The subtitle to Overcoming Overeating by Lisa Morrone is It’s Not What You Eat, It’s What’s Eating You!, and therefore the thrust of the book is dealing with the underlying emotional reasons for overeating. I got the book either free or at a low cost as a Kindle deal, and I must have overlooked the subtitle at first: it actually made me angry, not that the book addressed emotional issues but that it seemed to deemphasize other related issues. In fact, several times she seems to ridicule or at least disbelieve people’s protestations that they overeat because they like food. But to just dismiss this with an “I know what your problem really is” attitude is to do people a disservice. When I am about to have my 6th cookie of the day or a third helping of lasagna, I am not thinking about any underlying emotions: I am thinking “This tastes good and therefore I want more!” I have never read a weight-loss book that adequately addressed that part of the problem, and that’s the problem that derails all the good intentions, all the knowledge about what is good and bad and best for you, etc.
But I gave the book another run-through after my first reading, and I did glean more helpful tips than I did the first time.
I don’t deny that people overeat for emotional reasons: even healthy people at a normal weight have their comfort foods. Lisa acknowledges that “everyone eats for emotional reasons at one time or another,” but for some – about 75%, by one statistic – “emotional eating has become chronic.” Chemicals like cannabinoids (same family as marijuana) and serotonin are produced by the digestion of some common “comfort foods” (potato chips, french fries, chocolate, cheeseburgers, to name a few), making the feel-good indulgence of those foods not just emotional but physical and chemical. She does do a great job addressing how to deal with those underlying emotional issues. She describes an emotional cycle leading to overeating and a couple of places from which to step off the cycle.
I especially appreciated her distinction between different kinds of guilt: there is a good, God-given guilt designed to lead one to repentance, and there is a destructive guilt that just furthers the emotional tailspin into more over-eating.
I really liked her treatment of controlling our thoughts and distinguishing what is true between the good and bad ones. A negative thought isn’t necessarily a bad one. For instance, “I shouldn’t have yelled at my son” is negative, but it is true, and therefore we can confess it, apologize, seek forgiveness and seek for better ways to respond. But “I’m so stupid, I never do anything right” is negative and destructive and needs to be corrected. Similarly, a positive, pleasing thought can be deceptive or it can be inspirational.
She also does address that there are other “triggers” to overeating: certain foods that are especially tempting or hard for us to control, family gatherings, social situations, convenience. etc. And she does address other practical tips: reading labels, wise shopping, getting used to adequate portions, etc. She addresses the problem that we seem to celebrate everything with food, and suggests other ways to celebrate: she also cautions against ever eating to feel better when down or disappointed, frustrated, angry, etc., because that is just setting one up for food addiction and hurts rather than helps whatever the underlying problem is.
In-between the chapters are testimonies from different individuals who have lost weight, and it was in one of those that I found a helpful response for the problem I mentioned at first, that of wanting to eat more just because it tastes so good: one woman mentioned that God gave her “a new understanding that living for the satisfaction of only one part of my body (my mouth) was unholy,” and when faced with temptations for unhealthy foods or amounts, she seemed to “sense Him saying to [her], ‘I will still love you if you choose that, but will it get you what you want?'”Something that Morrone said helps here, too: “Too much of a good thing can become a bad thing.” In another testimonial, a woman said, “God loves me so much He does not want me to damage the body He has given to me. He showed me that food was just a fleeting enjoyment, but a healthy body was so much more.”
Morrone concedes that food is intended for pleasure – otherwise God would not have given us many taste buds designed to gain the maximum enjoyment from what we eat – but she advises to think that food=fuel, and there are different “grades” of food just as there are different grades of gasoline. “Most everything ‘quick and easy’ you bring home is filled with nutritional shortcuts. Be good to yourself and your family: eat quality fuel.” The goal is “to become a truly well-balanced person, one who can enjoy food without guilt and who has so many interests and goals that food only holds its rightful place in the day – that of nourishment and pleasure, not a tranquilizer, Band-aid, or time-filler” (emphasis mine). She compares a healthy relationship with food to a healthy friendship: if one member harmed the other, it would not be a healthy relationship. We need to find foods that promote health rather than jeopardizing it.
I really liked the section dealing with inevitable setbacks as well. “Each year the winning team of the Super Bowl loses some ground (yardage) throughout the game. Yet they always keep their minds fixed on the goal, push through the opposition, and, as a result, advance to victory in the end.” She gives a variety of tips for dealing with setbacks and getting back on track.
Though I am usually wary of books and weight loss programs that promote self-love, Morrone has, I believe, the best definition of it: “We can humbly appreciate who we are and who we’ve been created to be, and honor ourselves (and our Creator) by being devoted to the care and well-being of our physical bodies.”
I’m glad I gave this book another chance. I benefited from it. Some of what Lisa says about emotional overeating has been distilled into this document on her web site, but of course it is expanded on and fleshed out in the book. If you’ve not yet guessed, the book is written from a Christian vantage point and discusses the Biblical foundation and many Biblical principles of good health, but she also addresses the non-believer with principles he could relate to while encouraging him to look at the Bible’s point of view as well.
(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)