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June 2015

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Body Respect by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

So that was pretty good. A little more self help-y than I was expecting even with all that the title might imply.

Drs. Bacon and Aphramor are interested in making sure that we all are aware of the actual science around health as it relates to weight. Not the ridiculous idea that you can tell someone’s health by their weight, but the truth: that health is complex and certainly can’t be reduced to the number on the scale. Plenty of very thin people are extremely unhealthy, but most of society doesn’t care, because they look the way we expect (want?) people to look. And so we project that this visual must also be associated with what we deem to be good – e.g. health.

It’s sort of amazing what we expect from people, and this book is a great reminder of the absurdity involved. We have no comments or scolding of thin people who say ‘I can eat whatever I want and not get fat’ as they bite into a giant burger. Meanwhile, if a fat person eats literally exactly the same diet as the thin person, society judges them as unhealthy. It’s bullshit, and it’s super obnoxious. Personally, I think it relates heavily to the need of some people to feel like they are better than others, and this false idea of what equates with health is a great (and by great, I mean shitty) way to do it.

The book provides a whole lot of great evidence to debunk ideas that the diet industry is built on, such as the concept that calories in = calories out, and that everyone is going to process food the exact same way. Eat fewer calories, lose weight, and keep it off. But research shows that’s just not the case. One study that was especially vivid in showing this involved a bunch of sets of twins who all ate the exact same food. Within twins there was very little variation, but among sets of twins there were wildly different outcomes. So even though these same people were consuming the exact same number of calories and nutrition, some gained weight and some didn’t. And yet this seems SUPER difficult for society as a whole to grasp. People are different, and being fat doesn’t mean someone is unhealthy, or eating too much.

The book doesn’t, however, pretend that what one consumes doesn’t have any affect on one’s weight or health. Instead, the authors choose to focus on how food isn’t just the sum of its nutrients, and that being mindful about it is what will help us be healthiest. I especially appreciated this idea because it a) disparages the shit notion that any food is objectively ‘bad’ or ‘good’ based solely on its nutrition profile and b) recognizes that food actually serves a very valid cultural and social role. Eating a bunch of frozen Jenny Craig dinners might help you lose weight (for a few months before you can it back and then some), but it will also have you missing out on things like sharing some of a beloved family member’s dessert that was baked from a recipe passed down from generations. This idea that we should be automatons who just count calories and types of nutrients to get ‘healthy’ is silly, and it’s nice to see it called out as such.

I think this could be a great book for anyone to read, especially one who is tired of seeing the same shit on TV and online about how anyone can (and should) lose weight if they do x, without questioning WHY we expect these folks to lose weight. It’s not about their health (because we don’t care what thin people eat); it’s about having a group to judge and control. And about making money. And that needs to stop.

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