Image: @justanotherhumanSkin. It is the largest organ of our body, covering the vital organs and bones that serve to make us walk, run, jump, play, dance, hike and sleep. When we struggle with an eating disorder it is easy to forget that our skin gets hungry for touch, the same way our bodies get hungry for food.
Researcher John Bowlby reveals that babies who grow up with a lack of touch by humans, don’t develop or connect with other humans in healthy ways. The studies of orphanages that cared for children with the philosophy that babies could be properly cared for simply by feeding and changing, proved to be a traumatic realization that these babies got sick and many died. Coming from the world of an eating disorder, we all have our experiences of touch- and some may not have had enough, while others have had inappropriate kinds.
We don’t often talk about healthy touch-the kind that increases the feel good chemicals of serotonin and oxytocin naturally. These chemicals in our brains are stimulated when we connect to our mothers (and our mothers connect to us) when we hold hands with someone we care about, when we hug friends we haven’t seen in a while, when we hold our pets close to our hearts and feel their unconditional love.
In my work as a massage therapist, I came to understand there were several critical features of touch that improved my health, my concept of body image, my ability to relate to others in ways that allowed me to feel and connect with their energy.
1. Touch is Food for the Skin
Sometimes we go for days buried in work, computers, obligations. We literally go without human touch on a regular basis. Unfortunately this can leave us feeling isolated, disconnected and alone in our bodies. It can lead to wanting to fill up the stomach or avoid our feelings all together. Getting massages can counteract this process. When our skin cells are “fed” through the energy of another human, we can actually feel “full” in healthier and happier ways.
2. Touch Relaxes
Just imagine lying on a beach, the warm sun embracing your body as you feel the way your skin comes alive. Touch does the same thing! I get regular pedicures just to have the excuse to have my feet rubbed. The sensation and research in reflexology tells us that there are spots on our feet that correspond to other body parts. So, for example when the middle of my foot is pressed, I feel it in my tummy! It feels so good!
3. Touch Reinforces Self-Awareness
When suffering from an eating disorder we spend inordinate amounts of time dissociated from our deeper needs for community, connection and feeling alive in our bodies. Touch of any kind, reminds us we are all human. We are all gifted with sensation and an array of complex ways of experiencing the world. Who needs virtual reality when we are in touch with our bodies?
4. Touch Heals
When I first started massage school, it took a few weeks to adjust to the reality of being touched regularly. At first I almost felt sick. My system was not accustomed to the energy of others. I had to learn how to allow my body to tell me when it was too much or not enough. But over time, touch and massage have proven to be a powerful
and reliable source of nourishment; that we simply can’t live without.