Surrounded by friends and family, the spotlight has never been brighter. It glimmers and glows with holiday cheer. Everyone smiles and passes hugs around freely. “Are you okay, dear?” “Do you need anything?”
For two people at the party, not everything is easy laughter and fun. Ana is wondering if people are looking at her still full plate. Mia is carefully gauging when she can slip away to a quiet bathroom to purge.
Ana and Mia are Internet nicknames for Anorexia and Bulimia. I struggle with bulimia, an eating disorder characterized by periods of overeating and then periods of purging. The time I spend purging is not just about getting rid of the food I’ve just eaten.
It’s also about days spent not eating at all (to make up for days when I feel I ate too much). It’s about long, long runs that my body isn’t physically prepared for because I feel like I need to burn calories (usually because I know I’m getting ready to eat a big meal).
Last Christmas, my husband and I went to celebrate with my sister-in-law. She hosted a wonderful holiday dinner. Which I picked at carefully. I knew I needed to eat enough to convince people I was enjoying it, but not so much that I felt the need to purge.
Unfortunately, I triggered myself and found myself making excuses to use the restroom soon after the meal was done so that I could purge.
I want this year to be different. I want this year to be about recovery from my eating disorder. I want to be able to enjoy food without fear, shame, and guilt.
I hate feeling full. Hate it with every fiber of my being. There is no other feeling that makes me feel more down on my physical self. But in order to stop eating before I feel full, I must eat mindfully.
Eating Mindfully – The Joy of Just One Bite
mindful has a fantastic article on eating mindfully realistically. I don’t live the sort of life where I can spend deep moments in contemplation of every morsel of food that I chew and swallow. But there are still some things I can do to practice mindfulness when it comes to eating.
First of all, it’s important to know what mindfulness is. Mindfulness is awareness without criticism or judgment. This is very difficult for me because I am constantly criticizing and judging myself – especially when I eat. I compare myself to others and wonder if they are judging me. (One thought that pops into my head repeatedly, for example, is, You’re so fat – you shouldn’t be eating at all!)
Eating mindfully is about noticing sensations and emotions – being completely aware of what is happening both inside and outside of yourself in the moment.
Here are some simple tips (which I plan to follow myself) for eating mindfully this holiday season.
Listen to Body Cues – Part 1
Most of the time, I eat emotionally. But emotional eating leads to poor choices (like fast food and junk food) which leads to more emotional choices (like purging).
I need to eat when my body gives me physical hunger cues. But this is difficult for me because I’ve suppressed my physical hunger cues for so long. I don’t really know when I’m hungry.
While I was in rehab, I worked with a nutritionist who asked me to put my hunger on a scale of 1-10. It was nearing dinnertime, so I told her my hunger was at a 5. But I’d already told her what I’d eaten that day, which was very little (a granola bar for breakfast and a salad for lunch).
So she had me close my eyes and take several deep breaths. Starting at the top of my head, she had me focus on my body – just the physical sensations that I was feeling. Continuing to breathe, she directed my attention slowly downwards until we reached my stomach. Then she asked me again about my hunger.
I was starving!
This simple exercise will help me gauge my hunger and be mindful of what my body really needs. Yes, maybe my emotions want a bean burrito from Taco Bell, but if I stop for a moment and breathe, perhaps I will find out what I really want/need.
Listen to Body Cues – Part 2
Instead of eating until my plate is clean, I need to eat until my body tells me I’m approaching fullness and then stop.
There are two difficulties here that, perhaps, you can relate to. First, “Clean your plate!” was drilled into me as a child. I feel wasteful, ashamed, and guilty when I leave food on my plate.
Second, holiday feasts come with so much food that is eaten only once or twice a year. Even a bite or two of each delicious morsel fills my plate to overflowing.
This is where mindful eating becomes so important. I could eat very quickly, not stopping to savor each bite, not pausing to reflect on how long the food took to grow and prepare – just wolfing it down before my stomach has a chance to send the “I’M FULL” cue.
Or, I could eat slowly, enjoying myself. Savoring the taste of my food, appreciating the textures, flavors, and temperatures. And even recognizing that there are some things I don’t like so much. This gives my stomach time to properly receive what I am putting into it.
Looking for A Second Helping?
What I’ve written above is a lot for me to focus on. But there’s so much more when it comes to mindful eating! Check out the following resources to learn more:
Everything you need to know to get started with mindful eating is here!
If you’d like to learn more about the science behind mindful eating, this is a great place to start. They also offer guided mindful eating meditations!
Wondering how you can fit mindful eating into your busy, daily life? This article shows you how!
I am hoping that by practicing principles of mindfulness and mindful eating I will be able to enter the new year in recovery from my eating disorder. It is a battle I will fight for the rest of my life, but it is a battle I fight with courage, for the first time in a long while, hope.