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Can Sauna Use Aid In Eating Disorder Recovery?

Eating disorders are complex and stem from a multitude of internal and external factors. Due to the complexities of the genesis and ongoing pathology for sufferers, there is no cure-all for eating disorders. Individuals healing from a past or active eating disorder likely use a variety of techniques including therapy, supplementation and more. Emerging research suggests that sauna may be a powerful component of a successful recovery protocol from eating disorders.

Make no mistake – regular sauna use alone will not cure an eating disorder, but when married to cognitive therapy, and other well established methods of treatment, it may enhance recovery and heal the body.

There are many different types of eating disorders including, but not limited to: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating, muscle dysmorphia, and while each type of eating disorder expresses itself differently, they all take a toll on the body. (1)

How can sauna bathing help individuals recovering from an eating disorder? 

  • Mood Regulation
  • Healing of the Autonomic Nervous system
  • Improved Circulation 
  • Cardiovascular Exercise Without Movement
  • Improved Immunity WIth Heat Shock Proteins

Eating Disorders are a serious medical condition, which can sometimes be fatal. If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, please seek immediate medical attention. The end of this article contains a phone number for a hotline that you can call for help.

Sauna Use To Help Stabilize Mood: Dopamine, Endorphins, Serotonin Uptake

  • Dopamine Release
  • Serotonin Uptake
  • Endorphins 

While there can be many causes and correlative factors that contribute to an eating disorder, there remains a singular thread that connects all types of eating disorders: depression or a lack of mood stability. Sometimes eating disorders result directly from Major Depression, and can be considered a symptom of depression, or conversely, depression may be a symptom of an eating disorder.

Regardless of the reason behind an eating disorder, it is imperative to receive consistent and reliable treatment from a trained professional. Incorporating regular sauna bathing into a treatment plan may be beneficial to patients with eating disorders, particularly given the research surrounding the treatment of major depression with infrared sauna therapy. (2)

Saunas can help with the production of dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin uptake. This cocktail is necessary for creating a sense of wellbeing, joy, and even euphoria. Intermittent feelings of joy may be beneficial for those suffering from eating disorders, and with regular sauna use, it is possible to regularly alter brain chemistry in a positive way. 

Individuals who have more bioavailable ‘happy’ chemicals tend to respond better to cognitive therapies, and while sauna use is not the only answer, it may be a helpful stepping stone for some individuals recovering from eating disorders. 

Autonomic Nervous System Repair

Ongoing abuse of the body from months or years of living with an eating disorder can leave an individual with a disorganized nervous system. Living with an eating disorder induces high levels of ‘hyper-vigilance’ about their body, their perception of self, and the world around them. When the autonomic nervous system spends too much time in states of hyper vigilance or sympathetic dominance a slow degradation of health is inevitable. 

It is only in states of relaxation or parasympathetic dominance that the body can begin its natural healing process. It is crucial that individuals living with an eating disorder find their way out of the sympathetic dominance and back into states of relaxation in order to repair the body. (3)

Food is fuel for the body, but when abused, either by taking in too much or too little on a regular basis it can lead to serious digestive issues, and sometimes aggravate or activate autoimmune disorders. There may be serious damage to the adrenal glands, and extensive toxic build up in the body if too much exercise was also a factor in the eating disorder. 

Sauna Use Can Provide An Opportunity To Exercise The Cardiovascular System Without Exercise

Many individuals living with an eating disorder may have over-exercised as a means of controlling weight gain, and or muscle development. This means that exercise may not be accessible for a variety of reasons for individuals recovering from an eating disorder, but it is still possible to engage in daily cardiovascular exercise while sitting and relaxing in a sauna. (4)

The body may have been rendered too feeble to those recovering from anorexia or the body may not move with ease if over eating has rendered the body obese. Either way, sauna use can be an excellent means to engage the heart and lungs and improve circulation if exercise is not an option.

Improving circulation is paramount when recovering from an eating disorder because it is through the river of positive blood flood that necessary proteins and nutrients are brought to the extremities of the body. 

Sauna use is also helpful in improving the creation of Heat Shock Proteins, which are important for immunity and may be compromised as a result of an eating disorder. Saunas can also assist in improving intercellular communication and supporting the endocrine system (including the function of the adrenal glands, which often suffer as a result of an eating disorder).

Even if exercise is inaccessible as an individual recovers from an eating disorder, it is possible to experience many of the benefits from exercise while passively resting in a sauna. 

Life After An Eating Disorder: Heal From The Inside Out

It is a long road to recovery for individuals who have lived with an eating disorder, this is because it is not only a disease of the body, but also of the mind and emotions. A dysmorphic perception of one’s body that leads to abuse of food intake can take a long time to heal from. Eating disorders are complex in cause, in expression, and in recovery. This means that any treatment must also be multi-layered in its approach.

Eating disorders can be fatal, and it is necessary to work closely with a medical professional to walk the road back to recovery. If you or someone you love is suffering from or in recovery from an eating disorder, please consult with a professional to see if sauna use is appropriate for you or your loved one as a portion of the healing process


**** If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs immediate help, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. ***

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