Think of "Eat Fat," Richard Klein's screed about what's wrong with fat in America, as a deceiving devil's food cake. The first glance is enticing, but a few bites reveal an unpalatable concoction whose good ingredients have been compromised by the unhealthy ones.
Klein starts with a supportable premise, that the tremendous weight that society places upon all of us to be thin is part of the reason we are growing fatter. People react to stress by overeating, he says, and it is stressful to be fat in 1990s America. The medical industry condemns fat people to an early death. The health industry spends billions to promote low-fat and no-fat items that perversely authorize more consumption. And just about everyone else indulges in the last bastion of politically correct discrimination, making fun of fatties.
Along the way, he is often insightful, such as when he suggests that "ideal weight" tables are unattainably low, that drugs to combat obesity are no solution, that rigorous dieting may work in the short term but is actually bad for your health eventually.
Even his solution -- to block out the incessant drumbeat that thin is in, to try eating without watching what you eat, to "eat fat" -- has the appeal of reverse psychology. And he has a mildly amusing way of playing with words that is somewhat, uh, infectious. But his logic is like Swiss cheese, he compares apples and oranges, and too many of his ideas are half-baked.
It is as though Klein -- who is not fat, to judge by the book jacket photo -- wrote this book off the top of his head. Either that or he is like famous fatty Rush Limbaugh, clearly capable of brilliant thought but prone to misuse his faculties to persuade the less intellectually inclined that he is right.
Klein's first mistake is his failure to clarify just who he is talking about: Sometimes it's folks with a few extra pounds, but usually
it's the obese, which Webster's defines as people having "excessive fat." Certainly, "excessive" is subjective, but Klein ridiculously asserts that "many" people even 100 pounds overweight are "perfectly healthy."
Advising the grossly overweight that the way back to health is to eat whatever they please is the contention of a fathead.
Klein, a French professor at Cornell who previously wrote "Cigarettes Are Sublime," has no discernible taste for moderation. He
states baldly, repeatedly, that diets and exercise don't work. And, well, he'sright when he says that going on a crash diet often ends in a crash and burn; to "go on a diet" implies going off it eventually, and usually the pounds pile back on in short order. But going draconian isn't the only alternative; what about small changes, applied consistently? How about just eating a bit healthier?
When he speaks of exercise, he jumps right to "compulsive exercise," but there's a lot of wiggle room between couch potato and compulsion. How about just taking a walk?
Whole passages of the book are trivial, such as his 3 1/2-page "Poem of No Fat," a listing of fat-reduced food products. And others are boring, particularly the chapter on fat sex. He expounds at length on "chubby chasers" and "dyke magazines," but he tosses off the connection between food and love in a couple of sentences.
Some of his ideas are downright fatuous, such as when he suggests Santa as a sex symbol, when he expresses his gratitude "for the taste and energy and generosity" that went in the accumulation of Orson Welles' fat, when he says, "Fat Albert is, after all, adorable." Believe me, no fat kid ever wanted to be Fat Albert.
Klein expends a great deal of energy on fat in fashion. He says that fat has had a much better reputation through most of history
(consider the phrase "the fat of the land," and who wouldn't like a "big fat raise"?), and that when fat becomes fashionable again, the problems of fat people, if not their fat, will melt away. But even when fat is no longer scorned, obese people will still lose their breath climbing a flight of stairs, they will still be more likely to forgo adventure and they will still be more likely to die prematurely.
Fitness, not fashion, is the point. Fulfillment comes from being an active participant in life, not from filling up a few times a day.
I know this because until about five years ago, I thought I was a fat lifer. I was a fat kid, a fat teen-ager, a fat adult. My high weight -- and low point -- came in the late '80s, when I hit maybe 450 (I can't say for sure, because the scale only went to 400, but I know I kept eating for months after exceeding that limit). It's why I take it so personally when he says, "It is one of the premises of this book that your fat is not what you have but who you are."
That's a bunch of baloney.