Taking a Holistic Aproach: What Does Healing Eating Disorders at the Core Level Look Like?

Addiction Recovery Publishing Eating Disorders October 12, 2023

Taking a Holistic Aproach: What Does Healing Eating Disorders at the Core Level Look Like?

There is a saying that we have on Hawaii’s Big Island that goes, ‘A’OHE PU’U KI’EKI’E KE HO’A’O ‘IA E PI’I.” This roughly translates to “There is no cliff that can ever be too tall to ever be climbed.” Now, this is the mode of thinking that we must possess when it comes to recovery and healing eating disorders at the core level.

Understanding the Prevalence of Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating

Before delving into a specific clinical issue, it is always good to get a foundational understanding of the subject from a reputable and respected source. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “Eating disorders are serious and sometimes fatal illnesses that cause severe disturbances to a person’s eating behaviors. Obsessions with food, body weight, and shape may also signal an eating disorder. Common eating disorders include binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, and, less common but very serious, anorexia nervosa.” 

The NIMH also offers some relatively high statistics regarding the prevalence of all of these eating disorders. According to NIMH, “The overall prevalence of binge eating disorder was 1.2%… The overall prevalence of bulimia nervosa was 0.3%,” and “The lifetime prevalence of anorexia nervosa in adults was 0.6%.” They also conducted a study that found that over 50% of respondents with an eating disorder also had a co-occurring mental illness. 

Now, at first glance, these statistics may seem small, even inconsequential, but when looked at in relation to population, the numbers hit a lot differently. Based on the U.S. population, that is over four million people struggling with binge eating disorder, over one million people struggling with bulimia nervosa, and over two million people currently struggle with anorexia nervosa. Clearly, eating disorders are no insignificant issue, and there is a serious need for recovery for millions of people.

Understanding the Different Types of Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating

As with other types of mental illness and addiction, eating disorders are not a monolith. There are many different types of eating disorders, all of which have their own unique set of characteristics (though, of course, there is quite a bit of symptom overlap)

As previously mentioned, binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, and anorexia nervosa are all prominent types of eating disorders. Now, while they are the most prevalent, they are not the only types.

Other types of eating disorders include rumination disorder, other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED), avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), and unspecified feeding or eating disorder (UFED). There are also various types of disordered eating, such as unhealthy fad dieting and restrictive eating. Many people also categorize exercise addiction as a form of eating disorder.

Some Warning Signs and Symptoms of Untreated Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating

Now, it is important to remember that while eating disorders are classified in their own category, they are also categorized under mental illnesses and process addictions. This means that they will often have many overlapping symptoms of other disorders. 

Sometimes, this can make detecting and diagnosing eating disorders and disordered eating difficult as they can be mistaken for other issues. This is also why it is always critical to reach out to a professional or reputable recovery center any time issues of mental health and/or addiction arise.

However, there are some universal warning signs and symptoms of eating disorders and disordered eating that can help to preliminarily determine if there may be an issue. The following are some, but certainly not all, of the warning signs and symptoms of eating disorders and disordered eating:

  • Skipping meals and/or not eating reasonable portions while eating
  • Finding excuses not to eat around other people or to attend meals
  • Excessively exercising, even when it causes lightheadedness and nausea
  • Exhibiting extreme mood swings
  • Appearing overly anxious and nervous, especially around mealtimes
  • Having rituals around eating, such as chewing food a certain amount of times
  • Showing physical symptoms, such as chapped lips, a “gray” complexion, and hair and tooth loss
  • Exhibiting extreme weight loss or extreme weight gain
  • Having trouble with sleep patterns, including sleeping too much or sleeping too little; insomnia
  • Showing low energy and stamina
  • Expressing feelings of self-harm and or having suicidal ideations

Now, if any, some, or many of these symptoms arise, it is highly recommended that professional help be pursued right away. Catching an eating disorder early can mean the difference between short-term side effects and long-term consequences.

The Importance of Comprehensive Care For Treating Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating

There is little doubt that broad “one-size-fits-all” recovery rarely works. This is why it is critical to connect with a recovery center that only offers individualized and comprehensive mental health and eating disorder care. Now, this is the only way to heal at the cellular level.

Also, this comprehensive care must pull from many different avenues of recovery. These avenues include “traditional” mental health therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). A comprehensive recovery plan should also include experiential therapies such as nature immersion therapy, art therapy, horticulture therapy, and surf therapy. Of course, there should also be a very specific focus on nutrition therapy that runs through the entirety of a recovery plan.

Healing Eating Disorders With Nutrition

Here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, we have a saying that goes, “Food is medicine.” We believe that food can truly heal us at a core level, which many synthetic forms of nutrition struggle to do.

This is why our clients have access to licensed nutritionists and dieticians on the property. They can answer any questions that may come up regarding food and healthy eating. There is also a naturopathic doctor (ND) on site who can help clients recover nutritionally by reading blood work and determining what type of nutrient deficiencies are present (which tend to be very high in individuals struggling with eating disorders). Our nutritional therapy program also has a focus on the gut microbiome for healthy eating disorder recovery. 

Healing Eating Disorders With Gut Microbiome-Focused Foods

Recovery must occur with a focus on the entire mind-body connection. Gut microbiome-focused foods can help make that happen.

According to the peer-reviewed article, Eating Disorders and the Intestinal Microbiota: Mechanisms of Energy Homeostasis and Behavioral Influence, the gut microbiome is critical in helping individuals function at optimal levels. The article states, “Perhaps more impressive than the sheer number of microorganisms are the robust and significant relationships this community has with human health and disease. The intestinal microbiota is pivotal for detoxifying ingested drugs, training the human immune system to distinguish between pathogens and commensal organisms, and synthesizing vitamins including B vitamins and vitamin K.”

These processes are often heavily depleted in individuals who struggle with eating disorders and disordered eating. But, a healthy gut-focused diet that includes healthy proteins, fats from nuts, and leafy vegetables can help replenish these nutrients. The article continues, “Recently, the gut microbiota has been implicated in substantially influencing host weight regulation and energy harvest from the diet (i.e., extracting calories from food ingested) as well as modulating host behavior via direct and indirect pathways.” Also, “the intestinal microbiota plays a substantial role in nutrient extraction and host metabolism.”

But, as with other comprehensive recovery plans, nutritional therapy can be highly and positively influenced by other treatment options. This is especially true when these options reside in the realm of holistic modalities. When dealing with eating disorders, holistic methods should probably not be the only treatment modalities, but they can be invaluable when it comes to healing at the cellular level. These modalities include yoga, breathwork, meditation, and massage.

Healing Eating Disorders Holistically: Yoga

Yoga has been shown to be highly effective in helping people recover from issues of mental illness and addiction at the core level. This can be especially helpful for eating disorders because they are categorized as both a mental illness and a process addiction.

According to the International Journal of Yoga, “Regular practice of yoga promotes strength, endurance, flexibility and facilitates characteristics of friendliness, compassion, and greater self-control, while cultivating a sense of calmness and well-being. Sustained practice also leads to important outcomes such as changes in life perspective, self-awareness, and an improved sense of energy to live life fully and with genuine enjoyment.” Also, “The practice of yoga produces a physiological state opposite to that of the flight-or-fight stress response and with that interruption in the stress response, a sense of balance and union between the mind and body can be achieved.” These are the types of benefits that are required for whole-body healing at the cellular level.

Also, a big part of yoga has to do with focusing on the breath, which can be a big part of reducing stress and tension. This is also why breathwork practices can be so crucial in healing issues of eating disorders and disordered eating.

Healing Eating Disorders Holistically: Breathwork

According to the meta-analysis, Effect of Breathwork on Stress and Mental Health: A Meta-Analysis of Randomised-Controlled Trials, “Deliberate control of the breath (breathwork) has recently received an unprecedented surge in the public interest and breathing techniques have therapeutic potential to improve mental health.” Also, “Overall, results showed that breathwork may be effective for improving stress and mental health.”

Individuals who struggle with eating disorders also often struggle with issues of control. In fact, it is often these issues of control that emotionally reside under the surface of the disordered behaviors. These issues can be considered the root/core causes of many individual’s eating disorders.

Also, just as yoga is intertwined or “yolked” (which is a translation of the term itself) with breathwork, both breathwork and yoga are heavily linked with meditation practices. Meditation and mindfulness can be vital in the healing process for issues of mental health, including eating disorders. 

Healing Eating Disorders Holistically: Meditation and Mindfulness

Meditation and mindfulness have long been used to get out of oneself so one can connect to something greater. Now this may be some type of Higher Power or spiritual authority, or it may be nature and Mother Earth herself. Doing so has been shown to greatly increase the chances of recovery from issues of addiction and/or mental illness.

According to the article, Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies, “Mindfulness has been theoretically and empirically associated with psychological well-being. The elements of mindfulness, namely awareness and nonjudgmental acceptance of one’s moment-to-moment experience, are regarded as potentially effective antidotes against common forms of psychological distress – rumination, anxiety, worry, fear, anger, and so on – many of which involve the maladaptive tendencies to avoid, suppress, or over-engage with one’s distressing thoughts and emotions.”

Many people in the recovery community (and beyond) believe wholly in the use of a spiritual practice for recovery. Ultimately, it is a way to get away from one’s individual issues by giving them over to a power that is greater than themselves. This type of faith can be crucial because it leads to inspiration, and inspiration is vital for healing at the cellular level. 

Now, while meditation and mindfulness are primarily internal holistic practices, the external practice of massage can also be an ideal way to heal at the cellular level. Again, this is the continued interconnectedness of holistic practices for healing.

Healing Eating Disorders Holistically: Massage

Massage can be the missing component that is needed to round out a comprehensively effective recovery plan. According to the Journal of Life Long Learning in Psychiatry, “Although the data are limited, some findings have suggested that massage may acutely decrease hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal activity, have a positive effect on immune function, enhance parasympathetic tone, and modulate brain circuitry. The approach and philosophy of well-trained massage therapists are complementary to conventional psychiatric training and can thus be an important additional resource in treating patients. A respectful and collaborative approach to care may truly help patients.”

It is this collaborative approach that makes holistic care so effective here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab. We have the caliber of licensed professionals and specialists that can ensure that not only are holistic approaches administered properly but that they are administered with the energy and love that is required to make them effective at the root/core level.

Exclusive Hawaii Rehab: Healing Eating Disorders at the Cellular Level on Hawaii’s Big Island

The iconic and greatly influential Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh once said, “Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky, and our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.” This is the embodiment of healing at one’s core. Ultimately, we must look inside to heal on the outside. A recovery plan that has holistic practices integrated in can help make this happen.

Exclusive Hawaii Rehab is proud to be the only licensed recovery center to treat both eating disorders and other issues of addiction. We don’t take this accreditation lightly either. Our goal is to use every tool at our disposal to help our clients struggling with eating disorders and/or disordered eating heal at the cellular level. This includes our holistic offerings and how they can be utilized out in the island air on our 30-acre luxury resort on the Hamakua Coast on Hawaii’s Big Island.

There is another saying that we have on the Island that goes, “Kulia i ka nu’u.” This means that we always “strive to reach the peak.” So, just as we mentioned in the beginning, there is no cliff so high that we cannot climb; there is also no peak that we cannot reach. We know it to be true here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, and we will be here whenever anyone is ready to climb high and reach the peak of their recovery.

Exclusive Hawaii Rehab is the only certified/licensed recovery center to treat eating disorders and disordered eating on Hawaii’s Big Island. We know that healing from eating disorders at the cellular level requires getting at the root/core causes of our disordered behaviors. That is why we use a comprehensive approach to our eating disorder mental health care. We utilize holistic options like yoga, breathwork, meditation, and massage alongside more “traditional” modalities like person-centered therapy, the emotional freedom technique (EFT), and trauma-informed therapy. For more information on how you can heal from eating disorders and issues of disordered eating on the Hamakua Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island, please reach out to Exclusive Hawaii Rehab today at (808) 775-0200.