Mindful Eating

Written By: Lynette Morris, RD, LD

Hunger is the enemy to a person suffering from an eating disorder. Hunger
threatens the maintenance of a low body weight or triggers a binge eating
episode and fullness is equated with weight gain and being out of control. One
way a person with anorexia responds to hunger is by switching what is normal
for what is abnormal. Feeling hungry all the time becomes normal and feeling
satiated or full feels abnormal. The feeling of hunger not only reassures the
person with anorexia she is not going to gain weight, but also gives her a false
sense of security that everything is going to be all right.

How is it that food and eating have become such a common source of
unhappiness? And why has it occurred in a country with an abundance of food?
The fundamental reason for our imbalance with food and eating is that we've
forgotten how to listen to what our bodies are telling us. The problem lies in our
mind. It lies in our lack of awareness of the messages coming in from our body,
from our cells and from our heart.

At Thalia House, we teach the residents to listen to what their bodies are telling
them about hunger and satisfaction. We call this Mindful Eating or intuitive
eating. Intuitive eating is necessary for a recovering person to be able to develop
and maintain healthy eating patterns and body weight.

Eating intuitively helps us become aware of who in the body/heart/mind complex
is hungry, and how and what is best to nourish it. It also involves paying full
attention to the experience of eating and drinking, both inside and outside
(environment) the body. We pay attention to the colors, smells, textures, flavors,
temperatures, and even the sounds (crunch!) of our food. We pay attention to the
experience of the body. Where in the body do we feel hunger? Where do we feel
satisfaction? What does half-full feel like, or three quarters full?

We educate the person with the eating disorder to understand that their
preoccupation with food, the insatiable hunger, and the periods of uncontrollable
eating are normal responses to prolonged starvation and the maintenance of a
low body weight. The person with bulimia or compulsive eating will understand
that the desire to eat large quantities of food in the evening is the bodies
response to food restriction during the day.

It is possible, as one recovers from an eating disorder to gradually regain the
sense of ease and freedom with eating that we had in childhood. At Thalia
House our mission is to help set the residents up for success in recovery when they leave; to make peace with food, honor their hunger, and respect the
wonderful things their bodies can do.