Book Reviews · diets · eating · fat · health · weight loss

Book Review: Taking Up Space


I’m a big fan of Go Kaleo so I was happy to see that Amber Rogers has put a lot of her important message into a new book called Taking Up Space.

The very idea of taking up space is feminist to the core. It challenges traditional assumptions about what it means to be a woman, about what it means to be feminine: “smaller, thinner, lighter, softer, quieter, daintier.”

Amber Rogers is tired of it:

I have a body that takes up space.  I have opinions that take up space. I have a healthy sense  of self-worth and that takes up space too.

Like most of the books that I like to blog about, this one promotes an anti-diet approach.  Why?  Because

Our diet culture is designed to keep us fat and sick; hating and doubting ourselves because when we doubt ourselves we will buy more useless crap.

So although the book will be helpful to women who want to lose weight and learn how to maintain a healthy body weight, it is not your average diet book. Don’t expect a quick fix, detailed eating plans, or a detailed exercise routine.

After her disclaimers about people with serious medical conditions and eating disorders (namely, see your doctor, you shouldn’t be getting your info from a book or a blog), she introduces the three rules that guide her approach to weight loss and maintenance:

1. Make peace with your body.

2. Acknowledge that there is an appropriate amount of food your body needs to support your activity and a healthy weight, and that calories are relevant.

3. You’re allowed to eat whatever you want.

The section on making peace with our bodies is full of well-researched information about the “flaws” so many women hate: cellulite, normal fat storage (gluteal-femoral fat reserves), belly pooch, and those various lumps, bumps, veins, hairs, and stretch marks that, as she so nicely puts it, are the “evidence life leaves on our bodies.” Let’s love our bodies a bit more.

Rule #2 introduces the book’s main concept, which is that we need to eat the amount of food our bodies need to support our activity and a healthy weight.  For this, calories matter.

If you have followed the Go Kaleo blog, you will know already that energy balance and metabolic health are high priorities for Amber Rogers.  I have blogged about her metabolic health approach here. Much of that good information is provided again in this book.

She gives the usual information, by now well-supported, about the body’s natural famine-response or starvation-response to severely restricted diets.  In essence, if you drastically cut calories, you’ll lose quickly for a short period of time and then your amazing body will adapt.  The metabolism will slow down to support the body’s functioning on less.

So, in order to maintain a healthy weight without compromising your metabolism, it’s necessary to bring calories into the equation.  Most women need 2000-3000 calories a day to support their activity level at a healthy weight.  And yet most weight-loss diets max out at about 1200 calories a day. Do the math.  You can’t eat that much less, move more, and expect your body to handle it indefinitely without a famine-response.

She links to a calculator  that helps figure out how many calories a day you need to support the weight you want. It’s a great tool. You may be surprised at the result. I know I was.

I turned the dials to reflect my gender, age, weight, height, activity level, and the hours I spend sitting and sleeping, and it turns out that in theory I need 2700 calories a day to support my weight.

I say in theory because I am sure that most days I don’t eat anywhere near that and yet I still weigh about the same as I did back in January (when I stopped weighing myself). So I must be doing something wrong because my caloric intake should support a lower weight.  If the information Amber provides in the book is correct (and I’m not doubting it; she’s very convincing), then the most likely thing I’m doing wrong is not eating enough, and probably not enough protein.

Food quality does matter. She recommends one gram of protein per pound of body weight, an amount I personally find overwhelming. For me, that’s over 130 grams of protein a day and I can rarely manage it.

Knowing whether you’re getting what you need involves tracking. I hate tracking. She acknowledges that lots of people have a troubled history with tracking and that it’s not essential. But she thinks it’s the only method that is guaranteed to work. Why? Because it really is about calories in and calories out.

Two things she says make me think I might be able to work with her approach, including tracking (for a period of time). First, she re-frames it not as a tool of restriction but as a tool of seeing that we are getting enough.  Second, she notes that it’s temporary. She says: “Tracking for awhile teaches you how to judge proper portion sizes, how much food you need to meet your energy needs, and how to put balanced meals together. Over time, these skills become habit and you can leave the tracking behind.”

I did try this a few months ago when I became determined to increase my protein to at least 100 grams a day.  I tracked for about a week.  And I confess that I did find that I was falling short most days, not just on protein, but on calories.  But the thing is, I went to bed every night feeling totally stuffed.  It went against everything I have been doing to internalize the principles of intuitive eating. So this is something I’ll need to work with a bit to see if it’s going to work for me. Frankly, intuitive eating is more important, but I can do it while still trying to make choices that are higher in protein.

Amber is very sensible about weight. She notes that many of us may have a too-low goal weight in mind, and provides a few guidelines for determining whether the weight you aspire to is a reasonable weight for you to maintain.

She encourages slow weight loss that preserves lean mass, metabolic health, and leads to successful maintenance. That means resistance training, eating enough, and developing a sustainable and enjoyable exercise routine. She cites research studies that show that regular activity is essential to weight maintenance.

In order to lose moderately and without metabolic damage, “you are essentially going to eat the amount of food that will support a healthy weight.” The calculator cited above will tell you what you need to know if you dial in your goal weight and take it from there. She gives a few more details that you can find if you read the book.

If you follow her recommendations about caloric intake, choose a healthy—not unreasonable—goal weight, and maintain a regular exercise routine that includes resistance training at least three times a week, you should find yourself eventually leveling off at a healthy weight. At that point you can turn your attention to “body recomposition.”

That’s the process of changing the percentage of lean mass to fat mass. If you maintain the same weight but increase your lean mass and decrease your fat mass, your body will start to look different.  Amber herself has undergone gradual changes in body composition over the years that show up dramatically in the photo series that makes up the banner of her blog.

For those who have moved into the body recomposition phase, she provides some good tips: eat the calories for maintenance, get plenty of protein, eat carbs too, keep in mind that it’s possible for a healthy woman to gain 2 pounds of lean mass a month, don’t restrict fat, EAT, experiment, do resistance training for strength, get rest, and get rid of guilt.

She has a separate section geared towards those who are in recovery from starvation, including a list of signs to help determine if you have an eating disorder.  I won’t go into the details here, but it is an informative section. The most important advice contained there is to seek professional medical treatment.

The third rule says you’re allowed to eat whatever you want to eat. You will find no specific food plans here.  The main guideline is to eat a wide variety of whole foods, including protein and carbs. Nothing is forbidden.  Treats are important so that you don’t feel deprived.

For many people, this will be a revolutionary idea that might require some further work.  I recommend Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch and If Not Dieting, Then What?  by Rick Kausman if you need a bit more about the transition from restrictive diets to unrestricted healthy eating.

Finally, though the book doesn’t focus on exercise, Amber sees “physical activity, not diet, as the cornerstone of health.” Diet’s main function is to support our physical activity, to provide energy and fuel so we can do what we like to do. Find something you enjoy and make it a regular part of your life.

I’ve gone into the book in some detail because I think the information contained is important. But I have still only sketched out the main ideas. The book is worth reading if you are seeking to lose weight or feel happy with your weight but are wondering how you might shift the lean mass to fat mass percentages around.

I have the ebook on my kindle and my iPad, and I feel it’s absolutely worth the $9.99 it cost.  The focus on metabolic health and energy balance makes it unique among weight loss books. I don’t think it’s a negative thing that the book provides information about how to lose weight. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to shed a few pounds, gain lean mass, and achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

Amber provides enough information about how to choose a realistic body weight, and emphasizes that in lots of cases the right healthy body weight for you might not match the ideal you have always had in mind: it might well be heavier.

That’s one of the things I like most about her book, other than that it’s well-researched and full of excellent, reasonable information. By the end of it, it’s not just okay to be at a weight that’s a bit higher than you’ve always had as a goal, it’s even desirable.  Even though I gave up weighing myself and swore off dieting back in January, this is the first book I’ve read where I actually feel at the end of it like I’m totally good with the weight I’m at right now. 100%.

If you are a regular follower of Go Kaleo! you will find most of the information is not totally new to you. Amber is up front about this. But it’s good to have it all between two covers (even virtually), and she deserves support for the amazing work she is doing free of charge on the blog!

9 thoughts on “Book Review: Taking Up Space

  1. I bought this book a couple of months ago and inhaled it in one sitting. It’s such a breath of fresh air to encounter writers/professionals in the fitness world who are like “IT’S OKAY TO EAT.” Even the title of the book rocked my world. I’m a huge Go Kaleo fan.

  2. While I love Go Kaleo and think she is a great role model with a powerful message that the world needs to hear, I sometimes find her unrelatable because her attitude seems so superhuman. I, too, believe in properly fueling your body: that the diet industry is a terrible force in the world; and your weight is not the end-all of your worth. However, socialization is still a very hard thing to fight, and I, a body-positive person, still find moments where I am caught up in the look of my body, instead of its function and moments where the lighting in the dressing rooms makes me tear up. Sometimes, I wish she was either more relatable (although, I do not wish body-negative thoughts on anyone) or that she would go more in-depth on how she has overcome these mental obstacles – how did she develop her superhuman attitude toward her body? Does the first part of her book, re: making peace with yourself, go into specifics on how she finally did?

    1. I agree with you about how hard it is to start loving our bodies. I blog about this a lot and I still have regular bouts of self-loathing that focus on my body. I am nowhere near loving it. So yes, the message in the book might be over simplified but what she does do is provide the facts about what a real body looks like and she does a good job of reframing the issue so we focus on what our bodies do. It’s a start. I’ve had some successes. Thanks for your comment. I could really relate.

  3. To address one point you made, I’ve found that liquid meals are an excellent way to get in more calories. Speaking from — unfortunately — a lot of experience, it’s hard being a chronic undereater because it’s SO EASY to eat less and less and still “feel” full. There I was, having realised that somehow I’d been eating about half of what I my body needed just for maintenance, feeling like crap and not losing any weight despite eating way, way below maintenance.

    I upped my calories by a good 1000 per day at minimum, spent two weeks counting calories and feeling uncomfortably bloated and full… and then something happened and I actually started being hungry at mealtimes. All my health markers are better, too: goodbye tiredness, insomnia, super low blood pressure that made me feel queasy. My personal experience, at least, was that what Go Kaleo talks about really works that way.

    1. Thanks. That’s really encouraging to hear. Glad it worked for you. I’m going to give it another go!

      1. That’s got to be one of the challenges of intuitive eating, right? You can get used to eating a lot of food or very little food. Both can feel good, feel right. There are still times for me when I know I need to eat but I don’t feel like it. On our 160 km bike ride, six and a half hours of riding plus stops, we really struggled to eat enough. It’s tough. And I didn’t get it right. I need more calorie dense food for those times but I’ve gotten away from eating calorie dense foods. Work to do….

  4. For the record, I have recently started keeping a record of my daily calorie intake. For me, it has been very interesting to learn how much energy different types and amounts of food actually contains. Looks like a very informative and useful book!

    BTW I’m really enjoying your blog! 🙂

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