Please note that this is an Archived article and may contain content that is out of date. The use of she/her/hers pronouns in some articles is not intended to be exclusionary. Eating disorders can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights.
Individuals who are suffering from eating disorders respond to different approaches to recovery. This is only natural, since we all have different personalities and life experiences. While we most often hear and talk about clinical and medical paths to recovery, we have a spiritual and mindful side that we really shouldn’t forget about .
A lot of research has indicated that meditation can be an effective “partner therapy” for treating eating disorders or, for that matter, any conditions that have their foundation in anxiety or depression.
There is even research that shows how people who embrace their religious faith or personal spiritual beliefs during and after treatment have an increased advantage in the recovery process. That doesn’t mean that you have to have some kind of spiritual awakening for the process to work. It just means that accepting this part of our selves can have a lot of benefits.
Meditation and Mindfulness Training
Let’s get a few definitions out there first, because when we say “meditation” there are a lot of preconceived notions about what it entails. Many people immediately connect it to some form of Eastern religious activity or spiritual practice. This is why we might use the terms “mindfulness” or “mindfulness exercises” to describe essentially the same thing.
Whatever term we use, it can include a wide range of techniques. A lot of people believe that the objective of these techniques is to turn the brain off and block everything out, but that just doesn’t happen. No one can really shut off their brain completely. It’s always working – whether we realize it or not. So instead, meditation is about making it work in more productive ways.
The goal, then, is to develop a deep awareness of the present moment. We don’t want to focus on the way things “could have been” or the way they “should have been” or even how they “ought to be.” When we dwell on “could,” “should,” or “ought,” we just end up missing out on how things really are.
So we use meditation to develop our awareness of “now” and work to develop a non-judgmental attitude about it. This way, we start to become an objective observer of our own thoughts and emotions, and as you start to use these techniques to understand your body, mind, and spirit, you’ll start to recognize behaviors and motivations for what they really are.
Mindfulness and connectedness are things you can learn, and it can be very effective in treating eating disorders because they are often a result of anxiety or depression. These practices can teach us to be more in tune with our physical and emotional sensations, so when we combine them with traditional therapies, the outcome can be very positive.
Getting Scientific about Meditation
How can breathing, relaxation, and imaging techniques produce real results? Or maybe it’s better to ask whether or not they actually do? Research has shown that meditation and mindfulness exercises can have a real impact on conditions like hypertension, depression, and anxiety and even cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance.
But is this more than a placebo effect or is there something scientifically measurable going on?
Turns out there is.
These practices increase the levels of endorphins in the blood and reduce hydrocortisone levels. People have also documented increased frontal EEG alpha, beta, and theta wave activities, which can lead to more relaxation and attentiveness.
We can even see that different types of meditation techniques will elicit different responses. Exercises that focus on breathing, for example, will stimulate different parts of the brain and nervous system than the techniques that use a mantra or concentrate on specific objects.
Getting the Most for Your Meditation
The irony of meditation is that people can get stressed out wondering if they’re “doing it right.” So in order to get the most out of your mindfulness exercises, there are a few things to keep in mind (pun mildly intended).
Meditation doesn’t have to be about emptying your mind of all thought. It should be about creating an awareness of your thoughts, behaviors, reactions, and feelings. It should be a window into your motivations and compulsions so you can start understanding how your mind works.
Set aside a little time every day to observe yourself with interest rather than judgment. We have a natural tendency to look at our actions and feelings and label them as “bad” or “unwanted.” Meditation is about awareness and accepting what and who you are, not putting a label on every feeling.
When you can reach this point, it will be much easier to develop compassion toward the various parts of your character that you normally question and judge. Soon, you’ll start increasing your ability to deal with uncomfortable feelings and thoughts in a healthy way.