Healthy As F*ck – Oonagh Duncan

healthy as f cover

“Have you ever heard of gluten? … I bet you can name three people off the top of your head who would rather eat nuclear waste than gluten.”

Let’s cut to the chase: in a world with no shortage of advice on healthy living and every faddy diet under the sun, this is *the* best book on the topic I think I’ll ever read! It’s no-bull common sense, written clearly and with a great deal of humour – and, as the title may give away, a lot of swearing. As long as you don’t have an issue with the latter, then this book is genuinely the only one you really need to read on the topic.

I absolutely love the dismissal of any and all faddy diets. The industry does not work, people, or we wouldn’t be growing grossly fatter as a population! And yes, the slant is a little more towards weight loss, but I actually picked this up looking for all-round healthy living ideas – and that’s exactly what the book is aiming at.

Why do you want to lose weight, the author asks? To be skinny? Why? To be fitter, healthier? Why? What do you imagine you’ll feel like when you hit that ‘magical’ number on the scales? Oh, happy. Well, why don’t we just start there – why not look at how to be happy first, because odds on it will make the weight loss stuff easier. Nothing good comes from a place of self-loathing. And before you think otherwise, the difference is made clear between long-term ‘happy’ and short-term pleasure e.g. eating more doughnuts.

There’s a great deal of joy in the no-nonsense approach. Part one is titled “Get your head out of your ass.” It is so true that we get to choose the balance of effort we’re willing to make, for the result we want to get. In other words, six-pack toting supermodel is a nice dream, but be realistic: do you *really* want to put in that much effort – because you’d have to rejig your entire lifestyle. And on the flip side, if you’re unwilling to stop buying and scoffing family-sized packs of biscuits, there’s no point in bemoaning the layer of blubber.

Duncan pushes for the approach of setting up healthy habits that become second-nature, thus removing all the aggro and wasted mental space of ‘dieting’. It’s a good follow on from previous reads I’ve enjoyed, such as Tiny Habits. She also tells us to avoid the ‘perfectionism’ trap, and just work on slow and steady improvements.

I cannot recommend this book enough to anyone who’s remotely interesting in improving their lifestyle, including but not just losing weight. It’s such a tonic from all of the ridiculous fads – keto, or gluten free, or whatever is this month’s marketing trick – and I love the simplicity of it. The focus is psychological, and yes, eating more vegetables. But this is the first time I’ve read a book like this and gone ‘yes!’ rather than ‘hmm (I wish that kind of nonsense worked/wasn’t more harm than good in the long term)’.

NetGalley eARC: 272 pages / 10 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 20th March – 5th April 2020

My rating: 9.5/10

Learn to Sleep Well – Chris Idzikowski

learn to sleep well cover

“Insomnia is one of the most common sleep complaints, chronically affecting between five and ten percent of Americans.”

If there’s one thing that would help my – and most of our! – health more than anything, it’d be improving the quality of my sleep. I struggle to nod off, wake early, and am generally just too ‘busy-minded’ to relax. So, any advice from a book like this would surely be of help.

Alas, this is not that book. It is filled with advice, but to be honest it came across as irritating pseudoscience – picking and choosing random bits of ‘research’ to support what they want to say, no real referencing. It’s fine as conversation, not as ‘information’. And oy, the waffle! For instance – why do we sleep less as we age? There are a dozen ‘maybes’ presented as if by some kind of expert. I hate this kind of thing!

It’s not all bad. For a start, the art work is rather lovely – this is a coffee table book, with sleep as the theme. And later chapters are much more readable, losing the cod-science and simply reporting on folk remedies and cultural approaches: things like feng shui, meditation, hot baths. All good folksy things to try, they might or might not help but shouldn’t hurt, and I have no problem with any of this – just the tone at the beginning.

The section on sleep disorders, however, brings me back to: you are not the kind of authority I think I should be taking advice from on more serious issues. And that’s kind of my problem with the book.

So. Looks good. Has gathered a pile of topics around sleep. Shouldn’t be taken as any kind of authoritative text, despite the early tone.

NetGalley eARC: 160 pages / 6 sections
First published: March 2020
Series: none
Read from 2nd-30th March 2020

My rating: 4/10

Simplify – Bob Hillary

simplify cover

“How to stay sane in a world going mad.”

This was such an utterly frustrating book. The premise sounded so appealing – get off the treadmill of modern life, find ways to make life, well, more simple. And there is a small amount of that here. Alas, there is also a huge amount of hippy, trippy talk (despite repeated assertions that “I know that sounds hippyish, but it’s not” – urm, are you sure?) that totally put me off. And I’d suggest that 90% of the book isn’t about making life simpler, but rather about becoming an ‘Earth Warrior’ and doing better by Gaia (insert eye rolling). There’s nothing wrong with that idea, but that is not what I picked this book up for.

Right from the word go I was having my doubts. The author seems to have had the kind of idyllic childhood not usually seen outside of Enid Blyton novels. So when he starts to extol the virtues of growing your own veg and going completely off grid, I think it has to come with a huge pinch of salt: it’s one thing reclaiming something you remember fondly from your youth, but I rather suspect your average townie would struggle a lot, lot more at the attempt. In fact, the idea that this is automatically ‘simple’ and happy-making is simply not true.

This ‘new way’ sounds much more like a very old way, and while there’s merit in that, it’s not what I’d hoped for from this book. This isn’t what I’d call advice on simplifying life so much as abandoning large swathes of it for something entirely different – and that is *not* a simple thing.

The advice given could be beneficial – things like reconnecting with nature, downscaling (decluttering), more mindful use of the internet etc – but also could have been presented far better, imo. Going too extreme was just a turn off. Also, the ’21 practices’ to help simplify life were highly repetitive, so I’d say there’s more like a dozen. None of it is particularly novel.

Overall, I had high hopes for this, and was utterly disappointed.

NetGalley eARC: 113 pages / 5 parts, ~15 chapters
First published: 10th March 2020
Series: none
Read from 13th-20th February 2020

My rating: 4/10

Tiny Habits – BJ Fogg

tiny habits cover

“Change can be easy (and fun).”

Have your New Year’s Resolutions fallen by the wayside already? Or, are you gritting your teeth and battling on, quietly unsure that the goal is bringing any benefits? I’ve been in both places; I’ve learned what doesn’t really work for me: grand goals, constant need for willpower, all the advice about joining a group, and many many other things. I’m guessing a few of you might well be in the same boat.

Step forward Tiny Habits. I cannot begin to tell you the ‘yes!’ I had when I started reading about this approach: if I could have condensed my own thoughts about life improving habits I could only have hoped to have written this book!

The author, a researcher at Stanford University, has developed the Fogg Behavior Model, where Behavior (or, the habit you want to develop) = motivation + ability + prompt. BMAP. Fogg Behaviour Model graph of ability against motivation

Simply put, the harder you find something to do, the more motivation you’re going to need, and conversely you won’t need to find as much motivation to do a task you find easy. To get a habit to form, you need the behaviour to be above that ‘action line’.

I can’t do the idea justice, but the book walks you through it wonderfully. Motivation isn’t going to work long-term, so finding ways to make the behaviour easier is key – and making the habit ‘tiny’ is an excellent approach. For instance, do just 2 push ups. That will most likely grow, but as long as you do 2 the habit will form – far more likely than if you set the bar as, say, 50, and watch as you make excuses to get out of it.

The book opens with some great insight into why we find it hard to do things, what drives our behaviour in general. It then breaks down the elements of the BMAP – motivation and matching, ability, using different kinds of prompts to remind yourself to carry out the habit.

As well as loads of useful, chatty case studies, there are several exercises such as the ‘Swarm of B(ehaviour)s’ designed to help you set up your own experiment in behaviour design. And that mindset of ‘experimentation’ is pushed strongly: no beating yourself up when something doesn’t work, you just have to modify the experiment design. It’s refreshingly helpful and kind.

Later chapters cover growing or multiplying your habits, changing with others – family, colleagues, groups (whether overtly or in a more ninja-style ;)), and for me an important chapter on reversing some of the approaches to tackle bad habits.

Overall, I loved this book. I tried not to rush through it, and already want to read it again taking notes (tough to do on the bus!) and rather than just trying bits and pieces (working so far!) absolutely give the entire process a go to see how far it can take me in improving my habits! I have very high hopes – it’s my kind of book!

NetGalley eARC: 320 pages / 8 sections
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 5th January – 7th February 2020

My rating: 9/10

The Extremely Busy Woman’s Guide to Self-Care – Suzanne Falter

extremely busy womans guide to self care cover

“Do less, achieve more, and live the life you want.”

Happy 2020! Have you made some New Year resolutions? What if, instead of punishing yourself to spend more time in the gym, or giving up the foods you love, you instead approached life with a mindset of first of all taking care of yourself? What if doing so wasn’t selfish, or self-indulgent? What if you could prioritise being nice to yourself and not only still achieve what you needed to, but actually get far, far more out of life?

As I started reading this book, I felt like a great big ‘yes’ was settling in. It makes so much sense. Life shouldn’t be a constant struggle – and yup, I can see that if I’d just breath and go with the flow, things would be easier, and I could be happier. That’s not to say I’d spend my life meditating while the dishes piled up – but I’ve already had the ‘revelation’ that housework isn’t so bad, as it gets me something I want: a lovely clean living space. I’m still working on the idea that exercise is also a form of self care 😉

I’d love to say that the book continued to inspire me, but to be honest it fell into fairly well-worn paths. Like so many self-help authors, the changes that led to the writing of the book came after a crisis: the death of her daughter. It’s harsh to say, but tbh I’m fed up of the twinge of discomfort I get every time self-help is accompanied by the author’s grief or self-therapy.

Still, there’s a lot to get out of the book. Each chapter comes with exercises to journal about, and obviously you’ll get the most from the process by spending the time to do these properly.

My favourite chapter was near the beginning, “The big illusion about getting stuff done”. This spoke to me: pointing out the crazy treadmill we get ourselves on, pushing to do more more more. Whereas, contrary as it seems when you’re in that headspace, stopping and resting, and breathing, you can get far more done and with far less internal push-back. Like I said, doing the dishes = clean house = happier me. Odd, but true!

The book goes on to cover many good, if not unexpected topics, from setting boundaries, eschewing perfectionism, asking for help, etc. The second section gives all of the self-care areas, including sleep, vacations, love, nutrition and exercise, fun. I did have a little red flag when she started on about adrenal fatigue – as far as I’m aware that’s still not a recognised ‘thing’, and I wasn’t too impressed with the level of authority with which the topic was presented. It’s a reminder that self-help books are 99.9% personal opinion, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

My the last section, about getting more self-care habits into your life, I was slogging a bit as everything became fairly familiar. And again harsh but to be honest: the constant quotes from her dead daughter’s diary felt a bit creepy rather than motivational. Ymmv.

There’s plenty to like in this book, and it’s well enough written, but with just those few bits I wasn’t comfortable with. Still, I absolutely love the message: look after yourself – why wouldn’t you?!

NetGalley eARC: 240 pages / 37 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 13th November – 28th December 2019

My rating: 7/10

The Lure of the Ring – Alan James Strachan

lure of the ring cover

“Tom Bombadil is the prevailing mystery in Tolkien’s work.”

This is an odd little book. It’s basically a treatise on spirituality, using The Lord of the Rings as an example. Not entirely what I thought I was getting, and probably not going to find a wide audience – Tolkien fans will be disappointed that it’s not really about LotR, and if you’re looking for the spiritual stuff the fantasy-source might seem flippant.

Still, I started off rather enjoying it – someone talking about LotR can’t be all bad, after all! But, after a while, the tone really started to grate on me. I would have preferred an approach of “I think”, “my translation is”, “to me, this suggests…” rather than the quasi-academic sense of certainty. Writers rarely ‘mean’ what future studies try to pin on their stories; indeed, at the end of this the author even admits that Tolkien’s letters reveal the multi-layers of allegory and meaning didn’t appear until years later.

The lecturing tone can be a little patronising, I found – or, perhaps that’s the increasing density of the subject. From easy-to-grasp concepts – what Galadriel’s refusal of the Ring says about her character, for example – by the end he’s quoting quasi-religious texts, talking about the Self that is no-Self, and at times my head was just spinning!

If this is your cup of tea, by all means give it a go. Personally, I don’t think I was fully expecting the build up to full-on ‘nondual spirituality’ and self-actualisation, and while it might have been interesting getting there I didn’t wholly appreciate the feeling of being preached at, even if the author does back away from that by the end again.

The message, though, is nice enough, and it is interesting seeing ‘just a fantasy story for kids’ (hah!) providing such rich source material.

NetGalley eARC: 87 pages / 18 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 23rd-28th September 2019

My rating: 5/10

The Art of Jin Shin – Alexis Brink

art of jin shin cover

“The book you are holding in your hands is meant to provide a basic introduction to the foundation and principles of the Art of Jin Shin.”

Subtitled, ‘The Japanese Practice of Healing with Your Fingertips’, this book gives a brief history of this ‘energy medicine’, followed by several long lists of different holds for different conditions.

The basic premise is something along the lines of: by holding two points on the body, we can ‘release’ the energy flow within ourselves (or others), thus aiding all manner of afflictions, from insomnia to headaches, stress to digestive issues.

I was very impressed with the attitude here: it’s not given as an alternative to seeing your doctor, merely an additional process that may prove helpful. And to be honest, while I’m relatively open to such ideas, my hunch is that the usefulness of Jin Shin is less about which finger you’re holding and more that the breathing and focus is actually meditation. Still, any meditation practice can benefit from a focus, and this is a pretty interesting one.

The other message that I agree with wholeheartedly is that nothing here can hurt you – well, unless you twist something trying to hold on to your ankle, of course 😉 So yes, I was more than up for giving this a go. I’m not sure any of my attempts particularly solved the issue in question, except perhaps holding the back of my neck for an ache – but, the warmth of my hand probably didn’t hurt. As I say, I think the meditation effect was beneficial. Still, I see more likelihood of finding this useful than its more famous cousin, Reiki.

My main complaint here would be that the book in e-format wasn’t the easiest to navigate. If I have a specific problem I’d like to try to address, figuring out where to go is awkward. So, if you fancy giving it a go, the physical book is probably better.

Overall: an interesting concept, and as there’s no harm in trying it out than why not? If nothing else, you’ll benefit from a quiet moment of breathing and relaxation, and a little time spent with your own body is never a bad idea.

NetGalley eARC: 240 pages
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 16th-26th June 2019

My rating: 7/10

Simplify Your Life – Sarah O’Flaherty

simplify your life cover

“Frustrated with the old processes of goal setting and outmoded self-help techniques, I’ve developed a new, simplified approach to personal development.”

There’s nothing wrong with this book, but there’s nothing new or desperately interesting about it either. And the title felt a bit misleading: there’s a lot of very generic improve-your-life stuff (mainly pretty obvious), and very little about actually simplifying through the first part.

The first two sections are ‘About You’ – self awareness, on different levels – ‘About You and Me’ – relationships and ‘tribes’. So far, fine but much as will be found in any self-help tome. The third section is about relating to the world and your environment, creativity, purpose – again, not awful, but still had me shouting “Get to the simplicity!”

Section 4 is ‘Essentials’: being present, gratitude, giving, and – FINALLY! – simplicity. Seriously, one short chapter in a book of 23 that deals with the topic I was here for?!

So yeah. Being harsh for not being what it called itself, although otherwise it’s a perfectly fine (if nothing wow) self-help 101. This ‘new, simplified approach’ really wasn’t apparent to me, just light reading on basic topics.

NetGalley eARC: 136 pages / 23 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 27th May – 4th June 2019

My rating: 5/10

The 5-Minute Recharge – Lynne Everatt, Addie Greco-Sanchez

five minute recharge cover

“It all begins with you.”

Subtitled, “31 Proven Strategies to Refresh, Reset and Become the Boss of Your Day,” The 5-Minute Recharge is a series of hints and tips for improving your mental health and overall well-being. As with any such self-help book, what you get out of it will be highly personal to you, but there is a wide range of topics presented in a straightforward, friendly manner, and I would think something to click with everyone.

The topics are arranged around the headings “Get charged up:”

  • about having enough time
  • by connecting
  • body and mind
  • by feeding the good wolf
  • by pausing to reflect

Each ‘recharge’ has a bit of info, a ‘homework’ assignment, and a list of further reading – I did skip over some of those a bit, but much better presented as they are, with a bit of blurb, than a list of references at the end which I would completely have ignored.

The first section on time probably felt most relevant to me, and while the first tip on making your bed did nothing for me at all, the rest were all thought-provoking and sensible, such as taking breaks to recharge and setting up supporting habits that improve life but don’t take up time/will-power/mental energy. Other sections covered the disconnect between mind and body, positive thinking, and the wonderfully titled “What Would George Clooney Do?” (spoiler: it’s about pretending to ask a ‘wise’ figure for advice).

Overall, it’s a decent dip into the genre, with nothing completely groundbreaking. The exercises are perhaps a bit mixed. If they were easy to do, I don’t know that they’d be of as much value, and yet they’re presented as if they’re simple 2-minute things. If I could magic up my ‘purpose’ that quickly…!! Still, I appreciated the lack of preaching in the tone, and the advice all seems very sensible and well thought-out.

“Wellbeing is, above all, a game of connections.”

NetGalley eARC: 224 pages / 5 sections
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 22nd April – 20th May 2019

My rating: 7/10

Tiny Leaps Big Changes – Gregg Clunis

tiny leaps big changes cover

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes.”

Reading this straight off the back of Burnout really flagged to me the different approaches self-help books can take. Burnout felt supportive, wanting you to have a happier life, helping you tackle some of life’s obstacles to achieve that. This, on the other hand, felt like it was castigating you for being such a lazy loser, and if you really wanted something you can have it simply by applying yourself enough.

I have serious concerns about the advice in the book. The example given is Dave, a dad who wants to make more money so that his daughter can (eventually) go to college without a big debt hanging over her. So he puts in extra hours and stresses himself out and argues with his family because he’s exhausted. But oh, he’d be a horrible person if he let himself slack – how could he look his daughter in the eye if she had to take out loans for college?

Wow. Just… no. How about enjoying life, not being a shitty parent who’s never there, or finding other ways than becoming a monster?

I think my main issue with this book is that the author is in his mid-20s. I am turning into an old grump, but quite frankly I don’t think Clunis has the life experience needed to write a book like this – at least, not for people outside his own age group. He talks dismissively of people who never take risks, are never willing to lose everything to gain something better, and uses the example of Jim Carey’s father from a talk the actor gave once. Urm, right. ‘Cos a sane, responsible parent can afford to take that kind of gamble o.O

There are snippets of good advice, but that can’t mitigate the awful, smug tone, and quite frankly dreadful suggestions at times. Avoid.

NetGalley eARC: 224 pages / 12 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 3rd-17th April 2019

My rating: 3/10