By Kara Becker, LMFT, Eating Disorder Clinical Director, Newport Healthcare, and Katie Hermenze, LMFTA, Individual Therapist and Eating Disorder Specialist, Newport Healthcare
People with eating disorders often ignore the body’s cues of hunger and fullness. To complicate things, inadequate nourishment affects both physical and mental processes and can prevent someone from being able to identify and listen to their emotions, bodily sensations, and needs. And the greater the severity of the behaviors, the greater the likely disconnect.
This can prove to be an enormous challenge for therapists as they try to help individuals with disordered eating explore and identify a connection between their thoughts and feelings. To address this, we have found that embodiment practices can help guide the treatment and reconnect these separated parts.
Simply put, embodiment is the practice of being present in, and attuned to, the body while experiencing the world around us through the senses. It asks us to listen to our internal signals, linking us to our body’s wisdom. An additional challenge is that many clients come to treatment with histories of sexual and emotional abuse and other forms of trauma and neglect. In such cases, the body’s sensations may dissociate from the mind to protect the individual from the overwhelmingly intense feelings or thoughts that come with such experiences. In this light, the distance between these two parts, which was originally a survival tool, is now working against them.
Because of this, embodiment as a mindfulness practice can generate awareness, and identifies the body as a resource in recovery. An example of how to support clients in this process is by asking them to name how they are feeling in their body prior to an activity that encourages mindful body movement, e.g., yoga, rock climbing, or Mixed Martial Arts. The client is then asked how they were feeling during and after the activity. What is reported can highlight the changes that have occurred and how the physical activity has shifted their sense of being within their body, even if for a moment.
While the treatment of eating disorders is complicated, our experience shows this process helps clients be more likely to recognize when they are hungry or full and do something about it. This also gives them the chance to be their own greatest support in the process of healing, and to return to what it means to be an emotional being in a living body, nourishing and nurturing ourselves.
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