Book Review: The Science of Skinny

The Science of Skinny: Understanding your body’s chemistry – and stop dieting forever

Dee McCaffrey, 2012

science of skinny cover

Read the first half of this book (the Science). And if you do decide to read the Skinny half, well, take it with the proverbial grain of salt.

The book starts out with the background of the author. She grew up disliking vegetables. She ate compulsively for emotional reasons. After her parents’ divorce, the weight packed on and on. Her mom tried to move to a more natural diet, but she and her brother wouldn’t have any of it! So back to the processed foods they went. The part-time job at Dairy Queen didn’t help. Even a gallstone at 18 wasn’t enough to jolt Dee back into reality. By the time she started college, her 4’10” frame carried more than 200 pounds (!).

 She began to break free from processed foods by eliminating white sugar and white flour from her diet. This is important to note in itself, because if you or I decided to eliminate these two ingredients too, well, there wouldn’t be many processed foods left to choose from, naturally pushing us toward a whole-food diet.

Her background as a chemist allows her to present a fascinating breakdown of ingredients all of us have been (probably unknowingly) eating for years, and how the processed food companies try to hide them from us – did you know that MSG has more than a dozen other names it appears as on ingredient lists?

Dee presents her 10 “Science of Skinny Laws,” which can basically be summed up as: Eat more vegetables, don’t eat refined sugar or flour.

The thing about processed foods, she argues, is that they’ve only been around for about 50-100 years. We still can’t be sure about the long-term effects, but already we see more disease, obesity, and overall health problems than ever before. Children are experiencing Type 2 diabetes at rates unimaginable 30 years ago. And it’s not from eating too many salads.

Whole foods are packed with nutrients, vitamins , minerals, and antioxidants. The food industry so often strips these away to make the foods shelf-stable, adding back in chemically identical yet naturally unrecognizable vitamins and minerals (think enriched flour and cereal). Yet for some reason our body doesn’t process these additives as well as the real thing. Not to mention all the trace minerals or as-yet unknown phytonutrients that never get replaced. And white sugar and flour leech calcium and other minerals from our bodies during digestion.

Did you know the average American adult eats 21 teaspoons of added sugar a day? Twenty-one! In order to make white (or brown, or raw) sugar, the whole sugarcane plant (which is not particularly sweet) is processed by juicing, drying, bleaching, cleaning (with acids and other chemicals) and distilling into what you pour into your coffee. Not exactly appetizing.

But there is sugar in everything. Ground beef. Lunch meats. Soups. Seasonings. And my favorite to hate, bottled salad dressings. Sugar is cheap and addictive, so the food companies keep forcing it on us. Our human evolution has not yet caught up to all the sugar thrown at us all the time, in such large quantities. And the artificial sweeteners are just that – artificial. Did you know Sucralose (Splenda) was accidentally created by chemists creating pesticides, and contains chlorine, a known carcinogen? Aspartame was discovered while attempting to make an ulcer drug, and saccharin was another chemical accident from an attempt to make a chemical to turn coal into tar. Yum.

Another main point of the book is that fat does not make us fat. It’s the fake fats (trans /hydrogenated) that we have to worry about,  along with highly processed oils (canola, aka rapeseed, particularly, which has been genetically modified into a completely different organism from its original, wholesome one). And we should be more concerned with the highly processed, nutritionally void white sugar and flour in regards to obesity and heart disease. As someone who loves avocados and butter (not together), I can rejoice! We need fats so our body can properly absorb vitamins and minerals, and support our cells.

Trans fat is chemically altered and a fat our body just can’t recognize it as a food. I have made it a point to rid my life of all hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils. Even if the nutrition facts say 0g trans fats, the item can still contain up to .49g per serving. You must check the ingredients list for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil! Take a look in your cabinets: peanut butter, cookies, brownies, tortillas, bread, cake mixes, refrigerated doughs (like Pillsbury biscuits) all usually contain these ingredients yet say 0g trans fat per serving. But guess what? If you make your food yourself, all your foods will be trans-fat free! Unless you use shortening, that is. In which case I would suggest using butter, because it tastes so much better than heart disease.

The book then goes onto discuss the myriad food additives we encounter every day. Many people eat dozens, if not hundreds, of additives, which are completely nutritionally unnecessary! Here are a few of the facts I found most interesting:

  • Artificial colorings have been banned in the UK and the EU…yet are still prevalent in the US, especially in items marketed to children.
  • Bread (which needs just whole-wheat flour, water, yeast and salt) can contain upwards of 40 ingredients in processed form. This also includes those fancy “artisan” loaves from the grocery store’s bakery, which are very rarely baked in-house (the dough comes from a factory most likely).
  • Nitrates and nitrites are used in processed meat to enhance color, which seems less important to me than cancer.
  • BHT and BHA, common preservatives (like in my boyfriend’s favorite cereal, Honey Bunches of Oats) are also used in rubber, jet fuel, and embalming fluid.
  • MSG is given to lab rats to make them obese on purpose for research
  • Skim and reduced-fat milks have colors and additives to make them appear and feel more like whole milk.

Your only defense is reading ingredient lists. I now read the ingredients before looking at the nutrition facts – I find it saves me time and tells me more about the real nutritional value. I shop the perimeter of the grocery store (except for things like nuts, seeds, and healthy oils). I shop at farmers’ markets in season, and choose frozen veggies with only vegetables as the ingredient (no cheez sauces!) I choose organic when I can, but especially for products containing soy or corn products, which are almost always GMO otherwise.

As I said above, unless you are trying to lose serious weight, you probably won’t need too much from the “Skinny” section. I know enough about portion size and calorie counting to write my own book (I won’t, though. You’re welcome.), but it could be useful as a refresher or to give you some new ideas. Because of this book, I have added extra-virgin coconut oil and chia seeds to my diet, and I’m not afraid of butter any more. I threw away everything in my kitchen containing hydrogenated oils. I try to make more of my produce organic (although sometimes the costs deter me). A few suggestions, such as taking whey protein supplements, an apple cider vinegar tonic, and exercising by “rebounding” to “pull toxins out of your body using gravity” (what??), I have ignored.

All in all, I found this book to be very informative and the push I needed to get the rest of the processed junk out my house. I’d recommend reading it just to inform yourself about the way our food supply has been utterly adulterated in the name of convenience. And I hope it will inspire you, too.



  1. R. Montad · · Reply

    FYI… common table salt is 60% chlorine.

    1. And we would all probably be better off consuming way less of it!

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