Mindful & Intuitive Eating for BED Recovery
Written by MEDA undergraduate intern, Stephanie Wall
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States (NEDA, 2018). About 3.5% of American women, 2% of American men, and 1.6% of American adolescents currently suffer from BED (ED Referral, 2018). It is characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food, often very quickly and to the point of discomfort. Those who suffer from BED tend to feel a loss of control during the binge and experience shame, distress, or guilt afterwards. Further, compensatory measures, such as using laxatives or forcing oneself to vomit, are not enacted to counter the binge. In addition to typical therapy for eating disorders, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), using both intuitive and mindful eating techniques can be quite powerful in helping those struggling with BED.
A common symptom of BED is engaging in any new practice with food or fad diets. This contributes to body dissatisfaction, food and body preoccupation, and weight stigmatization (Tribole, 2017). The fallout from this mindset is mandating what and when one eats, regardless of one’s biological needs. In those with BED, this rigidity can lead to a binge, and thus feelings of a loss of control. This is known as the binge/restrict cycle.
Intuitive eating can be helpful in breaking this cycle. Intuitive eating is a personal process of honoring your health by responding to your body’s biological signals (Tribole, 2017). Here at MEDA, the EmbodiED Group focuses on self-compassion in their sessions, emphasizing this idea. Because a major idea in intuitive eating is listening to oneself and meeting one’s needs, the individual undergoing this change must be ready for it. This is a key factor for therapy to work, which is why intuitive eating works best for those who have the internal motivation to recover.
One major component of intuitive eating is “legalizing all food” (Hirschmann, 158). This means viewing all food in the same way, in order to remove the idea of “good” vs. “bad” calories. Because namely “junk food” is consumed during a binge, removing the negative connotation associated with that food may help alleviate some of the guilt felt after a binge. This also destroys the idea of “trigger foods” because all food is seen as the same. Many individuals who suffer from BED believe that even the slightest consumption of a certain kind of food will automatically invoke a binge session. According to Dr. Sandra Aamodt, a neuroscientist, hunger and energy use are controlled by the brain, mostly without one’s awareness. Thus, if we truly listen to our bodies and eat without guilt, the more we will naturally crave nutritious food.
Moreover, the idea of the “clean the plate club” has to be disregarded for intuitive eating to work. Being sure that everything on a plate is eaten disconnects us from our bodies and our feelings of fullness (Tribole, 2017). The basis of intuitive eating is to eat when hunger strikes. By legalizing all food as well as ending adherence to rigid rules, intuitive eating can be achieved.
Often those with BED eat when they are overwhelmed and stressed. To eat both intuitively and mindfully, we must ask ourselves how we are feeling and thus why we are eating. As a therapy, having the patience to sit with their feelings instead of eating to quell them is very effective (Tribole, 169). This coincides with mindful eating, based on concepts in the Buddhist faith, which involves being fully aware of what is happening within and around you in the moment. In addition to learning how to eat intuitively, learning how to eat mindfully is important.
Staying present and mindful while eating “allows you to feel the direct experience of your body and the many sensations of eating” (Tribole, 137). Someone who eats mindfully acknowledges that there is no right or wrong way to eat, varies their degree of awareness surrounding the experience of food, accepts that their eating experiences are unique, directs their attention to eating on a moment-by-moment basis, and gains awareness of how they can make choices that support health and wellbeing (The Center for Mindful Eating, 2013). A common method for eating mindfully is eating with one’s non-dominant hand. In one study, participants were instructed to eat popcorn while watching a movie. Unknown to them, the popcorn was a mix of fresh and stale. Those who ate with their non-dominant hand recognized the stale popcorn, and ate less of both the stale and fresh popcorn. Their counterparts didn’t recognize the stale popcorn and ate more (Tribole, 2017).
Experts suggest starting gradually with mindful eating by eating one meal a day or week in a slower, more attentive, manner. Thinking about the flavor, texture, temperature, and aromas of what you want to eat before you settle down to eat will help you eat in a mindful manner (Tribole, 135).
Intuitive and mindful eating are quite useful for re-establishing one’s relationship with food, however these concepts will not address all components of the eating disorder. Typical forms of therapy proven to work include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and interpersonal psychotherapy. By working on both the physiological and psychological aspects of Binge Eating Disorder, recovery can be achieved.
Aamodt, S. (2013, June). Why Dieting Doesn’t Usually Work. Lecture presented at TEDGlobal 2013. Retrieved August 2, 2018, from https://www.ted.com/talks/sandra_aamodt_why_dieting_doesn_t_usually_work/transcript
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Hirschmann, J. R., & Munter, C. H. (2010). Overcoming overeating. Place of publication not identified: OO Publishing.
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NEDA. (2018, February 22). Binge Eating Disorder. Retrieved July 26, 2018, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/bed
The Center for Mindful Eating. (2013, August). Introducing Mindful Eating. Retrieved July 31, 2018, from https://www.thecenterformindfuleating.org/IntroMindfulEating
Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2017). The Intuitive eating workbook: Ten principles for nourishing a healthy relationship with food. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.