Sunday, May 31, 2009

Knitting and EDs


I have to admit my eyebrows went up when I first read about this study, which looked at whether the act of knitting could help people recovering from eating disorders. There are a lot of wacky, unproven, and frankly ridiculous "therapies" out there for eating disorders, many of which are rubbish.

But this one actually makes sense. Researchers from the University of British Columbia, Oxford University, and the Beau Cote Centre for Eating Disorders looked at whether the repetitive act of knitting could help with the inevitable anxiety and perseveration that comes along with the recovery process. While their study sample was small--38 women on an ED ward in a hospital--the results suggest that knitting did in fact have something of a calming and even therapeutic effect.

I can understand the principle: For me, washing dishes or weeding provides a similar effect. Human beings are hard-wired to work with our hands. And repetitive work like knitting can facilitate a zenlike meditation state that can be very soothing.

I like the fact that the researchers aren't claiming that knitting helps people recover from EDs. They point out instead the secondary but still important component of anxiety management. And I know not only from my own experience but also from Ancel Keys' Minnesota Starvation Study that anxiety is a major biological component of re-feeding and recovery.

And if knitting helps with anxiety, I'm sure there are other activities that do the same, that help break the cycle of obsessive thinking that comes along with EDs. Maybe crocheting? Quilting? Fiber arts as ED recovery corollaries? I love it.

12 comments:

DontPukeInMyWellies said...

I go to art college and have recently been studying fashion textiles. I've found this with art and painting huge posters of randoms as well as sketching and sewing in general. Making garments when it's not all going wrong has helped me immensely in gaining some control because it's entirely absorbing and there's no way you can sew and eat, or paint and eat, or knit and eat as well as the repetition and mind absorbtion.

It's no cure though, just a helpful tool.

Erica said...

During my d's refeeding both she and I started knitting and it was very relaxing.

Twistie said...

While I don't have an ED, I can say with some assurance that repetitive activities like knitting, dishwashing, and my personal fave, making bobbin lace are excellent for simultaneously keeping the hands busy and calming the mind.

I think to the key to using these things effectively is the combination of recognizing that they are helpful coping techniques rather than cures in their own right, and finding the right one for you.

For instance, while I love tossing my lace bobbins, I find knitting oddly frustrating. Strange, perhaps, but true nonetheless. You love washing dishes. Another person might find that playing guitar or a particular video game more helpful.

I would encourage anyone trying this as an aid in recovery to try a few different things to see which activity is most helpful to them. You want to find something that keeps your hands busy yet produces a sort of zen state in your head and heart.

Amy said...

One of my friend's dads said that they were taught to knit in Vietnam during the war for similar reasons. Also, the knitting in terms of ED comes up in an episode of Degrassi as one of the characters recovers from anorexia.

raspberryclover said...

The center where I went for treatment holds knitting and quilt-making workshops on campus several times a month, and they always have knitting supplies available in the meeting rooms where much of one's time is spent during the ED recovery programs. It certainly does work!

Jamie Longstreth Fritz said...

as a personal bit of anecdata, I probably would not have successfully quit smoking had it not been for knitting so I can see it helping when soothing repetitive motion is wanted in other circumstances as well.

Harriet said...

Yes, we often talk about "needing something to do with your hands" when trying to break a habit like smoking. Makes sense in other contexts too. Maybe it's always about anxiety management??

Travel for Agoraphobics said...

Like many of your other commenters, learning to knit was a first step in my recovery from agoraphobia. Aside from the anxiety management, it made me feel so useful to be producing sweaters and scarves and such at a time when my self esteem was pretty low and I did not feel like much of an asset to the people around me otherwise.

Angel said...

I learned how to knit while I was in treatment at Renfrew, and it definitely helps to calm me. All that I can knit are scarfs, because anything more complicated than that would be stressful, but it does make me feel as if I've accomplished something when I finish one.

Pixll said...

I was also encouraged to knit in treatment. I taught some of the other residents and staff too as well. It was very useful to feel like I was 'doing' something. Exercise of any sort was totally forbidden, and I was going utterly stir crazy without my usual anxiety release. The knitting def. took the edge off the anxiety.

Amelia said...

I learned how to knit just before my last hospitalization. And I can unequivocally agree that it has helped me learn how to be more mindful, how to be more.....meditative, how to relax my body. It has been intensely therapeutic for me.

Annette said...

yes i can imagine that knitting is very relaxing and helps to bring your thoughts away from the ED.
here is an offer for parents whose child has an eating disorder. it is a chat-project with trained psychologist working with the MAUDSLEY approach.

http://www.e-mental-health.eu/anorexia/website/eating.php