Book Review: “The Science of Skinny” by Dee McCaffrey

The author of this book grew up like many Americans, eating processed foods and using food as a source of comfort. Later as a chemist, she realized the true horrors of the standard American diet.

I picked up The Science of Skinny: Start Understanding Your Body’s Chemistry, and Stop Dieting Forever by Dee McCaffrey at the suggestion of a friend who had started implementing the recommendations and was finding them to be reasonable, realistic, and effective.

The author, McCaffrey, has a personal story that is probably very similar to many people in this country: a childhood diet that contained many processed and fast foods combined with a turbulent family life resulted in an unhealthy orientation toward food. McCaffrey used food, usually highly processed food, to comfort herself and assuage cravings, eventually subconsciously equating it with affection and acceptance. At her heaviest, she carried 210 pounds on her 4’10” frame and after unsuccessfully trying numerous diet plans had almost despaired of ever becoming a healthier version of herself.

It wasn’t until McCaffrey became educated as a chemist that she started to gain some knowledge that ultimately led her toward a healthier lifestyle. A galvanizing event occurred when one day she took a closer look at the ingredients list of the angel food cake mix on which she frequently used to binge. She made the surprising discovery that some of the chemicals in the ingredients list were the same ones she was using in her work studying soil and water pollution. This discovery sent her on a research journey that led her to conclude our food supply has changed significantly and for the worse in the past few generations.

This journey also led to her own physical and psychological transformation, enabling her to drop approximately half her body weight and develop a healthier orientation to food and eating. Along the way, she reclaimed and redefined the term “skinny.” As she explains, she “elevated the status of the word and (gave) it a whole new meaning – optimal health.” While I understand her goal, I wonder about the efficacy of this, given the loadedness of this particular word, how lodged it is in popular culture as a representation of a specific, frequently unhealthy, ideal.

In brief, McCaffrey attributes the severe and worsening obesity problem in this country to more than just simple overeating. She claims, “(h)ighly refined carbohydrates, processed cooking oils, and an unbelievable myriad (sic) of food additives have been linked to unforeseen and powerful chemical reactions in the body and the brain, inducing obesity at rapid and alarming rates. This time of obesity is not just a matter of too many calories and not enough exercise. It is aggressive, stubborn, and more deadly than ever. Its complications are many, and most of its causes are the result of food chemistry gone mad.” Further, these changes in our food supply have other health effects as well: cancer, reproductive issues, heart disease.

Thus, McCaffrey’s book does not just supply the scientific explanations for her strong recommendation that people “eat foods in their closest to natural form as possible – avoiding refined foods, artificial sweeteners, and chemical food additives.” (Notably, these explanations include an eye-opening section arguing that sugar cane in its most natural, unprocessed form is actually a highly nutritious food, that it is the high level of processing the food industry puts sugar through that creates the “toxin” to which many of us have an addictive response.)

In addition, the book is a call to arms of sorts, providing information about ways readers can stay informed and contribute to changes in the ways food is processed. Alongside this, the book offers numerous recipes, suggestions about how to grocery shop effectively, and useful explanations of the effects of the sugar and flour refining process and laboratory creations like trans fats. McCaffrey writes in a companionable tone, interspersing hard science with inspirational case studies of people who have implemented her recommendations. She encourages readers to maintain a journal so they can learn more about their emotional connections to food and eating.

Overall, The Science of Skinny is a compelling read and an eye-opening addition to the constellation of books on the relationship between diet and health. If you take a look at it yourself, post your observations and opinions to the comments below.

“The Science of Skinny” is available for $11.35 at

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