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Book Review: The Self Compassion Diet by Jean Fain

Posted Jan 18 2011 2:20pm
As a counsellor that specialises in working with people experiencing body image, eating disorder and weight concerns, I am always on the look out for self care resources to recommend to my clients.  I believe that counselling with a professional can be enhanced immeasurably with extra reading, activities and exercises and after reading 'The Self Compassion Diet' by Jean Fain I'm pleased to have found something else to recommend.

I have never recommended someone follow a particular diet.  The reason why is simple.  It wouldn't be ethical for me to do so because research tells us they unequivocally do not work in the long term, and in fact, for many people, are incredibly dangerous and can have significant negative impact on their mental and physical health.  Diets don't work.  They just don't, but unfortunately they continued to be aggressively marketed by weight loss companies and so called diet guru's as the answer to anyone's weight loss prayers.  None ever tell the full story, only the advertising and marketed one, and I would hope if you have been a reader of Beautiful You for some time now, you will know that such marketing and advertising does not have your best interests or the truth at it's heart.  It's all about profits and having you contribute to them.

I'm making an exception with The Self Compassion Diet however as it prescribes the steady cultivation and consumption of self compassion and self love rather than prescriptions of what you should and shouldn't eat, why you have no willpower, how to measure food and how to punish yourself with deprivation.  Such is the basis of so many traditional diets, but The Self Compassion Diet instead shows its readers who may not be comfortable, happy or balanced in their relationship with food and their body, a different way.  As Jean says

"Most dieters try to 'kill cravings' and break habits with self discipline but only self kindness can help quiet the shame that traditional diets instill and establish a harmonious relationship with food." 

Jean's approach to developing self compassion and love as a way to heal a negative relationship with food is soundly supported by a growing body of research which she details in the book.

The Self Compassion Diet is filled with positive and helpful ways to bring more self love and compassion into your life in direct relation to how you may be relating to food and doing things such as emotional and binge eating.  Like I do, Jean believes that kindness and emotional healing is the missing ingredient in all traditional diets - not discipline or will power.  She provides quizzes, exercises and examples on how to cultivate the four main areas she considers to be most powerful in addressing weight and diet issues which are self love, mindfulness (including mindful eating), self-hypnosis to develop more positive self talk and support.  All are focused, gentle and supportive, never blaming, over promising or quick fix in outlook.  I truly believe if everyone was to cultivate the type of self compassion and self love Jean recommends we would not have the epidemic of disordered eating in the Western world we currently do.  I think it highly likely we would all be much happier and more at peace with ourselves in a general sense, not just in how we relate to food and our bodies.

If I had one criticism of the book it would be it's use of the words 'thinspiration' and 'thinspired.'  They are directly related to eating disorders, in promoting it as a lifestyle choice rather than a devastating mental illness,  as this definition clearly states.   Rather than talking about weight loss in terms of becoming thin or that being someone's chief motivating factor in adressing concerns they may have with food, I think it much more fitting of the book to espouse that learning to love yourself, cultivate self compassion and learning to eat mindfully and peacefully is the ultimate destination in itself.  If that happens to come with weight loss and was something someone desired without harm to themselves - well and good. 

When we really learn to listen to and love our bodies however, it may actually come with weight gain, or no loss of weight at all, rather the much more important loss of self hate and loathing.  We all have a set weight where our body feels at it's most comfortable, healthy and beautiful and I truly believe this is best achieved by practising care and love for ourselves the way The Self Compassion Diet promotes.  It does not however mean that this set weight will mean we will all be thin.  What it should mean instead is that we are happy, enjoying a balanced relationship with food and a loving relationship with our body - no matter what our size.

The Self Compassion Diet is a must read for anyone who is currently in a battle with food, their body or even themselves.  It is perfect for any long term dieter that has had their heart and will broken over and over again by empty diet promises that do nothing to promote the self love and compassion most desperately need to be happy and content with their body.  I will leave you with the lovely Jean Fain with her own words on The Self Compassion Diet which I hope becomes the best selling "diet" book of 2011!

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