Often 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.
- Get rid of the processed and refined foods.
- Pitch your ancient foods.
- Open up your working space.
- Get the right tools. e.g. kinves, pots n' pans, mxing bowls
- 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?
- Where do you begin to make your cooking place more conducive to creating healthy meals in a mindful way?
- Where do you need to take action?
- What comes up as a challenge for you?
- Can you name our challenges and find ways to move beyond them?
- Does the painting bring up associations and feelings? You can share them here and/or journal about them.
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: