17 best motivational diet books of all time

diet books stack bookend

Diets DO work!

I’ve been on lots of diets in my life. I believe diets do work. Each one that I’ve been on has taught me something new about food and about myself, as well. I have a firm respect for diets and the (mostly) women who go on them—and off them—and on them, once again. 

We dieters have helped support the economy and several thousand grocery stores by dieting. Plus, we have shed pounds that would still be around if we hadn’t said bye-bye to them.

Over the years, I have donated the so-so diet books I’ve bought to the local library, but the good ones I keep. Or at least I try to, when friends don’t spirit them away! 

In this post I share 17 of my all time favorites.. Each is linked to good ol’ Amazon if you want a closer look or more reviews (what? You won’t take my word for it?), but most can be found in your local library as well.

Enjoy!

Diet Books 101: It all started here

1. Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe

I start this list with the classic, Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe. First published in 1971 it is still going strong, in several editions. This book, above all others, introduced me to the sensual joy of food and to, at that time, the very foreign concept of vegetarianism. What? No meat? What do you eat then? 

How times have changed! But the recipes are still as good as ever. I regularly fix the GREAT vegetarian soup Golden Gate Minestrone for large gatherings of hungry people. Yum!

Diet books with an Emphasis on Exercise

2. Steven Masley, Ten Years Younger

Steven Masley was the former medical director of the Pritikin Longevity Center in Florida. I particularly like his book, Ten Years Younger for its premise of eternal youthfulness. How can you argue with that? But he has very practical chapters on mental age, relaxation techniques, detoxification, skin rejuvenation, and exercise programs that work. A keeper.

3. Strong Women Stay Slim by Miriam E. Nelson 

This is my Rocky-running-the-steps inspiration book. I always read through it once before I start a diet. Nelson has some really good chapters on why diets sometimes don’t work and how you can help yourself lose weight. Most valuable are six simple exercises you can do at home to keep your upper body (read that: heft the carryon luggage into the overhead bin) muscles fit. Mine is a dog-eared copy.

Diet cookbooks: Strictly food—and more

4. The South Beach Diet Cookbook by Arthur Agatston 

You know, if this diet had a scientific name like the percentage-of-carbs-to-protein-ratio diet, it would have much more credibility. As it is, it still has spawned a multi-million dollar industry and created some mighty good recipes besides. You’ll find some of them here.

5. Ultra-Metabolism by Mark Hyman 

Mark Hyman, also an M.D., has arguably the best allergy food elimination diet going. You can go without wheat-dairy-refined sugar for a month and actually be smiling at the end! 

It has a great section on how to eliminate caffeine in 7 days. Amazing recipes for peach quinoa with flax and nuts, curried waldorf salad, wild salmon with rosemary sweet potatoes and lemon asparagus, sesame-crusted sole with baby bok choy. Are you hungry yet?

A girlfriend and I did this diet together. The author gives you a shopping list up front and a full set of menus. A lot of fun. I still use the recipes.

6. Mix it, Match it by WeightWatchers 

Do you remember those activity books you got as a kid: pictures of animals broken into three separate parts of pages: head, middle, and feet. You got to create your own fantasy beasts by flipping the part-pages back and forth: head of a lion, tummy of a hippo, feet of a duck…

This recipes book operates on the same principle. Breakfasts on top, lunches in the middle, dinners on the bottom. All of equivalent calories, so you can mix and match to make menu planning really easy, simply by flipping the page pieces. The recipes are quick and easy to fix, which is a must for me. 

Diet books on the psychological approaches to eating

7. Feed the Hungry Heart by Geneen Roth 

Roth was one of the first to focus on the psychological reasons for eating. Her advice is classic and I’ve used this book a lot. I don’t have it on my shelf right now because I loaned out my second copy and it, too, never found its way home. It is that good.

8. Food & Mood by Elizabeth Somer 

Somer goes into how food can influence our mood. Some of her chapters include: No energy? Could be your diet. PMS and SAD. Food and the blues. Stress and Diet.

She is a nutrition correspondent for ABC’s Good Morning America, contributing editor to Shape magazine and author of six great books on nutrition and diet. This book is where I first heard about the ‘brain fog’ that a hypersensitivity to wheat can give you.

9. Weight Loss through Persistence by Daniel S. Kirschenbaum 

This author is a clinical psychologist who has served as consultant to the US Olympic Committee and Weight Watchers. He has done lots of good things, including writing this book. 

The book starts with a quote from Calvin Coolidge that starts out, “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not, genius will not, education will not…” The author ticks off all the reasons while diets fail: our desire to eat, our phobia of exercise, the usual excuses of time, effort, money, aches and pains. 

This is my second “Rocky” book. A boot camp for the well intentioned but weak at heart. It has worked—several times—for me. A real kick in the behind.

Cooking Techniques and menu planning for dieters

10. How to Cook without a Book by Pam Anderson

I am not a great chef. I am more the grab-it-and-run type of dieter. So when I came across How to Cook without a Book by Pam Anderson, I was delighted. Here was someone who understood my aversion to standing for four hours in a hot kitchen! I regularly make up her amazing soup recipes and freeze them in portions, for those nights when the DQ and Wendy’s are making their siren call.

11. Gluten-Free Quick and Easy by Carol Fenster 

This book is a sleeper. I got it because I am intolerant to wheat, but discovered to my delight, that she has a superb set of menu planning techniques here. Meals are quick and easy to fix, too. Check out her ‘planned-over’ vs. left over concepts for minimizing food waste.

I think you’ll like it, even if you don’t have any problems with wheat.

A balanced approach to dieting

12. Fit from Within by Victoria Moran 

The subtitle on this book is: 101 simple secretes to change your body and your life—starting today and lasting forever. Tips include: In the beginning, eat out. To weigh less, weigh less. Refrain from judging by appearances. Take the responsibility, not the blame. Get all six tastes in every meal. And almost 100 more! 

I keep this book in the bathroom for quick reading material. Always an inspiration.

13. The Midlife Miracle Diet by Adele Puhn 

I know, I know. A miracle diet? Pu-lease! Another diet title I’d like to file with the SB Diet above. But the book, written by a certified nutritionist is surprisingly upbeat and positive. Fun to read and motivational. And it works.

14. Simple Steps by Lisa Lelas 

Have you read this book yet? If you haven’t, treat yourself to a copy, even if you aren’t on a diet. 

The authors show you how to take one simple step each week in areas of health, weight, home, and spirit. One simple step. At the end of 10 weeks and 40 steps, you are well on the way to becoming a new person. 

Yes! It works! It really does! The chapter on how to drink enough water is worth the price of the tome.

How I did it: the ultimate diet book

15. The Idiot-Proof Diet by India Knight and Neris Thomas 

If you want a good laugh, read this book. These two Brits tell how they lost a combined 140 pounds over the course of a year of dieting. In this lavishly illustrated edition (complete with ‘before’ bathing suit pictures you wouldn’t show to your dog if they were yours), they tell you how. It wasn’t easy. At times it was downright excruciating. But they did it. An inspiration for the rest of us. Fun.

I need inspiration and encouragement when I diet

16. The Woman’s Comfort Book by Jennifer Louden

(Would work for the other gender, too.) 

Too often we are so busy taking care of others that if we ever knew how to take care of ourselves, we have forgotten how. 

If stress eating is your baby, or if you reward yourself with food, this book may give you some other alternatives. I’ve given away half a dozen copies. Holding on to this one!

The book has sections on comfort cards, hiding under the covers, how to play, seasonal comforts, bathing pleasures, body delights, a comfort journal, nutritional music.

Ah! I feel better already!

17. Chop Wood, Carry Water by Rick Fields 

Just as I started this list with a classic, I’ll end with one. This book was created by the editors of the New Age Journal and is subtitled: A guide to finding spiritual fulfillment in everyday life. 

It just makes me feel good, and when I feel good, I don’t eat as much. It is filled with inspiration and wonderful sidebar quotes. Talks about sex, family, work, money, play, healing, technology, social action, and inner guidance. Doesn’t get much basic than that. 

My copy is dog-eared and cat chewed from several generations of family pets. They must find it good to digest, too! A wonderful book.

Diets DO work

So there you have it. The 17 books I turn to when I am starting, in the middle of, or ending a diet. 

My prescription to living the good life, one meal at a time.

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About Intrepid Explorer

By writing we discover the world
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