The 20 Must-Read Fitness, Health, and Happiness Books of 2014

We found these titles released in the last year inspirational, profound, informative, and straight-up fun!
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Book nerds, unite! We admit that while we love surfing the net and audibly groan whenever the WiFi goes down, our joy in curling up with a great book is unparalleled. And the transformative power of a good read—whether it’s the inspiring tale of a fitness underdog, the latest science on meditation, or a cookbook so luscious you want to lick the pages—can be a touchstone you turn to again and again.

With that in mind, we’ve rounded up our favorite reads on the subjects of fitness, health, and happiness—our favorite things! So whether you’re looking for a good book for your next flight or just a couple fun items to add to your Amazon wish list, we have you covered. Below are the titles released in the last year that we found inspirational, profound, informative, and straight-up fun.

Nutrition and Health

The Fit Bottomed Girl's Anti-Diet

The Fit Bottomed Girl's Anti-Diet

Newbies, listen up. The FBG’s Anti-Diet is your new manifesto: a happy-go-lucky guide to finding the joy in getting fit and eating healthy without any of the negativity that surrounds diets. (Boo to all that noise!) Jennipher Walters and Erin Whitehead do a great job of shaking the pom-poms for healthy living while reminding you that in no way should it be a endless parade of sad salads or gym obligations. This can be a chance to reconnect with your inner playground kid or mindfully eat dark chocolate. And don't be fooled by the title; there may be a certain female perspective at play here, but the advice is universal, so fellas, just consider yourself an honorary FBG to reap the same benefits.

The Body Book

The Body Book

Celebrity-backed health and fitness books have a bad rep for being full of pseudo-science and fluff about getting red-carpet ready. (Living off concoctions of lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper? Welcome to La-La Land.) Thankfully, Cameron Diaz isn’t content following the Hollywood herd on this. Instead, she’s become a student of nutrition and devoted herself to understanding what’s truly going on biologically when making nutrition or fitness choices. The result is this refreshingly informed look at physical wellbeing. In case it isn’t clear, this book doesn’t document Diaz’s diet or show you exercises that will give you Charlie’s Angel-esque thighs. What it offers is much better: a user’s manual on the ultimate care and maintenance for your body.

The Big Fat Surprise

The Big Fat Surprise

Every year there’s one book that sparks off a national nutritional debate, and this year, The Big Fat Surprise is poised to be that book. In it, author Nina Teicholz seeks to redeem saturated fats, especially the fats in animal products like meat, eggs, and dairy. Her investigation travels back through the fraught history of America’s nutrition science and the powerful personalities that shaped the USDA guidelines. Teicholz’s detective work goes deep, unearthing various studies that never received close scrutiny and picking apart the findings via the footnotes and parenthetical comments. But even more interesting is learning about the products that arose to fill the void that saturated fats left behind: vegetable oils (like Crisco), carbohydrates, and boatloads of sugar. The result has been called “The Snackwell’s-ification of American food.” Regardless of your opinion on animal fats, Teicholz’s examination reopens the debate, and we’re hoping the discussion will continue. 

Foodist

Foodist

Refuges of diet culture, this book is your safe harbor and a way to lose weight rationally. Author Darya Rose talks about weight loss and health goals in a cool-headed and scientifically backed way. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach demonizing one category of food or promising that one superfood unlocks washboard abs, Rose focuses on healthstyle. If that sounds like a made-up term, it is. Rose coined it to refer to a set of behaviors and actions that make up your everyday interactions with food, exercise, and the treatment of your body. Unlike diets that have an endpoint and a certain philosophy, healthstyle “is a reflection of your cumulative habits… [it’s not] a momentary state of being.” The approach is flexible and forgiving. (Rose repeatedly advocates for worthwhile treats that make life fun.) Focusing on healthstyle is what gives you lasting change and, perhaps more importantly, peace with the ongoing scale strugglefest

Psychology and Self Help

Hardwiring Happiness

Hardwiring Happiness

As the old song goes, the key to happiness is "to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative." You know this, so why in the hell is it always so much easier to laser-in on the bad stuff? In this book, author Rick Hanson explains we're neurologically programmed that way: “The brain is like Velcro for bad experiences but Teflon for good ones.” He documents all the ways the brain is wired to absorb negativity and deflect positive moments as a survival mechanism. Does that mean we’re doomed to be a bunch of Debbie Downers? Not at all. Using a meditation-based approach, Hanson shows how we can train ourselves to escape our neurology so you’ll be singin’ in the rain versus slogging through it.

Dataclysm

Dataclysm

Looking into the big data of online dating can make the quest to find the one seem like nothing more than a numbers game. With the publishing of Dataclysm, Christian Rudder, one of the co-founders of OKCupid, cements himself as the Nate Silver of the dating world. This book is filled with graphs and lengthy explanations of almost any idiosyncrasy of dating you can imagine—an interest in scary movies is more likely to predict compatibility than shared religion or political views.  You won’t walk away from this book with the clear path to find the one—that’s still as elusive as ever—but there are plenty of small takeaways for how to make yourself statistically more attractive to suitors. For starters, take your photo in natural light. Photos taken with a flash make most users look older than they are. 

Creativity, Inc.

Creativity, Inc.

What’s a business book doing on this list? Well considering we spend a giant portion of our life at the office, having a positive work environment is a huge factor in our happiness. Creativity, Inc., written by one of the Pixar co-founders, Ed Catmull, is a thoughtful, honest, and insightful account of how Pixar came to dominate the animation world. But it also functions as a how-to guide to build the ultimate creative culture at work. Catmull recalls Pixar’s history from the early days of creating new technology and managing his first team in 1974 to the sale of Pixar to Disney in 2006. Along the way, you learn about "Braintrust" sessions, postmortems, and meetings where some of the best animation films were created. The teamwork and goal-setting lessons contained in this book are majorly motivating. In short, it’s the kind of book that gets passed around from coworker to coworker. 

The Marshmallow Test

The Marshmallow Test

Picture your favorite treat. Maybe it’s a marshmallow, but it could also be chocolate layer cake or a wedge of pumpkin pie. You’re alone in a room. It’s just you and gooey temptation. Do you see it in detail? Are you squirming yet? Could you stare down your treat knowing you’d get double the reward later? Or would you cave? That’s precisely the study that psychologist Walter Mischel gave to a group of children. Amazingly, being able to calm our inner snackmonster can predict so much about the rest of our lives like our SAT scores, retirement accounts, and weight. Mischel unpacks the significance of this test and shows us how to swerve away from “hot” impulsive actions and toward a “cool” reaction so we can all get our just “desserts.”

Real Happiness at Work

Real Happiness at Work

Why is it that no matter how centered you start the day, it can all unravel at work? Looming deadlines, harsh coworkers, unrealistic bosses, an overflowing inbox—is your heartbeat already jacked? Aside from ruining your day, there’s plenty of evidence that office stressors can curb your health. Author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg sees the damage of trying to keep your peace of mind under the throbbing pace of the workaday world. Salzberg introduces basic meditation instructions as well as “stealth” meditations that you can sneak into your office life. Think of this book as deskercise for your central nervous system.

Fitness and Yoga

Off Course

Off Course

Electric shock. Ice water plunges. Oil-slicked half pikes. How did these American Ninja-style obstacles become a part of our fitness landscape? In Off Course, Erin Beresini charts the rise of OCR (obstacle course racing) and the adventurous, ragtag bunch of endurance athletes it attracts. But this isn’t an account from a cushy spot on the sidelines. Beresini dives into these courses, relishing every physical shock and hysterically hard booby trap in her path to the finish line. Her story of triumph from running burnout to OCR junkie is the stuff of feel-good sports movies.

The 21-Day Yoga Body

The 21-Day Yoga Body

Author and yogi Sadie Nardini has sass for days. Or more accurately, sass for 21 days. Just witness the way she describes her practice: "What does it feel like to live in a yoga body? Like a boring ol' monk who just took a vow of silence and has nothing even resembling fun. Kidding!" And that hand-on-hip attitude is precisely what makes this book such a joy. In it, Nardini outlines 21 days of yoga practice along with various nutritional plans to fuel up your poses. But she also admits to losing her cool in noisy cafes, overdoing it on wine, and Instagraming her steak dinner (#foodporn), and what comes across is her total humanity. Which is important, because if you're going to launch into a yoga practice, you want someone that's funny, compassionate, and, above all, human cheering you on. 

Faster, Higher, Stronger

Faster, Higher, Stronger

Seems few people can go too long without checking their fitness tracker to see how many times they woke up in the night and how that affects their workout or how many glasses of water they've had so far today. Author Mark McClusky is in this camp too, but he doesn’t just want to mine his own data, he wants to see how it’s done for elite professional athletes. And while talk of ACE sports genes and or LHTH running can get a little dense here, the crossroads of science and sports McClusky documents is compelling and shows a wild range of variables that impact performance. Does beet juice make you run faster? Can napping unlock better jump shots? These are the types of questions pondered by sports science. And the teams of scientists pursuing these answers have now become the entourage for super-athletes. (HBO spinoff?)

Body by Simone

Body by Simone

Blame Black Swan. It seems like barre classes and dance cardio are here to stay. (Leotards optional.) Simone de la Rue is one of the front-runners in this trend, and her book runs down all the cancan and around-the-world moves. To take the fantasy a step further, fitness levels are divided between corps de ballet (beginner), soloist (mid-level), and principal (advanced). Workouts at every level are split between cardio and strength training, the later using barre-type moves like swan arms. (We told you!) Still, one of the most refreshing things about this book is that despite its advice aiming to tighten, tone, and drop weight, de la Rue is ultimately about loving—and shaking—what you got. To that end, every workout includes “mirror minutes” where you simply look at yourself and recite things you love about yourself and your body. Oddly, “my body’s too bootylicious for you, baby” isn’t on the list of recommended phrases.

Make Your Own Rules Diet

Make Your Own Rules Diet

What’s a diet book doing among our fitness titles? Well, this books defies categorization: It’s part yoga instructional, part meditation manifesto, part cookbook, part lifestyle workbook—there’s a lot of moving parts. But what’s clear is the attitude and approach all stems from yoga. It’s the calming force of yoga and meditation that lead author Tara Stiles out of a dark moment of sexual assault and disordered eating into a place where she could trust her body again. In terms of fitness, Stiles makes a compelling case against chasing calorie burn using fitness trackers, saying the focus “is sadly missing all the benefits of feeling.” Likewise she advocates for breaking up with your scale and establishing your own dietary rules by tuning into your body. Stiles offers her own rules as an example, but she’s refreshingly flexible when it comes to food with family: “When food is made with love, it has a whole other set of healing properties you just can’t get even in the most perfect organic broccoli stem on the planet.”

Cookbooks

Thug Kitchen

Thug Kitchen

Everyone’s favorite foul-mouthed vegan blogger is out with a cookbook that’s got all the swagger of the O.G. blog posts. The website was born from a disassociation with “beautiful bloggers in their big-ass kitchens waxing poetic about fennel pollen,” and likewise this book is never precious about artisanal ingredients. It also doesn’t show glossy, perfectly styled acai bowls framed in a single sunbeam. Instead you’ll get a full roster of chow-down eats, like beer and lime cauliflower tacos, pumpkin chili, and lentil burgers. Recipes are styled around luchador masks, Chihuahuas in chains, and graffiti-styled headings. (We’d expect nothing less.) And there’s plenty of rough-and-raw knowledge on how to stock your kitchen and why eating plant-based is the best.

The Kitchn Cookbook

The Kitchn Cookbook

Certain cookbooks hit niche categories: 30 Days of Rice Pudding! Grilled Cheeses of the World! Even if you’re a superfan of said food stuff, those books usually don’t get much use beyond coffee table objet. Then there’s the other category of cookbook: the all-around workhorse. When it’s a good one, it gets dog-eared to death. The splattered pages become a point of pride. The Kitchn Cookbook is in that latter category. We’re not surprised, considering the source. Like the website, it shows recipes like herb-brined pork chops or everyday granola clearly and simply. But beyond this easy deliciousness, what sets this book apart is the kitchen profiles: homey walkthroughs of various kitchen setups. The effect is like pulling a chair up to the hearth as you watch a friend rummage through the spice rack mid-chat. And it serves as a reminder—cooking isn’t just about what goes on the plate; it’s about how you live in your home. And that’s major motivation to preheat the oven.  

Choosing Raw

Choosing Raw

Eating vegan—let alone raw—may seem difficult, time-consuming, expensive, and, well, like lots of salad. Gena Hamshaw disproves all of that in her cookbook, encouraging readers to “embrace the tremendous versatility of vegetables” rather than take an all-or-nothing approach to eating. The 125 recipes cover a range from the basics (zucchini pasta, chia seed pudding) to easy dinners (raw carrot falafel with tangy tahini sauce, raw lasagna) to amazing desserts (blueberry cheesecake, raw peach cobbler) and of course smoothies. Gena also breaks down what exactly a raw food diet is; the health benefits of plant-based, whole-food diets; and the best way to ease into eating more raw, all without getting science-y or preachy. Whether you’re not sure what nutritional yeast is (in a word: yummy), if you need a dehydrator (nope), or if soy is the devil (it’s complicated, but no), she’ll help you incorporate more plants into your meals, experiment more in the kitchen, and eat some damn good meals.

The Art of Eating Well

The Art of Eating Well

Go ahead and be shallow. Judging this book by its cheerful yellow cover—its brownie and pancake pile up and the two cooks smiling out from the front—turns out to be pretty good indicators of what’s inside. Brit sisters Melissa and Jasmine Hemsley formed a “food consulting” service for A-list celebrities and in the process developed a roster of recipes using whole foods without gluten or refined sugar. What’s left on the table? Plenty. Lamb meatballs, cauliflower mash, and muffin frittatas keep things cozy, and a generous salad section with kale Caesar salad and summer lime coleslaw bring on the antioxidant party. Recipes like shepherd’s pie and sticky toffee pudding point to the authors' U.K. origin. And a lengthy section on baked goods and desserts prove there’s no reason that going gluten-free has to mean you’ve entered a treat-free zone. 

The Forest Feast

The Forest Feast

If you need proof that Pinterest-worthy meals can be easy and delicious, look no further than The Forest Feast. When author Erin Gleeson, a New York-based food photographer, moved with her husband to the woods of northern California, she joined the local CSA and started dreaming up these colorful and delectable dishes. The book includes more than 100 vegetarian recipes, most with four or fewer ingredients. Our personal faves—the watermelon mozzarella salad and the zucchini quiche—are clever twists on tried-and-true classics. Each recipe gets a stunning two-page spread with beautiful photographs and watercolor embellishments, which means it doubles as a great coffee table book. And it’s just too pretty to keep on the shelf.

The VB6 Cookbook

The VB6 Cookbook

Part-time vegan Mark Bittman made the case for going veg during the daylight hours and allowing anything after 6 p.m. His flexitarian lifestyle, documented in VB6, helped him drop pounds and reversed his pre-diabetes and high blood pressure. VB6 was on last year’s list, and although it included several winning recipes, we couldn’t help but grumble at the lack of photos. (A picture is worth a thousand “noms.”) Thankfully, Bittman came out with a second book loaded up with lush images. Recipes like eggplant “meatballs” and walnut banana bread are clear classics that both show and tell just how enticing it can be to eat vegan. And true to the name, the recipes continue past his plant-based hours into the p.m., so jerk chicken burgers and crispy pork recipes prove nothing is truly off limits.

Written by Maria Hart, Jeff Cattel, Brittany Risher, and Amanda Delaney

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