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Eating disorders in teens are common throughout the elementary school years all the way up to college and beyond. While an eating disorder diagnosis can be challenging to navigate, with the help of a reliable support system at home, early intervention, and access to specialized adolescent eating disorder treatment centers—long-term recovery is possible.

Additionally, in recent years, research has shown that mindfulness plays an essential role in the eating disorder recovery process. This practice can be especially helpful for teens who are finding eating disorder treatment challenging. Mindfulness has many emotional, spiritual, and even physical benefits that can make it easier to navigate common eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Keep reading to learn more about mindfulness and the role that it can play in eating disorder treatment for adolescents.

What Kinds of Eating Disorders Can Benefit From Mindfulness Training?

Not all eating disorders are the same. Aside from the differences in their symptoms, the root causes and co-occurring disorders are often different as well. However, mindfulness training is almost always useful in helping people process the disordered thought and emotions that compel them to use disordered behaviors. Among the eating disorders that benefit from mindfulness practice are the following:

  • Binge eating disorder –The most common form of eating disorder, binge eating disorder involves repeated, compulsive binge eating episodes with no compensatory actions to purge the food eaten. People with this disorder often have a negative or distorted body image, and engage in frequent diets.
  • Bulimia nervosa –Similar to binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa causes people to binge eat, but afterward, they purge the calories to avoid gaining weight. Most commonly, this is done by vomiting, but it can also take the form of laxative abuse or excessive exercise. Bulimia nervosa left untreated can have severe negative health consequences.
  • Anorexia nervosa –People with anorexia restrict their caloric intake (and also often excessively exercise) to avoid gaining weight or to lose weight. They also have a distorted body image and perceive themselves as overweight even when they have become severely underweight. Anorexia nervosa can be extremely dangerous and can lead to death.
  • Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder – ARFID is not normally associated with body image distortions, is a disorder in which people compulsively avoid certain foods and food groups. Normally, they try to avoid foods they deem “unhealthy,”and while the goal is not to lose weight, ARFID can also cause extreme weight loss and related health problems.
  • Orthorexia nervosa – Like ARFID, orthorexia causes people to avoid certain foods compulsively. Unlike ARFID, people with orthorexia avoid these foods because they fear specific harm from eating that food. Most often, it’s a fear of choking or food poisoning, often triggered by a traumatic experience with that food.

Mindfulness training can help people process and accept the root causes of each other these disorders. As part of a focused eating disorder treatment program, mindfulness is a key competent for recovery.

What Is Mindfulness?

When it comes to the many different words and terms that families must learn during the eating disorder recovery process, mindfulness is pretty straightforward. To put it simply, mindfulness is the basic human ability to make oneself fully present and aware of where they are, what they are doing, and how they are feeling. Mindfulness allows an individual to not feel overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on in the world around them.

The practice of focusing on one’s body and where they are at a specific place in time can be very helpful in a wide variety of scenarios. For example: if someone has a big test or interview coming up, and they feel nervous, taking a few moments to be mindful of their body and mind can help them to re-center, gain control of their body and breathing, and focus their thoughts on the task at hand. Being mindful prevents the mind from taking flight and obsessing over things that have nothing to do with the present moment, reducing anxiety and nurturing positive coping skills.

How Can Mindfulness Apply to Treatment for Eating Disorders Like Anorexia Nervosa?

Eating disorders in teens can result in many negative mental and physical health effects. And most teens with eating disorders find it difficult to center themselves positively. With mindfulness and associated practices like yoga and meditation, teens can discover new coping skills that help to focus their thoughts and actions on positive outcomes.

Instead of dealing with anxiety and obsessive thoughts surrounding food with negative behaviors from the past, their energy is now focused on being mindful of their feelings at the moment and redirecting them in a way that makes them feel better in the long term. Regularly practicing mindfulness techniques empowers teens to fully live in the present and allow themselves to observe all the interesting and beautiful things in their lives.

Mindfulness practices are performed both solo and in groups. In residential and day treatment settings, guided meditation groups are led by a therapist or mindfulness expert, the group consisting of the clients currently in treatment. It might seem counterintuitive to meditate in a group, the point of mindfulness being to experience one’s thoughts and emotions without acting on them. However, in a group setting, the mindfulness leader can help refocus and guide participants when focusing becomes difficult.

Group mindfulness exercises also extend to one of the most essential parts of adolescent eating disorder treatment as well – family involvement. Virtually every treatment program for adolescents includes an element of family therapy and preparation for the client’s return home. Training on the importance of mindfulness beforehand gives parents the opportunity to help prevent relapse. It gives them a leg up on continuing mindfulness practices outside the treatment setting as well. Lastly, parents can learn to engage in mindfulness themselves – the stress of caring for someone suffering from an eating disorder can be overwhelming in its own right. Being able to understand, focus, and accept these emotions helps parents manage their stress as well as further their child’s recovery.

Navigating Eating Disorders in Teens: 5 Useful Tips for Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness training can come in many forms. Codified practices such as yoga (which doubles as mindful movement and is especially useful in reintroducing exercise to clients recovering from exercise addiction) and guided meditation both have their place, as does more unstructured methodology. No matter which technique is being used, there are some simple guidelines that help people in recovery embrace mindfulness.

  1. Work to fully exist in the present moment. Let go of the past and stop worrying about thefuture. Be in the here and now.
  2. Pay attention to the details of the here and now. Teens should take a mental register of the sights and smells, sounds, feelings, and even tastes that they are experiencing right now.
  3. Make sure to avoid reacting to others immediately. And instead, pause and give oneself time to simply observe.
  4. Teens should also avoid judging others and circumstances outside of their control. Accept the world around them as it truly is.
  5. Greet this moment of mindfulness with appreciation, warmth, and acceptance.

These rules may sound easy, but practice is necessary for almost everyone trying to embrace mindfulness for the first time. It’s best to start slowly, for ten minutes at a time. With practice and engagement, it becomes second nature and an essential part of the daily routine.

Learn More About Clementine Eating Disorder Treatment Centers

At Clementine eating disorder treatment centers, we are dedicated to providing the highest level of care for our adolescent clients in a safe, luxurious and home-like setting. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an eating disorder and you are interested in learning more about how mindfulness can help guide teens through the recovery process, please give us a call today at 1.855.900.2221 to speak with one of our empathetic admissions specialists.


Melissa Spann, PhD, LMHC, CEDS-S

Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido & Affiliates, overseeing the clinical operations and programming for over 50 programs across the U.S. Dr. Spann is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and clinical supervisor as well as an accomplished presenter and passionate clinician who has spent her career working in the eating disorder field in higher levels of care. She is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals where she serves on the national certification committee, supervision faculty, and is on the board of her local chapter. She received her doctoral degree from Drexel University, master’s degree from the University of Miami, and bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.