Laura L.C. Johnson, MA, MBA, LMFT, LPCC is a Cognitive Behavior Therapist and the founder and executive director of the Cognitive Behavior Therapy Center of Silicon Valley and Sacramento Valley. She integrates positive psychology with cognitive behavior therapy and schema therapy, which have been shown to be effective for a wide variety of problems in hundreds of studies. Her clients learn skills to build positive emotions, optimism, and resilience while decreasing unhelpful thinking, behaviors, and emotions. Full bio. Laura's articles are here.
This month’s theme of savoring got me to thinking about how the concept of savoring can be used by my clients with eating disorders. I work with people who struggle with emotional eating, compulsive overeating, restricting, bingeing, purging, and other unhealthy eating behaviors. According to Bryant, savoring allows people to attend to, appreciate and enhance the positive experiences in their lives. Styron says savoring is one of the principal methods of increasing one’s experience of pleasure and mindfulness is one technique for doing so.
What is Mindful Eating?Mindful eating is about learning to savor food with intention and joy. Many people report that, with mindfulness, they learn to really savor the experience of eating and, paradoxically, feel full after just a few mindful bites. The Center for Mindful Eating defines the principles of mindful eating as:
- Choosing to eat food that is both pleasing and using all your senses to explore, savor and taste,
- Learning to be aware of hunger and fullness cues and letting these guide your decision to begin and stop eating,
- Acknowledging responses to food without judgment, and
- Becoming more aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities through food preparation and consumption.
Mindful Eating Skills
Albers describes seven skills of the mindful eater:
- Awareness – Don’t try to change anything at first. Keep a mindful food journal. Closely track the sensations in your body: hunger, stress, pain, emotions. Pay attention to your senses as you eat. Savor.
- Observation – Be an impartial observer. Just notice. Watch your thoughts and say, “Did you notice that? A thought about food just popped into my head again.”
- Being in the Moment – Shift out of autopilot. Make eating a conscious decision.
- Being Mindful of the Environment – Take an inventory of the mindless eating environment around you. What influences you to eat?
- Nonjudgment – Be aware of your critical thoughts about your habits or your body. Move away from rigid food rules that say food is good or bad.
- Letting Go – Respond mindfully, rather than react, to food cravings.
- Acceptance – Accept your body and your hunger as it is, while recognizing that acceptance is the first step to change.
Mindfulness in Therapy for Eating Disorders
As Emiliya Zhivotovskaya said in her
article this month, savoring can be preventative medicine and help promote healing from eating disorders. Mindfulness and acceptance-based therapies are showing promising results for treating eating disorders:
- Dialectical behavior therapy adapted for binge eating and bulimia,
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for binge eating,
- Acceptance and commitment therapy for anorexia as well as weight management,
- Mindful eating for bariatric surgery patients, and
- Mindfulness-based eating awareness training for binge eating.
I recently taught a body acceptance class to a group of teenage girls and incorporated mindful eating into the curriculum. We practiced mindfully eating a piece of chocolate. Chocolate is especially fun because people often have judgments about chocolate as a “bad” food. In the beginning, this exercise often seems silly to people, but I ask them to stay with it and just practice.
Teaching Mindful Eating to Teen Girls
I asked the girls to observe this piece of chocolate with all five senses: listen to the crinkling of the foil as they unwrap it, look at the chocolate and see the texture and ridges, touch the chocolate and feel it’s smoothness, smell the chocolate aroma, lick it once, then again, bite into it and savor the chocolate as it melts in their mouths.As homework, I asked the girls to practice eating a meal mindfully and without distractions. By the end of the class, many of the girls told me they were feeling more satisfied with less food. At least half the girls in the group said learning how to eat mindfully was the most helpful part of the class.
Next time you eat a meal, first ask yourself how hungry you are, then take time to appreciate the food on your plate and, finally, practice mindful eating so you can savor the experience.
Albers, S. (2008). Eat, Drink and Be Mindful: How to End Your Struggle with Mindless Eating and Start Savoring Food with Intention and Joy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
Bryant, F. & Veroff, J. (2007) Savoring: A new model of positive experience.. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Engstrom, D. Eating mindfully and cultivating satisfaction: Modifying eating patterns in a bariatric surgery patient. Bariatric Nursing and Surgical Patient Care, 2 (4), 237-243.
Kristeller, J.L., Baer, R.A. & Quillian-Wolever, R. (2006). Mindfulness-based approaches to eating disorders. In R. Baer (Ed.) Mindfulness-Based Treatment Approaches: Clinician’s Guide to Evidence Base and Applications (Practical Resources for the Mental Health Professional). San Diego, CA: Elsevier Academic Press.
Rowen, L. (2007). Mindful eating: an interview with Dr. David Engstrom. Bariatric Nursing and Surgical Patient Care, 2 (4), 237-243.
Styron, C.W. (2005). Positive psychology: awakening to the fullness of life. In C.K. Germer, R. Siegel & P.R. Fulton (Eds.). Mindfulness and Psychotherapy. New York: Guilford.
Tapper, K., Shaw, C., & Ilsley, J. (2009). Exploratory radomised controlled trial of mindfulness-based weight loss intervention for women. Appetite, 52, 396-404.
Boy savoring (”Licorice”) by Ernst Vikne
Chocolate (”One missing, oops.”) courtesy of CoCreatr
Girls and ice cream (”[12.365] eye scream”) courtesy of db*photography
Stirfry courtesy of ginnerobot