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Eat Fat

by Richard Klein(more info)

listed in weight loss, originally published in issue 36 - January 1999

My mother, my sister, and I have been preoccupied with fat most of our lives, most of our adult lives. So has my father, who is very thin; he's had to deal with our dealing with fat. For us, it has been a perpetual source of preoccupation and self-regard, the origin of some of our most negative feeling about ourselves and despair about our chances. There have been times when I have thought that our family obsession was a great loss, of time and energy and focus. But as I've been thinking and writing about fat for several years, I've grown to appreciate the intellectual and personal value that this family reflection on fat has acquired. The fat we ponder serves to embody our hungers, visibly manifests the power of our cravings, the drive for satisfaction and the urge to pleasure, as well as much that is self-destructive, self-demeaning in our lives. Our characters have been shaped by our fat and by our attitude toward it. In America, at the end of the twentieth century, it has been for us, as for many others, the most sustained focus of our concerned attention, the single most important material object of meditation in our lives.

Fat Lady

Even more serious, of course, are those for whom fat has become a matter of life and death. Either because they have too much or too little of it. There is unmistakable evidence of the implication of fat in increasing risk of heart disease and diabetes. For many, victims of heart attacks, the low-fat diets of doctors like Dean Ornish have saved their lives. Reducing the amount of fat in your diet down to 10 percent or less, as is recommended for many heart patients, can have dramatic benefits for improving or stabilizing one's condition. This book does not pretend otherwise. But for the vast majority of people the risks of what is called obesity have to be measured against the risks entailed in combating it. Diets can kill, and yo-yo dieting has specific and long-term health implications that need to be weighed against the risks of being "overweight".

The medical risk of obesity, this book aims to suggest, has been severely overstated. For reasons that are often misguided or venal, doctors and nutritionists skew their studies to reflect their biases or wishes. A recent study by one of the most severe anti-fat nutritionists will allow us to see how relatively small are the risks for most people, how they compare with the risks of dieting, and how easily the risk can be manipulated by scientists and nutritionists, by health and fitness experts to prove what it is in their interest to prove. The diet industry alone, with its products and services, generates over 30 billion dollars a year of the American economy. Imminent future developments in pharmaceuticals, in new diet drugs, could raise even that figure substantially. As we will see, the stakes are enormous in persuading people that even small amounts of fat increase their risk of early death. Particularly now, at a moment when it has become clear that diets don't work, new drugs are being introduced whose dangers to public health are minimized by persuading people of their risk at being even slightly overweight. For if the public and the FDA can be persuaded that even a little fat is dangerous, and that diets don't work, then the only solution to this dilemma is drugs. They are the American solution for everything.


This article was extracted with permission from Eat Fat by Richard Klein, published by Picador an imprint of Macmillan Publishers Ltd.

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