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Rethinking Thin Hardcover – 17 Oct 2007
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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 -- perhaps not a particularly attractive trait, but also not one reflective of some kind of character flaw or moral failure.
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.