With the New Year approaching, many people will be looking at evergreen resolutions such as cutting out, or down on, cigarettes, alcohol and junk food. I remember an apocryphal story about someone whose recipe for success was smoking, drinking and eating only while driving his car to and from the office. How much damage to your health can you do during a twice-a-day, one-hour commute? After crashing his car into a roadside restaurant, he emerged from hospital after a three-day stay, saying optimistically: 'I didn't have a cigarette or drink and lost about 2kg worrying about my court case!' When I started jogging some years ago, I was spurred by the idea that losing weight would be one of the benefits from my early-morning, 16km outing. That is, until I read that one needed to run about 160km to lose 2kg in weight and that my running regimen had to be combined with a healthy diet. 'There's a sucker born every minute,' P.T. Barnum once said, and I found that one had to be extra careful about accepting what a plethora of dieting books in the now billion-dollar industry had to offer. The recent furore about an alarming increase in obesity in the US has resulted in anti-carbohydrate, quick-weight loss books such as Dr Atkins' New Diet Revolution, the South Beach Diet and even a revived The Drinking Man's Diet arriving on the publishing bandwagon. Robert Atkins, who died earlier this year (the post-mortem examination showed he was obese and had a history of high blood pressure and heart attacks), insisted that a high-protein and high-fat diet was the way to a slimmer, trimmer body. Ignoring that there are 'good' (slow-release) and 'bad' (quick-release) carbs, Atkins simply lumped them all together to sell his book and fooled many people. There's a world of difference between eating a plate of brown basmati rice and vegetables, providing slow-release energy that sustains you for some time, and junk food, which give you a quick fix and leaves you hungry again an hour or so later. Atkins' diet allowed you to eat foods you normally wouldn't go near - such as bacon, butter and ice cream. Such was the popularity of the diet (sales of Atkins-branded food products in the US were worth about US$200 million last year), partly thanks to testimonials by Hollywood celebrities, that the British health ministry issued a warning earlier this year that it could even kill you. The bottom line is that most dieting books are aimed at slimming your wallet, and anything goes when it comes to misleading a gullible public eager for the quick fix. The comeback of the once enormously popular The Drinking Man's Diet shows this. Tell people what they want to hear and they'll lap it up. 'Drinkers of the world, throw away your defatted cottage cheese and your cabbage juice; and sit down with us to roast duck and burgundy. You have nothing to lose but your waistlines,' says the author Robert Cameron, who adds that you can drink as many martinis as you like while on his diet. The low-carb South Beach Diet's lure is aimed at people who want to look trim when stepping into a bikini or a pair of swimming trunks. Who doesn't? But most of the easy-answer books play fast and loose with the facts - and your health. The best book I've read on the subject is Maximising Energy by nutritionist Suzannah Olivier. She explains how the body gets energy and the role of slow-release carbs in achieving your maximum. She likens eating slow-release carbs to throwing logs on to a fire where they burn steadily, and fast-release junk food to paper that burns furiously before burning out. The quality of the fuel you put into your body determines how long lasting your energy is. People need carbs for energy, along with protein and fats - and carbs are the best source of it, many marathon runners will tell you. If you choose slow-release carbs, you'll need to eat less and keep trim. As they say, you are what you don't eat!