As someone who has struggled with binge eating, I know how terrifying it can be to even consider starting a journey of recovery. The fear of failing and not being able to trust your mind is overwhelming. But I am slowly learning that taking small steps towards healing can make a huge difference. One of the tools I’m trying to incorporate into my healing framework is mindful eating. By learning to be present in the moment and tuning into my body’s hunger and fullness signals, I’m hoping to at least begin the journey of breaking through the destructive cycle of binge eating that I’ve suffered from for as long as I can remember. In this post, I want to share what I’m learning about mindful eating and why it is recognised as being a powerful intervention strategy for coping with binge eating.
What is Mindful Eating
In essence, mindful eating can be defined as the practice of being present and fully engaged in the act of eating. It involves paying attention to the taste, texture, and smell of the food, as well as the physical sensations of hunger and fullness. By being mindful, we can develop a deeper awareness of our relationship with food and our body in the hopes of allowing us to make healthier food choices, eat more slowly and enjoy our meals more fully.
Why is Mindful Eating a Sound Intervention Strategy for Binge Eating?
If you’ve ever suffered from binge eating, you’ll understand that feeling of being disconnected from any rational thought, including a complete disconnection from the body’s hunger and fulness signals. This is not to say that you don’t feel full. In the midst of a binge eating episode, you know full well that you are full – overfull…stuffed to the limit, even – and yet, you feel removed from your actions and completely disconnected from the moment. By practicing mindful eating though, the hope is that we can learn to reconnect with these signals and tune in to what our body truly needs at any given moment in time, allowing us to break free from the cycle of overeating and the feelings of guilt and shame that accompany it.
The Psychology of Binge Eating vs. Mindful Eating
As stalkerish as this may sound, I oftentimes find myself watching people eat, especially those who don’t seem to have any unhealthy attachments towards food. And, in all my observations, the one commonality I have found is that these people, these lucky ones who don’t see food as anything except a normal part of their daily existence, always seem to savour their meals. They enjoy their food, savour it even, and they ALWAYS seem to eat their fill in a given sitting. I also don’t often see them grazing. They eat and they eat their fill and then they are done. And in almost every instance, they seemed to be so present in the moment, not trying to prolong it or cut their eating short. They just always seem so relaxed and at peace with their food and their enjoyment of the moment. And when the moment is done, it’s done.
And it is SO VERY different from what I experience when I eat. Even if I am not binge eating, I don’t ever seem to feel at peace with my food, at peace at meal time. I always seem to have this odd level of anxiety hanging over me. A feeling I’ve grown so accustomed to that I can’t imagine it being any other way.
And that anxiety is always exacerbated, but seemingly further removed, when I am caught up in a binge eating episode. And I understand that theoretically, binge eating is said to be driven by emotional and psychological factors, such as stress, anxiety, and depression. But when I am binging, I’m never able to pinpoint a link. I just feel out of control, eating whatever I can get my hands on in the fridge or pantry, without any thought to the where or what or why. And the more I eat, the more I lose control and the more I lose control,the less I care about regaining control and it’s all a downward spiral from there.
In contrast thought, mindful eating is meant to be rooted in self-awareness and self-compassion. And the hope is that by learning to be present and fully engaged in the act of eating, I can begin to develop a deeper understanding of my relationship with food and my body but, more than that, giving me the opportunity to structure into my eating the potential to feel the opposite of what I feel when I binge eat. And my deepest hope is that, if I practice this enough in the moments when I am not caught up in a binge eating episode, I’ll be able to bring up the feeling of peace when I feel a binging urge coming on and avoid slipping into the spiral of mindless, mindless, eating.
Strategies for Practicing Mindful Eating
Bearing this in mind, these are some of the strategies I am going to try and incorporate in my eating habits moving forwards:
- Slowing down: Taking my time when I eat. Chewing my food slowly, but not too slowly – it needs to feel natural – and savouring each bite.
- Tuning into my hunger and fullness signals: Before I eat, I will try and check in with my body to see how hungry I feel. I am going to use the following scale to check in with myself before and after I eat:
0: Ravenous hunger, feeling weak and lightheaded
2-3: Strong hunger, feeling irritable or easily distracted
4-5: Comfortable level of hunger, feeling slightly empty or ready to eat
6-7: Satisfied level of fullness, feeling comfortable and content
8-9: Stuffed and uncomfortable, feeling bloated or too full
10: Extreme discomfort, feeling nauseated or in pain
- Eliminating distractions: I’m going to try and only eat at the table. Not in front of the TV, not while on my phone or listening to anything that will turn my attention away from my food. The intention is to value my food so much that I am giving it my full attention. Because it’s worth my full attention. I want to love my food enough to savour “our time together”.
- Practicing self-compassion: I am so afraid of slipping up and eating and binging. I’ve made declarations to stop before and I’ve betrayed my trust so many times in the past and it’s so painful and shameful. But I need to get away from that and I need to know that when I do slip up and overeat, I’m going to try and be kind to myself and during and after and try not to sink too deep into the abyss that follows. I neeed to remember that healing is a journey and that every step I take is a step in the right direction.
- Seeking Help: Reminding myself that I am not alone and that there is no shame in asking those I love the most for help if need it.
The Way Forward
All in all, I know that mindful eating is a powerful tool and that others who have used it to cope with the struggle of binge eating have benefitted from the process. By being present in the moment and fully experiencing the sensory aspects of food, I am choosing to build a healthier relationship with food and my body. Rather than relying on restrictive diets or punishing exercise routines, as I have always done in the past, I am choosing to learn to listen to my body and honour my food enough to savour every bite.
But I need to be real with myself too and know that this journey is not easy. There will be moments of struggle, setbacks, and even failure and I need to remember that healing from binge eating is a process, and that it’s okay for me to take it one step at a time and it’s necessary for me to be patient, kind and compassionate with myself in my failures even as I celebrate the small victories along the way.