Psych Central

Managing Overeating: The Art of Homework

By Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

9781572245433The focus on wellness, particularly on the management of overeating, in therapy can be a double-edged sword.  While clients often readily embrace the vector of self-care, goal-specific treatment planning and clinical homework can trigger the games of avoidance.  Suddenly, the validating therapist is thrown into the role of a wellness expert and becomes an accountability check.

Before too long, mere inquiry into the client’s progress runs a discordant parallel to punitive supervision.  With this actual or perceived change of hats, the process of the therapy changes, the wellness goals are eventually abandoned and the closet of therapy fills up with the skeletons of failed objectives.  This – in my experience – has been an inherent complexity of problem-focused treatments such as behavioral medicine.

Such experiences have taught me that a non-directive, harm-reduction, humanistic angle of engagement works best in facilitating clients’ wellness goal of weight management.  In particular, I have enjoyed better “compliance luck” from the clinical position in which I frame success in overcoming overeating as more of a know-how issue than a motivational issue.  With this in mind, as part of the role-induction to behavioral weight management, I let clients know that I am aware of a variety of behavioral exercises that can help them transition from mindless reactive eating to a more mindful and more conscious eating stance, and I then offer the client to look at their weight management “homework” as a kind of experiential journey of gradual acquisition of …


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Redefine “Enough”

By Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

9781572245433Mindful eating (at least the way I teach it) has its own version of “portion control” – it’s got to do not with how many mouthfuls you can have but with how many mindfuls you need to feel full; it’s got to do with shifting from a serving to a savoring.

What’s a mindful? A mindful, to coin a term, is a unit of mental absorption in whatever it is that you are doing. For example, as you look back at a typical day, perhaps most of it was spent in a state of robotic, mindless monotony, with the exception of a couple of moments when you were really present, thoughtful, and mindful of something. Maybe you found yourself scratching your head over some challenging problem. Maybe, at the end of your lunch break, you caught a glimpse of a bird swaying on a tree branch. Maybe, when finally home, sitting in your car in the driveway, you had a sense of perspective. Whatever their content, these moments of being mindful are just that: states of being attuned to the moment, absorbed in the here and now.

In application to eating, a Mindful is a moment of being conscious of eating. Maybe it will last ten seconds, maybe half a minute. But however long, it is a unit of awareness, a serving of mindfulness.

A Savoring, to coin another term, is a unit of mindful appreciation, a moment of conscious enjoyment, a highlight. To have a savoring, you first have to …


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Stay, Lola, Stay!

By Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

lolIn Reality Check #73 I wrote: “Reality is non-negotiable: it already is what it is.”  This little “dictum” reminded me of a 1998 German film Run Lola Run.

In the film, Lola is presented with a challenging situation that she fails to successfully resolve despite three attempts, three “runs.”  In each run, Lola attempts to replay reality – yes, to replay the very reality that already is what it is.

My advice to Lola(s): Stay, Lola, Stay!  Reality – not your legs, not your reaction speed, not even the speed of light, – but Reality itself sets the speed limit on What Is.  No Lola can outrun the reality that already is.


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Mindful, Not Mouthful

By Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

9781572245433Mindful-not-mouthful approach aims to automate mindfulness. Automate mindfulness? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?! Not really. The goal is habit modification. While the goal of making mindful eating a habit may seem paradoxical, it really isn’t. The idea is to help you become habitually mindful of your eating, to get to the point where the decision to be mindful about eating is evoked mindlessly, automatically, effortlessly, and out of force of habit. Yes, I’d like for mindful eating to have the force of habit in your eating life. This kind of habit-forming or conditioning is the only assurance that the book in your hands will help you make a lasting difference in your battle with overeating.

Mindfulness and knowledge are different things. Knowledge is informational awareness. Mindfulness is experiential awareness. To know something is different from experiencing something. In your self-help readings or treatment encounters you might have come across the advice to “eat mindfully” or “slow down your eating and be conscious of taste.” Knowing this advice leads to informational awareness. Applying this advice creates experiential awareness.

Knowing that you need to be conscious of your eating or even trying it a few times, according to someone’s prototype of mindful eating, is insufficient for a change in eating habits. And yet, informational awareness is a vital precursor of change.

The intent of the approach is to help you make the three-point journey: from (1) knowledge (of mindful eating), to (2) practice (of mindful eating), to the destination of (3) …


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Hug a Phone Tree

By Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

Before too long, historically speaking, there might be more phone trees than actual trees. Modern-day life (particularly of the urban kind) is a virtual jungle, a series of pseudo-encounters with pseudo-reality – conversations in parallel with texting, etc. If this is the space that we have “evolved” to inhabit it stands to reason that we might need to learn to hug a phone tree – with love, with patience, with acceptance.  Press 1 for Oneness.

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Reality Check #73

By Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

Reality is non-negotiable: it already is what it is.

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Related: Check Reality Before You Live It


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Another Lil’ Something Not To Fear

By Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

Fear neither abandonment nor abandon.

Both states teach you about you:

In abandonment, you learn to love your own company – that’s a lesson of solitude.

In abandon, you learn to leave behind your conditioned mind – that’s a lesson of ecstasy.

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Related: Present Perfect & Lotus Effect


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Anger Management: Naiveté of Angry Denial

By Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

Anger_04Habitually angry folks struggle to accept reality. Not infrequently, when something undesirable happens, they exclaim in frustration, “Seriously?! Really? Are you kidding me?” The message here is, “This can’t be!”

Anger is denial—it’s a “no” in response to what already is the case. To a psychologically savvy outsider, these phase delays in accepting what already is so obviously and irreversibly the case seem comical and naïve.

Contrast this kind of knee-jerk angry double take on reality with an unflinching, sober acceptance of what already is that accompanies the abiding equanimity of wisdom. A wise mind says “yes” to reality because it knows that it doesn’t have a choice: Reality already is what it is.

Adapted from Anger Management Jumpstart: a 4-session Mindfulness Path to Compassion and Change (Somov, PPM, 2013)

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On Lawyer Suicides

By Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

There is an article on CNN on the high rates of suicide among lawyers (trailing fourth after dentists, pharmacists and physicians).

Over the years I have seen a number of lawyers in my practice – typically, very very bright, perfectionistic, dysthymic (“walking cases of depression”), with a touch of OCPD, and a bit of anger.  I don’t claim to be intimately familiar with this profession but I have long felt that life of a lawyer, particularly, a trial lawyer, is one of the most existentially charged vocational paths.

So, as I read about the high rate of suicides among lawyers, it all makes very good and very sad sense to me:

Competitive Perfectionism + Ethical Dilemmas = Existential Crisis

On a broader note, it occurs to me that bright minds have a particularly dark way of suffering…


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Anger Management: Leveraging Cognitive Dissonance for Behavior Change

By Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

Anger_04Saunders, Wilkinson and Allsop wrote a while back about “motivational squirms.” A motivational squirm is a moment of cognitive dissonance. It places the client in a kind of corner in which he or she is face to face with his or her ego. The only way out of that corner is change. Case in point: I’ve spent a good bit of time in the Anger Management Jumpstart  book talking about how anger is basically fear. There is a motivational squirm in this: It just needs to be amplified a bit. In addition to educating the client about the flight-or-fight interplay of anger and fear, you can let fly the following idea: “Any reasonably psychologically savvy person, when he or she sees anger, understands that the angry person is actually afraid and threatened.”

After this kind of announcement you have pretty much painted your client’s ego into a corner of cognitive dissonance. You’ve as good as told the client that he or she is a lot more psychologically transparent than he or she thought and that many, if not most, people see the client not as fearless but as afraid whenever he or she gets angry. The only way out of this image crisis for the client is to embrace the idea of anger management.

For a more roundabout way to get to the same place, you can ask the client what he or she thinks when he or she sees somebody really angry. …


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Reinventing the Meal
Reinventing the Meal
Present Perfect
Eating the Moment
The Lotus Effect The Smoke-Free Smoke Break
Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D. is the author of The Lotus Effect, Present Perfect, The Smoke-Free Smoke Break, and Eating the Moment: 141 Mindful Practices to Overcome Overeating One Meal at a Time.


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