Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Book review: EnLIGHTened by Jessica Berger Gross

I was sidetracked from my regular reading (a book called Hyperion which my wonderful husband passed to me) and have been reading EnLIGHTened: How I Lost 40 Pounds with a Yoga Mat, Fresh Pineapples and a Beagle-Pointer by Jessica Berger Gross.  I have to admit, it's a fun and easy read.  The author has a good sense of humor, an engaging story (one that's familiar to all of us in the weight struggle) and some great tips on weight loss and exercise.  She's motivational, truthful and very real.  Having said all that, I think I'd have to give this book only 3 stars out of 5.

I love how she explains that we need to be truthful with ourselves.  We do know when we've eaten something bad for ourselves, eaten too much, or when we've been lazy and neglecting our bodies.  We know we should park the car further from the store, and make time for yoga or some other form of exercise in addition to walking most days of the week.  We should admit these things to ourselves so we can lift the veil of denial when it comes time to step on the scale.  However, I am NOT going to admit to my husband (or some other "buddy") when I have done these things.  Maybe her self esteem is higher than mine, and she can take the criticism.  In fact, that's likely the case.  But that doesn't change the fact that telling someone else how you screwed up every time you forget to tow the healthy line is demeaning and demoralizing.  I think a better suggestion would be to keep a journal and admit these things on paper.  That way, you're still being truthful with yourself, but you're not involving a third (possibly judgmental) person.

This woman is a bit diet crazy.  And when I say a bit, I mean a LOT.  She thinks whole wheat cheese pizza or (not and) hot chocolate made with skim milk is something to be saved for the rare treat.  She mentioned that homemade whole wheat pancakes with real maple syrup should be in the same category, and thinks that white bread should always be avoided.  Yikes!  I'm sorry, life without chocolate chip cookies, fresh artisan breads and chocolate ice cream with peanut butter is not worth living.  I'm not saying I should have these things every day, but relegating them to the "never" category just isn't happening.  I try to incorporate more whole grains in my diet, but I don't think I'll ever make a complete conversion.  I like her recipes with lentils and beans, but the idea of making this kind of food my every meal makes me a little ill.  I agree that we should try to have as many vegetarian meals as possible, and I love that she suggests buying organic, free-range and grass-fed meats as a green and responsible alternative to vegetarianism.  

Her advice on limiting portions was, in my opinion, the most helpful.  She says, "After your meal, your stomach should be 1/2 full with food, 1/4 full with water and 1/4 empty with room for air."  I love it.  In our country, the portion sizes are out of control and we should strive to be satisfied on the smallest servings possible.  With this little technique, you can eat much larger variety of foods than what the author portrays.

I loved her advice on exercise.  Stoking the inner fire, even when we're exhausted, is a great metaphor.  Many of us in yoga, and most of us who are truly in touch with our bodies, can relate to the idea of pushing ourselves on the days when we don't feel so much like exercising to give ourselves more energy.  We should all try to get in a little walking and some other physical activity every day, and push ourselves a little harder when we need to drop baby weight or a few excess pounds to kick-start weight loss.  

My favorite part of the book, though was her chapter on inner reflection.  Why are we over-eating?  What does your comfort food represent?  What feeling are you stuffing down an covering with food?  These are important questions overweight people seldom ask themselves.  Understanding that permanent weight-loss isn't possible without dealing with internal issues is something few people understand.  Kudos to Jessica Berger Gross for talking about her struggle so candidly.

All in all, I think she goes overboard with her diet, and she crosses the line from realistic to idealistic.  I would recommend the book to others, but only with the caveat that her dieting advice is too extreme, and that there are lots of other books with better, more sensible eating tips.  I love The Fat Fallacy, and others like it, which put forth the "un-dieting" and "slow food" methods of eating.  Eating whatever you want, but savoring it slowly, chewing more meaningfully and tasting every bite makes you really consider which foods you truly love and which ones aren't so great.  This method brings about a more healthful diet and smaller portions without restricting one's diet to rabbit food.  

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