If there’s one type of headline that makes me want to set fire to my laptop and immediately retire my career in journalism, it’s anything alluding to a miracle cure for a mental health disorder.
“Can a daily walk in nature help cure depression?”
“Can a 10-minute meditation beat obsessive compulsive disorder?”
“Can sticking a rose quartz up your vagina cure anxiety?”
But the one that made me wince this week was: “Can magic mushrooms help to beat anorexia?”
It reminded me of a whole slew of simplistic clickbait I’ve read around quick-fix solutions for eating disorders: zinc supplements as “key to reversing anorexia”; ketamine as a “game-changer in eating disorder treatment”; crystals and gemstone necklaces “aiding eating disorder recovery”. I’ve even seen knitting heralded as a soothing balm for bulimics.
That’s not to say that these things can’t help ease symptoms as part of a wider recovery plan (except for the rose quartz up your vagina. I made that one up.) The problem is pretending that these often superficial “treatments” will help cure eating disorders in their enormous complexity – all the knotted, underlying reasons they develop, and the pervasive and poisonous nature that makes them so hard to overcome, even years down the line. Like most mental health disorders, eating disorders sew themselves into you, making roots in every part of your life, influencing how you speak, act, and think.
Stealthily and silently, they become a part of who you are. That’s why recovery – learning to gradually unearth all of those old, deep roots – is a complicated, painful and very long process. At the height of my bulimia, no amount of magic mushrooms would’ve cut it. Knitting certainly wouldn’t have.
“Headlines that claim there is a ‘cure’ to eating disorders can be damaging and it’s incredibly dangerous to push ‘quick fixes’ for mental health treatments,” says psychotherapist Fiona Yassin, founder of The Wave Clinic who specialise in trauma treatment and eating disorders. “It’s important to remember that an eating disorder is a highly complex mental disorder and arguably people are never ‘cured’ from an eating disorder.
“With specialist treatment tailored to a person’s age and specific needs, people can go on to live healthy lives and develop a good relationship with food,” Yassin adds. “However, many people who’ve been treated for an eating disorder do continue to experience symptoms of disordered eating (unhealthy behaviours and thoughts around food). If someone with disordered eating is triggered and negative thoughts are left unmanaged, this could escalate back into an eating disorder.”
“I’ve seen many ‘miracle cures’ for eating disorders. Many of these claims don’t have data to support them, and some even have research funded by the very industries making the claims in the first place”
According to Dr Alexis Conason, a psychologist and certified eating disorders specialist-supervisor, it’s important that we maintain a critical eye. “I’ve seen so many things touted as ‘miracle cures’ for eating disorders, from supplements to crystals to restricting certain foods and more. Many of these claims don’t have data to support them, and some even have research that is funded by the very industries making the claims in the first place.”
But Dr Conason points out that there is some credible scientific research into some of these treatments, particularly magic mushrooms, or psilocybin. “The research into psilocybin in the treatment of eating disorders – especially severe and enduring anorexia – shows early promising results by increasing serotonin which can ease anxiety and, in turn, calorie restriction, and it’s certainly not in the same category as things like crystals or goji berries.”