18 May Friday Non-Food Treat: May
Food should always be enjoyable—but it shouldn’t be your greatest source of joy. Each month I focus on a non-food treat that’s boosting my happiness, in the hope that you’ll find some pleasure in it too!
I have always been an avid reader.
I was on first-name terms with the librarian in our local village library (terribly uncool at the time, of course, but I now appreciate how special that was). I would take out the maximum number of books, rush them home and squirrel away a torch so I could continue to read under my duvet, well beyond lights-off time. In fact, I often wonder if my adult short-sightedness is due in part to that minor childhood mischief!
Back in those days, reading was an escapism. Not that I had anything to escape from—I was fortunate to have a very happy childhood—but these books with their exotic locations, charismatic characters and thrilling plotlines hinted at an excitement I could only dream of as an 8-year-old. When I read, my safe and very provincial world melted away, and I was whisked off to pastures new. This sense of imaginary flight was always the same, whether I was reading Judy Blume or Khaled Hosseini.
As an adult, that feeling has persisted. With a significantly busier life, I no longer crave the excitement of these alternative worlds, but I still get kicks from the escapism.
For me, reading is akin to mediation. I am transported into someone else’s life and worldview, and my own nattering mind takes a backseat. Time dissolves, and I enter that much-feted sense of ‘flow’. I’ve never really taken to meditation, but give me a book and I rapidly reach a state of zen.
Since becoming a nutritional therapist, the pile of books on my bedside table has certainly taken on a new flavour. I have tomes written by doctors, nutritionists and Functional Medicine practitioners, all offering their particular brand of insight on how our diet and lifestyle impact our health. It’s fascinating stuff, but rather less relaxing. Sadly, understanding the intricacies of organic acid pathways does not make for soothing bedtime reading.
It’s for that reason that I’ve recently been reacquainting myself with non-nutrition books! Fiction provides the best escapism, but there’s nothing like non-fiction for giving you a good…well…reality-check.
One of the most impactful books I’ve read lately is Edith Eger’s The Choice. Edith, a Hungarian Jew, was sent to Auschwitz in 1944 at the age of 16. Her book chronicles not only that time—including an incident where she was forced to dance for Josef Mengele—but also how she attempted to rebuild her life in the years following the war.
My word, it’s humbling stuff. It’s all the more powerful because, although clearly a wise woman, Eger does not pitch herself as a sage. She speaks openly about her struggles, both profound and mundane, and how she wrestles with the guilt of her survival and the deep sense that she is not enough.
She is now an internationally acclaimed psychologist, so she has both remarkable self-insight and a way of speaking directly to the reader’s consciousness. She unpacks her own issues in such a way that you start reflecting on your own life, and how your own beliefs inform your actions.
It almost feels trite to call this book a treat, because it’s far more than a pleasurable reading experience. Research suggests that reading makes people compassionate—The Choice does this, and then some. If, like me, you enjoy books that take you out of yourself, stretch your mind a little, and maybe make you feel even more grateful for your own life, then it’s worth picking this up.
Even as a nutritional therapist, I recognise that health is so much more than good nutrition. What you eat is, of course, important, but so are many other factors, including how much you move, how much you relax, how connected you feel, and whether you identify with a sense of purpose.
The Choice will encourage you to think about all of these. I no longer have to squirrel away torches, but this book kept my reading well past my bedtime—and I’m glad.
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