People with eating disorders see their body as an enemy. The obsession to be thin drives men, women and children from all walks of earth to drastically cut their calorie intake to dangerous, life-threatening levels. However, for an anorexic, starving is necessary in order to achieve ‘beauty’. Often, anorexics suffer from extreme anxiety and depression and are in a constant state of distress. They think this way because one small step in the wrong direction could lead to weight gain- at least,
that’s what they think. Whilst the definitive cause is unknown, the NHS states that anorexia isprimarily driven by psychological factors, as opposed to physical ones. Although there is a range of treatments available to people with this condition, approaching it from a predominately medicinal stand-point isn’t always beneficial long-term. Unbeknown to most, massage therapy is the silent hero of anorexia treatment, and it seems to be on the rise. Massage therapy is renowned for its mental and physical health benefits, which is why it has been introduced to treatment schemes for anorexia sufferers. Although it cannot cure overnight, it’s certainly made an impact of the medical world, that’s for certain.

What impact can massage have?

Massage therapy is known to reduce stress-hormones in anorexics, resulting in calmer, happier people who are able to cope better with recovery. A study showed that when massage was added to the treatment of anorexics, their obsession with thinness and compulsion to reach ‘perfection’ decreased more then with therapy alone. Even after the massages ended, they remained sounder of mind. But the question is, why is massage therapy so effective?

The importance of touch

Innately, human beings crave touch. Touch is often used as a display of affection, allowing people to connect with one another and form important relationships. Think about the importance of close body-contact between a mother and their new born child. Touch is introduced as soon as physically possible, because it helps both mother and child to form a bond.

Researchers from the University Of Michigan Medical School believe that there is a solid connection between anorexia and touch deprivation. A non-clinical study showed that “the eating disorder group reported greater body image concerns and perceived greater touch deprivation, but both during their childhood and their current life.” (Source: The study noted that the development of touching, holding, hugging and playing in a child’s life contributes directly to the formation of body image. Ultimately, touch, both of positive and negative form has an enormous impact on the way we view ourselves. Similarly, could the incorporation of ‘good’ touch be vital for a recovering anorexic?

Although massage therapy might never compensate for the lack of touch as a child, it can still have a positive implication for the lives of grown men and women. Whether the patients were aware of it or not, the regular and sympathetic touch given by the masseuses helped to dismantle their hostile relationships with their bodies. For half an hour, they had no care in the world- no hang-ups about their body. They were able to relax and shut off from their own mind- the best kind of therapy.

What impact can massage have?

As we have mentioned, massage is known to reduce stress-hormones, resulting in calmer, happier people who are able to cope better with recovery. A study showed that when massage was added to the treatment of anorexics, their obsession with thinness and compulsion to reach ‘perfection’ decreased more then with therapy alone. Even after the massages ended, they remained sounder of mind.

Clinical Study

Various studies on massage for chronic illnesses and emotional disorders have shown a positive influence on anxiety level, depression and biochemical imbalances. All of these are highly predominant in the cases of eating disorders. In order to test these finding’s, researchers at Touch Research Institute (TRI) in Miami, designed projects to tackle the symptoms of eating disorders. (Source: Following the success of an initial study relating to bulimia, researchers looked to test the same forms of treatment on clinically diagnosed anorexics. The started by recruiting 19 women from inpatient and outpatient centres for a five-week study; the experimental group receiving 20-minute Swedish Massages twice a week, the others, not. To measure the effects, researchers gathered samples of EDI, saliva cortisol samples, urine samples for dopamine, cortisol and catecholamine levels. They also measured anxiety, mood and depression. Of course, the results were successful, and showed lowered anxiety, reduced cortisol levels and drastically improved moods.

“By helping women feel more comfortable with their bodies, massage therapy may have facilitated close physical contacts in intimate relationships, thereby satisfying the need for tactile nurturance. Continued research is needed to determine the relationship between body image and the need for tactile nurturance among anorexic women receiving massage therapy.”-
Authors of the TRI study (Source:

Although there was no reported weight gain, improved EDI responses were reported, especially when combined with standard treatments. However, researchers believed that positive eating behaviours could develop as a result. Researchers concluded that the study was a success, and have since looked to incorporate massage therapy into treatment care for anorexia sufferers.

Neurohormonal effects of Massage Therapy

Amongst massages many benefits, its impact of neurohormones is particularly impressive, especially when analysing anorexia sufferers. In simple terms, there are hormones which are produced by the nervous system that have an impact on an individual’s behaviour and well-being. In the case of anorexics, it can of course affect their eating habits. However, massage therapy has mood-enhancing benefits. More research conducted at the TRI confirmed that massage therapy increases the amount of neurohormones affecting brain chemistry. Massage stimulates the production of neurohorme, dopamine which is responsible for influencing fine motor activity. This encourages inspiration, enthusiasm and happiness. On the contrary, those lacking dopamine levels often experience feelings of unhappiness, and suffer from poor focus and clumsiness.

Similarly, massage therapy also raises the amount of serotonin in the body. This neurohormone regulates emotions, but also affects behaviour and cravings. People with low serotonin levels often suffer from depression, anxiety and stress- common side-dishes of anorexia. Again, Oxytocin is a further hormone which is produced during massage therapy. This neurohormone, nicknamed the
‘love drug’ is supports the feelings of attachment, intimacy, comfort and of course, love. Regular sessions of massage therapy up the levels of Oxytocin whilst reducing the amount of Cortisol in the body (stress-related hormone), making people happier all round.

Massage Therapy could be the answer for you

This may seem like a simple and rather unconventional form of treatment, but relaxation is more important than most people realise. Learning to how disconnect from ourselves and felling more body confident has an enormous impact on our lives- especially those with suffer from chronic stress, depression and body dysmorphia. Whilst massage therapy isn’t the sole answer for anorexics, it’s certainly advantageous. It tackles anorexia at the root- the mind of the patient. That’s something that medicine alone will never achieve.

Author's Bio: 

Martina - a writer, journalist, massage specialist and researcher for Oriental Massages ( ) and