Integrating mindfulness techniques into treatment programs for eating disorders helps teens develop a strong sense of self-awareness and self-regulation needed to begin on the path to full recovery from their eating disorder. Mindfulness is a type of meditative approach to managing depression, anxiety and irrational thought patterns. Among eating disorders, anorexia symptoms respond well to mindfulness practices when used properly by teens with anorexia. Mindfulness is also extremely helpful for teens with bulimia or binge eating disorder, or those struggling with self-identity issues aggravated by mental health problems.
Stress reduction techniques, such as mindfulness, involve a variety of physical and mental strategies specifically designed to deal with the compulsion to restrict calories, overeat or purge after eating. Because an eating disorder often begins when someone is unable to cope with increasing anxiety, depression or low self-esteem, the importance of teens learning how to handle powerfully disturbing thoughts and emotions before it overwhelms them cannot be emphasized enough.
In addition to the psychological aspects of the stress response, the physiological response initiates chemical fluctuations in the brain that trigger the urge to engage in eating disordered behaviors. Resisting compulsions can be a never-ending battle for teens with anorexia, and learning how to cope with stress using mindfulness techniques is a significant aspect of an anorexia eating disorder treatment program.
Mindfulness and Meditation in Anorexia Treatment Centers for Teenagers
Eating disorder therapists help teens effectively manage stress by teaching them how to engage in mindfulness meditation techniques that keep them present and help them to avoid dwelling on past hurts or mistakes. Not only has meditation proved to be a powerful tool for resisting eating disorder compulsions and reducing stress, it also benefits the overall mental and physical health of teens in anorexia nervosa treatment. By practicing meditation, focusing on remaining in the moment and performing deep breathing techniques with a trained therapist, teens will find that embracing and coping with stress is far less unpleasant than fighting or avoiding whatever is making them feel anxious.
Everyone experiences stress. However, learning how to utilize meditation techniques as soon as a teen realizes a possibly stressful situation is emerging can mean the difference between resorting to prior disordered eating behaviors or remaining in touch with their healthy self.
The importance of implementing integrative approaches in anorexia eating disorder treatment programs for cultivating mindfulness, meditation and physical health are showing great promise in the ability for teens to complete a treatment plan. When taught the proper techniques, teens are finding meditation helps to correct negative thinking patterns and change the way they view reality by accessing the brain’s reward centers naturally instead of through eating disordered behaviors. Over the past decade, neuroscientists have been studying the effects of meditation on the brain and discovered that not only does meditation serve to reduce anxiety, stress and depression but that it also contributes to lower rates of relapse when applied to an eating disorder treatment plan.
Learning to use mindfulness techniques is incredibly helpful for teens dealing with trauma and an eating disorder. Traumatic experiences can leave you with feelings of emotional and mental distress that impact you for years after the event. We generally think of the military when we think of trauma or PTSD, but anyone can experience symptoms of trauma or post-traumatic stress. Our staff provides effective trauma therapy and offers mindfulness instruction for teens who have developed an eating disorder following involvement in traumatic events. Traumatized teens often try to bury the negative feelings instead of processing them, which means the trauma can reappear years later.
Trauma is a natural response to a horrible event. This can include the death of a loved one, an accident, severe injury, sexual assault, natural weather disasters or any shocking experience. Trauma is a severe emotional response that can include shock and/or complete denial of the event. Left unaddressed, it can result in major depression, social withdrawal, personality changes and eating disorders.
What Is Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness meditation has been growing in popularity as a non-sectarian form of meditation and is now incorporated in many types of mental health therapy as a way of developing the ability to pay “mindful” attention to our experiences with compassion, acceptance and patience. Similar to the Buddhist perspective that embraces non-resistance to events that are beyond our control, mindfulness meditation emphasizes the importance of the here and now rather than the past or the future. When practiced properly, mindfulness meditation can help teens with anorexia access and cultivate that deep, inner sense of self they have often lost contact with. By bringing calmness and stability, this type of meditation teaches teens how to disentangle their awareness from negative emotions and thoughts and connect with their compassionate, non-reactive self.
Clinical research into the benefits of practicing mindful meditation has found it can relieve a number of psychological and physical problems, such as obsessive thoughts, depression, anxiety and over-emotional reactivity to “triggers” that often compel teens with eating disorders to resort to harmful, food-related behaviors. Among eating disorders, anorexia can be one of the more difficult to treat. Mindfulness practices significantly enhance the ability of teens with anorexia to reduce anxiety over their weight and restructure thought patterns.
Teens participating in anorexia nervosa treatment programs report feelings of intense chronic stress, anxiety and depression more than any other symptoms. Because of the intimate connection between the body and brain, teens find it difficult to take control of the physical and mental aspects of stress. Thought processes are especially restricted by stressful feelings that tend to distort perceptions of events in a negative manner. With stress hormones being pumped into the body that increase blood pressure, heart rate and breathing, teens find it is almost impossible to step back, take a deep breath and view a situation rationally before being struck with the overwhelming urge to resort to eating disorder behaviors.
We show teens how to use stress reduction techniques such as meditation, visual imagery and deep breathing exercises in order to reign in powerfully anxious, sometimes terrifying, feelings of not being in control of a “trigger” situation. When used in combination with psychotherapy, medication management and support services, mindfulness meditation is a valuable and effective tool all teens with eating disorders need to master and use on a daily basis.
Mindfulness meditation involves a person “mindfully” attending to the sensations within the body, such as inhaling and exhaling, while focusing on recent experiences without judging or responding. Since eating disorder behaviors are characterized by hypersensitive and maladaptive reactions to events and people, teens learning to use mindful meditation benefit from this accepting, balanced perspective. Mindful meditation not only teaches teens attending therapy in anorexia treatment centers how to deal with “triggers,” possibly leading eating disorder behaviors but also helps to amend dysfunctional thought patterns that have caused distortions in how they perceive their body image.
Learning deep breathing techniques also represents a friendly introduction into employing meditation techniques that enhance coping skills and moderate emotions that have become intense and overwhelming. As a form of relaxation therapy, drawing on the idea that a distinct connection between the mind and body exists, meditating while deep breathing helps control and redirect anxious thoughts by concentrating on only one single thought, such as a calm lake or a red rose. Some teens find it more relaxing to concentrate on a single word, mantra or not to think of anything at all except quiet, empty space.
When we are stressed or frightened, our breathing becomes rapid and shallow in response to our body readying for “battle”. Instead of taking long, oxygen-rich breaths, we “chest breathe”, which constricts lung and chest tissues and reduces oxygen flow throughout the body. Deeply breathing in a slow, rhythmic manner allows expansion of the diaphragm muscle and air pathways in the lungs, two primary actions that evoke the relaxation response by triggering the body’s parasympathetic nervous system.
Deep breathing will additionally minimize the release of cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline, two chemicals that are beneficial as short-term attention enhancers but detrimental to overall health when sustained at abnormally high levels. Our therapists are trained to instruct teens in the art of deep breathing for relaxation purposes. Although patients can sometimes view deep breathing exercises skeptically when first introduced, they inevitably acknowledge the effectiveness of this kind of relaxation technique and find that deep breathing also leads to cognitive benefits such as the ability to think and focus more clearly.
Yoga and Meditation
Yoga and meditation go hand in hand because they both benefit mind and body. As one of the five principles of yoga, the other four being relaxation, exercise, breathing, and diet, meditation requires teens to focus all attention and thoughts on one image, symbol, word or other calming entity in order to take control of the self and achieve a sense of calm while dealing with stressful situations. For patients in anorexia treatment centers for teenagers, meditation encourages acceptance and understanding. Therapists specializing in meditation techniques instruct patients on the art of meditation and how to take full advantage of its ability to bring order, control, mindfulness and focus into a teen’s life.
Some teens choose to integrate yoga with meditation as a way to further strengthen their determination to overcome their eating disorder and gain a sense of self-control over their lives. When performing yoga, teens learn to concentrate on maintaining stretches and poses that gives the mind a chance to decelerate and move away from restless, worrisome thoughts to a mindful condition that allows them to focus on the moment. Additionally, yoga is a physical activity that anyone can do and primarily involves stretching exercises that gently flexes the joints and the spine. Unlike aerobics that may leave you breathless and sore, yoga is not as demanding or vigorous, which makes it the perfect physical activity for teens with eating disorders whose health may be compromised.
Yoga meditation is one of many recovery and coping techniques offered within our anorexia eating disorder treatment programs; designed to help teens discover their true selves while coping with unexpected situations and negative thoughts in a rational and productive manner.
We believe a holistic approach to treating eating disorders provides the most benefit for our adolescent patients. Mindfulness is one component that allows us to provide the best, evidence-based treatment available. Our experienced eating disorder therapists are trained to assist teens in utilizing mindfulness techniques to help teens regain control over their emotions, thoughts and eating behaviors.
After completing their individualized anorexia nervosa treatment program, we encourage our patients to continue pursuing their favorite form of mindfulness stress reduction strategies to support a consistent strengthening of their evolving, healthy self.