Many of us, at some point in our lives, have struggled with food or body image issues (or, most likely, both). If you have, Esther Kane’s book It’s Not About the Food: A Woman’s Guide to Making Peace With Food and Our Bodies is a must-read. For many years, Esther also suffered from her own body image battles and a life-threatening eating disorder. And that’s where the book begins, with her story. Here, Esther’s honesty and authenticity really struck me. While she recounts her struggles and recovery, Esther is eloquent and inspiring. I think this will resonate with many readers. She writes:
I see my recovery process as being like the act of peeling an onion, each layer representing a new discovery about myself and with each layer that is peeled back, there are tears. The tears are a way to let go of my grief and the agony that comes from understanding why I nearly killed myself through an eating disorder. The tears also represent, for me, the painful realization that roughly one-third of my young life was spent being totally obsessed with food and weight and that, try as I might, I will never be able to get those years back.
In addition to Esther’s story, the book features the following chapters:
Types of disordered eating: a list of DSM-IV criteria for several eating disorder, including binge eating disorder, anorexia, bulimia, and orthorexia, with several related personal stories.
Why diets don’t work: How many of you have been on one diet or another throughout your life? I think most readers will be able to relate to this chapter. Esther lists off the top 10 reasons to give up dieting and how you can explore your own experiences with it and relinquish the diet mentality. (I featured one of her exercises in a Monday post.)
Mindful eating: Esther believes that mindful eating can become a valuable tool in creating a healthier relationship with food and your body. I absolutely agree, and I think she offers great advice here. She features an exercise that helps readers understand how mindful eating works and discusses the five roadblocks to mindful eating, including distracted eating and eating things you don’t want. Each roadblock also features several very helpful exercises.
The food-mood connection: I’d argue that all of us engage in emotional eating, at least from time to time. Here, Esther helps you explore your connection between your mood and food intake with a variety of great exercises. She also talks about body size and personal power, which I found particularly interesting. Esther writes:
I can’t tell you how many times clients struggling with anorexia tell me that they don’t want to “take up space” but want to “be small” or “disappear.” The alarming metaphors that many women use in this regard point to the fact that women are somehow conditioned to think that they need to shrink physically in order to be accepted as members in good standing or the human species.
Meditation & relaxation: We know that stress can have a lot of damaging effects, but apparently it can also affect how you digest your food. Here Esther talks about yoga, prayer and mediation, and she does so in a very non-intimidating and accessible way. Esther credits daily prayer, meditation and her spiritual connection to a greater power with helping her recover from her eating disorder and bringing peace and tranquility into her life. She quotes Marianne Williamson, who Esther considers an inspiration:
According to Ms. Williamson: “Prayer is when we talk to God and meditation is when we listen.”
Toward the end of this chapter, she includes various prayers — a few from Williamson’s book — which you can recite, and invites you to write one yourself.
Changing our minds: In this substantial section, Esther talks about the importance of a positive attitude for your outlook on the three biggies: yourself, life, and the world. She features the most common cognitive distortions and provides activities to explore each one. She also includes a nice section on creating and using positive affirmations.
I love this body: Esther talks about our thin culture and examines the history a bit. You’ll also find a list of 10 tips for loving your body and other exercises for creating a more positive body image using, as Esther puts it, “self-supporting messages about your body.”
My favorite part of the book? The exercises, which I think are at the core of Esther’s book. It’s Not About the Food is really like a workbook and includes spaces for you to write your answers for each exercise. I actually think that the book is more like your own counselor who leads you by the hand, gently and compassionately, helping you understand and heal your relationship with food and yourself.
For instance, one of my favorite sections is the one on cognitive distortions. I wrote about this in a recent post that talked about the negative voice that most of us have and hear on a regular basis. That negative voice that says you aren’t enough, you’re worthless, you’re doing it all wrong and you’re also fat is nothing more than a set of cognitive distortions. So while that negative voice can be hurtful and painful and can rule our lives, when it boils down to it, it’s simply a collection of errors and inaccuracies.Which means that by tackling each inaccuracy, you can silence the voice.
How many times have you said to yourself, “Oh she’s staring at me because she thinks I look fat in this outfit”? Probably too many to count. What about, “I’m disgusting,” just because you didn’t like one or two things about your appearance? Or thought you were unworthy of happiness because of your appearance?
Esther easily explains the various types of distortions — like all-or-nothing thinking and mind reading — that some of us make on a daily basis. To help, she includes a step-by-step exercise of dissecting your distortions by charting them and asking yourself various questions. It may take some time, but it’s a great, thoughtful exercise.
Another section that really resonated with me was a story by Terry Poulton, author of No Fat Chicks: How Big Business Profits by Making Women Hate Their Bodies — And How to Fight Back about her long struggle with dieting, her self-image and losing weight in front of thousands of readers when she wrote the “Chronicles of the Incredible Shrinking Terry.”
At Weightless, we talk a lot about how we think thinness will bring us happiness and we’ll finally feel comfortable in our skin. But as Terry’s story shows, the idea that thinness hands you the secret to some perfect life is all smoke and mirrors. While trying to lose 65 pounds, Terry had an isolated life. She lost her fiance, had no time for friends and family and led an exhausting lifestyle that revolved around extreme dieting and working out. All she kept in her fridge were milk and coffee. As I read Terry’s story, I wondered how many people are in this very situation, have been there or will be there for the pursuit of weight loss or waif-like perfection.
This is one of the reasons why Esther’s book is so important. So many of us want to change our bodies and put our lives on hold. We wait to wear pretty clothes till we lose X amount of pounds. We wait to go out to a certain restaurant. We wait to go to the gym. We wait to look for real love. We wait to enjoy life. We wait to like ourselves. And life is so much more than thinness. Sure, it’s easier said than done. That’s why I like It’s Not About the Food. Its thought-provoking, practical exercises help you to move on from this kind of thinking.
Overall, I think this is a valuable book. I appreciate Esther’s candor when talking about her struggles, as well as her insight and experience working with clients. I also think the exercises can help tremendously in exploring and mending your relationship with food and your body image.
(For disclosure purposes, I wanted to mention that Esther generously provided me with a free copy of her book.)
And, fortunately, one lucky reader will get to enjoy a free copy! Esther has generously offered to send a free copy of her book to one Weightless reader. Thanks so much, Esther!
All you have to do is comment below, and I’ll pick a winner on Monday morning and announce it in the post. As far as how I’ll pick, it’ll be a comment that contributes thoughtfully to this post. However, anyone who I’ve interviewed on Weightless or who’s written a guest post doesn’t qualify.
Do you have a broken relationship with your body or with food? Do you view thinness as the key to happiness?