Rethinking Thin

Rethinking Thin

New York Times science writer Gina Kolata discussed her new book, Rethinking Thin, at this year’s University of Michigan Motorola Lecture, presented by the UM Institute for Research on Women and Gender and the Department of Women’s Studies and co-sponsored by SPH, among others. The following is excerpted from Kolata’s book, a provocative take on our national obsession with dieting and weight.

“The saga of people’s unending attempts to control their weight is a tale of science and society, of social mores and social sanctions, of politics and power. It raises questions of money and class, and of whether there is such a thing as free will when it comes to eating and body weight. It raises questions of how and why the discoveries of science, which have slowly chipped away at the reasons for obesity and the real health effects of being overweight, have been shunted aside by marketing and hucksterism and politics.

“And it is a story of the secret world of the overweight, who fantasize about finally, at long last, getting thin. What is it like to know the calorie count of every morsel of food you see and to worry that a single spoonful of ice cream or a cube of Swiss cheese can send your eating spiraling out of control? What is it like to face, as the National Academy of Sciences so bluntly put it, a ‘continuous lifelong struggle with no expectation that the struggle required will diminish with time’ (emphasis mine)? And how did our society, today, end up with what may be the greatest disconnect ever between the body weight ideals that are held up as obtainable if you really try and the body weight realities for most people?”

Excerpted from the prologue to Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss—and the Myths and Realities of Dieting by Gina Kolata. Copyright ©2009 by Gina Kolata. Reprinted by permission of Farrar Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Q&A with Jody Gray

Jody GrayAdministrator, SPH University of Michigan Summer Session in Epidemiology

You’ve lost 165 pounds in the past five years. How did you do it?
I knew what I had to do, and that wasn’t to go on a diet. My goal was to change the way I ate for the rest of my life. So I went to a nutritionist.

What did she tell you?
Exercise. Portion control. Eating healthy. It was total common sense. I eliminated as much fat and sugar as I possibly could. I stopped frying foods. I ate less beef and cheese and more vegetables. And I started walking. Once I’d lost about 40 pounds, I went to Curves (a gym for women). That was the best step of the whole process. In addition to working out at Curves three or four times a week, I’m now employed there as a circuit coach/fitness facilitator.

It couldn’t have been that simple.
Yes, it was that simple. I didn’t take away the foods that I loved—I still had them. I just had them differently, and not as much. I found it helped to keep two things in mind: patience and perseverance. You shouldn’t be in a hurry to lose and get healthy. Take your time, make small, permanent changes little by little, and you’ll find you can still enjoy everything.

What made you do it?
I was scared of what the future held for me if I didn’t make a change.

Besides your dress size, what’s changed?
My heart and body feel stronger than ever. I’m no longer on blood-pressure medication. I injured my knee 12 to 15 years ago, and it used to give me grief all the time, but now I have no knee problem whatsoever. I enjoy being out of breath now, because it’s coming with exercise. Before, it was a scary feeling.

If you could change one thing about the way Americans eat, what would it be?
Take out the diet fads and the thought of dieting, period. Learn to eat well—but eat what you like, and use smaller plates. If you look at a collection of dinner plates over the last one hundred years, what you find is that they keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

Getting Up to Speed on Slow Food

The Slow Food Movement, a global, grassroots movement that’s all about taste “and about connecting ourselves with local food producers, and about regional and cultural food traditions that we’ve really lost touch with,” says K.T. Tomey, an assistant research scientist at UM SPH and secretary of the Huron Valley chapter of the movement. Slow Food is also about promoting sustainable agriculture and biodiversity, both of which are critical to our survival, Tomey notes. Unlike typical grocery-store apples, Chenango Strawberries and Black Krim tomatoes are not bred for appearance or ease of shipping. Look for them—and for other regionally produced, biologically diverse foods like honey, spinach, and peas—in your local farmer’s market or in restaurants and stores that support local farmers. To learn more visit

Slow Food Reading

  1. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Foods, by Michael Pollan
  2. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver
  3. Farmer John’s Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables, by Farmer John Peterson
  4. The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution, by Alice Waters
  5. Slow Food: Collected Thoughts on Taste, Tradition, and the Honest Pleasures of Food, ed. by Carlo Petrini