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Part 6 of 7. Part 7 Coming September 29th.
Author: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC and Founder of Eating Disorder Hope.
Many of the tips that we are highlighting as helpful to those struggling with eating disorders can also be extremely beneficial to anyone who wants to live a healthy and balanced life.
The value of Mindfulness in calming, soothing and healing oneself is, of course, helpful to anyone, but to the individual struggling with food and body image issues its power cannot be overstated.
Anxiety & Worry
Upon implementing a routine approach towards mindfulness, one of the first things you’re likely to notice is that mindfulness techniques can help us overcome anxiety. As we all know, worrying is uncomfortable and creates feelings of anxiety, fear, and hopelessness.
To offset our tendency toward worry, we can refocus our attention on the moment at hand. By seeking to be more present in the moment: the sights, sounds, smells, and details of what is going on this very minute it is easier to let go of the worrisome thoughts that are unrelated to the current moment.
This does require discipline to keep bringing ourselves back to the here and now each time we find ourselves worrying about something, but it is such an important tool for eating disorder sufferers to develop in recovery. We need tools and skills to divert us from relying upon the eating disordered behaviors that formerly served to distract us from these anxious feelings.
Breathing Techniques to Help Calm Yourself
Breathing techniques may be the fastest and easiest way to calm one’s self both physically and emotionally. One way to soothe yourself is to simply take slow, deep breaths through the nose and completely fill your lungs with the breath for five seconds and then slowly release the breath over about seven seconds, through the mouth.
Do this three to five times and take note if your body has relaxed significantly and your mind quieted.
This type of breathing in a mindful way is helpful in re-connecting with ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually. It brings us back to the present moment and stills our racing thoughts. It brings us to a centered state of being where we are best able to think and act rationally and wisely.
Deep, Slow Breaths
Whenever you notice yourself feeling stressed, observe your breathing pattern. You’ll likely notice that it is shallow and rapid. So, slow it down and do a few rounds of mindful breathing to calm and empower yourself to be centered and poised.
Breathing Practice Before and During Meals
Many eating disorder sufferers find it helpful to practice mindful breathing before meals. One former client, Lucy, who struggled with anorexia, found it easier to approach her mealtime when she first sat at her place and took some time to just mindfully breathe and collect herself before she began eating her meal.
She also would stop and breathe deeply and slowly throughout her meal, to quell any anxiety or racing thoughts she had about the food she was eating.
It helped her to listen to the part of herself that was wise and recognized the value of nutrition and regular meals for her health and eating disorder recovery.
It quieted the eating disorder voice in her head, telling her irrational thoughts and stories about food and weight.
In my own eating disorder treatment, my therapist taught me an invaluable skill and approach towards mindfulness. It was a powerful grounding technique that enhanced my ability to soothe myself through difficult emotions without acting out in regrettable ways, such as binge eating, purging, or restricting.
This grounding technique involves sitting on a chair, feeling the weight of my body press against the chair, under my legs, derriere, and against my back. Feeling my feet resting on the floor. Noting any tenseness or aches in my body and gently relaxing the muscles in those areas.
Then noticing the light in the room, any breeze or movement in the air, the temperature, and the general environment. Also observing any smells or sounds in the background. Then breathing in through my nose to the count of five and then exhaling through my mouth to the count of seven….Holy cow! This really worked!
It gave me a centered state of being that allowed me to tolerate my feelings more effectively and feel more balanced. It offered me the soothing that my easily stressed out mind needed. I was truly present, and then realized what a gift mindfulness can be.
Probably no conversation regarding mindfulness is complete without addressing meditation. I like to prayerfully meditate with a key bible verse or a few meaningful words like “serenity” or “peace”. However, you can meditate however you like, the point is to quiet the mind and find stillness within.
Individuals of all faiths practice meditation and find healing peace in these moments of serenity that empower the individual to enjoy life more fully.
Mindfulness and meditation are a lifelong practices, not something to be perfected. The key is to get started and regularly maintain the practice. The simplest form of meditation, for a beginner, may be to find a comfortable position, practice five or ten sets of mindful breathing (slow, deep breaths in through the nose counting to five, and then slowly exhaling through the mouth for seven seconds).
Then choosing a word or verse to continually focus on. Recognize that intrusive thoughts will interrupt your focus on this word or verse, but gently bring yourself back to the focus on the word/verse each time you fall away.
Combining All Aspects of Mindfulness
Do this while continuing the sequence of mindful breathing. Even just five minutes of this can profoundly impact your sense of well- being and lessen the stress and tension in your body. It is ideal if you can practice this meditation technique daily, if possible, and lengthen the time of meditation when possible.
The value of this mindfulness technique will prove itself to you over time as you find yourself better equipped to cope with daily life without relying on disordered eating behaviors.
Practical Application of Mindfulness Skills
When put into practice, it is the daily ability to still our minds, quiet our thoughts and enjoy the moment that makes the mindful learning curve worth the work to learn.
Gardening can be a mindful experience for me. Even just growing a small herb garden in a window provides me the uplifting effects of tending to something alive and growing.
For Sarah, a former client of mine, she practiced being present in the moment whenever she was watering house plants. She would relish taking the time to really observe the beauty of each plant: its colors, pattern of growth, journey toward the sun, and other attributes. These types of focused moments throughout the day certainly add pleasure and serenity to our lives.
Treating Entering Thoughts as Normal, Not Intrusive
While practicing mindfulness, you will notice that random thoughts will continue to run through your mind. To deal with this, some find it helpful to view these various thoughts as “just passing through,” rather than allowing them to be permanent residents.
Although these transient thoughts might hold our attention momentarily, we do not let them reside in the home of our brain long term; that is unless they are congruent with the nurturing, accepting and healthy home(brain) we have a goal of maintaining.
This perspective frees us to choose what we pay attention to and what we focus our mental energy on, reminding us we are not victims of whatever thought enters our brain. We have the ability to consciously choose what we focus on and what we hold in our thoughts.
This is part 5 of 7 of Disordered Eating: Reframing The Discussion. Part 6 coming September 24th.