Treating Eating Disorders: Using a mindfulness based approach
Everyone struggles to remain in the present moment. With constant social media distractions, planning for the future, and memories flooded from the past, it is difficult to appreciate the present moment. For individuals suffering from an eating disorder, becoming mindful, or aware of the present moment, will help save individuals from the critical voices inside of their heads.
For individuals diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder, thoughts surrounding caloric intake and weight can be an overpowering burden to bear. Negative thoughts take over the mind and dictate an individual’s ability to understand and appreciate the present moment. For people diagnosed with an eating disorder, the critical voice inside of their heads makes them question their self-image and decreases their self-esteem. When individuals are inundated with images of thin models, info on next diet fad, and peer and familial pressures, food is a way of coping with stress caused by these environmental factors.
Using mindfulness to deal with eating disorders
When you constantly worry about the food you just ate, gaining weight, or obsess over your exercise regimes, you are unable to live in the present. When you become aware of the social & environmental stressors that have caused you to feel shameful and guilty, you can turn those stressors into activities that will feed their soul in a productive and meaningful way.
Practicing mindfulness has proven to be extremely helpful in aiding people to understand the driving forces behind their eating disorder. Studies have shown that “students receiving mindfulness demonstrated significant reductions in weight and shape concern, dietary restraint, thin-ideal internalization, eating disorder symptoms, and psychosocial impairment relative to control by 6-month follow-up.” In a world clouded with distractions, cultivating mindfulness can help suffering people become comfortable in their own skin.
When people practice mindfulness, it reduces the chances of becoming overwhelmed with their own thoughts that engage in destructive behaviors, e.g. not eating, purging, or eating until uncomfortably full. If people take a step back and focus on the present moment, they will be able to transform impulsive eating habits into healthy thoughts and behaviors.
By immersing yourself in the present moment, you will become aware of yourself in relation to the environment. Once you are conscious of the moment, you will be able to differentiate between the environmental and personal factors that empower you and the things in the environment that belittle you. When you find yourself wanting to skip a meal, purge a meal, or binge eat, ask yourself “What am I feeling and why do I feel this way?” “What is currently causing me to harm my mind and body?”
Cultivating mindfulness will bring forth the critical voice inside of your head and will allow you to recognise it and remove yourself from the stressors in your environments that cause you to question your self-worth. Becoming aware of the moment will allow you to gain the resilience to remove the negative stressors from your life. By eliminating the critical voice, you can now move on and do things that feed your spirit in a meaningful way. Writing your thoughts down, practicing meditation, or trying yoga are all useful mindfulness techniques that will elicit the relaxation response and will help you live in the present.
Focus on the positive. How can your thoughts and behaviors transform into positive results? Practicing mindfulness will help you realize that your thoughts do not have to dictate who you are. If your mind begins to cloud with thoughts about negative self-image, desires to become thin, or feelings of guilt, than you must reframe them into positive thoughts.
Cultivating mindfulness means that you do not need to act upon negative thoughts. Instead, by becoming aware of the thoughts and emotions that are present, you will be better equipped to remove those thoughts by engaging in positive behaviors such as exercising, cooking a healthy meal, or getting together with supportive friends and family.
Take action. What can you do to nourish your mind, body, and soul?
Now that you are becoming aware of your environment and the thoughts associated with your eating disorder, you can now take action to build resilience against your disorder. Working with your dietician to create a meal plan that emphasises healthy meal prepping techniques can help you become more mindful while grocery shopping and cooking.
Start turning off all of your distractions when you eat meals. Mindful eating can help you enjoy the taste of food and the company of others. During social gatherings, put your phone away and appreciate the people around you over a good meal. Have fun and cook meals with friends that are healthy and creative. By prepping meals ahead of time, establishing an empowering exercise program, and doing things you enjoy throughout your day, your ability to cultivate mindfulness will help you to achieve a positive self-image and will foster love for your mind, body, and soul.
Practicing mindfulness is a self-soothing strategy that will allow individuals to be conscious of their present thoughts and emotions. Self-soothing techniques are ways to cultivate more self-compassion and comfort in your daily life. Be mindful of the present moment and remind yourself that in the face of adversity, you are a resilient human being. Reflect on the painful moment and take a positive course of action. Your body will thank you and you will feel more confident in the future.
Article adapted from Greta Gleissner (April 5, 2017)