Review of Penn Jillette’s Diet Book

You’d have to be a moron to take dieting or health advice from Penn Jillette. That’s how Penn Jillette bookends his book, Presto! How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales.  Jillette starts the book saying he’s not a doctor or scientist and that you shouldn’t take his word on anything health related.  Then he spends the rest of the book telling you why everything he says has merit before he ends the book saying you’d be an idiot to take his advice.

Why does anyone read a book?  Sometimes to be informed. Sometimes to be entertained. Usually non-fiction like Jillette’s book is for information, and an author like Stephen King is read for entertainment.  I found Jillette’s book to be entertaining and sometimes informational.

As the title of Jillette’s book makes clear, he tells the story of how he lost 100 pounds and how he kept it off.  It’s a great story.  If Jillette sometimes seems a little whack, it’s not surprising he’d try a diet that is a little whack.  I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that he starts off the diet by eating only potatoes for the first two weeks. Nothing else. Whereas some people might consult a medical doctor or read a diet book, Jillette follows the dieting advice given him by his friend he calls CrayRay (Crazy Ray aka Ray Cronise).

Who is CrayRay, Jillette’s diet guru?  He’s a former NASA scientist.  Jillette puts CrayRay on a pedestal.  He helped Penn lose 100 pounds, so I probably would too if he helped me lose 100 pounds too.  But, I do find some of Jillette’s claims questionable.

Jillette tries to be cute and writes that the difference between CrayRay’s diet and other diet’s is that CrayRay’s diet is “sciencey”. I’ve read a lot of diet books and I didn’t find anything in Jillette’s explanation to be more “sciencey”.  In fact, I’d probably classify the word “sciencey” to describe something that is like science, but not science itself. How I’d classify his descriptions would not be science, but rather anecdotal evidence and theories.  Jillette writes as if other diets are not “sciencey”.  Look at how many diet books are written by guys that have MD or PhD.  There are tons.

I won’t say that Jillette or CrayRay are wrong.  How could I? I just object to the description of his diet as being more “sciencey”.

The problem of many diet books, whether they are written by Jillette or MDs is that they are too “sciencey” and not enough science.

They all make appeals to “science”. But, I ask you, if one doctor basically says “high fat and high protein is of the devil, you should eat a high carb diet”, and another physician says, “carbs are of the devil, eat a keto diet”, who should you believe?  They both can’t be correct, can they?  However, that is the situation we find ourselves in today.  A guy like Neal Barnard says everyone should eat a low fat diet, and stick primarily to whole grains, fruits, and vegetables–a diet that is high carb.  Another doctor like Michael Eades says that you should eat a keto diet (high fat, low carb).  Both doctors have theories, data, recommendations, etc. Both point at the other guy and say, “if you eat that guy’s diet, you will be killing yourself.”

The fact is that people following both diets lose weight. Both diets seem to improve health.  It’s maddening. At least to me.

In the end, after eating all those potatoes, Jillette ended up on basically a vegan diet.  He calls himself a vegan (but not for ethical reasons). I think he chuckles to himself while he wrote that calling himself a vegan, because he’s not really one. No more than once a month, like for a birthday, Jillette takes a day off from the diet and eats a steak or a burger. Imagine vegans going berserk as Jillette calls himself a vegan and then sits down in Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and eats a filet mignon.

What are other weird things about CrayRay’s weight loss regimen? No exercise–at least until you arrive at your target weight. Sitting on the couch and sleeping instead of exercising. Being cold. Fasting–16 hours a day.  The fasting is like how some keto diet advocates recommend.

In the end, I don’t know whether to recommend the diet, but I can recommend the book. I found it enjoyable. If you follow it, you are probably as likely to lose weight on it as any other diet book. Lots of Penn’s friends have lost on the CrayRay regimen.

I recommend the book because I enjoyed the stories Penn weaved in and out of his weight loss journey. The stories are great and entertaining–like how he learned to eat fire.  There are many others like it.  I’ll issue a few warnings.  He must use the f-word a pjillion times. I worked on an Air Force base with test pilots, so I don’t mind coarse speech. But, Jillette has a lot of it.   He also reminds me a little of Trump because he knows how to throw red meat to his base.  Whereas Trump might talk about “the Wall” or “fake news”, Penn can’t help himself and throw red meat to his atheist friends and go after Christians.  I can brush it off. I don’t care what atheists think about Christianity because usually it’s directed toward evangelicals and i have some of the same complaints.  But, if you have a thin skin, just be warned.

Jillette is a good writer. But, I’ll end my review with how Penn bookends his book. You’d have to be an idiot to take seriously a book review by an engineer. But, if you read his book, you just might like it.

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