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.

Bach flower remedies for anxiety

Anxiety is a very common problem. About one-third of the clients in my Bach flower practice present with some form of anxiety as their main complaint.

Many of the Bach flower remedies can help with managing anxiety, but which one to choose?  Today’s post gives a simple overview. I have included seven flowers – five from the ‘Fear’ group in Dr Bach’s original classification, and two others.

Mimulus: For ‘fear of known things’ – for example phobias of flying, dental visits, public speaking or animals. it is also helpful for those of a generally nervous and shy disposition. The remedy promotes courage, bravery, and trust in the outside world.

Aspen: For fear of the unknown, in sensitive and perhaps psychic people who tend to feel nervous and apprehensive without knowing why.

Agrimony:  For those who hide their worries and fears from others, and even from themselves, by putting on a cheerful facade and maybe using drink or drugs to numb their anxieties. The remedy promotes honesty about feelings.

Red Chestnut: For excessive fears and anxieties felt on behalf of loved ones, rather than for oneself. With this remedy it becomes possible to develop a healthy detachment while still maintaining compassion and empathy.

White Chestnut: For repetitive worrying thoughts going round and round in the mind, often causing insomnia. The remedy promotes mental quiet and calm.

Cherry Plum: For severe anxiety which runs away with the imagination, with fear of losing control.

Rock Rose: For severe terror or panic, especially in threatening situations, and for nightmares.

Combinations of the above can occur, so two or more of these remedies can be mixed in the same treatment bottle. Remedies for associated problems such as feeling overburdened with responsibility, obsessional tendencies, or coping with change, may also need to be included. This allows a more finely-tuned individual approach than is possible with pharmaceutical drugs.



Healing reactions with Bach flower remedies

A new client  recently called me to say she was feeling worse rather than better since taking her Bach flower remedies. This happens in my practice just a few times per year. The situation calls for sensitive consideration, but in most cases it is cause for optimism rather than concern.

Though most people notice a steady improvement within a week of starting treatment with Bach flowers, a minority complain of worsening of their original complaints, or the emergence of new symptoms. There may be psychological ones such as heightened anxiety, irritabilty or nightmares; physical ones such as skin ‘break-outs’ or looser bowels; or the worsening of a pre-existing medical problem, arthritis for example. Such symptoms suggest a so-called ‘healing reaction’, which shows that the remedy is resonating with the person. Most healing reactions only last a few days and are likely to be followed by a good response in the longer term.

Healing reactions are best explained in terms of cleansing out of suppressed feelings, a kind of detoxification process, for the remedies themselves have no side-effects and cannot introduce anything negative which is not already there. They may also represent a change in perception of the symptoms or a change of attitude towards them, as the flower remedies reveal hidden layers of emotion and personality (‘peeling the onion’). A similar effect can be found with other types of natural therapy too; in homeopathy it is called an ‘aggravation’.

It is always important to consider other diagnostic possibilities. If there are physical symptoms such as a gastric upset, maybe the mixture has become infected – this could happen if it was not prepared hygienically, has been kept longer than the recommended three weeks, not kept cool, or if the dropper has been touched onto the tongue. Or, the symptoms may be due to some other cause unconnected with the remedies, and need medical assessment.

Healing reactions can be seen with any of the 38 flowers, but several times in my own practice I have seen them resulting from mixtures which contain Agrimony. Dr Bach recommended this for ‘ .. people who love peace and are distressed by argument or quarrel … though generally they have troubles and are tormented and restless and worried in mind or in body, they hide their cares behind their humour and jesting … ‘ Such people often conceal their anxieties from themselves as well as others, sometimes with the aid of drink or drugs or comfort eating, but may be restless at night. The remedy enables more open acknowledgement of emotions, and this can be uncomfortable at first.

Some practitioners do not tell their clients about the possibility of a healing reaction to their clients, but I prefer to explain it, because if they develop a reaction without warning they may assume the remedy does not suit them and stop taking it. If a healing reaction does occur I encourage them to persevere with treatment but to reduce the dose for a while, and may suggest using the Rescue Remedy for a few days.