What does the book ‘You Just Need to Lose Weight’ get right? Everything – The Seattle Times

When Aubrey Gordon was a 19-year-old attending her first college party, a stranger decided he needed to ask her, “Have you ever tried losing weight? It’s not that hard.” He mansplained the simplicity of “calories in, calories out” and treated her to an unsolicited mini-lecture on carbs, fat and calories. “Just look at the science,” he said. “It’s pretty clear.”
Gordon shares this story early in her new book, “’You Just Need to Lose Weight’ and 19 Other Myths About Fat People.” In fact, as she goes on to explain, the science is not clear: “Fat people have existed in every corner of our world, in every moment of our history,” she writes. “We simply do not know why some people are fat and others are thin. And the closer we get to an answer, the more complex the picture becomes.”
What is clear is that modern science has thoroughly debunked the idea of “calories in, calories out,” or that you need to create a 3,500-calorie deficit to lose a pound (Myth 2). Ditto for the idea that losing weight and keeping it off is a simple matter of willpower. But that doesn’t fit society’s narratives and expectations about weight, which are grounded in anti-fatness.
“Like so many before him, no explanation of my body satisfied him,” Gordon writes of the clueless partygoer. “He only relented when I reassured him, three times, that I was still trying to lose weight.” She shouldn’t have had to write about this episode — because it should have never happened to begin with — and she shouldn’t have had to write this book, but I’m glad she did.
I’m sure that some people will read this book — or, more likely, read that a fat woman wrote this book — and claim that she’s simply justifying her fatness. I’ve read books by thin academicians and researchers that cover somewhat similar ground, and some questioned whether they, not being fat themselves, were the right person to write their book, with a regretful aside that because they are thin they are more likely to be listened to and believed.
I started following Gordon’s writing when she was exclusively using the pseudonym Your Fat Friend. She came publicly into her own name in 2020 with the publication of her first book, “What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat,” and the launch of the “Maintenance Phase” podcast, which she co-hosts. She is the right person to write “You Just Need to Lose Weight,” because not only is she methodical about digging into the scientific research, organizing timelines of key events, and documenting the evolution of our collective beliefs about fatness — presenting all of it in a way that’s imminently readable — but she has the lived experience of being fat.
This new book offers “a compilation of research and thinking on some pernicious and persistent myths that perpetuate anti-fatness, disregard for fat people’s humanity, and pathologize our bodies.” Because I’m constantly diving into the science of weight, weight loss and weight stigma/anti-fatness, few of the facts Gordon presents in this introductory guide (her words) surprised me, but there is a richness and a great attention to detail in her writing that made reading this book a joy even when seeing anew the profound harm caused by anti-fatness made me mad.
She tackles a lot of misperceptions about fatness in 174 pages, including nuanced explanations of why body mass index isn’t worth the ink it takes to print its three-letter abbreviation (Myth 7, “The BMI is an objective measure of size and health”), and how the body positivity movement — originally a 1960s grassroots social justice movement focused on ending anti-fatness, racism and ableism — devolved into the current watered-down version that just “moves the goal posts” from unrealistic beauty standards to unrealistic standards of physical and mental health (Myth 11, “Body positivity is about feeling better about yourself, as long as you’re happy and healthy”). “All of us deserve peaceful relationships with our own bodies, regardless of whether or not others perceive us as happy or healthy,” she writes.
I’ve read many books addressing anti-fatness or other forms of social injustice that leave readers with a better understanding of the problem and the fleeting thought, “Umm … now what?” before they close the book and go back to their lives. Gordon recognizes this problem and has sought to remedy it with reflection questions and opportunities for taking meaningful action to stop the injustice of anti-fatness, including examining our own beliefs and biases about what it means to be fat.
When discussing Myth 14 (“I don’t like gaining weight, but I don’t treat fat people differently”), she points out an uncomfortable truth: “Too often, we think of bias as a conscious choice, a worldview that we must first consciously opt into in order to perpetuate. If we haven’t decided to be biased, we must not be. We cannot be.” But because we’re products of a biased society, she writes, we reproduce those biases unwittingly. “The conscious choice, then, is undoing that bias.”
I don’t know about you, but I gnash my teeth every time I hear someone has accused a fat celebrity, model or influencer of “glorifying obesity” for simply being happy and living their life publicly. Gordon writes, “It’s a bizarre belief that borders on superstition: that seeing a picture of a happy fat person bears some deeper agenda, subliminally encouraging others around us to get fatter.” For readers who believe that “Accepting fat people ‘glorifies obesity’” (Myth 10), she offers this: “If you are uncomfortable seeing fat people, work that discomfort out on your own. Don’t make fat people carry it for you.” I couldn’t agree more.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.


Leave a Comment