Book Review: Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon

Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your WeightThere are a couple of things I really like about Linda Bacon. First of all, her name is Bacon. Somehow that is just cool. Secondly, she doesn't just think outside the box. She questions the entire box and all its assorted contents. In her book, Health at Every Size, Bacon turns current theories on obesity, health and weight loss upside down (or should I say right side up?).

It's the kind of book that gets folks in tizzy. People don't like it when their basic assumptions are questioned. But I say it's good for the soul. That's why I write posts like There is No Obesity Epidemic and Does Obesity Really Kill?. It's not because I like to stir up trouble. It's because we have to question our ideas from time to time. Otherwise ideas become dogma. And that's never a good thing.

So I guess Linda Bacon likes to question ideas and assumptions, too. In fact, that's exactly what Health at Every Size is all about. One of the key points Bacon makes in her book is that weight does not determine our health in the way most of us believe. She argues that focusing on weight may actually be drawing attention to the wrong issue:

"Body weight might be a marker for an imprudent lifestyle in some people, but its role in determining health, particularly when compared to regular activity, is grossly exaggerated."

She goes on to say:

"It is well established that the relationship between activity and longevity is stronger than the relationship between weight and longevity."

It's simple: being sedentary is more harmful to your health than being overweight. (And remember that movement trumps exercise as well.)

Bacon also reminds us that weight is a multi-faceted issue not soley based on our current diet and exercise regimen. In fact, your weight may be influenced by how your mom ate while you were still in utero:

"You are not only what you eat, you may also be what your mother ate. Several studies find that if your mother dieted during her pregnancy, you're more likely to be heavier as an adult."

Makes me glad I didn't fall prey to worrying about my weight during pregnancy (though I dieted like a madwoman while nursing--I wonder if that has a similar effect?).

Diets Simply Don't Work

One concept that Bacon tears to pieces in Health at Every Size is the idea that we can diet all of our weight problems into oblivion. She points out that the facts simply don't point that way:

"It may be hard to believe that there just isn't any scientific evidence to support any theory of how to lose weight and keep it off. No matter how many times or how authoritatively the message is repeated that diet, exercise and discipline can get you what you want, it doesn't change the fact that it has not proven true for any but a tiny minority of people."

Stop. Go back. Read that again.

Hope it sunk in that time.

"Losing weight is not about finding the perfect proportions of carbohydrates, protein and fat or tricking yourself into feeling satisfied. Rather, maintaining the right weight for you is about respecting your hunger and trusting your body to guide you in doing what's best."

Skip the Section on Nutrition

To be honest, I can't call Bacon's nutrition advice (found in chapter 11, Change Your Tastes) terrible. Overall, she disagrees with bashing food groups and macronutrients. I can appreciate that.

But at the same time her recommendations lean too much toward the same old USDA food pyramid baloney you hear everywhere else. Don't get me wrong: Bacon includes some decent information about how certain foods create biochemical responses in the body and offers general recommendations that can be helpful. It just smacks of conventional diet advice a little too much for my taste.

My suggestion? Read the chapter and take it with a grain of salt. Or skip it altogether and just dig in to the juicier parts of the book.

Why So Many Weight Myths? Follow the Money...

So why are we barraged with these myths about weight and health? Well, according to Bacon, some of it is simply misinterpreted science... and some may be the result of far more sinister motives:

"Fearmongering about weight is worth billions to the health care system, government agencies, scientists and the media. And it ties in seamlessly with cultural values. The result is that weight myths have become unquestioned assumptions, so strongly a part of our cultural landscape that we regard them as self-evident."

Question Your Assumptions About Weight and Dieting

It's not the facts that get us into trouble: it's the "unquestioned assumptions" that do us in. We have to be willing to question our current theories on health and wellness if we want to move forward. The answers aren't half as important as being willing to look for them in the first place.

I'll sum this review up with one more quote from Health at Every Size:

"The only way to solve the weight problem is to stop making weight a problem--to stop judging ourselves and others by our size. Weight is not an effective measure of attractiveness, moral character or health. The real enemy is weight stigma, for it is the stigmatization and fear of fat that causes the damage and deflects attention from the true threats to our health and well-being."

Question about the book? Have some thoughts on all of this? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

Buy Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon here.

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