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A Marriage of Intuitive and Mindful Eating: Eat for Life

Thursday, July 23, 2020 10:56 AM | Jennifer Oetting (Administrator)

By Lynn Rossy, Ph.D.

When I was asked in 2007 to develop a program for people who struggled with how to eat and with the relationship they had to their bodies, I had some research to do. At the time, I worked at the University of Missouri for the wellness program for faculty and staff. A survey we conducted indicated that people were stressed and physically inactive, both of which pointed to a possible increase in disordered eating. 

We know that when people are stressed they often reach for food for relief. And, when people are not engaged in physical activity, they tend to be less connected to their bodies’ needs, including when to eat or stop eating based on hunger and satiety cues. These are also current conditions that people are living under because of the COVID. People say they feel stressed and are having more difficulty figuring out how to get in their physical activity. 

Back in 2007, there were not a lot of programs being offered for eating and body image.  The one mindful eating program available focused on people with a clinical binge eating disorder diagnosis. However, I was seeking to serve a more heterogeneous population of people. While some people at the University would meet criteria for binge eating, more often than not the population was more along a continuum of disordered eating. So, that particular program did not appeal to me as the program I wanted to offer. I had become aware of the Intuitive Eating book by Tribole and Resch and immediately felt aligned to their principles. This was an approach I could include in my program.

Most importantly, I knew that whatever type of program I offered would need to include mindfulness. Mindfulness is present moment attention infused with curiosity, kindness, and compassion. The skill of mindfulness seemed absolutely necessary for anyone wanting to make a change in their approach to food and body. Having taught the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for many years, I saw the significant changes that people make when given a tool that increases awareness of choices and kindness towards themselves. Mindful awareness is what precedes anything else in the steps toward changing a behavior or attitude. Non-judgmental awareness allows a person to see what is happening in their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors and makes the space to consider their choices before acting.

So, Eat for Life was born of the principles of Intuitive Eating and the four foundations of mindfulness—mindfulness of the body, feelings, mind and mental objects. Teaching with the skill of mindfulness and weaving in the principles of Intuitive Eating was my pilot program for the first three years. Then, I spent a summer rewriting the program based on what I had learned from the participants of my classes, as well as the research I conducted on the efficacy of the program (Bush, Rossy, Mintz, & Schopp, 2014).

The results from my research indicate the following after taking my ten program:

  1. Decrease in binge eating behavior
  2. Increase in body appreciation (body image)
  3. Increase in intuitive eating (eating based primarily on physical hunger cues)
  4. Increase in mindfulness

The one important thing in people had in common was as they increased in mindfulness the improvements in the other areas increase as well. In other words, the skill of mindfulness proved to be the underlying mechanism for the changes in the other areas. While I wasn’t surprised, I knew that a rewrite of the program would increase the emphasis on mindfulness and help people engage in the daily practices.

Interestingly, people who re-take the program say “I’m taking it again because this time I really want to practice the mindfulness more consistently.” They know intuitively that the mindfulness exercises are critical to changing how they behave and, most importantly, how they view themselves and their bodies--moving from deprivation to sustenance and criticism to kindness.

The revision of the Eat for Life program also included mindfulness practices that helped people with the intuitive eating principles which were the most difficult to understand and deploy successfully. Not surprisingly, the “no forbidden food” principle creates significant challenges. According to research by Barraclough, et.al. (2019), giving oneself unconditional permission was the most difficult aspect of intuitive eating. So, I developed the “three food wisdoms” which helps people mindfully navigate this approach to food in a way that creates mindful scaffolding around the practice and make it less likely that they set themselves up to fail.

 Currently, the Eat for Life program uses my book, The Mindfulness-Based Eating Solution (Rossy, 2016), as the primary study material as it highlights mindfulness as the main skill to learn throughout. I still use the Intuitive Eating book (Tribole & Resch, 2020) as secondary reading material, because the principles are very helpful and give participants different viewpoints on similar topics. The more ways of looking at the same thing, the easier they are for people to digest. (Forgive the pun!)

Lastly, I have come to believe and see over the years how important the mindful movement practice is for everyone, particularly for people who might have previously ignored their bodies and judged them as being deficient. Learning to mindfully be embodied is one of the most joyful and creative ways we have of kindly relating to ourselves. And, it helps us to get in touch with all of our body’s signals (e.g., food, rest, connection, activity). I weave a little in to every class.

If you’d like to know more about the Eat for Life program, please contact me at MindfulRossy@gmail.com. Or, if you would like to enroll in my September classes, you can get all of the information here about the LIVE, online program and the method for registering. Both professionals wanting to teach mindful eating and the personal community wanting to practice mindful eating are invited to attend. Explore the benefits that come from starting or deepening your mindfulness practice and relate it to the practice of mindful eating, moving, and living.

References:

Barraclough, E. L., Hay-Smith, E. J. C., Boucher, S. E., Tylka, T. L., & Horwath, C. C. 2019. Learning to eat intuitively: A qualitative exploration of the experience of mid-age women. Health Psychology Open, January-June: 1–8.

Bush, H. E., Rossy, L., Mintz, L. B., & Schopp, L. (2014). Eat for Life: A work site feasibility study of a novel mindfulness-based intuitive eating intervention. American Journal of Health Promotion. Vol. 28, No. 6.

Rossy, L (2016).  The Mindfulness-Based Eating Solution:  proven strategies to end overeating, satisfy your hunger and savor your life.  New Harbinger Publications. Oakland, CA.

Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2020).  Intuitive Eating:  A revolutionary anti-diet approach.  4th Edition.  St. Martin’s Griffen, New York.

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