Self-improvement: Discovering Martha Beck

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New York Times best-selling author Martha Beck is a life coach. She has a doctorate (several degrees, actually) from Harvard University, where she deviated from the typical career path of psychotherapist to the ahead-of-the-curve occupation of life coach – the difference being that therapists tend to treat people with disorders, whereas a life coach tends to treat healthy people who just want to make their lives better.

I discovered her quirky, somewhat irreverent approach to life improvement in the pages of O Magazine (“O” is for Oprah, of course). I wanted to read more, so I bought a few of her books. (OK, truthfully, I bought them all.) I haven’t read them all yet, but the two diet books I have read, “The Joy Diet” (Crown, 2003) and “The Four Day Win” (Rodale, 2007), were so surprising and deeply funny that I felt compelled to talk about them to anyone who would listen.

Beck mimics our inner voice – “Why are you so damn fat?” – and plots a course to change that dialogue. Unlike most diet books that promote an eating (or not eating) plan, Beck’s approach is to leave that part up to the individual. Her value-add is providing insight and exercises (the mental kind) that help the reader understand and internalize the change.

Instead of further depleting an already-deprived and often self-loathing dieter, she actually adds helpful information to make success more likely, with quite a few laughs and self-deprecating personal examples along the way. She has been to diet hell, and returned to suggest a better path.

The Beck backstory is very interesting. She grew up as the daughter of a Mormon scholar. She earned her undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University, where she met and married her then-husband, John Beck, and later earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Harvard. She and John returned to teach at BYU to be closer to their family after the birth of their second child, Adam, who was born with Down syndrome. They both ultimately separated from the Mormon Church in 1993 after Martha publically stated that her well-respected father had sexually abused her as a child.

Then, in 2004, she and her husband divorced (after parenting three children) and both came out publically as gay. She now lives with a partner in Arizona, where she continues to write and is a partner in NorthStar Inc., a life coaching, consulting and seminar company.

Her life story so far (she’s only 50 years old) reads like a soap opera, and yet her writing is positive, practical and downright inspiring. Despite the fact that she has been severely judged and found wanting, the heart of her message is that change happens through love and compassion – for ourselves and others.

So, when you’re getting that chubby feeling after the holidays – and tempted to say to yourself, “Why are you so damn fat?” – you might seek out Martha’s compelling answer: “(I)t is not in our refrigerators, our restaurants, our mouths, our stomachs, our weak wills, or our basically vile and godless natures. It’s in our heads.” I’m just saying … “changing your mind” can have a whole new meaning.

Sharon Lennox-Infante, contributing editor for Book Buzz, is a Los Altos resident.

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