Sylvia Tara (PHD) has drawn on her Biochemistry research background to explore one of life's greatest mysteries and society's biggest obsession: body fat. She's driven by her own frustration at having to eat far less and exercise more than her friends just to maintain her weight and sets out to investigate exactly why this is, making fascinating reading for any one who is in the same boat (raises hand!).
The Purpose of Body Fat
There are three sections to the book, the first of which, looks at the vast amount of scientific research into fat tissue. Including it's purpose and what would happen if you didn't have any fat, and how it can put up a fight to stay on you and manipulate your hormones. There's a lot of case studies included, as well as findings based on both animal and human research. Parts of this first section of the book can get very scientific, but if you're a research geek like me (comes with having studied a masters degree!) you'll find this fascinating reading.
As a society, it's a shame we don't look at fat objectively, in the way that Tara and the scientific community see it. It's a part of the body, with a very complex role to play and like all other parts of the human body, sometimes it doesn't function the way we'd like it too. What it isn't, is a symbol of who we are as people. It doesn't tell us about a person's intelligence or kind nature, or their interests or fears. For me, reading about fat from a purely scientific standpoint, enables me to pull away from society's unhelpful view of it and view it for what it is: a part of the body.
What Makes Us Fat?
This section really peaked my curiosity. The first chapter of this section explores the scientific research that looks the possibility of infections and bacteria, resulting in weight gain. After reading this book, this is one area of obesity research I would love to hear more about. As well as the possibility of a type of infection that causes us to gain more weight than what an identical twin of ours without the infection would, there's also an area of research looking into the role of gut bacteria (microbiome) and how this can be influenced by our ancestry, for example, if your ancestors were living in times of famine, they may have adapted a microbiome that's particularly efficient and absorbing (and storing) calories.
The other chapters in this section discuss the role of genetics, gender, age and race, in shaping our metabolisms and fat storage capabilities. This entire section highlights just how little we really know about our bodies and the vast gaps in current research. I feel it also helps remove the 'blame factor' when it comes to obesity, by recognising that for some people, they really can be doing everything in their power to lose weight, with little success. Probably something the diet and fitness industry would rather scientists not explore further!
A Solution to Body Fat (?)
The final section of the book discusses some of the well research ways of reducing excess fat, including (yup, you guessed it), eating plenty of vegetables, exercising and getting plenty of sleep. Tara also shares with us her own battle with weight and how she personally keeps her weight down after losing 30 pounds using a very restrictive low calorie diet (1,000 or less a day), a long fasting period each day and a rigorous workout plan. Tara is open and honest about her method not being for everyone, and points out that there are celebrities and models who go to far worse lengths to keep their slim figures that society values so highly. This is true, and she does have a point about there being no one method to suit all.
That said, this chapter made me feel sad. It bought back a lot of memories of seeing my mum struggle immensely with anorexia nervosa (to the extent of being referred to an eating disorder clinic when her weight plummeted to 6 stone). Her struggles, along with my dad's obesity and numerous health conditions (see my 'about' page for more on that!) is one of the reasons I vowed to myself that I would not take the scale so seriously (hence the name of this blog!), and instead I keep a check on my blood work - glucose, cholesterol, and pressures. After being both an underweight child, and an obese teen, I now eat a healthy balanced diet, never restricting entire food groups or going hungry. I also exercise often, but certainly not excessively. As a result, my tumultuous relationship with food, and my health, has since recovered.
While my mum always felt it was preferable to be permanently hungry and tired, instead of being 'fat', I prefer to remain slightly overweight if it means being able to eat double the amount yet keep my weight, hormones, periods and my blood work stable. I'm athletically very fit and healthy in every other way and I don't find myself feeling deprived or obsessing about food or exercise. I sleep well and I have successfully reversed pre-diabetes and hypertension, without ever having to resort to the crash dieting and yo-yo methods of my mother, despite sharing her body type and genes.
I'm finally in a good place with my health, body confidence and mindset, but for those who are struggling, I don't think reading this particular chapter will do you any favours in changing the dieting mindset, if you want to escape the misery and obsession of it.
You may however, find the first two sections of the book quite healing, as they help remove the shame and blame shoved onto us by society and looks at fat objectively, as an organ, rather than as a status.