Eating Disorders & Disordered Eating

What is somatic therapy & how does it relate to disordered eating?

November 14, 2023

Written by Maeve Ginsberg

Medically reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

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Key Points

  • Somatic therapy is a body-based form of therapy to help reconnect with the body.
  • Somatic therapy may be beneficial for those who struggle with eating disorders.
  • A somatic therapist may be a helpful addition to your care team.

Somatic therapy has been growing in popularity lately due to its alternative, body-based approach to therapeutics. It can have the same effect as traditional talk therapy, but it has more of a focus on the body. Patients with physical pain, trauma, addiction, or similar issues find particular relief in the practice.

Traditional therapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), focuses on the brain and the mental side of emotions. Somatic therapy instead hones in how emotions feel in the body and where they might live, sometimes addressing specific body parts in an effort to access a particular feeling.

What is somatic therapy?

Also called somatic experiencing (SE), somatic therapy is a treatment modality that focuses on the body and how emotions manifest within the body. In an interview with Harvard Health Publishing, director of the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders and clinical psychologist Amanda Baker said, "Somatic therapies posit that our body holds and expresses experiences and emotions, and traumatic events or unresolved emotional issues can become 'trapped' inside."

Consider how your body feels when you’re anxious. You might feel muscle tension, particularly in your neck and shoulders. Where do you feel sadness? Happiness? These are the types of questions you might explore in somatic therapy.

Hunger, for example, resides in the stomach, but with some SE, you might realize that things like stress, fatigue, or other emotions create a similar sensation. Somatic therapy can help you learn to distinguish between these feelings. For those who struggle with hunger or fullness cues, this may be a helpful exercise.

How does somatic therapy work?

There is no one way to perform somatic therapy or SE. Each practitioner has their own approach. You might work on:

  • Body awareness: Identifying where and how certain emotions and sensations reside in your body
  • Breathwork: Employing particular breathing techniques to release tension and move through feelings
  • EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy)Using eye movement to process and heal from traumatic experiences
  • Brainspotting: Identifying points in your field of vision that are associated with stored trauma and using this focus to desensitize from these associations
  • Hakomi: Meaning “Where do I stand in relation to the many realms?” in Hopi, this modality emphasizes mindfulness to understand your body and emotions
  • Movement: Using dance, yoga, or other physical movement to feel and process emotions

Like any other therapy modality, SE can take some time before you see its effects. You may need to have several sessions before seeing if and how it is making a difference in your eating habits, food mindset, and overall health and wellbeing.

Who can benefit from somatic therapy?

Somatic therapy can be applied to a number of issues, including

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Grief
  • Depression
  • Addiction
  • Anxiety
  • Trust and intimacy issues
  • Self esteem problems

SE can help get you in your body to find a feeling of safety amongst these more difficult emotions. It can help you find where in your body these feelings manifest and use that root to treat them accordingly.

Can somatic therapy help with eating disorders?

While there aren’t many studies on the connection between somatic therapy and disordered eating yet, for anyone who struggles with healthy eating habits, somatic therapy may be useful. The practice can help reconnect you with your body so you can cultivate a sense of trust and safety that might be missing.

Somatic therapy can help with both internal signals (interoception), like hunger and satiety, as well as external (exteroception), like touch. Hypersensitivity is common in anxious individuals, which often overlaps with those with EDs. EDs are fueled by feelings and physical sensations: the satisfaction of control, purging to relieve bloating or a sense of fullness, a feeling of guilt. SE has the potential to find the source of these feelings and release them so that you can reconnect with your body in a healthier way.

While there is not as much research about somatic therapy as other modalities, like CBT, but that’s not to say it can’t be beneficial. The European Association for Psychotherapy considers somatic therapy to be a mainstream and successful modality of psychotherapy. If you are interested in SE, you can find a qualified provider and see how it works for you. If you find success with SE, you may want to connect your dietitian and your therapist so that you have a unified care team. To work with a registered dietitian covered by your insurance, click here to get started with Fay Nutrition.

The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.


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Maeve Ginsberg

Written by Maeve Ginsberg

Maeve Ginsberg is a health and wellness writer with a personal passion for fitness. As an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and former powerlifter, she loves combining her interests in health with her writing. Maeve has a Bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University. 

Rita Faycurry, RD

Medically Reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

Rita Faycurry, RD is a board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in clinical nutrition for chronic conditions. Her approach to health is centered around the idea that the mind and body are intimately connected, and that true healing requires an evidence-based and integrative approach that addresses the root cause of disease. In her books and articles, Rita offers practical tips and insights on how to care for your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and wellness.