Thinking Out Loud 5/7/15: Mindful Eating In Recovery

Good morning on this lovely Thursday! Today, I’m linking up with Amanda to share some of my thoughts on the role of mindful eating in recovery.

Mindfulness has been a hugely significant part of my recovery experience. In my first appointment with my therapist, she recommended that I begin practicing some simple mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing, and I have tried to incorporate a greater level of awareness into my life from that point on. I have noticed, however, that there is a catch when it comes to mindfulness, especially mindful eating.

When I was at my very sickest and not entirely aware that I was suffering from what would soon be diagnosed as anorexia nervosa, I believed that my real problem was with overeating. If I could only learn to eat mindfully, I thought, all would be well. The problem with this rationality was that my mind and body were literally starving to death, and it is next to impossible to eat or do anything else mindfully when your body’s only goal is nourishment.

When I was working at camp and quietly dwindling away to nothing, I ordered two books on the topic of mindful eating online. Both of them claimed to be suitable for all types of disordered eating, but, with all due respect, I would like to call bullshit on that. While mindless overeating and restrictive eating disorders may fall into the same category in that they both involve food, they are completely different things. These books further fueled my disordered thoughts that I was in danger of mindlessly eating my way to obesity in no time flat. I was reading books on how to slowly savor the flavor of a raisin, yet my body mostly likely needed the caloric equivalent of a metric ton of raisins. Thus, because I was not in tune with my body’s needs whatsoever, mindfulness was next to impossible.

For this reason, I don’t believe that mindful eating works particularly well in early recovery. Until the body has come out of starvation enough to send regular hunger and fullness cues, how is one supposed to eat mindfully? My inability to eat mindfully for so much of my recovery led to feelings of shame and guilt. I felt that I should feel full much more easily, forgetting that I had deprived my body of nutrients for long enough that it had a good bit of catching up to do.

Throughout my disorder and for some time in recovery, I did not try to eat mindfully whatsoever. I was still spending so much of my time in a state of hunger, and distraction was the name of my game. I watched TV while I ate because I didn’t want to think about my lingering hunger after I finished a meal. At that time, I found it much too hard to look at myself in a judgment-free way when it came to food. Some time in the last few weeks, however, I have decided to bite the bullet and really practice listening to my body. This has meant eliminating distractions and focusing on what I’m eating, trying as hard as I can to not think judgmental thoughts about myself. However, if I had not had the last year and a half of getting back to a state of health through nourishing my body, I do not believe that mindful eating would be possible even now.

I thought of this post because it is only now, a year and a half into my recovery, that I think I am finally grasping mindful eating. To put it simply, I have found that mindfully eating is nearly impossible if any rules about food restriction exist. If you are still living in a semi-starved state, your hunger and fullness cues are probably nowhere near normalized and, even if you do get regular hunger and fullness cues, you can’t objectively pay attention to how food is affecting your body if you are constantly judging yourself for what and how much you are eating. Although I still very much experience the influence of disordered rules, they have lessened enough that I can now see a light at the end of the tunnel, and I believe that I am finally beginning to eat in a way that is truly mindful.

I write this not to discourage attempts at mindful eating, as I believe that it is a wonderful long-term goal to aim for. But if you are finding eating mindfully too difficult in early recovery, you might just be trying it too soon. If you are in recovery from a restrictive eating disorder, I believe that eating enough is the most important thing, hands down, and there is not really a wrong way to do it. If you are obsessing about fullness and hunger scales, give your body the benefit of the doubt and acknowledge that it needs food, and lots of it. If you continually break the rules of your disorder and get busy living your life again, mindful eating will come with time and patience.

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13 thoughts on “Thinking Out Loud 5/7/15: Mindful Eating In Recovery

  1. This comes at such a great time for me. As much as I want to intuitively eat and think I manage on my own, I may need to rethink what is best for myself right here, right now. Kudos to you for all of the discovering and rediscovering of yourself that you’ve done!

  2. Yes, I do agree that it is important to eat enough in recovery, because often it takes longer for your appetite to catch up. Of course, I don’t say that as a health expert, just from personal experience. 😀

  3. I definitely went through the same thing in my own recovery. There was no way that I would have been able to eat mindfully in the early stages. No way. My hunger cues were so out of whack and my perception of what counted as a normal amount of food was nowhere near enough for my body. Mindful eating is an awesome thing, but only when the body is in a state where it can actually send proper signals to the brain… and that’s not something that happens in early recovery.

  4. I never thought about this before. I always eat in front of the TV when I am alone because I do not like eating in silence. I’ll have to pay attention tomorrow and see how it affects my fullness 🙂 Thanks!

  5. Great post. I really struggle with mindful eating. I’ll suddenly get to the end of my meal and realise I’ve been scrolling through Instagram the whole time, and hardly even noticed I was eating. When I was on a strict food plan I found it particularly hard, as I just wanted the eating experience to be over with. I didn’t want to be present. Now that I’m a little further along I find it’s improving. I’m gathering the confidence to leave food on the plate if I’m full, or add something if I’m still hungry. It is hard work, but hoping it will be worth it eventually…

  6. “To put it simply, I have found that mindfully eating is nearly impossible if any rules about food restriction exist. If you are still living in a semi-starved state, your hunger and fullness cues are probably nowhere near normalized…”

    This is so very, very true!!! You hit the nail on the head! It has probably taken me a good year to get to a point where I’m not obsessed with food. When I first started to normalize my eating I was hungry beyond description. My treatment team kept telling me that if I was hungry I needed to eat more but that eventually things would even out when my body was where it was meant to be. It took me a long time to trust that but it’s true. I never thought I’d get to a point where I didn’t want to eat every food placed before me but I’m damn near close. It’s very tough to actively and mindfully work at recovery when your body is in a starved or semi-starved state.

    Due to recent circumstances in my life over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself wanting to cut back – the hunger feels good. Thank you for the reminder on the direction I need to go!

    • Thank you SO much for sharing this response to my post! It’s very true that in early recovery, and for quite a while into it, intuitive eating feels inconceivable. I encourage you to keep heading in the direction of recovery- I, for one, know I never want to go through those early stages again!

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