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BOOK REVIEW: Fat: the Secret Organ: The surprising science behind the most misunderstood part of the body written by Mariette Boon and Liesbeth van Rossum and translated by Colleen Higgins

| 23 July 2021 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Fat: the Secret Organ: The surprising science behind the most misunderstood part of the body written by Mariette Boon and Liesbeth van Rossum and translated by Colleen Higgins

March 2020
Paperback, $32.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Non-Fiction / Family & Health

80% Rocking


Fat is an organ that is essential for life. Some people who read that last sentence are probably thinking, “Fat chance!” But fat has received a bad rap over the years, especially as more members of society are becoming overweight or obese. Fat: the Secret Organ serves to challenge our mindsets by offering up some facts about this much-maligned, yet crucial part of all our bodies.

There are two sides to our body fat. As long as it remains within reason in terms of size, it will be your friend and keep you healthy. But if you have too little or too much fat, it can turn in to a wicked stepsister. When you’re underweight, your fat doesn’t produce enough of certain important hormones, which leads to a hormonal imbalance that can even result in infertility. And when you’re overweight, your fat releases excessive amounts of unhealthy hormones and other substances that interfere with all kinds of bodily processes and can make you sick. Conditions linked to overweight (sic) include diabetes (type 2 diabetes, which we will refer to simply as ‘diabetes’ in the rest of the book), infertility, depression and some kinds of cancer.

This book was co-written by two obesity experts. Mariëtte Boon is a doctor and medical specialist who researches fat metabolism. Liesbeth van Rossum is an endocrinologist who co-founded the Obesity Centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. They wrote the text in Dutch and this has been translated into English by Colleen Higgins. For the most part, this reads well however, there are some jarring sentences where the term overweight” is used by itself and seems incorrect:

While using and storing our energy efficiently had once held a great advantage, the wide availability of food and less intensive physical labour meant that people consumed more fuel than they could burn, which resulted in surplus fat reserves. While people had once been small and thin, the streets were now increasingly filled with people who were struggling with overweight (sic) and obesity. It took a long time before overweight (sic) was seen as a medical problem, which had everything to do with the good reputation fat had long enjoyed.

The authors have completed some meticulous research into this subject matter. What this book reveals is how complex our bodies are and how these affect one’s likelihood in being an overweight or obese individual. It’s not merely a case of having to eat less and exercise more. This book shows us how complex our underlying internal systems involving hunger and satiety are.

In previous chapters we explained how the hunger hormone ghrelin stimulates your hunger, and that leptin provides you with feelings of fullness. Lack of sleep results in an increase in ghrelin and a decrease in leptin, and this is how not sleeping enough makes you hungry. Lack of sleep also makes your cortisol level rise, and this can make you hungry too. All of these things makes it easy to overeat, especially unhealthy foods.

In eleven chapters the authors look at things like: the history of fat, hunger and satiety, and they describe the contributors to fat, such as hormones and stress. The text can be quite formal and scientific at times, particularly as the pair go into detail about various research studies and findings. This is explained in enough detail so that a lay person can follow things. There is a glossary and source list at the end for those wanting to explore the topic more. Some diagrams and definitions of key words in break-out boxes are also peppered throughout the text. These – in addition to case studies about individuals with various kinds of metabolic diseases – make for an educational and informative read.

In this book, we introduce you to various patients we’ve encountered in daily practice. Some of them have common body-fat problems (such as overweight (sic) or conditions caused by overweight (sic)) that will be familiar to many people. Even so, you will see that everyone deals with these problems in their own unique way, and we find this inspiring.

This text is not a pure weight-loss manual. What the authors strive to achieve is to enlighten readers about identifying some of the underlying causes of obesity. They also hope that by educating people, it can challenge society’s sentiments around weight and fat prejudice. There are people who continue to fat shame people or those who dismiss overweight or obese individuals as being lazy or stupid. Fat: the Secret Organ challenges this distorted thinking, and dispels myths around nutrition and body weight.

So why does it often take longer for people with obesity to feel full even though they have high leptin [this promotes feelings of fullness] levels? This is because of a phenomenon known as ‘leptin resistance’. Leptin resistance is probably due to a combination of various factors including inflammation, which often occurs along with obesity (more about this in Chapter 4). Consequently, leptin is less able to send its signals through the receptor, and leptin will thus be much less effective as an appetite suppressant. In other words, in spite of high leptin levels, you’re still very hungry.

Fat: the Secret Organ is an important book that will educate people on the role that fat plays in their bodies. It serves as reminder that fat is crucial for living and also makes us appreciate what happens to our bodies when we have too much or too little of it. Boon and van Rossum have put together a fascinating and in-depth look at a maligned organ. It will challenge your thinking and stop you dismissing this vital part of your body as a fat load of rubbish.

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Category: Book Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her website is at:

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