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Be Still My Eating Heart. How One Special Dessert Changed Everything

By Wendy Irvine September 02, 2023 Health and Fitness

After a lifetime of being – uh – well-insulated, I lost 55 pounds in my early 40s and have kept the pounds off for 17 years as I write. I’m currently 59. (I know you’re wondering, so, yes, I carried twins and am 10 years past meno.)

When friends ask, “How are you doing this??” their eyes would quickly glaze over as I began to explain the basics of my new habits, but – I noted – snap back to our conversation when I mention one of my very best – and most cherished – tactics ever.

One-Second Backstory

For me, the hardest time of day – food-wise – was (is, and always will be) dinner itself, of course, but what came after dinner was always a total train wreck. My chow-hound husband was forever buying junk food and supplying our kitchen like a hurricane was bearing down on our coastal Florida home (we live five hours inland in Georgia). He always kept a steady supply of cookies, ice cream, and his favorite candy (Twix, chocolate mints and the like) at the ready, should they be needed.

In the early years, I ate with abandon right along with him, and ballooned to a larger size than I’d ever before been. It’s an old story, but I went to a wedding, and later didn’t recognize the heavy woman wearing red in the photos.

Oh, shocker: it was me, and I have to tell you: while some women carry weight beautifully, I wasn’t one of them.

Soon after the photo-crisis, I had an epiphany – what AA calls “a moment of clarity” – that I simply couldn’t continue matching my husband calorie for calorie. He was over six feet tall and led a relatively active life.

I thought about shedding 220-pounds quickly by handing my Chow-Hound over to a gal who didn’t mind being chunky, but one, I didn’t think such a person actually existed and two, I wouldn’t be so heartless to saddle another woman with his habits anyhow.

So, as you know, cohabitating with a feaster, being the mother of invention, I was left no choice. I had to conjure a highly effective way of dealing with my husband’s eating style.

And there was only one thing in life that stood any chance of combating the sugary treat buffet that appeared each evening in my kitchen.

There was only one thing: a really juicy, off-the-charts, phenomenal book and I dubbed my invention “book-dessert”.

But there were two caveats to my plan: I needed to take my book-dessert upstairs to my bedroom early in the evening – say 8 p.m. – to get myself away from the TV and my old habit of grazing right along with my husband as we binged a show.

I also had to commit to the premise of an evening book-dessert and not just say, “what a cute idea” and never really plan to do it.

No, I had committed to going upstairs to brush my teeth, (maybe) shower, jump into my jams and settle into bed with my high-caloric book (clean sheets also being part of the magic).

Early on, I knew that for book-desserts to make a dent in my eating habits, the book had to be a five-star, white-tie marvel; there was no room for anything even remotely snoozy.

You’ll find that book-desserts are a game-changer. I’m on my 17th year of maintaining – what I call “preserving” – my original 55-pound loss; so, book-desserts paired with other micro-steps will take you to your preferred weight (allowing you to preserve it for a lifetime).

In the last century, we learned that motivation is no way to lose weight and preserve a loss for the long run. Willpower doesn’t work and only leads to a yo-yo dieting lifestyle.

We know now that establishing ironclad habits that will have our back for a lifetime is the only detailed map to the weight loss-treasure.

My favorite habit study out of England concluded that it takes 66 days of repeating the same behavior to store the new habit into the automatic part of brain.

All that said, I want to share with you my most beloved book-desserts I’ve read this year that are just waiting to snuggle in bed with you as our world heads into autumn, the coziest season of all.

Let’s go!

If You Want to Laugh

Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog: The Amazing Adventures of an Ordinary Woman and My Nest Isn’t Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space, bothby Lisa Scottoline and her daughter Francesca Serritella. Lisa made her mark writing mysteries which isn’t a genre I read, but her memoir books are hilarious.

Her first two non-fictions, My Nest Isn’t Empty and My Third Husband, were my favorites of her nine non-fictions. Expect: relatable and a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a successful writer (who loves animals). I especially love how Scottoline brings her character of a mother along for the ride. No doubt you’ll agree with me, her mother is a hoot.

Is This Anything? by Jerry Seinfeld. You know you’re in good hands with Jerry, but listen to the Jerry-narrated audio version to really uplevel the laughs. Fun. Nee. (Plus, Jerry is the gold-standard in the dad and husband department, and we love him for that too.)

Meaty and We Are Never Meeting in Real Life both by Samantha Irby. Hilarious memoirs, but word to the wise: if you’re squeamish about bathroom habits (Irby has Crohn’s disease) and/or funky sexual situations you may want to skip this one. Otherwise, this woman is a wonderful read because of how real she keeps it.

If You Love Thrilling Non-Fiction While Brushing Up on Your History

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson is in the top 10 favorite books of mine of all time. You see, I was devoted to my historical-husband Mr. Mark Twain for many years and never once strayed, but upon reading The Splendid and the Vile, I followed my heart to go steady with, and eventually marry my new historical-husband Winston Churchill.

Not as witty as Twain, Churchill merely saved the known world from the darkness that would have shrouded our planet had Hitler not been annihilated. Before, during and after France fell, and long before the sleeping giant awoke, Churchill was wreaking havoc for the enemy.

The author is a genius writing about a genius albeit different from his own. Larson’s research is impeccable, and I went on to read Larson’s other “good luck putting them down” books: Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History; Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania; and Thunderstruck.

Thunderstruck details how Marconi’s wireless telegraphy communication invention went hand-in-glove with England’s second most famous murder (after Jack the Ripper, but not as gory). The topic might sound dull at first blush – I mean, wireless? (yawn) – and, yes, the first one hundred pages are skimmable. But thereafter put on your seatbelt for a wild ride ending in truly astounding and totally true circumstances. My review? Mind blown.

If You Want an Absorbing Read While Learning How to Save Yourself

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why by Amanda Ripley vividly shares with us how human beings react in a disaster. Think about it: how would you react in the face of a plane crash, a fire, or falling off a cruise ship?

In a page turner of a book, Ripley shares with us the various ways humans react in crisis (did you know that we can freeze), and how preparation is the first and last word on surviving an event that we’ve never before grappled with. What I learned: don’t fall off a cruise ship; always note where the exits are, and never reach for your carry-on when it’s time to bolt from the plane. My review: read this book and then gift it to loved ones.

If You’re Curious About How One Man Handles Our Food-Porn World

The Elephant in the Room One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America by Tommy Tomlinson. A former, but long-time columnist for the Charlotte Observer, Tomlinson’s memoir is a snapshot of his childhood on St Simons Island (SSI) in Geogia. This glimpse into Tomlinson’s life details being raised by two incredibly loving, engaged parents who were stymied by Tomlinson’s weight issue.

A gifted child, one of the most touching stories in Tomlinson’s memoir is when his dad – with great sorrow – tells him that the family couldn’t afford to send him to college. And I won’t spoil the rest of this memorable moment for you. Easy to read. Seriously great. Highly recommend.

If You Want a Friendly Read Leavened with a Thoughtful, Endearing Protagonist

This is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison. If your genre of choice is a really absorbing book, look no further. Seemingly a light, bouncy read about recently widowed 78-year-old Harriet Chance who goes alone on an Alaskan cruise, the story offers up serious fare as Harriet begins to take stock of her life.

Harriet Chance had me from the beginning which is one of my favorite things in a great book, and just light enough to be perfect for the beach, a flight, or snuggling into your cozy bed.

If You Loved the Kite Runner and Cutting for Stone, Check Out this Gripping Page-Turner

The plot itself hurtles like a rocket through a historical time in history that I never learned much about. Viet Thank Nguyen the author of The Sympathizer goes bananas with his ability to write the blank out of a story. I kid you not: the man can write.

Nguyen was born in Vietnam in 1971 and moved to the U.S. when Saigon fell. Today he’s an associate professor at UCLA in both the English Department and in the American Studies and Ethnicity Department, and a regular contributor to the LA Times and the New York Times.

In his spare time, he writes prize-winning novels. To list how cool this guy is would require pages upon pages. The story is about what happened after the fall of Saigon and how the refugees moved on with their lives in the U.S. An absolute don’t miss read.

If You Want the Title of the Best Book-Dessert I’ve Read All Year

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell. This true story is about a woman from Maryland who becomes one of the most feared (by the enemy) spies of World War II.

It’s clear that Purnell spent years researching and writing Virginia’s story with such finesse that you can just feel the Gestapo mere steps behind Virginia as she flees Nazi-occupied France. Also, a total must read, an ideal salve when you’re having a blue day.

To wrap it up, given that most of us have a chow-hound in our lives, it’s paramount that we match the calories with something just as formidable. Take the litmus: if you had to give up the most delectable books or dessert, which would you choose?

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you live with a scarfer? What are your favorite book genres? What do you think of book-dessert? Have you read any of the books on this list? Could you actually head to bed at 8 p.m. every night to read an amazing book? If you had to choose, would you pick books or desserts?

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What a wonderful idea. I need to lose at least 50#’s. I’ve been buying books at discount places,rummage sales, library book sales,and hospital Auxiliary Club book carts for years. I retired in 2017 at the age of 70, hoping to be able to start my reading journey. From 2011-2022 I was the caregiver for my daughter who was diagnosed with MS at the age of 20. After 6 years of marriage and with one beautiful child, her divorce became final, and they moved in with me. She died a year ago, and I am blessed that her child, who is 17 now, still lives with me. Your article has inspired me to have a new approach to reading these many books I have purchased. It’s worth a try. I hope it changes both my physical and mental health.


Some years ago I decided it was best to brush my teeth and go to bed so that I wouldn’t eat anything – I could eat double the calories I’d eaten in the day sitting in front of the TV mindlessly scoffing.

Sandra Bobelak

Great advice! It is similar to what I do now, because I too, live with a night snacker!
I love historical fiction, history, and thrillers/mysteries-but all genres are included on my lists.
Cutting for Stone was one of my favorite books. I also enjoy Erik Larson books. I will definitely check out your other recommendations.
Thank you!
Sandra B

The Author

Wendy Irvine knows the difficulty of losing and maintaining weight, post menopause. After a lifetime of struggle, she lost 55lbs. in her 40s, and maintains the loss 17 years later (she’s currently 59). For the granular how-to, please visit her website.

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