Learn / Holistic Recovery From Eating Disorders
Eating disorders can be isolating. And that’s hard enough on a social level, if you’re skipping group activities that include shared meals. But it’s more than social. These conditions can also make you feel disconnected from yourself.
If that’s your experience, holistic treatment for eating disorders might be a good fit. This approach invites you to reconnect your mind and body. Some therapies take it a step further, teaching you healthy ways of relating to the world. Over time, you can learn to ground yourself in your own needs and values. And from that foundation, you can make empowered decisions about your recovery process.
Holistic treatment doesn’t just treat your symptoms. Instead, it focuses on you as a whole person, with complex recovery goals. This approach is rooted in Eastern philosophies. And while it’s not a replacement for evidence-based therapies, holistic care has many unique advantages.
By definition, this type of treatment is not one-size-fits-all. However, many holistic rehab programs share certain ideals. For example, they may encourage mindfulness as a treatment for eating disorders.1
Here’s the secret about mindfulness: anyone can do it. You can practice mindful meditation, or you can be mindful while you’re washing the dishes. And with enough practice, it can become a way of life.
When you act mindfully,2 you pay attention to your own experience, and to the world around you. You might notice tension in your shoulders, or the sound of the washing machine, or your sense of anxiety about catching the train. By cultivating this greater awareness, you can learn to regulate your feelings. And emotion regulation is a big part of healing from an eating disorder.
Eating disorders can make it feel like your body and mind are out of sync. You might find yourself ruminating about your eating habits,3 so focused on what you think of your body that you forget how you feel. Those thoughts can manifest as unhealthy eating behaviors, regardless of your physical needs. In fact, eating disorders can make it hard to recognize natural cues like hunger and fullness.4
Mindfulness increases body awareness,5 addressing this disconnect. When you act mindfully you bring your body and mind back together, meeting yourself in the present moment. Many people find this practice grounding, comforting, and even empowering. There are several specific treatments that promote mindful, holistic healing.
Holistic rehab honors the fact that you’re a unique person, with a unique definition of wellness. While mindfulness is a big part of many holistic treatments, it’s not always central to recovery. Depending on your exact needs, your provider may recommend a combination of several types of therapy.
Doing yoga in rehab helps patients build both physical and emotional strength. Certain poses may be hard at first, and it takes willpower to practice them. Over time, as you get better at it, you might also develop more confidence. And because yoga asks you to be present in the moment, you’ll also practice self-acceptance. This empowers you to observe and care for your body just as it is, instead of passing judgment.
Data shows that yoga can improve your body image6 and overall sense of well-being. Unlike some forms of exercise, the goal isn’t to look or even feel a certain way. Instead, it invites you to exist safely in your own body. For people with eating disorders, that can be transformative.
If you’re new to yoga, it’s important to learn from an expert. But once you understand the basics, you can practice almost anywhere, at any point during recovery. While you’re in treatment, some providers combine yoga and eating disorder education.7 And when you leave rehab, you can easily incorporate it into your plan for aftercare. This healthy coping skill can help you bridge the gap between different stages of healing.
Good nutrition is a vital part of eating disorder recovery. When you first enter treatment, you might need to replenish certain vitamins and minerals. In that case, your care team may personalize your meal plan, or even provide medical treatment. But there’s more to nutrition than receiving this type of care.
In some rehabs, you’ll also work directly with a nutritionist or dietitian. These experts can teach you to plan healthy menus based on your nutritional requirements. They might even help you shop for groceries or learn to cook. It’s important to practice these skills during treatment, so you’re set up for success when you return home. Over time, you’ll develop these healthier habits—and even more importantly, you’ll develop intuition about your own needs. By rebuilding trust within yourself, you can improve your relationship with food.
Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine8 in which thin needles are inserted into pressure points around the body. The goal of this is to unblock the flow of qi, or life force energy, promoting physical and mental health.
Because it treats both physical and emotional issues, acupuncture supports eating disorder recovery.9 This technique doesn’t just treat your symptoms. It also helps patients heal from the underlying causes of their diagnosis. For example, acupuncture can simultaneously reduce anxiety and improve digestion. By treating these issues together, it teaches patients how connected their minds and bodies really are.
Mindfulness-based eating awareness training (MB-EAT)10 uses guided meditations to support recovery. Treatment targets the negative thoughts associated with eating disorders. Patients also practice mindfulness and emotion regulation skills. For example, MB-EAT teaches you to notice how hunger and fullness actually feel in your body.
MB-EAT can be especially helpful if you have a binge eating disorder. By riding the waves of your urges, you can stay in touch with your body, but avoid unhealthy behavior. These skills help you accept your feelings just as they are, without always acting on them.
You are more than the sum of your parts. Those parts include the way you look, the way your body feels, your mental health, and your healing journey. But that’s an incomplete list. Holistic treatment honors the complexity of each person’s identity. And it invites you to learn who you already are, and decide who you want to become.
Connect with a rehab that treats eating disorders to find out which holistic therapies they offer.
Reviewed by Lisa Misquith
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