When people describe binge eating, they often say that time passes by in a haze and they are barely aware of the actual act of eating. We all know it’s helpful to eat slowly, and many popular programs encourage eating “mindfully” such that we fully engage in the experience of each bite (as described in this NY Times article). New research released online this month offers support for the practice of mindful meditation as an important tool that can help reduce binge eating.
The concept of mindfulness goes beyond eating and involves paying attention to our thoughts, emotions, and/or bodies in the present moment without judging ourselves for what we are experiencing. Mindfulness originates from Buddhist practices in East Asia. Over the last few decades, psychologists in the U.S. and around the world have been conducting empirical research on how mindfulness can help with a variety of psychological difficulties such as anxiety.
More recently, preliminary studies have examined mindfulness as part of a psychotherapy program for eating disorders including binge eating and bulimia. Researchers from Victoria, Austrailia just released a new study in which they combined cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) with mindfulness in a group treatment for 30 women with binge eating problems including bulimia.
The women met weekly as a group for 10 weeks. They learned many standard CBT techniques and also focused on mindfulness via mindful eating, formal meditation exercises, and various informal mindfulness exercises. They reported a reduction in binge after the program and also 3 months later. However, there was no comparison/control group so it’s unclear what exactly contributed to the reduced binge eating.
Although the study is fairly limited in design, it offers promise for the use of mindfulness both for reducing binge eating and for better dealing with difficult emotions in general. For example, after completing the group two women in the study said (pg. 331):
“I feel like I’m much more balanced, I feel like the minute something gets stressful I can use some of the mindful techniques and diffuse the situation.”
“I think that practicing the mindful eating, that was a huge one for me too…And I’m finding that if I do the mindful eating, I eat a lot slower, I get full a lot quicker, and I’m more satisfied.”
If you are curious to learn more about mindfulness, consider searching free audio/video clips online to get started. The study incorporated mindfulness work by Jon Kabat-Zinn. A popular mindful eating exercise is the “raisin meditaiton” and other formal mindfulness exercises include “mindfulness of breath,” “sitting meditation,” and “mindfulness of thoughts/emotions.”
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