Getting the facts on fat It has taken a long time. Yes, there are still a few misguided souls who are persuaded that the Twiggy look of the '60s is absolutely in, but we're all wising up. What nutritionists and fitness gurus have been trying to tell us for decades is beginning to sink in: Weight loss can only be achieved by a sensible reduction in calories and a combination of aerobic and strength training exercises. Whether you're a veteran who's fought many battles of the bulge, or whether you've never had a weight problem until now, two books will help you understand our national obsession with weight control. You may not be surprised to learn that one American in four is obese, but you may not know the reasons why or what to do about it. Shawna Vogel's The Skinny on Fat: Our Obsession with Weight Control (W.

H. Freeman, $22.95, 071673091X) zeros in on how fat loss really works, what research reveals about how we gain weight, and what we can do to achieve our ideal weight. Freeman begins with a history of our national fixation on diets and follows the craze down to present-day research. Then she reveals the latest on how diet and exercise affect the mind and body, how to get fat off the healthy way, how to be a successful loser, and how to think beyond dieting.

The most frustrating thing about weight gain for those who have their fingers on the pulse of the nation is that the United States is heading toward 100 percent obesity by the year 2230. But we aren't alone. The rates are also rising in other parts of the world and at the same rapid clip. Vogel's book isn't just for fat people. Sooner or later everyone is affected by fat and by a marketplace waiting to cash in on our collective tonnage. From no-fat, low-calorie, low-sugar, low-salt foods to slimming fashions and exercise equipment, This book and the research in it . . . are about health and weight regulation in all people. In Michelle Joy Levine's I Wish I Were Thin, I Wish I Were Fat: The Real Reasons We Overeat and What We Can Do About It, you'll discover the answers to the questions that have always bothered you about your weight: Why do I fail at diets? Why do I gain my weight back? Why do I binge? Why can't I get thin? Levine has helped many break the destructive diet/binge cycle through an awareness of the factors at work in uncontrollable hunger. She discusses the most common unconscious culprits behind overeating and how to recognize them. She also presents practical strategies for separating eating from emotions and, as a bonus, includes calorie-free ideas for soothing the spirit and pampering the body. And yes, she talks about the two things that all weight control programs talk about because they work: the need to eat less and exercise.

Levine's message is empowering. It is possible to achieve lasting weight loss, but she warns that staying thin is a lifestyle . . . You must make a habit of exercise and self-denial. Pat Regel writes, runs, and lifts weights in Nashville.

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