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Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss--and the Myths and Realities of Dieting Paperback – April 29, 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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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. --This text refers to the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.

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 --This text refers to the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (April 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312427859
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312427856
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #384,071 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Hardcover
I just read this book last week, and I am recommending it to everyone -- especially anyone who is interested in this question of thinness and body image (which, the last time I checked, is pretty much everyone).

The main point of this book -- which is very well-researched and scientifically-based -- is that people, contrary to the popular thinking in our society, are not fat because they are lazy or lack willpower. In fact, there is little evidence to support the common notion that people, through diet and exercise, can lose mass quantities of weight and KEEP it off. The best research shows that our overall size/weight (which is related to our hunger) is genetically and chemically determined. So basically, yes, oftentimes fatter people eat more (though not always), but their hunger is not something that can simply be overcome through "willpower" -- at least, not for a lifetime. It would be like resisting the urge to breathe -- that's how primal it is.

All this may seem very discouraging to the average person (who is bound to be discontent with their current weight, thanks to modern ideals), but Kolata poses the question we may have forgotten to ask: Who says we all have to be skinny anyway? When the research shows that the highest life expectancy belongs to the slightly "overweight" (extremes of thinness and obesity still are not as "healthy"), why do "health scientists" still insist that the majority of us need to be thinner, for our health?

The answer, of course, is that our society does not accept fatness. Kotala's anecdotes illustrate the pervasiveness of this belief.
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