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Love Your Body, Love Your Life is a self-help offering from Sarah Maria, a public speaker and self-proclaimed body image expert (her education is actually in law and international affairs). In her Introduction, Maria divulges a personal background which includes a history of restrictive eating, bingeing, purging, and generally having a love/hate relationship with both food and her body. She asserts that eventually, she was able to make a shift towards self-acceptance, and through this process of transformation, she grew to love her body and her life. So, Maria maintains that her book offers her readers the opportunity to experience this same transformative process, with the bonus of having Maria present to guide them along their journey through use of exercises (helpfully found on gray shaded pages) and various other resources.
Maria's approach is based on the concept that the unhappiness which so many people experience about their bodies is actually a condition called Negative Body Obsession, or NBO. This is not a disorder that is listed in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the reference manual used by mental health clinicians to make diagnoses such as Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, or Body Dysmorphic Disorder (excessive anxiety concerning a perceived flaw in one's appearance). It's true that many people with body image concerns as well as disordered thoughts about food and eating may not meet the criteria for a full eating disorder diagnosis and thus might be more appropriately labeled with a subclinical term such as NBO. However, Maria fails to offer her readers any distinction between NBO and eating disorders, a problematic oversight. Maria then goes into a review of the possible causes of NBO, a discussion that seems a bit esoteric for the purposes of a self-help book.
The chapters which follow clearly contain some worthwhile information, but the way in which this information is presented does not always seem logical. For example, Maria begins by suggesting a "Vision of the Possible: Life Without NBO." Although the case study presented here offers a helpful means of showing the reader how the strategies described in the book could be used to conquer NBO, it would have been much more effective had it appeared later in the book. Maria spends quite a bit of time on the concept of intentions, where she does impart some useful intelligence, such as "accepting the present does not mean you will or cannot change." Also of particular value is her emphasis on detaching from negative thoughts. However, even though she suggests replacing these thoughts with more positive affirmations, Maria does not take full advantage of the opportunity to offer proven cognitive-behavioral techniques here.
Maria moves further towards more spiritual and non-traditional approaches in the next several chapters. She talks about strengthening one's connection to "the Source," or the field from which everything in the entire universe emanates. She also encourages use of both meditation and visualization techniques, incorporating various exercises which allow readers to practice these strategies. In the final chapters of the book, Maria focuses more specifically on identifying a purpose in life, coping with NBO when in a relationship, and maintaining long-term progress.
As discussed in the main body of my review, I do believe that there are some valuable things to be found in this book, and I have no doubt that some readers—particularly those who are motivated to utilize the exercises as instructed—are likely to find it helpful. As a psychologist, however, I feel the need to make note of several reservations: 1) with the exception of her own personal experience, I can find nothing to indicate that Maria is the body image "expert" that she claims to be; 2) when giving advice about diet/eating well, Maria advises her readers to "learn everything you can about healthy eating," including reading all of the latest books, listening audio recordings, etc.; this is not a recommendation that I would make to a group who already has tendencies towards being obsessive; and 3) Maria's Resource list offered at the end of the book is clearly biased. For example, in the section on "Overcoming Negative Thought Patterns/Brain Health/Personal Growth," two authors are cited 20 times each (40 out of the 51 total resource listed), while more seminal works are not mentioned.
In conclusion, I would caution readers to note that while they may find this book to be beneficial, there are better quality offerings written by more qualified authors available.
© 2010 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students.