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Learn more about the results we get at Within

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Practicing mindfulness and mindful eating

The practice of mindfulness originated through Buddhist meditation, but its introduction into Western practices by eating disorder professionals has been beneficial to individuals living with various conditions, including eating disorders.

 minutes read
Last updated on 
October 3, 2023
Person meditating
In this article

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on what you’re experiencing in the present moment, including what you’re feeling, thinking, and sensing. Mindfulness stresses the importance of experiencing these sensations with an attitude of acceptance and without judgment.2

It’s easy to lose touch with the world around us and how our body feels by getting stuck in our heads. We may not realize how our thoughts drive our behavior and emotions in these situations. But if you find yourself struggling in this way, mindfulness may be able to help.

By seeing and accepting yourself clearly in the present moment, you can prevent your thoughts and emotions from wandering into obsessive thoughts about the past or fears about the future.2 This can help you feel more grounded and less overwhelmed.

Woman meditating on the beach

How can mindfulness help with eating disorders?

Mindfulness can help someone with an eating disorder learn to tune in to the body’s sensations, thoughts, and emotions. This can help increase awareness of hunger and fullness cues, decrease anxieties, and cultivate a sense of acceptance. 

The relationship between mindful eating and eating disorders

There is a significant interconnectedness between a lack of mindful eating and eating disorders. People with eating disorders are often bombarded by negative thoughts about food and their bodies. Feeling overwhelmed by these negative thoughts and emotions can trigger disordered eating behaviors, such as binging, purging, restricting, and excessive exercise. 

Help for eating disorders is within reach

Mindfulness practices have demonstrated positive results in regulating emotions, tolerating distress, decreasing depression, and reducing negative thought patterns. All of this can help prevent and treat disordered eating behaviors. If you’re utilizing unhealthy or disordered eating behaviors to cope with stress, anxiety, depression, or for any other reason, help is available at Within.

Call (866) 293-0041 today

Eating disorders can cause someone to enter a space outside of mindfulness, where they “zone out” or “tune out” their bodies’ hunger cues. This can cause someone to be unaware of what they’re eating or make them feel out of control, often binge eating past the point of being comfortably full. Other people with restrictive eating disorders, like anorexia nervosa (AN), or orthorexia nervosa (ON), may ignore hunger cues and feelings of weakness or fatigue altogether, leading to starvation or over-exercising. But, mindfully connecting back to your body, exercising, and eating, can help some people overcome these negative patterns. 

While mindfulness is a beneficial practice for many, it may not be appropriate for people with all types of eating disorders or people at different points of recovery. If you have an eating disorder, it is highly recommended that you seek out professional help in addition to practicing mindfulness. Still, several mindfulness exercises are frequently incorporated into eating disorder treatment and recovery, which may help curb unhelpful thoughts or behaviors.


How to practice mindfulness in eating disorder recovery 

How to practice mindful eating 

Mindful eating is about switching the focus from what you eat to how you eat. 

Through practicing mindful eating, you can learn to change how you respond to food physically and emotionally. Some ways to practice mindful eating, if you’re struggling with an eating disorder, include:4

  • Learning to recognize hunger and satiety cues to guide when to start and stop eating
  • Acknowledging responses to food without judgment
  • Becoming aware of the positive aspects of preparing and consuming foods
  • Tuning into sensory sensations while eating—how a meal looks, tastes, and smells
  • Recognizing triggers for mindless eating while also learning to eat slowly and intentionally without distractions

Many skills taught by mindful eating can help people break free from their self-imposed “food rules” and eating disorder behaviors. When taken as a whole, the practice can help someone struggling with an eating disorder enjoy food and eating again.

How to practice mindful breathing

By helping you concentrate on the pace and quality of your breath, mindful breathing enables you to better focus on the present moment. Breathing slowly and deeply also sends more oxygen to the brain, which ultimately helps you feel more relaxed.

There are many great mindful breathing techniques you can try, including:
  • Breathing colors: Close your eyes and imagine inhaling one color and exhaling another.
  • Square breathing: Inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, and repeat.
  • Deep breathing: Inhale deeply through the nose and then slowly back out through the nose. If your mind wanders, bring your focus back to your breath.

Mindful breathing exercises can help you relax and refocus on the present, especially in moments when eating can feel overwhelming. But these techniques are also helpful on their own or when coupled with other mindfulness practices.

The five senses exercise

The five senses exercise is a great mindfulness practice to ground you in the present moment. It involves tuning into your five senses while participating in an activity you would usually do mindlessly, such as taking a walk.9

  • Pay attention to what you hear—cars on a nearby highway, birds chirping, footsteps behind you.
  • What do you smell? Does it smell good? If it does, breathe deeply and smile.
  • Look around you, up in the sky, down at the ground. Is it warm and sunny? Or cold and cloudy?
  • Vary your pace, swing your arms, stomp your feet, and focus on how your body feels as you do. 
  • Take a bite of a snack or a sip of water, and focus on how it feels in your mouth and tastes. Think about it as fuel for your walk. 

You can try this exercise anywhere, anytime, and with any activity. As with many mindfulness practices, the more you do it, the better you will get at grounding yourself in times of distress.

Benefits of mindfulness

Research has proven mindfulness to be a very effective mental health practice, helping to improve mental and physical well-being.3

Mindfulness reduces anxiety and stress

Many individuals with eating disorders resort to disordered eating behaviors, like purging, restriction, binging, or misuse of diuretics, as a way to cope with stress and anxiety. Mindfulness techniques offer a healthy way to deal with these stressors and can also help someone process their emotions rather than smother or hide from them.

Studies have shown that mindfulness is a simple, cost-effective way to reduce stress and anxiety levels.5 There are even mindfulness practices adapted specifically for reducing stress, including mindfulness-based stress reduction, which combines yoga with mindfulness techniques to help people address difficult emotions and maladaptive behaviors.1

Mindfulness can decrease depression

Another benefit of mindfulness is reduced feelings of depression. 

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) incorporates mindfulness practices, meditation, yoga, and more, to help people become more aware of their thoughts and feelings and work toward accepting them.

Scientific studies suggest that MBCT can not only effectively treat depression but also prevent a relapse of depressive symptoms.6

Mindfulness can improve emotional regulation

Emotional regulation refers to controlling your emotions, including reigning in difficult feelings that may trigger harmful eating behaviors. 

Research has found that mindfulness helps enhance emotional regulation skills. Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)—a combination of mindfulness, cognitive behavior therapy, and emotional regulation training—is a particularly effective treatment for eating disorders.8

Mindfulness can help build stronger relationships

Mindfulness may have a positive effect on someone’s interpersonal relationships, as well as their relationship with themselves. Studies have shown that people who practiced mindfulness techniques were more accepting of their partners.7

People who accept their partners are generally happier within their relationships. This can help build or solidify someone’s support network, which is crucial to eating disorder recovery.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.


  1. Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S., & Walach, H. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57(1), 35–43.
  2. Mindfulness. (n.d.). NHS choices. Retrieved April 24, 2023.
  3. van Agteren, J., Iasiello, M., Lo, L., Bartholomaeus, J., Kopsaftis, Z., Carey, M., & Kyrios, M. (2021). A systematic review and meta-analysis of psychological interventions to improve mental wellbeing. Nature Human Behaviour, 5(5), 631–652.
  4. Warren, J. M., Smith, N., & Ashwell, M. (2017). A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: Effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutrition Research Reviews, 30(2), 272–283.
  5. Steffen, P. R., Austin, T., & DeBarros, A. (2016). Treating chronic stress to address the growing problem of depression and anxiety. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 4(1), 64–70.
  6. Kuyken, W., Hayes, R., et al. (2015). Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy compared with maintenance antidepressant treatment in the prevention of depressive relapse or recurrence (prevent): A randomised controlled trial. The Lancet, 386(9988), 63–73.
  7. Kappen, G., Karremans, J. C., Burk, W. J., & Buyukcan-Tetik, A. (2018). On the association between mindfulness and romantic relationship satisfaction: The role of partner acceptance. Mindfulness, 9(5), 1543–1556.
  8. Wisniewski, L., & Ben-Porath, D. D. (2015). Dialectical behavior therapy and eating disorders: The use of contingency management procedures to manage dialectical dilemmas. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 69(2), 129–140.
  9. McCallum, K. (2010). The case for integrating mindfulness in the treatment of eating disorders. Treatment of Eating Disorders, 387–403.


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