Mindfulness and Emotional Eating

If you know me, you know I am a huge fan of mindfulness, and mindful eating as it relates to food.  The aspects of mindfulness that I find particularly helpful for individuals with disordered eating or emotional eating are learning how to be nonreactive and nonjudgmental to their own thoughts, emotions and experiences and acting with awareness rather than on autopilot.  Essentially they learn how to be open, curious and compassionate while trusting themselves to make wise and intentional decisions.

Being mindful allows us to not replay the same scenario over and over and over and instead see each and every experience through new eyes.  The point of mindfulness is to not allow the baggage from the past to interfere with responding effectively in the present.  Rather than function on autopilot (I feel stressed and I head to the fridge), mindfulness practice allows you to break free from self-defeating thoughts and behaviors.  Mindfulness practice – learning to be curious, open and accepting of your emotions, thoughts and experiences while increasing your ability to focus attention and resist impulses – reduces needless suffering.


Ultimately, this post if for those that find themselves slaves to their emotions. Be it anxiety, disordered eating, emotional eating or an eating disorder, mindfulness is the single most effective strategy for freeing yourself from automatic responses rooted in fear.

A mindfulness practice then would look a little like this:


1. Learning to take a non-judgmental stance to your emotional state. Allow it to be what it is, validate it and try to understand it rather than pushing it away or avoiding feelings.


2. Recognize that these thoughts and emotions are just mental activity and not reality. They will come and they will go. The goal is not to always feel happy, but to feel peace regardless of our circumstances. This is absolutely possible, if we quit trying to hang on to the good and push away the bad. Rather than control (which only causes anxiety), we can learn to watch the waves of our mental activity as we stand in peace along the beach.


3. Identify if these thoughts meet your values or serve your higher purpose. For example, you may have the thought that “eating makes me fat”. For someone who wishes to make peace with food, this may not allow them to meet their goal. Instead of assigning moral character to the thought, feeling guilty for having it or accepting it as reality, an individual may choose to just watch it float by knowing that engaging with it will lead to a dead end road they have been down too many times before. Their value of making peace with food is at odds with the thought, no more and no less. Make sense?


Over time, mindfulness practice can change the way the brain is wired and even the very structure of the brain. It builds resilience and confidence and the ability to be proactive, thoughtful and intentional rather than self-deprecating, emotionally reactive and habitual. While it may come slowly and by degrees, with consistent practice you will begin to see great progress.


Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD