April 3, 2017

Book Review - Wired to Eat

Can’t eat just one?

Don’t feel bad. You’re not supposed to be able to eat just one.

People build entire careers out making sure you can’t eat just one.

You can beat yourself up for being a miserable, sad-sack of a sloth, unable to muster a single molecule of willpower and discipline, or you can learn that you are actually an elegantly arranged matrix of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and a bunch of other atoms, that has evolved under dietary and environmental circumstances that make it a rarity not to have “issues” with food. (Or weight, or blood sugar, blood pressure, fertility, gout, mental clarity, and more.) If, in this age of a seemingly infinite supply of extremely inexpensive and, frankly, insanely delicious foods that didn’t even exist a hundred years ago, you are healthy, lean, and fit, you are the exception, not the rule.

Before I get into the review, here are some disclaimers:

Robb Wolf could sell me a bag of sand in the desert.

As Diane Sanfilippo wrote on Instagram, all of us who are into Paleo or ancestral eating owe Robb a debt of gratitude. Outside of Loren Cordain, Boyd Eaton, Marjorie Shostack, and Melvin Konner (all of whom are/were academics), I’m not sure there’s anyone out there who did more in the early days to try and bring this lifesaving information to the masses. These days, it seems like “everyone” is into what Robb might call this Paleo “schtick” or “gig,” but back then, there was a handful of researchers writing fascinating papers, but not a whole lot of people were trying to publicize the findings in a way that was accessible to and understandable by laypeople so they could apply them in their own lives.

I received an advance copy of this book. However, not knowing that I had achieved a status of coolness such that Robb would send me one, I pre-ordered my own copy anyway, so maybe my opinion is less biased than it might otherwise be. (You can see in my Amazon review that it’s a “verified purchase.”)  On the other hand, I am a huge fan, and I confess that my opinion is totally biased because I think RW is pretty damn cool, and he has not only done a lot to help publicize my Alzheimer’s book, but one of the very first guest posts I ever wrote for anyone else was on his blog. (Way back in 2011, even before I had my own blog!)  I was supposed to meet Robb at the Ancestral Health Symposium last year but I was too shy. I walked right by him two or three times, but he was always surrounded by throngs of fans and friends and I wanted to catch him at a quieter moment. (I guess when you’re Robb Wolf, and you’re attending an event dedicated to ancestral health, there are no quiet moments. Oh well. Maybe this year!)

Okay, on to business!
(Mostly just copying & pasting from my Amazon review.)

In Wired to Eat, well-known Paleo diet and ancestral health authority Robb Wolf explains why it’s so easy to be satiated after a pork chop and sautéed zucchini, but it’s darn near impossible to resist the siren song of things like kettle corn or honey-roasted peanuts, which combine sweet, salty, fatty, and crunchy all in one bite. Through millennia of evolutionary conditioning, we are literally “wired to eat” foods that provide large amounts of things the supply of which was very valuable but possibly unpredictable: fat, salt, and sweet. Millions of years ago, this served us well. In the 21st century, it’s killing us. And you don’t even have to go to the store anymore. You can have delivered right to your doorstep a bounty of palate-pleasing creations the likes of which would have been an unimaginable bonanza to our hominid ancestors by expending no more effort than clicking a mouse or pressing buttons on your phone.

So what do we DO about it? Following the very simple and straightforward plan Robb lays out, you can reset your appetite signaling in 30 days using a basic Paleo template. Once you’re off the sugar rollercoaster and you’re experiencing healthy blood sugar, steady energy, and clear thinking—maybe for the first time in your life—then you take things a step further and use Robb’s 7-day carb test to identify your individual carbohydrate tolerance in order to tailor a diet that’s best for you. (News flash: not everyone needs to follow a super-strict low carb diet in order to remain metabolically healthy. Just because a bagel sends your blood glucose through the stratosphere doesn’t mean you should terrify everyone you know out of eating lentils or parsnips.) Armed with nothing more than a drugstore glucometer, you’ll be able to see numerical explanations for why you get sleepy after a high-carb breakfast, or why you’ve struggled for decades to lose weight while eating lots of “healthy whole grains.”

This carb test is especially interesting. Because maybe you can eat potatoes, or fruit, or even some grains, and your blood sugar is absolutely, totally fine. And maybe you’ve been limiting yourself to less than 20-30 grams of carbohydrate per day without a pressing need to do so. The question I have about the carb test is, what about insulin? You’ll recall from my series on insulin that while it’s important to keep track of blood sugar, glucose measurements—be they fasted or after a meal—tell us nothing about insulin. And in many people, glucose will be normal because of very high insulin. (I had a client just the other day with a fasting glucose of 82 mg/dL and an A1c of 5.3. Lookin’ good, right? Wrong. This person’s insulin was 22 μIU/mL. It’s no wonder they’re struggling mightily with fat loss. This is why all that crazy insulin stuff is so important.)

Unfortunately, since there is currently no way to measure insulin at home, measuring glucose is the best we’ve got. And don’t get me wrong; measuring glucose response to foods isn’t useless. Not at all. If it’s rising very high, then you know for sure those particular foods should be eliminated from your diet or eaten only occasionally. But if it’s not rising very high, that’s kind of a gray area for me. Maybe we can kinda-sorta assume you’re okay if you don’t see a big rise when eating, say, pears or winter squash, but if your glucose is totally normal after eating toaster pastries (even organic, non-GMO ones) or chocolate-coated breakfast cereal, we might suspect something nefarious is going on with insulin. But I’m speculating. I don’t know. Overall, given the technology we have, measuring your glucose for a week is still a damn useful strategy.

Wired to Eat also contains some recipes, but I’m guessing Robb probably did that part kicking and screaming, and probably only because I’m also guessing his publisher insisted. You can’t really write a book about health, weight loss, and the neuroregulation of appetite and not have recipes. (Thank goodness my publisher didn’t push me to write recipes. I explicitly did not include recipes in my book because there are already a ton of low carb and keto cookbooks out there. The world really didn’t need one from me.) As I’ve written about before, I rarely follow recipes from cookbooks. But I do like to flip through them to get ideas—ideas for different flavor combinations to try, new ways to cook some of the proteins or vegetables I’ve been doing the same things to for ten years—that sort of thing. I think the recipes in this book are good for showing people that you can make truly delicious meals that satisfy and satiate (which are not the same things), and you can step away from the table without experiencing massive cravings for either more of what you just ate, or a whole lot of something else. You can use fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegars, and other things that lend enormous flavor without sending your blood sugar careening into orbit. Or if nothing else, the recipes show people that you can get healthy and lose weight by eating food that doesn’t taste like cardboard and isn’t devoid of every last speck of fat or starch.

Don’t beat yourself up for going up against your hard-wired biological impulses, and losing. But that was in the past. With Wired to Eat, you’ll understand why it’s so difficult to eat certain things in moderation, and that this doesn’t make you weak, lazy or greedy. It makes you human. But after reading this book, you’ll no longer be able to plead ignorance. You’ll know which foods ring these bells for you, and you can decide for yourself whether you’re able to limit your intake of them, or whether you are best served by avoiding them completely. (Apparently, there are people in the world who can “moderate” their intake of Girl Scout cookies. I think I saw a documentary about them once. They’re a tribe isolated deep within the Amazon Rain Forest, and researchers have discovered footprints, but no one’s actually verified the existence of these puzzling humans.)

Before I sign out here, Robb specifically asked for honest reviews, so here are my criticisms:

I wanted it to be heavier on the science.
It’s not that there’s no science. The reference section at the back shows there’s plenty. But I wanted to (as Robb would say) “geek out.” But he didn’t write this book for geeks like me. He wrote it for people who don’t already know about this. He wrote it for people whose eyes would glaze over if they had to read about neuropeptide Y, peptide YYagouti-related peptide, leptin, ghrelin, and all the other scary-sounding hormones and signaling molecules involved in why we get hungry and what makes us feel satiated.

Also, his tone was a little too casual for my taste. I’m all for his oft-cited “hookers and cocaine” sort of fun and relatable speaking style, but I found it to be a little bit much in something book-length. It was a little distracting for me. His first book, The Paleo Solution, was also written in Robb's inimitable down-to-earth style, but Wired to Eat is like that to the tenth degree. 

That being said, he didn’t write this for me. I like the science. I want the details. My guess is that his intended audience—while it might include anyone with a pulse—is mostly people who don’t want the science. The casual, fun tone helps these people make it through the passages where Robb does have to get a little technical. The plus side of this is that it’s a very easy read. You feel like he’s sitting in your living room with you, having a couple of (gluten-free) beers, and shootin’ the breeze about why Cool Ranch Doritos and chocolate peanut butter swirl ice cream are so goddamn delicious. (Not together, though.) 

Robb wrote this for people who don’t want to be inundated with biochemical jargon. It’s for people who want to get in, learn something quickly and powerfully, and get out. I am a huge nerd, though, so with regard to this not being loaded with a lot of technical details, what to me is a drawback, is actually a selling point for normal people.  ;-)

Bottom line: Wired to Eat is a quick, easy read, which is exactly what Robb was probably going for. (Someone once said, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” It could not be more true.) If you or a friend or family member feels hopeless because food—refined carbohydrate, in particular—is controlling their life, and you or they feel stuck in a cycle of binging, restricting, guilt, shame, and self-punishment, this book will help you understand that it’s not your fault. But once you know why it’s not your fault, it’s up to you to do something about it. Robb walks you through both steps using language that is fun, casual, and readable, while at the same time delivering enough science that you’ll take this all seriously.  

Diane Sanfilippo’s mini-review of Wired to Eat says all this much more eloquently (and succinctly!) than I just did.

Disclaimer: Amy Berger, MS, CNS, NTP, is not a physician and Tuit Nutrition, LLC, is not a medical practice. The information contained on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical condition and is not to be used as a substitute for the care and guidance of a physician. Links in this post and all others may direct you to amazon.com, where I will receive a small amount of the purchase price of any items you buy through my affiliate links.


  1. Looks like another one I'll put on my amazon wish list when used copies surface. It reminds me of a slightly older book called Salt, Sugar, Fat- How the Food Giants Hooked Us. I am thoroughly enjoying going through your book, and completely floored by what the research proves about Alzheimer's. You've done such a good job, and yes, it's quite readable by someone with absolutely no medical background. And I so very appreciate the nod to people dealing with loved ones in senior care centers. I went through this with my mother, then recently with a neighbor. Thank you!!

    1. Thanks so much for checking out the book. :) I'm glad you've found it educational. Please leave a review on Amazon if you have a chance. Those really help.

  2. Yes, I thought of that too. Salt, Sugar Fat was an awesome book. I listened to it on an audiobook while driving cross country last summer. Needless to say I did not stop at fast food restaurants. I stopped for food at supermarkets and while there would walk around reading labels and checking into the items that I had just heard about- it was really an good adjunct to the book - listening about the evils of "Lunchables" and then stopping in at a supermarket and actually hunting them down to read the box!