When I was fifteen, I became a compulsive eater and my weight problem began. In the intervening years, I've joined groups, counted calories, and even participated in one seven-month medically supervised liquid fast that left me svelte but unable to recognize physical hunger and satiety. I've been through therapy (helpful), experimented with diet (also helpful). And I've collected a library of self-help books, with mixed results. Last year, however, I called a moratorium—I would read no more diet books.
Then I came across Julia Cameron's The Writing Diet: Write Yourself Right-Size. I'd read several of Cameron's books on creativity, starting with The Artist's Way, and found them helpful. I have to admit, however, that my first reaction to seeing this book was a cynical, "So even Julia has jumped on the diet bandwagon." But when I picked it up and leafed through it, I came across the following dedication:
This book is dedicated to my beloved mother,
who suffered both from being overweight and from many
dark depressions about it. These struggles impaired
her ability to lead a creatively fulfilling life.
I loved her dearly and miss her deeply.
I could have written those lines about my own mother. It appeared that Cameron and I had something in common, so I bought the book, took it home, and found it well worth reading.
Cameron, whose weight problem stemmed from taking a prescription medication, states that overeating blocks creativity, but that creativity can be used to block overeating. The first seven chapters introduce seven tools for creative unblocking and weight loss, several of which will be familiar to readers of The Artist's Way: Morning Pages, Journaling, Walking, The Four Questions, Culinary Artist Dates, HALT, and the Body Buddy. These activities are meant to be done daily, both during and after weight loss.
The second part of the book is devoted to "Situations and Solutions." Cameron comments on such topics as eating sensibly, handling snack attacks and night eating, dealing with body image and the media, using food as sedative and as stimulant, drinking water, exercising, identifying eating patterns, and relapsing.
Each chapter concludes with a "task" designed to reinforce the chapter's message. Because this program is intended to change lives instead of just bodies, the tasks are not necessarily related to food; one of the last assignments is "Clean House." The verb in the very last task underscores the secret to making the program work: "Write Yourself a Happy Ending."
Cameron's other books, The Writing Diet is easy to read. Chapters are short and are filled with stories. My favorite chapter, and the one that convinced me that the author knows her subject intimately, is "The Food Hangover," in which she tells about sharing a dessert—Scarlett O'Hara's Coffee Cantata, consisting of coffee ice cream, raspberries, and hot fudge—with her daughter. "The sugar hit my system like a shock...Before the sundae was halfway devoured, I felt my IQ dipping a few points. I wasn't precisely stoned, more stunned—as though someone had hit me on the head with a mallet...I felt as if I had had a couple of very stiff drinks." I laughed as I read this, but only in rueful recognition of the symptoms. I've reacted to sugar in exactly the same way. I've experienced the drop in IQ and the hangover, and I've had to go through withdrawal to break the sugar addiction.
Instead of recommending a specific diet, Cameron says that "the Writing Diet works successfully with any sensible eating plan." But she doesn't focus solely on weight loss. Many of the people whose stories she shares belief that they have new lives not just because they lost weight, but because their creativity has been unleashed.
I like this book because it is honest, practical, and comprehensive. Cameron is a recovering alcoholic, and she treats overeating as the addiction, both chemical and psychological, that it is. The tools and solutions she offers address problems of the body, the mind, and the spirit. For anyone wanting to unblock with respect to both weight loss and creativity, The Writing Diet has much to offer.
Julia Cameron is a novelist, playright, poet, and filmmaker. She is best known for The Artist's Way and other books on creativity. More information about Cameron and her work can be found at the Official Julia Cameron Website.
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