Rethinking Thin

Rethinking Thin

The New Science of Weight Loss--and the Myths and Realities of Dieting

Book - 2007
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"In this eye-opening book, New York Times science writer Gina Kolata shows that our society's obsession with dieting and weight loss is less about keeping trim and staying healthy than about money, power, trends, and impossible ideals." "Rethinking Thin is at once a story of the place of diets in American society and a critique of the weight loss industry. Kolata's account of four determined dieters' progress through a study comparing the Atkins diet to a low-calorie one becomes a broad tale of science and society, of social mores and social sanctions, and of politics and power."--BOOK JACKET.
Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780374103989
Branch Call Number: 613 .25 KOL
Characteristics: 257 p. ;,24 cm


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Mar 16, 2012

Every now and then I come across a book that reminds me of why I read non-fiction. A book that takes one of my many seemingly unshakable worldviews and flips it on its head. Rethinking Thin is one of those books.

I began Rethinking Thin expecting the material would argue against the endless chain of fad diets in favor of good ol' fashioned healthy eating and regular exercise. And the pear photo on the cover also suggests that we shouldn't expect to have movie star figures. The author does advocate these habits, but she also goes further and presents data on obesity that is so... unpopular. So... Darwinian.

For as long as I've had an interest in health and body weight I believed, with rare exceptions, that we are in control of our weight through what we eat and the amount of calories we burn. Energy in, energy out. Simple as that. Fatter people may have a more difficult time becoming healthy but ultimately it came down to personal willpower. Then along comes Rethinking Thin and says this: The evidence isn't 100% conclusive but science has shown for years that people realistically only have control of about 10%-20% of their body weight. The rest is determined by genetics and NOT environment. Stating this is pretty much a moral affront to our way of life. After all, we live in a culture of expected personal responsibility and choice. There are exceptions here, such as the meticulous dieters who maintain strict food schedules (and perpetual semi-starvation) for their whole lives. But for the rest of us, well, we're only human.

I feel like this is something we intuitively know to be true. I mean, how many people do you know who have drastically reduced their body weight AND permanently maintained it? The argument that first convinced me was how, even though my daily caloric intake may vary by the hundreds every day, my body weight remained fairly constant over a period of weeks and months. As the book puts it, our bodies are better at counting calories than we are.

Rethinking Thin also cautions against putting too much stock in the so-called obesity epidemic and argues that deaths related to being overweight might be statistically exaggerated. Are we heavier than 100 years ago? Yes, but we're also taller with better nutrition. Again, the evidence isn't fully conclusive because it's very difficult to separate other physiological causes of death from simply being fat. In my opinion, there are two main reasons why the information from this book isn't more widely known: (1) There's lots of money to be made in the business of convincing people that being fat is their own fault, and (2) the start of a diet is a hopeful time. There's little hope in knowing that some things will probably never change.

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