I think this book is attacking the right issue, but for me the approach taken doesn't greatly appeal.
The issue that Beck addresses is perhaps the most neglected in the whole fat-loss field: the formation of robust habits of constraint and moderation around food. It's based on the assumption that we simply lack the right tools to change our behaviour successfully.
The diet industry's obsession with finding some magical eating formula (low-fat vs low-carb vs paleo vs vegan etc etc ad infinitum) is all but drowning out the much simpler and more important issue of how to control our eating. The human body is highly adaptable and the search for the perfect diet is surely futile. I'm increasingly convinced that what we need to relearn is how to eat in moderation, consistently, for the rest of our lives.
It's when you compare the US and the UK to other countries that you release how gluttonous our eating culture has become. In Japan, for example, where only 3% of the population is obese as against 33% in the US and 24% in the UK, moderation in eating is highly valued socially and people eat sensible portions of nutritious and tasty food without continuous snacking. In the US and the UK, we've somehow fallen into eating too much and too often. We eat in the office, in the car, in the streets, in the cinema, in front of the TV...And portions get bigger and bigger. The reasons for the changes in our eating habits are complex, I think, but if 120 million Japanese can eat moderately there is surely no reason why I can't learn to do the same.
But how do we get from here to there? How do we relearn restraint? Simply telling people that they are weak and greedy is uncompassionate and ineffective. We now know that food is as addictive as opiates and mere willpower is all too often overwhelmed. We need effective tools for changing our addictive behaviour, and in many fields CBT is much the most proven modality for achieving behavioural change. Judith Beck is a highly respected figure in the CBT community, so surely this book is the answer?
Except that I feel it has a couple of major flaws.
First, it greatly complicates the process. It is highly programmed, with no less than 42 steps (and there's a supplementary workbook too), by which point there are 24 activities you are supposed to review on a daily basis. Good grief - does it really have to be so complicated? It's pretty hard to form 1 good habit, never mind 24. Most of us need to cut back by 500 calories or so to reduce, and then by 200 or so to maintain our weight. It's not really such a big deal and it seems to me that 24 changes is overkill. In my experience of psychology and counselling, attempting to change 24 habits in 42 days is very over-ambitious and failure prone, and the research backs me up. Far better, I would argue, to identify the 3 or 4 priority issues that are sabotaging your personal weight-loss and focus on them laser-like one at a time till each new habit becomes bomb-proof.
Secondly, and this is more subjective, I found the book uninspiring and joyless. Food should be a celebration, and I feel that this approach has lost touch with that. The first time I read it, some years back, I liked what it was trying to do but it didn't inspire me to take action. I really don't want to have this kind of relationship with food.
My first attempt at permanent fat loss has failed as the weight crept back and I'm looking to focus more on the habit-forming dimension second time around. So I've re-read this book, but still feel it's off-track. I'll mine it for ideas, but I've learned more from the habit-forming advice on John Berardi's Precision Nutrition website (prioritize the issues and tackle them one at a time), from Leo Babauta's The Power of Less (a minimalist approach to habit formation), Meg Selig's Changepower (a more detailed approach that might work better if you're facing serious issues with food addiction) and Brian Wansink's Mindless Eating (on neglected reasons for over-eating and the cumulative power of small changes).
Given the overwhelming and urgent importance of addressing the obesity explosion I find it surprising that there isn't a simple, practical, validated approach to improving eating habits. Precision Nutrition comes closest, I think, and seems to have a good success rate. So I'm going to base my second (and hopefully final!) approach on their advice, supplemented by insights from the other sources I've quoted.
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