Eating Disorder Treatment: Complementary Therapies: Physical Therapies


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Dear Readers,

Please find below another post in Life after Eating Disorder Treatment. This post discusses eight physical therapies; massage, aromatherapy, reflexology, acupuncture, shiatsu, tai chi, qigong and yoga.  These therapies are available to patients in most of the treatment centres and should be incorporated into life after a person has left the centre and is transitioning back into life after treatment. Completing a treatment program can help individuals regain their balance, but the treatment program is only the beginning. In fact, many individuals who complete treatment for Eating Disorders relapse. These therapies can help people regain balance in their lives. It is very important that if you have these therapies outside the treatment centre, you always make sure the therapist or practitioner is trained and registered.


Please Note: These additional treatments should not be employed without other medical and psychological treatments provided by a clinician and/or a carer and they should not be considered a replacement for other evidence based treatment approaches. Instead, they should form part of a comprehensive and holistic treatment plan to increase the quality of life of the person with the eating disorder.




One of the oldest therapies in existence. Massage is a form of structured or therapeutic touch which can be used to relax, to relieve muscle pain and tension. According to Psychology Massage therapy’s healing touch aids recovery in several different ways.

Massage therapy can help to reduce the feelings of hopelessness and despair and increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, which are known to increase feelings of wellbeing and happiness in people. This can lead to the improvement of many attitudes associated with eating disorders.

Relatives or friends can be taught to massage the person, which can reduce the anxiety and bring comfort to both people. Massage can be a form of communication between the massager and the patient, as well as relieving anxiety,  and muscle tension.

Body Massages are a luxury for many in Western countries, but in Asia, you will find them affordable. It’s very easy to find a massage in these countries, so make most of it.

You can get more information about massage and finding a trained massage therapist from the General Council for Massage Therapy.



bnr-aromatherapy-specialist essentialoils

Aromatherapy is the use of scented natural oils extracted from flowers, plants or trees. the oils are thought to have therapeutic properties. They maybe used during massage, but can also be used in special aromatherapy burners or in baths.

Different oils have different effects: for example, an aromatherapist may use cedarwood for a pleasant and relaxing effect, or rosemary for an invigorating and refreshing effect.

It is not always necessary to remove clothing to have massage or aromatherapy. Often hand and forearm massage or head and neck can be very relaxing.

Which Aromatherapy Oil for which Problem?

“To effectively treat patients with eating disorders, the best oils are ones that help change their emotional connection to food,” says Beldini, who also is a certified aromatherapist. Citrus oils, such as lemon, also may be helpful because they stimulate the digestive juices.

According to

Body Dysmorphia – birch, hyacinth, valerian, gardenia

Eating Disorders – aniseed_china_star, basil, camphor, cinnamon, clary-sage, gardenia, helichrysum, hyacinth, orange, parsley, tuberose; tumeric, yuzu,

Recovery – basil, benzoin, bitter-orange, cajuput, camphor,  celery, cinnamon, clary-sage,  clove, cypress, dill, eucaplyptus, fir, frankincense, myrrh, tagetes marigold; zinziba.

For more information about Aromatherapy and to find a trained therapist, contact the International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists.


acupuncture needles

Acupuncture is based on traditional Chinese medicine. It uses thin, sterile acupuncture needles inserted just below the skin to affect the flow of energy in the body. As well as the circulatory nervous systems in the body, in Chinese medicine there is also a system of life force (energy) channels. the energy that moves along the channels is known as chi.

Acupuncture needles are placed along point in the energy channels to help release the flow of chi and restore health and balance in the body. Acupuncture can help with all sorts of physical problems such as pain, nausea and a sore mouth, and can also help to reduce fear and anxiety.

Studies show that during acupuncture the body releases endorphins, natural chemicals which can relieve pain, relax muscles and increase feelings of well-being.

Acupuncture for Absent Menses

According to Everyday Leptin, a hormone that helps regulate metabolism, has been shown to play a role in reproductive function and a woman’s menses. One study performed in Germany showed that patients with anorexia have lower-than-normal levels of leptin, which likely contributes to the fact that anorexia patients often stop getting their periods. Researchers in China looked at how a specific acupuncture point, known as sifeng, which is located behind the fingers, may affect serum leptin levels in anorexia patients. The study showed that acupuncture can increase levels of leptin, meaning there may be some promise for acupuncture as an eating disorder treatment.

According to Acupuncture can be effective in the treatment of eating disorders as it provides drug-free pain relief and takes a holistic approach to healing addressing physical, psychological and emotional signs.

You can get more information about acupuncture and finding a registered practitioner from the British acupuncture Council at: British Acupuncture


517150802_orig Reflexology-chart



Eating Disorder sufferers could benefit from this type of therapy. This natural therapy is offered at most treatment centres.

Reflexology is a specialised form of foot or hand massage that is related to the Chinese practice of accupressure. The theory underlying this therapy is that different areas on the sole of the foot or palm of the hand represent and are connected to body’s internal organs.

Systematically putting pressure on points in the feet or hands is thought to stimulate the flow of energy along energy channels in the body. Some people find that symptoms such as pain, constipation and sickness can be relieved.

You can get more information about reflexology and finding a registered practitioner from the Association of Reflexologists



Shiatsu is Japanese form of massage. Like acupuncture it is based on the idea that good health depends on the balanced flow of energy through specific channels in the body called meridians. Pressure is placed on the appropriate meridians to help the person’s energy regain its balance. The therapist may also gently stretch or massage areas of the body to reduce stiffness and soreness.

You can get more information about Shiatsu and finding a registered practitioner from The Shiatsu Society

Tai Chi and Qigong


Tai Chi and qigong are two Chinese Philosophies which aim to strengthen the vital force (chi) of the body.

Tai Chi- is an ancient chinese practice that focuses on building strength, balance and flexibility through slow, fluid movements combined with mental imagery and deep breathing. It can improve people’s general health.



Qigong- is another Chinese exercise system. Through individual mental and physical exercise, practitioners build up their health and prevent illness by combining discipline of mind, body and the body’s Q’ (vital force).


Both Tai Chi and qigong can help generate a sense of well being and peace and can reduce pain. The slow, graceful movements increase strength and flexibility and improve balance and circulation.

For more information about Tai Chi and Qigong and local classses visit: and




Yoga provides a safe context for disordered eaters to confront, deconstruct, and move past troubling thoughts without acting on them. Yoga also assists individuals with eating disorders to establish a new basis for self-esteem by shifting the emphasis of self-image away from what the body looks like and toward what the body can do. Listening to the body and responding to its sensations in a positive way is the first step for many disordered eaters in learning to properly care for themselves and their bodies again. Eating Disorder Guide

 images Yoga

According to Eating Disorder Guide: The practice of yoga, especially slower and non-competitive forms of yoga, shows promise as a method for treating eating disorders. I do gentle yoga every week.  It improves circulation, flexibility, balance, and stamina.  There are many different schools and styles of yoga, but they all encourage balanced and holistic development through the practice of yoga postures, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques.

The Sanskrit word yoga is translated as union between mind, body and spirit, and the practice aims to lead to a better balance of mind, body and spirit. Some types of yoga involve very gentle stretching, movement and meditation.

Most of the treatment centres and hospitals offer yoga as part of their complementary therapy programmes.

To Read More: The Benefits of Yoga on Eating Disorder Recovery



In next post, I’ll talk about Complementary Medicines.



About Author

Islam and Eating Disorders founded in 2012 – run by Maha Khan, the blog creates awareness of Eating Disorders in the Muslim world, offers information and support for sufferers and their loved ones.

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