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Mindfulness in Eating Disorder Recovery

Monte Nido & Affiliates Vice President of Clinical Programming Keesha Amezcua, MA, LMFT, CEDS has over 10 years of experience working in the eating disorder field and is trained in EMDR. In this week’s blog post, Keesha discusses mindfulness and how it can be incorporated into treatment.

Mindfulness might be one of the buzziest of the current buzz words. You can find mindfulness journals, cards, necklaces, elixirs and even water bottles. But what does this really mean? And what’s all the hype about anyways. The term mindfulness is often misused or generalized to mean any form of new age, spiritual practice. If we are using the word correctly according to mindfulness guru Jon Kabat Zinn, it means “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” This might sound equal parts easy and hard. The good news is that mindfulness can be cultivated through intentional practice and training. Perhaps your next question is, “why would I need o want to do this?”

While there was not much research on mindfulness 20 years ago (1 randomized control trial between 1995-1997), there is a lot more research happening now (216 randomized control trials between 2013-2015). With the increase in studying mindfulness, researchers are finding that the techniques and practices have myriad effects on everything from stress to compassion, depression to anxiety. One study found that MBCT (Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy) helped prevent depression recurrence as effective as maintenance antidepressant medication did. This is promising stuff because mindfulness techniques are free and readily available for everyone. And you don’t have to be the Dalai Lama to get it.

So if we can agree that mindfulness can be beneficial in achieving positive results, then how do we go about utilizing it. First, we need to understand how to operationalize the definition. In a 2006 Baer, et al. studied the subjective experience of mindfulness. They found five dimensions of mindfulness.

  1. Observing, noticing, attending to sensations/perceptions/thoughts/feelings
  2. Describing/labeling with words
  3. Non judging of experience
  4. Non reactivity to inner experience
  5. Acting with awareness/non automatic pilot/concentration/non distraction

This framework can be useful in helping people understand and integrate mindfulness.

This list can be used to help clients identify the skills needed to heal their eating disorder. As a clinician, this list can be used as a reminder of the skills needed to best help someone heal. Mindfulness skills can be the very thing that helps a client to do the necessary work of changing their eating disorder behaviors. And the very heart of mindfulness, not having judgment, means that you can’t be right or wrong, good or bad. There’s no way to fail, only ways to improve.

In treatment, there are several approaches to incorporating mindfulness and to help clients pay attention in a particular way: Breath work, yoga therapy, meditation group, gardening. There is a lot of opportunity for creativity and finding unique ways that someone can be purposefully with themselves. Again, applying these skills doesn’t require any heavy lifting. There is no special equipment, no registration fee and no manual needed. It’s about right here, right now. Purposeful, non-judgmental attention. The exciting part is that mindfulness doesn’t have to begin and end in treatment. This is a skill that has benefits far-reaching and long-standing. Mindfulness can and should be a lifelong pursuit.

To learn more about this topic, join Keesha’s family webinar on Wednesday, February 20th at 8:00pm EST. This presentation will provide not only parents or spouses with additional support, but also aunts, uncles, siblings, grandparents and other significant family members or friends. Click HERE to register.

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