Perspectives Online

Divide and conquer: Book spells out formula for dieting success

CALS alumnus Dr. Frank Bottone, a science and medical writer, as well as a licensed dietician, spells out a formula for weight loss in his new book The Diet Denominator: Fill Your Tank for Less.

Photo by Marc Hall

Dr. Frank G. Bottone Jr. calls it the “diet denominator.” It’s a simple formula he came up with to help dieters lose weight: Divide the number of calories in a food item by the number of grams, and then try sticking to items with an answer that’s less than 3.

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences alumnus spells out the formula, and why it works, in his new book, The Diet Denominator: Fill Your Tank for Less ( The book was published by his medical writing and publishing company, Scriptorium Medica Medical Writing Inc.

In developing the book, Bottone analyzed the energy density of thousands of food items.
Photo by Marc Hall
Bottone -- a science and medical writer, as well as a licensed dietitian -- based his book on the concept of volumetrics, developed by Penn State researcher Barbara Rolls. Volumetric plans call for dieters to choose food that’s energy lean – in other words, low in calories compared to the volume – because “the volume of food eaten is one of the key triggers for satiety, which is the feeling of fullness,” Bottone says.

Key factors in determining energy density are the water and fat content. Energy lean foods have a lower fat content or higher water content than energy dense foods. Fiber is also an important contributor.

“The biggest problem with dieting is the hunger factor,” he explains. “By eating [foods that are] less energy-dense, you can actually eat a greater volume of food and not consume as many calories – and so you will lose weight over time if you choose foods that are energy lean.”

 Also important, he adds, is the fact that “foods that are energy lean are nutrient dense. And foods that are high energy density – high fat -- are nutrient poor, so they are lacking vitamins and minerals and other items we need for our bodies.”

Bottone's book shows dieters how to select foods that are "energy lean," meaning low in calories as compared to the food's volume.
Photo by Marc Hall
In developing the book, Bottone analyzed the energy density of thousands of food items, finding that most home-cooked meals came in at about 2.5 on a 0-to-9 energy density scale – with 0 being water and 9 being fat. Fast-food meals, on the other hand, sometimes are as high as 5 or 6.

He doesn’t suggest that readers give up fast food but rather that they select less energy-dense items from the menus – say a grilled chicken sandwich instead of fried chicken or a baked potato versus French fries. And he offers the diet denominator of 3 with a caveat, noting that dieters can choose a lower or higher number depending on their weight-loss goals and earlier eating habits. Over time, the reader will begin to recognize energy dense versus energy lean foods, thereby learning how to select the best foods on their own, Bottone says.

One of Bottone’s personal goals for this project was to provide the American public with a diet book that was research-based and yet easy-to-understand and apply to everyday life. He provides a chart that makes the division easy, and he provides lists of food items and their diet denominators. The lists range from raw celery (0.2) to KFC’s chicken pot pie (1.8) to corn oil (8.9).

Bottone came up with the diet denominator idea when he was a Ph.D. student in CALS’ multidisciplinary nutrition program. In an energy metabolism class, his professor introduced him to the concept of energy density and its importance in animal agriculture.

While working toward his Ph.D in nutrition, Bottone conducted cancer-related research that complemented his work as a scientist for the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences in the Research Triangle Park. His award-winning dissertation focused on gene expression caused by dietary and pharmaceutical compounds believed to help prevent cancer.

The Diet Denominator is Bottone’s second book. His first was a children’s science experiment book, The Science of Life: Projects and Principles for Beginning Biologists, which was named to Smithsonian Magazine’s Notable Books for Children in 2001.He’s also written for popular national magazines such as Muscle & Fitness and Men’s Health.

Looking ahead, Bottone hopes to continue to use his knack for mining data and explaining complex science simply in his new job as a senior publications medical writer with Ingenix, a division of the United Health Group, the largest health insurance provider in the United States.

 “I enjoy being able to explain science simply,” he says, “and writing is something I definitely want to keep doing.”

-- Dee  Shore