Mindfulness for eating disorders
by Janette Grant 18th December 2017
Those of us suffering from an eating disorder can be helped enormously by becoming mindful, which helps to silence the critical voices inside our heads. Everyone struggles with trying to remain in the present moment – with non-stop social media distractions, planning for the future, and memories from the past fighting for our attention – so it’s not hard to understand why most people struggle to appreciate the present.
Individuals diagnosed with an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder struggle with the critical voice inside their heads and thoughts surrounding calorie intake and weight are a huge burden to bear. These negative thoughts make them question their self-image, decreases their self-esteem and affects their ability to understand and appreciate the present moment. And then when they are bombarded with images of skinny models, articles on the next fad diet and peer and family pressure, food becomes a way of coping with the stress caused by this – it’s a vicious circle!
This makes it even harder for these individuals to live in the present, due to the constant worry about gaining weight from the food they just ate and obsessing over their exercise regimes. However, once they are able to become aware of the social and environmental stressors which cause them to feel she or guilt, they can then turn those stressors into activities that will feed their soul instead.
How mindfulness can help with eating disorders
Studies in mindfulness techniques has shown that participants practising mindfulness enjoyed significant reductions in weight and shape concern, dietary restraint, thin-ideal internalisation, eating disorder symptoms and psychosocial impairment. In a world of constant distractions, cultivating mindfulness can help suffering individuals decrease the number of binges for example and become more comfortable in their own skin. Mindfulness can also increase motivation to change unhealthy eating behaviours. We go into full detail about mindfulness and weight loss etc on this page and on our Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training post.
Mindfulness for eating disorders
There are a number of techniques that can help with eating disorder suffering for individuals overwhelmed with their own thoughts and engaged in destructive behaviours. These techniques can prevent the behaviours such as not eating, purging, or eating until uncomfortably full. Once individuals take a step back and focus on the present moment and their feelings, they are able to transform their impulsive eating habits into healthy thoughts and behaviours. The following techniques can help in battling difficult moments and practising them will make any person become more mindful of the present moment.
- Understand the moment – it is important to understand what is happening to make us feel this way or to engage in a destructive eating habit. When we become aware of the present moment we will become aware of ourself in relation to the environment and be able to differentiate between environmental and personal factors which empower us and those things that belittle us. We should ask ourself ‘What am I feeling and why?’ and ‘What is currently causing me to harm my mind and body?’ Practising mindfulness will help us to recognise the critical voice inside of us and to gain the resilience to remove ourself from those stressors in the environment that cause us to question our self-worth. We can then move on and choose the things that feed our spirit in a more meaningful way. Writing down our thoughts, practising meditation and yoga are all good mindfulness techniques to evoke the relaxation response and help us to live in the present.
- Focus on the positive – by practising mindfulness it will help us to recognise that our thoughts do not need to dictate who we are. When our mind begins to entertain thoughts of a negative self-image, desires to become thin, or feelings of guilt, we must just recognise them for what they are – just thoughts – and let them go likes leaves floating down a stream. We can then engage in more positive behaviours such as exercising, cooking a healthy meal, or meeting up with supportive friends and family.
- Take action – once we have gained awareness of our environment and the thoughts associated with our eating disorder, we can now build resilience against it. Working with a dietician to create a meal plan can help us to become more mindful whilst food shopping and cooking. We should avoid all distractions, (including our phone) whilst eating, so that we mindfully eat and enjoy the taste of the food and company of others. We can have fun by cooking healthy meals with friends. Doing this, establishing an exercise programme, and doing things we enjoy will cultivate mindfulness, which in turn will help us to achieve a positive self-image and finally feel love for our mind, body and soul.
Mindful eating can be practised alongside any diet, dietary programme or way of eating. As our mindfulness develops, we will naturally be drawn towards eating more healthfully. A mindfulness approach focuses on our body, eating behaviours, thought patterns and underlying beliefs, and our emotions. And it is when we are dissociated from all these that an eating disorder takes over. Unfortunately, weight and diet programmes do not address any of these issues.
Practising mindful meditation when in recovery from an eating disorder can calm our mind and teach us to relax in environments that trigger destructive eating behaviours , thus helping us to make more sound decisions to benefit our health. Using the techniques learnt from meditation allows us to take a step back from a stressful situation, let go of our negative thoughts and respond in a more productive way.
How to introduce mindfulness meditation into our daily routine
- Begin the day by waking up all the parts of our body with simple stretching yoga poses, which will help calm the mind before the rush of the day
- Take a few minutes from the day’s schedule to check in with our breathing. When we are dealing with a difficult situation, recognise that moment and find our steady breath.
- When our busy day is done, schedule 10-15 minutes before dinner to engage in some mindful meditation practise. This will help release the stress from the day and help us to go on into mindful eating practises.
- Take 5 minutes later in the evening to body scan all the parts of our body, noticing areas of tension and release all the stress from the day. Bring our focus to the present moment and centre our thoughts.
We need to remember that when life seems to be running away from us, we must slow down and find peace within ourself. This will help us to make more healthy decisions in the present moment. When we centre our mind and body and focus on the present we will naturally learn to engage in behaviours that benefit our overall health and well-being.