Secrets From the Eating Lab by Traci Mann

Oh, how I love a good self-help book, especially if it deals with weight loss and/or body image.  Without going into detail let me just say this is an area of great interest to me.  Secrets from the Eating Lab is a book I’d recommend to just about anyone, even if you’re not overweight yourself.  It’s an informative, persuasive, fast read that will have you saying, “Never diet again!” and perhaps lacing up your walking shoes.IMG_2179

Even though she is an academic and she shares lots of scientific research to bolster her ideas, Traci Mann writes with a light, familiar touch.  She makes it clear that she wants people to enjoy their lives, whether or not they are overweight or obese by our society’s standards.  It’s a refreshing tone, frankly.  In the chapter titled “Obesity is Not a Death Sentence” Mann looks at a compilation of numerous studies about whether or not obese people live shorter life spans than “normal weight” people (BMI 18.5-25.)  Turns out that the ratio of overweight people’s death rates to normal weight folks was 1, meaning the risk of death is the same for both groups.  Even people classified as Obese Class 1 (BMI 30-35) had a ratio of 1 with normal weight people.  It wasn’t until the Obese Class 2 (BMI 35-40) and higher did a biostatistician find a risk ratio higher than 1, and even then in only a third of the studies.   Mann goes on to write that there are many other factors involved in whether or not being overweight is bad for you, like your socioeconomic status (poor and undereducated people may not see the doctor until it’s too late or have access to fresh food) and your stress level (more stress = health problems.)  Where you carry your weight (abdominal area vs. hips and thighs) also correlates to specific health problems, even if you’re not obese.

Rather than obsess about the number on the scale, Mann wants the reader to take steps to eat better and get more exercise.  She provides “Smart Regulation Strategies” which are simple ways to improve your health.  One of my favorites was called “Be Alone With a Vegetable,” which means try to eat a veggie or salad before you eat anything else.   That way your only option is the healthy item, which will make you fuller and leaves less room in your belly for whatever else you might eat at that meal.  And you’re sure to get your veggies in that way.  She also advocates making things as easy as possible by washing and chopping your vegetables as soon as you bring them home.  How many times have vegetables died a slow death in your refrigerator crisper?  I know I’ve wasted money and good food far more than I’d like to admit, simply out of laziness and not remembering the asparagus or broccoli until it was too late.

Mann really wants us all to get more exercise, but not for weight loss.  The other benefits of exercise, both physical (lowering blood pressure, resting heart rates, need for medications)  and mental (helping mild to moderate depression and anxiety, etc.) are proven over and over.  She wants us to find the types of exercise that we enjoy, whether it’s a yoga class or running or hiking, which will make it easier to keep it up long term.  She makes a good case that doctors and the media should be touting the benefits of exercise to us all, removed from the prospect of weight loss.

I really enjoyed this book, both in message and delivery.  It was easy to read and I like her common-sense approach to a very touchy subject that many people struggle with.  In the end she quotes one of my heroes, writer Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery:  “Your body is not your masterpiece – your life is.”   I can totally get behind that idea.

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