In What’s Eating Us: Women, Food, and the Epidemic of Body Anxiety, author and four-time Emmy Award-winning television journalist Cole Kazdin declares there’s hope for those who have tried and failed to quit diet culture. As only someone with firsthand experience can, Kazdin explains in unflinching detail just how damaging dieting can be to our mental and physical health. Although What’s Eating Us centers on Kazdin herself—a journalist determined to reach recovery for her eating disorder—this isn’t just one woman’s story. Neither is it just a fact-based report aimed at finding answers. It’s both of these things: personal and illuminating, subjective yet relatable. Citing medical research alongside real-life testimonies, with a balance of personal candor and well-executed analysis, this book will resonate with anyone who’s ever been critical of their reflection in a mirror.
From body positivity to neutrality to liberation, Kazdin explores the different approaches to redefining our relationships with our bodies. For most people, this journey begins when we challenge our understanding of weight, health and dieting, which are topics mired in misinformation. Separating weight and health, Kazdin explains, becomes even more difficult when you factor in the ways that diet companies misleadingly brand themselves as holistic health and wellness programs.
But perhaps the real feat of Kazdin’s book is its ability to propel the reader into thinking about their body in a way that feels connected to society—to gender, race and economic class—which makes the individual burden feel a little less heavy. The ways in which the scientific and medical communities have failed individuals when it comes to dietary health, Kazdin argues, is often rooted in systemic structures around racism, sexism and prejudice against larger bodies. For example, the toxicity of diet culture impacts everyone but especially women of color, whose health concerns often go unheard or ignored by doctors.
Folded within the book’s narrative are statements that may seem radical but are actually evidence-based and supported. Yes, people of all sizes can be healthy. No, a person’s weight is not always within their control. And yes, dieting to lose weight typically leads to gaining it back again. With empathy and understanding, Kazdin offers the reader everything they need to better understand this difficult topic. There are the daunting, disheartening facts; the levity of shared incredulity; and finally, the neutrality needed to see the number on the scale as just that: a number.