More than 70 million Americans are battling obesity, and another 25 million are struggling with binge eating disorder. To a large extent, treatment for these conditions has focused on dieting and weight loss. But a newer, more effective form of treatment is emerging: integrative medicine.
Led by pioneers such as Carolyn Coker Ross, MD, MPH, obesity and binge eating disorder treatment programs are increasingly focused on the underlying emotional and spiritual issues rather than the number on the scale. Dr. Ross’s integrative approach looks at the whole person, including how genetics, sleep, co-occurring addictions and emotions affect clients’ weight.
“Obesity and binge eating disorder are not about food but about how an individual uses food,” says Dr. Ross, an internationally known speaker, author and expert in the use of integrative medicine to treat eating disorders, obesity and addictions. “In the same way, treatment is not about dieting but learning different approaches to eat healthfully and manage emotions so clients can stop using food in a harmful way.”
What Is Integrative Medicine?
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health defines integrative medicine as a combination of “mainstream medical therapies and CAM [complementary and alternative medicine] therapies for which there is some high-quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness.”
Practitioners of integrative medicine utilize research-backed conventional approaches such as medication, along with alternative approaches such as acupuncture, massage and yoga to bring healing to all areas of their clients’ lives. Rather than focusing solely on symptoms, integrative medicine physicians address the underlying issues and the impact of those issues on mind, body and spirit.
“Integrative medicine gives people struggling with obesity or binge eating disorder a sustainable way to change their lives that doesn’t involve dieting or deprivation,” says Dr. Ross.
Finding Integrative Treatment for Eating Disorders and Obesity
Integrative medicine is a growing field, yet finding truly integrative treatment for eating disorders can be a challenge. In addition to maintaining a private practice and hosting her own radio show, Dr. Ross is an eating disorder consultant at The Ranch, one of the nation’s leading rehabilitation centers for eating disorders, addictions and other mental health disorders.
Dr. Ross’s integrative approach, which combines conventional and alternative medicine to treat the whole person, serves as the foundation of eating disorder treatment at The Ranch. To facilitate healing, The Ranch makes a broad range of holistic therapies available to its clients, including:
- Yoga, Tai Chi & Meditation
- Expressive Art Therapies
- Adventure Therapy
- Equine Therapy
- Nutritional Workshops
- Medicine Wheel
- Native-American Sweat Lodge
- Individualized Food Plans & Weekly Appointments with a Registered Dietician
- Restaurant Outings & Group Dinners
- EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)
Every client at The Ranch is approached as a unique individual. Treatment is comprehensive and highly personalized to ensure that each person receives the blend of therapies that is right for them.
“Millions of people are stuck in diet mode. When the diet inevitably fails, they experience a tremendous amount of suffering and low self-esteem,” Dr. Ross explains. “Given how widespread the problems of obesity and binge eating disorder are, it is critical that we make a broad range of therapies available to those struggling with these conditions.”
The Ranch provides a beautiful and restorative environment for those struggling with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and the full range of co-occurring mental health issues. Many clients at The Ranch struggle with trauma, which left untreated, can contribute to relapse. At the same time these clients address their disordered eating, they begin working through any unresolved trauma. The rolling hills and pastures on this horse ranch provide a serene place to get in touch with nature and serve as the backdrop for the spiritual transformation that happens during treatment.
Women receiving eating disorder treatment at The Ranch live in a small, family-like community. Residing in the Lake House, a countryside chateau that accommodates no more than 10 women, clients cook, share meals and participate in therapeutic activities together. Rather than avoiding “fear foods” or “binge foods,” clients plan their own menus and prepare meals with guidance from a nutritionist. In this way, clients develop the real-world skills they need to face the stresses of daily life back at home.
Toward a Richer, Fuller Life
Learning to manage disordered thought and behavior patterns is a critical part of eating disorder treatment. But this is only one level of the healing process. At The Ranch, in addition to addressing behaviors and emotions, clients deal with the emotions and core beliefs that keep them stuck in the bingeing or overeating cycle.
“The ultimate goal of this process is for clients to reconnect with their authentic self, which means learning to satisfy their soul rather than change the number on the scale,” says Dr. Ross.
This work is very personal for Dr. Ross, who has dedicated her life to helping others after losing loved ones to addiction and mental illness.
“It is gratifying when clients do well, but also personally satisfying,” she explains. “I still get emails and letters from patients I treated years ago whose lives are blossoming. It’s an amazing feeling to know I had some part in another person’s journey.”