“Lose weight” has been the most popular resolution at 43 Things (a website for making and keeping goals), for three of the last four years. Since I finally accomplished weight loss after twenty years of breaking that particular resolution by the end of each January, I thought I would review the three books that most helped me achieve it. These books helped me stick to a healthy eating plan for the last sixteen months. This new way of eating is something that I will continue to follow because it’s no longer a burden, but a way of life.
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan. This book sets out principles of how to eat in a world where we are blasted with conflicting nutritional advice and sophisticated marketing that makes eating highly processed foods seem like normal behavior. The most memorable bit of advice for me was to not eat anything that my grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
My grandparents were Indiana farmers born at the turn of the twentieth century. The shortest lifespan of my four grandparents was seventy-nine years. Grandmother Hoover lived to a couple of months shy of a hundred. My parents, on the other hand, both died in their sixties. It’s fairly obvious that I have longevity genes, but only if I live more like a mid-20th century farmer and less like a 21st century information professional. With that vivid image, I shopped at Farmers Markets, subscribed to a CSA, and even grew my own vegetables. I also committed to daily exercise to simulate my grandparents’ more active lifestyles.
That worked. I lost weight. And, then, I gained it all back in a year where I was eating extremely healthily except when I wasn’t. I went through an odd phase where if I couldn’t eat local, organic produce than I figured I might as well eat junk. I was at a loss about how to stop what was obviously destructive behavior. Then, along came the next book.
The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by David Kessler. This was the book that helped me break the addictive cycle to junk food for good. He described how processed foods are engineered and then marketed in ways to make them irresistible to susceptible people like me. I came away with righteous anger at a food industry that doesn’t care if I’m fat as long as I keep spending money on their products. That fueled a desire to stop eating the Modern American Diet and get back to eating the real food that Michael Pollan defended in his book.
Of course, by then, I was well aware that desire wasn’t enough. I needed something else to get myself to actually do what I said that I wanted. At the end of his book, Kessler mentioned using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques to accomplish the difficult task of eating differently than my environment encouraged me to eat. One technique he mentioned was making rules. I immediately made rules to stop eating in the car and to stop eating anything purchased from gas stations or drugstores. Eighty percent of my problem was already solved. To make further progress, though, I knew I needed to learn more about CBT.
The Beck Diet Solution: Train Your Brain to Think Like a Thin Person by Judith Beck. One thing about being a librarian is that I knew when I read the term CBT in Kessler’s book what the next book on my list should be. I already associated CBT in weight loss with the name Judith Beck — I had just never figured out before that CBT was the approach I needed. Beck helped me create an environment for success with more strategies and techniques that enabled me to behave in the way I wanted and to recover quickly when things didn’t go the way I planned. Perhaps, the most important tool is my on-line support group at 3 Fat Chicks where I post daily to keep my healthy lifestyle at the forefront of my considerations each day.
These three books, not one of which actually contains a diet, changed the way I eat in ways that I now believe, having practiced the methods for well over a year, are permanent and sustainable.