Spry editor Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl shed 70 pounds—and six dress sizes–and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here each week.
DEAR FORMER FAT GIRL: My 16-year-old daughter, who struggles with her weight, wants to buy a book about a diet plan called Thigh Gap Hack. Worth it—or a waste of babysitting money? —Call Me Mom
DEAR MOM: Oh, clever, clever Mom—I get what you’re doing here. Your offspring won’t listen to your opinion, so you’re bringing in the big guns (aka me). Believe me, I have myself invoked the name of everyone from the school principal to the pastor at our church, to countless elected officials to sway my 12-year-old on various points. At least you are really asking me for advice, rather than just faking it, as I do. I know you don’t really need my expert opinion, do you, on a diet plan with such a title? That said, though, I subjected myself to this 147-page implement of intellectual torture for the purposes of this diet plan review. Here goes.
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The diet plan: Thigh Gap Hack, by Camille Hugh
The premise: Every woman can get—and should want—a “thigh gap,” says Hugh, the so-called “fitness consultant” whose $30 self-help tome is one of the most painful things I can honestly say I’ve ever read (and that’s saying a lot, as I used to moonlight as a grader for SAT essays). First, there’s the whole idea of the “thigh gap,” a space between the thighs that’s visible when a woman stands with feet firmly together. “Even the tiniest of gaps qualifies you and can make all the difference in how feminine and sexy your legs appear and you feel,” Hugh writes. (Note: actual punctuation—or lack thereof.) Yes, some women do have thigh gaps, but by making them a thing, Hugh just gives girls like your daughter (and grown women like you and me) another body part to feel inadequate about and obsess over. As if muffin tops and bat wings and back fat and saddlebags and cankles aren’t enough! Not only that—using words like “qualifies you” creates a new body-centric pecking order that’s the last thing our society needs. Hugh throws around all kind of pseudo-scientific reasoning in her quest to prove that having a thigh gap has little or nothing to do with how wide-set your hips are (oh, really?), and more to do with pure fat or “over-development” of leg muscles through … gasp … exercise. We’ve been duped, she says, into believing that we should value strength and power over skinny and svelte. No, that little slice of daylight—“even just a keyhole”—at the convergence of thigh and hip and ladyparts should be among the major goals on every woman’s life lists.
Key details: I will grant that there are a few valid points in The Thigh Gap Hack. For one, Hugh encourages living an active life outside of formalized exercise time—walking whenever you can, for instance, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, you know the drill. I’m down with that. She also advocates dance as a form of thigh gap-friendly exercise because it doesn’t bulk up the quads and hamstrings. I’m a fan of dance too, but mostly because it’s FUN. Hugh’s basic diet recommendations are also fairly sound—high fiber, low sugar and salt, moderate protein, healthy fats, limited processed foods. Her points about limiting carbs and dairy, too, are not completely unreasonable. But it’s not really what you eat on this plan that I take issue with—it’s the way you eat it, and other completely questionable things Hugh suggests doing to attain what she calls “the thigh gap of your dreams.” First, there’s the “retroactive eating.” Hugh suggests wearing a FitBit or heart rate monitor 24/7 to tell you how many calories you burn. First, you figure out how many calories you should be eating a day in order to achieve the kind of weight loss/fat loss you desire (pretty standard practice), and divvy that number up into the number of calories you’ll eat at each meal. But then, you are not allowed to eat until the gadget you’re using shows you’ve burned off that number of calories. So basically, you have to earn the calories you’re eating at your next meal by burning them off first. Here’s an example Hugh gives: “A 100-pound woman determines she needs to eat 1200 calories for the day (slower weight loss). Upon waking she resets her HRM [heart rate monitor]. She eats a maximum 400-Calorie breakfast at 11am when her HRM says she has burned 400 calories. Once her HRM shows another 400-Calorie burn, she will be free to eat up to 400 calories again.” Oh, and by the way, you’re also not allowed to go to bed until you’ve burned off all the calories from your last meal. That, dear Mom, is RIDICULOUS. The gobbledygook Hugh uses to justify this approach simply makes no sense. And to top it off, she loses all credibility with her completely inept command of the English language. Not only are there random capitalization issues (as in the quote above), but grammar and usage disasters that physically hurt me to read. A sample: “Getting the body to optimum proportions is no easy and straightforward task, particularly when it comes to leaning out the lower body as opposed to the middle because of a complicated host of reasons, but it can be accomplished.” AAAAAAH! Even more outrageous are Hugh’s recommendation to try cold-water therapy to burn fat, including dunking your face into a basin full of ice water and holding it there “until you can’t bear it anymore.” Alternate methods include cold showers, ice baths, ice packs and ice water foot baths. Are we so desperate to get that “thigh gap” that we’ll subject ourselves to this insanity?
Quick cautions: I could argue specifics all day, but the bottom line is that the Thigh Gap Hack feeds girls’ and women’s obsessions with their bodies, promotes thinness at the expense of healthfulness (because of Hugh’s disdain of fitness, exercise, muscles, etc.), and promotes flaky, unproven methods for weight/fat loss. There are plenty of other weight loss books that can teach your daughter about proper nutrition, healthy eating and effective exercise techniques. This is not one of them.
FFG fave: Not. A. Chance.
Lisa Delaney is editor of Spry magazine and Spryliving.com. Ask her your question here.