Healing Your Hungry Heart by Joanna Poppink is a self-help book for healing food disorders. I trust authors who have personally solved a major problem or who have achieved extraordinary success in his or her field of expertise. Luckily for us, both of these criteria are met by author/expert Joanna Poppink. Poppink was a raging bulimic for 29 years and says she’s been in recovery from bulimia for 26 years. Consequently, her life work is the study and healing of eating disorders for women. This kind of personal passion and authenticity is rare in an author, and Poppink has it. The reader is showered with Poppink’s support, love, wisdom and encouragement, and her soothing writing voice is lovely to hear. In fact, it’s one of the best features of the book.
Another excellent feature, and the one that makes Healing Your Hungry Heart worth buying, is Poppink’s practical set of tools (activities) for dealing with eating disorders. Her recommendations include daily breathing exercises, daily affirmation exercises, and daily journaling exercises as well as activities such as backtracking, forward tracking, the practice of mindfulness, setting boundaries and others. Breathing is used for grounding. Affirmations are used to focus on what’s wanted. And journaling has multiple purposes: to see thoughts more clearly, to gain understanding of what’s wanted and needed in a particular situation, and as a substitute for reaching for food or slipping into fear.
Poppink claims these exercises help women move beyond using food as a way to numb self out and to cope with unbearable feelings. The basic idea is that the more you can tolerate your own sensations and life experience, the less you need food to get through it. Exposure to Poppink’s tool ideas and healing exercises will be helpful to many. That said, the daily exercises are fairly demanding and would not appeal to someone who wants to read about eating disorders but isn’t prepared to work so hard on self.
Healing your Hungry Heart could be much improved by smarter, hipper formatting and paragraph headers that cue the reader about what’s coming up. This would make it easier to follow along and for the reader to zoom in on or return to relevant points. Poppink’s messaging doesn’t always stand out and key ideas might be skimmed over or get lost in dialogue. Direction about food, for example, appears in a couple of different places and isn’t spelled out so that an 8-year old can understand it. And why are artificial sweeteners the only substances to avoid? The rationale is never explained. Poppink does not support the theory that binge eating disorder is based on a bio-chemical addiction to sugar and processed/refined carbohydrates. In her view, eating disorders are linked to emotional/psychological dysfunction.
Poppink’s buy-in to the disease model and her reliance on addiction/recovery terminology is personally unappealing to me. I realize many people like this kind of framing, but I’m not a fan. There’s something heavy and negative about the prospect of always living under the cloud of an eating disorder and never fully healing from it. Unless you’re fishing for sympathy, special treatment or an excuse, there’s no inherent healing benefit in publicly announcing that you’re “in recovery.” Your real life demonstration of recovery is the only statement you need to make.
Another off-putting aspect is Poppink’s insistence on taking us to the dark side. She gets into a very long discussion about the dreary, unhappy thoughts and emotions she claims people with eating disorders are tormented by. This discussion did not inspire me. It did not add value. It did not educate. I would much prefer to learn how to transcend these kinds of fearful, ego-based thoughts rather than indulge them. We do, after all, get what we think about. Why dwell on the muck and make it important and real?
Poppink’s weakest, most undeveloped ideas have to do with spirituality. If you’re looking for a stronger connection to God or spiritual insight, you’ll be more satisfied looking elsewhere. She also sometimes makes some goofy but well-intended recommendations to watch movies about food, hold a teddy bear, and watch TeleTubbies cartoons.
All things considered, Healing Your Hungry Heart is a bit of a mixed bag, but it has much more going for it than not. If you’re challenged by an eating disorder, you’ll find lots of concrete, actionable ideas you can put to work right away. Recommended.