Bach flowers for eating disorders

On recent visits to the UK I have noticed an ‘Emotional Eating Kit’ for sale in chemists and health stores. This product, made by Nelsons, contains three Bach flower remedies: Chestnut Bud, Crab Apple and Cherry Plum, to be taken either separately or in combination. It is clear from the testimonials that some users have found the kit helpful. But there will be others who have not been helped, either because they needed different remedies from those included in the kit, or because their eating disorder was too serious to be managed safely by the Bach flowers alone.

The term ’emotional eating’ refers to the tendency to turn to food when feeling unhappy, bored or stressed, but the kit would undoubtedly attract interest from people with other food-related problems. These range from the obsession with diet which often develops after a stringent weight-loss program or in excessively health-conscious people, to the potentially life-threatening conditions of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Self-help with the Bach flower remedies can play a useful part in the management of all these disorders, but the more severe variants need professional care as well.

The Nelsons website gives the following descriptions of the three remedies in the kit: ‘When you find yourself repeating the same dieting mistakes, Chestnut Bud helps you gain knowledge from your experience’; ‘When you feel unclean or dislike something about yourself, Crab Apple helps you accept yourself and your imperfections; ‘When you fear you might lose control of your diet, Cherry Plum can help you to think and act rationally’. While one or more of these flowers might certainly be appropriate for a person with emotional eating problems, another might do better with a different selection from the total series of 38  remedies. To give a few examples: Agrimony for those who hide their troubles behind a smiling face but seek comfort in drinking, smoking or eating to excess; Gentian or Gorse for those who feel discouraged or even hopeless about their prospects of recovery; Mimulus for those with specific fears around food; Rock water for those who have unrealistically high personal standards and aim for rigid self-control; White chestnut for those who are troubled by unwanted thoughts about food or weight.

A cornerstone of Dr Bach’s philosophy can be summed up in the phrase ‘treat the person, not the disease’. This maxim is such an important feature of the holistic healing approach that I chose the title Persons not Diseases for my latest book. Different people who present with similar symptoms or behaviours may require quite different combinations of remedies. So there is no standard formula in the Bach system for treating pain, or insomnia, or eating problems; the selection of flowers depends purely on the current emotional state of the individual concerned.

Good health for writers

Although writing hardly rates as a dangerous occupation, it does carry a number of potential hazards to both physical and mental well-being.

Dangers of sitting: People who sit down for long periods are at increased risk of many disorders including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, deep vein thrombosis and certain cancers.

Lack of exercise: Regular exercise – in moderation – helps to prevent a whole host of diseases including those listed above. However, it does not appear to cancel out the dangers from sitting down too long.

Lack of sunlight: Exposure to sunlight – in moderation – helps to ensure adequate an adequate level of Vitamin D which, again, is important for the prevention of many diseases.

Musculoskeletal disorders: Spending too much time typing on the keyboard can lead to RSI (repetitive strain injury). Symptoms include pain, swelling, numbness and tingling in the hands and arms. Excessive computer use can also worsen the symptoms of other musculoskeletal conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis of the hands, back pain and neck pain. While ergonomically designed chairs and desks can help to some extent, the best approach to prevention is to take frequent breaks from working at your desk, and if symptoms have already developed it is advisable to have a complete rest. Orthodox treatment would usually be with physical therapy and/or anti-inflammatory drugs. Various complementary and alternative therapies can help, for example a case of RSI which responded well to homoeopathy is described in my book Persons not Diseases.

Eye problems: There is no evidence that computer work causes permanent damage to the eyes, however it can lead to the temporary problem of ‘computer vision syndrome’.  Symptoms can include blurred or double vision, redness and irritation of the eyes, and headaches. Preventive measures include reducing glare from sun or artificial lighting on the computer screen, adjusting the brightness and font size to comfortable levels, maintaining the optimal distance between your eyes and the screen, blinking frequently, perhaps wearing special glasses for computing – and, again, taking frequent breaks.

Substance misuse: Some, though by no means all, writers have addictive tendencies and are prone to drink too much alcohol or coffee, to over-eat, to smoke heavily, or to misuse stimulants and other drugs especially when feeling stressed or blocked. Writing alone at home, unconstrained by the rules of a conventional workplace, can make it all too easy to over-indulge.

Mood disorders: Compared to the general population writers have high rates of bipolar disorder. This condition has an association with creative talent, which is a positive feature. But serious episodes of either depression or mania/hypomania can ruin the lives of sufferers and those around them and sometimes even lead to suicide, so it requires professional care.

Dangers of social isolation: Most writers prefer to work in solitude, but being alone too much is another risk factor for both physical and mental ill-health.

Many of the problems listed above can be prevented by following the deceptively simple, but often neglected, guidelines for healthy living – eating a good diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, learning to manage stress, maintaining supportive relationships –  and by having a good ‘work-life balance’ so that you do a variety of things each day besides writing.

Values and virtues for writers

Leaving aside any financial motivation, why do you write? And how can your work promote fulfilment and self-development for yourself and your readers? This post is about personal values and virtues  – those abstract qualities which according to your own individual outlook on life are important and worthwhile, and can be expressed through your writing and other activities.

Many of the sites about values and virtues which can be found online name 100 or more different items. Here are some examples of the qualities relevant to writers.

Achievement: The satisfaction of completing a piece of work and having something tangible to show for your efforts.

Adventure and Challenge: Exploring new subject-matter, techniques, publishing avenues; you may be happier travelling to new places to gather material than sitting at your desk.

Beauty: Creating work which is aesthetically pleasing, whether in the elegance of its wording or the appearance of the printed format.

Contribution and Service: Making the world a better place through the spread of knowledge and ideas.

Co-operation: With editors, contributors, formatters, designers, IT consultants and publishers.

Courage: Daring to put your writing out into the world despite being anxious about self-disclosure or criticism; writing about painful or controversial subjects.

Creativity: This is obvious.

Freedom: Writing, especially for self-published authors, offers great independence and flexibility compared with most other occupations.

Humility: Willingness to take advice, and to learn from criticism.

Kindness and Tolerance: To be kept in mind when writing about other people, or when reviewing others’ work.

Learning and Discovery: Both for yourself and your readers.

Patience and Perseverance: It takes months or even years to write a book of good quality, then there can be another long wait before seeing it in print.

Pleasure, Fun, Humour: The enjoyment of writing. You just love doing it, and perhaps do not care very much whether other people want to read your work.

Relationships: Though you may seldom meet your readers face to face, and may never know how most of them have responded to your work, the impact you have on them is vitally important.

Spirituality: Whether or not you cover spiritual topics in your work, you may consider the calling or vocation of writing to be part of your ‘soul’s purpose’.

None of these qualities are ‘better’ than others, but some of them will rate more highly in your personal worldview. Considering which of them seem most important will help you to choose the most appropriate genre and subject-matter, and the best context in which to work, and to decide how much time and effort you want to devote to marketing as opposed to writing itself. Although you may sometimes be willing to compromise in order to meet the requirements of publishers, readers or employers, your work will not feel completely satisfying unless it is well aligned with your personal values.

Writer’s block

Inspiration tends to come in bursts. There are times when writers are full of ideas, and other times when they have none. This is always frustrating, and for those who earn their living from writing or have publishing deadlines to meet it can be a major problem.

There may be an obvious reason for feeling blocked. I always find myself unable to engage with a new book immediately after finishing the last one, even though I am only really satisfied and happy when I have a writing project underway. I am going through one of these ‘fallow periods’ at present, following the challenge and stimulation of publishing my latest book on Amazon, and am making use of the time to organise and de-clutter the paperwork in my office and the files on my computer.

I have discussed some of the other causes for writer’s block in previous blog posts, for example striving too hard for perfection, being upset by having had your writing criticised or rejected or by adverse experiences in another sphere of life, having too much else to do because of never saying no.

Another possibility is depressed mood. Many writers and other creative people are prone to experience mood swings, due to having the normal variant of personality called ‘cyclothymia’ or less often the serious mental illness of bipolar disorder (formerly ‘manic depression’). During ‘high’ phases, new ideas flow faster than they can be written down; during ‘low’ ones the mind feels sluggish and blank and any thoughts are morbid ones.

Besides dealing with any remediable causes, there are various strategies for overcoming writer’s block. If circumstances permit it can be a good idea to take a complete break from writing and do something else for a day or two or maybe longer. Preferably this will involve activities, people and places which are completely different from those encountered in your usual routine and will provide new ideas. Other forms of creativity, such as painting or dancing, can be particularly helpful.

Or, discipline yourself to keep on writing for a set period each day, but again try doing it with a new approach. Clear the clutter from your desk to encourage a fresh start. Write a short and simple piece instead of attempting the major work on which you are ‘blocked’. Some authorities suggest inducing a relaxed state with deep breathing and slow music and then using your non-dominant hand to write something – anything – which even if it turns out to be nonsense may still stimulate the creative flow. Or try writing late at night or early in the morning, when you are half-asleep and more able to access the reservoir of images and memories in the subconscious  mind.

Getting started again often presents the biggest barrier, and if you can get past that it will usually be much easier to continue.

Free e-books?

I’ve now self-published four ebooks on Smashwords. I decided to make one of them, which is a short guide to Bach flower remedies, free of charge and not surprisingly this has ‘sold’ far more copies than any of the other three which cost just $2.99 USD each.

Now that there is so much free material available on-line it is understandable that many people are reluctant to pay for ebooks. Would you be well advised to make yours free? There are various pros and cons.

Free ebooks could be a good idea for some writers, for example those who simply want as many readers as possible and do not care about making money. Or, if you wrote your book with the aim of helping others in need or mainly for the interest of your family and friends, you may feel it would be inappropriate to accept payment for it. Even if you are more commercially inclined, you may consider giving away one of your ebooks as a ‘loss leader’ in the hope of getting your name more widely known and encouraging sales of your other work.

On the other hand there are several reasons for charging. As one of the many part-time writers whose main income comes from other sources I don’t need or expect to make any significant profit from my books, but I do feel it is reasonable to want some financial return for all the work which goes into them, and to cover expenses. Although self-publishing is much cheaper than it used to be there are costs involved for formatting, editing, cover design and marketing, whether you employ expert help for these aspects or acquire the skills and equipment to manage them yourself. Then there are the ‘opportunity costs’ incurred by spending time on writing rather than paid work. It seems bizarre that when I was in clinical practice I could earn more from a one-hour consultation with a client than from a book which took literally thousands of hours to write.

While there are many excellent free ebooks available, the quality of others is very poor. Some writers, perhaps without realising it, feel that if they are not going to charge for their book it is alright to take a casual approach towards content, grammar, spelling and layout, instead of aiming to make it ‘the best it can be’.  I believe that if the self-publishing of ebooks is to be valued as a respectable undertaking with high professional standards, new writers should usually put a price on their work.

Lastly, ‘people value what they pay for’. Many free ebooks get downloaded, but I wonder how often they are actually read.

Bach flowers for life event stress

Distress about an ‘adverse life event’ is among the most common reasons that people seek help from the Bach flowers. Besides major events such as the loss of a job, a divorce, and the death of a loved person or pet, many other kinds of traumas, disappointments, irritations or deprivations can happen in life.

During my former career as a research psychiatrist I carried out a study about life events in relation to health. This involved following up a sample of women over several years through a series of detailed home interviews. Adverse events were reported much more often than pleasant ones, and the number of events varied greatly between different people. One event often set off a cascade of others and there were usually accompanying long-term difficulties, such as financial problems or unhappy relationships.

This is not the place to discuss that particular study but I would like to mention some personal observations I took from it. These points are not often emphasised in the academic literature, but they may be helpful to people dealing with life event stress themselves.

1. The impact of an event varies a good deal depending on individual personality and circumstances. The same experience, for example being made redundant, might be variously perceived as a loss, a punishment, an insult, a challenge, the hand of fate, or a blessing in disguise. It could give rise to different emotions such as sadness, guilt, resentment, anger, resignation or relief. There is always potential for ‘reframing’ personal attitudes and emotions around an event.

2. Although adverse events usually lead to emotional distress, and sometimes act as the trigger for a mental or physical illness, ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ and often there are compensations in the longer term. The person who was made redundant might, for example, benefit from a much-need rest before going on to improve his or her skills and presentation and eventually finding a better job.

3. We are responsible for much of what happens in our lives. Although some events such as bereavements and natural disasters do happen independently, they are the minority. Most events do not arise ‘out of the blue’; personal choices and behaviours have usually played some part in the chain of causation. Some also believe in metaphysical aspects, for example that our thoughts and emotions determine our life event experience through the Law of Attraction, or that the Universe presents us with the experiences required to advance our spiritual development.

Here, in alphabetical order, are some suggestions for Bach flowers which can assist coping with stressful life events and difficulties. The statements in quotes are taken from The Encyclopedia of Bach Flower Therapy by Mechthild Scheffer. As always, the choice of remedy or remedies depends on the current emotional state of the individual. Please visit the Bach Centre website for more details.

Chestnut bud ‘from superficiality to experience’: if the same type of adverse event keeps ocuring in your life, this may indicate a failure to learn from past actions.

Gentian ‘from doubt to trust’: if you feel negative and discouraged following a setback, delay or disappointment.

Gorse ‘from giving up to going forth’: if you feel completely hopeless, and can hardly see any point in trying to overcome long-standing difficulties.

Holly ‘from hard-heartedness to generosity’if you feel consumed by hostile feelings such as anger, jealousy or suspicion towards other person(s) whom you hold to blame for what went wrong.

Star of Bethlehem ‘from shock to reorientation’: for shock and grief, for example after an accident or bereavement, even if it happened some time ago.

Sweet chestnut ‘through darkness to light’: if you feel unbearable anguish and have reached the end of your endurance. 

Willow ‘from resenting fate to taking personal responsibility’: when the predominant feelings are those of self-pity and being a victim, Willow can encourage a greater sense of empowerment.

Adverse life events are always upsetting but there is often something to be learned from them. For example, having an accident – especially more than one – might indicate the need to be more patient, to curtail an overload of commitments, to maintain better safety standards for your home or car, to pay more attention to the present moment, or to avoid going too long without food. Or, experiencing a series of relationship breakups might indicate some kind of imbalance in your own psychology.  There are Bach flower remedies to cover some of these issues too, but details would be beyond the scope of this post.