I happened to catch a segment on the Today show about a new book called The Nine Rooms of Happiness. I thought it sounded a bit corny at first, or I was skeptical about a new self-help book. But I was quickly wooed by the authors — Lucy Danziger, editor in chief of Self magazine, and Catherine Birndorf, MD, a women’s health psychiatrist in New York City.
The same day I got a message from the folks at Self offering to send me a copy of the book to review. I get these types of requests all the time (“read this book,” ”eat this product,” etc.). This time, I thought, yes, this book might be worth taking a look at.
The book uses the metaphor of a house to talk about our emotional life — the living room is where we deal with friendships and our social life, the bathroom is where we face issues of health and body image, the kitchen is about nourishment and so on. Our “inner house” can have eight beautifully designed, neat and tidy rooms, and one messy one, and still we focus on the mess.
Whether it’s the size of our thighs or our bank accounts, there always seems to be something that isn’t measuring up to our high standards — and we let the dissatisfaction spill over into other areas of our lives, distracting us from taking pleasure in everything that’s going right.
In the Today show interview, Lucy talked about how she used the principles of the book to get control of her stress eating and lose 25 pounds. I wanted to learn more so I reached out to her and here’s what she told me:
The Nine Rooms of Happiness isn’t strictly a diet book but a healthy thinking book, it’s about being happier and feeling less down about yourself in every “room” of your emotional life. My co-author, Catherine Birndorf, MD, and I use the metaphor of a house to help women first figure out what area they want to work on most, since if you have eight neat tidy and happy rooms and one that is a mess, you tend to focus on the mess!
How does this relate to weight? Well for me, stress eating was a biggie, since I did what I called “nega-speak” which is my way of describing the internal monologue that would play in my head when I thought about things that were bringing me down. I was constantly my own worst critic. In fact I asked my co-author, Catherine, whether this was common, and she said, Yes! She sees this in her practice all the time. Women are so down on themselves, that it’s the little things that can steal our happiness day after day, for years.
So we wrote The Nine Rooms of Happiness to help women feel better in every part of their lives. Through the year and a half of writing the proposal I learned so much, from Dr. Birndorf, it was amazing, and I lost 25 pounds, and have kept it off for the past three years. I wanted to write the book to help teach women what I now know: which is that by changing some little ways of approaching relationships and conflict in my life I was able to stop internalizing my feelings and work to tweak my own actions and reactions to situations in ways that made me feel less down on myself. The result was that instead of eating and self-soothing with sweets or even a glass or two of wine at the end of a stressful day, I dealt with the stressors. I like to say to women, instead of asking: “What should I eat?” when they aren’t really hungry, ask “What’s eating me?”
Stopping the emotional eating is the hardest part for me, and for most people. The reason we reach for the double-chocolate chunk ice cream isn’t because we think “this will really fuel my body,” but because we think, “this is the treat I deserve for having such a crappy day!” And often we do deserve a treat and should reward ourselves, but it doesn’t have to be ice-cream, it can be a pedicure, a massage or if the dollars are tight (as they are for everyone) a bubble bath, a walk alone with our favorite tunes, a visit with a friend, or other free upbeat, positive self-reward. So now the question you are asking is: but what if I like the ice-cream?
Okay everyone does, and we should eat ice cream, when we are in need of a sweet or something to cap off a great meal. But that should be why, not because we had a bad day. A bad day isn’t solved by thousands of calories of sugar or dozens of ounces of alcohol. Then we’re just self- medicating since the serotonin response to the sugar is akin to taking a serotonin uptake inhibitor like Prozac. If you are feeling so sad or stressed or anxious every day that the only thing that is helping you is a tub of ice-cream (or your equivalent in fast food, or salty snacks or brownies) then you may need to find someone to talk to who you trust and who you can work with professionally to get better. Not everyone wants to go see a counselor or psychiatrist, of course, so we wrote the book as a starting point and if we did our jobs right it’s going to help you.
Once you figure out what’s eating you, what room you’re in, we provide these great new ways to think. Now I can’t sit here and say I don’t occasionally stress eat, since I do, still, but I know how to nip it in the bud and get over myself and stop, and that way I can be healthier in every room of my emotional house.
I really appreciated Lucy’s honesty, and the book is full of her personal stories, along with the stories of other women. It really struck me how much food and body image were such big parts of happiness — and how negative thoughts, regretted behaviors can wreck our entire house. But the book ends with an uplifting thought that It’s all in you!
You have the power to change your patterns of behavior, appreciate your happiest moments and find your fullness of life.
I think it’s a powerful book. It’s a book that offers some tangible solutions to help you find joy in every room of your emotional house. And the kitchen isn’t a bad place to start.