Linda Bacon’s Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight

Book Cover with link to Amazon

Linda Bacon earned a master’s in psychotherapy, with a specialty in eating disorders and body image, and worked as a therapist before going back to school for a master’s degree in exercise science. Then she completed a doctorate in physiology, with a focus in nutrition and weight regulation. (There’s a reason this book’s 326 pages includes 29 pages of citations!)

There is similarity with Glenn Gaesser’s Big Fat Lies: The Truth about Your Weight and Your Health. Both books are written by physiologists who have found the science of weight loss does not fit the “cultural dogma” of weight loss. Both books show how fatness does not indicate poor health. Both books emphatically recommend that expectations of weight loss be dropped, and both books suggest a program for how fat AND thin people can be healthy at whatever weight. Gaesser gets more into the specifics of physiology and the history of weigh charts; Bacon discusses nutrition and notes how agribusiness if affecting the overall American diet.

Of the two, I prefer Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight, in large part because I prefer Bacon’s “unrestrained eating” and HAES Manifesto (PDF) to Gaesser’s offering of, sigh, a low-fat diet. Linda Bacon told Med Journal Watch that she envisions HAES as “the peace movement” for the war on obesity, and that comes through her writing. Her style is friendly and engaging, summarizing the science in an accessible fashion.

Contents (with notes):

    Preface
    Introduction (PDF)

    Part 1: Deconstructing Weight

    1: We’re Wired to Maintain a Healthy Weight - Discusses setpoints
    2: We’re Emotionally Starved – Our culture plays havoc with our hungers
    3: We Resist Weight Loss – Diets, exercise, pills, surgery, and how they fail
    4: We’re Eternally Hungry – Nutrition overview with emphasis on variety & setpoint
    5: We’re Victims of Food Politics – How the food industry has influenced diet
    6: We’re Victims of Fat Politics – How the diet industry influences government & healthcare

    Part 2: Health at Every Size

    7: The Story Behind the Health at Every Size Program
    8: Respect Yourself, Body & Soul – Accept yourself as-is
    9: Take Care of Your Hungers – Taking care of your body’s needs
    10: Live Well – Increase activity, get enough sleep, relax :)
    11: Change Your Tastes – Make meals enjoyable, with a variety of foods
    12: Solving the Weight “Problem” – Your body is NOT the problem

    Appendix – Includes a Resource Guide with books, ASDAH mention, and handouts.
    Acknowledgments
    References
    Index

I must confess that I initially skimmed the preface and introduction, then jumped into reading Part 2. I read Part 1 the following morning. (I’m sure the book would work fine in the conventional order too :) I found the book inspiring on several levels:

  • Research supports the HAES approach.
  • The emphasis on working with your body instead of against it.
  • The emphasis on consciously enjoying food, activity, and other pleasures….
  • when you need them. I’ve been slacking on breakfasts & afternoon snacks; I went shopping for some new food options today.
  • Discussing emotional eating as something to be aware of so that you can choose how best to take care of your emotional needs, not as “this is why you’re so fat dummy” .
  • From the Intro: “Maybe we hadn’t failed. Maybe […] we had successfully tested many weight-loss regimens and they had failed us.”
  • Bacon introduced the HAES study participants to a Yay Scale. This gives me a goofy grin :)

I was concerned when chapter 9 suggested using an eating journal to identify how you experience hunger and fullness. I was a bit more reassured when I saw the big “WARNING” on p202 that points out that it would be easy to create a new “Only eat when physically hungry” diet. Bacon warns the reader NOT to do this.

Resist the temptation. Use the information in this chapter to help you identify your body’s needs and what else you might be hungry for. […] Occasionally eating for reasons other than hunger is a normal and healthy aspect of being human. That your choices are conscious is more important.

Bacon has a similar warning at the start of chapter 4, noting that the information is to help you work with your body, not to give you new “rules” to structure your eating around.

I will be posting more about this book during the week. Hope you don’t get bored. :)

More info:

10 thoughts on “Linda Bacon’s Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight

  1. I’m told Gaesser put in a low-fat diet because his publishers insisted. I am glad that HAES is starting to get enough attention that this sort of thing is no longer the case.

  2. Does that explain why he has written two diet books since he wrote “Big Fat Lies”? Perhaps he did get some pressure from publishers, but Gaesser is a naturally very thin runner & an exercise physiologist & from many things I have heard & read, including reports from someone who has butted heads with him in person about fat people & health/food, etc., he is not really all THAT fat-positive. Part of the reason why I went through my last period of more than three years of compulsive exercise, including 1500 crunches daily, was because his book convinced me that I was endangering my health or perhaps shortening my life if my waist measured more than 35 inches. I also read a quote from him several years ago which said he didn’t believe that anyone with a BMI over 35 could be really fit or healthy.
    I often feel that we fat people are so anxious to find heroes & so grateful to find anyone who is not actually crucifying us that we give these people more credit & admiration than they actually deserve. They all have their own issues & their own prejudices. Paul Campos, for instance, believes in ‘bad’ foods & keeps himself at a weight below his natural setpoint by running at least 12 miles daily & eating pretty abstemiously as well. We need to believe in & trust ourselves more than we do these people who have PHD’s & can get published.

  3. Ow, Patsy, that sucks! I tend to think the 35″ thing is too simplistic to be real, but then, my waist is around 58″. Even the waist/hip ratio makes more sense than that! But Gaesser can be presuasive (I’ve only read Big Fat Lies).

    And the heroes thing is spot-on. As Bruce Springsteen put it introducing the song War in during a 1985 concert: “Blind faith in your leaders – or in anything – will get you killed.”

  4. Amen. They are only human, with their own doubts, fears, insecurities, & prejudices, & we need to keep that in mind when looking to them for wisdom.

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