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The Long(ish) Road to Lose It Right

With our launch of Lose it Right on the horizon, I thought I would share a small chapter from my life – a chapter that is turning into a bigger one – regarding how my co-author James Fell and I met, and why we decided to write a book together.

As an academic focused on obesity research, I was wary of entering the world of mainstream weight loss publishing. It is, after all, a murky industry full of gimmickry, unrealistic claims, and pseudoscience that borders ridiculous.

It wasn’t something I ever planned, but then I met the right partner. Here is a brief recap of the adventure it is to co author.

Christmas, 2010

It had been a long month. With my newly minted PhD, I was under the (false) impression that the job hunt would be a little smoother than it was panning out to be.

I had fallen in love four years prior, and moved to Madrid to be with my husband. I had been married for about three months when it was clear that Spain was in a serious economic rut. Not to be dissuaded, I spent my time job searching, LinkedIn-friend making, and starting up my website. Initially, the website was a way to keep a day focused. Once 15 applications had been sent out, I would pick up a pubmed article, read it, wonder about what life was like back in Academia, and then blog about it.

At this phase, my writing style was non-existent. White knuckled at the keyboard is a more apt description. As I struggled to inform the masses about the nuances of human eating behavior, I became less convinced of my ability to do it. My writing was straight up boring.

It wasn’t until I ran across James’ Los Angeles Times column (called “In-Your-Face Fitness”) that I realized how wrong it was to drop words like ‘ergo’ in the middle of a sentence about chocolate cake.

James wrote an awesome piece on Oprah’s tendency for King Making out of “health experts” whose credibility was questionable. It was punchy, to the point, and most importantly, accurate. One such Oprah-endorsed expert James eviscerated was in the field of eating behavior, and this caught my attention.

I visited James website and read more of his writing- and was totally entertained by it. There was a lot of locker room talk, but the general message was clear: slow and steady wins the race. James gave legitimate insight into theories of planned behavior, goal setting, self-efficacy, positive reinforcement, and all the great things psychologists are supposed to know about. He provided a clear road map for wellness, but he sugarcoated the science with some hilarious prose. For this reason, I thought it would be great to do some collaborative work. Pro bono, no bono, whatever. 

Curiosity got the best of me. I sent out an initial email introduction, just to see where it would go, and he replied back. James shared my snarky cynicism about get-slim-rich-young quick schemes. We also have a shared an eyebrow raise for neurolinguistic programming. (Tony Robbins was one of the gurus James poked fun at in the LA Times Oprah piece.)

But back to Christmas 2010: we started exchanging e-mails, I sent him a few papers on the psychology of appetite, and continued to troll Linkedin for health research positions.

Always curious

I had become interested in eating behavior years before I met James. Back in 2010, I also knew that the issue of hedonic eating motivation was about to explode. It was a huge focus of academic research, and it was a matter of time before it kicked into the general vernacular. Who isn’t curious about the ways our brains work with drugs, sex, and … food?

About a decade prior to meeting James, Experimental Psychology fascinated me. Eating behavior seemed like a great way to learn more about the brain, in light of the current obesity crisis.

Even after ten years of postgraduate research, I’m still in awe of how much, and yet how little, we know about the brain. Since eating pretty much defines “primordial,” it provides an awesome platform to gain a clear understanding of how things work in our head.

For these reasons, I really did love the experience of doing a PhD (so, please don’t listen to people who tell you it’s a useless piece of paper. Anything that captivates curiosity for more than a year has value, even if it’s not monetary).

What to do after a PhD

After a lot of emails exchanged, James and I decided to do a book together. The idea was to be a no-nonsense guide to the ways exercise can improve eating behavior. We were going to step beyond our own personal experiences, load the book with empirical references, and have James write it up (my writing can’t hold a candle to some James Fell classics, like using “mouthgasm” to describe how something tastes, or “running like you’re being chased by a wolverine coming off a meth bender” to examine how many people overdo it at the gym. His speed and cadence are addictive.

I had also received an invitation to do some work at a think tank in DC. The project was to investigate aspects of the food industry and the obesity crisis. It was an excellent opportunity; not only did I get to learn about the U.S. Consumer Packaged Goods, but I gained further insight into how much garbage is thrust at the average customer. It provided more motivation to get a book like Lose it Right into the hands of … well … more than the six people who were checking my website regularly (thanks Mum!).

Our plan was to e-publish the book and sell it via our websites. It was going to be short. Like, a hundred pages.

During the time I was in DC, James and I exchanged the first few chapters of Call of the Cookie (working title at that point) over weekends and sometimes throughout the week. We were still in the early phases when …

“Margaret, are you sitting down?”

“Yeah … What’s up?”

“Well, we have an agent for our book. A good one. A New York City agent.”

James told me that as he was re-reading what we’d done so far with our book and got the feeling that it had the potential to be much bigger than a little ebook, and on a whim he researched three big-name agents who handled health books, and sent them a one-page proposal along with the Introduction to the book. That was it. Six days later, James was on the phone with David Hale Smith of Inkwell Management, who was offering representation.

This was a big step. A step I never envisioned happening- an agent? For real? (?!).

More writing, more moving

The news about having a formal agent support James (and by extension, me) was huge. James continued to write awesome science, fitness, and health debunking articles. I was ghost writing and also getting my own peer-reviewed act together back home in Madrid. A short time later I received another email from James.

This time I was sitting down, but was soon running through the house. Random House Canada had bought the rights to the book. They’d made a big offer and promised much promotional support.

At the same time, I was invited to come back home to do some research at the University of Calgary. We moved back, and James and I started to dig a lot deeper into Lose it Right, and I became friends with his wife (if I can use only one word, it would be rad never mind- totallyrad) and came to adore their two children.

More time went into planning than actual writing. We came up with ideas and reworked them again and again, plus made lists of who were the best people to interview. We both learned a lot during that process. We had a good idea of where the book was going when we started, but those ideas shifted as we moved forward and learned new material. It was challenging work.

There were a few tense arguments.

We conducted interviews with scientists at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Pennington Biomedical Research Centre, Mayo Clinic and numerous other respected institutions. Fitness experts, regular people and even some celebrities were interviewed as well. Driving over to the Fell family home at 7.00 AM in a snow storm to do some interviews with colleagues back in London is one clear memory. It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun.

More curiosity

It’s gratifying to see Lose it Right come together. What started from some emails has turned into a bonafide published book, and it’s only a couple of months away from being on shelves.

It’s not Magnum Opus. It’s not get slim quick. There is legitimate science, and hilarious writing. It’s an amazingly refreshing guide to what makes us tick. Physical fitness is a big part of this; psychology is another. We’ve been able to coordinate these concepts, providing you insight into how exercise improves your eating behavior, along with guidance on how to become the type of person who enjoys living a healthy lifestyle.

The role exercise can play in diminishing the desire for highly palatable food represents a new era in health research. We’re starting to learn that exercise can be great for all kinds of neurodegenerative diseases, from Alzheimer’s to Parkinson’s, and not just for burning calories or feeling the high of beta endorphins.

While I was at skeptical of being associated with a mainstream weight loss book, the process of working with James, David and Random House Canada taught me that the industry doesn’t have to be all “male bovine droppings,” as James is fond of saying. We were able to write a book the way we wanted, using brutal honesty (those two words are even in the subtitle), and come up with something I’m proud to have my name on. Even though it IS a weight loss book published by a major publishing house, and such things aren’t always considered credible, I think it can only enhance my CV. Anyone in academia who questions my decision to partner on this project need only read the book to see why I did it. The endorsements from respected experts that we have for the book make my case.

It took a long time, and a lot of work. The first draft was handed in over a year ago, and it’s still a couple of months until publication. I’m giving my liver advance warning about the launch party.

Volunteers who are willing to carry me out to a cab after said party are most welcome.

I almost forgot! You can pre-order Lose it Right here: http://www.amazon.ca/Lose-It-Right-Brutally-3-Stage/dp/0345812468