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Book Review – Mindful Emotional Eating

The title of Pavel G. Somov’s new book, Mindful Emotional Eating: Mindfulness Skills to Control Carvings, Eating in Moderation and Optimize Coping, provides a new slant to emotional eating. What if it’s not a bad thing to do? What if it’s a natural response to a stressful life? What if we could enhance emotional eating by doing it mindfully without guilt and perhaps, therefore, eat less? This may be a radical idea for many of you.

This book focuses on harm reduction, the hurt done to body and mind from out-of-control emotional eating. It is written for eating disorder clinicians and their clients and has something for each audience. Disregulated eaters learn that self-loathing and guilt drive binge-eating, and that the only true path to stopping binges is self-acceptance. Somov distinguishes between mindful and mindless bingeing. We may consciously choose to have a nibble of this or a nosh of that after a tough day or week or for other reasons, whereas binge-eating is done without thought or body connection. He runs through the gamut of emotions which drive us toward food and offers a useful protocol for dealing with them. Much of what Somov writes is about staying connected to emotions and the experience of eating, even when it is driven by intense affect. Of course, this connection to appetite and the present makes the process more enjoyable; more importantly, it makes decreasing overeating for emotional reasons much easier.

Somov comes from a Buddhist perspective which enables him to move beyond deep breathing for relaxation, which he calls “emptying the mind.” In addition, he discusses some behaviors I admit I had never thought about as relaxing: humming, mmm-ing, toning, sighing, smelling, water drinking, touching lips, and chewing gum. He offers a description of each and their benefits. He also describes how to keep the mind awake which is exactly what helps us enjoy food, whether we’re eating for emotional reasons or not, and stop eating when food has given us the emotional release we’re after. As he points out, so often there is tremendous pleasure and real relief in the first few bites of a sweet or treat—if we could only stop there.

The idea that emotional eating is natural and normal and that emotional over-eating is the problem may be radical to many eating disorder clinicians as well as to their clients. Toward this end, Somov spends a good deal of time explaining to therapists how to “sell” this new concept to clients, that is, how to create a psychological shift which will help them see emotional eating in a different light. If you aren’t sure you’re ready to give up emotional eating but wish to do it more mindfully, this book is for you.

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