Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss--and the Myths and Realities of Dieting
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Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss--and the Myths and Realities of Dieting

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  698 ratings  ·  180 reviews
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

In this eye-opening report, New York Times science writer Gina Kolata shows that our society's obsession with dieting is less about keeping trim and staying healthy than about money, power, trends, and impossible ideals. Kolata's account of four determined dieters in a study comparing the Atkins diet to a low-calorie one becomes...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published April 29th 2008 by Picador (first published 2007)
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Skylar Burris
Abandon hope, all ye dieters who crack the cover of this book. If you have an arminian bone in your body, this book may well depress you. The gist of it is: if you are overweight or obese, you will always be overweight or obese; no matter how hard you struggle, and no matter how successfully you diet over the short term, you will always revert to being fat. It’s no use trying. Your weight is predestined. And the rest of the world will probably never accept that and will always think of you as a...more
Kolota, a science writer for the NYT, confirms what I always suspected, that fat people aren't fat because they have no willpower or because they are somehow morally inferior to skinny people. They are fat because their weight, like their height, is genetically predetermined. The author follows a research group for two years who are ostensibly comparing an Atkins-type diet to another group with the calorie-counting diet. Both groups get support groups and counseling and the end result is the sam...more
First off, this is not a diet book and offers no advice on how to loose weight. Instead it is an investigation into the science of weight loss, or as Kolata describes:

It is about the nature of the current fixation with obesity, where it came from, and why it persists. It is about personal obsession and social obsession with body weight. And it is, in the end, about obesity—a scientific and social phenomenon that has defined our time, made some rich and others miserable, led to the elation of dis...more
Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

Over the years, I've heard about studies that indicate that people tend to have set body weights, that weight lost is almost always regained, that genetics and biology play a bigger part in weight gain than eating habits, and that some people are just destined to be fat. Those studies are always buried by the "common knowledge" that obesity is a result of a lack of willpower and self-control, that fat people are simply lazy. I have seen person after person str...more
So, apparently your body weight, or at least your body weight range, is genetically determined. But this news doesn't get out, because absolutely no one likes the idea that weight is genetic -- not the diet industry, not the health industry, not the media, and least of all dieters themselves. Genetic weight invalidates centuries of diet fads and fat obsessing, puts a whole industry out of business, and robs people who don't like their weight of the hope that their next diet will be the one to ch...more
I appreciated the basis in current scientific studies; however, I found that there was a selection bias in which studies she chose to cite. She chooses to buttress her argument that it's all genetic and that there is nothing you can do about your weight by using studies with negative results. While it is true that losing weight and keeping it off is not easy, the National Weight Control Registry has published data on successful weight loss maintainers, and shows that there IS another way.

As som...more
I'm not sure how I feel about this book. I was familiar with the premise from having read other sources such as the blog "Junkfood Science." Many of the studies she reviewed I had read of before from such sources. I think the message needs to be heard: that the genetic correlation with weight/body size/shape is higher than that with many other things we think of as "genetic" such as mental illness or cancer. And that most diets don't work, especially in the long term, and that by and large, fatn...more
Gina Kolata has turned in another extremely readable book for the layperson, analyzing all the recent and relevant past research on obesity. In the interest of full disclosure, I did skim over a couple of pages that made abundant use of current molecular biology studies.
Yes, most of us are aware that a combination of calorie intake reduction and calorie export (in the form of exertion) should result in a net loss of the old adipose. But recent research indicates that most people are gonna be th...more
Rethinking Thin is not a diet book, despite the title. Gina Kolata is a science writer for the New York Times, and she set out to study the science and history of dieting.

She follows a group of dieters who were recruited for a research study by three universities. The study aimed to compare the effectiveness of the Atkins diet to a low-fat diet.

Kolata intersperses chapters containing anecdotes of the dieters' experience with reports of previous dieting studies and the history of diets through th...more
April Hochstrasser
This is the book all dieters have been waiting for. It follows the trials of the Atkins Diet as compared with a low fat- low cal diet. And the winner is...... none. This book made it clear that all diets work in the short run, but put pounds on in the long run. The few scientific studies that have been done prove that after 2 years, results with any diet are always the same. Weight is lost the first few weeks, then gradually comes back on. The only permanent solution is a change in eating habits...more
What an example of misrepresentation by cover/title! This is not a diet book or a self-help book. I never would have picked it up based on the cover.

In Rethinking Thin, Kolata weaves together the stories of a group participating in a diet comparison study (atkins v. calorie counting) with a history of popular opinion, medical research and treatment of obesity. She elegantly brings it all together at the end. The best chapters reminded me of my favorite medical histories (The Ghost Map, for examp...more
Sep 03, 2007 Andie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone struggling with weight, others who want to understand what others go through
As an overweight woman who most of the time still feels good about her looks and her body, this book was an affirmation and was reassuring. The author looks at research projects that have gotten little press because these study go against the notion that overweight/obesity is a character flaw and always unhealthy. The author makes a good case that we have a weight range that we are going to remain unless we do drastic things like starve or force ourselves to eat more than feels right. Overweight...more
This was interesting. The author is the science writer for the NY Times and I read one of her other books (Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It.) When I saw this one in my library I picked it up.

It's a factual account of the industry and science of weight loss here in the U.S. I gave it three stars instead of four only because one of the middle sections was so science-intensive that my eyes glazed over. (Sample sentence: "But PYY, the...more
Liz B
Gina Kolata gives both a history of dieting in the US from the nineteenth century to today and an overview of past and current obesity research. Both are fascinating and kind of depressing. Fascinating because--how is it that I don't already *know* this stuff about weight loss? I mean, as many magazine articles as I've read about the topic, you'd think I'd know everything. Depressing because it confirms what so very, very many of us know: Weight loss is pretty hard. Keeping it off in the long te...more
This was written by the science editor for the New York Times, and it tells the history of dieting, including current research. It never occurred to me how much dieting research is going on, and how much of it is so highly political, involving the drug companies, governmental agencies, and the back-stabbing infighting of academics and other scientists, and lots of money. The bottom line, as I read it, is that no diet has ever worked or will ever work. Our genes pretty much define our weight and...more
Fat people have a bad image. So-called normal and thin people assume that fat people are responsible for how they look, that they are lacking in will-power, that they’re lazy, smelly, stupid, and they have made a choice to *be* fat. Being fat seems to give people license to criticize and ridicule one. Gina Kolata delves a little bit deeper into the current diet research – looking at what, if any, diets really work for fat people, how genetics play into a person’s weight, and whether it’s really...more
Oct 20, 2009 Mary rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everybody who worries about their weight or makes jokes about fat people
Shelves: nonfiction
Man, I feel like such a chump. I've been swallowing the line on dieting for years without question, and this book really blows it up. The author reviews the past several decades of research on obesity and dieting and lets us in on the results -- diets don't work and your weight in genetically predetermined. You heard me. All that fat shaming and blathering about lack of personal responsibility that is done by public health folks, diet gurus, and Dr. Phil? Not relevant. The reason the vast majori...more
This book is much less angry and lyrical than Paul Campos' The Obesity Myth, but it is just as powerful, partly because it takes the reader by surprise. Even the title, "Rethinking Thin," seems designed to lull the complacent who are going to be confronted with the need to rethink fat. And, it saves its best ammo for the end. Not only is weight loss rarely possible in the way it is advertised, not only are the causes unknown, but the best evidence is that heftier people are healthier than the sk...more
In this accessible and well-written book, New York Times science reporter Gina Kolata gives a tour of the history of obesity research. She highlights contributions of major obesity researchers, and discusses the evidence for genetic, evolutionary and infectious causes of obesity. She also discusses the lack of evidence that calorie restriction leads to lasting weight loss. She basically concludes that it may not be possible to lose weight below a certain set-point, which is genetically determine...more
Kolata sets this up wonderfully. The book moves between chapters on 'diets'or the 'science of diets' and chapters following a group of people who are participating in a two-year diet study (Atkins vs low-cal) at Penn. Readily-consumed pop nonfiction.

The history of dieting is interesting -- lots of stuff I didn't know. The pain of being 'overweight' crosses the centuries.

And then the zapper, in one of the last chapters: the studies that show not only that dieting doesn't work but that being 'ove...more
Mom: Just finished Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata, and I feel like Deja that this is a must read for all of us. Kolata talks about several long-term studies, and one in detail, where the dieters were followed for 2 years. The dieters were divided into 2 groups, one following the Atkins diet, and the other following a low-calorie diet. Both groups had high hopes going in. The low-calorie dieters were a little disappointed that they were not on the Atkins diet, but they still felt that the weight...more
Ms. Phinnia
Lots of history on various diets through out the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries (this whole high protein/low protein/calorie counting dance we've got going on has been popular for a LONG time, and there were quaint idiotic trends, like drinking a cup of vinegar before every meal.) Excellent historical section, with emphasis given that the Gibson Girl and the Flapper "types" were based on DRAWINGS, not on real people. Gives lots of evidence that diets do NOT work (following a group of study partic...more
Cindy Marsch
Slow-moving getting through the history of the research, and the conclusions are less than inspiring, but it's not news to me. Bottom line: good nutrition and exercise will do everyone a lot of good, but apart from heroically-sustained efforts (see ) it is pretty much impossible for the heavy to become thin and stay there. I've lost as much as 20% of my top weight and am able to sustain keeping off 15% of it over the last five years, but I keep edging back up. And I need to l...more
Kelly Junno
This book is a strange mix of the illuminating and the misleading. The research is full of holes and blind spots. Based on the extensive study on two out-of-fasion and long-disproven fad diets, the low calorie diet and the high-protein diet, Kolata asserts that we should stop looking at our pandemic of obesity as caused by eating too much and start too look at biological evolutionary factors; after all, people a hundred years ago were on an average three inches shorter, so it should naturally fo...more
So this is pretty much that Tara Parker-Pope longread published last year in the NYT Magazine in macro form (not surprising because they're probably buds in real life), but what I found most provocative in this book is the disclosure she managed to obtain from the dieters in the Penn study. Many of them opened a very intimate part of themselves to her and as a result, it humanized the chapters about ob/db/leptin/NPY/etc., which were in themselves fascinating but eerily people-less. (Also: not re...more
With Butterflies
Horrible garbage. It's as if the author set out to write a book to make people feel as if their weight is something they have no control over, which is hardly the truth. Her "science" is highly tainted by selection bias and gaping holes in her view of reality. She conveniently leaves out anything that could spoil her already arrived at conclusions.

I wanted to read this because of a medical seminar I attended which mentioned this particular author and the damage her misinformation could cause th...more
Not a diet book--which is why I read it. Instead, it's an amazingly well-written overview of obesity research, and how even though all solid evidence points to the fact that a) weight is mostly genetic, like height; b) no scientific study has ever been able to find a diet that actually works long-term; c) average weight in a culture increases along with life span and overall heath; and d) increased health and longevity are actually correlated with being slightly overweight, culturally we still b...more
Nov 10, 2007 Zoe rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: scientists, dieters, fat/skinny people
I loved this. Gina Kolata is great at explaining complicated science to a general audience. I also liked that she had sympathy for the people in her book without pitying them.

Bottom line: diet/exercise isn't enough for everyone and science is still struggling to understand why.
Kolata tells two stories in parallel, alternating. One follows a group of people dedicated to losing weight through diet and exercise, using the best available techniques. The other traces the history of weight research. Basically, weight is almost impossible to change in adults, through diet-and-exercise or either one alone, whether to gain or lose. Weight, like height, is highly heritable, and can only be changed for the short terms with dramatic effort. The body will gradually return itself t...more

Any decisions about weight loss I make will be informed by this book. The author substantiates what we of who battle the extra pounds experience -- diets rarely work and weight loss is typically followed by weight. What makes the book interesting is the research that explains why that happens -- and why some of our smug friends think they are thin only because they have great will power. Now I know, not virtue, just leptin! It is worth the read just for that bit.

Some of the research made me feel...more
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Kolata graduated from the University of Maryland and studied molecular biology at the graduate level at MIT for a year and a half. Then she returned to the University of Maryland and obtained a master’s degree in applied mathematics. Kolata has taught writing as a visiting professor at Princeton University and frequently gives lectures across the country. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey, with h...more
More about Gina Kolata...
Flu: The Story Of The Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It The Best American Science Writing 2007 Ultimate Fitness: The Quest for Truth about Health and Exercise Clone: The Road to Dolly, and the Path Ahead The New York Times Book of Mathematics: More Than 100 Years of Writing by the Numbers

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