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.

 

12 Tried and True Ways People Upheld a Recovery-Focused Holiday


Looking back on this holiday season, it’s safe to say that social gatherings and celebratory feasts posed some significant challenges for anyone trying to develop a more peaceful relationship with food – including those in recovery from an eating disorder. That’s why The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt launched a social media campaign called the “12 Days of Eating Disorder Recovery.” The initiative shared tips on how to maintain healthy relationships with food through the holiday season and beyond. These are summarized below – one for each day of the 12 days – so you can use them to navigate future holiday seasons and get a little help finding the joy and peace within the hustle and bustle.


#12DaysofEDRecovery

Day 1: Keep expectations realistic and set manageable goals that will help you stick to your plan.

Regardless of where you’re at in recovery, celebrations, holiday feasts and schedule changes can pose challenges. Planning ahead and setting realistic expectations can help you stay focused on what truly matters.


Day 2: Grab a notebook or journal and write down all the reasons why recovery is important to you.

While you’re at it, make another list of support people. Figure out in advance who you will call if things get overwhelming or if you simply need to get out of your own head. Things that help you cope daily are still needed during the holidays.

If you’re headed out of town, pack your suitcase with your notebook along with other recovery tools. This could be tangible things like a fidget cube, fun book, art supplies or a favorite essential oil.


Day 3: Connect in safe and meaningful ways with others in recovery.

Recovery from an eating disorder is a journey that requires support, encouragement and ongoing motivation. Individuals with eating disorders and their loved ones can find hope and help in others who understand what they’re going through. Support groups and therapy groups can be a great way to strengthen recovery skills and help remind you that you are not alone.


Day 4: Set a goal today that has nothing to do with food, weight or your eating disorder.

It’s common for social gatherings to revolve around food in our culture, especially during the holidays. These celebrations often lead to an intensified emphasis on meals and eating for those working on recovery from an eating disorder. Keep doing what you need to do to fuel your body in recovery, but try also setting a goal for yourself that has nothing to do with food or your eating disorder.


Day 5: Don’t let your eating disorder make decisions for you in the grocery store. Use price or brand to inform decisions instead of reading nutrition labels.

Whether we like it or not, grocery shopping is part of adulthood. But for the millions of individuals living with an eating disorder, this everyday task feels overwhelming and becomes a significant barrier to recovery. If you are worried about buying items for upcoming gatherings or celebrations, this tip can help make grocery shopping more manageable.


Day 6: Defuse grocery shopping stress by bringing a friend, avoiding crowds and shopping at smaller stores in off-peak hours.

If you’ve had negative experiences with grocery shopping, you can start developing more positive associations. A Registered Dietitian may provide some easy steps for managing your grocery list.

Ask your dietitian for support, or consider adding one to your treatment team if you haven’t done so. You can also go with a friend or support person the first few times to help distract from any eating disorder thoughts and avoid being triggered by diet products.


Day 7: Infuse your New Year with body positivity and gratitude.

Be prepared to see your newsfeed flooded with New Year’s resolutions, gym memberships and diet plans in the coming weeks. To balance triggering and unhealthy messages, remember to reality check all the bogus weight-loss ads and surround yourself online and IRL with body-positive people and organizations.

Pay attention to which images and messages contribute to your feeling badly about yourself or your body and do what you can to remove them from your daily life. When you notice them, remove them (unsubscribe, throw them away, etc.) or challenge them.

Focus on gratitude for the functionality of the breath in your body, the ability to move, see, hear, taste or touch. Try to elevate those in your mind as you go through your day.

Create your own New Year’s goals with body positive thoughts. Work to set aside unhealthy ideals and embrace your body.


Day 8: Tackle eating disorder stigma by dispelling myths among friends and family.

Major misconceptions about eating disorders are widespread, even among those closest to us. Family can be a key component to recovery success. Unfortunately, some family and friends may still subscribe to ED myths that lead to stigma and might make it harder to ask for help or to seek treatment. Help educate and increase awareness about eating disorders among your loved ones.


Day 9: Friends and family can be a great support network. Be open with the people closest to you about how they can best support you.

Holiday conversations often revolve around what people are eating or not eating, who’s eating too much or too little and even criticism or praise about body weight and size.  Did this happen for you during Chanukah or Christmas this year?

The start of a new year can be a great time to enlist family members as allies by being open about your needs and boundaries. Set the stage for healthier gatherings in the new year by having a post-holiday conversation with them about how their words impacted you and what they can do instead to support you at the table and in other stressful situations.


Day 10: Meditate or listen to soothing music to start your day in a positive place.

It’s not just about food and body image. Incorporating mindfulness in the new year can be a way to care for your overall mental health. If you’re heading back to work or school after winter break, find a way to change up your routine to build in mindfulness practices.  Even just three minutes of meditation can help you set a positive intention for the day.

You can be mindful in your social connections too. Cultivate awareness about the different support each generation of your family can offer. Hanging out with cousins can be a nice way to connect and get support on specific life stage issues like being away at college, parenting stress, job hunting, etc. On the other hand, reaching out to older generations, like grandparents, is an opportunity to see how priorities can shift throughout life. Even the youngest generations have something to offer you in your recovery-focused festivities.


Day 11: Aim for balance and flexibility rather than perfection.

Individuals who are perfectionists often struggle with the urge to compare themselves to people around them. Research has shown perfectionism to be a significant risk factor for the development of eating disorders.

Constantly striving to be perfect with food or appearance during the holidays can lead to tension and stress. Even those holiday photo cards hanging around your house can trigger negative social comparisons. Try making some small changes to help ease perfectionist tendencies this time of year.


Day 12: Support is essential to your wellbeing. Recovery is possible with treatment and support.

Whether you are an individual working on recovery, or a loved one who is close to someone in recovery during this time of year, it’s important to remember that support is essential to wellbeing.

Remember, you don’t have to go through this alone.

Ask for help.

 

If you are experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder and you’re not connected to a therapist or receiving treatment, don’t wait any longer.  There is no reason to go through this alone. Call (410) 938-5252 for a free phone assessment today.


This holiday season, and year-round, carry these tips with you. Recovery is possible and recovery is worth it.

Putting the Mind in Mindfulness

Mindfulness has received a lot of attention in the past decade for its beneficial effect on stress reduction, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. But, is there a connection between mindfulness and the brain? Read on for what research has to say about the connection.Putting the Mind in Mindfulness

Mindfulness can be described in a variety of ways including, but not limited to, a state of mind or state of being. It has been described as an awareness of, and nonjudgmental attention on, immediate experiences, both internally and externally (4). This can be done not only as part of meditative practice, but also as a general mindset applied during daily activities. Mindfulness is a practice of responding to a myriad of stimuli that cross one’s attention, including thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations, with openness and acceptance (2, 4). 

A primary means in which individuals practice mindfulness is through meditation. Contrary to popular opinion, meditation is not clearing the mind but rather paying attention to whatever crosses one’s mind as it occurs without judgment. Although meditation is an important aspect of Eastern religions, it doesn’t have to be practiced in conjunction with a particular set of beliefs.  Mindfulness has also been applied in therapeutic settings for treatment of anxiety, depression, and eating disorders (1).  The positive effects of mindfulness have long been reported firsthand by those who practice it, however, now researchers are also learning more about the intricate changes in the brain that occur to produce these benefits.  

Mindfulness meditation has demonstrated positive effects on several functions in the brain such as attention, body awareness, and emotion regulation. 

  • Attention:  The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is responsible for sustaining focused attention on objects while disregarding distractions. Neuroimaging has shown positive effects of long term meditative practice including both increased activity in the ACC as well as increased size which signifies more connections and better regulation of attention (1,3).
  • Body Awareness: The insula is responsible for awareness of bodily sensations. This area has been researched heavily for its association with eating disorders. Research has found both changes in function and structure of these related areas, specifically greater size and density of grey matter, for people engaged in regular meditation practice (1- 4). Benefits include increased awareness of, and accuracy of, bodily sensations.
  • Emotional Awareness: Increased body awareness also has important implications for emotional awareness, which is necessary to be able to regulate emotions and increase empathy (3, 4)
  • Emotion Regulation: Mindfulness also has direct effect on the prefrontal cortex (PFC) which is responsible for emotional regulation. This is executed by “turning down” the region responsible for emotional processing and reactivity and “turning up” the area responsible for emotion regulation. This results in enhanced control over emotions (3).

Long term practitioners of mindful meditation show the greatest changes in brain structures but short term practice can also exhibit some of these enhancements (1, 4). 

4 quick tips to help you benefit from mindfulness:

  1. Start small.  Incorporate just a few minutes of mindfulness into your daily routine.
  2. Practice.   Complete a 1 minute mindfulness exercise by focusing on your breathing while keeping your eyes open. Check your mind wandering and focus attention back on your breath as needed. Try to keep your breathing at a normal pace.
  3. Be mindful anywhere.  You don’t need a fancy meditation room or a totally quiet space.  Just sit back wherever you are and focus your attention on an object nearby. Observe it, don’t study it or think about it, just observe it for what it is. Try to do this for a few minutes at a time.
  4. Modernize your mindfulness.  You can download mindfulness apps on your phone or tablet for daily reminders and other exercises.  Some good options include Relax Melodies, Omvana, and Headspace. (Though some do have fees that may apply).

 

Lache WILKINS


This post was written by Laché Wilkins, Research Assistant at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt

References
  1. Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2010). A systematic review of neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditations. Psychological Medicine, 40, 1239-1252. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0033291709991747.
  2. Farb, N. S., Segal, Z. V., & Anderson, A. K. (2013). Minfulness meditation training training alters cortical representations of interoceptive attention. SCAN, 8, 15-26. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/scan/nss066.
  3. Holzel, B. K., Lazar, S. W., Gard, T., Schuman-Olivier, Z., Vago, D. R., & Ott, U. (2011). How mindfulness meditation work? Proposing mechanisms of action from a conceptual and neural perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6, 537-559. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1745691611419671.
  4. Manuello, J., Vercelli, U., Nani, A., Costa, T., & Cauda, F. (2016). Mindfulness meditation and consciousness: An integrative neuroscientific perspective. Consciousness and Cognition, 40, 67-78. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2015.12.005

 

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