Wellness is a far broader topic than your local bookstore section may suggest. It’s feminism, mental health, genetics, and everything in between.
For anyone who’s ever perused the “health and wellness” section of a bookstore, it is to be expected that what you’ll find is a mishmash selection of books promising quick fixes or simple solutions for weight loss.
As a teen, I devoured magazine after magazine that screamed promises of shedding 10 pounds over the course of a week, or a diet that would leave you with a six-pack in as many days. I threw my money at countless books of the same stripe, too.
But as such an avid consumer, over time, I couldn’t help but start to wonder: How can every book or magazine article promise the key to health when all they’re peddling are different varieties of the same restrictive diets and summaries of cherry-picked research? Why did I and so many others believe them, when pretty much every cover featured a very obviously Photoshopped picture of someone standing in an oversized pair of their “before” jeans, smiling like a smug jerk?
This is one of the reasons I became a dietician. I was reading those books, trying to find out how to look like the women I saw in magazines and on TV, but no matter how much I read, I couldn’t figured it out; was it less carbs or less fat? Gluten, or dairy? Soda, or more surgery? Or was the secret really just a combination of photoshop and running?
It wasn’t until I broadened my concept of wellness and started reading a wider variety of books that I started to gain some clarity. And now, in an increasingly trend-driven marketplace rife with misinformation and pseudo-science, it’s more important than ever that we arm ourselves with rational, scientific, expert insights when it comes to our approach to nutrition.
Thus, in the name of pushing wellness literacy past the realm of 140 characters and 30-second GIFs, here are the books I found to be most influential on both my personal wellness journey and professional career.
Heads up, though: Not many of these books about food, and that’s intentional. It’s bigger than whether you eat bread or not, bb. Hang in there and read up.
Fat is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach
A classic. Psychotherapist Susie Orbach is famous for introducing the anti-diet and unconscious meaning of body size to the public’s attention in 1978. As a young woman lost in unrealistic expectations, this book opened my eyes to how the world pressures women to be a look a certain way. Orbach explores society’s negative association with the word “fat” and how this factors in to women being more prone to developing disordered eating.
One of the most intriguing takeaways for me was Orbach’s hypothesis that women gain weight as a tool of empowerment. She positions this against the patriarchal assumption that women and their bodies are for men’s use, and should be catered to their tastes.
Thus, she suggests that women gain weight in order to be taken more seriously in their careers; becoming fat keeps you farther away from the cookie-cutter image of a housewife and allows you the freedom to become the woman you want to be. She acknowledges that this is a painful choice, since society will judge you as lazy or less-than, which is certainly something we still see today, underscoring the importance of fat as a feminist issue.
Shrill by Lindy West
I first came across Lindy West’s writing after reading her articles for The Guardian, regarding her experiences as a fat girl (reminder: “fat” is not a bad word!) during her engagement and marriage. Whenever I finish reading West’s articles or listening to an interview with her, I walk away empowered and giving a few less fucks.
In her memoir Shrill, she deftly explores how awful the world can be (she’s a favorite target of internet trolls), but West’s power lies in her ability to dissect bullying and bias on a cultural level.
Shrill is a powerful testament to her talent of blending humor into any serious topic, and the subject of her body and the way western culture engages with it is right in her wheelhouse.
The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Spoiler alert: If you’ve ever pondered the extent to which your life is effected by genes vs. environmental factors, the answer may not be any clearer by the end of this book. But it’s informative and riveting nonetheless, intertwining the discovery of genetics with science and social history, with trickles of Dr. Mukherjee’s family history.
I truly appreciated the nuanced discussion of mental illness and how Dr. Mukherjee tied it into his family history. We are all born with our genetic code, and although we should not live out life in fear of our genome, we should definitely take it seriously.
And with technology rapidly developing, it is time to start thinking and discussing about genetics in our personal goals for health care treatment. Even today, this dilemma is perfectly illustrated with young women being tested for the BRACA gene and assessing risk for breast and ovarian cancer.
What would you do if you knew the risk level of all the diseases you could develop in your lifetime, and had them laid out in front of you? How would that change your overall approach to nutrition?
Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
How often have I recommended this book since I first read it? Countless times, and still not enough. But before I got on, let’s get one thing straight: Intuitive eating isn’t the “hunger and fullness diet,” which I see many, many blogs and a number major media outlets turning this into.
Admittedly, I am not a fan of how the book is written. The overwhelming number of success stories is repetitive. That said, this book is a wonderful introduction to learning more about the relationship we have with food and body image, and the appendices address the core of the intuitive eating principles.
However, reading this book is just a baby step. I recommend you reach out to an a certified intuitive eating dietician and counselor in order to address your relationship with food and take the appropriate steps to healing.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
Is this a wellness book? Well, no. This book really doesn’t have too much to do with nutrition, per se, but Kaling discusses not fitting the Hollywood mold at length, and it’s empowering to take in the entire journey of her success despite those expectations.
Since publishing the book in 2011, Kaling’s star has of course continued to rise. But it’s the small things, too: The Mindy Project’s costume designer Salvador Perez created the *dreamiest* wardrobe for Kaling, never attempting to hide her amazing bod. And actions like these open the door for greater body acceptance, incremental as progress might feel.
All of which is to say that in order to take control of one’s own health, we must stop buying into unattainable ideals and empty promises. And I’ll just come out and say it: Spending your money on diet books with celeb endorsements is a waste. Save that money for books that challenge you to be better and change the way we collectively think about our bodies.
Alexandra Reed is a registered dietician and nutrition coach.Before making any changes to your diet or nutrition plan, be sure to personally consult with your doctor or a registered dietician/healthcare provider first.