If you have been reading and/or following my blog for awhile, you know I have not done a book review or even chatted much about what I am reading. I am a pretty voracious reader; it is probably my favorite way to unwind and relax. So this is something new for me – not exactly a review, but a commentary on something I read that has really touched a raw nerve in the best ways possible. It’s very untypical for me to express an strong opinion one way or the other on someone else’s work, because while I read a lot, most of it is either relaxing fluff, blogs, internet articles, or work-related accounting, budgeting, and financial-related stuff. Anyone looking for relaxing fluff is likely finding it without my help, blogs and internet articles are mostly for the compelling nature of the ongoing personal stories, and anyone else looking for business and accounting books is likely reading the same or similar publications. And in truth, if I can avoid it, I don’t read books about work-related issues unless really pressed to do so. The continuing education for my certifications is adequate, and should I ever get the wild hair to become a CPA, I will have to hit the books pretty hard to pass the exam.

But in keeping with my current healthier lifestyle focus, I want to share The Anti-Diet Approach to Weight Loss and Weight Control by Scott Abel. From the “about the author” section of this book:

Scott Abel has been involved in the diet, fitness, and bodybuilding industries for over four decades. His coaching specializes in physique transformation rooted in mindset for long-term success.

With my dawning obsession of overhauling my health via lifestyle changes (aka diet and exercise), I have developed a stronger interest in the knowledge, opinions, and current thinking on such matters. There is a lot out there, everything from online articles and blog posts to scholarly tomes on nutrition, fitness, exercise physiology, and everything else in between. I am quite sure a lot of it is pure crap as well, particularly to the absolute novice like me. Trainer J, also and avid reader whose job and hobby relates to all things health and fitness, offered to be my “gatekeeper” when it comes to things I am reading and researching and loaned me a bunch of books he has read and particularly recommends. Scott Abel has been of interest to him of late, and J has graciously provided me an entire series written by Abel related to eating and diet, my current focus in trying to enhance my overall health.

Please note I have not been compensated in any way for the opinions expressed here.

Scott Abel’s The Anti-Diet Approach to Weight Loss and Weight Control … this book spoke to me on so many levels. It is most definitely not a traditional diet book; Abel does not suggest foods to eat, foods to avoid, calorie or nutrient budgets. The closest he comes to doing anything of that is a series of brief “diet tip” suggestions in the very last chapter.

There is so much truth packed into this book, and I feel strongly enough about it to write a post expressing that opinion. As I noted it’s a densely written book, chock full of information that needs to be dissected and digested. It is stuff I know on some level, because I do live in the world and have an imperfect understanding of how marketing works. However, this book really made me think about it, how I am influenced without even being aware of it. For me it’s not just about eating better or losing weight; it’s about the burden of self-recrimination and judgment that keeps me locked in analysis paralysis and not trusting myself. Abel made me feel like I’m normal and even okay to be stuck in this mindset; the solutions he offers are not detailed, how-to instructions so much as guidelines to get me started to breaking away and establishing and practicing the concepts he presents in the same ways I go to the gym and run through my Lists each day.

From a traditional, mainstream media perspective on health and wellness (read: diet and weight management), Abel’s book is a little woo woo. He is not providing you a list of eat this, not that; good food, bad food; more protein, less carbs and fat. Instead, he is addressing our mindset, the voices in our heads, the messages we are bombarded with every time we step outside the house or turn on the TV or open our internet browsers.

He states quite clearly that we should give up our scales and our pursuit of weight loss as a goal. Abel addresses the process of healing our minds and mindsets, uplifting our attitudes and addressing optimum health from and inside-out versus outside-in perspective.

My clearly stated goal with exercise and training with J has always been better health. However, somewhat loosely/tightly threaded through that is weight loss. In an email exchange with my endocrinologist this week says my A1c is down slightly still, and he may consider changing my remaining diabetes medicines. Has the scale moved even one pound? Honestly, I have no idea, because the replacement scale I purchased last weekend is still in its box beneath the vanity in my bathroom. Maybe when I go in for my next appointment and get on his scale I will know what my weight is presently doing. I cannot promise I will care much either way.

My absolute favorite lines in this book are near the end of Chapter 3:

You don’t have a “diet” issue. You have a thinking issue about dieting.

This is reiterated at the beginning of Chapter 8:

By now it should be obvious to you that you do not have a weight problem. You have a ‘thinking and feeling problem’ about your weight.

I went into this book with an open mind – I could not really imagine J sending me something that was actually woo woo and new-agey in the diet and fitness realm. Abel has his particular foundation – I expect his emphasis on the diet mentality, self-compassionate mind, and triangle of awareness (mental, emotional, and physical) are recurring themes revisited in his other books and many articles which I have not yet read. The concepts seem simple, but I found myself reading and then trying to alternatively dismiss and accept the idea that I was reading about me and my personal habits. Where I am typically a very fast reader, this book became increasingly information dense as I continued and I found myself going back to read, reread, take furious amounts of notes, and slowly digest the content over the course of several weeks. It seems like the longest 125 pages I have read in years without being boring or especially painful reading.

A lot of my difficulty in getting through this book was directly and almost exclusively because of the diet mentality concept. I am seriously afflicted in so many areas of my life. Abel discusses this in great detail, from the connection of body consciousness and marketing and all the insidious ways it creeps into our lives and influences our thinking to its many ill-effects on our minds and ultimately, our bodies. Abel discusses the standards and ideals that are arbitrarily put upon us and published as gospel in the marketing materials we are bombarded with, and how harmful those messages are to our self-esteem and overall emotional well being. The influences that increase our self-judgment, the recrimination, the “deals” we make with ourselves, the rules we lay down to pursue the ideal someone nameless, faceless being has created for us, the control we try to exert, and the devastation of our hearts and minds when we fail … so much of it rings true for me in nearly all aspects of my life.

While Abel is specifically talking about diet and weight management, there was a lot of resistance in my head going through these paragraphs and pages, so much resistance that I found myself completely lost when I would pick up my iPad to resume my reading and having to go back and review a few pages to remember where I was in the process. This rarely happens to me, and he is not an especially dry, boring writer (although I will say that I hope he utilized an editor in later editions; his message is valuable yet I am lying if I say I was not distracted by the typos). When I am fully engaged 125 page length books are completed in a couple of hours in an evening; this one took me 5 weeks of nearly nightly reading and an entire letter writing pad filled with scribbled notes, thoughts, and feelings. It was a powerful message, one I am still processing as I type this post.

I am not now nor have I ever been someone capable or willing to follow diets. Weight Watchers has simplified its program through the years and has less emphasis on weighing and measuring, yet even the points system they utilize seems wrong to me. Jenny Craig, Nutrisystems and other prepackaged programs – I know myself and am completely, adamantly unwilling to eat that food, on top of which I know it is an unsustainable method of weight control. Everything else – from high protein, low carb, real food, fake food – I have always had a wariness about popular diets and diet systems because it feels like a recipe for personal failure.

With the diabetes and my new focus on exercise, I am still in the dilly-dallying stage of managing/restructuring my eating habits and overall diet and freely admit it. Abel’s emphasis on a self-compassionate mind expresses the weight loss/weight management process as something that should ben an inside-out (better health) process versus the diet mentality’s emphasis on outside-in (physical appearance). I am strongly encouraged by my own inside-out transition and my recent success with managing my diabetes. That said, in the past 6 months when I would dutifully step onto the scale every week and the numbers were nearly identical to the prior week or even higher, I would be torn between disappointment and despair, neither of which are good places to be or to feel. Over a number on a scale. Which would in turn make me think that the exercise was not working and maybe I should give up … such a tempting idea that has been. Never mind that my glucose numbers were going down, the volume of medication I was consuming to maintain that trend was also decreasing, but I was getting upset because I failed (and yes, I use and used that word) to drop any ounces off my frame.

There is still some distance in my head between me and creation of better, consistent habits, but for me, weight management begins inside my head and the direction of my thinking, not in the kitchen with the scale and the measuring cups and the list of foods and ingredients that are off-limits going forward. This book encapsulates all those impulses are symptoms of the diet mentality. This book encapsulates all those impulses and symptoms of MY mentality.

Abel’s solution for overcoming and letting go of the diet mentality is to develop and maintain a self-compassionate mind. He describes the process in detail and states very clearly about what it takes to be set us free from enslavement to diet mentality. As he puts it, “the process is the goal and the goal is the process.” He writes clearly, repeatedly that adopting this and abandoning the diet mentality is not a quick or easy matter; it is unrealistic to expect that this is an overnight transition. Like my practice with what J is teaching me, adopting a self-compassionate and self-accepting mindset takes time to develop, strengthen, and train. If we choose to commit ourselves to that mindset, we are on the right path to release ourselves from the bondage that is the diet mentality.

The absolute beginning for the self-compassionate mindset is accepting how we look right now. Not after we have lost 5 or 10 or 100 lbs., but right now, right this very second. Seriously, how many of us can say we love, like, or even accept ourselves just as we are right this minute? I know I am not accepting, loving, liking myself much at all in most ways imaginable, but I also know I am wrapped pretty tightly in the chains of self-judgment. Developing and maintaining that sort of outlook is going to require a determined, disciplined, ongoing commitment for me, but it is also one I had begun to ponder even before opening this book.

This book validated so much of the direction my own thoughts and ideas the last 7 months. By taking those first teeny, tiny little steps of abandoning goals and the idea of an end game with training, I unknowingly took a big stride toward creating a better framework of thinking to help me move forward in a positive direction.

I am the first to admit I have a long way to go to get out of my own way, but this was a good start. Abel’s book validates my thinking and my approach toward getting better in multiple aspects of my life. My bookshelf is still crowded with books to read and to ponder, and I will continue to work at reading as time and life allow. I will continue training with J, practicing on my own, and determining what I am feeling as I go through each and every movement.

This book gives me hope that I am on the right track, makes me believe I can learn to trust myself and my own instincts. Instead of handing me a book filled with a system or program that I am more likely than not to fail, J handed me something that supports what I was just starting to posit and express.

When I began to exercise 7 months ago, I had small hopes and dreams. Now this far into it, I have experienced some positive, transformative successes and incremental changes. I have used the word “fun” about exercise in blog posts and meant it. While Abel does not give me a roadmap to remake my eating, it does help me feel as if I can get to the point of trusting myself and my choices. Ideally I want to get to the point where I do not second-guess or feel guilty about my food and eating decisions; this book is the first I have read that makes me believe it is a genuine possibility.

The oddest thing? The timing. I think it was around Thanksgiving that J first mentioned reading one of Abel’s books or finding his website. Maybe I need to add “mind reading” to his list of scary smart talents.

6 thoughts on “Anti-Diet diet book – wow, just wow

  1. Hmmm…I will track this one down. I can understand how it can be tough to get through that but it sounds worth it. Eating in this country and for me isn’t tied to hunger but so many other things. I still go back to my doc’s advice on eating and it has helped me tremendously. From your summary I suspect he and Abel have similar thoughts on at least a few areas.

    1. While I’m waiting for my late-arriving appointment, I wanted to pop in and say hi. I am not an empty-headed acolyte looking for my next guru to follow, but it was jolting how correct I felt he was on so many levels. I have my second appointment with the dietician tomorrow and have been trying to food log so we have something to talk about (other than less carroty-tasting carrots), but the exercise has caused me to be more mindful about what I am eating. I’ve done really well on so many levels, getting back into the eating discipline is only as difficult as I want to make it. There are a few bad habits (snacking anyone?) I have reinstated that need to be curbed, and I have done it before, I can do it again.

    1. Yep, right there with you, girlfriend. But it gets better. At least I’m not wearing my “active bitch face” when at the gym … most of the time. This month has been kind of hit-and-miss because I’m usually thinking about work.

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