Book Breakdown Part 2: Lindo Bacon’s Health at Every Size

By Cory Davis

On January 30, 2021, I wrote Book Breakdown Part 1: Lindo Bacon’s Health at Every Size (here). On January 23, 2021, I wrote a book review for Health at Every Size (2010) by Lindo Bacon (here). I gave this book a 3/5 for three main reasons: (1) the argumentation and logic was not convincing, (2) some of the messages were dangerous, and (3) it was unecessarily aggressive and polarizing. However, the book had several points that resonated with me, giving a swath of great advice, and made a strong stance against diet culture and weight-based discrimination.

This post is the second of two that breaks down Lindo Bacon’s key points made in Health at Every Size. Last post, I broke down the first five major points, and in the this one, I discuss the rest.

Breakdown of Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight, Part 2

Key Point #6:

We are victims of fat politics and there is no evidence that obesity is dangerous to your health.

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Lindo Bacon opens their argument by attacking the statement that thousands of Americans will die from obesity. They claim that the science on obesity is flawed and that on average, overweight people actually live longer than normal weight people.

They say that the obesity epidemic was manufactured, that obesity does not increase the risk of death. They call it the “Death by Fat Myth”. They go on to attack several linkages health professionals have established between diet, weight and disease including hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and atherosclerosis. They argue that fat can actually protect you from disease claiming that there are many conditions that are observed in normal weight people that are less common in obese people such as cancer, chronic bronchitis, anemia, type 1 diabetes and osteoporosis.

This argument is frustrating because they are using data to reach inappropriate conclusions. I struggle to follow the logic because the diseases they list are not caused by being thin – so extrapolating that obesity protects you from them does not make sense. The thinness related to these conditions may be induced from smoking (Cancer, chronic bronchitis), lack of nourishment and eating disorders (anemia, osteoporosis) or a myriad of other reasons. This is where their critical thinking and argumentation really comes under scrutiny. They claim that being overweight can protect you from certain diseases, those diseases more commonly seen in thin people. The examples they use are flawed because the thinness is a result of other pre-existing mental, health or economic conditions. They are not a result of thinness, but rather thinness may be a result from the pre-existing condition.

For example, they argue that being obese can potentially protect you from type 1 diabetes. This kind of argument is dangerous and scientifically flawed. This is a dangerous claim because obesity is related to type 2 diabetes. The reason why that claim is scientifically flawed is that thinness is often a result of type 1 diabetes. Thinness does not by any means induce type 1 diabetes. In fact, type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented by weight regulation or anything that we are aware of for that matter. Therefore, obesity cannot prevent such diseases.

For those interested in the relationship between weight and longevity, please see Dr. Michael Gregor’s Obesity Paradox short video here.

They argue that your genes play a big role: that “genes determine the result of the habits you choose”. If that were true, then environmental influences (like advertising and politics that they argued about earlier) are not a big deal. This is the old debate about nature versus nurture. The likely answer is that they both play significant roles. However, a lot of environmental factors can trigger genetic factors as well. Someone genetically vulnerable to cancer may not get cancer, but under certain environmental conditions, they may be at greater risk. Someone not predisposed to cancer may get it from repeated exposure to carcinogens. We cannot say exactly how to weigh genetic and environmental influences because they vary from circumstance to circumstance, person to person. So, I cannot agree with their analysis.

They say that being obese or thin is mostly a result of your genetic predisposition of storing fat. They also argue that everyone cannot lose weight (and maintain the weight-loss) by eating healthful food and regular exercise (as well as other methods).

They attack the experts and say they may be influenced by cultural norms or use shady science tactics. They argue that all they are doing is fear mongering about weight – that the weight-loss industry is worth a lot of money – “fearmongering about weight is worth billions”.

Again, the argumentation here is aggressive, and unconvincing.

Key point #7:

Respect yourself, regardless of body-size.

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I really enjoyed the message here about self-hate and your body shape. It is true that people “remain stuck to the body they’ve grown to loathe”. As if hating your body should be the motivator to change. They say that change should come from valuing yourself so much that there is invested interest to change. If you love yourself, you will be motivated to treat yourself well, which may include exercising more and eating healthier foods.

They make another good point about how we frame healthy foods in our diets. If we are eating salads as a tool or chore for weight-loss, then how will we be able to actually enjoy the flavours of all the fresh, vibrant produce it contains? Furthermore, being thin may not result in getting a supportive partner, more friends or acceptance by your family. People have all these ideas about what being thin will do for them, providing a sense of false hope.

In response to that, I do believe being thin as a result of a healthy lifestyle will reduce your risk of certain diseases and make you feel good. I am not thin, per se. However, I have found that by losing weight I feel better. I feel lighter. It is easier to move, hike, jog, run, bike, walk around, get up, sit down, sleep. It is easier on my joints, I have less swelling. For me, having a healthy weight induces a much better quality of life. Building muscle mass makes me feel strong, life is easier, it is easier to do almost everything when you go from little muscle, to just a little more. When I gain weight, it is because I am lazy and lack self control – something they say is a myth. They say that “thin is better” is another myth – I just need to disagree here. I am not thin – but being thinner than I was, has been life-changing.

In their study, some patients claimed their obesity started with some childhood trauma, a self-representation about motherhood, or a desire to be noticed by taking up more space. These psychological frameworks reinforce weight-gain. So, their obesity is closely tied to their mental health or worldview. Of course, a program that addresses mental health, self-acceptance, self-esteem and letting go of their obsession with weight would help get positive results. Addressing mental health may be a gap in obesity awareness. However, by no means does this disprove modern understandings about the science of weight – as they imply.

They want us to avoid negative talk, frame our thoughts differently, seek support and to seize the moment, pieces of advice that should resonate with us all.

Key Point #8:

Eat when you are hungry.

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Here they give you several guidelines: eat delicious food, pay attention to what you eat, satisfy your hunger, and address emotional eating. I like this message, however, earlier in the book they adamantly argue against the use of rules in your diet. Here, they seem to be giving us rules, but call them guidelines instead.

They urge you to keep a journal to understand your hunger, fullness, emotions, feelings, and satisfaction. Without journaling, they assert, you may not be able to notice certain feelings or sensations you have from eating. Becoming sensitive to how your body responds to food is at the heart of the book, and the concept of intuitive eating.

Great points. I agree with the core message to eat when you are hungry and don’t deny your hunger as a result of weight regulation efforts. Eating should be in response to how your body feels, rather than avoided and shamed as a result of your weight goals.

Key Point #9:

Live well to be healthy.

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Here they urge you to seek a healthy lifestyle.

They want you to reframe exercise. When on the diet and exercise regime, your workouts may seem to be a chore. Exercise rather should be fun and does not need to be at the gym necessarily, if you don’t enjoy it. Just be active by doing things like delivering mail in person, going for walks, and stretching.

They urge us to build in activity throughout the day, even by things as little as throwing away your remote control so you must change the channel manually. Moving can be fun, the outdoors is beautiful and there is so much to see, smell and touch in this world.

They want us to address the resistance we have to physical activity albeit feelings of humiliation, ridicule, injury, or self-confidence.

Here, they also advise us to eat a whole-foods, mostly plant-based diet. Great advice. They claim that by doing so, you could reset your “set-point” weight to a healthier level. So, I guess what you eat does matter – to maintain a healthy setpoint weight. Something I they argued did not matter much earlier in the book. Earlier on, they argued that what you eat does not really matter when it comes to weight, now they are taking it back. I found this book to be full of mixed messaged like this. That kind of communication is dangerous. Anyone could pick up this book, skim through some main points, then totally get the wrong idea.

They tell you exactly what most dietitians and nutritionists would (the same health professionals they attacked earlier on claiming their science is flawed) – to eat a variety of food, primarily plants. They say that intuitive eating will only get you so far, that “some conscious effort” is needed to ensure you get all the appropriate nutrients. For example, if you are lacking iron or zinc, your body may not give you any urge to eat foods high in them.

They have more rules here. Something they told us to avoid early on. So, they call hem guidelines. That really bothers me because it seems hypocritical and is more about semantics. They attack the health and wellness community by their use of rules, then proceed to give us many rules under the guise of “guidelines”. However, these guidelines are great, the common type of advice that you hear from many mainstream health professionals:

  • Eat real food (not processed crap)
  • Enjoy what you eat
  • Eat a lot of plants
  • Be active

Key Point # 10:

You can change your taste.

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They author argues that you can change your taste. If you crave junk food, fast food, or unhealthy food, rather than healthy foods, you can change that. Don’t eat healthy food because you have to. Don’t be restrictive and forceful with your eating habits, rather be open and try new, healthy things.

They claim that we can break old habits. We can change how we perceive meals and food and explore what plants can offer your taste buds.

I think this is true. We can change our taste buds. By eating a variety of different plant foods, we can explore a much more diverse and vibrant diet and discover insatiable foods that we may not have considered previously. In my experience, I never liked soy milk, tomatoes or peppers, but grew to love them by exploring different ways of using them.

Key Point # 11:

Society needs to change their perception about weight.

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The author is really trying to change the public’s perception about weight. They say that weight is not the issue, healthy living is. Rather than attacking weight, address health – being active and eating a whole-foods, mostly plant-based diet.

They seek to break the stigma about weight, saying that the science does not support society’s assumption about obesity. They claim that the war on fat was lost, that attacking weight resulted in eating disorders and an unhealthy relationship between our society, diet and weight.

They claim to have the solution, to address lifestyle factors rather than weight to destigmatize fat and shatter the stereotypes around weight. To do this we need to shift from a weight-centered view of health to one that celebrates a diversity of body sizes. They urge the scientific community to fix their broken method of weight-related research and disentangle relationships between government, industry and universities that negatively impact the health of citizens.

They urge us to avoid supporting the processed food industry who sell us empty calories and unhealthy junk. They urge policy makers and industry to address social inequities when it comes to access to information and healthy food.

Finally, they urge health professionals and the public to stop making weight the central issue, but rather to address lifestyle factors. They are disappointed with the extent that weight shaming, and weight related discrimination proliferates in our society.

One issue I had was with their argument that weight related disease is more influenced by genetic factors than weight. This may be true, however, if you are genetically predisposed to weight related diseases, then losing weight should greatly reduce your risk. Yes, genetics plays a role but lifestyle factors related to weight, and your weight specifically can be mitigating factors for weight-related health conditions.  

I appreciate what the author is doing in this chapter, urging health professionals to destigmatize weight and rather address lifestyle factors. Maybe this is a better approach, I don’t know. However, I think the route they took to get there was flawed, namely by attacking the science of obesity poorly.

Conclusion

This book was interesting. As frustrated as I am with the argumentation, Lindo Bacon makes several great points and impactful messages.  I agree with all the advice about healthy living – which is the same advice I hear health professionals say when they urge people to find a healthy weight (especially to obese people who need to lose weight). However, I disagree with how they got there.

They say to follow the science, but only the science they prescribe you, as mainstream science is flawed. However, I found their use of logic in their scientific arguments to be lackluster, stretching evidence beyond its applicatory scope. They say things like obesity could protect you from type 1 diabetes, chronic bronchitis and cancer. They claim that overweight people live longer. These are all claims based on unreasonable extrapolations, poor comparisons, and bad logic. Presenting them to the public in such a fashion is dangerous.

Thank you so much for reading this summary of Lindo Bacon’s Health at Every Size. I sure found this interesting. I am much more interested to hear what your thoughts and opinions are. If you have any feedback, comments, or ideas, please share them in the comment section below. I am sure it will create an interesting dialogue.

If you enjoyed this post, please like and subscribe, I really appreciate it when you do. You can also follow me on Twitter @interestpeaks.

Health at Every Size by Lindo Bacon – Book Review

By Cory Davis

This is a book review for Lindo Bacon’s (formerly Linda Bacon) Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight (2010) published by BenBella Books Inc., Texas, United States.

Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight: Bacon, Linda:  9781935618256: Books - Amazon.ca

3/5

“A polarizing perspective about weight that aims to shatter diet culture and fat-shaming.”

About the Author

Lindo Bacon is a speaker, author, and professor. They hold a PhD in Physiology from the University of California and has graduate degrees in both psychology and exercise metabolism. Lindo has been a researcher and professor for over 20 years, teaching courses in social justice, health, and nutrition.

They have written several papers for publications such as the International Journal of Obesity, Nutritional Journal, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, and Appetite. Lindo has also authored three books: Health at Every Size, Body Respect, and Radical Belonging.

 About the Book

50+ Free Obese & Obesity Illustrations - Pixabay
Retrieved from Pixabay

Health at Every Size aims to shift society’s perception about weight. They claim that weight should not be the central focus around health. They urge health professionals to stop telling patients to lose weight, but rather focus on healthy living factors. This is not a diet or exercise book. Rather, it is a program based on a “clinically proven” government funded study. It addresses the stigmatization of fat, urging people to let go of the stereotypes we associate with obesity and weight. The author claims that genetics, rather than lifestyle is the main driver of weight-related disease, therefore we should not attack weight as the problem. The solution offered however, is similar to the advice you hear from many health professionals who address weight, to be more active and eat mostly whole plant-based foods. The difference being how they frame weight and obesity, and the sensitivity toward body image, self-esteem and fat-shaming.

What the Author Promises in the Book

Promise Icons - Download Free Vector Icons | Noun Project

They promise the reader that after completing this book you will be able to reset your fat meter to naturally reach your healthiest weight.

What I Liked About the Book

400+ Free Love Book & Love Images - Pixabay
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The book is easy to read and is structured very well. The first part of the book establishes the theory or foundation behind the Health at Every Size program. The second part outlines the program itself. The third part is comprised of several letters addressed to various groups such as health professionals, those considering another diet and school administrators, among others.

The objection to diet culture and weight-shaming is welcomed. Fad diets and “dieting” are not the answer. These are temporary weight loss solutions that can be dangerous, especially when adopted over the long term. Better advice would be to adopt an active lifestyle complimented with a meal-planning regime that maximizes whole foods such as fruits, veggies, and legumes while minimizing processed foods – exactly what Bacon prescribes.

I appreciate the sensitivity toward those who have struggled with body image or feel discriminated against as a result of their weight. There are a range of healthy body sizes, where beauty, sexuality and self confidence should be normalized and celebrated. It is sad that we punish ourselves over a couple pounds of weight, establishing a standard of beauty that is unrealistic, and self-sabotaging. I sympathize with those who struggle with weight, as I too have been bullied, mistreated and shamed as a direct result of mine.

What I Dislike About the Book

Confused Hands Up - Free photo on Pixabay
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I struggled with some of the messages. The back of the book attempts to address three “myths” and contrast them against “reality”. However, I am unconvinced by the analysis argued in the book.

The first myth is that fat kills. Lindo claims that on average, overweight people live longer than normal weight people. Even if true, some thinness can be a result of many different health conditions or lifestyle choices such as smoking, cancer, alcoholism, eating disorders, etc. Fat does kill and is clearly associated with a suite of lifestyle induced diseases. They say that genetics are a larger influence on these diseases than weight. Even if that is true, for those who are genetically predisposed to lifestyle related diseases, weight, physical activity and diet may be mitigating factors. It is common knowledge, with a myriad of clinical evidence, that “obesity is a highly and increasingly prevalent chronic condition associated with significant morbidity and mortality” (Haslam, 2005 as cited in Oreopoulos et al. 2008).

CDC Diagram showing medical complications related to obesity

The second myth is that if you lose weight you will live longer. Lindo claims that, no study has ever shown that weight loss prolongs life. Even if it is true that weight loss on average may not prolong life, it is true that weight loss in people with weight-related health conditions does. This is the same group that this book addresses. Several studies indicate that weight change in aging adults are associated with higher mortality. Yes, weight change can occur for many unhealthy reasons. However, this is not true for intentional weight loss as a result of weight-related health conditions. When you separate out the results and look at intentional weight loss for diabetics, or people with weight-related health conditions you will find reduced risk of all-cause mortality (Harrington, Gibson & Cottrell, 2009). These results were supported by further research time and time again. For example, JAMA Cardiology research reported that obesity was related to significant risk of cardiovascular morbidity, mortality and shorter lifespan when compared to people with normal BMI (Monaco, 2018).

The third myth is that anyone can lose weight if he or she tries. Lindo claims that your biology will make you regain weight you lose, even if you continue your diet and exercise regime. I may agree that not everyone can or should lose weight, but for those who are obese or over-weight, you can. Lindo agrees with me. Later in the book they say that you may be overweight because your natural, or “set-point” weight has been damaged and therefore increased. By resetting your set-point weight to a more “healthy” level, you can lose weight. So, they pretty much refute this claim themself.

Mixed messages at Forthampton © Philip Pankhurst cc-by-sa/2.0 :: Geograph  Britain and Ireland
Retrieved from Geograph

This leads me to my biggest criticism which is that there were many mixed messages. In one chapter they state that what you eat does not matter when it comes to weight. Then, they proceed to clarify that what you eat is very important, not only for your health, environment and morality, but to reset your set-point weight to a healthier level. They downplay the role of weight in an individual’s health to the point where it does not seem to matter at all, which is not what the science implies or the most credible health professionals say. As Dr. David Katz wrote (2018), “Overweight, then, is apt to take life from years; obesity is apt to take years from life as well. That this pair is a clear and present danger could scarcely be clearer, long neglected though it may be.”

There seems to be an understanding that there is a range of healthy body sizes that can vary from person to person or between cultures. But the claim that you can have health at any size is dangerous.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I found this book to bring a polarizing perspective about weight that aims to shatter diet culture and fat-shaming. I agree with the core recommendations, to be active and eat a whole foods diet based on mostly plants while being mindful of our self-esteem and weight-based discrimination. This is a profound message. However, the way they frame the argument bothers me. It is aggressive, authoritative, and polarizing, rather than conservative, curious, and diplomatic.

Thank you so much for reading this post. If you enjoyed it, please like and subscribe. You can also follow me on twitter @interestpeaks. Of course, I enjoyed this discussion, but am more curious to hear what your thoughts are. If you have any opinions, thoughts, ideas or feedback, please share them in the comment section below. I promise to read them all and am sure it will create interesting dialogue.

If this book interests you, please stay tuned for my next post which will breakdown the book by highlighting the key takeaways, and my thoughts about them.

References

Harrington, M., Gibson, S., & Cottrell, R. (2009). A review and meta-analysis of the effect of weight loss on all-cause mortality risk. Nutrition Research Reviews, 22(1), 93-108. doi:10.1017/S0954422409990035

Katz, D. (2018). The true paradox of obesity. LinkedIn. Retrieved from: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/true-paradox-obesity-david-l-katz-md-mph-facpm-facp-faclm/

Monaco, K. (2018). Shorter life, heart risk linked with excess weight. Medpage Today. Retrieved from: https://www.medpagetoday.com/endocrinology/obesity/71437?xid=nl_mpt_DHE_2018-03-01&eun=g436715d0r&pos=0&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Daily%20Headlines%202018-03-01&utm_term=Daily%20Headlines%20-%20Active%20User%20-%20180%20day

Oreopoulos, A., Padwal, R., Norris, C. M., Mullen, J. C., Pretorius, V., & Kalantar‐Zadeh, K. (2008;2012;). Effect of obesity on short‐ and Long‐term mortality postcoronary revascularization: A Meta‐analysis. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 16(2), 442-450. doi:10.1038/oby.2007.36