Title: Body Of Truth: Change Your Life by Changing the Way You Think about Weight and Health
Author: Harriet Brown
Price: hardcover $19.25; kindle $13.09
Over the last 25 years, our longing for thinness has morphed into a relentless cultural obsession with weight and body image. You can’t be a woman or girl (or, increasingly, a man or boy) in America today and not grapple with the size and shape of your body, your daughter’s body, other women’s bodies. Even the most confident people have to find a way through a daily gauntlet of voices and images talking, admonishing, warning us about what size we should be, how much we should weigh, what we should eat and what we shouldn’t. Obsessing about weight has become a ritual and a refrain, punctuating our every relationship, including the ones with ourselves. It’s time to change the conversation around weight. Harriet Brown has explored the conundrums of weight and body image for more than a decade, as a science journalist, as a woman who has struggled with weight, as a mother, wife, and professor. In this book, she describes how biology, psychology, metabolism, media, and culture come together to shape our ongoing obsession with our bodies, and what we can learn from them to help us shift the way we think. Brown exposes some of the myths behind the rhetoric of obesity, gives historical and contemporary context for what it means to be “fat,” and offers readers ways to set aside the hysteria and think about weight and health in more nuanced and accurate ways.
“What if you were ok with your body the way it is right now?”
That’s what a therapist asked a sobbing Harriet Brown. Brown could hardly believe her ears. She was seeking treatment in the hope of discovering how to control her appetite and retain control of her body (and mind). Instead, she was asked to accept the body she had hated for so long.
As much as she would have liked to forget them, Brown couldn’t get those words out of her head. It took years, but eventually, Brown learned to shift her relationship with food and her body. All the while, though, she kept seeing people suffering for the same reason. There is not a woman in America, or the Western World for that matter, that hasn’t learned to hate her body.
We’re told that thin = healthy, and that we should do whatever it takes to lose the extra pounds. If we don’t, we are shamed and humiliated. We may live in a free world, but when it comes to weight, we are constantly policing one another, letting those overweight know they are doing something wrong, and praising those who lose weight.
Even when they do so because they are ill. Brown’s own daughter suffered from anorexia nervosa, and often received complements when she was perilously thin. But those comments started to quickly dry up as she thankfully recovered and gained back the precious weight she had lost.
It’s shocking, but that’s where a culture so entrenched in the fat-is-bad/thin-is-good dichotomy leads us. But is fat bad anyway? Surprisingly, scientific research doesn’t support this. In fact, “people considered ‘mildly obese’ had roughly the same risk of dying as those in the ‘normal’ category. Death rates went up for those on either end of the scale – underweight and severely obese – but not by much.”
So, if fat is not the problem, what is? Poverty. Inequality. Lack of access to fresh produce and parks. Stigma. We’re taught that shames encourages people to get off the couch, eat healthier and exercise, but that’s not true. Shame only increases stress, prevents people from exercising (have you noticed how fat people are often mocked when they do?) and prompts them to go through dangerous diet cycles.
We tend to consider diets as good, but are they? Hardly. For starters, they don’t work. Only 5% of people who lose their weight this way can keep it off for good, and “anecdotally, for those few who do it becomes the primary focus of their lives”. Everyone else gains more weight in the long run. Dieting changes our metabolism, teaching it how to operate with fewer calories, and may even be responsible for some of the health conditions associated with obesity.
But wait, if that is true, why so many doctors still blame fat for every disease, and think that being even slightly overweight is so bad? Well, a lot of doctors have ties with dieting companies that skew their judgements. Others see how much money is there to be made by performing dangerous bariatric surgeries. Others still have believed the myths for so long that they just can’t admit they are wrong anymore.
And that’s true for most of us too. You’d think that after spending so much money, effort, and time hating our bodies and trying everything we can think of to lose weight, finally learning that diets don’t work and that thin doesn’t equal healthy should be liberating. But if often makes us feel stupid, losers who have wasted years pursing the wrong goal. And so we prefer to believe that every study that doesn’t support what we already know (fat is always bad) must be wrong.
Brown explains all this, and a lot more, in her new book Body Of Truth: Change Your Life by Changing the Way You Think about Weight and Health. She debunks weight myths, explains why they are still believed and supported by many, reveals where the modern obsession with weight comes from, and suggests a new approach: we should stop focusing so much on fat and dieting, and instead come up with ways to encourage people to develop good habits, like exercise (a much better indicator of health than weight), that will improve both their health and their lives.
Body Of Truth is well-written and well-documented. Although all Brown’s claims are supported by science, she explains everything clearly. Far from boring, her style is engaging and her insights wise. She educates you with compassion, without preaching. An eye-opening read, I highly recommend Body of Truth to anyone who is struggling with weight and self esteem issues.
Available at: Amazon
An insightful and informative read, Body Of Truth debunks common myths about weight, explains why diets don’t work (and make things worse) and proposes a new approach to help us live healthier lives.