Secrets From the Eating Lab - Book Review

I just finished reading Tracy Mann's Secrets From the Eating Lab.  With regard to the concept of not dieting - it was filled with great and useful information to support why diets don't work.  I would recommend it to people looking for studies and scientific data to support why diets are not good for you. 

The author also aptly suggests - why are we all concerned with weight anyway? She explains that fat is not going to kill us as much as we have been led to believe, if at all, and that heavier people actually tend to live longer than smaller people.

However, spoiler alert,  I actually didn't like the book at all and I’m about to tell you why.  The author inexplicably has entire chapters filled with diet mentality and suggestions that would send anyone recovering from disordered eating right back into it.  I was actually shocked and disturbed that someone who seems to really understand how futile dieting is, is still promoting behaviors that are for all intensive purposes, dieting.  For this reason, I would not recommend this book for anyone who is still in recovery from disordered eating who may end up falling back down the rabbit hole with the suggestions on how to eat put forth by the author. 

For one thing, after she spends chapters talking about how diets don't work, she then promises to tell us all how we can get to our "leanest livable weight".  What the fuck does that mean? Does she mean some people are going to be fat - but let's all be good fatties and be the least fat that we possibly can?  She doesn't say why this is her recommendation and I don't understand why she brings it up, especially after she has already attested that some extra fat is not bad for you.  Did she include these chapters to sell books? I really hate to think so but given the world we live in, I wouldn't be surprised.

I'm not sure if anyone has ever called the author out for her contradictions in the book.  I don't mean any harm and I appreciate all she has done to further our knowledge and spread the word around why diets don't work.  However, I feel like it is even more dangerous when someone, who knows how harmful dieting can be and how harmless fat can be, promotes the party line that weighing less is ultimately better,  so let's all make that our goal - ok? It's downright fat phobic and so confusing coming from someone who supposedly understands fat science. 

Here are some examples of the language in the book that I found most troubling and fat phobic.

She discusses "smart regulation strategies", such as creating obstacles to eating certain foods. She discusses how she drives to work when she is "trying to limit her calorie intake".  On those days she will not drive by the bakery for fear of stopping to buy something. She says "frequently I lose the battle" when it comes to not taking the bakery route. Or she will arrange her day so she can't go out to lunch, or will stay in her office during parties.  Why is she limiting calories if she is not dieting? Why is she fighting a battle and by what criteria is she losing it?  What is she afraid of? Why is she limiting her social interactions because of food? None of this seems like it's very good for her mental health.

She also says to only serve yourself a "reasonable portion that you can feel good about eating".  What? How triggering! There is so much judgment inherent in the words "reasonable" and "feel good about".  It's judging our food choices as "unreasonable" and "too much" that makes us all feel guilty in the first place and leads us to restrict.  She also makes sure she puts the knife in the dishwasher whenever she is eating treats out of a pan, so that if she takes more and more, "the pile up of knives becomes an embarrassing deterrent".  Eating cookies is embarrassing? Why? What exactly are you trying to say? She also suggests nifty diet tips and tricks like ordering a salad first in a restaurant and eating crudités at a party before anything else and says to tell the server not to bring a bread basket.  Thank you for that Weight Watchers-ish advice.  All of these behaviors contradict the idea of habituation around food and body trust. If you can't trust yourself not to eat something then being around food is going to be a constant struggle. And why are we struggling not to eat in the first place? Oh yeah - because we are trying to achieve our leanest livable weight - Mann's recommendation. Sounds like a lot of fun huh? But not at all like a diet, right?

And holy cow - she actually has a chapter titled "How to trick your friends into ignoring a cookie". Why do we have to ignore cookies and why are we using tricks not to eat? She suggests you eat with "healthy" eaters so you will essentially be shamed into not eating what you really want to eat. I wonder how many people then go home and binge? Not eating what you want to eat does nothing but lead to stress and backlash eating. She also has a section titled "How to trick a child into eating a vegetable".  Again, why do we have to use trickery? And why is the vegetable so important that we need to resort to tricks to make it happen? What will happen if the child doesn't eat a vegetable? This is another example of fear mongering around food.

She also says at one point "When I am sneaking thin slice after thin slice of rice Krispie treats…" Why is she sneaking them? How is that healthy? Why does she want slice after slice? This is straight up retaliation to restrictive behavior and you can feel her pain at trying to restrict herself but wanting to eat the treats anyway.  She says to get other family members to change their habits too so you will have company and motivation to stick with your changes. She also says be careful of having family members be the food police which can lead to eating in secret. Is that why she has to sneak slice after slice of treats?

She talks about how to have plans to avoid eating too much - cocktail napkins and a drink in hand at a party, setting intentions for not eating certain things or only eating a certain number and she even suggests pre-committing to a penalty for indulging.  I'm sorry but this is all dieting nonsense.  Chapter 6-10 is all about restriction and it is so contradictory and confusing after the chapters on why diets don't work.  "Lock yourself into eating a vegetable by packing only a salad for lunch".  And what happens when you go home later and the salad wasn't satisfying? What are you going to eat then?

Confusingly, she also says "as long as we think of excess weight as the enemy, we are all complicit in perpetuating weight stigma."  How is she any different in trying to get people to trick themselves out of cookies and into vegetables so they can be their leanest livable weight? Isn't she thinking of excess weight as the enemy? I really want to get this woman multiple pans of Rice Krispie treats and let her habituate and normalize her eating. Maybe then she won't have to trick herself anymore and she can learn to trust herself.

In the end, I would not recommend this book because I don't want to aid in promoting intentional weight loss of any kind.  I don't want to promote restriction. I don't want to promote the idea that thinner is better. I don't want to promote the idea that we all just need to try harder. I don’t want to promote the idea that the suggestions she has are an achievable option for everyone.  To me they scream - YOU ARE STILL ON A DIET! It might be a kinder and gentler diet but if it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, then shit, it's a duck. 

Want a book that I would highly recommend? Check out Body of Truth by Harriet Brown. Lots of great statistics here too with no side dish of fat phobia to sell copies.