Losing It

Sara Kelly reviews "Losing It: America's Obsession with Weight and the Industry that Feeds on It" by Laura Fraser.

Published January 16, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

Laura Fraser's "Losing It" not only debunks every weight loss myth you've ever heard (and many more you haven't), but also serves up some surprisingly digestible prose. Fraser, a contributing editor at Health magazine, is no fast-talking diet guru -- though she does include a chapter on the subject. She isn't even thin. An ex-bulimic and calorie counter from age five, Fraser has at last made peace with her pudgy (but healthy) body, and advises her presumably frustrated, perpetually yo-yo dieting readers to do the same.

Americans blow nearly $50 billion a year on fad diets and weight-loss schemes, Fraser writes, the best of which don't work, and the worst of which can result in heart attacks or strokes. She fleshes out all those horror stories you've heard -- women who've died from dieter's tea, or who've lost all hope of controlling their bowels after undergoing intestinal bypasses -- with her own sad diet tales. She describes her teenage run-in with the calorie Nazis at Weight Watchers and the hypnotist who programmed her, at age 13, to associate pizza with bony pork gristle and chocolate chips with rat turds.

Fraser is a stalwart researcher, tracing woman's changing form from Victorian days -- when America's most fashionable females tipped the scales at 200 pounds -- all the way to the current Kate Moss backlash that has angry fat advocates spray-painting "Feed Me" on bus shelter advertisements. Though not a single diet icon escapes Fraser's criticism, her reporter's instinct prevails, and her attacks are balanced by moments of humanity. Consider this morsel from her conversations with Richard Simmons: "He broke out alternately into tears and Broadway songs as we talked." Or from breakfast with the voluble Susan Powter: "Powter orders with enthusiasm ... and eats with real gusto, which is a rare quality in a woman, one that I admire."

Fraser spurs readers to rebellion by recommending that they "boycott the diet industry." Weight, after all, is "not a matter of health or discipline but a weapon our culture uses against us to keep us in our place and feeling small."

By Sara Kelly

Sara Kelly is executive editor of the Philadelphia Weekly.

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