What is Integrated Eating?

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Integrated Eating™ is a concept developed from over 15 years of treating individuals with eating disorders. As a nutritionist who specializes in disordered eating and a yoga therapist who works with the subtle layers of the body, this holistic method of eating I’ve created, provides individuals with a true potential for healing. This approach integrates body, mind and soul into recovery engaging all aspects simultaneously to allow for complete connection to food, one’s body and others.

To recover and heal from disordered eating, an individual must find a way to a healthy relationship to food and their bodies.

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This step by step process known as Integrated Eating™ incorporates Structured, Mindful, Instinctive and Mastered Eating.

The simplest way to describe Integrated Eating is to understand it from an example outside of eating. Let’s take Tennis Pro Serena Williams. If you’ve ever seen Serena play tennis you’ll probably use terms like professional, pro, master, etc. But how did she get to this level of mastery? Serena had to first learn the form of the game. She had to take lessons in which her coach told her how to stand, how to hold the racquet and how to hit the ball over the net. After learning the form, Serena most likely had to practice…A lot… As she practiced, she probably started taking some mental notes of what she observed: “If I hit the ball too hard it goes out of bounds” or “if I hit it too light it won’t go over the net”.

Through practicing her body started to feel what the right amount of ‘hit’ she needed for the ball to go over the court every single time. The more she practiced, the more those observations became part of her body. There was an intuitive way of being on the court. When a ball was coming over the net, her body took her to exactly where it was going to be. She would sometimes know what was about to happen before it happened. All of this has made her a great player. But what has made her a ‘pro’ is that when she is on the court she immerses herself completely into the game. There is a sense when you are watching her play that all time and space has been suspended. This ‘in the zone’ playing is what makes Serena Williams…. Serena Williams. This is mastery and this is integration.

Let’s consider this now in terms of food and eating and how this approach can help you on your journey to recovery from an eating disorder.

Integrated Eating

Imagine three interlocking circles. Now assign one circle as the ‘body’, one as the ‘mind’ and the last one as the ‘soul’. The ‘body’ circle encompasses all physical and physiological elements of the body. The ‘mind’ circle encapsulates all things that are cognitive such as consciousness, perception, thinking, judgment, and memory. And finally, the ‘soul’ circle represents that incorporeal essence connecting all living things with each other and beyond. Now imagine the triquetra shape that is created when these circles are interlocked. Each leaf of the triquetra is made from two circles joining together. This concept best illustrates integrated eating.

Let’s look closer at each.

Integrated Eating

1. Body + Mind = Structured Eating

The first phase of Integrated Eating is Structured Eating and is created when body and mind join together in the eating process. When you begin on a path of recovery from an eating disorder, the most helpful eating skill you can learn is mechanical eating. This is the form of how to eat a structured or semi-structured meal plan to literally train or retrain the body on how to communicate to the brain around food. Structured Eating gives organization to food and feeding including balanced meals and snacks. In this phase you practice what, when and how much to eat. Restoration of appetite and normalization of eating patterns occur during this phase. As you practice this form of eating, your body and brain synchronize and they prepare themselves for the next phase of eating.

2. Mind + Soul = Mindful Eating

The second phase of Intuitive Eating is Mindful Eating which is created when the mind and soul work together in the eating process. During the Structured Eating phase, bodies can re-feed and reset. Once this process is initiated it is time for the mind to work together with the soul to reach a state of mindfulness. Mindful Eating involves paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking, both inside and outside the body. You can achieve this when you can initiate and hone your senses into the eating process. When senses are engaged you can be fully present to the experience of the meal, learn about preferences, hunger and satiety cues and your feelings during the meal. When this conscious mind practice of presence is met with internal knowing, Mindful Eating is initiated. As you practice this skill, you create an opening for the next phase of Integrated Eating.

3. Body + Soul = Instinctive Eating

Once structured eating is established and mindful practices have been polished, you move into the third phase of Integrated Eating called Instinctive Eating. This phase brings body and soul processes together and encourages you to respond to inner body cues. You learn how to honor your hunger and fullness cues as well as notice eating patterns. In addition, Instinctive Eating allows for the exploration of body- based cravings. You can begin to discern the difference between emotionally based signals versus those that are physiological in nature. The skill that gets developed from this important tool is the ability to listen to your body’s needs and respond in an appropriate way from inner wisdom. At this point in the recovery process, you have the potential of internalizing the tools and skills of the first three phases. As you’re doing this, something shifts, evolves and transforms. It is palpable but at the same time, subtle. They have entered the final phase of Integrated Eating…Mastery.

4. Body + Mind + Soul = Mastered Eating

The culmination of these 3 phases is Mastered Eating. Mastered eating occurs from the amalgamation 1) of structured eating, 2) honing mindfulness as a tool and 3) enlisting intuitive body processes into eating. The resultant of these three aspects coming together is a complete immersion or absorption of the experience of eating. This merging together of containment, awareness and responsive action creates mastery. A Mastered Eater is confident of when, what and how much to eat while staying present to the experience of food as well as their environment and trust that their body will act in accordance to their health and wellbeing. All the aspects mentioned above are engaged in this phase. When you reach this phase, you have practiced structured eating for so long that you no longer need a meal plan to tell you when, what or how much to eat. You have become so mindful of food and their surroundings that you can be present to the experience of food in all situations and your intuitive faculties are so developed that they are responding to the needs of your body. And yet, at the mastery phase there is no separation of these skills. When body, mind and soul engage in the process of eating, an integrated eater emerges. This is the same moment as when the name Serena Williams and the identity of pro tennis player became one and the same.

Integrated Eating™ is a four stage process that can support an individual in recovery from disordered eating to move from dysfunction to wholeness.

In this kind of eating the body has practiced structured eating for so long that there is no longer a need to rely on the meal plan. Individuals don’t have to think about when or what or how much to eat like they did in the beginning of their recovery. They trust the process and are mindful and intuitive, using their body’s wisdom for cues. This is not a body process nor a thinking process nor is it an outer-body experience. When these three aspects of a person – body, mind, and soul – are integrated in eating there is complete immersion in the experience as well as a deep connection to self and the ability for intimacy with others. And just like Serena Williams, the integrated eater has flow, and flexibility that is organic and mastered. This is integrated eating.

Images by © 2015 Maria Sorbara Mora

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  1. says: Claire

    Hello, I found this article really relevant.
    I have been following a meal plan for the past 9 months or so, and I’ve gotten used to it now and I have made it a part of my lifestyle. However, I can’t seem to go on to Step 4: Mastered Eating. I am too rigid with my eating plan and times, just as I had been too rigid on myself during my eating disorder when it came to under-eating. I also find it hard to expand my food choices, and often end up sticking to the same types of meals, ensuring that I have a balance between protein, veggies and carbohydrates. I can’t get myself to eat a plate of pasta with sauce, or a pizza, or things that ‘normal’ people eat.
    Any tips? Thanks so much and truly appreciated!

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