Karen Kataline had a childhood that few of us would envy. She was a child beauty contestant. During much of her childhood, she lived under the disapproving gaze of her image-obsessed stage mom who relentlessly criticized her weight, scolded her in front of other children and adults for eating the wrong food, and at one point limited her caloric intake to a mere 500 a day. During her teen years, the author’s substantial weight gain served as a backlash or fatlash against the strict diets of her childhood. The weight effectively put an end to pageants and the unwanted adult attention that they bring.

In her moving and entertaining memoir Fatlash! Food Police & the Fear of Thin, Karen Kataline offers a very personal example of what happens when others, be they family members or strangers, attempt to control our food consumption. The victim of coercion becomes dependent on external policing and never learns to internally regulate their food intake. Ultimately, the victim rebels against control.

Such a story is timely given the increasing imposition of government agencies into what Americans eat and drink. The US federal government regulates every stage of food production from growing to processing to sales to the kitchen table.

Ironically, the same government subsidizes sugar, corn and other high-calorie foods while simultaneously admonishing people for eating too much of them. Meanwhile local politicians like NYC Mayor Bloomberg have succeeded in banning certain cooking oils and sizes of soda drinks. Not to be outdone, politicians in the UK are considering setting legal limits on the sugar, fat and salt content in foods. A foreshadowing?

Kataline writes, “We have crossed a dangerous line from private obsession to public policy. In the growing hysteria over obesity, we’ve moved from nutritional education designed to help us become more aware of what we eat, to food bans and coercion designed to control and manipulate what people eat.”

Whether it comes from a smothering parent, an activist, a bureaucrat or a politician, the effort to cajole or coerce people is likely to ultimately fail to make them thinner. When reading between the lines in Fatlash, one glimpses the motives of a child beauty queen mother parading her child as a proxy for her own frustrated dreams. The chiding and food denying had little to do with concern for her child’s health. One wonders what motivates the hand-wringing food nannies who live to control the caloric intake of Americans they have never met.