Book Review: Body & Soul: A Guide To Lasting Recovery by Susan Meltsner

Body & Soul BookIt’s funny how doing a project for my eating disorders graduate studies program caused me to pick up a book I had all but forgotten about. This recovery book was written by a woman who recovered from binge eating disorder and, with a master’s in social work, counsels others with eating disorders.

Although written in 1993, this oldie is still a goodie (and I think you can get it through Amazon for about a penny). The book is good for people who like a mix of personal stories (which I tended to skip because I’m not crazy about immersing myself in sad stories), actions for recovery, questionnaires and self-reflection opportunities. In fact, Meltsner suggests that you use a journal as you read the book so that you can answer reflection questions at the end of each section.

I tend to like workbook style recovery books because they allow me to move from a passive form of learning (reading) and get active through my own self-reflection. This book does a nice job in guiding the reader through easy-to-understand material and getting us involved in the learning process. Meltsner suggests that recovery happens in three stages: (1) physical recovery, (2) emotional, social & spiritual recovery and (3) undependence (more on this below). I would agree with how she characterized the phases, although I would say that phases 1 and 2 don’t necessarily happen in that order. I do think that putting recovery in phases, as she did, can be helpful in understanding that recovery doesn’t begin and end with stopping disordered eating behavior — but involves mind, body and spirit.

What I Liked About This Book

Meltsner covers everything from the behavior of eating disorders to the myriad of contributing factors, such as trauma, body image issues, negative self-talk, relapse prevention, wellness, stress management and emotional, social and spiritual recovery. I especially liked the following three topics that she included:

  • Physiological Contributor Meltsner states that eating disorders are partly physiological. She mentions that while “not yet irrefutably proven, there appears to be a physical abnormality in the way eating disorder sufferers react to certain foods; most notably refined sugar, processed wheat products and junk foods high in fat or loaded with artificial flavors and preservatives.” (pages 35- 36).There is little written about the link to foods and eating disorders in the mainstream health and medical arena, yet I have found there is a link in my own life. Changing my diet was in fact, the way I recovered. Meltsner calls eliminating the foods that trigger your eating disorder an “abstinence food plan,” which is exactly how I thought of it in my recovery. Most people suffering from eating disorders feel like recovery is so challenging because we can’t abstain from food, yet my own experience – and Meltsner’s – is that you can abstain from the foods that create the change in body/brain chemistry.
  • Emotional, Social and Spiritual Recovery Meltsner takes the reader through a series of information and exercises to understand the importance of reconnecting with ourselves and others. I especially liked the section on boundaries, where you can learn to get in touch with who you really are and empower yourself to speak up for your needs.
  • Hooked on Recovery – I really liked this section as well because in the beginning of my recovery, I overwhelmed myself by trying to overdo my recovery actions. Just like I had previously over scheduled my life, I was over scheduling my recovery actions, thinking I could speed up the process. In addition, Meltsner covers how to deal with fears about living outside of rigid recovery rules and learning to trust our recovery process.

Undependence – An Attitude

In the conclusion of the book, Meltsner talks about “undependence,” which she describes as an attitude of optimism, self-confidence, hope and pride in our accomplishments. The feeling of being freed from addiction so that we can live our lives from our hearts. Undependence, the final phase of recovery, includes acceptance, commitment, faith, self-esteem and finally, empowerment. Meltsner shows us that recovery is possible.

Thoughts On The Usefulness of This Book

I will admit that when I first got this book, I was still in the throes of disordered eating. At the time, I had heard it was a good book and started reading it, but found that it did not make a tremendous impact on changing my behaviors. I did not see any profound answers on the pages, nor did I fully connect with Meltsner’s tips.

Reading her book through the eyes of recovery, I actually do connect with her words and found myself unable to put the book down. I am curious about this phenomenon – why I would not get much out of it while still engaging in bulimia, but get so much out of it in recovery? Isn’t the idea to help those struggling in the midst of an eating disorder?

Different Perspective in Recovery

My thought is that during that time, I was not fully committed to recovery – but only thinking about it. In addition, I had not sought help from others yet and I think this book would be more powerful if I had been working with a coach, like I am today – or possibly a therapist or other healing professional.

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

In addition, since I am following an “abstinence food plan”, my body is healing – allowing my mind to be free. This freedom of mind-chatter and negative thinking has allowed me to feel the connection to who I really am. I see things more clearly and feel empowered to live my life my way. The funny thing about an eating disorder is that in some ways, we seek to control our bodies because we feel like we can’t control anything else. My life was definitely out of control – and now, it’s not that I have control of my life – it’s that I’ve given up worrying about everything. For me, it’s that I TRUST – I have faith that everything will be okay, no matter what happens. I trust myself to make the right decisions and to take care of myself, nurture myself. It is this trust that empowers me – allowing me to let go of control – and enjoy the experience of life.

Eating Disorders Books – Not My Favorites on the Recovery Path

I have to admit that I have not been much of a fan of eating disorders books. I read countless eating disorders books in college and while they have their place, they never seemed to make me feel any better — or change me. Interestingly, the books that changed me were more spiritual in nature, like A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle. The only recovery book that really helped me was The Serenity Principle, by Joseph Bailey, which ironically, is written about recovery from chemical dependency, although it does mention eating disorders. The Serenity Principle is an uplifting, empowering book that teaches us how to use our minds to create health, recovery and happiness. Perhaps I will do a book review on this in another post.

I haven’t bought any of books on eating disorders since the early 90’s, so if anyone has read any really helpful ones, I’d love to hear about it! I’d also be curious to hear your thoughts on Body & Soul if you have read it — and if you had similar perspectives on how you related to it in or out of recovery.

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As a coach, writer and recovered former executive, I understand the challenges of creating a balanced, healthy lifestyle when over-scheduled. In my journey to radiant health, I created a whole health system of eating, exercise, renewal and recharging -- a roadmap toward health & vitality. I empower clients to create their own whole health systems, in their own unique ways. I have seen amazing results in working with my clients!