April 12, 2010 at 7:51 am
Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book to review.
Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life is a Buddhist guide to healthy living and weight loss co-authored by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung. The former is a Zen master whose name looks like a word scramble of the phrase “Ninth hatch, hah!” Odd name aside, it must be pretty bad-ass to put the words “Zen Master” on your business cards, assuming Zen masters have business cards. Dr. Cheung is a lecturer and director of health promotion at the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition. It must be pretty bad-ass to put the word “Harvard” on your business card too. Dr. Cheung is also a student of Hanh, who is a well-respected Buddhist monk.
I’m always slightly hesitant to read diet books because many of them retread the same ground. If you’re going to write a diet book, you’d better have something new to say or say it in a new way. Savor certainly meets those standards, presenting a plan for healthy living using the principles and truths of the Buddhist religion. The first half of the book is aptly titled, “A Buddhist Perspective on Weight Control,” and relates several philosophies of Buddhism, such as the four noble truths, the four nutriments that sustain us, and the four foundations of mindfulness. (You’ll have to read the book for more info on all that.) The second half, titled “Mindful Action Plans,” gives specific information on how to live a healthy life and how to incorporate that knowledge with the concepts related in the first half.
I found myself liking Savor, though probably more for the Buddhist concepts than for any information on carbohydrates. The theme of the book is that you should live your life mindfully. Savor every moment and sensation, every bite of an apple you eat, every breath of air you take in. Buddhists believe everything in the universe is connected and interdependent, so a weight problem is not something isolated to be fixed on its own, but part of the complex system of your emotional life, your society, and your thoughts. Your weight needs to be inspected and tended to on all those levels. By being present, aware, and observing yourself, you can recognize your suffering, find its root, and transform it into joy and inner peace.
Like I said, it’s very Buddhist.
A few ideas particularly clung to my mind:
- One, that we are driven by “habit energy” in our lives, like a rider on a horse. “Where are you going?” someone will yell at the rider, who responds, “I don’t know. Ask the horse!” Savor asks you to look at behaviors in your life that are habit, and like the horse are taking you somewhere out of your control.
- The authors also used a term, “sangha,” which refers to a group of like-minded people that help each other. Like the blogosphere! We’re our own little sangha, I guess.
- Interestingly, one of the relaxation and breathing exercises in the book is pretty darn similar to a technique the behavioral psychologist at my headache clinic taught me.
One other thing that really made me dig this book was the use of wise-sounding analogies. I am a sucker for stories about a lotus in the mud or parents who eat their child’s flesh. Um, ok, maybe not the latter. But seriously, the parables made me think of concepts in a different way. Buddhism seems to be very much about accepting yourself, the bad and the good, and using the bad to foster the good, like you use trash in a compost heap. (Their analogy, not mine.) I guess I’m just a sucker for spiritual self-examination, particularly now that I’m almost 30 and trying to figure out what the hell I’m going to do with the rest of my life and what is the meaning of everything anyway if eventually all the stars will die and no one will exist to remember anything that happened on planet Earth, even though we all thought our lives were oh, so, very important at the time, but are basically an insignificant blip in the cosmos, like the life of that ant I just smashed into the carpet.
So, uh, back to the book.
Overall, I’d give it 3 out of 4 stars, because Buddhism seems to be big on the number four. It’s given me a lot to think about, and I’ll probably read up more on Buddhism. I’m not sure if it will stop me the next time I want to drive to CVS and buy a bag of M&M’s, but if it doesn’t, at least I’ll be mindful of what I’m doing.