Loving Yourself Free: Eating Disorders and Ayurvedic Treatment Tips
Here are a few different ways to approach treatment of eating disorders using Ayurveda.
Eating disorders can be so painful for a few key reasons:
- They are usually held in secret and many people do not recognize the signs until they are deeply ingrained
- They often stem from some sort of trauma or self depreciation
- They are misunderstood
- Society inundates people with images of a body type that is attainable by few, and unhealthy to many
- People don’t understand that eating disorders are less about dieting and more about deep pain
- Friends and family might congratulate weight loss and apparent will power around food, not knowing what goes on behind closed doors
It is estimated that 40-60 percent of people who struggle with eating disorders are survivors of sexual trauma. Controlling food takes the place of lost control over what is happening to one’s body and starving or purging feels like both control and punishment and helps ease shame and self hatred for at least a little while.
Eating disorders can fall into three categories:
- Anorexia – restriction of food which results in starvation and low body weight (Vata type disorder)
- Bulimia – overeating and then purging with exercise or vomiting (often a Pitta disorder)
- Overeating – resulting in obesity and depression (often a Kapha type disorder)
Eating disorders may occur due to stress, trauma, food allergies or may also be associated with other mental illness like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
There are a few different ways to approach treatment of eating disorders.
Eating Disorders and Ayurvedic Treatment Tips
A great first step is to try to define the onset of the disorder and look back at the relationship the client has had with food in the past. Sometimes this can help identify the underlying reason the client uses food in an unhealthy way. In some cases, eating disorders that stem from food allergies can be treated by encouraging the client to eat foods that are best for their Ayurvedic body type or dosha. In addition, help them set up a daily regime or dinacharya that will keep them on track with healthy eating.
Some of the symptoms that will be present with allergy related eating disorders include:
- Feeling bloated or sick after eating
- Craving foods like sugar, yeast or bread that aggravate discomfort
- Feeling out of control with food – as though food has all the control and cravings must be acted upon
Candida, parasites and food allergies may all cause a client to suffer from food cravings and binge eating and once treated, a client may find relief from their eating disorder.
When eating disorders occur due to trauma it can be helpful to trace the onset of the disorder. Then, the underlying trauma can be treated through a combination of therapies to help bring about the resolution of the eating disorder. Marma therapy helps body memories of trauma come to the surface so that they can be released and often, once release occurs at the body level it is also resolved from the mind and there can almost be an immediate resolution to the eating disorder. If, however a person has been subject to ongoing trauma or abuse it can take some time to work with allowing all memories to be released from the body.
During ongoing treatment it is very helpful to send clients home with things like crystals, essential oils, mantras and a few marma points they can work on to help them deal with the memories that might arise during treatment. Educating clients and their loved ones to recognize when memories are coming up is essential in these cases so that dissociation and panic can be avoided.
For disorders that have their onset as stress, yoga, meditation, chanting, mandala coloring and prescribing herbs (brahmi, melissa, nutmeg) can help a client on the road to healing.
For eating disorders that are associated with other mental health imbalances like OCD or psychosis healing can be a bit more challenging. In these cases, helping a client build ritual around food can be helpful. Teaching them to set the table, prepare food with the intention that it is loving and healing, chanting during food preparation and eating, mindfully chewing, tasting and swallowing food can all be helpful methods in treatment.
Below are qualities or gunas that are associated with eating disorders and treatment tips that bring balance back to the body, restoring health.
Ayurvedic Treatment Tips for Anorexia
Anorexia tends to be a severe vata imbalance so treatment with softness, soothing, warmth, moisture and love are all very important.
It can be so scary for an anorexic person to eat. It hurts the malnourished body and weight gain does not happen gracefully, but with bloating which will be very triggering for a person who has made it their life’s work to be as small as possible.
Start with a regime of self massage with soothing olive or sesame oil scented with rose, ylang ylang, licorice, or any soothing and loving oils. This is a great step toward bringing vata dosha into balance and filling the client with self love.
Applying lime and vetiver to the third eye and or crown can also be very grounding for the vata system.
Then, gently introducing foods and encouraging ritual around eating (which keeps control in the hands of the client) is very helpful. A big part of the difficulty in healing anorexia is the fear that the client is losing control of their life, their body and their self image. If we replace the control of food with the control of dosha supporting foods this can help the recovering client move into recovery with peace. Introducing nourishing foods in small portions with a bit more frequency can be helpful. This way, weight gain will happen more slowly and evenly. Replacing running and other harsher forms of exercise with gentler forms of exercise will also help the body heal with ease and reduce the punishing nature of the anorexic mind.
Ayurvedic Treatment Tips for Bulimia
Bulimia tends to have a lot of shame and punishment associated with it. It is important to create a loving relationship with food. Creating an affirmation can help with this.
“I love myself and choose to nourish my body and mind with good food and activities that help me feel strong, healthy and beautiful.”
It is very important to show those who suffer with bulimia that it is okay to eat and how much to eat. It is important to work on cultivating self love and releasing shame. Marma therapy is useful for releasing shame.
Journaling one’s feelings can also be very helpful and can be an action that replaces the bingeing.
Bulimic people also respond well to volunteering or doing things that helps them feel loved or part of a community. Stepping out and seeing the suffering that others go through can help them set aside self punishment. It is very important to release shame and guilt with those who suffer from bulimia.
Ayurvedic Treatment Tips for Healing Overeating
Often times, in addition to overeating being an emotional issue it is also a physical issue.
It is important to takes steps to assess metabolism and note how the foods craved make the client feel physically. For example, if they crave bread, make note of how it makes them feel. If it causes bloating there is every chance of a food allergy that will trigger over eating. So finding foods that replace the foods that cause physical symptoms can be a great step toward healing. Also,noting the time of day that overeating occurs can help set up a schedule of activities to replace eating.
Journaling and awareness can help heal the disorder of overeating.