Book Review: Why Women Need Fat

One of the benefits to being a member of the BlogHer publishing network is that you have the chance to do occasional book reviews, which can be pretty interesting. When I got an email from BlogHer in December about Why Women Need Fat, I thought it sounded like something that might be relevant to my blog content, and decided to opt in on doing a review. In the interest of full disclosure, I am receiving compensation for this post from BlogHer; however, the views and opinions expressed here are entirely my own, and entirely honest.

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Why Women Need Fat: How “Healthy” Food Makes Us Gain Excess Weight and the Surprising Solution to Losing it Forever was published in December, 2011, and is written by a MD and a PhD. The fact that both authors are men makes me wonder why they refer to “us” in the subtitle of the book, and touches on one thing about the book that got under my skin as I was reading it: the focus is exclusively on women, and I’m not entirely sure why. A lot of the information the authors discuss, and the “surprising solution” they propose, is applicable to anyone. It’s true that there is an extensive amount of information on women as child-bearers, but I’m not honestly sure why the book couldn’t have been written for an audience of both men and women. The only thing I can really think of is that there’s greater sales potential in marketing a “weight loss” book (because even though this book kind of acts like it isn’t one, it really is) to women rather than having it appeal to both women and men.

All that said, the gender dynamics in this book were weird. Like I mentioned above, there is a huge focus on women needing to have a certain amount of fat (and a certain type) in order to bear healthy children who will develop large brains. The authors devote so much of the book to this discussion that as a woman who is choosing not to have children, it made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Obviously I am aware that the ability to bear children is unique to females (well, in most species, anyway), but in this book it felt at times that the message was that if you’re a woman who doesn’t want children, you’re not really a woman. I’m sure this wasn’t deliberate, but the authors’ emphasis on women’s weight and its relationship to child bearing made it seem as though women have few other roles to fill in life. As I read through this part of the book, I couldn’t help thinking about how weird it was, and how uncomfortable it made me. It was just so gendered.

The central idea in the book is that the American diet, with its heavy reliance on processed foods and vegetable oils (particularly corn and soybean oil, which are in nearly every processed or packaged food available in stores), is responsible for our excessive weight gain. Their theory is that the weight gain itself is due to the imbalance of Omega-6 fatty acids and Omega-3 fatty acids that arises from a diet high in vegetable oils; essentially, Omega-3s are good for us, and Omega-6s are bad. Vegetable oils contain huge amounts of Omega-6s, and the more Omega-6s we have, the less effective our Omega-3 fats become. In order to return to normal weights, we need to lower the amount of Omega-6 we consume, and increase the amount of Omega-3, in order to bring the two fatty acids into balance. This can be done by eating more whole foods–fruits, vegetables, nuts, grass-fed meats, and dairy products–and by limiting the amount of processed, packaged food in our diets. The evidence they provide to support their argument is compelling, and the section of the book in which they go over this information is really interesting.

Beyond that, however, a lot of the material in the book is really repetitive. I consider myself pretty well-informed when it comes to nutrition and the way our bodies process different sorts of foods, so it may be that someone who is less familiar with information of this nature will find a lot of the information in the book helpful. To me, though, the book could have been boiled down to a long article, with the crux being the information about Omega-3s and 6s, and a suggestion about how diets could be changed to achieve the necessary balance. Instead, this book is 304 pages long, and gets a bit boring because you feel like you’re reading the same thing over and over. Something said on one page will be said a page later, but slightly rephrased. After a while, it gets a bit tedious. In addition to that, it bothered me that a book that contains so much useful information, as well as a section on why dieting doesn’t work and why your body has a set point when it comes to weight, also had a lengthy section on how you can lose weight by adopting healthier eating habits. The main focus of this portion of the book was not on rapid weight loss, but on a healthy return to the body’s “normal”/set point weight, so at least there wasn’t as much of a “lose weight now! here’s the key to being thin forever! your life will be amazing if you just lose all that pesky fat!” as a lot of other diet books have. I wish, though, that there had been more of a message about focusing on health and feeling good, and less on losing weight. But I guess it’s weight loss that sells, not health and wellness.

In many ways, this book is just another bit of damning evidence against the corn and soybean industries. To a certain extent, the authors aren’t really saying anything new; Michael Pollan and documentaries like King Corn, or Food Inc. have been promoting a whole foods approach to eating for years now. But that’s fine, since we need as much information on how disgusting processed foods can be as we can get. Hopefully in another few years, the information in books like this one will be standard knowledge, and we’ll all be leading healthier lives as a result.

If you’re looking to learn more about the effects of processed foods on the body, or if you’re interested in the authors’ theory about Omega-3s and Omega-6s (which is interesting), then I’d recommend this book. If, on the other hand, you already know a lot about these issues, you could probably skip it without missing much.

To read what other BlogHer members are saying about Why Women Need Fat, go here.

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  1. Hmmm, interesting, kind of (the book, that is; your critique of the book is very interesting). The fact is, the main title, the subtitle, and the fact that this book is written by two male doctors, is a little off-putting for me. You’re right, it does seem like another weight-loss idea. Do we really need a new one? Thanks for sharing this!

  2. I liked your review, particularly the gendered thing. By the sounds of it i would have felt uncomfortable too reading it. it’s saddening that there are so many of these health/diet books that are basically nothing new, rehashing old content, and often doing a poorer job.

    1. Definitely! I had actually been hoping this particular book would be a bit more geared toward size-acceptance; in a lot of ways it shared some things with Health at Every Size, EXCEPT the fact that ultimately they stress the idea that you CAN lose weight. Because as we all know, that’s all that life boils down to anyway.

  3. I love the critical eye you take to this. I do find it irritating the way things are target at women… it’s just more entries into the whole “you’re not going to have a good life until you change X or Y about yourself.” A more balanced approach to the genders seems like it would be better, especially given it’s written by men.

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