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Spirituality and Eating Disorders

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

In 2015 I read a study that examines the relationship between spirituality and body image. Its conclusion? Strong religious beliefs coupled with a positive relationship with a higher power are connected to  lower levels of disordered eating and body image concern. 

The authors identified a couple particularly relevant and helpful aspects of religiosity and spirituality:

Many believe that the body has “sacred qualities” and is a “manifestation of God.” Further, religion can offer coping strategies–like prayer and positive reading material–for body image related struggles.

But just professing belief or even attending church are not enough to lift you into a more positive relationship with your body. The study found that superficial religious beliefs paired with a doubtful or anxious relationship with God are tied to more eating disorders and body image concern.

This same finding held up in a different study in 2018, which explored the recovery of 83 women from eating disorders. While most believed that religion/spirituality "contributed to the development and maintenance of their eating disorder, most of them also felt it was indispensable to their recovery."

The authors went on to say that several women they interviewed believed that the opposite was true: that religion/spirituality "did not influence or negatively influenced their recovery."

So, it depends. But here's my take: genuine spirituality, no matter what form it takes, has been found to have a positive relationship with mental health in many studies.

One scientist explains it this way: “With increased spirituality people reduce their sense of self and feel a greater sense of oneness and connectedness with the rest of the universe.”

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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