The Center for Eating Disorders Blog

Knitting Together Skills for Eating Disorder Recovery

April is National Occupational Therapy Month ~ #OTMonth 


If you’ve had an eating disorder yourself, or you know someone who has, you might know all-too-well that one of the side effects of these illnesses is decreased engagement in meaningful, fun or productive activities. Eating disorders have a way of overtaking a person’s energy and time, even altering the way the brain works.

As more time is spent obsessing about food and weight, and engaging in symptomatic behaviors, there tends to be less and less mental energy available for activities unrelated to meals, food or thoughts  of body dissatisfaction.  By no fault of their own, individuals who develop eating disorders often don’t realize how much the eating disorder shifts their focus and leads them away from people, events, and activities they once enjoyed.  This is one of the reasons The Center for Eating Disorders (CED) at Sheppard Pratt has always incorporated Occupational Therapy into our treatment options for individuals with eating disorders.An individual’s “occupation” is any activity that occupies his or her time.  Thus, Occupational Therapists (OTs) fcus on enabling people to participate in meaningful and purposeful activities of daily life. At CED, our OTs work to provide individuals with a setting where the behavioral changes made through Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and insights learned in other psychotherapies can be converted into new behaviors that become part of the long-term healing process. We’ve written before about some of the ways our OT Department does this through Horticulture Groups.  Similar work is done throughout the year in different ways – including through mindful knitting groups.

Knitting is a craft that requires both physical and cognitive skills and thus engages both mind and body simultaneously. Knitting has the advantage of engaging the senses with the sound of the needles, touch of the yarn and movement of the hands that, together, hold the attention of the mind in the present moment. Repetitive action can be calming, textures can provide grounding opportunities and hand movements offer engagement for mind and body. This can be a much-needed relief for persons with eating disorders whose thoughts are constantly being pulled to the last meal or to the next one, or to persistent negative beliefs about their body, weight or size.

Over the last two years since our knitting program began, the OTs in The Center for Eating Disorders’ Partial Hospital Program (PHP) facilitated two therapeutic knitting groups, running twice a week for 8 months a year as an addendum to our core CBT protocols and additional evidence-based therapies. Participants could join for one session or many and were reminded frequently that each contribution is part of the whole. In these groups, patients who were veteran knitters joined beginners, learning new skills and sharing experiences. The groups were an opportunity for individuals to practice mindfulness and socialize with peers while, as one participant put it, “focus on calming,repetitive activity that also produces a tangible result” completely separate from anything related to one’s eating disorder.  The tangible result? Mindful knitting participants worked to create a collage of knitted squares which, when knitted together, became finished baby blankets.

When asked about the impact of the groups, individuals indicated  they “became more centered, distracted from my negative thoughts”  and “my anxiety level changed”.  Others shared that “the knitting was calming; the repetitiveness of the knitting felt good.” The power of knitting as a therapeutic tool has been documented outside the individual experiences of our patients. According to Corkhill et al., (2014), knitting in groups can impact perceived happiness, improve social confidence and feelings of belonging.

The knitting group, like many of our other OT groups, offers a safe environment to explore a new hobby (or rekindle interest in an old one), challenge perfectionistic tendencies, relax in recovery-focused ways, and stay in the moment with the flow of the needles and yarn.  This opportunity to engage the mind and the body also allowed for reflection on the healing and recovery process. When our most recent group of participants were asked how to apply the skills learned in knitting group to their broader recovery goals, responses included all of the following:

  • “ I can look at each of my new coping skills as accomplishments and enjoy the state of calmness.”
  • “I didn’t give up. I can remember not to give up so quickly.”
  • “I was able to feel good about myself. I can definitely use that for self-esteem issues.”
  • “[I’m] very excited to go home and knit. It’s so helpful to practice being in the moment.

The knitting groups provided a healing experience, new mindfulness skills and a variety of powerful reflections for participants. They also provided participants with an outcome they could feel good about. Upon completion, the group’s resulting baby blankets were donated to newborns at Mt.Washington Pediatric Hospital where they can continue to promote healing in new and important ways.

Would you like to find out more about OT and other treatment options at The Center for Eating Disorders? Call us today at (410) 938-5252.


Blog Contributor: Christine Brown, MS, OTR/L is an Occupational Therapist at The Center for Eating Disorders. Christine received her Masters of Science degree from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1999. Prior to joining the team at The Center for Eating Disorders, Christine spent time providing community-based services as an intensive case manager and worked in a general psychiatric inpatient and partial hospital program.  In her current role at The Center, Christine provides occupational therapy for adults and adolescents in our inpatient and partial hospital programs. She assists patients in increasing engagement in valued roles and meaningful occupations through group and individual interventions. In addition to the knitting group and other OT groups, Christine facilitates the sensory awareness and horticulture specialty groups.

 


Reference:

Corkhill, Betsan & Hemmings, Jessica & Maddock, Angela & Riley, Jill. (2014). Knitting and Well-being. Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture. 12. 10.2752/175183514×13916051793433.