Mindfulness and Eating Disorders

The important part of mindfulness practice is to be patient with yourself.

The important part of mindfulness practice is to be patient with yourself.

February 1-7 marks the nation’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week and with this in mind, I felt it was a great opportunity to touch on a topic that is near and dear to my heart.  I could write a novel on the implications of naturopathic medicine in eating disorder recovery but for the sake of a short article, let’s discuss the importance of mindfulness technique.

Therapy – the cornerstone of eating disorders work.  There are many different forms of therapy out there that have clinical support with eating disorders and mindfulness technique is no exception.  While therapy of any kind is incredibly beneficial, mindfulness work is a great tool to have when you need a little personal support and grounding and connection within yourself.  Not quite sure what mindfulness technique is and if it’s a good option for you to explore? Read on to learn more.

Did you know that on average, our minds are lost in thought almost 47% of the time (Bradt 2010)?  That’s an awful lot of time not spent in the present moment.  And this is exactly what mindfulness can help with – cultivating awareness in the present moment, nonjudgmentally.  Mindfulness allows space within ourselves to develop meaningful connections and make adaptive choices, making it an excellent adjunctive tool to the common forms of therapy, like cognitive behavioural therapy for use in eating disorders.  Having the ability to become aware of thought processes and their relative actions is a vital step in the direction to alter the choices you make, instead of letting self-destructive “autopilot” reactions take over.  As Carl Jung once said, “you are not what happened to you, you are what you choose to become.”  Awareness leads to choice in how we are going to adapt or respond to stress, triggers or destructive thoughts.

Mindfulness is about:

  • Non-judgment – simply being aware of thoughts and feelings that may arise without forming opinions over them.
  • Patience – practicing awareness of the bigger picture, the acceptance of the journey ahead.
  • Beginner’s mind – maintaining an openness to the possibilities along the journey or as the saying goes, “seeing things with fresh eyes”.
  • Trust – developing personal confidence in the ability to resonate with the present moment.
  • Non-striving – understanding there is no end goal, you are enough right now in this moment.
  • Acceptance – being ok with the chaos.  It’s about living peacefully amidst the storm.
  • Letting go – know that when you change the way you look at things, you change the things you look at.

While there are a number of different forms of mindfulness approaches out there, mindful activities like writing, yoga, walking or eating can be incredibly beneficial in eating disorder management.  Having the ability to connect your thoughts and intentions with your physical self (in the form of breath and physical body movement or sensations) is a major feat when it comes to acceptance of the self. 

The important part of mindfulness practice is to be patient with yourself.  Yes, it will feel uncomfortable in the beginning to work through this type of personal connectivity – something that many eating disorder patients struggle with on an all-too-regular basis.  Have a support team on your side – be that a supportive friend and family network, a therapist or health care professional or even a knowledgeable yoga instructor.  Support is necessary when working through difficult situations and is great for maintaining accountability.

References:

Bradt, S. (2010, Nov 11). Wandering mind not a happy mind. Harvard Gazette. Retrieved from: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/

Epstein, P. (2014). Mindful Healing: Connecting the Cell and the Self [Online Course]. Retrieved from www.ccnm.edu/continue_edu

Kabat-Zinn, J., & University of Massachusetts Medical Center/Worcester. (1991). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York, N.Y: Pub. by Dell Pub., a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Pub. Group.

Wanden-Berghe, RG; Sanz-Valero, J; Wanden-Berghe, C. (2010). The Applicationf of Mindfulness to Eating Disorders Treatment: A Systematic Review. Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention. 19(1):34-48. DOI: 10.1080/10640266.2011.533604