In addition to the various treatments available for eating disorders, there are several other treatment approaches that people with eating disorders have found helpful in their process of treatment and recovery.
Unlike medical and psychological treatments, there is no evidence to indicate that these additional treatments can improve nutritional health, decrease disordered eating or help someone recover from an eating disorder.
These additional treatments should not be employed without other medical and psychological treatments provided by a clinician and/or a carer and they should not be considered a replacement for other evidence based treatment approaches. Instead, they should form part of a comprehensive and holistic treatment plan to increase the quality of life of the person with the eating disorder.
Based on emerging evidence and the personal experiences of people with eating disorders, these treatments are included here as suggested treatments only.
Acceptance and commitment therapy
Acceptance and commitment therapy can assist in improving the lives of people with eating disorders and can lead to weight gain and a healthy attitude towards food and body image.
Acceptance and commitment therapy is a cognitive behavioural treatment that focuses on mindfulness and flexibility of thoughts and feelings. Acceptance and commitment therapy aims to increase awareness of a person’s experiences and their responses to their own environment.
Through acceptance and commitment therapy, a person with an eating disorder can learn to break the cycle of negative thoughts and impulses, which can often lead to destructive behaviours. While feelings or impressions of negative body images may still return from time to time, the pathway to eating disorder behaviour will have been disrupted and the person may no longer feel the need for such destructive behaviours.
Yoga can help a person with an eating disorder engage in self-care. Research has shown that yoga can reduce stress levels, which can lead to improved health and clearer thinking. Practicing yoga regularly can help people reconnect and become more ‘in tune’ with their bodies and this can be especially helpful to people with eating disorders. Yoga can encourage a person with an eating disorder to stay grounded in the present and listen to the needs of their bodies.
While yoga on its own would not be sufficient treatment for an eating disorder, including yoga in the treatment approach of an eating disorder can help balance out the psychotherapeutic treatments and medication that are often required in recovery.
Meditation has been examined in over 1,000 published research studies and has long been used as a spiritual practice. More recently, meditation has also proven to be beneficial in the treatment of anxiety, addiction and pain management and as an adjunct to psychotherapy.
Meditation can be done in different ways; it can be practised sitting, standing or lying down and focusing on the breath and/or repeating a phrase or mantra.
Meditation can be an effective addition to the treatment of eating disorders, helping to reverse patterns of deregulated behaviours and emotions and decrease destructive coping strategies, while increasing self-acceptance and promoting awareness of the body’s physical cues of hunger. Overall, it is believed that meditation will enable general therapeutic change in a person with an eating disorder.
Remedial massage is a therapeutic form of massage that involves the systematic manipulation of the soft tissues of the body. It is performed by a trained massage therapist. The therapist massages the body directly on the skin in a methodical and therapeutic manner.
Massage therapy has been known to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, which are known to increase feelings of wellbeing and happiness in people. This can lead to the improvement of many attitudes associated with eating disorders.
Research shows that massage therapy can also reduce depression, anxiety and stress levels, thereby decreasing body dissatisfaction and the drive for perfectionism in people with eating disorders. This can create a much more positive and healthy body image.
Mindfulness teaches people to respond to their thoughts without judgment and promotes a state of being in which the person is present in their thoughts, feelings and body. Mindfulness also teaches acceptance and self-compassion, which can be key in combating negative thoughts and feelings.
Mindfulness can be helpful in the treatment of eating disorders, particularly in addressing the feelings of shame and guilt that often accompany an eating disorder. Mindfulness, as an addition to treatment for eating disorders, can also be effective in the development of skills relating to emotional regulation, distress tolerance and personal relationships.
Kinesiology is the study of energy balancing and human movement and has its roots in anatomy and physiology.
Kinesiology proposes that the body has innate healing energy that flows through the body. Sometimes the body needs a little help or readjustment to release this energy, as it may become blocked. Kinesiology works to balance this energy through addressing the physical and emotional stressors that can cause this ‘blockage.’
As an additional treatment for people with eating disorders, kinesiology can help identify areas in which the person is nutritionally lacking, target emotional issues, relieve pain and increase mental and physical coordination.
Acupuncture is a natural form of Traditional Chinese Medicine that dates back thousands of years. It is a very popular form of treatment today. Acupuncture involves inserting fine, sterile needles into specific sites (acupuncture points) along the body.
Acupuncture focuses on both the prevention and treatment of illnesses and maintaining general good health.
Acupuncture can be effective in the treatment of eating disorders as it provides drug-free pain relief and takes a holistic approach to healing addressing physical, psychological and emotional signs.
Choosing a practitioner for additional treatment approaches
If you are interested in one of the above additional treatment approaches, it is a good idea to check that your desired practitioner is registered with a professional body. You should also check whether they have had any experience in working with people with eating disorders.