Eating Disorders

In Defense of Mindless Eating for Eating Disorder Recovery

mindless vs mindful eating in eating disorder recovery
Turning eating into a positive experience is certainly a goal of recovery, but it’s okay if that’s not where you’re at.

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Be present, pay attention, take your time, enjoy your foods, taste, and savour every bite- these are all things we often recommend to increase mindfulness in eating (also known as “Mindful Eating”.

The Role of Mindful Eating

Mindful eating can increase satisfaction with foods and connect us to our internal, intuitive cues to eat. For many people with difficult or strained relationships to food, this can be a huge and important step. Working towards this and finding that satisfaction can be incredibly rewarding.

Related: 3 Tips to Bring Mindfulness Into Meals

But what happens when slowing down and removing distractions instead leaves more space for anxious thoughts?

For those with eating disorders, this is often the case. Removing distractions can open the door for disordered thoughts to run rampant in an already difficult moment.

So what is someone struggling with an eating disorder supposed to do?

Adding Calm by Adding Distractions

Despite the many benefits of mindful eating, I recommend the exact opposite as we learn to eat regularly and challenge fear foods.

In fact, for my clients suffering from eating disorders, I recommend adding distractions to meals to help ease anxiety.

Do you like reading or listening to audiobooks? Maybe a soothing voice while you eat can be calming, or perhaps you can get lost in a story instead of disordered thoughts. Are there games you can play with supportive friends and family members as you work on a challenging meal? What about a favourite funny show to make you laugh when things feel so tough?

Over time, you may find you’re building positive memories tied to meal times in a way that didn’t feel possible before.

Addressing Hesitation

Many of my clients are nervous about doing this. They wonder why they have to do things so opposite for everyone else. It may feel uncomfortable or unfair to follow these seemingly backward suggestions.

In these moments, we must remember that healthy activities and choices look different for different people.

There is no one correct way to eat, despite what diet culture tries to tell us.

We are constantly told and sold the idea that there is, in fact, one perfect way of eating. But this is not the case. Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with you, but so much wrong with diet culture.

Turning eating into a positive experience is certainly a goal of recovery, but it’s okay if that’s not where you are yet.

Remember that recovery is a journey, and there are many steps along the way. You may have to adjust your approach as you go along. You likely will not have to eat with distractions forever, but it can be incredibly soothing for right now.

Putting it Into Practice

Try keeping a list of some favourite calming activities and working one of them in at your next meal. See how this makes you feel. See how it affects your eating disordered voice or your stress through the meal.

If it makes it any better, then this strategy might be a good one for you right now. I hope you try this out and that you find some peace at mealtime.

Olivia Cupido, RD

Olivia is a registered dietitian and founder of OG Nutrition in Toronto. She is passionate about helping others foster healthy relationships with food and their bodies. Olivia helps her clients return to the importance of connection, culture, enjoyment and self-care in food and eating.

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