50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food

“A thoughtful volume filled with practical solutions for emotional eaters everywhere.”

—Madelyn H. Fernstrom, Ph.D., CNS, founding director of UPMC Weight Management Center, professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

“Albers’s soup-to-nuts list of creative, accessible, self-soothing tips will undoubtedly help anyone who has struggled with dieting, food, or body image. Beyond that, her exercises in mindfulness, deep breathing, and journaling are top-notch tools for finding balance in life overall.”

—Leslie Goldman, author of
Locker Room Diaries

“Albers has done it again!
50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food
makes complex psychological concepts simple and accessible. I highly recommend you buy this book if you have ever turned to food for comfort and want to learn a new way of coping.”

—Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, LMHC, CPCC, coauthor of
Weight Wisdom
and founder of KBK Connections, Inc.

“You don’t have to be worried about your waistline to reap life-changing benefits from Albers’s easy-to-follow guidance. Reading this little book will boost your mood, reduce stress, and provide soothing alternatives to that next dessert! I highly recommend it.”

—Amy Weintraub, author of
Yoga for Depression
and director of the LifeForce Yoga Healing Institute

Publisher’s Note

This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering psychological, financial, legal, or other professional services. If expert assistance or counseling is needed, the services of a competent professional should be sought.

Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books

Copyright © 2009 by Susan Albers

New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

5674 Shattuck Avenue

Oakland, CA 94609

www.newharbinger.com

Cover design by Amy Shoup; Cover illustration by Sara Christian;

Text design by Amy Shoup and Michele Waters-Kermes;

Acquired by Catharine Sutker; Edited by Kayla Sussell

All Rights Reserved

Epub ISBN: 978-1-60882-118-1

The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as:

Albers, Susan, Psy.D.

50 ways to soothe yourself without food / Susan Albers.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references.

ISBN-13: 978-1-57224-676-8 (pbk. : alk. paper)

ISBN-10: 1-57224-676-6 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Compulsive eating. 2. Food habits--Psychological aspects. 3. Meditation--Therapeutic use. I. Title. II. Title: Fifty ways to soothe yourself without food.

RC552.C65A43 2009

616.85’26--dc22

2009023473

To Brookie,

May you be blessed with patience and fortitude.

Contents

acknowledgments

introduction

1 why is eating so soothing?

2 how to get started

3 mindful meditation techniques

1. creating mindful moments

2. the practice of meditating

3. breathe your way to inner calm

4. strengthen your endurance to counter stress eating

5. letting go

6. setting the inner critic straight

7. calmness, be right here, right now

8. mindful spiritual moments

9. virtual bliss

10. ending hide-and-seek feelings

4 change your thoughts, change your eating

11. journaling to boost your mental health immunity

12. ha-ha moments

13. when you feel empty, choose feeling that your glass is half full

14. daydreaming the blues away

15. worry mindfully

16. zone out mindfully

17. the Scarlett O’Hara approach

18. finding your security blanket

19. soothing affirmations

20. from Ms. Perfectionist to Ms. Realistic

5 soothing sensations to calm and relax the body

21. pampering your senses

22. soothing scents to rejuvenate yourself

23. yoga 101

24. sweating at the life gym

25. sleep on it

26. soak away stress

27. cleaning out the urge to eat

28. turn off the carnival in your head

29. self-hypnosis

30. be your own masseuse

6 soothing yourself with distractions

31. emotional Band-Aids

32. shop, drop, and roll

33. brain candy

34. knit it out

35. make a bucket list

36. crafty ways to self-soothe

37. exploring cyberspace

38. meditative music

39. weeding out the urge to eat

40. mini mental challenges

7 soothing yourself with social relationships

41. the buddy system

42. join the blogosphere

43. helpful ways to vent

44. when you are all alone with a quart of ice cream

45. your furry friend and unconditional love

46. stepping into someone else’s shoes

47. blockers for boredom eating

48. healing touch

49. volunteer yourself

50. connecting even when you want to crawl under the covers

8 soothing emergency help

references

biography

acknowledgments

As always, I must thank my clients, readers of the Eating Mindfully series, and friends who generously shared their strategies and tips for soothing themselves without food. Their stories always inspire me to keep working on finding ways to help ease the suffering caused by eating problems. It is my sincere hope that you will gain some useful strategies for comforting and nurturing yourself from reading this book.

My gratitude to the people who soothe me best: John Bowling, Brooklyn Bowling, Dr. Victoria Gould, Jane Lindquist Lesniewski, Betsy Beyer Swope, Dr. Jason Greif, Eric Lingenfelter, Dr. Angela Albers, Linda Serotta, Carmela and Dr. Thomas Albers, and John, Rhonda, and Jim Bowling.

This book would not be possible without the editors and staff at New Harbinger Publications. A special thank you to Catharine Sutker and Kayla Sussell.

introduction

On days like today, I could eat everything that isn’t nailed down. I find myself sneaking into the kitchen after getting both kids to bed. I rummage through the refrigerator for something to eat. I justify my nibbling by telling myself that after such a hard day, I deserve something satisfying. Munching makes me feel good. It’s instant bliss. I forget about all my chores and stress. And after all the leftovers are gone, I still feel like I need something else. So I open up a box of cookies. I can’t stop eating them until I am way passed stuffed. Why does eating feel so good in the moment, and then I feel so much worse than when I started?

—Rachel

Does this sound familiar? When Rachel needs comfort, she needs it now! A nagging boss, demanding kids, and never-ending housework all seem to vanish for a moment—just as long as she is eating. Munching on potato chips provides a seductive moment of calming and soothing. But just a few minutes after she swallows the last morsel, the soothing effect vanishes and she is filled with regret and guilt. Rachel’s relationship with food sums up the way most emotional eaters feel, sometimes on a daily basis. Eating has an amazingly contradictory power. It can relax and calm your nerves, while at the same time, it can drive you crazy.

When you eat to soothe yourself, it is generally what most of us call stress eating or emotional eating. These terms describe the times you eat specifically to calm down, numb out, or elevate, prolong, lessen, or avoid your feelings. Notice, however, that emotional eating and stress eating are different.
Stress eating
means consuming food in response to feeling overwhelmed or upset.
Emotional eating
includes eating done not to relieve hunger, but in response to any kind of feeling, even pleasant ones like joy and surprise. Yes, it’s true. Even good feelings can lead to overeating. Sometimes you eat because it makes you feel good and you don’t want that feeling to stop. In Rachel’s case, just about any kind of demand on her time prompted her to eat for emotional reasons.

Rachel’s emotional eating was becoming a problem. The same cycle was repeating over and over again. Stress. Need comfort. Need to eat. Feel relief. Feel good. Positive feeling fades. Feel guilt. Need soothing. More stress about guilt and weight gain. Begin cycle again. Although eating provided a temporary emotional patch, the major downside was that she was gaining weight. She hated stepping on the scale, because every time she weighed herself the numbers seemed to go up. It didn’t matter whether she was experiencing a major or a minor stress. Each time she felt stressed, she went straight to food for a quick pick-me-up. Rachel couldn’t understand why she continually sought food for comfort when it caused her so much distress about her weight. It just didn’t make sense.

This book explains why people like Rachel—and like you—fall into the trap of eating to soothe yourselves. It covers some of the reasons that make emotional eating so seductive and comforting. As you read, you’ll be taking a closer look at your emotional eating for the purpose of conquering it. You’ll also learn some practical solutions.

Essentially, if you eliminate eating as your main source of comfort, you have to find something helpful to put in its place. In this book, there are over fifty tips and techniques for doing just that. The initial techniques and tips are based on the concept of mindfulness, which is a clinically sound way to calm and soothe both your body and your mind. You will also learn mindful coping skills that will help you to better regulate your emotions. To put it simply,
mindfulness
is the state of awareness. When you are truly aware of what you are feeling and approach your feelings with a nonjudgmental attitude, you can find healthy ways to deal with whatever kind of discomfort you might be trying to numb out with food. Say good-bye to comfort foods and hello to using your mind and body to cope with emotional eating.

my background

As you read this book, you’ll notice that I refer to the clients I work with in my psychotherapy practice. I am a clinical psychologist who was trained at the University of Denver and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University. Over the last ten years, I have focused on treating clients who are struggling with dieting, body image, anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder. Many of the examples that I use in this book are adapted from my clients’ experiences and stories.

the mystery of emotional eating

I am sad, I eat. 

I am irritated with my mother, I eat. 

I am frustrated with myself, I eat. 

I am happy about my new apartment, I eat.

—Melanie

Many eating problems aren’t really about food. They are about self-soothing.
Self-soothing techniques
are methods to calm and relax your body and mind, as well as soothe your nerves. They are the actions you take every day to calm yourself down. The absence of self-soothing techniques is why many diet books help people only up to a certain point. Too often, they don’t help their readers lose weight in the first place. Then if the weight is lost, they don’t tell their readers how to keep it off over the long term. Diet books address only what you eat. They guide you to make nutritional changes. But far too often they don’t cover the reason why you consume too much food.

Sometimes it isn’t about what you eat during meals. Your weight gain may be due to the extra calories that come from stress or emotional eating. Unfortunately, diet books seldom tell you how to replace food with other comforting and pleasurable substitutes. Nor do they provide practical and realistic examples of how to deal effectively with emotional eating. Without these elements, managing your weight becomes nearly impossible.

Many people have been taught very ineffective ways to self-soothe from an early age. These ways are mainly about finding an escape parachute to avoid whatever is bothering you. The message is distract yourself, focus on things that feel good, or entertain yourself. Typically, self-soothing means turning to food, TV, gambling, alcohol, work, the Internet, or drugs. For a short time, these activities can take the edge off feeling stressed. In the long run, however, they are temporary solutions that actually can become the problem, even an addiction.

Stress eating, which initially may have helped you cope with feeling frazzled, can evolve into the problem of binge eating and become the source of your distress rather than the comfort that eases your distress. Many people have a very low tolerance for distress. The moment they begin to feel uncomfortable, they look for anything to get rid of that feeling. Quick! However, what is really needed is a solid way to cope with and endure these uncomfortable feelings.

Every day, people find lots of different ways to soothe themselves. Some are helpful and some are not. Activities like exercising, taking a nap, or calling a friend are healthy behaviors for unwinding after a stressful day. Other ways are not good for you and may damage your health and relationships. In fact, some self-soothing behaviors can even be harmful in the long run, like playing games on the computer for hours or numbing yourself out with alcohol. Some of the many ways that people soothe themselves with food are discussed below.

examples of self-soothing with food

This list will provide you with some indications that you may be using food to work through your feelings. This is not an exhaustive list but only some common examples of behaviors that people engage in when using food to deal with stress:

  • Eating puts you into a trancelike state or numbs you out.
  • Chewing and munching on something feel good.
  • Grazing (eating when you aren’t hungry, but you can’t stop yourself) numbs you.
  • Cravings start up from feeling any emotion, whether positive or negative.
  • Searching for something to eat, but not being able to find something satisfying.
  • Continuing to eat because you can’t determine or find what it is that you want to eat.
  • Continuing to eat even when it feels like it will never be enough.
  • Experiencing a great sense of relief while you are eating.
  • Feeling an intense need for something good tasting inside your mouth.
  • Experiencing every emotion as hunger. (This makes it hard to know what you are really feeling.)
  • Eating as a way to relax.
  • Eating immediately after a stressful event or when you are nervous.
  • Making the connection and saying, “I’m only eating this candy bar because I am so stressed-out.”
  • Eating foods you don’t even like because they are there and you need comfort.
  • Eating to stave off boredom.
  • Feeling emotionally empty most of the time despite being well-fed physically.
  • Seeking a particular kind of food like, chocolate, because it seems to change your mood.
  • Preparing or buying treats so that you’ll have them just in case you’ll “need” them.
  • Tending to overeat at important or stressful events like family reunions and business meetings.
  • Eating leads to guilt when you do it for soothing rather than to stop physical hunger.
who is this book for?

This is a great book for all types of emotional eaters. If you use food to soothe yourself, it is truly worth your time to read through all the chapters and try the techniques. We’ve all experienced emotional eating at one time or another. Men, women, teens, adults—just about everyone uses food to regulate their emotions to some degree. This includes normal eaters (people who don’t have eating issues), as well as dieters and those with eating disorders (Macht 2008; Spoor et al. 2007).

For some people, emotional eating is a minor issue. It is done only on rare occasions and in little ways. Gobbling a chocolate brownie to deal with a particularly bad case of PMS symptoms is a good example. Munching nervously on popcorn during a scary movie is another. Even gorging yourself on ice cream after a stressful day can be an acceptable indulgence. Giving yourself this kind of comfort might not be a big deal in the grand scheme of things. But you want to be very cautious that it doesn’t become a habit. Nor do you want eating chocolate to be the only method you turn to for soothing each time you have PMS or a bad day. There are other effective options like taking a hot bath, exercising, or meditating. These methods address the problem of stress more directly and don’t make you feel guilty or leave you wanting to beat yourself up later for using them.

For many other people, however, eating to self-soothe is a daily, chronic struggle. They do it so often that they become trapped in a vicious cycle they can’t break out of. If you have chronic issues with eating or using food to tranquilize yourself, you might have binge-eating disorder or another eating disorder.

In general,
binge-eating disorder
is characterized by frequent and repeated overeating to alleviate stress or other negative feelings. This disorder may be present when your primary means of coping is to eat, and it is not just something you do now and then. You may feel that eating takes up most of your time and energy. You also may feel that your life revolves around eating to the point that it has become difficult to carry out your daily routine.

If you suspect that you have some of the symptoms of binge-eating disorder (or any other eating disorder), it would be to your benefit to obtain additional support and treatment from a mental health professional and a physician to make sure that you are adequately addressing the issue. Reading this book is a great first step, but it’s important to get the right kind of treatment as well.

Picking up this book is a fantastic first move. You have just begun a new chapter in your life. You’ve begun to explore healthy ways to deal with the stress in your life. Keep in mind that it isn’t easy to give up food as a source of comfort. It will take time.

gender issues

Although many of the examples in this book are geared toward women, the tips to be found in it apply to all emotional eaters whether they are male or female. If you are a man who is reading this book, you can extrapolate from the examples and tailor the techniques to fit your lifestyle. For example, if you don’t enjoy gardening, perhaps you might notice that fishing provides similar benefits to those listed under this technique—it gets you outside and puts you in a relaxed state.

It is also important to point out that this book has many examples and quotes from people coping with overeating problems. However, undereating and restrictive eating habits are also linked to deficits in self-soothing. So if you use restrictive eating to calm yourself or to feel in control of your emotions, consider using these healthy coping mechanisms instead.

five helpful ways to soothe yourself

The fifty soothing techniques in this book are grouped into five major skill areas: mindfulness techniques, strategies to change your thoughts, strategies to calm your body, finding distractions, and gaining support. After you learn about the concept of self-soothing in this introduction and
chapter 1
, you will learn how to get started in
chapter 2
. Then you will read about the basic principles of mindfulness in
chapter 3
. Here is a brief description of what this book holds in store for you.

Mindfulness Meditation Techniques

Mindfulness
is defined as being keenly aware of what you are feeling and thinking in the moment, in an open and accepting way. It is both an experience and an attitude. The concept is over twenty-five hundred years old and is still used in modern therapies and healing practices. Mindfulness techniques are well researched and clinically proven to have healing properties for the mind and body (Baer 2003; Proulx 2008; Shapiro et al. 2008). The techniques teach people how to tolerate distress rather than avoid it.

In
chapter 3
, you will learn how to adopt a mindful attitude of awareness. Modern life is so busy that many people go through their days zoned out, unaware of many of the feelings that lead them to eat for emotional reasons. When you are mindful, you tune in to your mind and body. You can calm your emotions through compassionate inner self-talk, meditation, and breathing exercises.

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