Linda Bacon, Ph.D includes 419 citations of research papers supporting her thesis that the quest for substantial weight loss is a futile one, promoted by people who have a financial interest in encouraging us to obsess about how much we eat and how fat we are.
Like Gina Kolata’s book Rethinking Thin, the first part of Health at Every Size focuses on the research. Bacon cites studies that show there is little evidence that being overweight is actually injurious to our health, and that no diet has proven more effective at helping people lose weight or keeping it off than any other. Her writing style is very conversational and accessible. In Part 2, Bacon does something that Kolata doesn’t. She says, OK, now that we know diets don’t work, now what? She goes on to propose that we all give up the quest for a smaller self. She says those who stop artificially restricting their diets and begin eating healthy whole foods when they’re hungry (rather than bored, tired, or angry), and who move their bodies in ways that are more fun than going to the gym, are healthier both emotionally and physically.
The idea is that since our bodies’ genetic programming is what largely determines our weight, we should start trusting it to do its job. When we take a more holistic approach our bodies will settle at the weight they’re supposed to be. That will likely be at a higher weight than is our cultural ideal, since that ideal is unnatural and air-brushed.
For the most part I think this is a very sensible approach, but to some extent, retraining oneself to adopt Bacon’s approach will require the same level of obsession as dieting. The difference is that Bacon acknowledges that changing your perspective won’t happen overnight, and eschews guilt. With her approach, there is no failure or shame — unless you’re ashamed of giving up the quest.
Bacon doesn’t spend much time discussing whether a modest weight loss (10 – 20 lbs.) can be maintained, but implies that the reader’s body may stabilize at a slightly lower weight because of adopting a healthier lifestyle. She adamantly states her book is not a diet book. Weight loss is not the point. Becoming healthy is.
I’m still digesting the implications of Kolata’s and Bacon’s books. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.) The most disturbing aspect of both is that much of the diet/weight/health information that is widely available is provided by people with a vested interest in the outcomes. Bacon says she takes no money for her research from commercial sources, so she doesn’t have to slant her results to please a sponsor. That’s good to know. But there’s a lot of conflicting information out there. Most of us don’t have the time to learn about scientific protocols or to research who the backers are of various studies. How can we know who, and what information, to trust?