Mindfulness Practices Are Becoming the Backbone of Disordered Eating Programs

Delly Bezoss

The complication of disordered eating is that food cannot be avoided, unlike the source of other addictive behaviors.

It’s a delicate mental illness that hides on the fringes of a diet-obsessed culture driven to focus on the exterior. Yet experts are finding that shifting exceedingly to psychology—particularly the practice of mindfulness—is altering the success rate of programs.

An examination of in-patient programs and diet programs shows that there’s a pivot to focus on behaviors by lining them up side by side with opportunities to explore emotions. In both cases, mindfulness is getting the credit it deserves by being a force for lasting change.

Mindfulness is a conscious attentiveness to our internal world, be it thoughts, feelings, or physical sensations. In most cases, the practice of mindfulness calls for nonjudgment. The goal is to become more self-aware and attuned to how we respond to different situations, whether they be outside ourselves or inside.

A review of previous research on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating, and intuitive eating in changing behaviors conducted five years ago discovered that these approaches to disordered eating seem most effective in addressing binge eating, emotional eating, and eating in response to external cues. There were 68 publications reviewed as part of the summary, which found that mindfulness-oriented approaches can prevent weight gain by altering food intake.

Holy Yoga, which offers Christian yoga instructor training programs, added a new certification program a few years ago specifically for disordered eating.

“We started this program because we were seeing so many people coming through our 200 hour [certification] and finding healing from their struggles with eating and eating disorders through their practice,” said Jennifer Moye, director of marketing for Holy Yoga Global.

The on-demand disordered eating program is a personal development program that provides education for understanding the effects of disordered eating on the body and soul. It guides participants through exploring spiritual disciplines, meditation, and breath practices.

Noom, a mobile weight loss app begun in 2008 strictly to track fitness goals and calories, has reflected the new shift in understanding dieting.

In fact, the subscription-based app has dropped the word diet and encourages focus on mindset above calories and fitness.

These days, Noom emphasizes forming new neural connections to overcome the root cause of unhealthy habits. Daily psychology lessons help users understand why they eat the way they do.

Just as many mental health disorders are on the rise post-COVID-19, disordered eating is also increasing. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline has experienced a 107 percent increase in contacts since the start of the pandemic.

More than 28 million Americans experience an eating disorder at some point in their life, according to NEDA. Every 52 minutes, someone dies as a direct result of an eating disorder.

Among the barriers to getting help for disordered eating is access to treatment. Only one in 10 people receive treatment, and only about 20 percent stay in recovery. The cost is prohibitive, ranging from $500 to $2,000 per day in the United States.

But what experts are discovering is that developing mindfulness allows clients to evaluate their triggers and impulses. Mindfulness also improves engagement in therapy, according to Oliver-Pyatt Centers, which provides day and in-patient recovery for eating disorders.

Oliver-Pyatt Centers’ approach is to help clients trust their bodies so they’ll have a “greater capacity for mindful eating, mindful movement and eventually mindful living. Mindfulness can become their new anchor as they learn to live day-by-day without the intrusion of the eating disorder,” according to the OPC website.

Mary Dye, director of nutrition services for OPC, says the foundation for clients is intuitive eating.

“An individual with an eating disorder typically has little to no awareness, connection or ability to appropriately respond to their bodily cues,” she wrote in an article for the OPC website. “A key characteristic of the eating disorder is dissociation—a person comes to disregard their body’s hunger and fullness cues for so long that they forget what it feels like to be comfortably hungry for a meal and what it feels like to be satiated after eating. Our work is to reorient our clients with their own body’s language.”

Besides yoga, some of the disciplines that are taught in the Holy Yoga disordered eating program are silence, prayer, rest, and journaling.

Here are some tips for how to incorporate these as a lifestyle:


Set your alarm for 10 minutes earlier than normal and retreat for a quick respite to an area of your home that’s free from distractions. Leave your phone behind and just focus on your breath. Light a candle or diffuse essential oil to ground yourself with aroma. Read a poem, or simply rest your body consciously, or recite affirmations.


Read a prayer from a book, write a prayer, or listen to a prayer on a podcast. If you aren’t sure what to do, start by listing out everything you’re grateful for as your prayer. Confession prayers can be cleansing, as well as being honest about your needs. Prayer journals are very useful to bear witness to answered prayers and turn those into gratitude prayers.


First, make sure you are getting enough sleep at night. This kind of rest isn’t to make up for lost sleep; it’s to allow your nervous system to come back to balance from the stress of daily life. Find pockets of rest throughout your day and week. For instance, a yoga class or short meditation can be helpful. Consider the need for emotional and spiritual rest as much as physical rest. Taking breaks from taxing activities by doing brain breaks or grabbing a few breaths of fresh air can bring much-needed emotional rest.


The outlet provided by journaling can help work out complex feelings and areas of struggle. A blank notebook can sometimes be intimidating for beginners, so start with a guided journal or use a personal development book or spiritual study that incorporates journaling. There are also a wide variety of guided journals available.

Each of these activities is mindful in itself and comes with a plethora of mental-emotional benefits. Don’t be overwhelmed, but pick one that sounds like a good starting point and make a plan to develop a new habit.


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