Excerpt from Fat Land by Greg Critser, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Fat Land

How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World

by Greg Critser

Fat Land by Greg Critser X
Fat Land by Greg Critser
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2003, 224 pages
    Jan 2004, 256 pages

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Table of Contents



  1. Up Up Up! (Or, Where the Calories Came From)
  2. Supersize Me (Who Got the Calories into our Bellies)
  3. World Without Boundaries (Who Let the Calories In)
  4. Why the Calories Stayed on Our Bodies
  5. What Fat Is, What Fat Isn’t
  6. What the Extra Calories Do to You
  7. What Can Be Done

Appendix: Fat Land Facts




Obesity is the dominant unmet global health issue, with Western countries topping the list.
— World Health Organization

Set the soul of thy son aright, and all the rest will be added hereafter!
— Saint John Chrysostom

This book is not a memoir, but it is undeniably grounded in a singular personal experience. My experience was not, for those hoping for something juicy, a moment of childhood drama. Nor was it anything that led to any form of spiritual or true psychological revelation. Compared to the harrowing tribulations that so much of the world’s population endures, it was, when all is said and done, rather mundane and petty. Here it is: Some guy called me fatso. Specifically, he screamed: "Watch it, fatso!"

Here I should note that I deserved the abuse; after all, I had opened my car door into a busy street without looking into my side mirror first, and so had nearly decapitated the poor fellow. I could have killed him. But why . . . fatso? Could it be because I was indeed forty pounds overweight? Or that I could not fit into any of my clothes, even the ones I got at the Gap that were labeled "relaxed" (which, come to think of it, I wasn’t), let alone the ones considered "baggy" (which, again come to think of it, I was)? Could it be because I had to back up ten feet so as to get my entire face into the bathroom mirror to shave every morning? Or that when I dined with friends they hid their small pets and seemed to guard their plates, one arm curled around them, as if I might plunge my fork into their juicy pieces of duck and make off with them? I’m obviously joking about the latter, but the point is that the insult hit home. In upwardly mobile, professional America, being fat — and having someone actually notice it and say something about it — is almost as bad as getting caught reading Playboy in your parents’ bedroom when you’re ten. Shame shame shame. Fatness was hardly a new issue for me. My wife and my physician had been after me for some time to do something about my problem, the former quite gingerly, the latter not so. My doctor, in fact, had recently suggested that I consider a new weight loss medication. At the time, I had promptly brushed the idea aside. Now, the sting still fresh, I reconsidered: Why not?

And so, for the next nine months, I put all of my extra energy into the task of shedding my excess avoirdupois. In modern America, this, I would find, was a rite in itself, replete with its own social institutions (health clubs), tonics (Meridia), taboos (Krispy Kreme), and aspirational totems (Levi’s 501 regular cuts). I was apparently ready for this rite, for, to my delight, I slowly but surely lost the weight. What followed was encouraging, if somewhat predictable: congratulations from friends for "sticking to it"; enhanced self-esteem; a new wardrobe; a newfound confidence and spring in my step; phone calls from J.Lo. and Julia.

Yet the more I contemplated my success, the more I came to see it not as a triumph of will, but as a triumph of my economic and social class. The weight loss medication Meridia, for example, had been effective not because it is such a good drug; even its purveyors freely admit it is far from effective for most people. What had made the drug work for me was the upper-middle-class support system that I had brought to it: a good physician who insisted on seeing me every two weeks, access to a safe park where I would walk and jog, friends who shared the value of becoming slender, healthy home-cooked food consumed with my wife, books about health, and medical journals about the latest nutritional breakthroughs. And money. And time.

Copyright © 2003 by Greg Critser. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

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