A healthy relationship with food, requires a healthy relationship with one’s self. One of the most powerful ways to achieve this, is with mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer in the field, defines mindfulness as “the awareness that arises, through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally, in the service of self-understanding and wisdom.” In other words, it’s about making a conscious decision, to really witness, whatever it is you’re feeling, thinking about, or experiencing, right here and right now. It involves accepting, and being curious about, whatever you observe. For example, if an emotion arises in your body, such as sadness or anger, you don’t call it good or bad, or right or wrong. You don’t fight, resist, or push it away. Rather, you “sit with it” and learn from it. What does this emotion feel like in my body? What is its purpose? Why is it here? You let mindfulness increase your understanding, of who you are, what you need, and most importantly, how to live your life well. Perhaps, Pema Chödrön, an American Tibetan Buddhist, said it best “The most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.” Mindfulness allows us to do just that.
Changing Food Habits
How does mindfulness alter your relationship with food? When the relationship you have with yourself is a good one, you’re much less likely to engage in disordered eating, including overeating, binge eating, emotional eating, or unhealthy food restriction. For example, each of the following factors or conditions increases your risk of disordered eating:
- Inflexibility or Rigidness
- Poor impulse control
- Low self-esteem
- Body Dissatisfaction
- Lack of empathy
- Lack of self-compassion
- Poor emotional regulation
- Frequently comparing your body or appearance to others
- Lack of connection to family and friends
Now, for the impressive news – mindfulness has the power to positively impact every single factor or condition on this list. A regular mindfulness or meditation practice re-wires your brain. As a result, you’re less anxious, happier, more resilient, more accepting of yourself and others, better able to regulate your emotions and tune into the emotions of others, less likely to give into cravings, and better able to develop and maintain strong relationships. In other words, mindfulness decreases your risk of disordered eating, because it makes you a calmer, happier, healthier, and better-adjusted person – one who doesn’t need food as a coping tool for life.
Putting Advice Into Practice
Although there are many ways to be mindful, like mindful walking and mindful eating, having a regular meditation practice is highly recommended and strongly supported by science. Start small. Commit to sitting for just 5 or 10 minutes daily. Work up to at least 15 to 20 minutes. Do your best not to miss a day. If you want to reap the benefits, consistency really matters. I generally sit for 20 to 30 minutes in the morning and another 10 minutes or so, before I retire at night. To increase your commitment, consider taking a course on meditation. My participation in an 8-week mindfulness-based-stress-reduction program was immensely valuable. Signing up for a retreat is another great option. Finally, check out the following websites to expand your knowledge of mindfulness and what it can do for you (free guided meditations are available on most of these sites too):
Practicing mindfulness makes you a calmer, happier, healthier, and better-adjusted person. This decreases your need to misuse or abuse food. Commit to making mindfulness a regular part of each day.
P.S. Meditation usually feels hard, before it feels easy. Be patient and compassionate with yourself as you go. In time, your efforts will be rewarded. Lastly, if you’ve experienced severe trauma in your life, starting meditation with a qualified practitioner to guide you, is recommended.