Have you ever felt trapped in a never-ending cycle of binge eating?
Perhaps the reason you’ve felt trapped is because you are.
The minds of regular binge eaters tend to get stuck in a set of habitual thoughts.
“I shouldn’t be eating that.”
“I’m unable to resist the urges simply because of my lack of willpower.”
“I feel so guilty for giving in again.”
“I will never be good enough.”
“I’m nothing more than a failure.”
Are such habitual thought patterns familiar to you?
Do they influence your behaviour around food?
This disordered mindset keeps us trapped in a destructive cycle of emotional eating and food obsession. It makes us feel guilty and ashamed about what we’ve eaten. It makes us feel powerless and weak. We become permanently stressed, emotionally drained, and increasingly unhealthy.
One of the biggest challenges of recovery lies in replacing your old destructive thought patterns with a new, recovery-focused mindset.
One solution that’s been proven to be highly effective in this case is meditation.
The science behind meditation and binge eating
Recently there’s been an explosion of scientific research, which shows that meditation has an almost laughably long list of health benefits – from lowering your blood pressure to boosting your immune system to essentially rewiring your brain for happiness.
Nowadays it’s used to treat depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and countless other psychological issues. But did you know that meditation also works wonders when applied to eating disorders, including binge eating and bulimia?
Recent studies have shown that meditation leads to:
- A decrease in binge eating and emotional eating: Mindfulness training and active meditation resulted in a significant decrease of bingeing episodes in people who suffer from them. (1)
- Reduced body image concerns and the likelihood of relapse: Programs that used meditation as their primary intervention method improved their participants’ body appreciation and self-esteem. (2)
- Improved emotional regulation and enhanced self-control: It’s been scientifically proven that meditation reduces stress and enhances the ability to cope with it. (3)
All of these outcomes are vitally important for anybody wishing to overcome their habits of binge eating or bulimia.
To put it simply:
Meditation has been proven to work!
Meditation can also be quite challenging
When I first started meditating, I was an anxious mess.
My thoughts used to race.
I used to find it hard to stay quiet.
I used to feel uncomfortable in whatever position I tried to assume.
I used to get bored of sitting in one place after five minutes.
Focusing on the present moment used to seem virtually impossible.
I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the things that I had to do, or all of the things that I had done earlier.
I tried my best, but I still couldn’t control my wandering mind.
In short, I felt like a failure.
Nevertheless, I kept on trying.
I kept on reading about the subject and trying out various techniques to reach that peaceful meditative state.
Eventually, I started to experiment. This is how I discovered the method that I’m going to share with you in this post.
Once I started using this method during my meditation sessions, it transformed my experience and allowed me to access the various benefits of meditation.
I call this method the “Half-Full Meditation Technique”.
I’m going to tell you all about it later on in this post, but first, let’s explore why meditation is so useful for binge eating recovery.
How can meditation help you get rid of binge eating?
There are countless benefits associated with regular meditation, but when it comes to binge eating recovery, here are a few that are particularly important:
1. It weakens compulsive thoughts.
“I’m not good enough.”
“I’m not smart enough.”
“Why would anyone ever love me?”
“If only I could be different…”
“If only I could lose a few pounds, perhaps that would make it all okay.”
We spend so much time thinking that we’re simply not enough. So many hours go by, while we keep on bringing ourselves down and dreaming up ways of turning ourselves into different people.
But what if you’re already good enough?
What if it’s not your personality, or your appearance, or your weight that needs to change, but rather your thought patterns?
Meditation can help you weaken and dissolve such disordered thoughts. As a result, you become able to cope with them and they seem much less scary.
2. You become less likely to use food to influence your emotions.
Food can have a sedating, or even suppressing, effect on our feelings.
A lot of us binge because it gives us a short-lived respite from complex emotions. The problem is that it’s only a short-term solution – and in the long term, it becomes a crutch that we depend on only too often.
Meditation increases your capacity to comfortably experience a wide range of emotions and provides a healthy alternative to coping with uncomfortable feelings. Pushing those emotions down with food is no longer necessary.
3. It can help you snap out of the binge trance.
In the middle of a binge, we often find ourselves completely lost in thought.
The last place our mind shines any attention on is the actual food we’re eating.
This state of mind is often referred to as the binge-trance.
However, the word “trance” can be misleading.
It implies that there’s nothing going on in your head. It suggests that during a binge, your brain is vacant.
In reality, if you bring your awareness back to your body, you’ll realize that, rather than being in a trance, you’re actually lost in deep thought.
You’re lost in a constant cycle of worrying, planning, remembering, analysing, judging, brooding and comparing.
You’re daydreaming and not really living in the present moment.
Meditation can reduce the intensity of such thoughts and help you snap out of this trance. Consequently, you become able to stop a binge even halfway through.
4. It reduces stress-related binge episodes.
Anxiety and stress are some of the most powerful binge triggers. You may turn to food as a way to relax and distance yourself from all of your daily worries for a little while.
In contrast, regular meditation alleviates stress using only your inner resources.
Once you start meditating, you might find that you no longer need food to deal with everyday stressors.
5. It teaches you how to stop binges before they even happen.
A lot of us struggle with mindless bingeing. The urges become so strong sometimes that we don’t even notice how we give in to them. This can turn into a serious stumbling block in your recovery journey – if you don’t know how it starts, how can you stop it?
Meditation is a wonderful tool for teaching yourself how to notice and recognise your inner states. As you master this method, you become increasingly aware of your feelings and the actions that originate from them. Once you learn to be mindful, mindless eating becomes a thing of the past.
6. It helps your natural instincts of hunger and satiety regain their former power.
Being mindful is all about listening to what your body and mind are telling you. A lot of us lose the ability to hear their inner wisdom amongst the chaos and confusion of bingeing.
Re-learning how to be aware of your body, and its signals of hunger and satiety, can make a huge difference in your recovery. This is exactly what meditation can offer. When your mind is in tune with your physical being, it instinctively knows how to nurture and care for it with the help of food.
This short list of benefits that are associated with meditation is by no means exhaustive.
There are other advantages as well – such as an improved ability to focus, stronger relationships with your loved ones, better memory, increased creativity and many, many more.
No wonder then that celebrities like Oprah, Hugh Jackman, Paul McCartney, Tina Turner and Sting have endorsed some form of meditation and claimed that it had a significant role in their success!
It goes without saying that you don’t need to be a celebrity to enjoy the revitalised sense of well-being that meditation is able to give you.
I always encourage my coaching clients to start practising meditation. I’ve also been witnessing its effectiveness first-hand.
“Me and my husband Richard both meditate regularly. I tend to wake up a little earlier than everyone else in the house and squeeze in 15-20 minutes of meditation into my morning routine.
It really quiets my mind down and sets me up for the day. Over the years, it has helped me to make peace with my body, my mind and all of the various challenges that I’ve experienced during my journey towards recovery.”
Founder of HealED
So, what’s the best way to start practising meditation?
Let me introduce to you the meditation method that I call the “Half-Full Technique”.
You’ve probably heard the expression of a glass which is either half-empty, or half-full.
Although it contains equal parts of water and air, different people tend to see it differently.
An optimist concentrates on that which is present.
A pessimist ignores it and claims that the glass is still half-empty.
Both of them are objectively right, of course. The real difference lies in the fact that the optimist appreciates the half-full glass that he’s given.
This meditation technique applies the very same principle to your wandering thoughts.
Just as I had done when I first started practising meditation, many people see their restless minds in a negative light.
They try their best to fight their intrusive thoughts.
They use force in an attempt to bring their minds under control.
The harder they go at it, the more difficult it gets.
Their minds fight back.
They become frustrated and might give up on meditation completely.
Instead of battling against those intrusive thoughts, you have to learn to accept them.
You must learn to appreciate them – just like a true optimist appreciates the half-full glass on the table.
This is what the “Half-Full Meditation Technique” is all about.
And this is how you can put it into practice in just five easy steps:
At its core, meditation is simply a tool that can help you be more mindful of each moment.
No more, no less.
But what does “being mindful” really mean?
Let’s perform a simple exercise and see what being mindful of the present is all about.
Right now, at this very moment, notice what your hands are doing.
Pay attention to sensations that you can feel in them.
Do you feel warmth? Do they feel cold? Are your hands tired? Is there a slight tingling sensation?
Simply focus on your hands for a few seconds.
Well done! You’re meditating.
As long as you’re mindful of your present sensations, you’re in a meditative state.
You don’t need to sit cross-legged like a monk.
You don’t need to chant.
You don’t need to learn any mantras by heart.
All you have to do is be mindful of the sensations that you feel at the present moment.
It’s incredibly simple, yet surprisingly effective.
Our minds like to wander.
Especially when we’re meditating.
It’s easy to get distracted or annoyed when that happens.
If we can’t bring our minds under control, we might start thinking that meditation doesn’t work.
Or we might blame ourselves for failing at it.
Or we might simply give up and quit.
The thing is that your mind will wander when you’re meditating.
It’s in the nature of the mind to think – that’s what it does best.
Don’t expect your mind to be any different.
At the start, even a few seconds without any intrusive thoughts are a great accomplishment.
This is normal!
Nevertheless, as normal as it is, it still leads to frustration.
When I tried to meditate for the first time, I fought my wandering mind so hard that all I ended up gaining from my meditation session was a stress headache!
It’s okay for your thoughts to wander. That’s just how they work.
This is why I want you to EXPECT your mind to be distracted.
EXPECT your thoughts to wander.
As a result, you will feel A LOT less frustrated when it actually happens.
We put FAR too much pressure on ourselves when meditating.
We expect to be able to remain calm and serene for hours.
We expect our minds to do exactly what we want them to do (sadly, they just don’t work that way!).
We expect to feel great during and after meditation – at all times, under all circumstances.
More often than not, our expectations are simply too high.
Such expectations are a fantasy.
It’s not reality.
Your real-life meditation practice will be nothing like this.
There will be challenges along the way, and you’ll have to learn to overcome them.
So let’s reframe your meditation practice.
Let’s set realistic and achievable goals.
I want you to think of meditation as “the act of bringing your mind back from distraction”.
That’s all you have to do.
Each time you get distracted and then bring your mind back to the present, that is meditation.
Don’t worry about how you’re sitting.
Don’t worry about your emotional state.
Don’t worry about how busy your mind is.
Just focus on bringing your mind back from distraction.
Keep doing that over and over again – without any judgement, anger or frustration.
It’s okay for your mind to get distracted.
It’s all part of meditation.
As long as you bring your mind back from distraction you’re doing it just right!
Everything else can just fall by the wayside.
Think of this mental exercise as you would think of lifting weights in the gym. See your mind as a muscle.
The more you practise, the stronger your ability to notice when your mind has wandered becomes. As time goes by, you become better and better at meditating.
This is the big AHA! moment right here.
This made ALL the difference in my meditation practice.
And the great thing is that it’s also super simple.
This is it…
Instead of getting angry at yourself for letting your mind wander, I want you to try a different approach.
Whenever you notice that you’ve been distracted, I want you to THANK your mind for noticing that it has happened (this is where the “Half-Full” part comes in!).
“Thank you, mind! Well done for noticing my distraction!”
Appreciate your mind for being able to look inwards and notice its own wanderings.
Show compassion towards yourself.
This meditation technique works great for sufferers of binge eating or bulimia, as it helps them nurture their ability to treat themselves with love and kindness (we can all do with a little bit more of that, can’t we?).
Acknowledge that both you and your wandering mind are doing just great!
Make it a habit
Do this every time you notice that your thoughts aren’t present during meditation.
Repetition will turn this technique into a habit.
That habit will then morph into a more positive approach towards yourself in general.
Now that you’re ready to apply this technique to your own meditation, here’s how you should go about it:
1. Find a place where you can be undisturbed for a few minutes. If you have a big family, mornings work great. Get up a bit earlier and start your day off with meditation. This is what I do.
2. Sit in a position that works for you. It doesn’t matter what that position is. You can sit on the ground, or you can sit on a sofa. You can wear whatever you want, as long as you feel comfortable. There’s no need to overthink this. Just do whatever feels right.
3. Start off with just a couple of minutes. People tend to overexert themselves during the first few sessions. Yes, you can meditate for half an hour, or even longer. However, relaxation is a skill that can only be acquired with time and patience. Don’t push yourself too hard – 4-5 minutes of meditation are more than enough. As you get better at it, you’ll be able to stay in this state for longer.
4. Pay attention to your breathing. Feel the sensations as you inhale. Focus on the air rushing through your nostrils and reaching your throat, lungs and belly. Notice that air as you exhale. If you find it difficult to concentrate on your breathing, try counting your breaths.
5. Thank your mind for noticing when your thoughts have wandered. Every time your thoughts wander (and, as you already know, they will wander A LOT), THANK your mind for noticing it, and then gently bring your attention back to your breathing. You might have to do this multiple times. It’s absolutely okay. Just gently guide your focus back to your breathing.
“But I feel uncomfortable meditating!”
Sure, meditation may feel uncomfortable, boring or frustrating at times. This is perfectly normal. It’s not a sign that you’re doing something wrong. The truth is that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable during meditation. You’re not trying to achieve a state of pure calmness. All you’re trying to do is become aware of your present sensations.
No matter what your individual meditation experience is, just accept it and let it be exactly as it is at that moment. Keep on bringing your focus back to your breathing. As time goes on, it’ll get easier and increasingly more satisfying.
Meditation absolutely does work.
It’s a fact.
It’s been proven by scientific research and our successfully recovered clients.
However, you have to remember that massive changes don’t happen overnight.
Real, lasting change is slow and gradual. It takes persistence, patience and motivation.
But, trust me, it will happen.
You will notice subtle differences at first. It’s those slight differences that are going to transform your mindset at the deepest level.
All I ask of you is to give it a try.
Meditate for a few minutes at least 7 days in a row and see if you notice those benefits.
What starts as an experiment can turn into a lasting habit, which will change numerous aspects of your life for the better.