Quiet the Urge to Eat Impulsively or Mindlessly, or to Start a Diet
This post is more personal than most because meditation impacts me on a daily basis. I have been studying mindfulness and meditation since high school. However, in the past 10 years, meditating has become an important component of my daily self-care rituals. But this is not about me, it is about one more evidence-based habit you can practice on your path to finding food freedom and other benefits as well.
What is meditation?
“The term meditation refers to a family of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being and development and/or specific capacities such as calm, clarity, and concentration.”
—Walsh et al. 2019
Meditation is a practice that helps you cultivate awareness and attune your attention. It is a scientifically based tool that can serve anyone reaching for deeper understanding and for expanding in recovery.
Practicing mindfulness is one way to meditate. Mindfulness is simply being present in the moment, paying close attention to what’s going on around you with acceptance rather than judgment. You direct your awareness to your breath, thoughts, physical sensations, and feelings. You note your thoughts and feelings but let them go.
A 2022 study comparing long-time meditators to non-meditators found that the meditators had higher levels of mindfulness and quality of life, and were more adept at identifying and labeling their experiences, self-acceptance, and detachment from negative thoughts and emotions.
Meditation can give you greater ease and fewer mental battles
“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things. That’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before. It’s a discipline; you have to practice it.”
Note the word Steve Jobs used to describe the growth of intuition as a result of practicing meditation: blossom. Meditating can enhance your mental health, physical health, and relationships. Meditation focuses on mind-body integration and has been found to calm the mind, reduce the negative impact of stress, and improve overall well-being. With some types of meditation, you focus on a particular sensation, such as breathing, a visual image, or a mantra (a repeated word or phrase). As thoughts come to mind, you let them go without judgment.
With regular practice, you improve on your capacity to purposefully place your attention where you want, even during times when you are not meditating. You also increase the pause between a trigger and a reaction, opening up a space for you to truly choose whether to act or not.
Think about how many ways greater voluntary control over your mind can make you more effective regardless of your goals: it can reduce impulsivity, reduce the tendency for your mind to jump around, improve concentration, enhance self-acceptance, decrease self-criticism, and improve your memory and so much more.
What parts of your life and soul are waiting to blossom? What might you hear in greater stillness?
Meditation can improve your relationship to food
The mind—cluttered by the noise, past traumas, distractions, and rules of the world—can be easily hijacked by an eating disorder. Eating disorders shut down the blossoming of awareness and creativity in the world and in your own life. They make it hard, if not impossible, to distinguish the truest sense of who you are and what you want from the mandates of the eating disorder.
Mindfulness and meditation can relieve you of those limits by helping you bypass the overpowering thoughts of the eating disorder and tune in to your soulful, deepest voice that endures beneath disordered eating habits. You know this voice already. This true voice of yours has already led you. Think back to all of the times you have known right from wrong, seen and taken opportunities for connections, stayed open to learn and grow, and found strength to rise above obstacles. If you add meditation to your recovery tool kit, you establish a daily time and space dedicated to noticing and expanding your unique strengths, values, and dreams.
With mindful eating, you pay attention to how food looks, smells, and tastes, which slows down the eating process. You can also place your mind’s attention on what is going on inside your body, noticing hunger and fullness cues. Mindful eating can alert you when you have gone too long without food or are eating past the point of fullness. It can also prevent you from emotional eating.
A 30-day challenge: meditate for 5 minutes daily
If meditation is new to you, aim for five minutes a day to get in the habit. Schedule time on your calendar to close your eyes and check in with your breathing or to do a full-body scan. Bring your focus to the present moment and center your mind. You might want to mentally say, “Breathe in calm” on each inhale and “Breathe out stress” on each exhale.
As you get the hang of it, try to place your attention on something else. You might focus on something you appreciate, such as your life, body, or relationships. Or you can even try a gentle walking meditation: go outside, walk slowly, noticing the colors, sights, scents, and sounds around you, without judgment and on purpose. In mindfulness meditation, as well as in other forms of meditation, when your mind wanders (and it will!), try bringing your attention back gently.
The more consistently you meditate and flex your mindfulness muscle, the more you’ll reap the rewards, including increased self-compassion and reduced stress and anxiety. Left unchecked, anxiety and stress can lead to and perpetuate destructive eating disorder behaviors.
It’s not as mysterious as it sounds
Are you willing to give it a try? If so, you might want to find an online guided meditation to listen to as an easy way to get started. Or check out the wide variety of free meditation apps.
The blueprint to your recovery is already inside you; learn to tap into it. When you practice meditation, you allow the subtleties of your values, your own voice, and the life you want to live to rise above the darkness of the eating disorder and enter into the light.
American Psychological Association. (2019). Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress. https://www.apa.org/topics/mindfulness/meditation
Dasanayaka, N. N., Sirisena, N. D., & Samaranayake, N. (2022). Impact of meditation-based lifestyle practices on mindfulness, wellbeing, and plasma telomerase levels: A case-control study. Frontiers in Psychology, 13. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.846085
Gleissner, G. (2016). Meditation helps eating disorder recovery. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hope-eating-disorder-recovery/201610/meditation-helps-eating-disorder-recovery
Godman, H. (2022). Overeating? Mindfulness exercises may help. Harvard Medical School. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/overeating-mindfulness-exercises-may-help-202203282714
Isaacson, W. (2011). Steve Jobs.
Marson, G. (2021). The top five benefits of meditation. https://drgiamarson.com/the-top-5-benefits-of-meditation/
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine. (2022). Meditation and mindfulness: What you need to know. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation-and-mindfulness-what-you-need-to-knowAll Blogs