How the Alexander Technique can help with Eating Disorders

“Shirley Wade-Linton, an Alexander Technique teacher and Registered Dietitian in Courtenay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia talks with Robert Rickover about ways in which the Technique can help people with eating disorders.”

Shirley: “Because people with eating disorders almost by definition are out of touch with their bodies… They have a terrible relationship with their bodies. They hate their bodies. They fear their bodies. They have zero trust. They are not communicating in a useful way with their bodies. Continuing to do talk therapy with people, you can’t convince an 89-pound anorexic girl that she isn’t fat because it is not rational but if you can do some table work with her… They begin to change their relationship with their body.”

“The size of the body is not relevant to the Alexander teacher. We’re looking for release and openness and a mind that changes from anxiety and fear to calmer and more alert. When that change happens, people are fascinated. They start a new relationship that is not based on size and shape.”

Robert: “That process, particularly table work, could help someone obsessing over their size and nudge them in the direction of being interested in how they function.”

“How does this mechanism in which I live actually work? It takes them away from the root cause of starving themselves or not eat enough.”

“I’ve read in the literature that people with eating disorders don’t like to be touched. That has not been my experience.”

Shirley writes:

When it comes to the area of hunger and satiety, our bodies may seem unreliable. We can confuse feelings of nervousness, boredom, anger or sadness with the feeling of hunger. But when attention is paid, it becomes clear that food is being used to suppress emotions.

Endgaining might be defined as the desire to bring about the end (not being hungry anymore), however inappropriate the means might be to achieve this. We gulp down food simply to stop the feelings of hunger. I used to watch people eating food on the London Tube rather than waiting for a much more pleasant place to eat.

When presented with a meal, the means whereby the end can be accomplished means staying in the present. Quiet mind, soft belly, tasting the food, smelling the food, releasing the death grip on the fork and knife. It means enjoying the moment, staying conscious, not letting the mind wander, but staying in the experience of the food and the cues from the body. Mindful eating increases the enjoyment of food if the food is good and decreases the enjoyment if the food is stale or boring or simply not good tasting.

Inhibition is a capacity to be nonreactive. Inhibition is an action and a freedom. It allows us to keep our options open. How many of us keep our options open when eating a meal? How often do we finish the entire meal because it is on our plate? Do we give our bodies a chance to respond to the input of nutrients and notice when the body is complete with the meal? Or do we react in our habitual way and eat all the popcorn, finish the bag of crisps, eat everything on the plate because that is our habit? We also eat everything on the plate because it tasted so good at the beginning of the meal when we were hungry. We then desire to have that taste again and again and we don’t notice that as the body is satisfied the taste buds signal us to stop.

Imagine stopping and inhibiting our usual reactions and so being present while eating mouthful by mouthful. Being conscious in the action, mindful in the process.

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