Book: Wheat Belly by William Davis

Here is a book that I could not read, because it was so focused on the OMG! OBESITY! PANIC!, that it was hard to find any usable info.

I suppose I should’ve expected that with a title like Wheat Belly, but it’d been long recommended by people in the celiac disease community as the “a-ha!” guide to making sense of the hundreds of seemingly unrelated symptoms of celiac disease. But these authors brought everything back to fatness and weight, as glutenfreedom as the cure, and that being fat is icky.

They say glutenous, they mean gluttonous.

Anyway, I skimmed the whole book and couldn’t find a single page that didn’t loop back to anti-fatness.

I was hoping for a book about the history of wheat and how that impacts the body, but this book ain’t it.

Book: What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat, by Aubrey Gordon

This is less a book review and more of a (rare) blog post.

Some years ago, in the early 2000s, I had an epiphany. After countless attempts to starve myself thin, after countless doctor’s appointments where I was prescribed weight loss for everything from sinus infections to migraines to broken fingers, after countless unsolicited comments about my body from strangers and loved ones, after countless microaggressions and acts of hostility regarding my size, I had an epiphany.

I am fat. And that’s okay.

My epiphany came at a good time. I’d been starving myself and doing everything “they” say to do, and yet my weight wasn’t budging. The internet was booming, and there were neighborhoods of people dedicated to fat acceptance and fat liberation. They were part of or learned from groups like NOLOSE, ASDAH, and from fat elders. People just like me, who realized they were fat no matter how they tortured or stressed their bodies, their bodies were wise, their bodies knew best, and their bodies adapted. They stayed fat. Some got fatter. We all knew that our dignity and humanity should not be dependent on our ability to conform to a more socially acceptable size and shape.

By the late 2000s, fat acceptance had started being co-opted by “body positivity.” Body positivity was for thin, white, abled, cis-gendered women. Body positivity excluded the fattest among us. Body positivity was framed with “it’s not about being thin, it’s about being healthy.”

At a time when I was at my sickest, sick enough to be forced to quit a career I’d just begun, sick enough to spend more days in bed than out of it, sick enough to be congratulated on my illness-induced weight loss (while being simultaneously berated for continuing to be fat), I felt wholly excluded from this unrecognizable version of body acceptance. I wasn’t healthy or thin.

Today, fatness is demonized more than ever. While people are becoming more aware of other prejudices and slowly making efforts to mitigate them, anti-fat bias is on the rise. Let me reiterate: While small improvements in implicit biases like racism, sexism, and homophobia have been recorded, and while ableism and ageism have remained about the same, there has been a 40% increase in anti-fat bias.

Being fat has become a symbol of failure. Fat people embody sloth and gluttony and greed. We are drains on society. We are inconveniences. We are ugly.

Having visible adipose tissue now has a diagnostic code, because it’s existence now a disease, even in the absence of other markers of health. It’s on my every medical chart note, regardless of the reason for the visit that day. A group of professionals with a long history of being easily swayed by the shiny gifts and baubles from the pharmaceutical industry decided to pathologize an entire class of people (the majority of people alive right now) simply for how they look, regardless of actual measurable scientific markers of health. These professionals are using an utterly racist metric, which has no basis in fact or health, to dictate who is worthy of evidence-based healthcare. Regardless of the ample scientific evidence that it’s possible to be fat and healthy or thin and unhealthy, the American Medical Association has simply chosen to deny reality.

Relatedly, a study of autopsies of very fat people discovered that they had undiagnosed medical conditions, indicative of significant misdiagnoses and/or lack of access to adequate medical care.

This is the natural result of decades of fatphobia. Decades of healthcare workers being incapable of seeing past body size or shape. Decades of friends and neighbors being taught and believing that it is better to be dead than fat. People are willing to trade years off their life for the chance to be thin.

What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat is about all of these things, and so much more. It’s about the personal experiences of actual fat people. About how we are hated because of what we look like. About the magnitude of the oppression ingrained in ourselves, in our loved ones, in our culture.

Book: China Rx by Rosemary Gibson and Janardan Prasad Singh

Before I got sick, I worked in pharma. I had a great pharma internship as an undergrad and I felt like I’d found my niche. I enjoyed analytical chemistry and I had a real knack for anything medical. I worked in the industry for a couple years, then took an analytical chemist position in another industry mainly because I wanted to move closer to my future spouse. I missed pharma and tried interviewing for positions closer to my new home, with no luck. (Probably for the best: the best prospect was at a brand new state-of-the-art research and development facility, which laid everyone off and shut down 6 months later.)

Once started treating celiac disease and adopting a mobility device for a failing back, I was ready and able to go back to work. But no one wants to hire a chemist who’s been out of the industry for nearly a decade. And by then, many of the jobs had moved overseas.

So this book was personally relevant.

China Rx describes the long game played by the Chinese government to become the only supplier of necessary items, including medications and supplements. Since the US government (and its corporations) is far more concerned with this quarter or this election term, it puts the Chinese government in a far better strategic position to achieve its long-term goals.

The US used to make its own antibiotics, vitamin C, and other drugs and drug products. Nowadays, much of the manufacturing of critical raw materials happens in China, because it’s cheaper. Drug companies want to maximize profits, which means purchasing raw materials at the lowest possible cost.

The book describes the heparin horror story when tainted heparin (a blood thinner used regularly in hospitals as standard practice to prevent blood clots, and which, incidentally, is a meat industry byproduct produced from the entrails of slaughtered pigs) sickened and killed many people. When the problem was identified, the FDA did not rush to act because recalling the US heparin supply would’ve caused a national shortage. It’s better to have potentially tainted heparin than no heparin at all.

The book also describes incidents in which Chinese companies prohibited from exporting to the US would use a different company’s label to circumvent bans and export to the US. These companies are partially owned by the state (Chinese government), so it seems more reasonable to assume this is a strategic governmental move, not unscrupulous business owners (although that happens, too).

One of the reasons China can manufacture so cheaply is its lax environmental regulations. For example, making antibiotics is a dirty job. It stinks, there are waste products, and an impact on the local environment. (Soil, air, water.) Rather than spending the money in the US to innovate a cleaner, safer manufacturing process, they outsource the same old ways to a region whose government doesn’t worry about it (to the detriment of its citizens).

The book discusses lax and loosening trade regulations that resulted from supply chain issues. The US military now relies on China for critical medications and medical devices. The US used to manufacture its own penicillin in wartime, but now it relies on China for the only treatments available for anthrax.

The FDA really has very little control over what comes in from overseas, and not much control over what happens in the US either. Recalls are voluntary. Testing is rare. The FDA lacks the manpower, authority, and budget to effect much change. And the revolving door between pharma and the FDA means that few people want to speak out. (Not to mention the overt censorship happening.)

Chances are, most of your medications and vitamins were manufactured in China. If not the entire product, then critical components like the active ingredient and/or the inactive ingredients responsible for extended release dosing. But labeling rules make it very difficult to figure out where your medicines are made. If you’re curious: you can call the manufacturer directly, and sometimes you can find the info on DailyMed or drugs.com.

It was interesting (if depressing) reading about places I’ve physically worked (and learning that some of those places no longer exist), and seeing what happened after I got sick. I know now that it wasn’t solely a long illness that prevented me from reentering the industry, but also many, many changes far beyond my control.

Book: “Body Respect” by Lindo Bacon and Lucy Aphramor

Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight is the follow up to Health at Every Size, a science-packed book about body size and weight loss. Body Respect is geared towards anyone interested in evidence-based healthcare and a more just world.

The reality is that diets don’t work. While many people may be able to lose weight in the short-term, the act of restricting calories (through diet, exercise, or both) results in complex biochemical changes that trigger profound negative effects on metabolism, stress levels, mental health, and many other important aspects of health in the long term. It’s not that people aren’t dieting properly (in fact, humans are really really good at it), it literally means that diets don’t work, and in fact backfire the vast majority of the time.

This book was empowering and an important read packed with science and a rational approach to what’s wrong with diet culture, the media, and current approaches to healthcare.

Book: “Jennifer’s away” by Jennifer Esposito

I have been intrigued by Jennifer Esposito since she left a hit TV show due to celiac disease. She even wrote a book about it: Jennifer’s Way.

It turns out it was more complicated than that: her celiac disease is very severe (like mine), and her acting job was full-time hours at part-time pay without any accommodations for celiac. She became very ill and still got no accommodations.

It’s nice reading experiences of people with celiac as severe as mine. It’s validating and reassuring to know there are people who are as profoundly affected by this disease as I am. It’s important to hear people reiterate that this is an autoimmune disease, and it is serious. And it’s relevant to know that even thin and conventionally attractive women are not believed, or even committed to psych hospitals, before diagnosis (and sometimes after).

The first 2/3 of the book is her celiac story. It’s compelling and heartbreaking and infuriating and familiar. An illness so severe that it causes permanent damage, and takes an average of a decade to be diagnosed, with the simplest medical treatment in the world.

The rest of the book is about how to get diagnosed and adjust to post-celiac life. It’s the usual stuff about kitchen and bathroom products going to dumpsters, about missing nutrients, and navigating social situations. It wasn’t news, but it was interesting… until I read the part about lemon juice being alkaline and how important it is to make your body less acidic with foods like lemons and grapefruits.

It’s hard to take the rest of the science seriously when such a fundamental fact is mistaken.

Lemon juice has a pH of 2. It is unquestionably acidic. I believe this started when the Food Babe made these same claims.

I did learn (and confirmed elsewhere) that 90% of serotonin is produced in the small intestine… which explains a lot of mental health problems that pair well with celiac disease.

The lemon thing made me put down the book, though.