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  • Writer's pictureAlexander James

Can Mindfulness Techniques Help With Eating Disorders?

During last year’s coronavirus lockdown, parents in the UK were warned of a sharp rise in eating disorders among children and young people, the BBC News website reported. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health urged parents to look out for key signs, amid concerns of a three or four-fold increase in cases.

Many factors are thought to be behind the rise, which have been exacerbated over the past year. Young people have experienced many sudden changes and losses, which they are less equipped to cope with than older people. Isolation from friends during school closures, and loss of sporting clubs and other outside interests, are partly to blame.

Increased use of social media, where young people are often bombarded with digitally retouched pictures of the ‘ideal body’ are also thought to perpetuate poor self-image and low self-esteem. The NHS reports record numbers of referrals for eating disorders, and some areas have long waiting lists.

Eating disorders are best tackled in the early stages to prevent irreversible organ damage. They can often begin with small changes to eating patterns, such as avoiding foods that were previously enjoyed, faddy diets, increased amounts of exercise, and an overly critical attitude to appearance and body shape.

Overcoming an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia can be a complicated and lengthy process, because it involves both mental and physical treatment. A dietician will be able to draw up a meal plan for regular and adequate nutrition to help the patient back to a healthy weight. Extra medical care may be needed for problems caused by starvation.

From a psychological perspective, the aim is to break the cycle of negative thoughts about body image, and the obsession with calories or exercise. Mindfulness techniques can be employed to bring the patient into the present moment, and prevent the mind constantly wandering to repetitive and unhelpful thoughts.

By allowing the mind to clear from negative thoughts for a period of time, the patient can gain some perspective and insight into the root causes of their condition. Of course, the triggers will be different for every individual. They may be driven by an excessive perfectionist streak, a type of food phobia, or societal and peer pressure, for example.

Mindfulness practice can encourage the individual to live in the present moment for increasingly long stretches, and help heal the mind from stressors and feelings of guilt around eating. Once a distance has been established between a negative thought and a negative action, the disordered eating patterns become much easier to break.

Learning how to practice mindfulness can take time and patience. However, once the ability to step away from unhelpful ruminations has been achieved, it can be a very powerful tool towards healing and recovery from psychological distress. It will enable you to analyse your thoughts with the detached but compassionate eye of an observer.

Sometimes, it is easier to accomplish therapeutic practices with the help of a non-judgemental professional. If you would like to undertake some online mindfulness therapy for an eating disorder or other mental health issue, please get in touch today.

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