When Food Is Comfort: Nurture Yourself Mindfully, Rewire Your Brain, and End Emotional Eating

When Food Is Comfort: Nurture Yourself Mindfully, Rewire Your Brain, and End Emotional Eating


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Learn Inner Nurturing and End Emotional Eating

If you regularly eat when you’re not truly hungry, choose unhealthy comfort foods, or eat beyond fullness, something is out of balance. Recent advances in brain science have uncovered the crucial role that our early social and emotional environment plays in the development of imbalanced eating patterns. When we do not receive consistent and sufficient emotional nurturance during our early years, we are at greater risk of seeking it from external sources, such as food. Despite logical arguments, we have difficulty modifying our behavior because we are under the influence of an emotionally dominant part of the brain.

The good news is that the brain can be rewired for optimal emotional health. When Food Is Comfort presents a breakthrough mindfulness practice called Inner Nurturing, a comprehensive, step-by-step program developed by an author who was herself an emotional eater. You’ll learn how to nurture yourself with the loving-kindness you crave and handle stressors more easily so that you can stop turning to food for comfort. Improved health and self-esteem, more energy, and weight loss will naturally follow.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781608685509
Publisher: New World Library
Publication date: 03/20/2018
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 263,100
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Julie M. Simon, MA, MBA, LMFT, is a licensed psychotherapist and life coach with more than twenty-seven years of experience helping overeaters stop dieting, heal their relationships with themselves and their bodies, lose excess weight, and keep it off. She is the author of The Emotional Eater’s Repair Manual and the founder of the popular Twelve-Week Emotional Eating Recovery Program. She lives in Los Angeles.

Read an Excerpt


The Importance of Early Caregiving

Brain development in the uterus and during childhood is the single most important biological factor in determining whether or not a person will be predisposed to substance dependence and to addictive behaviors of any sort, whether drug-related or not.

— Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts

Most of us have been taught that genetics determines everything about us, from our eye and hair color to our personality traits, temperament, athletic abilities, height, weight distribution, susceptibility to certain diseases, and even eating habits and preferences. And as any dieter will tell you, certain inherited patterns, like body weight distribution and a gnawing sweet tooth, can seem nearly impossible to alter. But recent brain science shows that our brain development is hugely influenced by our environment, perhaps even more than by genetic factors. This fact has profound implications for our ability, as both children and adults, to self-regulate: to manage our emotions and moods, regulate our nervous system, control or redirect disruptive impulses and behaviors, and think before we act.

Large-scale research studies have examined how early life experiences, in addition to hereditary predispositions, shape brain pathways and affect brain development. Studies in rats have shown that those who received more licking and other types of nurturing contact from their mothers during infancy had more efficient brain circuitry for reducing anxiety as adults. All mammalian mothers nurture their infants. Right after giving birth, a newborn rat, puppy, or kitten nuzzles into the mother, and the mother begins licking it. She continues to lick her baby throughout the rearing period. Humans touch, kiss, cuddle, caress, hug, and hold their babies. Parental nurturing is critical to the normal development of the infant's brain.

A child's self-regulation skills are nurtured by her caregiver's ongoing, patient, tuned-in attention to the child's internal world and her developing interest in the external world. Literally thousands of moment-to-moment interactions between a caregiver and a young child take place during childhood, and these interactions are involved in building the child's emotional, cognitive, and social skills. Everything we experience in the womb, infancy, and early childhood — the kind of care we receive, the food we're given, the people we're surrounded by, the music we hear, the stories we're told, the lessons we learn, the stressors we're exposed to — has a significant effect on our brain development. If all goes well, we develop emotional and relational skills that allow us to live meaningful, well-balanced lives and enjoy healthy relationships with ourselves and others.

It Takes a Village to Raise Healthy, Well-Adjusted Children

In the past sixty to seventy years, parents in Western societies have faced new challenges in nurturing their children. The small nuclear family has become the norm, divorce and single parenting are common, and many parents are forced to cope with a lack of support — physical, emotional, and financial. Extended family members often live many miles, if not countries, apart. Families, couples, and singles living in close proximity barely know one another. A neighborhood is no longer automatically a community. When we lack the comfort and support of extended family, close friends, and neighborhood communities, it becomes more difficult to raise and nurture our children.

Parents who are raising many children and coping with stress or physical or mental illness may find it especially difficult to consistently meet their children's emotional needs. Depressed, anxious, or ill parents inevitably find parenting more challenging, and infants and children of such parents may become uncooperative and aggressive. Poor maternal nutrition and prenatal alcohol and drug exposure produce infants whose brain functioning is impaired.

Infants and children exposed to neglect and abuse live in a constant state of high arousal that alters the normal functioning of their stress hormones. They are easily aroused and ready to fight or flee. These children often fail to develop the ability to regulate their emotions and behaviors and end up on a life path that involves attention difficulties, poor performance in school, aggressive social behavior, criminal activities, and substance abuse, including disordered eating patterns.

Even emotionally and physically healthy, well-intentioned parents can miss the mark if they themselves missed out on the right kind of emotional nurturance in infancy and childhood and failed to learn skills for caring for themselves and others. Milder forms of parental misattunement in early childhood, such as a regularly distracted or overwhelmed parent, can also affect a child's brain development and result in behavioral challenges like eating disturbances.

Early in life, we may seek comfort, calming, and pleasure from external sources, like thumb sucking (I still have the bump on my thumb), favorite objects (I had a special doll that went everywhere with me), and favorite foods. Food is like medicine: it alters our brain chemistry and, like a thumb or favorite doll, it's readily available, soothing, and predictable. But when we miss out on the right kind of emotional nurturance early in life, and routinely turn to external sources, we fail to develop optimal brain circuitry. And when our brains don't develop properly, there is a high probability that our emotional life, thought processes, and behavioral patterns will be derailed. Rather than acquiring self-care skills that will last a lifetime, we end up with skill deficits that can have lifelong consequences.

Lacking appropriate self-soothing and comforting skills, we may have difficulty regulating our emotions, bodily sensations, impulses, thoughts, and behaviors. We are more prone to have difficulty focusing and concentrating and a limited tolerance for frustration. Perhaps we lack patience with ourselves and others. We may be hypersensitive, highly reactive, and lacking in emotional endurance and resilience. We may relate to others in immature ways. We may have trouble motivating ourselves. Basically, we grow up with an emotionally starved, very young inner child running our lives.

Stopping the Blame Game

This book is not about blaming parents and caregivers: parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world. Rather, it's about understanding what you may have missed out on as an infant and small child and the effects this lack may have had on your brain development and ultimately on your eating behavior.

This is a sensitive subject, as parents, especially mothers, often feel blamed for not raising well-adjusted children. Parenting abilities, often passed down through generations, are limited by our own psychological issues, life circumstances, and challenges. In many cases, poor self-regulation is not necessarily the result of bad experiences in your childhood but rather of a lack of the sufficient nurturing, attuned experiences needed for optimal brain development. And if you had the misfortune of experiencing abuse, neglect, or loss at the hands of difficult and unkind caregivers, most likely they too were the victims of challenging early experiences. The blame game serves no purpose.

Growing and Strengthening Brain Circuits

When you understand how your brain works, you can learn to pay mindful attention, or become internally attuned, to your emotions, bodily sensations, needs, and thoughts. You can also learn to relate to yourself and others in ways that create and support healthy brain connections and facilitate learning and growth.

In this section of the book, you'll discover

• why infants and small children need more than proper nutrition, safety, and secure shelter;

• why emotional nurturance is so critical when we are young;

• the importance of a secure attachment to one or more caregivers;

• how shame and criticism can lead to insecure attachments and chronic, lifelong states of shame;

• how early attuned experiences with our caregivers activate certain pathways in the brain, strengthen existing neural connections, and enable the forming of new connections;

• which parts of the brain are involved in self-regulation;

• why it's never too late to strengthen connections and rewire the brain;

• which part of your brain is in charge when you have a strong urge to eat;

• why you often act before you think;

• how early relationships influence the development of the body's system for regulating stress;

• how chronic high emotional arousal can tear down the body and result in a myriad of health challenges; and

• how even well-intentioned caregivers can fail to meet their children's developmental needs.

Among the detailed cases that follow of clients struggling with overeating challenges, some may seem more relevant to your situation than others. It is, however, important to read them all carefully. Each case illustrates key concepts and principles that will facilitate your understanding of your own relationship with food as a source of comfort.

Even though your personal history is unique, you'll find elements in these cases that you can relate to. Some of them may bring up unpleasant emotions and memories from your childhood. This is normal and to be expected. Be gentle and patient with yourself as you work through the book. Take it slowly; there is no rush. Hopefully, the path will be exciting and illuminating as you begin to see the pieces of your own emotional eating puzzle.


What's Love Got to Do with It?

Children whose parents are reliable sources of comfort and strength have a lifetime advantage — a kind of buffer against the worst that fate can hand them.

— Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score

I could tell when I entered the waiting room of my office that Liz was having a bad day. Her eyes were puffy, and her mascara was smudged. Usually she sat comfortably in the large, cushioned chair, distracting herself with her phone or a magazine. Today she was sitting on the couch, her body tense and rigid and her hands clasped tightly on the edge, like a bobcat ready to pounce. When her eyes met mine, her body softened, and she began to cry.

As we walked down the hall to my office, I could feel her desperation. On her drive home from work, she had an argument with her mother, and on her way to see me, she did something that she hadn't done in six months. She stopped at her favorite donut shop and bought a coffee, four donuts, and two cream puffs. Only one cream puff was left in the bag. She had begun to lose weight in the past couple of months, and she was furious with herself for slipping back into old patterns.

Her mother, whom she described as a "controlling and domineering woman," had offered to throw a fortieth birthday bash for her, and in trying to firm up the plans, Liz asserted herself and suggested a restaurant she liked. Her mother quickly dismissed her choice as too expensive. And she shamed Liz, accusing her of choosing "an overpriced hole-in-the-wall with fattening food that you don't need to be eating." Her mother continued the tirade by highlighting Liz's high blood pressure and failed attempts at weight loss, reminding her that she wouldn't have many birthdays left if she didn't change her ways.

Even though Liz described feeling some anger toward her mother, the bulk of the feelings that came up as we discussed the conversation were about herself and about how she couldn't ever measure up. Liz often doesn't feel heard and understood by her mother, who regularly overreacts and dismisses, criticizes, or ridicules Liz's feelings. As Liz put it, "My mother always wins every argument."

These repeated misses in communication with her mother, which began as far back as Liz can remember, always leave her feeling bad about herself. Her mother's support is unpredictable: at times she is very supportive, but at other times she can be highly critical. Liz personalizes these attacks, which leave her feeling ashamed, inadequate, unworthy, and lonely. She feels bad about her abilities to make "grown-up" decisions, ashamed of her body (she inherited a body type very different from her mother's naturally slim figure), and sad about her relationship with her mother.

Liz's mother has shown little patience for discussing and processing their troubled interactions. They rarely transition from these negative interactions back to positive ones during the same conversation. After an interaction like this one, Liz and her mother typically go through a week or more of what Liz describes as "cold war" before reconciling, and Liz is the one who "crawls back" and tries to please her mother. It's just too difficult for her to tolerate her mother's displeasure and risk abandonment. Liz regularly abandons her own needs for understanding and validation in order to seek approval and secure the attachment with her mother. And Liz shames herself even further because she feels that as a social worker, she should know how to create a healthier relationship with her mother.

Liz's mother has had difficulty offering Liz a type of care and attention essential to the development of the brain's self-regulation circuits: attunement. This is the subtle process of adjusting to and resonating with another person's internal states: that is, being "in tune" with someone else's internal world. It's an instinctive process for a parent, but it may be lacking when a parent is stressed, depressed, distracted, or impatient.

Love is not the issue: Liz has never had any doubt that her mother loves her and would do anything she could for her. And Liz likewise loves and respects her mother, whom she describes as "a bright, articulate, and funny woman." They often have very pleasant times together. The problems generally arise when Liz is anxious or upset and turns to her mother for comfort and soothing, or when her mother strongly disagrees with the way Liz is handling something, like the upcoming birthday party.

Poor Attunement, Insecure Attachments

Attunement is an important component of another process that begins in infancy and childhood and continues throughout our lives: attachment. A vulnerable infant has an innate need to be close to a nourishing and protective other. Our drive for attachment is essential for our survival. Compared to most other mammals, we depend on our caregivers for an extended period. Yet, according to the child psychiatrist Daniel Siegel, a founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, only about one-half to two-thirds of the general population have had what researchers call a "secure attachment."

When we have a secure attachment to a caregiver, we feel safe: we can count on them to protect us from harm and to calm, comfort, and soothe us when we are distressed. We feel that another person senses and observes our inner world and that our needs will be met. We develop positive expectations of interactions with other people and trust that these too will be fulfilling and rewarding.

In contrast, when we have experienced repeated, highly stressful interactions with our caregivers, our ability to form safe, secure relationships with them becomes compromised. This is true even with kind and well-meaning caregivers if they don't have enough time for us or have difficulty relating to us and meeting our needs. Liz's father, for example, is a kind and gentle man, but Liz has trouble relating to him because he is forty-five years older, often distracted, and a bit out of touch with her world.

Early attachment patterns create mental maps for our relationships throughout life and guide our expectations of others. Because of her insecure attachment to her parents and a history of being criticized and shamed by her mother, Liz has persistently high levels of anxiety and shame. She doesn't feel safe and secure in her body or in the world. The shaming she has suffered has created what John Bradshaw, the author of Homecoming, calls "toxic shame: the feeling of being flawed and diminished and never measuring up." Her shame makes it difficult for her to embrace both her strengths and weaknesses and to develop a healthy level of self-esteem and self-acceptance.


Excerpted from "When Food is Comfort"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Julie M. Simon.
Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Emotional Eater Questionnaire

Part One — Parental Nurturing: Beyond Food and Shelter
1. The Quality of Early Caregiving is Key
2. What’s Love Got to Do with It
3. It’s All in Your Head
4. The Body Remembers
5. Yes, But I Had Great Parents

Part Two — Inner Nurturing: Becoming Your Own Best Friend
6. Developing a Supportive Voice Within
7. Skill #1: Pop the Hood: Name and Track Emotions and Bodily Sensations
8. Skill #2: Practice Self-Validation
9. Skill #3: Reinforce the Alliance and Offer Love, Support and Comfort
10. Skill #4: Get Clear on Needs
11. Skill #5: Catch and Reframe Self-Defeating Thoughts
12. Skill #6: Highlight Resources and Provide Hope
13. Skill #7: Address Needs and Set Gentle Limits

Part Three — Creating Nurturing Connections
14. Taking It to the Street
15. Attracting Nurturing Others
16. Nurturing our Relationships

About the Author

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Seven specific skills . . . complement exercises and case studies, making it easy for readers to follow and apply the lessons. Simon covers all the bases of a complicated issue and offers genuine hope.”
Library Journal

“We desperately need solutions for the overeating epidemic that is contributing to the rise in obesity and the consequences that fill my cardiology practice. Julie Simon offers a seven-step mindfulness practice as an answer to emotional eating. I am going to share these steps with my patients immediately. When Food Is Comfort is exactly what we need to heal during these challenging times.”
— Joel Kahn, MD, FACC, author of The Plant-Based Solution

“If or when emotional eating is a challenge, Julie Simon’s book When Food Is Comfort will enlighten and empower you with effective methods for healing deep emotional wounds through self-nurturing. With an authentic ring of empathetic authority, Julie Simon provides powerful, practical tools to help us liberate ourselves from the tyranny of our tongues. Indeed, those who control their appetites possess a great power, and When Food Is Comfort can help you and your loved ones attain and maintain this empowerment. Highly recommended!”
— Michael Klaper, MD, author of Vegan Nutrition: Pure and Simple

When Food Is Comfort is a fantastic resource with a refreshingly new perspective. Written in a supportive and encouraging voice with moving personal and case stories, this practical, easy-to-follow book offers innovative strategies for anyone seeking freedom from unhealthy eating habits. I highly recommend it!”
— Hyla Cass, MD, coauthor of 8 Weeks to Vibrant Health

When Food Is Comfort is an excellent guide to gaining self-awareness, understanding, attunement, love, and, ultimately, loving self-control. It is also extraordinarily comprehensive and well written. . . . If you thoroughly read, incorporate, and follow Julie’s comprehensive, uplifting, and meticulous guidance, it will benefit you as much as years of therapy. . . . You will change your relationship to food, using it for health and well-being rather than to try to fill unmet emotional needs. And best of all, you will enjoy a healthier, slimmer you.”
— Priscilla Slagle, MD, author of The Way Up from Down

“How often do you eat when you’re not really hungry, eat too much, or choose to eat comfort foods you know aren’t good for you? If you do these things more than you’d like, this book is definitely for you. It will help you recognize the signs of emotional eating so that you can instantly tell the difference between emotional hunger and actual physiological hunger. And it will help you nurture yourself so that every part of you — including your body, your emotions, your thoughts, and your relationships — is truly and wonderfully well fed.”
— John Robbins, New York Times–bestselling author of Diet for a New America and president of Food Revolution Network

“As a wellness activist, I’ve observed firsthand how challenging overcoming emotional eating can be. Despite our best intentions, many of us find ourselves regularly snacking mindlessly and overeating at meals. Clearly, emotional eating is a symptom of deeper issues. Well written and comprehensive, When Food Is Comfort helps us understand the role early nurturance plays in both the etiology and the continuation of eating challenges. Julie Simon’s simple yet powerful plan, developed in her highly successful twelve-week program, gets at the root causes of the problem. She gives readers all the tools they need to address the disconnection fueling their eating. If you or anyone you care about struggles with emotional eating, this book is a must-read.”
— Kathy Freston, New York Times–bestselling author of The Lean

“As one whose recovery from binge eating dates back over thirty years, I am reluctant to recommend any work on the subject, as nearly all seem to lack a genuine understanding of the disorder and of the emotional eater as whole human being. When Food Is Comfort is the rare exception. Gently and astutely, Julie Simon guides the reader from confusion and entrapment to clarity and freedom. With solid science and a caring heart, Julie breaks through in this book to a place where few have ventured: a place of healing, restoration, and liberation.”
— Victoria Moran, author of The Love-Powered Diet

“So many people struggle with emotional eating. When Food Is Comfort is a fascinating and eminently practical guide to making sense of what is going on and fixing it at the most fundamental level.”
— Neal D. Barnard, MD, author of Breaking the Food Seduction

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