Insight Meditation on the Treatment of Disordered Eating

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For those with disordered eating, learning healthy ways to experience and express emotions can be a key turning point in understanding perceptions as they actually are, rather than what patients think they are (Baer, Fischer and Huss 2005. Corstorphine 2006). Experiencing and expressing emotions in healthy ways are learned skills. Interventions like experiential work, dialectical behavior therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and especially mindfulness training help the patient to objectively identify subjective emotions (Kristeller 2003. Baer, Fischer and Huss 2005. Wolever and Best 2009. Smith et al. 2008. Corstorphine 2006), in the identification distance themselves from emotional states in order to address rather than escape, block or change them. Then, the patient has the freedom to reorder her experiences and emotions into healthy patterns. Emotional states play a large part in how we view ourselves and the world (Corstorphine 2006). The perceptions of the five senses are reordered from empirical facts into something entirely different once they reach our brains, and past experiences, subconscious and conscious memories, and feelings then reorder those perceptions again into external behaviors and what we think we understand. What we actually see about the world is not necessarily what we get. Mindfulness training, while far from a new or innovative approach, is just starting to become an accepted treatment for eating disorders in the mainstream West (Chambers, Lo and Allen 2008. Dryden and Still 2006. Martin 1997. Smith et al. 2008). The training teaches meditation and relaxation techniques, certainly, but it goes much deeper than that to the actual self-awareness of the patient. There is mounting evidence that mindfulness insight meditation may be helpful to patients with eating disorders. Perhaps this is because, as Smith et al. (2008) surmise, a more accepting attitude toward one’s inner experience and enhanced self-monitoring and self-regulation allow participants to let go of control, rather than losing control (256). The effectiveness of any therapy depends upon what the individual brings to the therapy and how much work she is willing to put in to see the desired results. Learning the seemingly simple skill of mindfulness can bring about dramatic changes in patients with eating disorders, both in their thinking about themselves and their relationship with food.