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Eating Disorders

Mindfulness and Eating Disorders

Mindfulness is a vital tool in eating disorder recovery.

Key points

  • Observing thoughts without judgment disrupts destructive self-talk, fostering a healthier mindset.
  • Mindful practices reconnect mind and body, enhancing awareness of physiological and emotional needs.
  • Cultivating self-compassion counters harsh self-evaluation, supporting positive outcomes in recovery.

Embarking on the journey to recovery from an eating disorder is a courageous endeavor that encompasses both physical and emotional healing. While traditional therapeutic approaches play a pivotal role, integrating mindfulness practices has demonstrated remarkable benefits in supporting individuals on this challenging road to recovery. In this post, we will explore the profound impact of mindfulness on eating disorder recovery.

Source: Aaron Burden / Unsplash
Source: Aaron Burden / Unsplash

Understanding Mindfulness

Mindfulness is not a mere buzzword; it is a transformative practice rooted in cultivating present-moment awareness. Mindfulness encourages individuals to observe their thoughts and feelings without judgment, fostering a non-reactive and compassionate stance towards oneself.

Unhelpful Negative Thoughts

Individuals grappling with eating disorders often wrestle with an unrelenting cycle of negative thoughts. Mindfulness becomes a powerful tool for breaking free from this pattern by promoting awareness of thought patterns.

Through observing thoughts without judgment, individuals can gradually distance themselves from destructive self-talk, fostering the development of a healthier relationship with food and their bodies. This heightened awareness also opens the door to utilizing coping skills such as cognitive defusion from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). This technique allows individuals to notice when they have a thought, creating space for alternative thoughts and reminding them that thoughts are not indisputable facts.

Tuning In to Body Signals

Individuals facing eating disorders often struggle to recognize and respond to their body's signals. Disordered eating behaviors frequently arise from a disconnect between the body and mind, making it challenging for individuals to understand and prioritize their physical and emotional needs. Various factors contribute to this compromised connection, including societal pressures to maintain a slim physique, an excessive focus on body shape and appearance, restrained eating practices, and the prevalence of weight stigma. Instead of tuning in to internal cues, individuals may turn to external methods like calorie counting or strict diets, eroding the trust in their bodies.1

Mindfulness practices, such as mindful eating and body scan meditations, enable individuals to tune in to bodily sensations and signals. Mindfulness practices could even involve simply setting aside time each day for reflection on one's physical and emotional states. This heightened awareness allows for a more intuitive and attuned approach to eating, fostering a sense of nourishment and responsiveness rather than control.

Managing Triggers with Mindfulness

Mindfulness plays a pivotal role in helping individuals observe triggers without becoming engulfed in the intense emotional reactions these triggers may elicit. This creates an opportunity for reflection, allowing individuals to navigate the experience intentionally. In the context of managing triggers related to disordered eating behaviors, mindfulness—particularly through mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) techniques—empowers individuals to build resilience against external pressures.

Mindfulness for Improving Body Image and Embodiment

Often, individuals respond to body image distress by either avoiding uncomfortable thoughts and feelings or fixating on them. Avoidance behaviors might involve wearing loose-fitting clothing to minimize the sensation of the fabric against the body or intentionally avoiding mirrors to sidestep one's reflection. Whether through avoidance or hyperfocus, these reactions contribute to heightened body image distress. Consequently, cultivating mindfulness skills becomes crucial in body image work and recovery.

Mindfulness-based interventions effectively nurture greater attentiveness toward internal experiences in the present moment and reduce critical judgments regarding appearance, both directed toward oneself and others. Studies demonstrate that these interventions reduce reactivity to body-related thoughts and emotions while promoting a compassionate relationship with oneself and the body.2

Cultivating Self-Compassion

At the core of mindfulness lies the crucial concept of self-compassion, a key element in the journey of eating disorder recovery. Research finds that cultivating self-compassion can play a pivotal role in reducing self-criticism while concurrently enhancing feelings of self-worth. This, in turn, promotes a sense of inner peace, kindness, social connectedness, and effective emotion regulation.3 Moreover, individuals who consistently practice self-compassion, i.e., through self-compassion meditations, tend to develop an increased ability for self-soothing during times of stress.4

The positive effects of self-compassion extend to aspects of body image and eating behaviors. Engaging in self-compassion has been linked to notable improvements in body image and decreased eating pathology and appearance comparison.5 Additionally, a strong correlation exists between self-compassion, body appreciation, and body acceptance.6

A Beacon of Hope and Healing

In the complex landscape of eating disorder recovery, mindfulness emerges as a beacon of hope and healing. By embracing the present moment, individuals can rewrite their relationship with food, their bodies, and themselves. Incorporating mindfulness into therapeutic interventions enhances eating disorder recovery and empowers individuals to build a foundation of self-awareness, acceptance, and self-compassion.


1. Quadt, Lisa, Hugo D. Critchley, and Sarah N. Garfinkel. “The Neurobiology of Interoception in Health and Disease.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1428, no. 1 (2018): 112–28.

2. Atkinson, Melissa J, and Tracey D Wade. “Mindfulness Training to Facilitate Positive Body Image and Embodiment.” Essay. In Handbook of Positive Body Image and Embodiment: Constructs, Protective Factors, and Interventions, edited by Tracy L Tylka and Niva Piran, 265–76. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

3. Neff, Kristin D. “Erratum to: The Self-Compassion Scale Is a Valid and Theoretically Coherent Measure of Self-Compassion.” Mindfulness 7, no. 4 (2016): 1009–1009.

4. Kirschner, Hans, Willem Kuyken, Kim Wright, Henrietta Roberts, Claire Brejcha, and Anke Karl. “Soothing Your Heart and Feeling Connected: A New Experimental Paradigm to Study the Benefits of Self-Compassion.” Clinical Psychological Science 7, no. 3 (2019): 545–65.

5. Breines, Juliana, Aubrey Toole, Clarissa Tu, and Serena Chen. “Self-Compassion, Body Image, and Self-Reported Disordered Eating.” Self and Identity 13, no. 4 (2013): 432–48.

6. Braun, Tosca D., Park, Crystal L., and Amy Gorin. "Self-compassion, body image, and disordered eating: A review of the literature." Body Image 17, (2016): 117-131. Accessed June 27, 2023.

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