Guide to Mindful Eating and Cooking: Timely for the Holidays


old_time_kitchen_780px-Chodowiecki_Basedow_Tafel_1Often a person with an eating disorder will either cook for others without eating herself or be so afraid of food that she will not cook at all. 

Can you eat and cook mindfully?  This question is particularly relevant during the holidays.  Here's some practical guidelines on both eating and cooking.

The article, "Secrets of Mindful Eating," By Pamela Peeke, MD, answers countless questions I've heard over the years from people with eating disorders about how to live and practice healthy self-care as a human being who needs to cook and eat food. 

What could be more basic? And what could be more challenging to a person with an eating disorder?

Peeke briefly and in plain English describes how your body chemistry works when you eat. She clarifies how fasts and mindless eating breaks the connection between your mind and your body. And isn't that what an eating disorder is designed to do?  You let your body go forward dealing with sensations while your mind and emotions remain oblivious. That's really the core function of an eating disorder that plays out in every aspect of your life including eating itself.  Peeke writes:


By slowing down your eating pace, you allow your own body/brain chemicals to work optimally. Your reward is better enjoyment of your food and, studies have shown, far fewer calories consumed.

You can practice mindful eating anywhere. Always make certain you’re not overly hungry before eating by keeping up with your every 3-4 hour snacks and meals throughout the day. Next up, put that fork/spoon down after every bite. Take a breath and savor the moment.


She goes on to say that while you can eat mindfully anywhere, the best place to practice is at home. And she emphasizes the importance of doing your own cooking. For incentive she drops the reference, "Science shows that people who cook more drop more weight." 

Mindful eating helps if you need to lose weight, gain weight or maintain a healthy weight. 

When your body and mind are in tune with each other you are more likely to make healthy decisions.  When your body and mind are partners in harmony with each other and respect each other, you are more likely to eat what you need.  Over time this will bring you to your healthy weight, one that allows your body to be supple, strong and resistant to illness. At your healthy weight you mind is clear to think and make healthy decisions.  And you feel a joy - a physical delight - in just moving in the world.

Meal preparation challenges are personal.

Okay. So we know we get plenty of benefits from eating mindfully.  But cooking? Cookbooks? Time? Washing pots and pans? Dealing with kitchen cupboards full of quick snacks with old, dusty staples in back corners that haven't been touched for years? Cupboards arranged so emergency snacks are hidden from your binge moods but available if you need to go on a desperate search to find something to mindlessly gorge on? 

Going through the kitchen cupboards of a person with an eating disorder can be as telling as going through closets of her clothes

The clothes divided up into fat clothes, thin clothes, failure clothes, beautiful clothes aging because you've never fit into them. Dig into this closet and you see lives you've wanted to live becoming less of a vision of the future and more a golden fantasy. Clothes and dreams become shabby and worn through neglect.

Kitchen cupboards are similar. They can hold outdated quality foods you bought when you had good intentions to eat well.  You find remnants of past diets that failed you.  You find food you're purchased while rationalizing that it was for a party or for someone else but was really for binging.  You find spices and herbs from the dark ages, purchased so your kitchen looked good to others.  Or the cupboards are almost bare, demonstrating the severe restriction you live with in every aspect of your life. You also see what you have in supply that is designed to make your kitchen pass for a normal kitchen owned by a normal person, i.e. one who doesn't have an eating disorder.

How can you cook in a healthy way to create healthful nourishing meals that you will eat mindfully in a kitchen like that? 

Peake methodically addresses this and gives you a thorough answer. She pulls guidelines from Chef Chad Luethje's book, "“Mindful Eating” (Hay House 2012) to give you a substantial lift into a world where you create a mindful kitchen so you can cook mindfully and then eat mindfully.  What a feat!

De-clutter your kitchen and make it ready for mindful cooking.

  1. Get rid of the processed and refined foods.
  2. Pitch your ancient foods.
  3. Open up your working space.
  4. Get the right tools. e.g. kinves, pots n' pans, mxing bowls
  5. Cooking Tips

Happily, she also reminds you to be mindful away from eating and cooking too.  The gifts that come to you when you watch your breath, feel your feelings, be attentive to the world around you including people, animals, plants, sky, ground, sound, air reverberate through your being and add health and joy to your life.

Questions that can take you deeper into your process.

Where are you in relationship to cooking mindfully?

  1. Where do you begin to make your cooking place more conducive to creating healthy meals in a mindful way?
  2. Where do you need to take action?
  3. What comes up as a challenge for you?
  4. Can you name our challenges and find ways to move beyond them?
  5. Does the painting bring up associations and feelings? You can share them here and/or journal about them.

*Daniel Chodowiecki (1726–1801) Link back to Creator infobox templatePolish-German painter and printmaker

This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years.

Joanna Poppink, MFT, is a private practice psychotherapist. For a free telephone consultation e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



0 # I want to comment more on the actual artmylifex2 2012-06-19 14:22
I want to comment more on the actual article you wrote here later; however I find it interesting (and want to comment on) the fact that every time I see or hear the word "nourishing" I cringe. I literally feel anxious and fearful and irritable and edgy. I don't know why, but I hate that word. I can't describe it any way else ??? What's up with that?
ps..the article is very good :-)
0 # Tracy, I suggest that you look up the mepinkjoanna 2012-06-19 19:32
Tracy, I suggest that you look up the meaning of the word "nourish" in several different dictionaries. Maybe the encyclopedia has something about it too.

Then journal on what comes up for you. Every paragraph or so, write out the word "nourish" again. Or ask, "What do I need to learn from this word, 'nourish.'

Or "What have I learned about this word, "nourish," that bothers me so much?"

Just keep writing and see what you discover.

And please, share with us what you find out.

You are not alone in your struggle with the word. I'm glad you wrote. Thank you.
0 # I've discovered through my recovery, howKymL 2012-06-19 20:40
I've discovered through my recovery, how much I love to cook (not bake however...still hate it). I have invested in a number of different kinds of spices and I've gotten creative combining flavors together. I'm not always successful, but for the most part, I like eating my own creations! I find it really cool to think about each thing I put in the dish, taking care to make sure it's fresh and tasty. It's basically a form of self care and compassion for my body! I usually cook on the weekends making soups and meals to use or freeze for the week when I don't have time to cook.

On the not so succesful side, I still have issues with hoarding food. I'm getting better but I think I still some work to do on that issue. Several months ago I went through and tossed the old stuff, and donated the good stuff I'll never eat, but my collection is getting big again. I keep buying the prepared things despite cooking from scratch. Progress not perfection :-)
0 # I would like to be able to have the timemylifex2 2012-06-20 19:11
I would like to be able to have the time and energy to cook well for myself. I struggle with having two children who like different foods, one of whom has issues with food texture and eats a limited variety of foods. My older child refuses to eat most foods that I would consider "healthy" and doesn't like to try new foods. That leaves me with preparing three separate meals or with me eating the less healthy foods my older daughter prefers to eat. It wears on my time to do this. Also, I find that "healty" "fresh" foods often cost so much more. I also would like a bigger kitchen. My kitchen is small and cramped, making it not so pleasurable to cook in.
I would like to have more time to eat and enjoy the foods I am putting into my body. My job is so hectic I usually eat while I work. Once home, I am caught up in the busy schedule of single parenting. Often, our meals are caught on the run. I guess I have a lot to work on here. The good news is that I would like to be able to do a better job. I am going to bring this up at my next therapy session...having more time for me.
0 # I feel for you Tracy; I remember those dKymL 2012-06-20 22:23
I feel for you Tracy; I remember those days. I hope you are able to find some time for yourself! Not sure if cooking a gourmet meal would be top on my list with limited time to myself....but I hope you do find a way to treat yourself good!
0 # Tracy and Kim, You are talking aboutpinkjoanna 2012-06-21 18:19
Tracy and Kim,

You are talking about the challenges that face adult women with eating disorders, that face mothers with eating disorders.

So much of recovery work, research and professional discussion still revolves around teens and younger. It's important to address the needs of children, of course, but adults have been neglected for a long time.

I've been working with adult women with eating disorders in my practice for over 20 years - maybe more. Each one has felt isolated, alone and ashamed of their suffering.

Challenges that face adult women in recovery are not the same as those that face children - especially when it comes to preparing food for themselves and their families.

Good grief. Children have to eat quality food on a regular basis. Children need to learn about food, table manners, the difference between a meal and a snack, the difference between a meal and dessert, the difference between routine meals and special treats. And they have strong positions on texture and color. Some won't eat meat. Some won't eat green vegetables. Some practically live on cheese - grilled cheese sandwiches, string cheese, pizza while parents worry about too much dairy and not enough iron but are glad to see their children eating something.

And what about birthday parties and play dates with the array of snacks and sweets offered? And what about filling a lunch box every day with food your child will actually eat?

This is a difficult challenge for any parent. For a mother with an eating disorder it's more than a challenge. She has to be courageous throughout the day as she meets her triggers while she works to provide nourishment (there's that word, Tracy) for her children.

Please - give yourself a break. Cook, yes. But Keep It Simple. Befriend a steamer and electric rice cooker. In minutes you can have a combination of vegetables and rice. Add your favorite sauces and/or herbs for variation.

Have a little protein on the side or add to your rice mix. Vary it with what's in season and what looks good to you.

By all means explore cookbooks for more complex recipes both for fun and variety. But give yourself some basic tools with simple foods you can prepare for a "nice" meal you can "eat nicely" as part of your routine.

The two "K's" - Kindness and Keep it simple will see you through.
0 # yes, it's very challenging. I have the amylifex2 2012-06-22 18:10
yes, it's very challenging. I have the added complication of being on a medication that causes weight gain. I have gone off of it, only to get so depressed I could hardly function. I have discussed it with my doctor and we feel that it is best for me to stay on the medication. I feel so preoccupied with food being on this medication. I can start my day out with good intentions, but have a horrible time after dinner, snacking late at night. I cannot fit into most of the clothes I wore 3 months ago...and I didn't save my "fat" clothes...I gave them away.
I feel disgusted with myself. I try not to be hard on myself. I don't hate myself, I know I have a lot going on in my life and I am doing the best I can. I remember how bad I felt when I was not eating. I wish I could find a happy in between...for more than a day.

So I looked up the word nourish. Some of the definitions I found were "to sustain", "to help something grow or to develop, foster, or strengthen", "to supply what is necessary for life, health and growth". I was thinking about this today. It occurred to me that perhaps my difficulty with the word comes from feeling like I have so often failed at doing these things for myself..the word means taking care of yourself, your needs,etc., which I often don't feel I deserve to do for myself. I carry a lot of shame and worthless feelings from my childhood abuse. I think I feel that doing something good for myself is like putting something good into something bad, or something clean into something dirty. The two do not go together. The two don't deserve each other. The word makes me feel like a fraud. This is the best way I can describe my feelings for the word.
0 # Ironically, I have gone off this medicatmylifex2 2012-06-27 20:08
Ironically, I have gone off this medication since I posted. I have already noticed a substantial decrease in my sweet and carb cravings. I feel better about myself because i am not eating all the time. It's sad that a medication that helps you also has to cause such bad weight gain. I will need to monitor the increased possibility of restricting again. I am enjoying cooking more because I have more patience and take the time to prepare healthy foods, which is what I actually like to eat when I am not on this medication. I am enjoying my herb garden in preparing my meals. Before when I was on the medication, I would come home and just stuff anything in my mouth and continue snacking until I went to bed. i will see my doctor next week and we can see how things are going off the medication.

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