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3 Reasons Mindfulness Is A Powerful Tool Against Eating Disorders

It’s a challenge for anyone to stay in the present moment. With our incessant social media scrolling, 24/7 news stream, and constant planning for the future, the distractions are omnipresent these days. For those suffering from eating disorders, a comparison mindset is one of those crippling distractions that keeps us from living in the here and now. When we’re constantly in comparison, we’re constantly judging ourselves, our past selves, and even our future selves. This is why for individuals suffering from an eating disorder, cultivating mindfulness can become the lifeline needed to ease self-destruction.

For those with anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, thoughts around body image, caloric intake, and weight become incessant. These negative thought patterns hinder our capacity to live joyful, meaningful lives in the present moment. Life can only unfold in the present moment experience, so when our minds are mired in wishing our weight or body were different, we’re perpetually dissatisfied with life. This dissatisfaction is where misery thrives.

What's one way to break this cycle? Mindfulness. A study from Eastern Washington University suggests that using mindfulness as a treatment approach is effective, since eating disorders are associated with perfectionism, control, and harsh self-criticism. In essence, if we can change our relationship with our thoughts, we can begin to heal our relationship with ourselves—this includes our body. Here are three ways mindfulness is a power tool against eating disorders:

1. Mindfulness helps you identify triggers in the moment.
When we’re present with ourselves and our environments, we begin to learn the relationship we have with environmental triggers. For example, asking the question, "What is fueling this self-destructiveness?" is a tremendously helpful piece of self-inquiry for those suffering from eating disorders. Environmental triggers could include seeing skinny model images in the media, a challenging interpersonal relationship, or being exposed to particular foods. Internal triggers could be default modes of negative thinking or old belief systems.

The more we can get to know inner and outer triggers, the more opportunity we have to heal and change our relationship with life. Awareness is the first step of transformation. Mindfulness techniques that help us to shine the light of awareness on our triggers include daily meditation, journaling, and remembering to pause in moments of emotional imbalance. This pausing creates space for healthier actions to take place—such as mindful breathing or actively changing thought patterns.

2. Observing your thoughts will help you befriend your inner critic.
Our inner critic constantly tells us we’re not good enough and we’ll never be good enough until we, for example, obtain a particular weight or body image. Inner critics fuel addiction to perfectionism and attachment to maladaptive behaviors such as bingeing and purging. It’s easy to disown that aggressive inner critic, but practicing self-compassion is the strongest antidote.

What is self-compassion anyhow? It’s the feeling that arises when you acknowledge your own suffering with a kind, nonjudgmental heart. Kristen Neff, a self-compassion researcher, talks about self-compassion as a way to shift from self-judgment to self-kindness. Self-compassion involves approaching our perceived failures, hardships, and moments of suffering with gentleness. Self-compassion can teach us the beauty of our imperfections, as we begin to own our innate wholeness as individuals. For those suffering from eating disorders, practicing this kindness and compassion turned inward is an essential component of healing and recovery.

3. Meditation is a proven mood booster.
Neuroscience now shows what ancient yogis and meditators have known for centuries—that healing happens through the body utilizing stillness and silence. Dr. Anne Fabiny, former editor in chief of Harvard Women’s Health, explains that meditation can be as effective as antidepressants. The negative thought patterns associated with eating disorders can wreak havoc on our mood states, resulting in depressive symptoms. Meditation cultivates a mind that can find itself, even if it loses its way. For example, when a thought of self-hatred arises, we can observe the thought without attachment or reactivity—and then allow it to organically float out of our consciousness. This power of presence is strengthened through formal sitting meditation. Just 10 minutes a day can birth tremendous benefits, bringing awareness to thought patterns and giving us the perspective to see that thoughts are real experiences not necessarily based on truth.

Mindfulness offers us a portal through which we can ignite our inner power for healing and synergy between our minds and bodies. Remember: Moment-to-moment, we can change our relationship with the mind, body, and heart, stepping into a life full of joy.