Meditation for Mindful Eating

By Heather B., BS Psychology & Holistic Health,

Certified Meditation & Yoga Instructor, Lifestyle Consultant, Livea Centers


It is a Tuesday night, and you are watching your favorite show on Netflix. Suddenly the show seems impossible to watch without a bowl of popcorn, ice cream, or both. So, you go into the kitchen and help yourself to whatever your craving is calling for. You indulge. It feels good, even soothing for a moment until your stomach feels like a rock and you realize you just betrayed your goals. Then Thursday night rolls around and you get home from a busy day of work, and you feel stressed, overwhelmed, and your to-do list seems a mile long. A very convincing voice in your head assures you that relief is only a few slices of pizza away. Not only is the voice convincing, but you know it won’t go away until the pizza is finished. So, once again, you indulge. Your overwhelm diminishes for a moment, but a wave of shame comes up knowing that once again you have betrayed what you have been working so hard for and you just can’t figure out why your wants and actions do not align.

If you can see yourself in either of the above scenarios and it has made you feel helpless, out of control, or confused; then meditation may be a helpful tool for navigating these intense cravings. Meditation is a proven and effective tool for managing various compulsions, (Kadri et al., 2020) which these intense food cravings can often feel like. Meditation allows you to take a step back from your intense cravings and instead of feeling helpless to them, you can learn to watch them unfold and regain control and power over them.

In meditation, you take a step back from the noises in your thoughts, body, and the world around you and instead witness these experiences without judgment. It is not about turning your thoughts off, rather, we learn to experience them with a healthy sense of detachment. With time, you can learn to better understand your thoughts and emotions and learn skills to work with them rather than react to them. Most people find this change in perspective to be empowering, even life changing. Today we are going to get specific and discuss a style of meditation that is designed for the moment that a food craving hits.

When an intense craving comes on, think of it as a meditation bell, or as a cue to slow down and tune into your mind and body. By tuning into your mind and body, you become empowered because you are facing the uncomfortable feelings and cravings that have previously led you to eating. By facing them head on and with mindfulness, you can experience them and allow them to pass. You gain control over these cravings rather than the cravings having control over you.

Below you will find an outline of how to put this into action and the steps to take when a craving comes up. Feel free to copy or write down this list, so that when a trigger comes up you are prepared with a plan.

Steps for mindfully approaching food cravings:

  1. Recognize your trigger: When the urge to compulsively eat comes up, take a moment to slow down and acknowledge that you are currently in the middle of having a food trigger.
  2. Get to know your trigger: When it comes up take a moment to get intimate with it. What thoughts do you notice? Where do you feel the craving in your body (food cravings are often experienced in the stomach, mouth, or head)? Is this trigger of eating coming up to avoid another feeling and if so, what is that feeling and where do you feel it? Did something happen to trigger this sensation? What happens to this feeling if you take a few deep breaths?
  3. Fully experience your cravings/feelings: Allow yourself to feel and experience the emotions, thoughts, and feelings that are coming up. Allow them to exist and move through you, as when you allow yourself to fully experience your feelings they pass. You will notice that sitting with these feelings can be uncomfortable; however, there will be a critical point where the discomfort naturally passes, and you will feel a sense of relief. And by no longer pushing down your triggers and emotions you will no longer feel the need to find relief through compulsive eating.
  4. Soothe your nervous system: After the wave of the intense craving has been experienced and passes, it is important to calm your body and come back into the moment. This is an individual process and finding something that works for you is key. Here are some examples: take several deep breaths, go for a walk, drink herbal tea, do something creative, watch something funny, hug or spend time with someone you love, get out in nature, or take a hot shower/bath.
  5. Repeat. It is likely that your triggers will continue to follow you around for a while and this process will need to be repeated multiple times as you learn this new way of working with your triggers. You are creating new neural pathways which take effort to build, but with practice this becomes second nature, and you will finally get to experience freedom and ease around food.

This process will not work if you approach it with force, instead learning to approach it with kindness, compassion, and curiosity is key. And remember that this process will be uncomfortable as you are facing the discomforts that have led you to give into your food cravings. It is only by seeking to understand your triggers and sitting with them until they pass that you will be able to change your relationship with food. In other words, only by facing the discomfort can you find freedom from it. The below principles of meditation are key for building the space to move through these challenging emotions and triggers.

Principles of Meditation:

  1. Be slow and easy on yourself in this process. You are not going to be perfect at this, you are likely re-wiring a lifetime of habits and patterns, so give yourself some grace and enjoy getting better and better at this.
  2. Practice non-judgment. Do not judge yourself, your thoughts, or your feelings. One major principle of meditation is that no thought or emotion is inherently good or bad. So even an intense food craving is not bad, it is simply what we are experiencing at the moment and that gets to be beautiful as it is a part of this human experience.
  3. Remember the nature of emotions and triggers is that they pass. There will come a critical point in which your food craving passes, it is just about being able to sit in discomfort until it does pass. And you might be surprised just how quickly this discomfort can pass.
  4. Emotions and triggers are messengers. What are your feelings and emotions signaling to you? Is there an unmet need that needs to be addressed? Does something in your life need to change? What are your emotions and triggers trying to tell you?
  5. The more you do this, the easier it gets. If you stay with it and are consistent, the more confident and freer you will feel in your relationship with food.

Enjoy your new-found food freedom!

Resources:

Ho, Quyen, “Mindfulness Meditation Practice by Individuals with Substance Dependent Behavior” (2017). Walden Dissertations and Doctoral Studies. 3783. https://scholarworks.waldenu.edu/dissertations/3783

Kadri, R., Husain, R., & Omar, S. H. (2020). Impact of spiritual meditation on drug addiction recovery and wellbeing: A systematic review. International Journal of Human and He