We humans are always seeking to improve ourselves. Sometimes that improvement is sorely needed, sometimes not. Sometimes the change is prompted by something deep within us — a lingering feeling of dissatisfaction– and sometimes the change is prompted by something external to us like a birthday, a crisis in the family, or the coming New Year. Here are three recently published books which may help.
The first of these deals with a subject found on all New Year Resolution lists: losing weight. Never Say Diet and the accompanying The Never Say Diet Personal Fitness Trainer workbook, both written by Chantal Hobbs, promise to give the reader the emotional, psychological, and disciplinary tools needed to achieve the goal of a healthy lifestyle.
Never Say Diet proclaims it is not an ordinary diet/fitness book, but of course all these books say that. It’s a lot like the others, though. The same sections devoted to the author’s personal struggle and triumph – losing 200 pounds from a peak (some would say depths) of 350 pounds—to a section on food lists and another section on exercise routines. All very helpful. And like other books where the author proclaims “Never Say Diet” the word diet is pretty much implied even as the author challenges all the strange diets she has tried and failed.
Hobbs is a Christian and she gives credit for her ability to stop her unhealthy lifestyle to the realization that she wanted to live the best life possible — for herself, her family, and for God. Realizing the excess weight was gained because she continually made poor choices over a long period of time, she decided to commit herself to imagining the healthful happy life she would have when she achieved her goals of losing weight. She had to see the healthy Chantal in her mind’s eye and see the worth of that best Chantal instead of always seeing herself as a fat person.
The book is about her journey and the wisdom she learned. As such it has its good and bad points. On the one hand, the writing is heartfelt, hopeful, and humble. On the other hand, there are moments when I found myself disputing the author because of her generous use of generalizations and because she and I both live in different worlds. For instance, she often makes one bold general statement then later says something quite opposite, all the time maintaining and reaffirming the same two opposing generalizations. For instance, she states, “it’s a myth that all fat people eat for emotional reasons. I ate because I liked eating.” But later she also states, “When I felt hopeless, food was the answer I sought.” Back and forth, throughout the book. One moment talking about her self-worth issues and good, the next staunchly saying she never did emotional eating.
And there were those moments where I felt distanced from the author – probably caused by wealth and race issues. She states, “When you’re overweight, people never really see you for yourself because they already marked you as different.” That seemed odd to me. Another generalization because unlike the author, many fat people have friends who do see them for themselves. And many fat folks have fat –- and skinny– friends who don’t judge them. There was also the section on her decision to have elective plastic surgery. Hey, no one I know can afford regular surgery, much less plastic surgery.
But these are just nits. Never Say Diet is definitely a good book, and it will help many people. I found, however, that I liked the Never Say Diet Fitness Trainer workbook better than the main book. Perhaps because the workbook travels along with the dieter -– yeah, I’ll say the word — on the journey. We all know that when we’ve finished reading one of these non-diets diet books we often simply put it aside. A journaling workbook is always good. And the Bible Scripture definitely helps.
The second book in this selection is Only Nuns Change Habits Overnight 52 Amazing Ways to Master the Art of Personal Change by Karen Scalf Linamen. Like all self-help books, this one also claims to be different. And like all self-help books, it is different… in its own way. We all know that we can read a thousand self-help books but we will not change unless something happens that somehow causes us to commit to the change. Whether it’s a magical moment, an embarrassing or painful moment (as happened in the case of the author of the aforementioned non-diet book) or a growing enlightenment, change is a mysterious thing. Who knows for sure how and why people accomplish a change or even decide to change?
Linamen has written this book dedicated to answering what it means to change effectively, how and why change happens, and the technique and art of changing. Part anecdotal personal history, part spiritual coach book, and mostly a collection of insightful ideas, this 190-page book is an easy read. It’s insightful without being pretentious and personal without appearing self-indulgent. The great thing about the techniques learned here is that they can be applied to any situation: financial change, job change, change from bad habits, and lifestyle changes. If one needs a jumpstart or a continuing nudge of encouragement, this is the little book to do it.
It’s written in a funny, conversational and chatty style and each anecdote perfectly supports the technique it’s meant to describe. The insights are timeless. I have only one small nit about this book: the author does a lot of title-dropping. It’s obvious she wants to give credit to some good books that have helped her in her walk. But I found it a bit distracting. I would’ve liked to see them all listed in the same place in the appendix.
The third book is Living Rich for Less by Ellie Kay. If there is a book to give one’s adult child –- or even another adult — about money management, this is it. Written by a woman who was originally in $40,000 debt and who got rid of that debt within two and a half-years, this is an in-depth yet accessible book about finances. As a Christian, her principles are based on Biblical principles and the most important of all is the concept that we work to be blessed and to bless others — especially charities and the poor. The book is about saving, giving, and spending.
Kay gives the average person tools and insights about how to earn money from home, how to invest. She describes how credit cards, insurance, mortgages and fees work, for instance and shows the importance of budgeting and commitment to that budget. She also tackles debt management and tells how to get out of debt: accepting that you have a problem, actually following the lessons you’ve learned about debt, committing to applying all unexpected monies arriving into the household toward the debt, and Hope. Again, this is a Christian book and commitment to some kind of spirituality is an important part of the techniques learned here. It could even be stated that if one reads this book and learns the techniques of saving, and spending yet ignore the techniques of giving one would have missed the spirit of the book.
The fact that these books are written by Christian authors add a spirituality to them but the books aren’t particularly preachy – unless one is super-sensitive to any kind of Christianity. They are definitely books that will help all people improve their lives regardless of the faith of the reader.