Getting Over Weight? A Critic of our Cultural Obsession Goes Too Far

By Diane Cole

May/June 2015

Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight—And What We Can Do About It
By Harriet Brown
Da Capo Press. 243 pages.
ISBN: 9780738217697


He who loses weight lives a long, healthy life.” For many years, patients in my father’s medical practice routinely went home with a free pen stamped with that fortune-cookie-like prescription. Call it a rallying cry or a nag, but presumably that pen was a reminder to patients to substitute apples and grapes for ice cream and cake on their grocery lists.

That was the 1960s. Fifty years later, almost every physician you visit will still advise you similarly, though probably without the free pen. But do we know a lot more now than we did then about what actually constitutes a healthy weight range for a given individual? What practical knowledge has research really given us about how to lose weight and keep it off without feeling like an abused yo-yo? Despite the proliferation of research studies about weight loss and eating habits, it often appears that many fundamental questions about what to eat or not to eat and why or why not remain unanswered.

Into the fray comes science journalist Harriet Brown with Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight—And What We Can Do About It. For Brown, learning to become “OK with [my] body as it is right now” has been a lifelong journey. But her larger goal in…

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Friday, July 10, 2015 11:11:05 PM | posted by karen koenig
As an expert and author on the psychology of eating who has practiced in this field for over 30 years, I heartily agree with Harriet Brown’s take on “overweight” in Body Truth. For some people, a goal of weight loss and the act of stepping on the scale doesn’t trigger negative emotional reactions. But for many it does, as weight in this culture has become a moral issue and effects how people feel about themselves, that is, either good or bad. I don’t focus on weight in my practice, but on appetite, eating, and the goal of good health and connection to and comfort with one’s body.
The treatment of weight, eating and body image problems is enormously complicated and may involve temperament, poor life skills, ineffective emotional management, mixed feelings about self-care, and underlying questions about lovability and deservedness. These should be the foci of our clinical work, not weight loss.

Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed.
Psychotherapist, Eating Coach, Author

Saturday, June 6, 2015 1:54:46 PM | posted by Harriet Brown
Thanks for this review. I would like to clarify a couple of points, however.

The reviewer suggests that "slow-motion" weight loss is more effective than fad diets, Weight Watchers, jaw wiring, or other kinds of weight-loss regimen. I'd love to see the evidence for that. I have not found any in my extensive research on the issue. If I've missed something I would be glad to see it!

I'm also not sure where the reviewer came up with the information that in the book I found examples of people who were fat and fit but who abandoned their fitness regimens. That's simply not true, unless you're confusing this book with another. The people I interviewed who fall into the fat-but-fit category described sustained and sustainable fitness regimens that clearly improved their health but did not lead to weight loss. I am one of those people, in fact; I've been fat-but-fit for close to 20 years, with excellent biomarkers. I spend five to 10 hours a week in vigorous exercise, love every minute of it, and feel good physically and psychologically. Everyone I interviewed for the book reported similar experiences.

So I'm just not sure where the reviewer came up with the information she did.

I do appreciate the review in such a prestigious publication.

Harriet Brown