The Maintenance Library - Body Intelligence

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12-07-2006, 11:34 PM
Ok, I've been on a reading binge lately. My latest book is Body Intelligence by Edward Abramson, Ph.D. subtitled Lose Weight, Keep It Off, and Feel Great About Your Body Without Dieting. In case anybody is wondering, I've been picking my books based on recommendations from the excellent book, Mindless Eating that I reviewed in an earlier thread here.

Body Intelligence advocates an approach to weight management called appropriately enough, body intelligence, as opposed to dieting. Abramson's definition of dieting seems to me to be rather extreme, strictly limiting food groups, choices, or calories. Body intelligence, on the other hand is getting back in touch with your body, listening to its signals and doing the right thing, whatever that might happen to be. The body intelligence program is basically a three-fold approach of eating, exercise, and body image. He also touches on how to help children learn to make good choices and changing the environment at large (society) to make it easier for us all to make good choices.

Abramson discusses four basic reasons why we eat: physical hunger, external cues, emotional eating, and enjoyment. He advocates eating for hunger and enjoyment and minimizing externally based eating and emotional eating. For those wondering, external eating might be based on things like time (it's lunchtime so I should eat), sight (somebody put a plate of cookies there and now I want one), habit (I'll have a beer and chips while I watch this football game, because that is what you do while you watch football), or other cues. Emotional eating can include eating in response to a range of emotions from depression, celebration/happiness, boredom, stress, etc.

The book also goes into some depth on why we dislike exercise (we become estranged from our bodies) and why we are unsatisfied with our bodies and how to get over that.

One feature of this book is the assignment of in-depth exercises to examine attitudes, situations, and other relevant information about eating, exercise, body image. Most of these involve recording your thoughts, food, activity, etc for at least a week, analyzing that information and then making changes based upon that. I think this is probably a very powerful way of finding out about yourself, and getting lots of good information to make sustainable changes in your life, for people willing to put the time and energy into doing that. Unfortunately, at this stage of my weight management journey, I'm not going to be doing those exercises any time soon, and my suspicion is that most people won't either.

Having said that, and short-cut his method, I have several 'ah-ha' moments in the external eating section of the book. The general diet wisdom out there seems to say that we always eat poorly due to some emotional issue, which I've always viewed with some skepticism, since it doesn't seem to fit how I feel about my life. It turns out that people are triggered into eating by many things, sight, smell, habit, and not necessarily because they had a fight with their spouse, they are mad at their mother, or they had a bad day and are drowning sorrows in a bowl of ice cream. The description of a person who is visually cued to eat fit me to a T (even without doing all my homework) and I was able to use some of the suggestions to minimize the impact.

I have to say that the Body Intelligence 'non-diet' approach to limiting emotional and external eating, and minimizing physical hunger looks a lot like a diet to me without a strict calorie limit, or a list of forbidden or allowed foods. It still requires monitoring of what you eat, why you eat, how you eat--even with the self-knowledge gained in the exercises, eating right doesn't just happen naturally and you will have to work at it. You'll just know which tricks and strategies are more likely to work for you.

So things I like about this book:

Long term approach to weight management without a quick fix mentality
Inclusion of exercise as a necessity and ways to defeat your excuses for not doing it
Importance of a positive body image at any weight and its impact on weight management
Discussion of the many reasons people overeat with help for all, and not a one-size-fits-all approach
How to help your kids grow up without all the issues you have
Extensive references and an index

So do I recommend this book? If you are the kind of person who is going to do the work, take the time (weeks), record the data, and use that to make real changes in your life, then I think this book can be a very powerful tool. Run out and buy it immediately. If you are more lazy/busy/disinterested (like me), but you still have some level of self-awareness about why/when you eat and exercise, the excuses/rationalizations you use going in, and the kind of self-talk going on in your head, I think this book is worth a look, since you will probably recognize yourself in some of the descriptions and be able to take away tips/strategies that will help you in your weight management. If you are looking for a simple prescription of what to eat, what not to eat, when to eat, or how much exercise to do, and how long to do it, this is not your book. It is a tool to help you find your own path in the weight management world, and that is not an easy thing to do.

FWIW I'm glad I picked it up.


12-08-2006, 01:31 AM

I am so grateful for your review of this book... I even took notes on your review!

You said, "The description of a person who is visually cued to eat fit me to a T (even without doing all my homework) and I was able to use some of the suggestions to minimize the impact."

I was wondering if you are able to share any suggestions you found helpful?


12-08-2006, 10:34 PM
A big part of it for me is recognizing what the cause of the eating is. I used to think I ate at work because I was stressed, bored, etc. I'd leave my work area, breathe, come back, make myself busy, but it never worked. But I eat at work simply because it is there and I see it. So this week, I moved a plate of cookies into the other room. End of issue. I put a cake in the fridge. No more cake cravings. (People bring a lot of stuff into my work area.) I try not to look at the food other people are eating, and step away if I need to. I've been trying to visualize nasty stuff on plates of food that are out, which is sort of only moderately successful, since I know I'm kidding myself about that. But mostly if I can simply avoid seeing it, I'm doing better.

There are other suggestions in this book, and in Mindless Eating (there is a lot of overlap). I won't list them all since it is probably fair to give these authors their cut if you want the whole list, but a couple of examples: Use foil to wrap leftovers rather than plastic wrap. Put stuff you shouldn't be eating where you can't see it (in the back of the pantry, fridge), and stuff you should be eating more of (veggies mostly) where you can. Some I had already discovered through trial and error, like don't go down the snack isle at the grocery store, and if I absolutely must, I do not make eye contact with the Cheetos--not allowed.


12-09-2006, 12:25 PM
Another book you might like, Anne, along the same lines is The Overfed Head by Rob Stevens. It is short and to the point. He's a good writer.