It’s Time We “Legalize” Emotional Eating


Mindful Emotional Eating (MEE) has been nearly a taboo both in self- help and clinical literature on emotional eating. I first wrote about mindful emotional eating in Eating the Moment in 2008 and have had a chance to pilot this material clinically in my practice and through a series of workshops for mental health professionals.

My experience reveals that while the idea of mindful emotional eating makes a lot of sense to my clients, surprisingly, the mental health professionals often bristle with objections, barricading behind the all-or-nothing belief that any emotional eating is self- destructive and to be avoided at all costs. These clinicians say that they are afraid to “enable” their clients. By that they mean that they don’t want to “join in” or “to collude” in the “clearly self-destructive” behavior of emotional eating. Not so: emotional eating is not self-destructive. Emotional eating is self-care. Dare to “enable” your client’s self-care.

A humanistic clinician operates on the following two assumptions:

• He/she takes it as a given that we are always pursuing wellbeing; I call this “motivational innocence.”

• He/she takes it as a given that we are always doing our coping best (even if it doesn’t seem so to an uninformed mind of an observer). I call this “ordinary perfection.”

With this in mind, a humanistic clinician doesn’t believe in self-destructive behavior. All behavior is seen as a motivationally innocent attempt at self-regulation, i.e. as homeostatic. A humanistic clinician’s role is not to uninstall the coping that already works somewhat but to help upgrade clients’ coping software, to help clients optimize their coping.

Self-destructiveness is a psychological myth. The method I that use in my practice and propose in my new book, Mindful Emotional Eating, is a direct challenge to the all-too-common clinical position that pathologizes emotional eating and offers emotional eaters nothing more than a psychological diet of abstinence from emotional eating. More than ever before, I am convinced that as a culture and a civilization we have to begin to re-integrate emotional eating back into our eating lives. It is high time that we take emotional eating out of the closet of self-care and “legalize” it – psychologically, clinically, and culturally.

Recent reviews of “Mindful Emotional Eating” (Somov, P., PESI Publishing, 2015)

“Don’t be fooled by the seeming contradiction in the title of Mindful Emotional Eating. The book makes the case to troubled eaters and their treaters that if we re going to turn to food when we re stressed or distressed, we best do it not with guilt, shame, self-hatred, or detachment from our bodies and their cravings, but with a keen mindfulness that will satisfy our appetites and foster emotional well-being.”–Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed., psychotherapist, eating coach, and author of Outsmarting Overeating.

“This wonderfully creative book teaches us that we don’t need willpower to overcome our unruly eating habits, but mindfulness skill power. It shows that freedom doesn’t come from stopping emotional eating, but when we learn how to eat emotionally in moderation, more effectively and without self-judgement or self-loafing. Pavel Somov has put together a fun mindfulness toolbox for not only healthcare professionals, but anyone who struggles with emotional eating.”–Alexa Frey, Co-Founder, The Mindfulness Project, London

Pavel’s Mindful Emotional Eating is a gem of a toolkit that will be invaluable both to individuals seeking a mindful eating self-help option and to practitioners looking to infuse more mindfulness into their work…”–foreword by Linda Craighead, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology & Director of Clinical training, Emory University, author of The Appetite Awareness Workbook.

“Dr. Pavel Somov’s newest book, Mindful Emotional Eating, offers individuals struggling with eating concerns a revolutionary guidebook for developing a satisfying, enjoyable relationship to food. The book challenges prevailing notions by de-pathologizing emotional eating and affirms that emotional eating is one among many ways that we can care for ourselves. His humanistic harm reduction approach helps people shift from demonizing emotional eating to affirming that we all eat for emotional reasons. The positive change we seek is from mindless to mindful moderate emotional eating. His mindful emotional eating (MEE) process is the antidote to the shame, blame, self-attacks and rebellious over-eating that characterize mindless emotional eating. MEE empathizes with people s need to self-soothe and empowers people to choose how they want to do it. His Jumpstart is filled with inspiring ideas and practical strategies for developing moderate emotional eating. Ultimately this book helps us become aware, self-compassionate and empowered with the confidence and skills to choose how to best care for ourselves in each moment. Quite a lot to get from one small book! I highly recommend it to practitioners and people with eating concerns.”–Andrew Tatarsky, PhD, leading expert in Integrative Harm Reduction Psychotherapy

“Pavel G. Somov provides an ingenious, non-judgmental, mindful approach to emotional eating (this includes ALL eating) that is based on skillpower, not willpower. In this guide for clinicians, he gives specific step-by-step instructions for how to eat mindfully that fully empowers clients to feel good about eating and changes the paradigm from deprivation and guilt to self-acceptance and self-control. He breaks down this process into tasks, language, narratives and homework to use in each clinical session with clients. This book gives you everything you need to help clients change their mindset about eating and to apply effective mindfulness skills to the realm of cravings, over eating, binge eating, nighttime eating, weight management and eating driven by specific emotions. This might be the last book on helping with emotional eating that you need to buy.”—-Debra Burdick, LCSWR, BCN, #1 best-selling author of Mindfulness Skills Workbook for Clinicians and Clients and Mindfulness Skills for Kids & Teens

“Let s be honest. We all eat with emotions involved in the process. We eat for survival, for comfort, for energy, for relief and for pleasure and all those motivations include an emotional component. The path to health is not to deny the role of emotion in eating. Rather, the task is to make intentional decisions about our eating patterns. In this accessible and compassionate book, Pavel Somov shows you path to breaking unhealthy eating patterns. He offers clear insights, skills and practices you need to be a more mindful eater. By following his guidance, you will not only make eating decisions that better support your health; you will also feel better about yourself and your relationship to food. As an added bonus, you will develop mindfulness skills that will be so helpful in many other areas of your life.”—-Terry Fralich, LCPC, JD, author of Cultivating Lasting Happiness, 2nd Edition and The Five Core Skills of Mindfulness

About the Author Pavel Somov, PhD, is author of 7 mindfulness-based books, including Reinventing the Meal, Eating the Moment, Present Perfect, The Lotus Effect and Anger Management Jumpstart. He is on the Advisory Board of The Mindfulness Project (London, UK) and he regularly blogs and writes for PsychCentral. Dr. Somov lives, works, and meditates in Pittsburgh, PA.


Pavel Somov, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice and the author of 7 mindfulness-based self-help books. Several of his books have been translated into Chinese, Dutch & Portuguese. Somov is on the Advisory Board for the Mindfulness Project (London, UK). Somov's book website is and his practice website is

Marla Somova, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice and an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Counseling at Carlow University in Pittsburgh, PA. She is the co-author of "Smoke Free Smoke Break" (2011).Like this author?

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