Book Review Mindful Emotional Eating; Mindfulness skills to control cravings, eat in moderation and optimize coping.

Book Review

 Pavel G. Somov- Mindful Emotional Eating; Mindfulness skills to control cravings, eat in moderation and optimize coping. (2015)

Mindful Emotional Eating


Written for both the client and the clinician this book is in 3 parts. In the first part the author describes his model of working to enable ‘Mindful Emotional Eating’ (MEE). The second is how to develop clients so they can manage situations of relapse without them becoming catastrophes, and the final part describes more specific approaches to four more common emotional eating situations.

Part 1

I was disconcerted by Somov’s style and selling technique apparent in part one. He is using this book to teach other clinicians tools to help their clients, and it initially felt like a product promotion. However, with perseverance I continued.

The tools described are based on the neuroscience as well as the philosophy of Mindfulness. Mindfulness per se is not touched on, and the readers are not expected or encouraged to seek mindfulness as a way of being.

Somov describes how each of the 4-5 sessions planned for clients should run. He outlines his rationale, starting with reframing emotional eating, as either something to do mindlessly or mindfully. Identifying that we all have, by our nature as animals, strategies to preserve our own life; and emotional eating is a harm reduction strategy.  Abstinence (aka dieting, and avoiding food) takes away emotional eating as a harm reduction strategy, leaving us exposed, and so diets are likely to fail.

Take a breath before an impulsive act

Take a breath before an impulsive act

Throughout the book he emphasises that the client’s understanding of the shift in how they approach their eating behaviours is key. Breaking down the feelings of guilt and failure which often arise when giving in to a desire to emotionally eat, and replacing then with acceptance and permission. The training is about doing emotional eating, mindfully and not mindlessly.

He provides tools to enable choice. Initially teaching relaxation, quick, bottom up relaxation, engaging physiologically with the parasympathetic nervous system, so humming or blowing out forcefully as an exhalation.

Second are skills, he describes as choice awareness training, to ‘stay awake’ for example using the wrong cutlery, different plate, wrong hand.

Thirdly, ‘craving control training’ similar to a 3-minute breath meditation although described as a river bank exercise, focusing more on the impermanence of feelings and thoughts, watching them go. During this course clients are encouraged to engage with their ‘fullness’ either physically or emotionally, and given permission to carry on if they are not ready to stop.

Part 2

This second part, in my eyes, parallels the outcomes of mindfulness, creating a space for choice, appreciating the impermanence of thoughts and promoting self-awareness/acceptance.

Self-acceptance =motivational innocence + effort acceptance’

Or the greater our awareness of what drives us to eat combined with the belief that we do our best in the moment will increase self-acceptance, and this is likely to decrease the need to emotionally eat mindlessly.

In part 2 ‘motivational innocence’ and ‘effort acceptance’ are described more fully. One interesting idea related to dieting, or being abstinent, is that our brain is using stores of glucose to provide this self-control. The more we try to control ourselves; deny impulses, the more our brain responds by sending messages that we need something sweet, an energy fix. Giving in to a sugar fix is therefore an appropriate physiological response to the work we are doing marinating resistance, we can give ourselves permission to respond in this way without guilt, making a conscious choice to have a piece of chocolate or similar. This is an empowering shift.

He describes binge eating and how it might manifest either a result of the inability to cope emotionally-striving to feel good, or as a desire to feel numb, without emotions.

Somov is realistic about the struggle people have with relapse. He describes working collaboratively, supporting clients as they are able to apply more frequently and consistently the mindfulness techniques described in Part 1 which bring clients into the moment, encourage space between the feeling and the impulse and allow for self-acceptance, if in that moment, their effort was not what they had hoped for.

He finishes part 2 with information about Eastern traditions and philosophies about eating, including the extremes of Jainism, achieving the state of Santhara, fasting to the point of death.

Part 3

Finally, Somov provides some useful interpretations to manage emotional eating for boredom and emptiness, sadness and grief, anger and fear, and stress. Helping clients understand at a fundamental level what these emotions represent and how food is providing a ‘harm reduction’ strategy, and learning to eat mindfully rather than mindlessly.

In summary

This book grew on me as I began to see how mindfulness was being used in a genuine way to help clients move from mindless eating to mindful eating. I would recommend it to health professionals wanting to engage with clients in a real, humanistic way. This book is not about losing weight. If you have an issue with emotional eating this book will help, however, agreeing with the author, I would strongly recommend having the support of a buddy.

Of Interest

Ruby Wax: A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled

Eating Disorders-Do you recognise physiological hunger

Book Review: A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled by Ruby Wax

A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled

Book Review

Ruby Wax- A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled

Ruby Wax is known to me firstly as a comedian and more recently a Master of Mindfulness based cognitive therapy. It is because of the latter and her potential to reach the masses that I wanted to review her book, to help others decide whether it is a worthwhile read and me whether to stock it in my client library.

She writes with an easy style and you are soon drawn into the ideas of mindfulness. She is keen to teach the physiology of the brain (neuroscience) to help us understand that our behaviours and emotions are natural animal responses to the need to stay alive. The evolution of the brain is described very simply. She switches from humour to personal experience to science and back again. This might be engaging for some and keeps those not interested in the science bits motivated to continue reading. I found the science stilted and her style more forced, she acknowledges help with these passages from the experts which I can see is reflected in the prose. The humour is nice, although I am not sure whether it is a distraction some times.

The second section of the book is about applying mindfulness and how to use mindfulness with your children. There are some simple ideas to encourage an open and non-critical relationship with our family members. She clearly speaks from experience as a mother and a daughter and highlights how things are often easier said than done. This may be interpreted as don’t bother if you think it will fail which possible undermines some of the messages she wants to put across. However the message is simpler, you cannot fail just try, but try regularly-daily.

Frazzled fron coverIn the middle of the book is a stand-alone 6-week Mindfulness programme. It introduces the reader to familiar practices of meditations, for example the Body scan and the 3-minute breath. I was introduced to a lovely one focusing on listening. The practices show how to access our body, thoughts, senses and emotions in the present, through simple exercises set out week by week. There are questions after each practice to help you notice what might have changed or been different from your usual experience.

Part way through the book Ruby puts  ‘mindfulness’ on hold and shares a  moving journey about her own sufferings that happened during the writing of ‘Frazzled’. This makes the book all the more personal, and perhaps shows in that the latter section of the book seems to me a bit less dynamic or humorous than the first.

Finally she describes a retreat she went on. Retreats I guess are a bit like having children, you really cannot know what it’s like until you have done it. Her experience is heart-warming, real, and genuine.

I would recommend this book to the curious,  to those who love Ruby, and to those with anxiety looking for help through mindfulness. It is for a secular audience not the expert, although she does list her references and resources for those interested.

It does not touch on the spiritual or loving aspects of mindfulness these are more associated with Buddhism, and neither to does it claim to. To conclude  this is an easy read for those looking for an introduction to Mindfulness.

A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled by Ruby Wax

Mindfulness meditation for novices-Part 3 ‘The mindfulness muscle’-it needs to be exercised!


I have been committed to mindfulness for a while. I love mindfulness, its simplicity, its obvious common sense and the fact it challenges the divergence of science and spirituality.  I have an insight into its works at a physiological level and a belief in its value to all. My bookcase is beginning to fill. My enthusiasm for spreading the word continues to grow. And yet over a 3 week period my formal practice stopped, I no longer found 15 minutes to meditate each day.

Mindfulness is simple yet hard to do.

The Consequences of Not Exercising the Mindfulness Muscle

I have excuses I can share, but the truth is I had prioritised other things over meditating. I still carried out activities that were mindful but not necessarily with mindfulness being the intention.

In hindsight I can see that over those few weeks my emotions gained power at the expense of being in the world. I was not settled to work. I had forgotten things and not focused on the things that make me happy. I had become less able to be content. I returned to a state of frustration: frustrated with politics, poverty, the media and people. But I hadn’t seen it happening. I had slipped into old habits. I had kidded myself that by knowing the usefulness of being present in the moment, and by noticing thoughts, this was enough.

It was a simple statement from a friend which triggered a ‘non-mindful’ response, which made me feel the past was repeating on me, that I was forever in a cycle of failure, that I had no control, I was quickly pulled into the past which nearly became reality. The emotions this evoked brought back their own memories which were painful, and it hit home; I had allowed one simple statement power over the present moment.  My ‘mindfulness muscle’ had grown weak through lack of exercise and was no longer able to keep me in the now, the past had hooked me in. My mindfulness muscle had lost its strength, my judgements had led to emotional overload and I was on the way to disaster. I was tearful, irrational and had catastrophized the situation.

The Importance of Regular Exercise

It was in the late 1990’s that I went for my first run. I managed a couple of minutes. I completed my first triathlon in 2002. I was enjoying exercising 5-6 times a week. It was sustainable, and I was fit and healthy. In 2009 I had a very rare leukaemia (acute promyelocytic leukaemia, APML). I tried exercising in hospital but had no will power or energy, and my routine slowly vanished. I ended up not exercising for 6 months. I have not run more than 3 km since despite being totally fit and healthy, I swim and do spinning classes every week. My running muscles have not been exercised and I no longer call myself a runner.  I have run about 6 times since 2009, my muscles know what to do but have no stamina for running. Yet I am fit.

The Mindfulness Muscle

My experience with mindfulness has been the same. It improves with exercising, some days go well, some days don’t but the muscles have been worked. They have been used and not allowed to degenerate. Sometimes exercising can feel hard work but 99% of the time the value is experienced immediately. It is important to exercise the appropriate muscles to develop the specific skill. I had half believed reading about mindfulness would make me mindful, it improves knowledge, motivation, understanding but reading does not specifically stimulate the neurological changes that meditation does. Mindfulness is not only about meditating;  exercising the brain, other ‘flow activities’ provide peace for the brain; where thoughts are not judged, and attention is given to current experience. The comparison continues with exercise, all exercise will impact on fitness, but you cannot improve an individual muscle without using it.

I have noticed several articles that describe practicing mindfulness as like exercising a muscle. I had no appreciation of how true that was until now. Knowing the theory, understanding the principles and acknowledging its efficacy seem to be no substitute for putting in the practice on a daily basis. Building up the new neurological pathways and dismantling the old ones is a continual process. Many of you interested in building muscle will have heard the saying ‘if you don’t use it you’ll lose it’ thus is true for Mindfulness too.

What Exercises Can Be Done?

Flow activities

Formal meditation seems to be the key, and a near daily habit is important but this can vary from a few minutes to a lot longer. I am getting a sense that trying to have a regular meditation of 20 minutes is optimum. I continue to enjoy the Headspace app., but there are others

The ways to be mindful are endless. The key is doing something with full awareness in the present. These might be referred to as ‘flow activities’. Adult colouring has become a trend, but anything that absorbs your attention works. This can be as mundane as washing up or as productive as writing a blog! My understanding is that flow activities focus your attention in the present, whilst letting go of expectations or rules for how things should be.

The Mindfulness Project have written ‘I am here now’- A creative guide and Journal’ offering exercises and ways to think positively to notice and enjoy the present moment.

The subtleties of the mindfulness muscle continue to amaze me. Since restarting meditation, it took only 4 days to notice a change in my attitude to work and relationships. I hope your mindfulness journey is going well, and you can overcome the blips.

You may also be interested in:

Mindfulness meditation for Novices: Sharing personal Experience- Part 1

Mindfulness meditation for Novices: Sharing personal experience- Part 2

Thoughts and Anxiety-Using Psychotherapy and Mindfulness to alleviate fretful thinking