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When you’re struggling with an eating disorder, learning how to eat in a non-disordered way can be extremely challenging. Just as developing eating disorder behaviors takes time, recultivating a peaceful relationship with food and body image is a gradual process. That being said, one goal that many eating disorder therapists and dietitians preach to their clients is to embrace the concept of mindful eating

What is Mindfulness?

The concept of mindfulness teaches the importance of remaining present to one’s sensations and here-and-now experiences. When you’re dealing with an eating disorder, remaining present can be a struggle as you’re bombarded with critical thoughts trying to dictate your meal, feelings of anxiety, shame, and sadness, and preoccupations with your body. You may be experiencing overwhelming emotions that you’re sure can only be quelled by eating large amounts of food. 

By practicing mindfulness while eating, you are teaching yourself to remain present to the experience and sensations of having a meal or snack, all the while refraining from any judgment or criticism. 

How Do I Eat Mindfully?

Remove distractions. Firstly, getting rid of possible distractions during the meal can help you focus on the eating experience. For instance, avoid watching TV or being on the phone as to engage all your senses in the meal.

Engage all of your senses.  Use every sensation to take in the meal or snack. Let’s say, for instance, that you’re presented with a wrapped piece of chocolate. Take a few moments to use each one of your five senses to truly experience eating the chocolate. 

Sight – Notice the color, texture, shape, and designs of the wrapper.  Do you see any words or symbols? Do the same once you unwrap the chocolate.

Touch – Feel the sensations of the wrapper in your hand. What does it feel like? Is it a pleasant sensation? Do the same thing once you unwrap the chocolate. 

Sound – Play with the chocolate’s wrapper and notice any sounds. Do the same once you unwrap the chocolate. 

Smell – Bring the wrapped piece of chocolate to your nose. What scents do you notice? Can you make out the ingredients in the chocolate from the smell? Then, unwrap the piece of chocolate, and ask yourself these same questions. Does the smell change at all? Do you notice your mouth watering just from the aroma?

Taste – Once you unwrap the piece of chocolate and have used your other four senses to mindfully experience it, bring the chocolate to your lips. Notice the texture and taste on your lips. Then, put the piece of chocolate on your tongue and notice these same sensations. Finally, chew the chocolate and swallow it, noticing the sensations during these processes. 

After this, check in with yourself. What do you feel? What are your thoughts like? Did you get to experience any relief from negative thoughts and feelings by being truly present while eating?

Tune in to your body.  Another helpful tool is to check in with your body cues before, during, and after the meal or snack. This will be hard during the earlier stages of recovery, because having an eating disorder essentially forces you to ignore your body cues, or you may have not even been attuned to them in the first place.  One way to help yourself become more attuned is by trying to connect to any feelings of fullness or hunger. This will get easier with time and practice so it’s okay if you are not sure. Think of hunger and fullness on a 0-10 scale with “0” meaning “painfully hungry” and “10” meaning “painfully full.” Decide where on the scale your hunger/fullness falls.  Being more aware of these cues can be an essential guide in determining when and how much to eat.

Beginning to implement any of these techniques can be very helpful for getting out of your head and overwhelming emotions while eating, and can slowly help you create more positive associations with food and the eating experience.

Bio: Bahar Moheban, M.A. is a clinical psychology doctoral candidate and registered psychological assistant in Torrance under the supervision of Dr. Nazanin Moali. She provides individual and group psychotherapy to adults and adolescents presenting with disordered eating, negative body image, and cormorbid disorders.  To cultivate a more mindful relationship with eating and body image, contact Bahar for a counseling appointment.

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