Taitz Teaches Thoughtful Eating (part 1)

Jennifer L. Taitz, End Emotional Eating. Taitz Teaches Thoughtful Eating (part 1)

Jennifer L. Taitz. 2012. End Emotional Eating. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications. (Goto part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In early January, Cub Run Recenter,[1] where I swim, is busy each year with New Year’s resolutions athletes. New faces mostly disappear after two weeks and the regulars return to their usual routine. Raw, will power does not persist long.

Introduction

Addressing the limited resource—will-power—in her book, End Emotional Eating, Jennifer Taitz observes:

“Willpower, as it turns out, is less about will then it is about skill. Mischel [author of a study about the marshmallow test] explains that willpower relates to the ability to strategically direct attention. For example, teaching children [age 4] to pretend the marshmallow is just a picture transforms low delayers [kids unable to delay gratification] to high delays. Obsessing and focusing on the marshmallow creates intense temptation … In this book, you will learn to sit with temptation by paying attention in a particular way … you will practice living in full contact with the present moment, learning from your feelings, copying with distress skillfully, and developing self-compassion.” (1-2)

Mindfulness

A key component in her Zen-influenced approach is developing mindfulness which she defines as: “present-focused, flexible, nonjudgmental awareness.” (3) She defines another key component of acceptance as:

“a willingness to experience thoughts and feelings, even uncomfortable ones. It doesn’t mean endorse things we don’t want to experience or running headlong into unpleasantness.” (3-4)

Taiz’s approach targets patients with eating disorders, like binging, bulimia, and anorexia. Still, the book reads equally well for people who struggle with maintaining a balanced, healthy relationship with food.

Caveats

Some of you may be like me and be suspicious of ideas, like mindfulness, which arise out of Eastern religions, like Zen Buddhism. It is good to be vigilant. In this context, I would make several observations.

  • God, as creator of heaven and earth, is also the origin of all knowledge, including knowledge of ourselves. In Proverbs, we read: “The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools.” (Prov 15:7 ESV) We should not fear knowledge, but focus on using it faithfully.
  • Mindfulness is being aware of our thoughts, emotions, and responses, which is a skill that comes also with continuous prayer[2] and meditation. Devout Christians routinely practice mindfulness.
  • Mindfulness comes close to meditation as when a Zen author might encourage meditation on physical things, like a raisin. The Christian focus in mediation is more typically on Christ (as in the Jesus prayer) or on scripture (as in Lecto Divina). Recognizing that we worship the creator, not the creation, mediation on physical things may be helpful as spiritual exercise, but would not be otherwise encouraged.

As Christians, it is our responsibility to understand the uses and abuses of knowledge, but especially spiritual knowledge. As such, Taitz’s work is helpful as a tool for dealing with the special problem posed by the sin of gluttony, sometimes referred to by its Latin name, gula, which has historically been called one of the seven deadly sins.[3]

Organization

Dr. Jennifer L. Taitz is psychologist specializing in dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)[4] with degrees from New York University and Yeshiva University, also in New York. She writes in ten chapters, including:

  1. Understanding Emotions and Eating
  2. Accepting the Idea of Acceptance
  3. Mindful Moments
  4. Emotional Intelligence
  5. Surfing Urges and Developing Realistic Confidence
  6. Minding Your Mind
  7. Coping with Difficult Emotions with a Second Helping
  8. Cultivating Self-Compassion
  9. Tasting Values
  10. Ending Well and Beginning Again.

The book begins with acknowledgments, a foreword, and introduction; and ends with a list of references (iii-iv). Taitz offers detailed reviews of the literature and her references are helpful.

Assessment

Jennifer L. Taitz’s book, End Emotional Eating, is accessible and interesting, and may be helpful in coping with a range of obsessive and addictive behaviors. Sprinkled throughout the chapters are helpful exercises to promote application of the concepts under discussion. I read the book to help me succeed in ramping down my weight and ramping up my exercise routine in the New Year and was pleased with what I learned—I suspect  that you will be too.

In part 1 of this review, I have given an overview of Taitz’s work. In Part 2, I will look in more detail at some of her concepts and teaching.

References

Fairlie, Henry. 2006. The Seven Deadly Sins Today. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

Kelly Koerner. 2012. Doing Dialectical Behavior Therapy: A Practical Guide. New York: Guilford Press. (Review: Koerner Explains DBT and Supporting Skills; http://wp.me/p3Xeut-1uP).

Footnotes

[1] http://www.FairfaxCounty.gov/parks/rec/Cubrun.

[2] The Apostle Paul writes: “pray without ceasing,” (1 Thess 5:17 ESV)

[3] Fairlie (2006, 155-156) writes: “Avarice is more interested in possessing than in the possession, lust in sexual activity than in sexual feeling, and gluttony is more interested in eating than in the food. It is the appetites in themselves, and their need for gratification, that takes over one’s life.”

[4] I first became aware of DBT because it is one of the few approaches that seemed to work with borderline personality disorder patients, who were previously thought to be untreatable. DBT practitioners are experts at emotional intelligence, another good reason to take a look. For a good review, see: (Koerner 2012).

 

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