Food journalist Barry Estabrook talks with diet gurus and sifts through dieting history and the latest nutrition studies. He discovers that unfortunately, these diets don’t really work in the long term for most people because they are too strict or require unnatural patterns of eating.

About 45 million Americans go on a diet every year, and we spend about $33 billion on weight-loss products, trying to find a magic way to slim down. But the diet landscape is confusing and the science is contradictory. How do you know which diet works?

Investigative food journalist Barry Estabrook is best known for his 2011 award-winning book, Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, and other deep dives into the way our food system works. But when confronted with obesity and maxed out on blood pressure and cholesterol medications, he decided to turn the lens on himself.

In his new book, Just Eat: One Reporter’s Quest for a Weight-Loss Regimen That Works, he documents his sometimes funny but very real failures at today’s popular diets. Estabrook talks with diet gurus and sifts through dieting history and the latest nutrition studies. He discovers that unfortunately, these diets don’t really work in the long term for most people because they are too strict or require unnatural patterns of eating.

Estabrook talked with NPR about how he sorted through the noise and found his own path to better health.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why did you decide to go on this particular diet journey?

Well, my doctor read me the riot act. He said that I have high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels and he couldn’t prescribe more meds. He suggested that if I wanted to improve, I should lose some weight. So I did exactly the wrong thing. I jumped on the diet du jour, which was Whole30 at the time (a 30-day diet that eliminates most grains, sugar, legumes, dairy and processed food). It seemed like everybody I knew was on Whole30. And as might be predicted, I lost 13 pounds over the course of a month and then immediately regained all of them.

I then decided I’m doing exactly what I tell people not to do. I say you should learn everything you can about how your food is produced, what it’s doing to you. And I’ve gone on the Whole30. I gave it no more thought than I do when I buy a bag of yellow onions at the store.

So after I failed at the Whole30 diet, I decided to learn as much as I could about the dieting phenomena and various diets, hoping to find an eating regimen that would actually work for me.