And here we are, the third installment of the series. While exploring unconventional books to read when grieving, I realized that the landscape is endless. With addiction and creativity covered, the behemoth issue of health is certainly top of mind.

I dove into this third book, Change Your Brain, Chain Your Body, by Dr. Daniel G. Amen, feeling admittedly cocky. I read another one of his books, The Brain in Love, and felt comfortable that I understood the brain and its impact on my life. I also remembered fairing quite well in the assessment regarding my emotional intelligence.

But like my father always says, “We humans tend to think we are a lot smarter than we actually are.” He used to say this in reference to my mother’s perceptive nature, because she always called him out on obvious assumptions he missed.

Sometimes the best advice is in fact obvious, whether we want to admit it or not. I live a healthy life because of my mother. She always emphasized the importance of diet and exercise. I distinctly remember clutching her hand a week before she died. She leaned in and said, “Promise me you’ll take good care of yourself. Stay active and eat well.” My mother went on to say that even though she had a great diet, she did not exercise much, a powerful reminder to go after the whole package instead of hand picking the healthy habits we prefer over the ones we want to avoid.

When I cracked open this book, I thought I would pick up some helpful tips to share on Open to Hope. I arrogantly thought that I was a saint: I am a healthy weight, have a regular exercise regimen, and a diet that often includes vegetables and never includes processed foods. My glowing hallow started to flicker before I finished the introduction, which is only 12 pages long.

I found myself feverously taking notes in an attempt to quote the entire book for this article; however, it’s about 300 pages so I came up with an alternative.

Here is the excerpt that really kicked me off my perch:

“Take a close look at yourself in the mirror. If your skin seems dry, you reach for the moisturizer. Spot a pimple and you dab it with a bit of acne medication. Notice a few split ends and you call the hairdresser for a haircut. If you live in Newport Beach and you detect a few wrinkles, you call a doctor and make an appointment for Botox.”

Dr. Amen acutely calls us out on looking for quick fixes instead of addressing the cause. I will admit, I go straight for the third cup of coffee if I am feeling sluggish. Dr. Amen thinks these Band-Aid approaches to our health are self-destructive and keep us from living our lives to the fullest.

In Change your Brain, Change your Body, he guides the reader to identify certain behaviors and suggests healthy habits and natural means to improve each condition, while clarifying how different we all are. In other words, we all need unique remedies.

Everyone is on the same page about “healthy,” in that we all know it’s something to strive for. We all want to live happy, healthy, and active lives. But as Dr. Amen mentions, dealing with hardship is difficult and even next to impossible if you’re not healthy. Grieving is daunting in and of itself; adding diet fads or poor habits to such an arduous battle only makes the process harder.

As an alternative, this book offers something other health and diet books don’t: the science and the hope. Dr. Amen doesn’t point fingers. He shares his own bouts of unhealthy behaviors while releasing us from our guilt. He vehemently shoots down the idea that diet and health is a game of laziness versus willpower. It’s simply about education. When you know your brain, you are equipped to identify your behaviors, like cravings and negative thoughts, and correct them.

As a clinical neuroscientist, psychiatrist, and brain-imaging expert, Dr. Amen writes the facts without the fluff in very approachable language, considering he’s talking something as complex as brain scans. Knowledge is indeed power with this book. Once I read it, I couldn’t believe I’d been walking around so ignorant of my most important and essential organ.

Change Your Brain, Change Your Body can be found here:

Lauren Muscarella

Lauren started the blog Mama Quest in May 2010 to share stories of her journey through loss after losing her mother in 2006 at age 20. The blog also serves as an outlet to pass on the wisdom she received from her mother, who died of breast cancer at 52. After an overwhelmingly positive response to the blog, she launched Trauma to Art, a movement to support and facilitate creative expression from those who have experienced loss. Now Lauren works to build the Trauma to Art community while writing a book of creative arts therapy activities for confronting grief as well as preserving the memory of lost loved ones. In her spare time, Lauren enjoys volunteering, traveling, wine tasting, and learning to speak French.

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