Review of ‘How to feel the fear and eat it anyway’ by Eve Simmons and Laura Dennison

I will start this review off with a disclaimer. I am no professional, this review is based purely on my own individual view. I am quite critical of whatever I read but overall I really enjoyed this book. Not only was it great to read and kept me hooked, it was very informative and helpful in my own recovery. However, I had some concerns over some parts of the book, for example consuming animal products is said to be better for the animals and some brief contradictory messages about food. If you are struggling with your eating I strongly recommend this book.

Even though the majority of the book I loved and cherished, I disliked some of it. Firstly I felt like the chapter on dairy was good, especially in debunking some myths around dairy that float around the internet. I liked the point about calcium which was mentioned as this can be a struggle in vegan ways of eating leading to osteoporosis. It is important to follow correct and evidence based advice as a vegan, if you are to chose that way of life. Virginia Messina RD [1] alongside Jack Norris [2] are especially good at this. Practically, fortified soy milk is just as good as dairy milk as long as you get your iodine from another source such as supplementation. However the bit on ethics/ environmental issues was unnecessary and not really that accurate in my opinion. I don’t think that by breeding and exploiting animals we give them a “life worth living”, just because they live slightly longer now doesn’t mean these lives are enjoyable or fair. Maybe for us but not for animals. Environmentally dairy is worse for the environment than alternatives as dairy requires more land, energy, water and creates methane and higher CO2 emissions [3]. I could spend a whole post just debunking some of the reasons to drink dairy but this post isn’t about that. It is true that for some people suffering from eating disorders being vegan can be detrimental to their recovery and certain situations make being vegan difficult (mental illness, physical illness etc). I feel like this chapter should have stuck to the theme of health and stayed away from the ethics of our food choices. Some people don’t have the luxury of basing what they eat from ethics. That’s a message I can get behind. Maybe I read this book incorrectly but I saw it as less an attack on veganism but more a attack on diet culture and ‘plant based’ diets. Even though the words plant based and vegan were used interchangeably in this book, they don’t mean the same. Plant based eating often refers to a diet made up of plants for health reasons and not an ethical lifestyle, unlike veganism which includes clothing, toiletries etc. It is possible for someone to improve the lives of animals by buying vegan makeup, for example, which aren’t tested on animals. There are many ways to help animals and the environment which don’t involve what’s on your plate. If the authors of this book wanted to focus on ethics I would have written a small bit about this. For more about veganism and being anti-diet check out Taylor Wolfram RD [4].

A small amount of the book contradicted itself. For a book against diets and about eating what you want I was surprised to find foods high in sugar, fat and salt called “non-foods”. To be fair to Eve and Laura this was Susie Orbach who said this but still, did it really need to be included? I don’t know how much the science backs that these foods distort our appetite and I am certainly don’t feel like we need anymore messages demonising them. It could be argued that food companies should add less sugar and salt to our foods but isn’t there a whole chapter on sugar and fat in this book saying that we shouldn’t worry as much. Kind of goes against the whole theme of this whole book. Then there is the bit about stomach fat and a link to chronic disease. This stressed me out. I get that they were saying that having a larger waistline is more dangerous than being obese but again doesn’t this seem like an unhelpful piece of information to be in a book aimed at sufferers of eating disorders and disordered eating. Contradicting this later in the book is a chapter on fat which again reiterated the message that what you eat isn’t all what matters and neither is what you look like. Health is much more complicated than that and isn’t always a personal choice.

Now onto the aspects I did like. First and foremost I loved the overall message. The book itself is called ‘How to feel the fear and eat it anyway’ this captures the book’s message the most- it’s about eating what you want and worrying less. The book tackles common fear foods with evidence based answers from professionals including respected dietitians. Many books back up their ‘health claims’ with unqualified wellness gurus from Instagram. This book is vastly different and as good journalists Eve and Laura know when something isn’t in their expertise and refer to experts for that. Tackling fear foods is a key aspect of eating disorder recovery and because of that this book compliments extremely well with what I was told in my recovery. No food is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and everything in moderation truly is the best health message out there. While I mentioned brief contradictions in the book, most of it keeps the same message – that food is more than just nutrition but also affects our social life and reflects our culture amongst other areas. This is partially telling as eating disorders have a tremendous negative impact on our social life and keep us isolated eating salad or buckets of food home alone miserably.

Then there are the brilliant personal anecdotes. Eve and Laura’s stories of their eating disorders; anorexia and bulimia, made me feel less alone and I am sure others will feel the same. Eve’s account of her experience on an eating disorder unit was partially touching. I have never been in a eating disorder unit but I have spent many horrible times on a psychiatric ward. I can also relate to the physical effects of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating having struggling with all three over the last few years. On a brighter note, this book is packed with good food times like pick and mix treats and eating a traditional jewish picnic at a cinema. This shows food in a different light. Food is fun, unites family/ friends and entertains our taste buds. Food is comforting and that’s 100% okay, even when social media tells you otherwise. There are many other reasons for eating than just fuel and macro/micro nutrients. Many of us eat 3 meals a day and if you’re like me then you eat snacks as well. That’s a lot of time eating, might as well enjoy it.

Next, this book is full to the brim of helpful tips and pointers that, I can imagine, will greatly help in people’s recovery. I was so inspired by one of Eve’s ideas that I created a whole post on it [5]. The ideas in this book were possibly one of my favourite aspects. In recovery a lot of focus is put onto eating and not on how to cope with the stress or how to motivate us when times get harder. Yes eating is vital but it is only one aspect of recovery from eating disorders. Eating disorders are mental illnesses which often stem from deeper issues like body image issues, feeling isolated and empty or wishing we had more control over our lives. Exercise is a tricky subject for people in recovery, so I was happy and relieved to read the ideas given by Laura on how to move our bodies without it becoming an obsessive chore. Some of this ideas included joining a ‘beyonce dance class’ as well as walking in somewhere that is pretty. It can be as simple as taking the stairs more often, as long as you aren’t exhausted or injured. Note: sometimes not exercising is just as healthy as exercising in eating disorder recovery especially if you need to gain weight or have an exercise ‘addiction’.

I feel like Eve and Laura have a balance between good nutrition while still promoting real wellness- looking beyond our plates to our mental health. With mostly sound advice based on their life experiences and professional recommendations, it’s a definite must have for your reading list if you have a history or currently struggle with disordered eating/ eating disorders. Yes this book isn’t perfect but books rarely are, not from my point of view anyway. Overall I could write an even longer review critiquing but also boasting about this books amazingness. But then you might get bored, if you haven’t already.

Sources

[1] Virginia Messina RD: https://www.theveganrd.com/vegan-nutrition-101/

[2] Jack Norris RD: https://veganhealth.org/daily-needs/

[3] Environmental effect of meat and dairy: –https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/veganism-environmental-impact-planet-reduced-plant-based-diet-humans-study-a8378631.html.

https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/9-reasons-why-veganism-can-save-the-world/ (ignore the bit on health)

[4] Taylor Wolfram RD: http://www.wholegreenwellness.com/veganism-not-diet/

[5] ‘If I only had one year to live’ – written based on an activity in the book: https://writingforsanity.poetry.blog/2019/01/31/if-i-only-had-a-year-to-live/

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