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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Complete Beck Diet for Life

The amazing Dr. Judith Beck is at it again with a brand new weight-loss book: The Complete Beck Diet for Life: The Five-Stage Program for Permanent Weight Loss. I was sent a copy to read and give my honest review, and I was intrigued. Over the past several months, I have gotten many, many suggestions from readers for Beck's previous book, The Beck Diet Solution: Train Your Brain to Think Like a Thin Person. I even went out and bought it a few months back, and very much enjoyed the parts I read. But I never finished the book nor the program. Why? I'll get to that...

My first question when I got the new book was, "if she already wrote a 'Solution' with everything you need to lose weight, why a new book? What's this new book got that was missing from the other one?" I'll get to that too.

First let me say I really liked a lot of the info in the first book (Beck Diet Solution). I even decided to do the whole "program." The whole thing is based on Cognitive Therapy. Interestingly, a lot of the suggestions/steps in the Beck program are similar to the steps in my Habit-A-Week Challenge, which came partly from a nutrition class I took at a hospital 15+ years ago and partly from my own experience. Some of the steps in the Beck book include eating slowly, exercising, overcoming cravings, and writing down what you eat. All of the steps make sense and would be helpful to anyone who is trying to lose weight or be more mindful of their eating.

Where it went sour for me was all the list-making, card-making, and writing. Don't get me wrong, I did the work. I made the Advantages cards, the lists of reasons why I want to lose weight, and a ton of Response cards (index cards with answers to any sabotaging thoughts or situations that you might have). And I even did all the exercises where you take out your deck of cards and read them several times a day. That got old fast (for me). But since I only followed through for about a week and then gave up, I cannot say for sure how well this program works. I do know that there are lots of Beck followers and groups online, so if this program is for you, you'd be in good company. It IS a "cognitive" program so if you get this book, plan for a *lot* of thinking, answering questions, and writing things down. If you love having piles of notebooks and decks of index cards all neatly lined up at the ready for any "dieting" situation, you are going to LOVE this plan.

That said, even though my Response cards got buried in a laundry pile by day 8, I loved reading the book. I got lots of nice little insights even without doing all the "work." It was worth reading just for that.

When I got the second book... the new one... (Diet for Life)... I started reading with the idea I would go through it as if I had never read the other book. A fresh start for this one. But when it got to all the card-making, my eyes glazed over. It seemed like the new book has a lot of the old steps and information, a lot of the same card-making and thinking about responses to any given objection to dieting. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing.

Let me give you a couple of examples of Response Cards in the book. One is for weighing yourself (which she recommends you do daily). On an index card, you are instructed to write, "My weight isn't who I am. It isn't a measure of my worth. It's just a number that tells me important information." Then you are instructed that every morning before you step on the scale, you read this card. Another example is for "giving yourself credit." On an index card, you write: "I really do deserve credit for breaking old habits, and it is essential for building my confidence. Once my confidence grows, everything will become so much easier." You read this daily to remind yourself that you deserve credit. (See how this is about changing your thinking?)

Not only do you end up with a big deck of cards, you get to make a Diet Notebook. Lists, notes, and thoughts galore. This, for me, could mean trouble because it seems slightly obsessive and I think I could get caught up in all the cards and stuff instead of getting off my butt and taking a walk or something.

There are also a lot of "experiments" in the book, designed to teach you good habits. They include doing things like piling double portionsof dinner on your plate, eating half, and throwing the rest away. You're not allowed to save it for later. It has to go into the trash. Also, there is an exercise where you eat dinner really fast to see how you feel about it later and when your stomach tells you you're full. The one that bothered me a little is where you eat breakfast and then don't eat anything else until dinner. You do this repeatedly until you can do it without feeling panicky. You carry around a "Discomfort Chart" to record how hungry you get. And you write about it in your "Diet Notebook" under the heading, "Hunger Experiment."

Okay, maybe these experiments will help a lot of people. That last one is to prove to yourself that "hunger isn't an emergency." (True, and a great concept to learn). But if I did that experiment, I would be flipping out bingeing on burgers, fries, and cheesecake by 2pm. I know myself, and when I go more than 4 hours without eating, I get some serious craziness going on. My brain and body go berserk and I eat like a starved maniac. So be careful, don't trigger yourself.

What's new in the new book? Well, for one thing, there seems to be more detailed instruction about the cards and such. There's instructions to make even MORE cards... Memory Cards, with memories of all the good things that happen as you lose weight (I don't remember seeing that in the old book). There is also a full-on eating plan in the new book. The old book tells you to "pick two reasonable diets" to try... they can be anything reasonable, like Weight Watchers or a Food Exchange program. But the new book has a whole strict eating plan (the "Think Thin" plan), complete with food lists and recipes. It's way more structured for people who like to be told EXACTLY what to eat. There's a guide on how many calories you should eat, and a whole detailed way to use calories for special occasions, a daily splurge, stuff like that. So frankly, if you want a "diet," this book will give you one, just like the title says it will. (Honestly, one of the things I disliked about this book is the constant reference to "dieting." It calls the reader a "dieter." It talks about "starting your diet." I really hate this. I am *not* a dieter... and I really dislike the whole "on a diet/off a diet" thing. I mean, I know that a "diet" is whatever you are eating, but this book uses it in the old-fashioned, restricted eating sense. I don't like that).

As for the meal plans, they're ok. I'd rather just eat more healthy stuff that I like. Same thing with the recipes... I think I could do better. (I admit I have not tried *any* of the recipes in the book, though). For example, one recipe in the book is for a "Mexican Breakfast Wrap." It's a whole wheat tortilla, filled with 1/4 c. shredded cheese, 1/2 c. romaine, and 2 T salsa, heated in the microwave. Well, earlier in the book they say to always choose low fat products so maybe they assume you'll use low fat cheese here but that isn't mentioned in the recipe. Also, why does this not have any eggs?? What better breakfast protein source than egg whites or Egg Beaters?? That would only add about 30 calories and a lot of protein. Even some beans would be a good protein source. Also, warmed romaine in a quesadilla for breakfast doesn't sound great to me... how about baby spinach? Or some mushrooms or something? Maybe I am just being picky, but I expect a new "diet" book to have interesting, *nutritious* recipes. Another recipe, for dinner, is "Spaghetti and Meatballs." It is whole grain pasta topped with turkey meatballs, tomato sauce, and Parmesan cheese (that's the "recipe.") Why didn't they include veggies in this? I always eat a ton of sauteed zucchini, mushrooms, yellow squash, onions, and peppers under my pasta sauce instead of all pasta. Better nutrition and more filling. And then there's the Macaroni and Cheese recipe, which also includes no vegetables... just pasta and cheese sauce/cheese topped with bread crumbs... and one serving has 399 calories, 16g fat, and 9g saturated fat. A little steep, and I don't know about you but there is no way I would eat 1/6 of an 8 inch square baking dish of this and be happy. No way. I would scarf the entire pan and lick it clean.

What I do like is the advice and the insights. For all my complaining, it really is a great book! Lots of ideas for getting back on track or getting people to stop pushing food on you. Great basic principles and most of it I totally agree with! There's a section about Flexible Eating versus Loose Eating that I really like. I also *love* the concept of strengthening your resistance muscle and weakening your giving-in muscle. I *do* think this book is worth buying... if you don't already have the first book. I just don't think I would find enough benefit in having them both, unless I was looking for a complete "diet plan" with food lists. Then, maybe.

That said, if you have not read *either* Beck book, I'd say buy the second one because it is more comprehensive and seems to contain everything from the first book... and then some.

My suggestion to the Beck people: sell the book with a set of pre-made index cards. It gets really tedious copying down all those Response cards word-for-word out of the book, and if you want us to write something unique you can include a blank card with the basic concept on the other side. And please work on the recipes a bit.

If any of you have read the book(s) and tried the Beck Solution, I'd love to hear about your success or problems with the "diet." Please leave a comment if you like, and feel free to tell me what you like or dislike about the Beck program.

If you'd like to win a copy of The Complete Beck Diet for Life: The Five-Stage Program for Permanent Weight Loss, just leave a comment and a way for me to contact you (email or blog). This drawing is open to residents of USA *and Canada.* A winner will be announced on Tuesday, February 24. If you'd like to purchase a copy, it's available on Amazon. Good luck!

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