April 5, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Skinny Bitch

What do you think of the book Skinny Bitch?

-- Jamie Pierce

Salt Lake City, UT

Skinny Bitch advertises itself as "a no-nonsense tough-love guide for savvy girls who want to stop eating crap and start looking fabulous!"

While I do give the book credit for rightfully criticizing the treatment of farm animals and dedicating a Marion Nestle-inspired chapter to the politics behind the approval process of artificial sweeteners and other substances, I summarize it as "an often inaccurate, wannabe-"shocking" nutrition book that sometimes spouts crap and is under the impression that insulting the reader is fabulous!"

Skinny Bitch claims to "finally tell you the truth about what you're feeding yourself."

However, despite its "hip" title and grrrrl-power writing style that launched it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list, it is riddled with faulty facts, hyperbolic pronouncements, and silly suggestions.

One of the authors is a former agent for Ford Models. First red flag.

Why do people who have never studied nutrition science consider themselves authorities? Would you trust a dentist who never studied dentistry? Would you trust a surgeon who never set foot in medical school? I certainly wouldn't. So why take nutrition advice from someone who hasn't dedicated time to studying it -- especially someone who works in an industry obsessed with unhealthy body shapes?

Author number two is a former model who holds a Masters degree in Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College of Natural Health. Not surprisingly, the quality and reputation of this institution are highly questioned.

There's two red flags before you even open the book.

In any case, Skinny Bitch makes the argument that the only way to be healthy is by becoming a vegan who shuns alcohol, white flour, and caffeine.

The authors repeat this over and over and particularly enjoy cursing at the reader for ever thinking they could be healthy by including any sort of meat or dairy product in their diet.

Even more disturbingly, they prey on readers' body image fears by making the case that not only does any amount of meat and dairy make you sick, it also makes you -- gasp! -- fat.

Allow me to share some passages that resulted in an "ugh!" and an eyeroll from me.

* "Soda's high level of phosphorus can increase calcium loss from the body, as can its sodium and caffeine."

While phosphoric acid in soda has indeed been linked with leached calcium from bones, it is only an issue for individuals who are not getting sufficient amounts of calcium in their diets.

Have these two ever bothered to look at the nutrition facts on a can of soda, though? Soda is very low in sodium.

A can of Coca Cola, for example, contains 35 milligrams (that's 1.4% of the suggested daily maximum intake). Ironically, the frozen vegan burger products the authors endorse contain as much as 500 milligrams of sodium per serving!

As for the caffeine-calcium link -- that's also weak, at best.

* The authors make several references to drinking 8 glasses of water a day. As I have explained in the past, this recommendation stems from a huge misunderstanding by the mainstream media.

* "One study even links caffeine to an increased susceptibility to diabetes."

Bad science alert!

Had the authors bothered to thoroughly research the literature on caffeine and diabetes, they would have discovered that caffeine consumption is linked to a lower risk of diabetes among healthy individuals. The studies they refer to are ones suggesting that people who already have diabetes may benefit from cutting back on caffeine in order to improve their blood sugar levels.

* "Acidic foods cause your body to produce fat cells..."

They apparently believe in one of the biggest -- and off-base -- nutrition myths. Lentils, blueberries, and chickpeas, for example, are categorized as "acidic foods." They now make you fat? Wow, and to think silly uninformed me considered them healthy all this time!

* "When we eat fruit with other foods... it rots and ferments in our stomach."

Not surprisingly, that ludicrous statement is not attributed to any source. Right, because it's science fiction!

* "We have food rotting, decomposing, and fermenting in our intestinal tracts and colons, hence the need for colonics."

Did the author with the Masters degree ever take a human physiology course? Clearly not! Otherwise, she would know that nothing can cling to the colon and "rot away" since the cells that line that organ slough off several times a day.

* "You don't see many tigers getting colonics, do you?"

No. Fortunately for them, rip-off artists don't exist in their species.

* "Your body can't handle animal fat, so it settles like lumpy shit all over your ass, thighs, sides, arms and stomach."

I'll let that ridiculous quote speak for itself. Is this what holistic nutritonists are being taught? Sigh...

* "If you want to get skinny, you've got to be a vegetarian."

Before I comment, let me remind you that I am a pescatarian who follows a strictly vegetarian diet 90% of the time. I am by no means a meat enthusiast, nor do I have stock in the beef industry.

That said, the idea that vegetarian = skinny is ludicrous. After all, vegetarians can eat ice cream, cakes, cookies, muffins, pizza, french fries. They can consume more calories than they need and, consequently, gain weight.

Once again, I can't help but wonder: THIS is the nonsense that passes for a #1 New York Times bestseller these days?

* "Dairy products produce mucus."

Another myth these authors clearly didn't research.

* "[Dairy products] are the perfect thing to eat if you want to be sick and have a diseased body."

As much as I dislike the narrow-minded notions that dairy products are the only way to get calcium and absolutely necessary for human health, I am also irritated by the frantic and inaccurate warnings that dairy products are equivalent to chugging Draino.

* "Consuming high amounts of dairy blocks iron absorption, contributing to iron deficiency."

Ugh. The same can be said about phytates in whole grains. In fact, the extremists folks at the Weston A. Price Organization make that very argument -- which, like this one, has very little relevance.

There is severely faulty logic at work here. Yes, calcium inhibits iron absorption, but this applies to all sources of calcium (i.e.: broccoli, bok choy, mustard greens, and tempeh) -- not just dairy.

* "Eggs are high in saturated fat."

Absolutely untrue. One egg contains approximately 1.5 grams of saturated fat -- that's 0.4 fewer grams than a tablespoon of olive oil!

* "You will pee in your pants when you see how much weight you lose from giving up dairy."

If you give up any food and don't replace the calories with something else, you will obviously lose weight. If, however, you replace the 91 calories in a cup of skim milk with 91 calories from soymilk, don't count on any changes.

* "Do you really believe milk can be made fat-free? Get your had out of your ass. Milk = fat. Butter = fat. Cheese = fat. People who think these products can be low fat or fat free = fucking morons."

The f-word! How "edgy"!

First of all, there is no such thing as low-fat or fat-free butter, so that particular example makes no sense.

Additionally, skim milk is not a mythical food item that only exists in supermarkets operated by unicorns and mermaids. So, yes, milk CAN be made fat-free.

* After pages upon pages of criticizing processed foods and sugar, the authors go on to recommend a variety of frozen vegetarian burgers, soy ice creams, and tofu hot dogs. HUH? Frozen vegetarian foods, like other frozen items, are high in sodium. Vegan hamburgers are processed food. Soy ice creams, like dairy-based ones, contain added sugars.

* From the FYI chapter: "Donate blood. You can save a life and lose weight at the same time."

I think that was when my eyebrows hit the ceiling.

Alas, I could go on (trust me, I could!), but I think you get the point.

To "make up" for their verbal abuse at the reader, the authors conclude the book with positive-thinking mantras lifted right out of The Secret ("every day in every way my stomach is getting flatter") and a clearly-tacked-on-by-a-public-relations-friendly-editor reminder that, despite the title of the book, unrealistically thin illustrations on the front and back cover, and constant references to weight, "they couldn't care less about being skinny."


Marianne said...

Wow. I haven't read the book, but know that is popular. But after reading some of their claims, I'm glad I've never picked it up to read. But I guess it's no wonder that all of these food myths (like dairy causes mucus - I had someone tell me that the other day when I was sick with a cold) continue to exist - when you have a cleverly written best seller telling you these "truths", you will continue to pass them on. Thanks for the review.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to have stumbled upon this blog! I loved your take on the Skinny Bitch book; smart and hilarious! kudos

attrice said...

This post is wonderful. As a vegan (for personal ethical reasons) I abhor people trying to sell veganism as a magic weight-loss panacea. I was morbidly obese when I went vegan and stayed morbidly obese until I made a concerted effort to cut calories and increase exercise. Calories are calories, after all, regardless of whether they come from plants or animals.

I absolutely love this blog, btw. Thanks for all the good information.

Blake said...

I've seen this book at bookstores and I'm glad you posted this. I'm not surprised that it contains the ridiculous claims that it does. I find it sad that everyone thinks they are an "expert" these days.

Eat2Prevent said...

I know an intelligent woman who swears by the Skinny Bitch vegan philosophy, and it's nice to hear the other side of a clearly biased story. This only serves to underline that our society still equates "healthy" with "skinny." Soy products, in addition to being processed, have in some cases been linked the very problems they are supposed to help prevent, like Alzheimer's and menopause symptoms. Thanks for being outspoken about this.

Lizzy said...

I got some genuine chuckles out of this post; thanks for the insights. I think, now, that you should definitely make book reviews a staple on here. =)

(Thoughts on Joe Schwarcz's An Apple A Day? Recently got my hands on a copy and can't wait to start after exams are over.)

Anonymous said...

love this post and hearing your review! im going to link it in my next blog post! hope you don't mind! :)