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Book Review: Craving

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As I read Craving: Why We Can’t Seem to Get Enough, by physician Omar Manejwala, MD, I found myself nodding like a bobble head doll, and also reaching for my pen to underline something on pretty much every page. This is a topic I can relate to. It opens with the question, “What explains the mysterious urge to do something that has caused so much damage in the past?” In other words, haven’t I learned YET?

I read this book to see if I could learn something new for my blog readers, my Weight Watchers members, friends and family that I care about, and of course myself. And while much of the content of the book wasn’t NEW, it was certainly reaffirming and validating of many of the steps I’ve taken that have helped me (and explained how and why I’ve had setbacks).

The book opens with a definition of what craving is: a strong desire that, if unfulfilled, produces a powerful physical and mental suffering. They can range from a passing urge to an all-out, consuming addiction.  The author mentions something called “apparently irrelevant decisions” that can lead to a relapse. Then he explores why cravings matter: because they are uncomfortable, because they cause us stress, and because people who experience cravings are more likely to relapse into behavior that isn’t good for them or aligned with their goals. (nod, nod, underline, underline)

It deals with all different sorts of cravings – from alcohol to food to gambling, smoking and sex. He addresses ways in which these are universal issues, no matter what the substance or behavior.

There’s a big chunk in the book on brain science – the neurobiology of cravings, why they happen and how our brains lie to us to make us do things that we know don’t benefit us. I happen to be a total geek for brain science, especially when it relates to this topic. I find it both reassuring and encouraging – it takes it out of the realm of “I suck because I can’t get a handle on this” and sheds a light on exactly WHY it can be so hard sometimes. The studies that are cited are fascinating.

The good news about our brains leading us around, is that we can actually re-draw the map and get our brains to work in ways that are more beneficial to us. Again, this isn’t new news, but for me, obviously, it is something that I need to learn and read over and over again, and this book does so in a way that is so straightforward and nonjudgmental.

The other good news is that a lot of things that I am already doing, are the things that are proven to work. Group support is key. KEY! (yay Weight Watchers, yay online blogging community, yay friends) Writing things down (i.e. tracking, food journaling etc) is KEY. Forgiveness is key. (One of my favorite, and most startling lines in the book: “Only love can neutralize shame.”)

What can I say? It’s a good book. It’s SOLID. It’s filled with good science, which I find both illuminating and reassuring. It’s filled with concrete, positive suggestions for addressing the issues of craving. It’s also compassionate at its core. It’s like, Give yourself a break. There are reasons you do this stuff, and it’s not your fault, but it’s not helping you, so here are some good tools that can give you a way out.

It so happened that I finished reading this book while alone on my writing retreat. I’m away from home, and out of my normal routine. A little excited (vacation mode), a little anxious, a little lonely here and there. Perfect breeding ground for cravings! I could feel myself veering into potentially dangerous territory. Reading this book was like a little life jacket being thrown my way. It was a voice saying, “You know how to do this. Remember?”

Some of my favorite underlinings:

  • Cravings… are deeply personal. Comparing your cravings with what other people experience is a losing game and can only serve to undermine your success.
  • There is no such thing as a permanent craving; all cravings eventually go away, whether or not we act or act out on them.
  • The ideal time to address your cravings is when you are not actively craving.
  • Another important brain function is to lie to you.
  • Health, happiness and even longevity benefits come from being helpful to others.

It’s good stuff. Check it out! You can pre-order here.

Disclosure:

I was fortunate enough to recently receive a copy of this book for review. For the record, I often get offers to review a product for this blog. My policy (and I am up front about this) is that I will accept things to review, but unless I really like it, I probably won’t take the time to write a review. I don’t really have time for negative reviews. Unless I really, really really DON’T like something. 😉

And the winner is…

Deborah R wins the copy of The Instinct Diet!! Congratulations, Deborah, I hope this book gives you the boost you need!

Diet Book Giveaway: The Instinct Diet

At the beginning of this year, the New York Times ran an article featuring the “best of the new diet books.”  After reading the piece, I ordered two of them, The Beck Diet Solution and The Instinct Diet. I’ve gone fairly bonkers for the Beck book, but the other one didn’t speak to me as much. Somebody out there might really like it though.

The New York Times article explains that the author of the Instinct Diet…

explains how natural hard-wired instincts to eat in response to hunger, availability, caloric density, familiarity and variety, which served us well in paleolithic times (and until the mid-20th century), have been compromised by changes in the kinds, amounts and constancy of foods in the modern world. These changes, in turn, undermine the ability of many people to maintain a normal weight.

The book guides readers to alternative approaches to fulfilling the demands of these instincts in ways that can help them lose weight and, at the same time, adopt a more wholesome, nutritious and healthful eating plan that can be adapted to anyone’s lifestyle. Though the instinct diet is rather prescriptive for the first two weeks, it offers a reasonable number of options to accommodate different tastes and eating schedules. The next six weeks of the eight-week program enable dieters to adopt and adapt eating plans that can result in permanent weight loss and improve health.

Amazon readers also seemed to like it a lot; it has an average of five (the highest) stars. Some reader reviews:

  • How well did the diet work? In short, it worked. It’s still working. I didn’t start off heavy, but I needed to lose some weight, somewhere in the ballpark of 15 pounds – a result of spending more time behind a computer at work. I lost the weight over the course of a month and some change, and without starving myself. The recipes and meal plans from the Instinct Diet helped me make changes in the way I eat. I still eat hearty meals, this book’s recipes are tasty and filling. I think that’s the key here – people need to enjoy what they are eating. This book finds the intersection between healthy and tasty, and gives you a plan for changing your eating habits to hit that intersection and stay there.
  • It works! I’ve tried other diets, and although I might lose weight for a while, it’s always been incredibly hard work and they didn’t stop my weight gradually creeping upwards over the years. I saw this book in the store and thought it looked interesting because it isn’t just some fad diet that promises the world but doesn’t actually work. Instead this is an intelligent book that is written by a scientist and tells you about strategies that have actually been shown to work by research. That makes it an interesting book to read – in fact I’d have been interested to read it even if I wasn’t trying to lose weight. And using it for weight loss is not complicated or difficult.
  • I seriously can’t believe it, but I’m not hungry on this diet. I’ve only been eating the menu for four days now, but ever since day 2 I’ve been totally satisfied. At first glance I thought the portions were very small (I mean, who eats 4 pecan halfs?), but they are really keeping me full. I even went to a party last night and passed on dessert! Believe me, that’s not my usual thing.

So… I’m probably not going to be using this book but I am offering it as a giveaway, randomly chosen, for readers of this blog who leave a comment. Just answer the following question:

What has been the most challenging aspect of losing weight for you, and how have you faced or solved that challenge?

I’ll pick a giveaway winner on March 10th, and contact you for your mailing address to send you the book. So make sure to include your email in your comment!

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