Life Cycles Counseling is dedicated to raising awareness of Eating Disorders (and other addictions) by eliminating shame and creating a sisterhood in which every BODY is accepted, loved, and cherished at any size. We also love to combat weight-based stereotypes. These stereotypes give way to stigma, prejudice, and discrimination in the workplace, healthcare, interpersonal relationships and more.
In the spirit of National Eating Disorder Awareness week, Life Cycles Counseling wants to introduce you to a nutritionist who specializes in Eating Disorders. Read more about Mindful Eating with Dana Egan, RD below.
Dana L. Egan is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with 25 years experience. Her private practice is located in Richmond, VA. She works with clients of all ages helping each individual to reach their optimal health and wellness through individualized nutrition guidance. She sees clients with all types of nutrition concerns, from food allergies, GI and eating disorders, to general wellness.
Adina Silvestri (AS): What does “mindful eating” mean to you?
Dana Egan (DE): Mindful eating is being fully present when we eat. It is noticing the colors, flavors, smells and textures of our food. It requires us to slow down and get rid of distractions, like TV or reading, while eating. To be mindful while eating means to pay attention to one’s hunger and fullness. Research shows that eating mindfully improves digestion and helps regulate our appetite.
AS: Why is it important to keep the “mindfulness” in “mindful eating?” As a non-dieting dietician, can you tell us about the role of mindfulness meditation in mindful eating?
DE: In todays fast pace world, we are so busy that much of what we do is distracted, including eating. We spend less time eating meals with others at the table. More eating is on the go, in the car, between events or activities. To mindfully eat, we need to create a healthier eating environment. Mindful eating is not a diet, as it doesn’t require you to give up anything. It’s about slowing down and getting the full pleasure from every bite you take.
AS: You have a lot of experience working with eating disorders, what are some tools you like to use when the individual can’t seem to break free of using food (or anything else) as a comfort…Are we eating to distraction? Is it more?
DE: I try to get my clients to create a healthy eating environment. Often it is helpful to plan out meals and snacks, and even to plan out specific times to eat. This can be helpful, because oftentimes we may get into unhealthy patterns of waiting too long to eat, then overeating. By planning our meals and snacks, this can prevent the mindless rummaging through cabinets and the fridge. If mindless eating is a problem, it can be helpful to eat in certain areas of the house, and refrain from eating in others. Some “food free” zones might include the car, bedroom, or in front of the TV. It is helpful to place your food on a plate or in a bowl vs. eating out of the container or box, and to sit at the table without distractions. Most importantly find times to eat with others and connect.
AS: You work a lot with busy teens, some of which are athletes (who are at a higher risk for disordered eating). How do you help them look at food as fuel and not as the enemy?
DE: Sports often provide a positive experience for teens, including being disciplined, having fun, and working as a team. Sometimes sports can promote a self-imposed, unrealistic drive for perfection, and an increased risk for an eating disorder. We all need to nourish our bodies, and as individuals, we all have different nutritional needs. Athletes’ needs are higher, obviously requiring more food/fuel to perform well in their sport. It is so important for an athlete struggling with an eating disorder to have a team to work with, including a therapist, registered dietitian nutritionist, and medical doctor to make sure they are able to get the help they need.
AS: What is your advice for parents, coaches, trainers, and teammates if they feel someone they know is struggling with an eating disorder?
DE: If you know someone who is struggling with an eating disorder, encourage him or her to seek help for it. Remember that eating disorders can be found in young people as well as older adults, and people of any shape or size. Be careful to avoid “body talk”, especially negative talk about yourself or others.
AS: What about adults who “don’t have the time” to eat healthy. What tips do you have for them?
DE: We all can make time for things that are important to us. Sometimes making small changes, such as planning a few simple, nutritious meals on the weekend, we can be more prepared when our busy week starts. Packing lunches for school or work the night before, and bringing along snacks allows us to fuel our bodies without having to rely on fast food or always eating out. If you are able, have a registered dietitian nutritionist work out a plan based on your lifestyle, routine, and personal nutrition needs.
AS: Does family environment and genetics play a role. What else contributes?
DE: Both family environment and genetics can play a role with disordered eating. Some common risk factors are perfectionism, low self esteem, depression, skipping meals or fear of certain foods, secretive eating, children encouraged by their parents to diet, children whose parents are critical of their bodies, children whose families rarely eat together, families with an absolutist approach to food, etc.
AS: Any final take-away points for our readers on mindfulness eating?
DE: Mindful eating is a skill that is not achieved overnight. It takes practice, and there will be times when you forget to eat mindfully. But with practice, you can become a more mindful eater. Mindful eating will also allow you to become more aware of what emotions or needs might be triggering your eating so that they can be addressed and be taken care of in a healthy way.