January 12, 2012

Why Women Need Fat: How "Healthy" Food Makes Us Gain Excess Weight by Lassek and Gaulin

Why Women Need Fat is a book I feel a little split on. On the one hand, there were some fascinating things about it and I read huge passages aloud to Bart. On the other hand, good heavens, I think it could have been about 100 pages shorter.

The book has four main points: 1) women store fat in their bodies in ways specifically designed to produce healthy children (and this changes over the course of their lives) 2) the Western diet is making people heavier than they would be on a normal diet (I know! I was SHOCKED by this revelation too) in large part because the fats we eat don't provide our bodies the nutrients we need and so we our bodies crave more fat to get those nutrients 3) dieting makes your brain want to gain weight and 4) if you eat more real foods, your body will naturally, over time, find its healthy weight (even if that isn't quite as thin as you'd like to be - if your body really wants to be right around 150, you're going to have a hard time permanently staying at 120).

I loved this quote from the book because it kind of sums up how I feel about food and dieting:
Did we actually voluntarily give up most delicious foods in the quest to make ourselves healthier? Amazingly, we did. American women made unpleasant, unappealing, and difficult changes in the foods their families ate, and especially the fats they were eating, because they believed that this would improve their health. Instead we all got fatter.

I liked this book as an addition to the many other food books I've read and I did learn some new things (including more about how the hypothalamus works), but if I was going to read just one book about changing my diet, it'd be The Omnivore's Dilemma. On the other hand, I'm not looking to lose weight and since this one is more specifically geared toward that (via a real foods diet) than The Omnivore's Dilemma, this might be more helpful to people with different goals than I have.

The other thing that set this book apart for me is the focus on how our bodies react to dieting - it's fun to learn some of the science behind things you've observed your whole life. That part alone made it worth reading for me.

My recommendation? Skim the dull parts and enjoy the many fascinating sections. Wonder about trying the experiment researchers did where they doubled the caloric intake of students who proceeded to not gain any weight at all. Feel smart for understanding how the hypothalamus works and why it will slow your weight loss if you lose too much, too fast. Gag at the stats about the average American eating 6+ gallons of vegetable oil a year.

Also, I'm recommitted to reading food labels more diligently. Bart is probably terrified that his beloved Triscuits won't make the cut. 

I read this book for the BlogHer Book Club and you can read other reviews and discussions at BlogHer. I am paid for my participation in the BlogHer Book Club, but I choose which books to read and my reviews are strictly my own opinions. If I think a book is terrible, I'll say so. If I rave about a book, it's because it's one I'd give to Kayla or my mom.


  1. I'm curious about the quote you have about the changing diet. What did they give as examples of the old delicious foods given up for the new "healthy" ones?

  2. I think part of our society's problem with weight is not just what we eat but also our sedentary lifestyles. So many of us sit at a desk for hours a day. I'm always amazed when I travel at how much I can eat and still lose weight because I'm up and walking around all day.

    Also, I recently read this really interesting article in the NY Times (I wish I could find it again to share the link). It said that our bodies change and adapt when we gain weight and keep it on for a number of years. So that once you lose the weight, your body goes into starvation mode and will burn calories more slowly and trigger hormones that make you want to eat more. If you lose 50 pounds to get down to 150, your body has to work much harder to maintain that weight than the body of someone who naturally/consistently weighs 150. This explains a lot about why people have such a hard time keeping weight off for an extended period of time. This article has convinced me that it's well worth it for me to eat well and exercise consistently now so that my body doesn't ever get used to being at a higher weight.

  3. For work, I've been reading a lot about weight loss and it is SO interesting! The body naturally fights against weight loss in short because it is still programmed to believe that fat means "times of plenty" and weight loss means that we're headed into a famine. There are multiple hormones that regulate our appetites and ability to store or burn fat, and they jump into action as soon as we start cutting calories. It's totally fascinating.

    What's ALSO fascinating, to me at least, is that there is so much evidence showing that fat is GOOD and HEALTHY and NECESSARY... and yet we're still such a low-fat-focused society. I guess when you've been brainwashed for a couple of decades to believe that "low fat" equals "healthy," it's hard to rid yourself of that belief.

    Not meaning to hijack your comments - it's just a topic I really enjoy discussing.

  4. just one more excuse to eat the good stuff! :-)


    p.s. you should come check out my THEIT camera bag giveaway! I think you'd really like it!

  5. I'm really interested in this and can't wait to read it. I've kind of been on a "pro-fat" diet since I was pregnant. I switched to whole milk mostly because it seemed less weird and I figured whole milk was not making America fat. It's so darn tasty that I'm fairly certain I could never go back.


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