The Joy Choice by Michelle Segar, PhD

Finally, a fresh and insightful perspective on how to make health behavior changes that will stick!


I read this book because I got so much value from Dr. Michelle Segar’s previous book, No Sweat. That book focused on how to strengthen your motivation for physical activity specifically by shifting your mindset about it. Before I read that book, I was a miserable gym rat who didn’t really like my workout routine but felt like I had to keep it up to maintain my weight as I got older. Through the many interactive exercises and helpful client stories, I was able to identify a whole new way to approach physical activity. I’ve transformed my exercise habits and have been able to sustain an active lifestyle that I like so much that I get creative about keeping it up while I’m on vacation. I picked up The Joy Choice because it specifically addresses how to sustain healthy eating behaviors and that is an area I still struggle with.


Like many books, The Joy Choice begins with contextualizing the reason for the book. In this case, the issue is why sustainable behavior change is so difficult for many people to achieve. In the first three chapters, Dr. Segar walks the reader through a conversational overview of major thinking in behavior change sciences and reveals why traditional thinking and approaches are not as helpful for complex behaviors like physical activity and healthy eating. The next four chapters focus on four key disruptors to our best healthy living intentions: temptation, rebellion, accommodation, and perfection. She then presents the solution: making the imperfect choice which she calls “the joy choice.” The remaining chapters help the reader apply the joy choice to real world situations, providing additional concepts to support decision making about the best imperfect choice that one can make in the face of the four disruptors. There is also a very practical and fun decision tool called “POP” and guidance on how to use it. The closing chapter ties it all up in a neat review and the appendices support individual and health professional use and application.


There are many things that made the book helpful to a well-being professional and healthy living enthusiast like me. First, the book is grounded in science, which immediately brings credibility as well as demonstration from theory and research that the practical applications will actually work. As she did for No Sweat, Dr. Segar does a brilliant job of explaining sometimes challenging research concepts in a way that non-researchers can understand. The use of real-life case scenarios from her work with clients is especially illuminating. And like No Sweat, there are a lot of practical self-reflection exercises and tools to help apply the learning to your own life.


The book helped me to identify my most common challenges or traps that get in the way of executing my healthy eating plan. Using the practical tools, I could readily name examples of how temptation, resistance, accommodation, and perfectionism kept me from making healthier choices. Even more helpful was the “POP” solution described in the book to help identify ways to make better choices in the thick of everyday challenges.


There are few qualifiers to my enthusiasm for this book, save one. This book does not provide readers with specific advice on a healthy eating or an exercise plan. Instead, it focuses on how to get creative, and problem solve so you are more likely to make healthier choices aligned with the specific eating or exercise goals that you have. Readers looking for specific advice on a healthy eating or exercise plan will want to look for a different book.


That qualifier aside, this book is written in a way that provides ready application for a diversity of readers. Anyone struggling to sustain healthy behaviors (especially eating or exercise) will benefit from this book if they take the time to work through the self-reflection exercises and practice applying the “POP” technique in their life. This book would also be helpful reading for professionals who are working with others to support their healthy living goals (e.g., wellness coaches, personal trainers, health care providers, etc.)


In conclusion, The Joy Choice provides a fresh perspective on how to sustain healthy eating and exercise amid our demanding lives. It would be a terrific book club for health professionals as well as for health-minded everyday people.