8 Books That Preach the Gospel of Health at Every Size
I went to an ear, nose, and throat specialist because my chronic fatigue had been especially debilitating. My thyroid was slightly enlarged, my hormone levels were on the low end of normal, and my primary care physician wanted to rule out hypothyroidism.
But when the ENT walked in, he was dismissive of my doctor’s concerns. He offered to refer me to an endocrinologist. Then he honed in on what he assumed was the real problem: my weight.
Without asking me about my history, without asking how the pandemic had affected my routine, without asking me whether I was taking any steps to get back to a sense of normalcy, he told me I had to lose weight.
“Would you like me to refer you to a nutritionist?” he asked.
“I already know what I have to do,” I said, trying to keep my tone light.
He kept pushing and I sat there, staring at my hands in my lap. When I left, all I could think about were the appointments I already had scheduled with other specialists. Would I have to endure more of the same?
I grew up with a mother who was always dieting and a father who was always making fat jokes. Neither of them meant to nurture within me a lifelong complex around my weight — and they certainly weren’t the only source of unhealthy messaging steeped in body shame — but here I am at the age of 41 and my relationship with my body is still complicated, so much so that my own damn newsletter is called Thunder Thighs, a phrase my mother often threw around.
I’ve never been one to deprive myself. Sure, I tried Weight Watchers once (I went with my mom). I once tested The Flex Diet for a story in the New York Post (the author insisted it wasn’t a diet but, rather, a “lifestyle change” that would miraculously lead to weight loss). And I had a good run at one point with a book whose title has since been lost to the sands of time (though I do remember the author insisting that hunger wouldn’t kill me and that I should just ignore my body’s cues until they subsided). But…I really like food. Particularly food that is oftentimes labeled as “bad.”
At the same time, the body positivity movement has always felt a bit much for me. Loving my body has always felt like a bridge too far. What I really long for is body neutrality. At one point, I wrote elsewhere, “How would it feel to not expend so much energy hating my body — or even to not expend energy just trying to love it? How would it feel to just exist?”
I’m still looking for the answer.
In the past year, I came across the Health at Every Size ethos, a concept that honors our physical differences and acknowledges that we can be healthy no matter what size we wear. It’s a message that resonates with me, even as I struggle to separate out my feelings around the size of my body and my feelings around my actual health. Here are some of the books that are helping me find my way.
The F*ck It Diet by Caroline Dooner
I first read this book early on in the pandemic, and I read it again this past January. Because I needed to remind myself that diets are bullshit.
So, unlike The Flex Diet, which was a diet masquerading as a lifestyle change, The F*ck It Diet is a take-down of the diet industry, inspired by the Health at Every Size movement. The book opens with a science lesson on why diets don’t work, moves into a history lesson on where diet culture comes from, and then shows a better way: a way in which we let go of what bodies are “supposed to” look like and just…live our lives? Enjoy food? Don’t feel guilty about the fact that we ate Nutella with a spoon this morning? I love this book and I bought myself a copy for keepsies and I’ll probably read it again when I find myself falling in thrall once again to the messages of fat-shaming doctors and lifestyle plans and jumpsuits that are clearly made for tall, willowy women.
Health at Every Size by Lindo Bacon
Dooner name-drops Bacon in her book so, of course, I had to read this one next. In it, Bacon introduces readers to the Health at Every Size movement that Dooner’s book is grounded in, really digging deep into the research around health and weight loss and the correlations that do and do not exist. They then unpack what it means to let go of our attachment to weight as a marker of health and, instead, figure out what it really means to make healthy choices that are right for us.
You Have the Right to Remain Fat by Virgie Tovar
After reading Bacon’s book, I began to feel that I was on A Journey. So I picked up Tovar’s book, which I had actually read for the first time back in 2019. You Have the Right to Remain Fat is a quick gulp of a read in which Tovar delves into the racist and classist origins of fatphobia and diet culture. She tells of finding her people within the fat activism community and emphasizes that we all have the right to remain fat, no matter what the culture tells us. Also, she has a retreat called Camp Thunder Thighs and I now daydream about hanging out with Tovar IRL, working through my internal agita, jigglecizing, journaling, and making friends for life. (P.S. Tovar is also the author of The Self-Love Revolution: Radical Body Positivity for Girls of Color.)
Hunger by Roxane Gay
This may seem like an odd one to include. This book is about so much more than just weight, and it delves into the sexual assault that was the impetus for Gay’s initial weight gain. It’s also a very personal book that shares the messy ups and downs of life as someone who is grappling with her weight. I loved every bit of it, even as it left me an emotional wreck. But what I most appreciated was Gay’s acknowledgment that knowing how ridiculous fatphobia is doesn’t make it any easier to love one’s body.
Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison
This one is a much more recent read. It reiterates a lot of the research and history included in both The F*ck It Diet and Health at Every Size but then goes even deeper into the ways in which diet culture steals your time, money, well-being, and happiness. After getting all of that out of the way, Harrison shows readers what life can look like after leaving diet culture behind, from all the feels you may experience to what it means to eat intuitively to the dangers of labeling food as “good” or “bad.”
Why Diets Make Us Fat by Sandra Aamodt
This one is another recent read. It gives readers all the dirty details on how dieting actually makes us gain weight. What sets this book apart from the other titles on this list are the sections on mindful eating: what it actually means, how to practice it, and how to leave obsolete beliefs about body size behind.
The Body Is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor
This is the third reread on my list. Clearly, I’ve been in need of some sort of divine intervention. Similarly to Tovar’s book, the title is a rallying cry. And the contents? It’s not about diet culture so much as it’s about fatphobia and indoctrinated body shame, and about how the best way to combat these things is through radical self-love. And again, radical self-love feels beyond my grasp in this moment. But Taylor’s writings on the systemic issues that perpetuate body shame and oppression are essential.
Big Girl by Kelsey Miller
And finally, this is the book I’m reading now. After reading through all of the research and all of the history, all of the alternatives and all of the mildly prescriptive lessons, I wanted to read about someone who had already taken that journey. And this book is that, from someone whose own struggles feel incredibly relatable to me. In her book, Miller tells of how she reached a point where she realized that a lifetime of dieting was never going to make her happy. So, she hires an intuitive eating coach, learns how to exercise sustainably, and comes to embrace the mindset behind Health at Every Size.
Right now, I’m eating these fantastic empanadas I made with beef, hard-boiled eggs, and green olives. I am loving the heck out of them even though I am simultaneously side-eyeing what I refer to as my kangaroo pouch. And this is okay. This is all okay. I’m working on it.
If you want to read more about what it means to make healthy decisions for your body, you may enjoy Sarah’s post on 20 Healthy Eating Books to Inspire Your Resolutions. And I am all about Alison’s post of 8 Fat Positive Books to Help with Self-Loving Resolutions.
(Meanwhile, I am anti-resolution, but am a huge fan of constant reassessment and positive goal-setting.)