According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, over 30 million Americans struggled with an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, with very little getting the treatment they need. Practicing mindful eating could help prevent countless eating disorder deaths and help those struggling with a disorder. Let’s explore what mindful eating means and how you can incorporate this practice into your life.
What is Mindful Eating?
The Center for Mindful Eating defines mindfulness as “Paying attention, non-judgmentally, in the present moment. Mindfulness encompasses both internal processes and external environments. Mindfulness is being aware of your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations in the present moment. With practice, mindfulness cultivates the possibility of freeing yourself of reactive, habitual patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting. Mindfulness promotes balance, choice, wisdom, and acceptance of what is.”
The concept of mindfulness is a Buddhist one. It’s used to treat many conditions, including eating disorders, anxiety, and depression. It involves using mindfulness to reach a full state of attention to your experiences and physical cues.
The Center for Mindful Eating goes on to define mindful eating as “Allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your inner wisdom—using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing your body. Acknowledging responses to food (likes, dislikes, or neutral) without judgment. Becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating.”
Mindful Eating and Eating Disorders
Think about it. Eating has become a mindless act. We all try to rush through our meals to continue doing whatever we have to do. When you add an eating disorder to the equation, you have a recipe for disaster. Most eating disorders practice mindless eating, or not eating, in the case of anorexia. Eating too fast, not focusing on your eating behaviors, and even shifting your attention to other outlets can lead to eating disorders.
How It Helps Binge Eating
Binge eating involves eating large amounts of food in brief periods. Binge eating is the definition of mindless eating — there’s no control, no purpose. Almost 70 percent of people with binge eating disorder are obese. Mindful eating can reduce the severity and frequency of binge eating episodes.
After six wells of mindful eating exercises alongside treatment, one study found that binge eating episodes went from 4 to 1.5 times per week. The severity of each episode also decreased.
Fighting Unhealthy Eating Behaviors
Beyond mainstream eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, people also struggle with other types of unhealthy eating behaviors. For example, people fall for emotional eating, which means they eat in response to intense emotions. Others fall for external eating, which occurs when they respond to food-related cues like the sight or smell of food.
Mindful eating helps people have the skills to deal with these triggers. The idea of mindful eating is to give someone the power to control the situation instead of letting their instinct rule them over.
Help for Weight Loss
People forget that obesity is an eating disorder. Various studies agree that mindful eating can help with weight loss and improve someone’s eating behaviors. Mindful eating not only helps people feel fuller faster, but it also allows them to change their relationships with food.
Mindful eating is all about addressing the negative feelings that can be linked to eating and replacing them with awareness, self-control, and positive emotions. Addressing these issues can help someone make better food choices, lose weight, and change their food experience altogether.
Mindful Eating Exercises
Practicing mindfulness isn’t as tricky as one could think. However, it can take time and requires practice. To reap the benefits of mindful eating, people need to practice mindfulness every time they eat, and in other areas of their life.
Consider these simple mindful eating practices:
- Eating more slowly and chewing thoroughly
- Eliminating distractions like TV and phones while eating
- Eating in complete silence
- Focusing on how the food makes you feel
- Stopping when you feel full
- Asking yourself why you’re eating
- Questioning whether you’re genuinely hungry or perhaps thirsty
Those who want to incorporate mindfulness into their eating habits can start practicing these exercises one meal per day. Eventually, you’ll be able to practice mindful eating. Here’s an example of how these exercises play out:
Put a piece of food in your mouth. Try chewing it thirty times before swallowing. Taste it on your tongue, its texture. You might be surprised how sweet ricotta cheese is, or how filling your morning oatmeal is, or how spicy arugula is.
Getting Help for Eating Disorders
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please know there’s help available. Our lives are incredibly busy and overstimulated. Many people end up eating at their desks, in their cars, while checking their phones, or just while generally exhausted. Think about it, when was the last time you ate something and tasted it?
At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, part of our treatment programs addresses eating disorders holistically and comprehensively. Learning the ins and outs of mindful eating is one of the first steps towards eating disorders recovery. Through behavioral therapy, group meetings, and healthy eating patterns, you can also enjoy a healthy life, away from eating disorders and their adverse effects on your mind and body.