A dose of reality for would-be dieters, laced with a dash of history, science and sociology.
New York Times science writer Kolata (Ultimate Fitness, 2003, etc.) followed participants in a two-year study at the University of Pennsylvania that compared the Atkins low-carbohydrate diet with the LEARN (Lifestyle, Exercise, Attitudes, Relationships, Nutrition) low-calorie diet. To put the study in perspective, she goes back as far as the 19th century to recount various dieting fads: eating soap, chalk or pickles, drinking camphor tea, taking ipecac to induce vomiting, chewing food 100 times a minute. Kolata also takes a critical look at society’s changing standards of beauty, from hefty Lillian Russell to svelte Jennifer Aniston, and she presents the findings of nutrition and obesity researchers in the last half-century. She sat in on the Penn study participants’ group sessions and here lets them tell in their own words of their hopes and desires, progress, setbacks and problems. At the study’s end in 2006, no miracles had occurred. The reality, Kolata reports, is that no matter what the diet and how hard fat people try, most will not lose a lot of weight and keep it off for a long time. Many will keep trying, though, because being fat in America today is difficult. An epilogue suggests that researchers may have been looking for answers to the obesity epidemic in the wrong places. Those who call it a medical disaster may be alarmists, Kolata concludes; perhaps what has been pushing up the nation’s average weights is better health.
Offers many insights into the world of obesity research and the minds of dieters, but provides small comfort for anyone hoping to discover the fountain of thinness.