Stitch n Bitch, Therapy Style

When I first saw this article, I laughed a little bit:

Managing anxiety in eating disorders with knitting

It struck me as a bit odd at first, a little off the wall. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this idea kind of made sense.

The researchers provided a group of women who were hospitalized for an eating disorder, taught them how to knit, and provided them with supplies. The study found that

Patients reported a subjective reduction in anxious preoccupation when knitting. In particular, 28/38 (74%) reported it lessened the intensity of their fears and thoughts and cleared their minds of eating disorder preoccupations, 28/38 (74%) reported it had a calming and therapeutic effect and 20/38 (53%) reported it provided satisfaction, pride and a sense of accomplishment.

And I thought: how lovely. How simple, in fact. I myself learned how to crochet during treatment, and many of my friends also learned how to knit/crochet. I could never get the hang of knitting--my hand-eye coordination is terrible, and I could never get both needles going at the same time--but I did greatly enjoy crocheting. This then lead to my jewelry-making, and so on.

What's more, I loved the goals of the study. They weren't to reduce ED symptoms. I am not worried about any press releases or newspaper articles touting "Knitting cures eating disorders!" It was just the simple idea that knitting might help ED patients deal with anxiety better. I wish other sorts of alternative therapies, whether its yoga or the Magic Ponies that so many centers are so fond of (and love to charge you heaps of money to ride), would be predicated on this aspect: they may help relieve anxiety. I don't see them as an ED treatment per se, but they might help with some of the distressing emotions that go along with eating and gaining weight.

Do you knit/crochet? Did you learn in treatment? Was it helpful? What other similar mindful/creative activities have you found helpful?

I don't know any good knitting books, but if you're interested in learning how to crochet, my favorite book is The Happy Hooker. The same woman also published a knitting book called Stitch n Bitch.


Clare said...

i love knitting...or at least I used to. I've gotten away from it in the past two years. But when I was pretty good at it, I could watch tv and not even look at what I was doing with my hands. I read an article about these girls who asked their teachers if they could knit during lectures because it helped them concentrate. It's a great way to lessen anxiety

Tiger said...

Knitting rocks my socks! I learned to knit when I was 5, so not exactly in treatment, (not that I've been in treatment) I knit in lectures, watching movies, talking to friends, basically, if I can do it and knit at the same time, I'm going to! It helps me stay calm, like nothing else.

Gaining Back My Life said...

I started knitting when I was recovering from pneumonia. Unfortunately, it bored me to tears. Maybe crocheting is more fun?
p.s. word ver is "umhon"

alice said...

i completely agree with any craft easing anxiety. i kind of lose myself in the flow, and hours can pass. i too made my hobby into a very, very small buisness. anything to take away the dreaded anxiety.

Kim said...

Very interesting. I don't knit, but whenever I do anything with my hands that's kind of mindless, I feel SO much better. Just playing computer games with my husband seems to take my mind off the ed, almost completely.

marcella said...

My daughter did some lovely craft work while in treatment and probably the best thing she's ever found for easing anxiety is playing the guitar and violin. I agree, none of these are "cures" for eating disorders. In fact the one bit of formal art therapy she did was pretty difficult and frustrating for her, but being creative with wool, paint, clay, strings or the voice is always therapeutic. I guess perhaps it's as old as the hills - the opposite of the devil making work for idle hands.

Jessi said...

when i was inpatient there were 6 of us and we all knitted, by choice! I hadn't ever knitted before, but it was very useful to have your hands busy, especially under post meal supervision...

Carrie Arnold said...

Thanks for the feedback, everyone!

Marcella, you're right about music also being soothing. I found formal art therapy (what do these lines represent?) to be frustrating and useless, but just being able to kind of do my own thing was tremendously soothing.

Sad Mom said...

My son tried knitting when he first started therapy. He liked it but hasn't picked it up in years. He plays video games to occupy his hands. He's just recently rediscovered them and is surprised how much he likes it. The only other time he relaxes is when he's dancing. He started coming with me to Scottish Country Dance to further punish himself by doing something he thought he'd hate but likes the complexity and patterns of the figures. He can't pay attention to anything but the dance once the music gets going and enjoys the respite from ED. Plus he gets to wear a kilt and meet women.

A:) said...

I learned to cross stitch in treatment -- my second round I did a lot of colouring :P and then I also learned to make jewllery!

I have to say though Carrie, I admire your wire work because I find that incredibly frustrating -- I can bead beautifully -- thats it.


Anonymous said...

I learned to knit in IP because so many other girls did. I was so anxious when I first got there, eating and not being able to get rid of it made me extremely agitated. Even sitting in 12-step meetings and some of the group therapy would make me antsy because people were so emotional. But we were allowed to knit whenever we wanted, so I learned and started doing it all the time. I think I made scarves for pretty much everyone I knew. And that was fairly therapeutic as well. I could send people something I made, and even if I couldn't tell them how sorry I was about everything, I could make amends with a gift.

Miss Keira said...

I'm learning to crochet now! When I was on the eating disorder ward the other 4 girls all crocheted/knitted and I cross stitched. I usually cross stitch in the wait room before sessions and it calms me down and grounds me so I'm not all over the place.

Still getting the hang of crochet though - being a lefty makes it interesting to follow patterns ;)

Maia said...

I learned to knit right before I went into treatment and I still use it now to lessen my anxiety during tougher moments. It's not so much about the result but about the calming, repetitive movement. I try to knit in lectures if I can get away with it too, just to keep me awake :) Even more meaningful than knitting for me has been collaging. It's a great way to get out the difficult emotions onto paper in a more visual way than writing, and sometimes I surprise myself with the positive messages I end up creating even during bad times.

Carrie Arnold said...


I agree- it's mostly the repetitiveness that helps me. Maybe because it uses those same brain circuits that do all of my obsessive, repetitive OCD thinking?

I think I need to visit a yarn store!

Ai Lu said...

Knitting has definitely helped me deal with stress and anxiety, and even in a very concrete way helped me to not binge at times! (It is hard to eat and knit at the same time.) Since I began grad school last fall, I have not had as much time available to knit, and I have really noticed how I miss the soothing quality of my needles.

Crimson Wife said...

I'm too uncoordinated to knit with needles but I *LOVE* loom knitting! I've got a set of Knifty Knitter round looms for making hats and also a set of Knifty Knitter long looms for making things like scarves and afghans. Supposedly one can use the looms to knit clothes like sweaters, skirts, vests, etc. but I've never attempted anything that ambitious.

With my 3rd pregnancy, I had to go in for twice-weekly testing during my last trimester where they hooked me up to the fetal monitor for an hour at a time. I knit a whole bunch of hats both for my own baby and as gifts for friends who were also pregnant.

Sarah Willett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah Willett said...

I recently went to visit a friend in an inpatient program for her ED and found out they were all knitting. Because I am an avid knitter (with my own business even!) I googled it when I got home and found lots of great stuff (including your blog!)
I hope you don't mind that I've shared your blog in one of my entries. Check it out:
Thanks for sharing!

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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