Review: Never Binge Again by Glenn Livingston

I have customarily used books about mindful eating to work with clients who have compulsive eating issues – books like “Savor” by Thich Nhat Hanh or “Eating Mindfully” by Susan Albers. After reading this book, I will probably still primarily use those sources.  But there were some things that I did like about this book, so I’ll try to give a good overview.

The author, Glenn Livingston, apparently used to be a compulsive eater and overweight, so this method has worked for him, and many of the clients he coaches. The book reminded me a little bit of Bob Harper’s book “Skinny Rules”, which espouses just having a simple set of rules to follow so that dieting or eating isn’t as complicated as we make it, although it has some key differences too.

First, it’s important to understand the metaphor this book is built around.  Basically, you imagine that you have an inner “Pig” who is the cause of all of your eating problems, and you imagine that this “Pig” is someone who does not want the best for you, will always try to trick you into overeating and make arguments against your best interests.  Livingston suggests that it’s important you pretend the “Pig” is real.  This is known in the psychology field as “externalizing”, and reminds me of a book I love called “Taming Your Gremlin”. Same basic idea – except the topic is self-talk – that there is a gremlin running around in all of our heads and we just have to basically tell it to sit down.  Livingston makes it clear that calling it a “Pig” might not be useful for everyone, and if it isn’t, you can really call it anything as long as you realize that this is the source of your problems.

I did really like some things about this book.  Livingston suggests making a Food Plan, with sections titled “Always”, “Never”, “Conditional” and “Unrestricted”.  So in other words, veggies might be unrestricted, meaning I can eat them anytime, anywhere.  But chocolate might be conditional – I can have it, but I can’t keep it in the house.  Then there are the always an nevers, like “I will never eat fast food” or “I will always start my day with green tea”.  He makes no real suggestions, since you have to completely own your Food Plan in order for this to work – so you can just start with one rule, or several. You can have something in every category, or maybe just one.  While my work with eating disorders has made me a bit wary of rules, I can see how that really only applies to unrealistic rules, or rules that you don’t really want to follow.  I mean, we all know kale is good for you, but if I make a rule to eat kale every day, that is not gonna work for me! So I think as long as each person really makes some realistic and simple rules, this could really work.  In fact, I’ve made a couple of simple rules for myself to try this out. He makes it crystal clear that you should only make rules that you can 100% commit to forever.

There were some things I didn’t particularly like, though. He says a few times in the book things like “the only thing you have to do to not binge is to not binge!” I get what he is saying – he’s trying to help us understand that no one is making us do this; it is well within our control to not eat. But I can just say on behalf of myself and my many compulsive eating clients that if it were indeed just this easy, we’d all be thin – and we certainly wouldn’t need this book! There is a lot of this kind of talk in the book.  If you aren’t confident, just declare yourself confident! If you want to eat, just don’t! Simple, right?

For all of his talk about NEVER binging again, and one bite off your Food Plan being a binge, he then talks about what happens if you DO binge – and basically you adjust your sails and move on. How is that really different from what we are all doing all the time? It’s paradoxical – you have to commit to 100% never binge and never go off your Food Plan – but oh by the way when you do, you can be nice to yourself, evaluate your plan, make changes if you need to and then move on.  This might be helpful for some people who are in the “I ate one chip, might as well eat the whole bag” crowd, but for most of us who are really trying, we’re already doing this.

Lastly, he talks about the whole idea of the addiction model and the idea of “powerlessness” as a tool to surrender and heal. He thinks it’s B.S., basically – mainly with food, but you get the feeling that he kinda feels that way about alcohol and drugs too.  My best friend who was an alcoholic for 29 years and is now clean and sober for 12 might powerfully argue that she wasn’t powerless over alcohol.  But in Livingston’s mind, you just make up your mind not to do something and then you don’t do it anymore.

This book kind of feels like a long infomercial, lots of caps lock and exclamation points.  Plus the idea of “mind over matter” and an inner “Pig” might really turn some people off.  But I overrode my distaste of these things and persevered, and I actually have a couple of new Food Rules that I think will be really helpful.  So if you can ignore what you don’t like and take the helpful nuggets, you might find a few in the book.

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Also, the summary above is NOT intended to replace purchasing the book. It is simply intended to save you the time reading, if you can’t carve out time to read the book right now.