Eating Disorders and Chinese Medicine
Before returning to school to study Chinese (Oriental) Medicine, Diane Notarianni was a professor of anthropology professor at Northern Arizona University, whose work included developing a program for people with disabilities that combined Native American and Western medicine.
Today, as Mirasol's staff acupuncturist, she applies her knowledge of both anthropology and Chinese Medicine to the treatment of women with eating disorders.
Practitioners of Chinese Medicine believe that everything about the way we live has an influence on our health.
"Practitioners of Chinese Medicine believe that everything about the way we live — and the way we have lived since childhood — has an influence on our health. "We don't just look at the symptoms, we look at the whole person, including her way of conducting herself in the world and her relationships with the other people," she says.
Diane laughs when you ask her if treating eating disorders requires a different approach. "Women with eating disorders present with the full spectrum of physical and emotional symptoms that you'd find in the community at large," she says. "The only difference is that it takes them less time to develop a longer list of problems!"
Notarianni spends a lot of time getting to know her clients before beginning treatment. The first session will include an inventory of physical symptoms. For example, a combination of low back pain and knee pain indicates fear, while fullness in the lungs is a sign of sadness. Notarianni then does a "body check", examining the client's posture, skin color, the brightness of her eyes, and even the texture and color of the tongue, which she describes as a "mini map of what's going on in the body".
But her most important diagnostic tool is the pulse. According to traditional Chinese medicine, there is a universal life energy called "qi" or "chi", which is present in every living being and which flows along body pathways called "meridians". If the flow of this energy is blocked in any way, illness occurs.
"Women with eating disorders present with the full spectrum of physical and emotional symptoms that you'd find in the community at large. The only difference is that it takes them less time to develop a longer list of problems!"
Each acupuncture meridian is associated with a pulse. Notarianni measures these pulses at six different locations and three depths: a superficial, middle and deep level. These three levels of the pulse indicate the level of chi in the pulse and suggest the pathological conditions that might be present.
For example, in a healthy person, the left middle pulse will be relatively soft and smooth, indicating that the liver and gall bladder energies are balanced. If the client is experiencing migraine headaches and her pulse feels harder or tighter than normal, she may have excessive liver energy rising up the gall bladder channel to her head.
The body's energy can be rebalanced by applying fine needles at points on the meridians. Notarianni checks the pulses repeatedly during treatment to make sure that she is achieving her ultimate objective or "helping the body heal itself by recalling what it feels like to be healthy".
The medical establishment remains skeptical of the use of acupuncture in the treatment of eating disorders. However, in 11 years of treating women with eating disorders at Mirasol, we've found that acupuncture helps relieve digestive problems and food allergies and as well as reducing cravings. It's also extremely effective in helping a client detox from sugar, alcohol and drug use.
Sources for this article include, "Fight Eating Disorders with Chinese Medicine" by Norah McIntire.