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Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss--and the Myths and Realities of Dieting [Hardcover]

Gina Kolata
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 1, 2007 0374103984 978-0374103989 1
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 an account of the place of diets in American society and a provocative critique of the weight-loss industry. Kolata’s account of four determined dieters’ progress through a study comparing the Atkins diet to a conventional low-calorie one becomes a broad tale of science and society, of social mores and social sanctions, and of politics and power.

Rethinking Thin asks whether words like willpower are really applicable when it comes to eating and body weight. It dramatizes what it feels like to spend a lifetime struggling with one’s weight and fantasizing about finally, at long last, getting thin. It tells the little-known story of the science of obesity and the history of diets and dieting—scientific and social phenomena that made some people rich and thin and left others fat and miserable. And it offers commonsense answers to questions about weight, eating habits, and obesity—giving us a better understanding of the weight that is right for our bodies.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. New York Times reporter Kolata may be the best writer around covering the science of health. Here she offers an eye-opening book that questions all our received wisdom about why we get fat and the health hazards of those extra pounds. In chapters equally entertaining and dismaying, Kolata (Flu) traces the history of dieting fads back to the 19th century; discusses our changing ideas about the ideal body (thinner and thinner); and, most importantly, explains how genetic and biochemical understanding has (at least among researchers) replaced the view of obesity as a lack of self-control. Most dramatic is Kolata's recounting of Jeff Friedman's groundbreaking search at Rockefeller University for the "satiety factor," a hormone he called leptin that tells our brains when we're full. The science alternates with moving chapters in which Kolata follows a group of people in a weight-loss study who are trying desperately to get thin—a quest that, as Kolata makes increasingly clear is sadly futile. In her final—and perhaps most surprising—chapter, Kolata blasts those in the obesity industry—such as Jenny Craig and academic obesity research centers—who are invested in promoting the idea that overweight is unhealthy and diet and exercise are effective despite a raft of evidence to the contrary. This book will change your thinking about weight, whether you struggle with it or not. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* When New York Times science writer Kolata took an unbiased look at society's war on fatness, she found that the spoils of the conflict fatten the pockets of a multibillion-dollar dieting industry, while most ever-hopeful yet hapless dieters lose only money. Why, then, do we still repeat a mantra--"eat less and exercise more"--that has failed dieters for 2,000 years? Why, in diet study after diet study, do chubby participants consistently fail to reach their target weights? And why do the majority of dieters end up regaining most of their hard-lost weight, or regaining and then exceeding it? Following up on participants in a two-year clinical weight-loss study comparing the overall efficacies of the Atkins diet and a highly regarded low-calorie, low-fat diet opened Kolata's eyes to the plight of millions who can't seem to measure down to today's weight ideals. The experience led her to examine the millennia-old history of humanity's battle against the bulge. She interviewed several credentialed authorities, and she cites sound scientific evidence that calls in question the productiveness of common weight-loss methods. Her report reveals well-documented intelligence certain to annoy those segments of society and commerce that stubbornly cling to the ignis fatuus that all one needs to be thin is willpower. Donna Chavez
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition (May 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374103984
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374103989
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #522,038 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
86 of 92 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Reading May 21, 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I actually found this book extremely good reading, and couldn't put it down! It's not that Kolata presents anything earth shatteringly new, but she does a great job of compiling a lot of fascinating information about studies and attitudes that most of us would probably never get a chance to read through our usual casual reading. Kolata has done a LOT of research here and it's a great read!

We have been led to believe that obesity is a relatively recent development in U.S. society, but this apparently is not the case. The stories of weight loss strategies and weight attitudes from even 100+ years ago are fascinating to read about. Discussion of our past attitudes about what is fat and what is a desirable weight shows that these attitudes have changed substantially through the years: for example, flappers of the 20's, who most of us vaguely recall to have been quite thin, would actually be considered overweight by today's extreme standards. The "Gibson Girl" ideal of the early 1900's would be considered absolutely obsese today.

Studies and experiments which have been done to figure out the "why" of overweight show that everything is still not well understood about weight gain, obesity, and weight loss. There are still more questions to be asked and not yet enough answers, and to complicate things each person is unique in physiology. Genetics is thought to play a strong role, and studies of twins and adopted children reveal the genetic component plays a strong role in your weight and how easily you can gain or lose excess weight.

Don't read this book expecting to find some new weight loss miracle. There are no real solutions in this book, but rather, it can give you a more realistic and educated understanding of what you are up against in the weight loss wars.
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154 of 192 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Disappointment May 18, 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The book has been a tremendous disappointment to me.

I read an article by Kolata in the New York Times a few days ago that was based on this book. I thought that the article was excellent, stressing the heritability component in obesity, and pointing to the failures of weight-control diets. I rushed to get the book, fully expecting fuller, more satisfactory explanations -- a truly book-length treatment of this important subject.

But the book here is actually no more than an article that has been heavily padded with cutesy anecdotes so as to achieve the physical corpulence of a book.

There are interesting (but not original) descriptions of diet fads throughout the ages. There are interesting (but depressingly familiar) accounts of failures of diets. There is an interesting account of animal studies on obesity. There are interesting accounts of twin studies that point to high heritability of obesity. And then there is endless prose that over-interprets all this: to wit, obesity is inherited, nothing can be done about it.

There is also an instance of gross malpractice of journalism. In the introduction, Kolata tells us that her book is the story of a high-science, two year long, carefully planned study of diets: Atkins versus LEARN. In chapter after boring chapter she gives us personality sketches of some of the participants and trivia about the progress of the study over the two year period. Then, at the end, while we wait for her to tell us the outcome, she tells us that, well, no, she can't say. The scientists haven't had the time to write up the results. Come on, Ms. K.
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye opening for people of all sizes June 9, 2007
Earlier this evening I finished Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata. Kolata presents a history of dieting in America from about the 1800's to present while interspersing the comments of several participants in a recent study comparing Atkins to a program called LEARN (basically the type of calorie counting, measure everything diet your doctor would give you). There is something sad about the book in some ways, because dieting is ultimately a series of false hopes. Interesting, this is something I have been thinking is true but then the next diet comes on the market and if you aren't "thin" you feel you have to try it. This time it will be different. This time it will work. What is that quote that they attribute to Einstein?: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

While overall the book makes me feel a bit sad because there is no magic solution it also gives me a little sense of peace. I know I am a very successful person in pretty much every area of my life, except for weight loss, and I'm not the only one.

I won't give away everything in the book, but it is definitely worth a read for the "overweight" and the "normal size." Maybe especially for the thin people to see how tough it really is to have gained wait, how frustrating and defeated you can feel. Also, the book is very well written. Kolata has an easy straightforward style that balances presenting factual/scientific details w/ anectodal information so that her reporting does not become just boring and didactic.

Very much enjoyed :)
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, Well Researched Book
I really enjoyed reading Gina Kolata's study on dieting. She really did her homework! Another point that I valued in this book was that it lacked sensationalism. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Patricia M.
5.0 out of 5 stars MUST READ for anyone who has spent a life on a yo-yo dieting spiral
A well researched and insightful book on obesity from every angle. This book has made me think about this topic in ways I've never imagined.
Published 4 months ago by Electra A. Govoni
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed the book...
I enjoyed the book how it structured the information about the study along with myths we have heard along the way about dieting. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Natalie
5.0 out of 5 stars Dieting Realities
Having been on multiple diets most of my life, yet progressively gaining weight over decades, I was intrigued by the title of this book, "Rethinking Thin". Read more
Published 8 months ago by NHBunion
5.0 out of 5 stars A smart book with solid factual info
A must read for anyone trying to get solid facts on diet and health. This book cuts through all the nonsense of dieting and shows clearly that the diet industry is about money and... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Sue R. Chenoweth
4.0 out of 5 stars Everyone should read this
If you have ever dieted and gained the weight back, if everyone in yor family is overweight and you want to be the exception, if you think you have failed at life because you're... Read more
Published 13 months ago by grapecranberry
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-researched, well-written and an important point of view
If nothing else, this book makes you stop and examine your pre-conceived notions about the "obesity epidemic" and demonstrates that the science of weight loss is not as... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Nick Trojan
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye opening
Not what I wanted to hear, but still glad I read the book. It made me think of when African Americans struggled to pass as white because they lived in a society that didn't value... Read more
Published 14 months ago by brityank
2.0 out of 5 stars She never answered her promised question?
So I really wanted to know what she promised to answer. Is the LEARN diet or a low carbohydrate Atkins diet more effective? She never does. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Brenda Higdon and Rowan Williams
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tremendously Important Reality Check
Gina Kolata, science reporter for the New York Times, has the unusual journalistic integrity to state something that no one wants to hear: that it is almost impossible for most fat... Read more
Published 19 months ago by RealityWizard
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