In an era of constant distractions, it can seem like being mindful is a concept from the pre-digital age. At the same time, we feel the need to be mindful more than ever. Practicing mindfulness on a daily basis can lead to a myriad of health benefits. The most important for someone struggling with an eating disorder is reconnecting the body to the mind.
Mindful eating has its roots in Buddhist teachings. It aims to reconnect you more deeply with the experience of eating including how you eat, what you eat and why you are eating. It is not a diet.
Mindful eating is a practice that teaches you how to be aware of the moment without having judgment and criticism, allowing yourself to fully nurture and nourish your body.
When I was in therapy, my dietician called me a ‘walking head’. As funny as it may sound, I was living according to strict rules on how what, and when to eat. The moments I was “allowed” to eat, I ate so fast that I didn’t even taste the food. I finished everything in less than 5 minutes, no matter how large the portion or how stuffed I was. It felt like I was on autopilot, completely disconnected from my body and unable to eat intuitively. My dietitian introduced me to the concept of mindful eating. I was skeptical at first.
But with practice, mindful eating began to help me restore the balance between my body and mind and heal my troubled relationship with food.
How to connect with your body through mindful eating
The techniques below helped me to discover and experience emotions instead of pushing them away through food choices.
1. Shift out of food routines and rituals
“Just need to get my hummus sandwich bagel. I don’t even feel like it. Everyone is eating pancakes since it’s Sunday, but I am stuck in this. I am afraid of changing it.”
Journal entries like the one above highlight how obsessed I was with my meal plan and list of safe foods. Which resulted in a lack of flexibility and stress.
My ‘walking head’ was in charge and made choices for me. Do you eat the same meal every day? Do you have a narrow list of foods that still satisfy your ED voice, even though you are in recovery? Try to admit when you are stuck in any kind of routine and break it by introducing variety to your meals.
You can start small and focus on incorporating a new food once a week and build out to more from there.
2. Shut off any distractions
Checking my Twitter stream while having lunch distracted me. Scrolling through Instagram while having dinner, and sending emails with my partner Jessica at the same time at kept me from mindful eating. The fear of missing out caused me to feel restless, anxious and stressed. Which resulted in eating fast and mindlessly.
It is really important to eat with full attention. Especially when recovering from an eating disorder.
Do you check your social media when having breakfast? Do you have 4 screens running on your laptop at once while having dinner? Shut off your phone and put your laptop or computer in sleep mode. Now you can become fully aware of the eating experience. Once you are able to be in the present moment, you will begin to notice thought patterns and emotions residing inside.
3. Body cues
At first the whole idea of reconnecting with my body seemed pretty scary. When you treat your body like an enemy for so long it can be really challenging to actually nourish and nurture it. I had to gain a lot of weight in recovery and stick to a meal plan my dietitian provided me with. It freaked me out, resulting in a constant state of stress. I felt like a failure and was gorging myself with everything I had to eat being completely mindless.
Take a deep breath and pay attention to the wisdom of your body. Allowing myself to listen to my body really supported me through this phase. Focus on how your body feels. Are you hungry or are you just feeling emotional? Where do you feel it? Is it your stomach or your head? There is no right or wrong, experience anything going on inside. Note: when going through recovery hunger cues can be misleading. Use them only when a certified treatment professional advises you to.
4. Positive thinking
When I was recovering from my eating disorder I familiarized myself with feelings like “You see, they want me to get fat.”, “I am not good enough and do not deserve food” and “I am a failure.” Thoughts like this did not help me. Take a moment to consider your thoughts. Which thoughts pop up in your mind? Just because negative thoughts pop up, it does not mean they have to be acted upon! A thought is just a thought, not the truth! But you know what? Getting a healthy relationship with food does not happen overnight. It is a moment-to-moment awareness that must be practiced and cultivated over time.
When learning to eat mindfully our Rise Up + Recover App can be a great tool for support. After eating mindfully and logging your meal, you can record your feelings and any thoughts that came up during the meal.
There is no perfect in mindful eating
Again, do not think you need to be perfect in practicing mindful eating. It is not an exercise where you get a grade for. It is a simple commitment to appreciating your meals, enjoying the food you eat and realize you deserve to nourish yourself! Are you familiar with mindful eating and what do you think of it? Let us know!