When somebody says their nutrition plan ‘isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle,’ they’re almost always trying to sell you a diet.
So, when I saw that exact phrase in the introduction of The Galveston Diet book, I knew that one of the focal points of this review was going to have to be whether or not The Galveston Diet is indeed a diet in disguise.
That and, assessing whether The Galveston Diet is a sustainable, evidence-based program that I, as a dietitian, can get behind.
The Galveston Diet – and its namesake book – were developed by Mary Claire Haver, an OB-Gyn who practices in Texas and who has a large, rather effusive social media presence, especially on TikTok.
Haver’s general focus is on menopause, which has more recently been a cash cow for any doctor or influencer promising to shrink your ‘meno-belly’ and ‘balance your hormones.’
I’ve seen a lot of content targeting women in midlife who just want to lose some weight and feel like themselves again. Most of it is predatory garbage designed to make women believe that they can – and should – be as firm and thin as their 25 year old selves.
There are many people saying they’ve ‘cracked the code’ to menopause, but this is really all marketing. There’s no code. You can’t ‘crack’ nature.
The problem is that this is a fantasy. Bodies are supposed to change as we age, this is a fact of life that none of us escapes. Also, we’re all different. Because some influencer in her 50s is telling us that we too can be a size 26 again (Haver doesn’t make this claim FYI), doesn’t mean their method to get there is effective, safe, or smart.
The Galveston Diet Book Review
The actual education part of the Galveston Diet book is actually only around 140 pages; most of the remaining 263 pages is dedicated to menus, shopping lists, recipes, and resources. There are citations at the back of the book.
I feel strongly that books on nutrition should use quality research that thoroughly backs up what the author is putting out as evidence to support their program. That should be a pretty low bar in terms of expectations.
Part of my job as a dietitian writing this Galveston Diet book review is to check the quality of the evidence behind the claims.
When I’m able to poke holes in that evidence, it does impact my professional opinion on the credibility of the content as a whole. In other words, when I see authors mixing evidence-based claims with sensationalist ones and bad evidence (or no evidence), it makes me question the credibility of the entire work.
I have seen this sort of thing a lot, in particular with doctors who have written diet books.
This would be a heck of a long review if I was to comment on every single claim that Haver makes in this book. When I came across something that I felt was questionable, I looked up the study and compared its findings to what was being claimed.
When I read something I knew to be correct according to current research, I left it alone.
Part 1: The Promise
Part one of the Galveston Diet book is called, ‘The Promise,’ and is dedicated mostly to background information educating readers around menopause and hormones.
This is great, because many women need this sort of education. As an OB/Gyn, Haver is qualified to give that to them.
There’s a lot of correct information in Part 1 of the book, things like how protein and fiber impact satiety. But I did find some things that, as a dietitian, I consider to be problematic.
For example, to back up her assertion that processed foods lead to earlier menopause, Haver cites a study looking at dietary patterns and age at natural menopause. When I pulled up the study, it didn’t match what she was attempting to show.
That study found that women who consumed a diet with high levels of meats, went into menopause later. There was nothing I could find about processed foods (unless she was referring to processed meat, but again, that outcome didn’t match what she said).
Haver also subscribes to the Carbohydrate Insulin Model, which postulates that weight loss can’t occur unless insulin levels are reduced – and therefore, for weight loss, diets high in carbs should be avoided. She cites David Ludwig’s Carbohydrate Insulin Model research to support this.
Later in the book, she invokes this model again when she calls insulin ‘the main hormonal driver of fat storage.’ She tells us that when we eat lots of carbs, the body never switches into ‘fat burning mode,’ and instead, just keeps storing more fat.
It’s concerning for me as a dietitian to see this author breathing life into what I believe is a debunked theory. While it’s okay to mention preliminary or controversial research, I think they should be cited as such.
To that point, later on in the chapter, Haver implies that omega-6 fats are inflammatory. However, the preponderance of evidence does not support the assertion that omega-6s – which many influencers and nutrition gurus tend to lump together as ‘seed oils,’ cause inflammation.
She also refers to the ratio between omega-3s and omega-6s as being important, which most of us consider to be an outdated theory. In fact, a 2022 Clinical Practice Statement by the American Society for Preventive Cardiology doesn’t even mention omega 3:omega 6 ratio at all. (It also further confirms that IF is not better than continuous energy restriction for weight loss)
It also recommends polyunsaturated fats, which are – you guessed it – full of omega 6s.
Haver cites a 2017 study while telling us that supplementing with omega-3 fats can reduce belly fat. She claims ‘(researchers) concluded that supplementation with omega-3s produced a significant reduction in waist circumference.’
Here is the study she’s referencing. This is what it actually concluded, verbatim:
The evidence from RCTs showed that n-3 PUFA might effectively reduce waist circumference and triglyceride levels in overweight and obese adults, but n-3 PUFA may not effectively reduce body weight. Given the small number and poor quality of RCTs included in the meta-analysis, these results are inconclusive. A large-scale, well-designed RCT is needed to further address this issue.
In other words, the methodology in the studies used in this review was poor, and therefore the results can’t be used to make a solid determination – especially around waist circumference. In fact, the researchers state that not all of the studies even included waist circumference data.
Chapter 3, called ‘Prepare to Change Your Life,’ advises us to take our measurements and a photo of ourselves so we can check out ‘results’ as we ‘progress through the program.’ We are also told to get a nutrition tracker such as My Fitness Pal or Cronometer, which ‘help us keep track of our nutritional budget.’
Haver doesn’t recommend counting calories, which I agree with. Instead, she wants us to track macros and net carbs, which is sort of the same thing.
Remember, this isn’t supposed to be a ‘diet.’ It’s looking a lot like a diet so far, though.
Part 2: The Actions
Part 2 jumps right into a lesson in fasting. Galveston uses the 16:8 configuration, which I think is the most doable, although let the record show that I don’t believe it’s necessary to lose weight and keep it off.
We know that IF is no more effective than caloric restriction – probably because fasting is simply another method of caloric restriction. As far as the studies Haver cites to support her IF recommendation for weight loss, they are valid, but they fail to show that IF is better than other methods of caloric restriction in the long-term.
There is no doubt that fasting does result in weight loss for some people, but it’s just another tool in the weight loss toolbox. IF has been shown to lower blood sugar and insulin levels, which would be the expected result of weight loss.
In her chapter on fasting, Haver cites studies from as far back as 1988. Some of them have been done in only men. Some of them looked at every other day fasting or water-only fasting, not 16:8. Some of them were in mice. None of them that I saw went beyond 6-12 months. Many of them did not specifically study menopausal women. She cites the DIRECT trial, which didn’t use fasting.
Later in the book, Haver cites a 2021 study that she claims found that IF may be a superior tool for keeping weight off in the long-term. Interestingly, the study is called, “Intermittent and continuous energy restriction result in similar weight loss, weight loss maintenance, and body composition changes in a 6 month randomized pilot study.”
It also concluded that “There were no significant differences between groups, providing further evidence that IER is an alternative but not a superior option to CONT for weight management.”
I’m just not clear on how her assertion lines up with this study, because…it doesn’t.
Haver has all sorts of hot tips for us about how to fast, including advice to drink water during fasting, saying that it ‘helps keep you full’ and ‘reduces food cravings.’
I like to think that people should use FOOD to keep them full, not water. Telling people to drink water instead of eating – even when they’re fasting – sounds like a Cosmopolitan magazine diet tip circa 1978. As far as reducing food cravings, I’m not sure what the mechanism is behind that. I didn’t find a study to explain it.
The rest of Part 2 is about inflammation. Haver has a short quiz for us to figure out if we are ‘inflamed,’ based on how many ‘inflammatory’ foods we’ve eaten in 24 hours.
There is really no way that this sort of quiz can determine if we have inflammation, which can be present regardless of diet. Also, just because you had a glass of wine and two white bread sandwiches in the last day doesn’t mean that you’re riddled with inflammation that’s going to be clinically relevant to your health.
This exercise is oversimplified and I believe, misleading. Inflammation isn’t quantifiable.
Haver then gives us the Galveston Diet macros: 70% fat, 20% lean protein, and 10% carbs. She calls this principle ‘fuel refocus,’ which IMO is code for ‘keto diet.’
She follows up the macro discussion with a 10-day sugar detox, supported by evidence from a study with 29 people. She also tells us that artificial sweeteners cause gut bacteria to ‘become diseased,’ leaking to leaky gut. This is not supported by current human evidence.
Part 3: The Plan
The next 21 pages in Part 3 give us the ‘approved’ lists of carbs, proteins, and fats. These include lists of non-starchy vegetables (she considers these to be ‘carbs,’ which in 24 years of being an RD, I’ve never heard of), whole grains, and fruits.
Oddly, the ‘approved fruits’ list has plums, but no peaches or nectarines. I was just happy to see bananas on there. Watermelon and other melons, apparently, aren’t allowed, and I have no idea why. Watermelon is allowed on the maintenance plan.
Haver goes into detail about the benefits of fiber, which I couldn’t agree with more. But when she goes into the importance of magnesium, she tells us it ‘boosts fat burn.’
I couldn’t find a study to support that.
The Galveston Diet Meal Plans
Part 3 of the Galveston Diet book includes meal plans and shopping lists.
Each day of the plans has two meals and two snacks, which is consistent with 16:8 fasting.
I took the time to analyze three days, and the rough caloric range was 1080 – 1270 – 1560. One day that had fish on the menu gave a 12oz raw portion for dinner, which is ginormous, and that day appeared to be an outlier at around 1700 calories.
The caloric allotment between meals is bizarre – there are meals like the Portobello Pizzas, which I calculated to be around 277 calories. Then, there are snacks like the flax muffin, which I calculated at over 500 calories. A better approach may have been to distribute the calories more evenly throughout the day. This would probably help with hunger levels.
There are recipes that are oversimple – such as the celery sticks with nut butter, and ‘Cheesy Nuts,’ which lists one Babybel cheese, ‘wrapper removed,’ (thanks for that) and 1/2 cup almonds, arranged on a plate.
Others are long, like the Mushroom Stroganoff, with 16 ingredients.
I did like to see that some recipes were used more than once in a week, which can be cost-effective and prevents waste. There are also vegetarian meal plans, but no vegan option.
Haver does give us a formula for meals, if we don’t want to follow the menus. It’s very doable.
The Galveston Diet maintenance plan, for ‘the point which you want to just maintain your weight,’ maintains the fasting part of the plan, while bumping the carbs up and the fat down.
The calorie levels appear to be similar to the initial Galveston Diet stage.
Galveston Diet Book Review, In Short:
The Galveston Diet book has some good points. We do need a lot of fiber and protein. We do need to hydrate. Women should know what’s going on with their bodies at this stage of life.
The diet itself ends up being lower in calories than what I believe the average person would consume. It’s definitely high in fat, but much of that fat is from dairy, which doesn’t seem to have the same negative effect on blood lipids as other animal fats.
The shopping lists are a bit ridiculous. They contain some expensive items that, especially with the cost of groceries right now, are not necessary. These include grass-fed beef, almond flour, and MCT powder. Haver does recommend organic produce, as well. Fruit is very limited until we get to the Galveston Diet maintenance plan. Is it bad that I normally eat the amount of vegetables on the weekly lists, in around two days?
The Galveston Diet book uses what I believe to be some questionable science in order to justify the eating plan. It has some good points, but it erodes my trust when I see old or poor studies, along with debunked or controversial theories thrown into something without proper disclaimers.
I feel as though the book uses what I believe are some sensationalist claims and a bit of fear mongering, probably to convince readers to follow the plan.
As a dietitian, I would 100% call this program a diet. The focus is definitely on weight loss, and although we don’t get a calorie budget, we’re told to weigh and measure ourselves to ‘track progress.’ The calories on some days may not be super-low, but the INTENTION is to help us lose weight by limiting an entire food group (carbs).
I didn’t really see a lot in the Galveston Diet book that I haven’t seen in other diet books. You don’t need to use a keto/IF diet to lose weight. You don’t need to eat a 500 calorie snack and a 277 calorie dinner. You will probably gain a bit of weight in menopause. That is okay.
Last but not least, when we go off of restrictive diets, the weight tends to come right back. Ask yourself with this and ANY other diet, if you can go long-term – like, really long-term – following the plan. Some people can. Others can’t.
Want to optimize your health in midlife (and at any age, really)? Eat lots of plants. Make sure you get around 20-30 grams of fiber a day. Cut down on added sugars and alcohol as much as possible. Cook as much as you can vs eating restaurant food.
Also: be active. Laugh. See your friends. Live every day as best you can.
Bodies change. Let’s stop subjecting ourselves to restrictive, punishing diets aka ‘lifestyles’ to fit a societal norm that shouldn’t exist.