50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food: Summary and Review

After reading Intuitive Eating (check my review here), I felt a real need to do further research into the question of emotional eating. While the advice from Intuitive Eating was valuable, its conclusion on emotional eating boiled to “don’t do it.” No real directions on how to do that or on what good alternatives may be. After a bit of research, I found a book titled 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food. Score!

I finished reading that book the other day, and wanted to share my thoughts.

An Overview: Maybe This Should Have Been an Article

Honestly, I was disappointed with this book. That isn’t necessarily the book’s fault: It delivered on what its title promised and gives 50 ideas for self-soothing that aren’t connected to food. Unfortunately, these items were things like “go shopping,” “watch TV,” “take a bath,” or “browse the internet.” Many of them are things I see as new-agey pseudo science, like creating a vision board or using self-hypnosis.

I was expecting something deeper, more thoughtful, and more in the vein of confronting the root causes of emotional eating. What I found was a list of possible distractions. To me, this is the type of solution that cuts off the head of the weed but leaves the roots in tact.

The book was also clearly written for a female audience (with advice like buying lipstick). That sounds great for half of the population, but not my half of the population. So that was a minor frustration.

That’s not to say the book didn’t have anything of value. I really appreciated the pre-list ideas of why we eat emotionally—especially the fear of actually facing our emotions, and the use of food as a numbing agent. The discussion of mindfulness as a response to this felt like a substantive solution. Mindfulness in response to an urge to numb out suspends that root urge and helps us feel through our feelings, confronting them bravely.

There may have technically been 50 suggestions, but they’re the sort of thing I would expect in an online list article. And hey, this list to the web would have made for a truly great article! It just wasn’t what I was expecting from the book.

Alas, that’s about where the value ends: A few thoughts on why emotional eating might happen, a cursory glance at a couple of substantial ways to address that, and an interesting list of possible distractions.

Summary of Key Points

The book begins by discussing a few ideas about why emotional eating is such an appealing, but ultimately ineffective, response. The primary conclusion was that eating becomes a mode of numbing emotions and distracting ourselves from discomfort. This transitions nicely into a series of possible ways to employ the idea of mindfulness.

Mindfulness, in short, is increasing our self-awareness. A mindful act is one where we become more aware of our bodily sensations and our environments. Mindfulness can take a number of forms, and any activity can theoretically be done mindfully. Meditation and conscious breathing are traditional forms of mindfulness, but the book also suggests other options such as guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation.

The book then goes into a series of other suggestions. Some of these suggestions attempt to provide a solution to the numbing / distracting tendency, others are behaviors that have positive psychological benefits but aren’t directly related to the core issues of emotional eating, and others still are basically just alternative distraction options.

The categories of these suggestions are:

  • Mindfulness exercises (e.g., progressive muscle relaxation, conscious breathing, meditation, etc.)
  • Thought-changing exercises (e.g., journaling, laughing, daydreaming, affirmations, etc.)
  • Body-focused soothing techniques (e.g., get exercise, do yoga, take a nap, use self-hypnosis, etc.)
  • Distraction techniques (e.g., go shopping, try knitting, browse the internet, weed a garden, etc.)
  • Social approaches (e.g., venting to friends, joining to blogosphere, imagine what advice a good friend might give you, volunteering, etc.).

The book concludes by discussing how these ideas can be implemented, suggesting putting any of the ideas that appeal to you on slips of paper in a box. When you get the urge to eat emotionally, simply pull an idea out of the box instead. Commit to trying the idea before emotional eating. Commit to trying another. Commit to trying a third. And eventually, something will work and you won’t emotionally eat.

(Is that true? Maybe. But it doesn’t address the question of willpower: If you’re struggling to not emotionally eat, trying to do these other things instead may or may not address the core issue. Some of the solutions seem like they could do a substantial amount of good—such as journaling, calling a friend, or engaging in a mindfulness exercise to bravely face the challenging emotions that are prompting the ineffective eating behavior.)

Conclusions

This book’s discussion of emotional eating stemming from a desire to distract or numb out difficult emotions made a great deal of sense. However, most of its suggestions failed to address these root issues. While the 50 suggestions ranged from substantive to superficial, far more fell toward the superficial end of the spectrum. Some were clearly no more than alternative distraction behaviors with their own drawbacks (e.g., shopping, browsing the web, watching TV, or any of the other techniques that provide a different way to numb out rather than resolving the underlying issues).

The writing itself was middling, the content was clearly meant for women, and many of the suggestions were a bit too “new-age hippie” for my taste.

I give 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food 2.5 out of 5. I recommend it for those who feel it’s worthwhile to invest $10 into exploring a bunch of ideas for alternative distraction mechanisms and a brief, though worthwhile, discussion of the causes of emotional eating. Especially valuable for women with a new-agey attitude, as that seems to be the book’s target audience.

Here’s a link to buy the book if you think you’d like to check it out for yourself: 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food.

Take good care of yourself,

Rob

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