Brains, brawn, and bodyweight

books about brains, brawn, and bodyweightAlong with reading about sleep, I read a lot this summer about health. Although much of what I read tracks with what I already knew, I did wind up making some fairly significant changes in my routine. If you don’t have time to read about all six books reviewed in this post, the one I recommend most highly is last, so feel free to scroll. I added in headers so you can pause on books that make sense for you.

Bigger Leaner Stronger – if you want to know about lifting heavy weights

biggerFirst, I read Bigger Leaner Stronger after seeing a good review from Crystal at Money Saving Mom. It probably seemed funny to GoodReads followers that I was reading a book subtitled “…building the ultimate male body.” No, gentle readers, I was not going all Frankenstein 101 on my husband. It’s just that our library doesn’t carry the Michael Matthews book for women, and I figured I could get the gist from the guy book.

This was the first book I read extolling the fitness virtues of jettisoning endless cardio and “high weights low reps” workouts in favor of slow heavy lifts. I was skeptical, but gave it a shot. Instead of my usual Jillian workouts, I picked up some (for me anyway) really heavy weights. And it actually made a pretty solid difference. For one thing, I really enjoy the weights workouts. It takes about the same amount of time, and I’m still working hard, but I like it more and feel better afterward than I did doing fitness videos.

Does it matter if you get Bigger Leaner Stronger or Thinner Leaner Stronger? I’m not sure. From reviews it sounds like the difference is more about diet, but if you’re fairly well versed in nutrition and math, you could probably figure out your BMI and protein needs and so on using the same framework Matthews suggests whether you’re male or female.

One aside on tone: my husband thinks Matthews “sounds like a tool” (although he didn’t fault him on information) so if you are sensitive to that, be forewarned. 🙂

The Hormone Reset Diet – if you are a moderator and don’t like lots of explanation

hormone-reset-dietNext, I read The Hormone Reset Diet. If you’re a moderator and can’t stand cold turkey approaches, you might really like this book. The author’s premise is that hormones are involved in our ability (or inability) to lose weight, and so she suggests that you target seven of these critical hormones with what winds up as a cumulative elimination diet.

As an abstainer who is also a questioner, I had a hard time with this. If I need to eliminate dairy, why would I wait until Day 16 to eliminate it? If I need to eat more alkaline foods, shouldn’t I start adding lemon to my water and eating more greens on Day 1? Unable to answer these questions satisfactorily, I went ahead and cut everything she suggests in the whole book from Day 1.

Well, almost everything. What I did not do was cut caffeine. Gottfried’s approach to caffeine may strike you as completely nuts if, like me, you are a person who is highly affected by caffeine. In my experience, cutting caffeine means a 3 week headache and near inability to do anything. I do not have time for that at this point in my life. But Gottfried says you’ll eliminate all withdrawal if you cut caffeine in half on Day 1, cut to only 1 cup of coffee on Day 4, cut to 1 teacup of tea on Day 7, and cut caffeine entirely on Day 10. I did cut my coffee intake from 3 teacups of 3/4 strength coffee to 2 teacups of the same (roughly one mug’s worth) and suffered a headache for one week. After that I decided I was ok with that 2 teacup consumption level and elected not to undergo any further painful reductions.

I also freely admit that I did not follow the plan perfectly for 21 days. I took a couple of detours, such as our family Saturday movie nights when we have a fancy cheese plate supper. I also never stopped eating butter because I hate eggs cooked in coconut oil. Still,I did lose seven pounds, which may have been from this diet, or may have been the weight lifting, or may have been because of other tweaks I made based on other diet books I read the same month. Sorry I was hasty and thus can’t give a completely scientific review; I was essentially cobbling together my own diet plan for the summer.

Overall, I would say that The Hormone Reset Diet had good points (eat a ton of vegetables, get protein in every meal, cut sugar and carbs and eat more greens, etc), but was vague at times and probably would only work if you like the idea of a phased approach and don’t require a whole lot of explanation before making changes to your diet.

The Wild Diet – if you are really into bio-hacking

wild diet

If tone trips you up, you might also want to watch out for Abel James. The Wild Diet was a helpful book in many respects but I had a hard time with the writing. There was a lot of “Big Food is after you!” rhetoric, including reference to “the guys with the $400 haircuts.” Um, wait, is this an issue of food quality or class envy? Especially coming from an author who does not hesitate to tell us that after he graduated from Dartmouth he was a consultant and had a million dollar house and a Porsche and whatnot.

Anyway, once you get past all that, I do think the book is solid. James follows similar lift-heavy-do-HIIT exercise prescriptions to what I was hearing from other sources, and also advocates eating a ton of vegetables and enough protein. His main distinction seems to be his advocacy for fat fasting, which was never super clearly explained but seems to involve eating fat in the morning and through the day until you mostly load up on vegetables and protein in the late afternoon and evening. I tried it because you know I LOVE TO TINKER and I was grouchy and exhausted. Could be because I’m nursing, but James notes that fasting doesn’t always work as well for women so who knows.

However, I did shift how I do mornings after reading this book, in that I’m having a teaspoon of coconut oil in my coffee with a green smoothie, then after my workout I have protein.

The Wild Diet contains a lot of recipes–some of which turned out great like the AMAZING cucumber basil green smoothie–and a lengthy discourse on how to feed your pets a wild diet, if you are into that sort of thing.

Don’t Just Sit There – if you need to integrate more movement into your whole day

Dont-Just-Sit-There

Katy Bowman’s short book Don’t Just Sit There provides an excellent resource not only for transitioning to a standing workstation, but really for integrating movement into your whole day. Bowman says that it’s not really sitting that’s the whole problem, it’s lack of movement generally. So you could get a fantastic expensive standing desk and still have issues if you stand in the same position  all the time.

Instead, Bowman advocates a dynamic work habit. Sometimes you sit, sometimes you stand, sometimes you walk around, sometimes you sit on the floor leaning forward propped up on your elbows…but you change it up.

Bowman provides lots of suggestions and exercises, but the simple motivation of the book was most helpful. After reading it, I brought a tray into my office that lets me type while standing, and I also started doing more of our school day from a standing/walking position rather than sitting. I also do a lot of work with my laptop on the kitchen island, so one way or another I’m standing and moving a lot more than before thanks to this helpful book.

Change Your Brain, Change Your Life – if you are considering contact sports or don’t have kids or need a reference for who to see for serious brain issues

change your brainDiet and exercise also play a huge role in brain health. With Alzheimer’s disease in my family, I am pretty interested in how to keep our brains going strong. So when I heard Daniel Amen on a podcast talking about the connection between physical health and brain health, I thought I would check out his book.

This was probably a mistake.

Change Your Brain, Change Your Life does have some really fascinating points. I love finding out how things work, and the visuals of brain scans were quite interesting. I learned some fascinating facts. For example, letting your kid play high school football is roughly as terrible for his brain as letting him do cocaine. Amen works with loads of ex-NFL players, and makes no bones about how wrong he thinks it is to let your children play contact sports. After looking at the brain scan pictures, I’m not going to disagree with him. Some people walk away from football just fine, but some people smoke and don’t get lung cancer and some people are functional cocaine users. Still not behaviors one would want to recommend.

The main reason I am hesitant about Change Your Brain is that, as a parent, I found it very distressing. I had a really hard time not feeling terrible about all of the times my kids have hit their heads. All of them have fallen down stairs, Jack once got a concussion when another kid slammed him into a concrete floor, etc. The book does have some hopeful points about how to rehabilitate your brain, but I found that it gave me a lot of anxiety about my children as I read it.

And, as it turned out, the diet and exercise aspect was really, really light. It basically boils down to: eat vegetables and high quality protein, eliminate sugar and most carbs, and do HIIT exercise. The suggestions for specific changes to make for problems in different areas of the brain were likewise simple–take Omega 3 supplements, drink green tea, some basic behavior modifications, and otherwise you need a specialist.

Overall, I felt like the book was mostly an advertisement for Amen’s clinics. And that’s fine–if you need brain help, definitely go to the experts who are actually studying brains rather than prescribing you medications without looking at your brain at all. But if you’re a (mostly) normal layperson, I’m not sure Change Your Brain is the best use of your reading time.

The Calorie Myth – if you only have time for one book on nutrition and fitness

the-calorie-mythI think the most helpful book I read in this entire array was The Calorie Myth. Again, this really goes back to temperament. In this book, author Jonathan Bailor cites tons of studies and research findings, quotes experts, and gives thorough reasons for what he claims. People like me need that. And despite the volume of information, Bailor also maintains a readable tone and doesn’t indulge in too much name calling, even as he clearly points out where government recommendations are based on bad science (or, more often, no science) and he’s up front about where food lobbies are financing policies.

I loved the simplicity of the guidelines Bailor draws out from his research.

  • Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables (at least 10 servings per day)
  • Eat 100-200 grams of high quality protein per day depending on your size
  • Eat 3-6 servings of good quality fats per day (but don’t go crazy)
  • Eat 0-3 servings of low sugar fruits per day, depending on whether you’re trying to lose weight and how you feel.
  • Eat good quality seafood daily for Omega 3s.
  • Drink a ton of water and green tea, plain coffee if you need it, and don’t get calories from liquids otherwise.

I also really got good results from Bailor’s discussion of weight lifting. He takes the whole lift-heavy thing farther by talking about different types of muscle fibers and how to get at the ones that really make a difference (Type 2B). Basically, you want to focus on very, very slow lowering of the weight, rather than letting it just drop. There’s more to it than that, but I got wildly improved workouts when I implemented his suggestions. To be fair, this may have also been in the Matthews book and maybe I was just too new to it to absorb that, but could synthesize it in Bailor’s book after reading so much about it.

And so, to boil down a 2000 word post into one recommendation–I’d say The Calorie Myth is the best, most helpful book in this bunch. If you’re still interested in the topic after that, I’d suggest Why We Get Fat, which is an excellent nutrition book along these lines, although it doesn’t get into fitness.

Have you made any changes in your life based on what you’ve read recently?
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An e-book bundle for people who don’t buy e-book bundles

Maybe you’re like me.  I never buy e-book bundles because:

  • Lots of e-books are free anyway.
  • Lots of e-books (even the not-free ones) are poorly written, poorly edited, and full of bad information.
  • You can often find the same information online for free.

And yet, this week I bought an e-book bundle.  I can’t believe I just typed that.  There was really only one thing that made me pull the trigger.

PlantTherapyOffer

  • One of the free (well, almost, you have to pay $6.50 shipping) bonuses is three bottles of essential oils: lavender, lemon, and peppermint.

That’s it.  I clicked Buy Now on The Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle.  It was $29.97, and if you purchase by September 12 you also get access to a free live webinar with an aromatherapist about how to use essential oils safely and effectively.  I think that’s worth it.  Here’s my thought process:

  • I use Young Living essential oils, and the ones included in the bundle are not YL, they are Plant Therapy brand.  I may not use these oils exactly as I use my YL oils, because I did a lot of research into YL and trust them, but there are a lot of uses for oils that don’t require ingestion or undiluted use, especially for lavender and peppermint.  These three oils would set you back a lot more than $36.47 if you bought them elsewhere, making the bundle worth it for the oils alone.
  • In addition to the oils, there is also a bonus $16 credit, plus two Meyers soaps, plus free shipping to ePantry.  So even if I’m considering those as replacements for drug store brands, that saves me another $10.
  • The people at Ultimate Bundles screened and curated the included e-books, so I’m assuming a higher level of quality than your standard free-on-Amazon fare.


The Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle also includes:

  • A month-long membership to Paleofit and Paleo Meal Plan.  I’m not all in for paleo, but I do prefer to eat lower carb, real food meals, so paleo often fits recipe-wise, even if I don’t believe it as a philosophy.
  • Two free months of Once a Month Meals membership–choose menus based on your eating preferences and family size, and get a personalized plan to shop for, prepare, make ahead, or cook as you go, all of your meals for the month.
  • The Foundational Five course–a heal your diastasis program I have looked at before and will NEED after baby arrives.
  • Other good workout resources I can access any time after I get through post-partum recovery and ramp back up.
  • An e-book on handling PCOS, which is a major problem that comes roaring back every time I wean a baby.
  • Several e-books on healthy/real food easy freezer/crockpot type meals.  I’m a working, homeschooling mom expecting her fifth baby.  I’m sure I don’t need to explain why meal streamlining is a big thing for me right now!
  • money back guarantee on the whole bundle.  For 30 days, no questions asked.

There are also about 85 other e-books I might look at later although they don’t immediately appeal, and other free bonuses that I might or might not redeem depending on if I feel like paying for shipping is worth it (updated to add: I did wind up redeeming several of the other bonuses because the shipping charge still made the items cheaper than what I would normally pay).  You should check out the full list of courses and e-books and bonuses included–topics include: allergy friendly, essential oils, fitness and weight loss, healthy kids, homesteading, natural home, natural remedies, paleo, and real food–because different things would probably appeal to you.

So, you never buy e-book bundles.  I get it; neither do I.  But The Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle might make you reconsider.  At least this once.

 

Disclosure: If you do decide to purchase the bundle, I’d love it if you click through my link.  I signed up as an affiliate after I made the purchase because I think this is an actual good deal, and I so appreciate it when y’all help support A Spirited Mind!  Thank you!

Quick Takes on Personality, Checklists, and Scurvy

SQT1) Everyone forms habits (or achieves goals, or keeps resolutions) differently.

Did you see this quiz about the four tendencies?  I love type breakdowns, and this one is particularly helpful to pinpoint how you can change.  So many books or seminars imply that there is one RIGHT way to set goals or change your habits, but maybe it’s more individual.  What works for one person might not work best for you, and why not work with your natural tendencies rather than against them?  Turns out I’m a questioner.  I read the long description (you can get the full run-down emailed to you after you do the quiz) to my husband and he agreed that was me to a T.  Super interesting.

2) My husband and I are opposite types.  And yet, we live.

I had Josh take the tendencies quiz too.  And he obliged me because…wait for it….he’s an obliger!  An obliger is the complete opposite of a questioner.  As far as Meyers-Briggs types go, we’re also opposites, and the in-depth M-B book (Please Understand Me II–highly recommended!) lists us as two types very unlikely to mesh well in a relationship.  And yet, here we are, over 11 years later, beating the odds.  It’s like that part in Chariots of Fire when the guys are running in slo-mo on the beach, right?  We’re getting there.  I chalk a lot of it up to a compatible sense of humor. We differ in many, many ways, but we can almost always laugh together, and that’s no small thing.

3) Speaking of marriage, here’s a book I’m not finishing.

I started reading Raney after seeing it recommended in The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.  It’s kind of a stream-of-consciousness narrative of a small town couple’s first few years of marriage.  You know how when you get married you have to get used to not being self-absorbed and develop your own couple perspective rather than whatever family lens you had before?  It’s not always pretty.  And I found it sort of annoying to read about.  Plus I didn’t see the book as being all that illuminating about small town life or the Carolinas.  It seemed a little vapid by page 27 so I let it go.  If it’s your all-time favorite, feel free to try to convince me to pick it back up.

4) We picked school back up, and checklists are the revolution!

After a long break, we girded up our loins (metaphorically speaking) (actually now that I think about it we girded them literally too, as I tend to enforce a fairly stringent ban on public nudity) for a new term.  I read an article from Sarah Mackenzie about how she’s writing school work checklists in notebooks for her older kids.  She says it takes five minutes!  Wow!  Since my kids love checking things off lists (they get that from me) and seem to see checklists as external authorities not just stuff Mama says to do, I decided to jump on the bandwagon.  Except my bandwagon evidently has less going on under the hood than Sarah’s does, because I found that writing out the checklists for my three big kids took me a really long time and I realized I would always be writing the same things every day.  Two days of that and I was totally over it.  However, the checklists got the kids motivated to do a lot more of their school work, music practicing, and chores independently and also overcame the “golly, nobody told me I had to brush my teeth AGAIN when I just did it YESTERDAY!” syndrome that plagues various and sundry of my children, bless their hearts and unbrushed hair.

So I typed up the checklists, with big squares for checking off items, and nice, big, double-spaced fonts.  I also added in their Office Time subject order, so we could avoid time-consuming haggling over whether math or spelling should come first.  Y’all, it is magical.  The days are going much more smoothly, and even though two work-related crises truncated my teaching time last week, we still got through the assignments.  Win.

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Breakfast Room/School Room ready for the next day with TYPED checklists

5) Part of the revolution is lagging, though.

One reason why it took me so long to write the checklists is that I do write out everyone’s school work in their notebooks every day.  I write their Shakespeare copywork, Bible copywork, their Latin assignments, and their writing and grammar assignments in their daily work notebooks.  I like that the notebooks keep everything together, and when we have our Office Time (one-on-one teaching), they add in spelling and Spanish and other subjects.  It’s a lot of writing for me though.  This year I finally understand why some people pony up the extra $15 for the student books for everything.  Hm.

6) However, we are not lagging due to scurvy!

I’m delighted to report that our household risk of scurvy is virtually nil!  I was telling a friend about how much produce my kids eat, but didn’t know exact numbers.  Naturally the following week I decided to keep notes.  In one seven-day period my family (two adults, four kids aged 9, 7 1/2, 6, and 20 months) consumed:

  • ten pounds of grapefruit
  • eight pounds of oranges
  • fifteen pounds of clementines
  • fifteen pounds of apples
  • six pounds of bananas
  • five bunches of celery
  • five pounds of baby carrots
  • three pounds of broccoli
  • six heads of romaine lettuce
  • two bags of spinach
  • two bags of bell pepper strips
  • four pounds of green beans

Citrus is in season (somewhere?) and the children are going hog-wild.  I suppose there are worse things.  Whenever I have a passing thought about the teenage years to come, I put my fingers in my ears and sing tra-la-la.

7) The Spirited Mind newsletter will not protect you from scurvy.

Thoughts and Tips for the Literary Life

I’m all about full disclosure.  However, while it may not impact your vitamin intake, the newsletter will give you a boost of thoughts and tips for your literary life!  This month’s issue includes resources for finding good books, a tip for reading aloud to your kids, other interesting bookish quotes and things, and a longer article about one of three topics between which I have not thus far been able to choose.  Don’t miss it!  The newsletter comes out once a month, and I don’t use the list for any spamming in between issues.  Pop over to the sidebar or click here to sign up!

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum.

Disclosure: Most of the links in this post are to my longer reviews, but there is one Amazon affiliate link. Thank you for supporting A Spirited Mind!

100 Days of Real Food

100daysWhen it comes to eating healthy, real food, I know the good I ought to do but often just don’t do it.  At times I’ve been deeply into nutrition–making yogurt and kefir, sprouting everything, buying local, etc–and at times I’ve let things go.  The nice thing about having gone through phases of intense healthy eating is that I know how to do this stuff, and a gentle reminder is all I need to make changes.

I recently faced up to the fact that I had let too many things slide with our diet.  It’s too easy to tell the kids to make a peanut butter sandwich every day for lunch, to pull out the white flour for everything, to fall into habits of having treats too often.  Although we don’t eat the Standard American Diet, I don’t feel my best when we get too loose with nutrition, and I don’t think the kids do either.

I picked up 100 Days of Real Food: How We Did It, What We Learned, and 100 Easy, Wholesome Recipes Your Family Will Love with changing our diet in mind, and found it to be a good catalyst.  If you really do eat the SAD, or if you don’t know anything about nutrition at all, this book would be a good start.  If you know a lot of things and just need a kick in the pants, the recipes will make the book worth it.  I disagreed with the author on some points, but I think as long as you understand that you have to draw your own lines in the sand on things like grains, dairy, organics, and things like that, you can still find the book useful.

As I mentioned above, the recipes are what make the book really helpful.  I got a lot of good ideas for non-PBJ lunches, as well as interesting and different things to do with the meat and vegetable routine we have.  I wasn’t tempted by all of them, but did find 13 solid recipes and ideas to try.

If you know you need to tweak your eating habits, or if you’re already knowledgeable about nutrition but need some fresh inspiration, 100 Days of Real Food could be worth perusing.

What are your favorite sources of healthy food inspiration?

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Slim By Design

SlimByDesign-RevCover2Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life is one of the most fascinating books I’ve read this year.  Written by a high profile academic and public policy figure, the book is a highly readable account of the author’s decades of research into the behaviors, characteristics, and habits that make people slim or fat over time.  His thesis is that rather than hundreds of rules or laws, the best way to be (or become) slimmer is to make simple changes in our homes, our stores, our workplaces, and our schools.

The book is funny and a quick read, but it’s packed with ideas and findings.  For example:

  • People eat less (and are still satisfied) when served from the stove or counter onto smaller plates with a smaller serving spoon.
  • If you keep a box of breakfast cereal on your kitchen counter, you are statistically likely to weigh 21 pounds more than people who don’t keep cereal out on display.
  • However, if you keep fruit on the counter in a bowl, you are statistically apt to weigh 7 pounds less than average people.
  • Slim kitchens tend not to have toasters on the counter.

Wansink emphasizes that everyone thinks “Aha, now that I know that, I can keep my cereal on my counter and not get fat” but apparently the research does not bear this out.  Just knowing the good you ought to do doesn’t help you to do it when you walk into your kitchen starving at 5:30pm.

I found the section on making your home slim by design especially helpful and practical. I was surprised to see how many of the prescriptions we already do–not out of a desire to be thin, but just because that’s how we do things.  Our usual dinner plates are 9 inches wide (we do have one set that measures 10.25 inches, but don’t use them as often–and certainly nothing like the apparently average size of 12-14 inches wide!!!), we serve meals from the counter or stove not the table, and my abhorrence for clutter means cereal is never, ever on the counter (actually I rarely buy it at all).  Our toaster is kept in a cabinet and only brought out when needed, we keep a bowl of fruit on the counter, the only other food visible is the set of large glass canisters holding dry oatmeal and rice.

A few of Wansink’s ideas will appeal to moderators–you don’t have to get rid of the less healthy food, just don’t keep it in the line of sight–but still won’t work for abstainers like me.  When I keep the chocolate up high, in the cabinet over the refrigerator, I still know where it is and eat it.  🙂  So as an abstainer, I just don’t keep that stuff in the house at all.  You can tailor the suggestions to fit either personality type.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to get our family out of a few bad eating habits that had crept in (mostly involving readily accessible sandwich bread, more on that in another book review) because life was busy.  Wansink’s book was helpful in giving me a few ideas for further tweaks to our kitchen (like wrapping less healthy leftovers in foil, using smaller serving spoons, serving food out of smaller bowls, allowing seconds or thirds as long as a plate of salad is eaten in between, etc).  It was also very encouraging, in that Wansink points out ways to make small, incremental changes that can really make a difference over time.

I’d highly recommend this book, whether you spend a lot of time at home or not.  The sections on workplace, restaurant, grocery store, and school strategies were equally strong, and would be very helpful to people in a wide variety of lifestyles.

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

2014’s Third Quarter in Books

This quarter I had an uptick in work, which resulted in a downtick in reading, to my chagrin.  However, I did still read 27 books in July, August, and September, and also read 20 long/chapter books (of around 100 pages or more, not picture books) aloud to or with the kids.  I broke the titles down into categories of Fiction, Life Management/Creative Work, Communication/Relationships, Parenting/Education, History, Memoir, and Faith.  The links below are to my longer reviews, starred titles were my absolute favorites.

Fiction

  • The Night Circus – An incredible fairy tale set in a Victorian circus that begs to be read on a rainy day, The Night Circus was excellent in audiobook version, and I might skim the print version too.
  • Speaking From Among the Bones – A Flavia DeLuce mystery.  Enough said.
  • The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches – Another Flavia DeLuce mystery. Really, if you haven’t read these, do.  Impeccable plotting, fantastic characterization, funny and smart writing…the entire series is excellent.
  • Children of the Jacaranda Tree – The author used a dissonant writing and narrative style to convey the dissonance of Iranian post-Revolution culture, but those aspects of the book wound up detracting from the story significantly.  Mostly I felt the book suffered from lack of setting and descriptive voice.  Read A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea instead.

Life Management/Creative Work

  • What Should I Do With My Life? People who are perpetual reinventers and tryers-of-new-things will like this book.  People who never ask themselves the title’s question should skip it.
  • Manage Your Day to Day – If you’re a creative and/or flex-worker you should read this book.  I’ve especially benefitted from the advice on how to be the boss of your technology (sorry Facebook, it had to end sometime).
  • *Essentialism* – This exceptional book is not about maximizing your life in 15 minute increments, but more about how to untangle confusion, busy-ness, and triviality to get at what’s most important to you, and then how to protect your time and focus so you can really give your best efforts to those priorities.  The book is excellent and I highly recommend it.
  • The Accidental Creative – Normal time management advice doesn’t always work for creative workers.  This book explains why and gives tips for how to work around that.  I felt affirmed in that I already do many of these things, but also got some new tips.
  • Die Empty – By the same author as The Accidental Creative, this book covers how to be more focused and gives some really helpful advice on curating your information flow.  Curating is a modern requirement I find very interesting, and this book helped me realize that I do have a choice about it.
Communication/Relationships
  • The Art of Small Talk – A light but helpful book about small talk and how to use it, I found this one particularly helpful for business contexts and have been using tips about meetings all summer.
  • Difficult Conversations – This very helpful book not only walks you through how to handle difficult conversations on big and important topics, but also helps you to reframe hard topics for yourself, even if you never have the touchy discussion with someone else.
  • *Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work* – If you’re engaged or a newlywed, put this book back for a couple of years.  If you’ve been married for 5 years or more, read it.  The book is written by a researcher who studies marriages and relationships, and so the findings are based on real data, profoundly interesting, and very hopeful.  I have given this book a lot of thought after reading it, and highly recommend it.  (Note: it’s a secular book, not at all from a Christian perspective, and yet you’ll find that the conclusions are very much in line with Biblical direction on relationships and relating to other people. Fascinating.)

Parenting/Education

  • The Artful Parent – A helpful book that expands the definition of the artsy parent so you can feel better about not being someone who allows glitter in your environment, and which also contains interesting art projects to try and advice on good materials.
  • Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – This amazingly helpful primer on drawing will change how you look at things, even if you don’t take the time to try the exercises.  It also seems that the book would be profoundly helpful in teaching children to draw.
  • Real Learning – Without a doubt this book is the most helpful resource on artist study and composer study I’ve read so far.  If you’re a Charlotte Mason fan or homeschooler, this book will be helpful for you.

History

  • Fever – Although it’s a historical novel, this book illuminates an interesting historical figure and period of change in medical history.
  • The Great Influenza – Although it’s too long, this history of the flu of 1918 is fascinating really illuminated my understanding of geopolitical events surrounding World War I.
  • The Professor and the Madman – An oddly compelling history of the Oxford English Dictionary, with wild stories and the sort of excellent vocabulary asides you’d expect in a book about the OED.
  • Tallgrass – Another historical fiction book that wound up in the history section rather than fiction, Tallgrass have me unique insight into the Japanese interment camp facet of World War II, plus showed me how the experiences of the Dust Bowl and World War I, which I’ve also read about this year, influences people’s perceptions of the home front in World War II.  Not notable fiction, but notable history.
  • The Long Shadow – This wide-ranging book covers the lead up to World War I, an analysis of popular views on the war itself, and then a discussion of the lingering impact World War I had on political, cultural, and social developments up to the present.  Really fascinating and illuminating.
  • The Big Fat Surprise – Fat is not the enemy.  If you really need to be convinced that fat is not bad for you, especially if you need very detailed discussion about just about every study and research project related to nutritional topics, this book may be for you.  It’s interesting as a history of nutritional science (and I use that phrase optimistically).  Otherwise, read Gary Taubes’ book Why We Get Fat instead.
  • Eiffel’s Tower – This interesting history of the making of the Eiffel Tower, the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, and the fascinating historical figures who converged there is well worth a read.
Memoir
  • Stitches – I don’t usually like graphic novels, but this one was very thought-provoking and the format fit the subject matter quite well.
  • *How the Heather Looks* – Probably my most favorite book of the year so far, this is a travel memoir of a young family who toured England looking for the sites in all of their favorite books.  I adore that concept and just loved the descriptions and the author’s evident love for literature.  An utter delight for this Anglophile and bibliophile!

Faith

  • His Word in my Heart – If you need some inspiration for memorizing longer passages of Scripture, or even entire books of the Bible, this book is for you.  I got a lot out of this short book, although ultimately I realized that my memorizing style is different than the author’s (don’t feel tied to the index card thing).
  • The Family Worship Book – Although I got some helpful ideas from this book, A Neglected Grace is a far, far better resource both in terms of casing a vision for family worship and in providing practical helps.
  • Sabbath as Resistance – Not a complete reference on Sabbath-keeping, but written around a helpful and thoughtful exposition of the Israelites in Egypt, this book has made me mindful of ways that I keep the Sabbath in outward form, but am inwardly still “making bricks” on Sunday.  I wouldn’t say this is the only book you need to read on the topic, but it is a good one.

Long/Chapter Books Read Aloud to the Children (or read to discuss with the children)

What were your favorite books this quarter?

The Big Fat Surprise

In The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet, author Nina Teicholz takes an exhaustive (seriously, deeply detailed and footnoted) look at the history of nutrition science and the studies that have been done to test hypotheses, to conclude that most of our modern nutrition policy is based on bad or incomplete science, ignoring more complete or up-to-date information.

This book goes into great detail and would probably be helpful if you know someone who is seriously resistant to the idea that saturated fat is not the bad guy as you’re used to hearing.  However, overall I think you’d do better to read Gary Taubes’ book Why We Get Fat–Taubes and Teicholz cover much of the same material, but Taubes is more comprehensive in terms of fat in general versus its relation to heart disease and metabolic syndrome.

That said, both books do a good job of really probing the nutritional studies and tracing the roots of why our nutritional policy is so deeply counter to what the science actually tells us.  It’s a pretty interesting topic if you’re into health.

 

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Eat. Move. Sleep.

Research indicates that nine out of 10 people die from cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or lung disease. Perhaps more shocking, 90 percent of us could be living past age 90 if we made better lifestyle choices.  Given the statistics, it makes sense to attempt at least small steps toward better health.  In his bookEat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes, Tom Rath outlines how even small changes in how we eat, exercise, and sleep can make a great positive impact in our quality of life.

Rath’s perspective is unusual: he has a rare genetic condition that causes his body to produce cancerous tumors at a rapid rate.  At any given time he is monitored for several different tumors.  As you might expect, his motivation for improving his health in order to prevent whatever percentage of cancer is preventable is high.

In his book, Rath outlines lots of research pointing to diet, exercise, and sleep as critical factors in disease prevention, and he organizes it all into thirty chapters, each with a manageable idea for each category.  The premise is to take one chapter per day for 30 days, and slowly make incremental changes that lead to better lifestyle habits.  The steps are small, but could easily lead to profound results.

I liked how Rath noted that every diet plan you read has good points you can take away, even if you decline to participate in every passing fad (and he says you shouldn’t do fad diets anyway, but rather make small changes leading to a better diet overall).  That’s a good approach, and I think it’s always wise to use common sense.  Even in Eat Move Sleep I found some of Rath’s conclusions to be personal preference (for example, I do think that people metabolize food differently–some people get lethargic after eating red meat and fat and do better on lean meats, whereas other people get energized from protein/fat combinations but are jittery on low-fat meals) but I was happy to take away lots of great reminders nonetheless.

If you read a lot of health books, lots of the information in Eat Move Sleep will be familiar to you, but the organization of it might spark new connections or be a good reminder for you.  And if you’re one of those people who knows you need to get healthier but feel daunted by how big a task it is, this book would really help you.  I thought it was a great book and definitely recommend it.

 

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Trim Healthy Mama

Trim Healthy Mama was recommended to me after I reviewed Choose to Lose, and indeed the approaches are similar in that both advocate carb cycling–having some meals be protein and fat and other meals be protein and carbs.

I’ve read a lot of books on nutrition and diet, and I think the idea of carb cycling is sound, but it’s REALLY tough to implement.  I don’t mean that in a “it’s hard to follow a diet” way.  I tend to be more of an abstainer than a moderator, so I find it stressful to try to remember when I ate which nutrient.  It’s a lot easier for me to just have a couple of hard and fast rules and stick with them.  That said, if you’re a moderator, this approach could be great for you.

Although I found the book needlessly long and complicated, I did get some good ideas that refreshed my meal planning.  We tend to eat a fairly low carb, natural food diet anyway, but with a busy schedule and sleep deprivation I had gotten into a habit of too much sugar and sloppy eating.  Reading this book was good impetus to stop going nuts with all that.  I find I’m referring to it nearly every day for some recipe or another–I found a few that are really fabulous like a low carb pizza crust, low carb cake, and a low carb roll that works for sandwiches.  That said, I also tried other recipes that were complete duds.  Or else maybe the authors just used overly superlative language so I was expecting too much.  I didn’t buy many of the expensive ingredients recommended, but I do have flax seed powder and protein powder and Truvia on hand already, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to make a lot of the recipes.

The book also contains sections on exercise (they follow the weights/body weight calisthenics/no hours of cardio on end approach), hormones (kind of hard to follow, and I’d be super cautious dinking around with hormones if I were you), skin care, and sex (summary: have more of it), among other related and semi-related topics.  It’s a long book, and meanders through many topics, so it lends itself to skimming and cherry picking.

One caveat is that the authors tend to present their approach as an issue of Biblical living.  I think we are called to be good stewards of our bodies, and the authors do mention that other people might have different interpretations of what the Bible says about food, but I think you should take the book for what it is–a nutrition and lifestyle plan–and not read too much into it about spiritual issues.  I’ve noted this tendency in other books lately (like the study guide for 7, for example), especially the idea that Christians shouldn’t eat pork.  What about Acts 10?  So as with most books, I think it’s a good idea to take the good and skim the weird or inapplicable.

If you’re really into nutrition or like to read about diet research, Trim Healthy Mama might interest you.  It might be worth checking out of the library first, if that’s an option, because it’s pretty expensive if you only wind up using a couple of the recipes or ideas.

Have you tried a carb cycling diet?  If so, did it work for you?

 

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The Shift: Owning Your Solutions

Ostensibly, The Shift: How I Finally Lost Weight and Discovered a Happier Life is a memoir of weight loss, but the gist of the book is much more widely applicable.  The book details how Johnson started owning a solution to a major problem in her life.

How many times have you tried to solve something halfheartedly?  Maybe it’s a diet or exercise program, or maybe it’s changing a job.  Maybe it’s something you need to do differently in parenting or a difficult budgeting decision.  What Johnson gets to the root of in this book is that in order to get results, you really have to own your solution.

What does that mean?  For Johnson it meant that she was ready to give up foods she liked no matter what, and stick to her diet plan (she went with a simple one: eat less, low carbs, only real foods) no matter what was on the hors d’oeuvres tray or what her friends said.  Her diet plan will work best for abstainers (moderators need things like cheat days, but for abstainers cheat days are like an alcoholic celebrating a week of sobriety with a scotch), but the principle can apply to any determination.  Whatever you choose to do, commit.

If you’re looking for weight loss inspiration, especially if you tend to be an abstainer when it comes to food, I’d really recommend The Shift.  I’d also recommend it to those who are interested in mindset and the process of changing habits.  It’s a fast and interesting read, with good take-aways.

 

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