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Bacon is good for you!

April 6, 2012

Health at Every Size‘ is a book on the back of which it says that “fat isn’t the problem.  Dieting is the problem” and it’s written by someone whose surname is Bacon.  I’d like to get this point made and any jokes anyone reading this may wish to make preempted and over and done with before we start.  Things would not have been oh so different if only the author’s surname had been Celery.

I waited a while for Amazon to mail me this book, hence the delay in me reviewing it here.  During my wait I was aware of some preconceptions I had about it, before I’d read even a single word.  When I did read it, it surprised me – published a year earlier than ‘The End of  Overeating‘ (which I talk about here)  it covers much of the same ground but also contains helpful information similar to stuff I’ve read in other books about eating and health that I’ve reviewed.  Read the book and follow the ideas within and yeah, I reckon many people who were off track with their eating could find things to help them get motivated and healthier.  If this wasn’t what I was expecting then what was I expecting?

It was a long time ago that I read another book, ‘The Obesity Myth‘, – too long ago to rely on my memories to provide an accurate review but I do recall the message in there that fat did not necessarily equate with being unhealthy and that being underweight was more dangerous.  Depending on the numbers, I agree!  If I was 10 kilos underweight (according to BMI chart thingies) then I’d weigh 36.8 kilos (or 5stone 11 or 81.1 pounds, whichever is your preferred currency) ; that feels kind of like a weight we expect children, not adults, to weigh.  However at 10 kilos overweight I’d weigh 73 kilos (or 11stone 7 or 160.9 pounds), which is pretty close to what I weigh right now and *checks mirror* I look like I’m going to carry on being alive.  If I had to choose, for the good of my health, to be either 10 kilos underweight or 10 kilos over it then, for me personally, I’d stick where I am.

I was expecting a similar message in HAES and perhaps a load of fat-positive cartoons such as I saw in the feminist magazines and articles I decided were necessary reading as I was growing up (we didn’t have the internet, you youngsters don’t know how good you have it, darn kids get off my lawn etc).  It’s a bit about that sort of thing but alongside the ‘At Every Size’ bit, which is the bit I don’t have much argument with, it says a lot about the ‘Health’ – that being where I think my problem might be and it has some good ideas and info.

My own confusion between believing that fat discrimination is wrong – that people do just come in different shapes and sizes, and also hearing the message that being overweight puts people at risk of heart disease and diabetes, cancer and strokes got addressed in this book.  It’s not being overweight that’s necessarily the problem, a lack of eating healthy stuff and being inactive are the real danger signals in a load of cases.

I read some things also that I’ve heard other places.  Drastically cutting calories to lose weight sends your body into starvation mode and you gain the weight back when you start eating normally again.  Processed food is bad for you and the food industry cares about profit rather than about your health.  If you eat food that you like, eat it when you’re hungry and eat to satisfy your hunger then you can reset your weight thermostat and be the weight your body wants to be – it’s futile having an idea of what weight you want to be because your own body knows better.

The book is divided into 2 sections:

  1. Deconstructing Weight has chapters about the problems we (individuals and more globally) have around weight gain and loss.  Like Kessler, Bacon throws in a load of science to back up what she says and she sticks a similar boot into dieting and the food industry.  She also challenges some myths like ‘thinner is more attractive’ by pointing out that attraction is not only subjective for individuals but that concepts of attractiveness vary culturally.  Then she explodes myths around links between obesity and various health problems.  It’s kind of like she’s read everything I’ve agreed with about the subject and put it all together in one place, except in many instances she got there and said it first.
  2. The second section, called Health at Every Size, same as the title of the book, reads more like a self-help manual.  There’s an emphasis on accepting yourself as you are now and moving on to pay attention to what you eat and how it makes you feel (with a helpful hunger/fullness scale very similar to Paul McKenna’s despite the very different book entitling of his contribution to the subject).  She covers ways of building exercise into your life and making it fun and then some real good stuff about nutrition, including how hyperpalatable, massively processed foods can be addictive and how to work out, using feeling and feeding your hunger, what your body wants you to be eating.

Not content to end it there, the book then has a lengthy appendix with all sorts of resources and reminders to dip into.  There are resources for people who are considering dieting, for how to talk to health professionals who focus on your weight (rather than what may be actually making you ill), for teachers and health educators, for people who have lost weight there are tips for them on how not to evangelise and assume that what worked for them should be a magical formula for everyone else (this section needs to be written for a few ex-smokers I’ve encountered too).

And then there are the bits about how HAES is the new peace movement and is a revolution we are invited to join, at which point I back away gently, whistling, because nomatter how much I liked this book, I’m not going to evangelise about anything.  What’s written within spoke to me and I’ll be giving some of the principles of HAES a wholehearted go as I near my ‘still overweight but better for me’ goal weight (smaller stomach = more space for lungs thus easier breathing; science back atcha Bacon) and begin to wean myself off Weight Watchers and towards eating for health rather than for aesthetics, but HAES won’t necessarily reach everyone else the same way and it won’t necessarily be the right thing for everyone.  How do I know that?  Just that there isn’t one true path for everyone – a book that motivates and inspires one person may annoy the hell out of someone else.

Wishing all of you who celebrate it a happy Easter or equivalent or whatever you celebrate even if it’s just a few days off.
Talk to you soon 🙂

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