Amanda Stutz, MA, LPC
Movement it is our brain’s natural tendency to wander, look for problems to solve, and vacillate between thoughts of the past and the future. It is far less common, and often more difficult to be fully present in the here and now. Disconnection from the present moment can lead to disconnection from ourselves and others. This level of disconnection is often a primary function of one’s eating disorder. Use of eating disorder symptoms may provide temporary distraction and “relief” from the pain of the past, anxiety about the future, or the myriad of other thoughts and emotions that many of us struggle with on a daily basis. However, use of eating disorder and other maladaptive behaviors typically just delays the inevitable cognitive or emotional experience one may so desperately wish to escape.
Mindfulness can significantly impact one’s ability to be aware of one’s current internal experience and make conscious decisions about what skillful actions to take. Mindfulness skills provide the groundwork for skillful emotion regulation and can provide one with the opportunity to experience emotions as fleeting, rather than reacting through the use of eating disorder behaviors. Imagine if you were able to sit with a difficult emotion, ride out the discomfort, and implement adaptive means of coping and getting needs met. If you could do this, what would you need your eating disorder for?
How does one begin to practice mindfulness? Mindfulness is simply turning one’s attention and concentration to focus on something for an extended period of time. Attention and focus could be directed toward the breath, an emotion, or physical sensations. Intentionally turning the mind in this way can allow one to break the association between internal emotional experiences and the perceived need to turn off or suppress emotions with eating disorder behaviors. When one is being mindful of their current internal experience, they are honoring the experiences that naturally arise, without judgment.
Here are some ways that one can begin to practice mindfulness:
1.) Observe- Allow yourself to become aware of your current experience in this moment. Without trying to change your experience, simply notice whatever is happening. Perhaps you choose to observe your breath, current emotional state, or even the sounds in your environment.
2.) Describe- Begin to label your current experience, without judgment. A thought is just a thought, and a feeling is only a feeling. Try to not label your experience as positive or negative, rather allow your words to represent what you are observing in the moment.
3.) Participate- This skill involves becoming one with the moment. Allow yourself to be in your experience, being fully attentive and engaged.
Continuing to cultivate and practice these and other mindfulness skills, can lead to greater emotional awareness, increased tolerance of negative emotions, and a reduction in the duration of unpleasant emotions. Thus, mindfulness can allow one to break the cycle of using the eating disorder to distract from and suppress negative emotions, leading to increased emotion regulation and the use of more adaptive coping skills. Mindfulness could be the key to achieving lasting recovery.