Book Review: The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz

The Big Fat Suprise by Nina Teicholz - Header

In trying to recover from anorexia my biggest challenge is obviously that of food. Of trying to teach my brain that food is good. Safe. That food won’t hurt me and “Eat Fat Be Fat” is complete nonsense. I need to relearn that balance is more important than anything else. One chocolate bar is a snack not a weakness. You don’t need to exercise because you’re going out for dinner and most importantly that food is just energy to live, not a commodity to control.

Sadly though, life isn’t that simple. I can’t just pick up a chocolate bar, and my brain still believes smaller nutritional numbers are better but that doesn’t mean I’m not prepared to fight back. And when you’re trying to fight back all sources of ammunition are worth plundering for supplies. So, in the run up to Christmas when the BBC Food Programme did their annual “recipe books to buy” feature, I found my latest weapon – The Big Fat Secret by Nina Teicholz. A book, not of grams and ounces but science and reason. A narrative overview of one simple idea that: Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.

Science Fat Diet - The Big Fat Surprise

Whether I believed in what it had to say or not, anything that could potential educated my brain into a different, indisputable way of thinking seemed worth a try and so, having had it sat on a shelf for the last month, I finally decided that the time was right to give it a go. And a go I did. Demolishing what it had to say in a couple of days.

I think one of the reasons I have literally done very little else besides read this book recently is because, through simple media based osmosis I am already coming around to it’s way of thinking. You can’t help but notice the gluttony of newspaper articles recently declaring a war on sugar. Pointing out the table spoons of refined white powder hidden in everything that claims to be healthy and how carbohydrates are now enemy #1. And this book reinforces that idea, but does so from another angle. It doesn’t want to belittle sugar and carbohydrates but rather, befriend fat and cholesterol.

Sadly though, The Big Fat Surprise is fighting a battle against years and years (and a generational sway) of public opinion. It’s obvious: Eat Fat Get Fat – the name says it all right? And this book knows the size of the fight it’s therefore up against. It knows it is bringing a knife to a very one sided gun fight. As a result, the amount of evidence it uses to make, examine, justify and rubber stamp each and every point it wants to make it’s argument as structured and water tight as possible is used, clarified and repeated; causing the book becomes very heavy and very slow. You constantly feel like it’s going over and over a point you’ve already accepted, mainly to protect itself rather than win fully sway your opinion. And while that isn’t a bad thing, because it means you cannot really argue against it, as the pages turned and I seemed to feel encircled more and more by it’s approach, I started to question whether it was really worth continuing to read. It actually became a little boring.

Knife Cutting Meat - The Big Fat Surprise

My other issue with this constant onslaught of every fact, figure and study it can find is that is seems to muddle the time line. It’s trying to show how Fat was defined and presented wrongly as “unhealthy”, but there isn’t really a chronological order to it. It picks and chooses the studies that define the point it is currently making and at times you therefore feel like you’ve jumped forward of, or dropped behind the natural age and progression of the story and that was confusing and off putting. It’s hard to feel how the tide of false reporting built and built when it’s so staccato in its references against it.

However, I did stick with it, and I found it frustratingly fascinating. It really is a complete page turner. The more it went on, the more it won me over with greater and greater strength; my brain saying screw the low calorie sun flower spray oil, just buy some butter.  Along with the aforementioned current media trend to badmouth sugar; my brain just became less and less caring about nutritional information, about fats and saturate fat. Honestly, I’m now beginning to think “so what if it’s higher than you feel comfortable with? It’s actually OK.” But as I said earlier, talk is easy, the proof is in the supermarket purchasing pudding so to speak.

The longer the books argumentative support of the necessity of fat went on for, the longer my brains inner strength appeared to grow and plans for a new future given root, sadly they didn’t really last. Because once the book had finished making it’s point, as the natural tone changed and it knew it’s argument on fats was over it offered the other side, it attempted to balance the debate. It gave you it’s views on sugar and carbohydrates and everything fell apart.

Sugar & Carbohydrate - The Big Fat Surprise

For me, up to that point The Big Fat Surprise had been fastidiously detailed. No stone left uncovered. But it’s gaze towards carbohydrates became rushed and shallow. I appreciate that there is little scientific research to present as it’s a recent shift in nutritional thinking; but it really is a case that the book spends 300 pages proving beyond doubt that fat is OK and then simply gives you 40 pages where it goes “eat less sugar because it’s BAD!” It leaves the book feeling untrustworthy and disappointing, it spent so long showing why as soon as you delve below the surface of fat it’s so much more than a simple “yes/no” debate but then it applies that exact illogical simplicity to its new target.

This almost hypocritical ending has destroyed all the power the book created in my head, because while I have come away, fully supporting and agreeing that fat’s are OK, I cannot agree that all sugars are bad. That all carbohydrates are evil. You cannot tell me that eating an apple or an orange is ever going to cause diabetes or make a nation obese because it contains lot of sugar. It’s a piece of fruit!

Alpen Light Chocolate Cereal Bar - The Big Fat Surprise

I have no scientific background, and it’s my own opinion that I was already forming (which this book has inadvertently reinforced) in my mind that food and illness/disease go hand in hand when removed from nature. If the foods we eat, cook, or snack on are natural, unprocessed, untouched by artificial science then our body’s already know what to do, how to cope, how to survive. It’s fine to eat fat, red meat, dairy or even an apple. The human body can cope with what this planet can provide. The time to worry is when you can’t pronounce what you’re eating. And I don’t mean “Chocolate Cereal Bar” but rather “Oligofructose Syrup, Mono & Diglycerides of Fatty Acids or Humectant: Glycerol”!

The Big Fat Surprise, isn’t all that surprising, because ultimately it just reinforces 4 billions years of Planet Earth. Our body is already designed to process what nature provides and is far, far better at looking after itself than anything science can create in the name of health.

Posted on by 5WC in Book First Edition

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