Many people in recovery from addiction will end up dealing with problems related to diet. Those who have just become clean or sober will often have nutritional deficiencies; it is all too common for individuals to turn to comfort eating as a type of addiction substitute. It is often said that people become sober when they become ‘sick and tired of feeling sick and tired’, but poor diet choices in recovery can mean a continuation of feeling sick and tired. It is for this reason that mindful eating can be such a great practice for those trying to overcome addiction.
One of the main reasons why individuals overeat is that their approach to eating is mostly driven by habit energy. People can eat full meals without hardly tasting anything, and the response to almost any type of emotional difficulty can be to eat something (aka comfort eating). Food is the most heavily promoted product on the planet, so there is also a great deal of pressure on individuals to eat mindlessly.
It is now common for many to multi-task when eating – the best examples of this are TV dinners. This mindless eating means people are not really experiencing the sensation of eating, so they do not notice when they are full. It also means that when they are finished eating, they do not feel satisfied – this is because even though they have satisfied their physical hunger, they have not satisfied their mental hunger. This all means feeling the need to continue eating long after becoming physically full.
Those individuals who are trying to break free of addiction are in particular danger of comfort eating – this is an attempt to avoid feeling their emotions and it works in a similar way to alcohol or drug abuse. Comfort foods tend to be high in fat, sugar, and salt, and these chemicals are known to cause the brain to increase the amount of dopamine – the person experiences this as a temporary feeling of satisfaction and pleasure. Just as with abusing other drugs, comfort eating comes with a huge cost. The person becomes sick and overweight due to comfort eating, which triggers a vicious cycle in which they are eating more and more to escape the unpleasant side effects of overeating.
Mindless eating is often fuelled by self-loathing – the person will eat a lot of junk and then feel guilty about having done it. The individual will then commonly develop body image issues, which can negatively impact their ability to form meaning relationships.
The first important thing to say about mindful eating is that it is not about any type of fad diet. It is also not about developing self-discipline or restricting certain foods. The idea of mindfulness is that you actually experience what is happening in the present moment without resistance. This means that mindful eating is all about learning to enjoy your food more.
It may sound strange to suggest that learning to enjoy your food more could be the secret to a healthy diet, but this is the way it works. The problem is not that your body has been leading you into bad diet habits – it is your failure to listen to your body that is the real problem. Mindful eating is all about giving your body what it wants but in order for that to happen you have to first begin to understand the language of the body.
Mindful eating starts even before you put anything in your mouth. You observe your body to see if it actually wants food – this is much better than putting food in your mouth out of habit or because you mistake other emotions for hunger. When you start eating, you are then present to observe the sensation of eating to see how it effects your body – you stop eating when your hunger is satisfied rather than waiting for your plate to be empty. After you have finished your meal, you continue to observe your body in order to determine how different food affect your energy levels, level of physical comfort, and mood.