Stop Binge Eating Using Mindfulness Skills

Mindfulness is very trendy at the moment, but it’s not a fleeting fad, like superfoods or Jazzercise. Buddhists have been practicing mindfulness for eons, and therapists have been prescribing it for decades. Mindfulness is here to stay because it works. Especially in our current world with its endless distractions of technology and increasing demands on our work and personal lives. While more research is needed, studies suggest mindfulness can improve both physical and mental health, particularly problems with binge eating

As a therapist helping people with eating disorders, anxiety, and depression, mindfulness techniques are one powerful tool I teach clients to help tame uncomfortable emotions. To NOT teach this would be ignoring a valuable, research-supported resource. If you struggle with eating disorders, particularly Binge Eating Disorder, mindfulness skills are useful stand-alone coping tools, as well as building blocks for other skills along the way to recovery.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Eating Disorders

In previous blog posts, I discussed a therapy approach called Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT, which research indicates is an effective treatment for Binge Eating Disorder and Bulimia Nervosa. (Click here to learn more about DBT in general.) DBT skills help you stay calm and manage uncomfortable emotions more effectively. I introduced two skill sets: Emotion Regulation and Distress Tolerance. Both are incredibly helpful tools for ending struggles with binge eating and overeating. 

Marsha Linehan, the creator of DBT, incorporated mindfulness when she first developed her DBT approach over 30 years ago. Mindfulness, introduced in this blog post, is another DBT skill set, and a central tool for all the other DBT skill sets.  

Basics of Mindfulness

I first teach clients that practicing mindfulness does NOT mean you have to become a master meditator. You don’t have to meditate at all! Also, mindfulness is not the same as relaxation. It CAN be relaxing, but that’s not the ultimate goal. It’s important to understand from the beginning that there’s no right or wrong way to do it. You can’t be good or bad at mindfulness.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, a well-known mindfulness teacher, defines it as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” The goal is to simply notice what’s going on in the here-and-now, and keep bringing your attention back to that, over and over again. You do this with acceptance and self-compassion without judging whatever is going on in the moment. It’s not good; it’s not bad. It just is. 

Mindfulness Helps You Deal With Triggers

Mindfulness skills allow you to manage mental health struggles by helping you to identify your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. This is important for learning what triggers a mood, and for understanding what triggers urges to binge. Without this knowledge, it’s difficult to manage triggers, as it feels like they come out of nowhere. 

For many clients, mindfulness provides a sense of distance and choice. Instead of sitting in the pure essence of anxiety, they may instead learn to think, “Oh… I notice I am feeling anxious. My heart is beating fast and my shoulders are tense. I also notice the urge to eat that entire container of leftovers, even though I’m not really hungry. What else might be going on?” 

Mindfulness Helps You Create New Coping Skills

There’s a reason that everyone from high-powered CEOs to middle-school students in detention are embracing mindfulness. By raising awareness of our internal state, we actually give our unconscious thoughts and feelings less power to drive our decisions. Mindfulness helps us access the rational part of our brain that allows us to choose more effective coping skills.

For those who struggle with binge eating, mindfulness creates more space between an urge to binge and acting on this urge. Here learning takes place, and new habits can be formed. You have a better chance of choosing coping skills that better meet your needs long-term, not just that feel good or distract you momentarily from pain. To use the above example, by noticing the urge to binge and sitting with it instead of obeying it, we remind ourselves that even if we can’t choose our thoughts, we have some power to choose our actions.  

Mindfulness as a Stand-Alone Coping Tool   

So what does “sitting with” thoughts and emotions look like?  Trust me, I see my clients’ faces when I introduce them to mindfulness.  I know that a lot of folks picture closing their eyes for two hours, sitting on a cushion, and chanting.  

In reality, though, mindfulness can simply be giving your full attention to simple tasks. You can wash dishes mindfully by noticing the feeling of the warm water on your hands and the rainbow of colors in the suds. You can walk mindfully by observing the pressure of your feet on the ground, noting the trees and objects around you, hearing the sounds of cars whizzing by and dogs barking. 

One of my favorite activities is to walk on a neighborhood path, paying close attention to what I can hear, see, smell, and feel. The peace I notice when I do this is amazing! Especially if I’m doing it because my overactive monkey brain is going crazy. I’ve even taught this to my kids. One of my kids said, “Wow! I never even noticed the birds chirping before!”   

If you’re anything like me (and I’d probably say the majority of my clients), mindfulness doesn’t come easily. I keep telling myself how important it is, and I actually notice the benefits! Yet, I still struggle to practice consistently. I have to remind myself not to judge, but to continue to make an effort to practice.

Mindfulness in Action

Let’s practice now. If you’re eating while reading this post, stop reading and just focus on each bite of your food as it enters your mouth. Notice the texture, the temperature, and the satisfaction it brings you. This is a mindful eating exercise. You can bring the same awareness to almost any activity you engage in. The point of this post is that mindfulness isn’t something that you need to make extra time for, to do behind closed doors in addition to everything else you have going on.  It’s actually a way to look under the hood as you go about any moment of your day. 

If you want to learn mindfulness skills to decrease binging or overeating, I’d love to work with you! If you’re looking for eating disorder therapy in Plano, Texas or just want to make peace with your body, contact me at 469-850-2420 or for a free 15-minute phone consultation. My name is Danesa, and we can see if we’re a good fit! I’m also happy to connect you to another great therapist in the area.

My specialties include eating disorders such as anorexiabulimiabinge eatingovereating or compulsive eating, body image issues, anxiety and depression. My office is in Plano, Texas, and conveniently located near Frisco, Allen, and McKinney.