What is Mindfulness?


Inner Door Center®’s eating disorder treatment program, Reconnect with Food®, is a mindfulness based treatment program.  But what does it mean to be “mindful”?  How can this skill be applied in your everyday life?  And how does it help in the treatment of eating disorders?

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn.  There are three different ways to “pay attention in a particular way”, or be mindful: by observing, describing and participating.

Observing means noticing an experience without getting caught up in it.  You are aware of what is happening, but you are not reacting to it.  When you observe, you notice what is coming through to all of your senses: your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin.  For example, using your observation skills during a meal would be noticing the colors, the textures, the aromas, and the taste of the food without making any judgments or having any emotional reaction to these observations.

Describing is how you put words on an experience.  Describe to yourself what is happening – with that same meal in mind, describe with words how the dish tastes.  Maybe it is spicy, or maybe it is sweet.  Describe the texture – is it crunchy or is it soft?  Remember that a thought is just a thought, and a feeling is just a feeling.  Do not get wrapped up in whether a thought means you’re feeling something or a feeling means you have thought something – this leads to mindlessness, and is often one of the issues that patients with eating disorders struggle with.

Participating is entering into your own experience.  You can observe and describe an experience without being part of it.  Actively participating is the next step, and this would be enjoying the meal and letting the things that you observed or described be a part of yourself and your experience.  This is the part of mindfulness where you notice yourself and where you are as a part of the experience.

Mindfulness can be very helpful in the treatment of eating disorders.  It is similar to exposure therapy (for example, when someone with arachnophobia is placed in a room with a spider) in that it involves increasing awareness of the mood states eating disorder patients typically seek to avoid because of fear, and that they use eating disorder behaviors to cope with.  Mindfulness can help eating disorder patients sort through their thoughts and feelings, encouraging a nonjudgmental approach to all of them – sadness, fear, happiness are all normal emotions meant to be felt and okay to be felt.  Being mindful can help eating disorder patients reconnect with their hunger and satisfaction cues by being more aware and helping them discern these feelings from other emotions that they might have felt around food.  Mindfulness provides a framework for teaching the difference between thoughts, emotions, and the values of each.

To learn more about our mindfulness based approach at Inner Door Center®, please visit our website: www.innerdoorcenter.com.  If you or a loved one is in need of treatment for an eating disorder or substance abuse, visit our website for more information or call our office at (248) 336-2868.

Don’t forget – Stereotype Event Detroit is right around the corner!  Join Inner Door Center® on June 14th at the Detroit Opera House for an evening of art, education and entertainment.  Benefits from this fundraiser will help the Inner Door Foundation secure effective treatment for those without insurance coverage and much, much more.  Visit the Stereotype Event website for more information – tickets are still on sale, and can be purchased at the door!

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