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December 21, 2016

Creating a Peaceful Relationship To Food With Mindful Eating

by Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC

For someone who has struggled with binge eating disorder, there is a constant sense of chaos that is associated with food and eating.  What should be pleasurable and enjoyable can become burdening and overwhelming, making mealtimes and eating with others difficult.

Contrary to what might be believed about binge eating disorder, this psychiatric illness is not about lack of self-will when it comes to food and eating.  A variety of biological and environmental factors influence abnormal eating disorder behaviors in a person with binge eating, making it challenging to foster a peaceful relationship to food and body.

Seeking Out Appropriate Help

If you or someone you care for is struggling with binge eating disorder, it is important to understand the severity of this illness and the need for professional assistance and intervention.  The abnormal behaviors that are part of this eating disorder cannot be “corrected” with more discipline or improved self-will.

Recovery from binge eating disorder is something that can occur with the assistance of professional treatment.  Because the nature of binge eating disorder is complex, so must treatment approaches be comprehensive to address the unique needs a person might have.

A registered dietitian can be an invaluable part of the recovery process.  When food and eating are chaotic and disorderly, learning to renegotiate the eating experience can be life-changing when recovering from binge eating disorder.  A registered dietitian can offer many different resources, education, and guidance that support recovery from binge eating disorder as well as lay the groundwork for a normalized relationship to food.

Practicing Mindful Eating

Many registered dietitians will incorporate the practice of mindful eating in the process of recovering from binge eating, but what exactly does this mean?  Simply put, mindfulness is the state of being aware of a present situation, especially of one’s own thoughts and how one may be feeling: physically, mentally, and emotionally.  As easy as mindfulness might seem, this can be a difficult state to achieve, especially for a person dealing with binge eating disorder.

Binge eating is actually quite the opposite of everything that is mindfulness.  A person who continues to eat, even when physically satiated, is unaware or unresponsive to how they are feeling physically.  When food is turned to for comfort or soothing, a person is denying what they might be feeling or needing emotionally.  Binge eating is often done to numb emotions and feelings, which causes a person to override awareness of emotional state of being.

Mindfulness applied to eating is learning how to tune in to what your body might be needing, understanding how you are feeling, physically and emotionally, and responding accordingly. For an individual who has struggled with binge eating disorder, the process of learning how to become mindful can be difficult, but here are some steps to help encourage you to begin the practice of mindful eating:

  • Minimize Distractions:  In order to help become more aware of how you are feeling when you are eating, it is important to minimize distractions when you are eating.  This may involve changing your eating habits during mealtimes. Practice sitting at your table, turn off the TV or put away your cell phone.  This can help you better tune in to how your body is feeling while you are eating.
  • Practice Awareness:  During binge eating episodes, food is often eaten with little regard to flavors, textures, and other details.  Slow down while you are eating to truly taste your food and become aware of what you are eating.  What are aspects of your food that you enjoy?  This can help change the eating experience from chaotic to enjoyable.
  • Honor Your Feelings:  Checking in with yourself before a meal can help you better understand what you might feeling.  Are you coming into a meal feeling anxious, frustrated, depressed, etc?  Having an awareness of your emotional state before a meal can help you be better attuned to what your body may be needing.
  • Let Go of the Judgment:  Mindfulness is being aware of thoughts and feelings without judgment.  Are you feeling guilty about something you are eating?  Are your thoughts towards food and your body critical?  If so, it is important to work through these issues to help create a more peaceful relationship to food and your body.

Normalizing a relationship to food that has previously been chaotic is possible, beginning with the practice of mindfulness during meal time.  Remember that this is not something you need or should do alone.  Having the support of team that includes a registered dietitian can be a helpful resource for transforming your relationship to both food and body.

Crystal Karges Nutrition