Mindful Eating Coach Teaches Mind-Body Awareness, One Bite at a Time
By Bev Berens
Dr. Ellen Cullman teaches individuals to eat mindfully. As a young girl growing up in rural Kenton, Ohio, mindful eating was the last thing on her radar. Now, however, Dr., Cullman is a coach for clients to her business, The Mindful Eating Coach.
Childhood tragedies framed Ellen’s early experiences as well as that of her whole family. At two and a half, her six-year-old sister died of cancer. Six months later, Cullman was confined in a quarantined ward battling polio. “Although I was quite young, some of my earliest memories are from the polio ward,” she recalled. With physical therapy and time, she gradually recovered with no residual physical effects, but emotionally the experience left her with an underlying anxious tension.
“It’s difficult to say what I really thought and felt during that experience, says Dr. Cullman. “On the other hand, today, I understand feeling confined—trapped—and not knowing why. I understand doing things like eating too much to avoid that, or any feeling. I understand the difficult yet essential task of learning to be patient and compassionate with yourself in order to heal.” Perhaps it was this that led Cullman to interests in weight management and meditation.
Dr. Cullman’s journey with weight management began while still in high school. The roller coaster ride of diet, lose the weight, gain it back and more—repeat process—continued through college and early family rearing years. Diets were confining and the inability to stick to a diet made her feel guilty. So naturally she returned to more anxious eating.
With a goal of forty pounds to lose, “I joined Weight Watchers and lost weight but I never had a ‘legal week,” she said. There was no Weight Watchers point system in those days and a ‘legal’ week was earned through absolutely no cheating for an entire week. With ten more pounds to lose, she found herself cheating every day.
Those last ten pounds nagged at her spirit until she began, even casually at first, to just think about the meal she was about to consume. “I eventually began a form of meditation, if you will. I would go and sit in my room in a yoga-styled position, close my eyes and begin thinking about how I felt going into the next meal. Sometimes I felt like eating everything in sight,” she said. “I learned to calm it down by breathing and focusing. I started looking at how hungry I really was and of stopping when I’m full or if something just didn’t taste that good. I began to trust ‘me’—my mind and body—to teach me how to eat.” Dr. Cullman eventually lost the remaining weight and it has never returned despite her love of desserts.
Dr. Cullman made that mind-body connection through her meditations. “It wasn’t about controlling what I ate. It was about maintaining awareness of my mind-body experiences and sensations while I ate and then kindly respecting it. You can be free to eat anything you want and at the same time learn to help yourself, to understand yourself and to be compassionate with yourself,” she said. Later, when completing her Ph.D., Cullman learned that someone was actually researching mindful eating as a way to help people who overeat, and she realized this was her calling.
Following graduate school, Dr. Cullman sought out specific training in the field of mindful eating. She completed a certificate program called Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training (MB-EAT) taught by Jean Kristeller, Ph.D., a mindful eating and meditation researcher. Besides coming home equipped to design individual and group mindful eating sessions, Dr. Cullman was inspired to embrace a personal practice of meditation, something highly recommended by Dr. Kristeller. Developing consistency with her daily meditation practice, Cullman understood why Kristeller encouraged it. “I became aware of the anxious tension that seemed to always be with me—only now I could calm it and tap into that sense of calm throughout my day.”
Dr. Cullman is also a licensed Am I Hungry? ™ facilitator, a mindful-eating program developed by Michele May, M.D. The eight session group program is based on May’s book, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break the Eat, Repent, Repeat Cycle. Cullman considers May’s mindful eating cycle of skills easy to learn and use. “In a nutshell, it is really mind-body awareness, one bite at a time,” she quips.
“Of course other things come up like emotional eating, stressful-eating and other issues.” The mindful eating skills serve to temper all of this by anchoring awareness of eating behavior, hunger and fullness cues, taste satisfaction and intense emotional feelings. People find that over time they tend to eat less and are more physically and emotionally satisfied.
Besides discussion, each group or individual session can include short guided meditations while eating small samples of food and introducing a new skill. Dr. Cullman currently works with most eating habit problems such as overweight, binge eating, metabolic problems, diabetes, pre- and post-bariatric surgery and those facing other surgeries once weight is lost. She does not currently work with those who have active bulimia or anorexia, unless they are also seeing another therapist and are referred by them. While Dr. Cullman is not a dietician or medical doctor, mindful eating skills help support their recommendations.
Dr. Cullman is currently offering individual sessions and a mindful eating group titled Mindful Eating in Troubled Times that starts on January 19th. She offers a free one on one consultation for individuals to answer questions and help them decide if this will be money well spent for their individual needs. She plans to add advanced skill training as well as family classes and teen sessions to her offerings in the future.
If you have found this story interesting, informative or inspiring, please let Dr. Cullman know! Dr. Cullman is located at 975 Commerce Dr., Perrysburg, OH, 419-494-7699, firstname.lastname@example.org.