, practicing weight management specialists, provide an intriguing rationale for their shift away from conventional diets which emphasize high-protein and/or low-carbohydrates, and for their advocacy of high-carbohydrate snacking to help clients shed pounds.

Estimates vary, but it’s probably safe to say that at least 60% of Americans are overweight, and at least 40% are dieting to lose weight at any given time. Additionally, over 100 million antidepressant prescriptions are written annually in the U.S. Medical science cannot as yet explain why, but many patients gain weight while taking these medications, even if they never before had a weight problem. The authors report that their clients consistently lose weight and attain their fitness goals on the Serotonin Power Diet, even those who continue to take the psychotropic drugs they need. And they do it by increasing, not decreasing, the carbohydrates in their diets.

The authors provide a very readable explanation of the role of the brain chemical serotonin (the only food-dependent brain chemical) as both an appetite suppressant and a mood elevator. They further describe how the body creates serotonin when the amino acid tryptophan enters the brain after carbohydrates, but not other foods, are eaten. Their explanations are based in solid science but are readily understood by the general reader. We read on, prepared to accept the authors premise that increasing one’s serotonin levels by snacking on carbs before meals and during times of high stress will result in a decreased appetite and calmed emotions, leading to weight loss. We also are reassured to learn that we can rely on this simple dietary trick, instead of on our willpower, to avoid overeating and gaining weight.

The Serotonin Power Diet is a 12-week program of low fat, controlled calorie, controlled protein, and high carbohydrate eating, plus exercise. It consists of an aggressive Serotonin Surge phase, a modified Serotonin Balance phase, and, finally, a Serotonin Control phase, and maintenance. The book clearly details the criteria for navigating each phase, and advises specific amounts of appropriate foods to be eaten at each meal. And the authors have cleverly, and humorously, included tips and tricks for coping with potential roadblocks, as well as responses to common objections they’ve encountered among their own clients. For example, they tell dieters how to respond to saboteurs who express hurt feelings when their food offerings are declined. And they don’t let clients get away with excuses like Someone has to eat the leftovers.

This Diet does adhere to traditional weight-loss tenets in one major respect: it absolutely insists upon and incorporates substantial physical movement, both aerobic exercise and strength training. Here again, the authors fully detail their rationale, and provide specific step-by-step, week-by-week guidelines for building increased activity into one’s life. They make it clear that one should not expect a good result without the exercise. And they don’t accept There’s an eclipse as a reason not to do it!

The final segment of the book is a delightful collection of mouth-watering recipes, most of them very simple to prepare, that qualify as appropriate to the Serotonin Power Diet. Non-dieters in most households would be more than pleased to eat these dishes alongside the dieter. And non-cooks need not be afraid to tackle these recipes, for they are realistic about today’s time constraints and the fact that not everyone enjoys spending time in the kitchen.

The book’s copyright page contains the disclaimer that the book is intended for use as a reference, not as a medical manual, and there is a specific Note in Chapter One that persons with diabetes or other medical conditions that require monitoring one’s food intake should follow a physician’s advice and guidance regarding this Diet. Allergies, asthma, illness, pregnancy and disability are mentioned at appropriate points in the text. No detailed discussion of who should NOT undertake this Diet is provided, however. Nor is there any reference to the multitude of brain chemicals other than serotonin (e.g., norepinephrine, dopamine) which are affected by some of the currently available antidepressants and mood stabilizers. What, if any, implications might there be for increasing the brain’s serotonin levels, even naturally with food, in the presence of these drugs? Perhaps a future edition will expand upon the non-weight-related medical aspects and potential consequences of following this diet regimen.

This timely, engaging, and highly accessible book should find its place on the best new ideas shelf of any diet book library. It is relatively brief, gentle to its intended audience, easy to comprehend, and undoubtedly very welcome to many who have tried self-starvation as an aid to slimming and found it useless. Its foundation is well constructed; its wording is literate but never abstruse. It provides complete and straightforward instructions about exactly WHAT TO DO during this program, and when. Its truly new ideas should offer encouragement and hope to many who as yet have not met with weight-loss success.

A hearty Thank You to FSB Associates for a review copy of this book and the opportunity to provide commentary.

This review reflects the tastes, perceptions, and opinions of one person only and may be entirely wrong from another person’s point of view. Please read the book yourself and decide.