Binge Eating and Mindfulness – What Research Says
Binge eating. If you are or every have been a binge eater, I’m sure that simply reading the phrase elicits different feelings inside of you. And if you’ve struggled with binge eating, I’m sure you’ve also tried many different diet and self-talk strategies to try and curb your eating; “My diet is going to start tomorrow”, “I need to get my money’s worth from this buffet!”, “Five more cookies and I’m done!” Sound familiar? I could probably write a 15 page essay on all of the things I’ve ever said and done to curb my eating habits!
The problem with binge eating is that it doesn’t just end with food. Researchers Hannah Woolhouse, Ann Knowles and Naomi Crafti (2012) explain that women who binge eat have an increased likelihood that they will suffer from low self-esteem, poor body image, interpersonal problems, depression and anxiety. What their research and many others reveal, is that if we have a complicated relationship with our eating habits, we often have a complicated relationship with ourselves as well.
Woolhouse, Knowles and Crafti were interested in determining if mindfulness (the practice of being present or aware of what’s happening, free from judgement) could help women in controlling their binge eating habits. They conducted a study where 30 women (ages 18-52) who regularly binge eat participated in a Mindful Eating Group (MEG) for 3 hours a day, for 10 weeks (Woolhouse, Knowles & Crafti, 2012, p. 324). The women participated in mindfulness practice (such as formal and informal meditation and mindful or attentional eating), as well as CBT elements (including meal planning and food monitoring) (Woolhouse, Knowles & Crafti, 2012, p. 324).
A 3 month follow-up at the conclusion of the program found that participants who reported binge eating twice a week or more dropped from 80% to 14% (Woolhouse, Knowles & Crafti, 2012, p. 328). Of all of the mindfulness practices introduced, mindful eating was reported to have the biggest impact on their habits, including slowing down chewing, paying attention to flavours and stomach fullness, and likes and dislikes of “binge foods” (Woolhouse, Knowles & Crafti, 2012, p. 329, 331). There were also significant improvements in over-eating and dieting behaviours, and body image dissatisfaction (Woolhouse, Knowles & Crafti, 2012, p. 324).
The takeaway is that mindfulness has the potential to transform our relationship with food as well as with ourselves. Improving our relationship with both food and ourselves can improve our eating habits and our overall mental health. While more research is needed in regards to mindfulness-based intervention, early research shows that this growing practice is worth giving it a shot.
If you’re looking for some simple ways to become more mindful while eating, check out our “Tip Tuesdays” on Twitter @JMAssociatesInc, or on Instagram @odysseyhealthservices. If you’re interested in learning more about identifying unhelpful eating patterns, body image and more comprehensive mindfulness strategies, enroll in our evidence-based mindful eating program (ACT for Mindful Eating) by sending us an email at email@example.com.
Reference: Woolhouse, H., Knowles, A. & Crafti, N. (2012). Adding Mindfulness to CBT Programs for Binge Eating: A Mixed-Methods Evaluation, Eating Disorders, 20:4, 321-339, DOI: 10.1080/10640266.2012.691791