Book Review: “The Secret Life of Fat”

Secret Life of Fat

“The Secret Life of Fat” by Sylvia Tara, PhD
c.2016, W.W. Norton $26.95 / $35.95 Canada 288 pages

Here’s something important: your pants don’t fit anymore.

The blame, you’re sure, lands squarely with the holidays: too many toddies and too much figgy pudding. Perhaps it’s just bad genes or, well, maybe you have no willpower. Or maybe, as you’ll see in “The Secret Life of Fat” by Sylvia Tara, PhD, your fat is not your fault.

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Back when she was in college, Sylvia Tara came to realize that “we are not all created equal…” To maintain her “skinny jeans” frame, Tara had to nearly starve herself, while one of her classmates ate everything put in front of her.

So unfair and so fascinating. Tara began to research the subject of fat.

It’s hard to believe that plumpness was pleasing until around the turn of the last century. Men desired zaftig women and mothers wanted chubby babies then; today, magazines use barrels of ink on weight-loss advice, countless trees have died for diet books, and the fact remains that “more than 78 million Americans are considered obese.”

And yet, says Tara, fat “is not all bad.”

Science tells us that there are two kinds of fats; one (white fat) hoards energy, the other (brown fat) burns energy. Even before we’re born, nature makes sure we have both–and of the former, girl babies get more than boy babies. As we grow, fat molecules specialize, so to speak, and “some… can do fantastic things.” Fat helps us think, it strengthens our bones, insulates our bodies, moisturizes skin and scalp, repairs wounds, promotes puberty, gives us fertility and might extend our lives; while fat molecules, “collectively referred to as lipids,” do even more.

And then we age. We become sedentary, stressed, sleepless and fat seems to hibernate on thighs and belly. It’s “wily.” Sneaky. What can you do?

Fat, as Tara indicates, is somewhat like Goldilocks. Too much can lead to disease and other problems. Too little can kill you. What’s needed is a just-right, somewhere in the middle.

“If one is healthy, that’s the main thing.”

Feeling guilt over your gut? Too much thought going into your thighs? Or maybe you’re regretting that last Christmas cookie, but there’s no need for that. “The Secret Life of Fat” puts it all into perspective.

Conventional wisdom is tossed out the window in this fresh, fun, but seriously heavy book on why we need fat–but not too much. Author and biochemist Sylvia Tara uses case studies, interviews with researchers, and scientific findings to explain more about this misunderstood organ, what we know and what we don’t. There’s a whodunit here: we read about weight gone awry and how lab sleuths link medical mysteries to fat. And yes, there’s both good news and bad, but it’s given gently and with hope.

Though it does contain some advice, this is not your usual diet book. There are no recipes, no plans to follow and no shame. If you’re trying to lose a few pounds, in fact, you might find it refreshing. You may find that “The Secret Life of Fat” just… fits.