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Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss--and the Myths and Realities of Dieting Paperback – April 29, 2008
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“Kolata lays out the case against the nation's multibillion-dollar weight-loss industry with compelling clarity.” ―The New York Sun
“An incisive, thought-provoking examination of a subject that concerns us all. This book will educate and illuminate those seeking solid information about the struggle to lose weight.” ―Jerome Groopman, M.D., author of How Doctors Think
“[Kolata] questions the current chest-beating in this sobering examination of why diets fail.” ―People (four stars, critic's choice)
“[Kolata] punctuates her eight chapters with the voices of a cluster of dieters, [and] their stories add human consequence to the universal findings.” ―The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
“A first-rate author . . . Readers who care about the searing obesity debate will want to read this book.” ―Houston Chronicle
“[Kolata's] 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.” ―Booklist
“This book will make you think differently about obesity and perhaps make the obese think more realistically about themselves.” ―The Arizona Republic
About the Author
Gina Kolata is a senior writer who covers medicine for The New York Times, and the author of five previous books, including Ultimate Fitness and the national bestseller Flu. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
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However, I have to say that Rethinking Thin truly DID make me rethink my assumptions about overweight people. To come clean, I am a thin person from a thin family who always felt that one's weight was a matter of self-control, and I absorbed society's prejudices that fat people were somehow lazy and undisciplined. After reading Rethinking Thin, my attitude has completely changed. I now look at overweight people with compassion and understanding, as victims of the incompatibility of their genetically-determined biochemistry and society's narrow concepts of beauty. I now regard obesity the same way as I do baldness -- it's simply bad luck -- a genetic short straw that is in no way reflective of some kind of character flaw.
Kolata's book begins with a survey of the long history of dieting (not a recent phenomenon) and a history of evolution of the ideal body image. She then describes numerous studies involving identical twins and adoptees which demonstrate the inconvenient truth that body weight is an inherited trait and not a function of environment. She cites an interesting study where thin people where overfed to become fat (very hard to do, it turns out) and obese people were slimmed down to the same size, and the subjects were compared metabolically. I found these chapters fascinating.
The second half of the book gets rather technical, with detailed chapters about biochemistry and the search for an appetite-suppressing hormone. (I found this interesting but glazed over a few times, I admit...) The book closes with a chapter called Fat Wars, where Kolata discusses the politics of the "obesity epidemic" and why legitimate studies which make clear that body weight is a function of genetics are ignored by the weight-loss establishment.
Interspersed between all these chapters are personal stories of a group of individual dieters enrolled in a University of Pennsylvania diet study, and their repeated and futile attempts at significant sustained weight loss. These people are sympathetic and articulate and provide a human counterpart to all the scientific content in the book.
I don't know how someone hoping to lose weight would react to this book. Perhaps it would be a depressing read, as it becomes clear that the only way a significantly overweight person can maintain a "normal" weight is to live the rest of his/her life in a state of semi-starvation with no relief, EVER. However, it might be a liberating read as well, as it finally absolves the overweight from the guilt that it's really all their fault, and that everyone can be thin if they really try hard enough.