Cast a Thin Shadow: Fun Flexible Diets that Work


205 pages
Contains Illustrations, Index
ISBN 0-7704-1846-5





Reviewed by Robin V.H. Bellamy

Robin V.H. Bellamy was an editor and bibliographer in Vancouver.


Weight control is a profitable topic. Magazines in January capitalize on resolutions to lose those inevitable holiday bulges, and innumerable diet books sell because each one claims a unique and certain route to success. Cast a Thin Shadow fits this pattern: it was previewed in the January 1983 issue of Chatelaine, and its author promises, “My approach is different from any you’ve tried before. It’s fun, flexible, and it works!” (p.1).

Toronto physician Dr. Joan Borland developed her approach to dieting during more than ten years of treating women who were concerned about their weight — herself included. She sees chronic weight problems as symptomatic of stress, and argues that weight loss methods that deal only with the symptom, regarding people as the sum of their eating and exercise practices, are ineffective. Her solution is to combat the stress, by 1) doing relaxation and stretching exercises to relieve general and localized tensions; 2) regularly participating in energy-burning activities to help prevent weight gain; and 3) taking a moderate, personalized approach to dieting.

The stretching exercises are effective and safe (except that persons with neck or back problems should be careful with #4 on page 136), and the illustrations are easy to follow. The section on aerobic exercise is limited to a discussion of walking; those who want guidelines for other activities, or an explanation of fitness principles, will have to look elsewhere.

The twelve diets Dr. Borland outlines range in style and caloric content from the Snacker’s Delight 2: Vegetarian (810 calories) to the Gourmet Fare Diet (about 1200 calories). Fairly described as nutritionally balanced,” the diets are still for the most part too low in total intake, or they contain too many nutrient-poor items (such as white bread or wine), to provide adequate nutrition when compared with standards such as those of the Canada Food Guide. Of particular concern are the shortfalls in calcium and iron, minerals which are especially important to women because of their reproductive cycles. Dr. Borland does point out that each of her diets is recommended for a specific time only, but serious nutritional deficiencies could result if the diets were used for too long in sequence (for which no warning is given), or if they were used by persons with special nutritional needs, such as pregnant and lactating women. Dr. Borland’s advice to “check with your doctor before you start” should not be considered optional.

The appendices should also be used with caution. Substituting cauliflower for baked beans (p. 190) will save calories, but it will also eliminate a lot of protein and B-vitamins. Inconsistencies in calorie counts are numerous; for instance, an arrow-root cookie has either 20 or 100 calories, depending on whether you believe page 175 or 192.

With its emphasis on stress, Cast a Thin Shadow may help some people to make positive changes in their lives instead of just their weights, and to the extent that it does, the book may be commended. However, Dr. Borland’s claims regarding the “fun” and balance provided by her diets are excessive, and a book with less hype and more health would have been of much greater credit to her.


Borland, Joan, and Barbara Dacks, “Cast a Thin Shadow: Fun Flexible Diets that Work,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed December 10, 2023,