6 Books for a Better You in 2006

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So you've decided to be perfect in 2006? Andrea Sachs (a.k.a. Galley Girl) surveys the fresh crop of self-help books to get you started down the road of self-improvement in the coming year.

The Sonoma Diet by Dr. Connie Guttersen (Meredith)
Been eating since Thanksgiving like there's no tomorrow? Have no fear—the diet police have arrived. But this time, there's no weighing, no measuring, no calorie counting, and no keeping track of points. Those are the promises of the Sonoma Diet, named after Sonoma County, north of the San Francisco Bay. That region, says the author, is the idyllic home of healthy, sensuous eating, the Western Hemisphere's version of the Mediterranean diet. Gourmet portion control is the secret here. Eschew sugar and processed foods; instead, gravitate towards wholesome whole grains, good wine, luscious fruits and vegetables, and lean protein.

MOTTO: "The emphasis is not to avoid good food but to eat the best foods on the planet."

Give It Up! My Year of Learning to Live Better with Less by Mary Carlomagno (William Morrow)

Ready to simplify in 2006? As she plunked down $4.20 for a mocha grande at the local coffee shop, the author realized her life had gotten way too complicated, with too many distractions, too much stuff and too much technology. She decided that each month for a year, she would choose one of her favorite things and give it up cold turkey. Goodbye alcohol, shopping, newspapers, cell phones and chocolate; hello, awareness and enjoyment of the blessings on hand.

MOTTO: "Living better with less."

Bad Childhood, Good Life by Dr. Laura Schlessinger (HarperCollins)

Want to escape the bad effects of an unhappy childhood this year? The controversial bestselling author and radio host says that if you're wearing a scarlet "V" for victim on your chest, you'll never outrun the past. "Unfortunately, much of the popular therapeutic view and pop psych mentality has functioned," says Schlessinger, "to keep people in self-pitying, victim mode mentality, robbing them of optimism, confidence, hope, growth and change." Instead, urges the author, strive to be a victor.

MOTTO: "Those who have successfully overcome victimhood force themselves in directions they know are healthy, in spite of tremendous doubts and fears that pull them back."

The Flavor Point Diet by Dr. David L. Katz (Rodale)

Afraid that your annual promise to diet will keep you from your favorite dishes? It's not necessary to exclude any particular foods on this program, says the author, the director of the Yale Prevention Research Center. Instead, control the flavors of your food. Katz counsels that "flavor variety stimulates the appetite center in your brain, while flavor repetition soothes it." Thus, during the first four weeks of the plan, every meal and snack will share a common ingredient. Get ready, for example, for Cranberry Day, with cranberry-banana muffins for breakfast, a salad with cranberries for lunch, cranberry and onion turkey cutlets for dinner, and cranberry-vanilla ice cream for dessert.

MOTTO: "When you taste too many flavors at once, you overeat before feeling full."

The Secrets of Happily Married Men: Eight Ways to Win Your Wife's Heart Forever by Dr. Scott Haltzman (Jossey-Bass)

Determined to shore up your marriage this year? With nearly half of marriages ending in divorce, a million American men a year have the door slammed on their faces by dissatisfied wives. The author, a psychiatrist and marriage counselor, insists that many of these men can save their marriages. When men "work hard to improve their marriages by using their inborn manly skills to put their wives' needs above their own," says Haltzman, "not only do their marriages improve but they are happier and more fulfilled than at any other point in their lives. "Divorce is ugly, says the author, but not inevitable. MOTTO: "When the marriage falters, it's our job as guys, who innately hate to admit defeat, to revive it."

The Healthy Guide to Unhealthy Living: How to Survive Your Bad Habits by Dr. David J. Clayton (Simon & Schuster)

Then again, what if you decide to stick with your negative behaviors like smoking, drinking and carbo-loading? The author offers practical, safe advice for dodging the bullet as long as possible. "Many of my patients don't want to know how to live a healthy life," says Clayton. "They want to know how to live their unhealthy lives better." So the good doc instructs the reader on how to minimize the risks: Quitting smoking by the time you're 30 mitigates almost all of the damage from smoking; taking a dose of 1600 IUs of extract of prickly pear cactus before drinking will reduce your hangover; it's healthy to drop 10 lbs. in a few weeks for a wedding or beach vacation without changing your lifestyle, if you don't mind regaining most of the weight. MOTTO: "My job as a doctor is not to impose my values on my patients, but rather to learn about their own—hopefully intelligent—choices."

And if these books don't do the trick, don't forget—there's always next New Year's!