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If you suffer from an eating disorder now or have in the past, please email Joanna for a free telephone consultation.



Eating Disorder Recovery
Joanna Poppink, MFT
Eating Disorder Recovery Psychotherapist
serving Arizona, California, Florida, Oregon and Utah.
All appointments are virtual.


Touch has healing power"Power of Touch" "We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth. "Virginia Satir

Are you eating or exercising too much out of touch deprivation? Do you sink into a recliner or couch with comforting food to console your body?

Think about it. Loneliness and a sense of isolation exist when you suffer from an eating disorder. Bingeing on food or obsessing on being as small as possible by not eating are ways of addressing a deprivation. One of your deprivations could be skin-on-skin experiences.

Touch Sensation: Skin on Skin

I'm not talking about sex or sexual contact. In our sex-obsessed and sex-phobic culture, that has to be stated upfront. Plus, in an eating-disordered life, a person of any gender can have sex without feeling touched at all.

I'm talking about flesh-to-flesh human skin contact that communicates emotion or simply acknowledges that both people are humans in the flesh. Touch acknowledges the genuine presence of both and conveys a sense of who they are to each other and themselves. You are both more present and real in this world when you touch and are aware of the experience. (I add this because if you have an eating disorder, you can "zone out" during a touch and be unaware of your experience.)

What Touch is Permitted?

So, how do we physically contact each other in this phobic culture? Shaking hands seems to have gone out of style. But it can be brought back. Certainly, kissing a woman's hand as a form of greeting isn't done anymore. But what about a hand on the shoulder or a pat on the back?

Is that allowed, or is such contact loaded with negative connotations? Then there's standing on a crowded bus, sitting in a crowded booth or waiting in a crowded line. Accidental touch happens. Is it acceptable? Do you pull away?

What about hugs with friends? In Europe, women's friends often walk hand in hand. Can we do that comfortably in the United States?

Benefits of Touch

To get technical, a simple touch can lower blood pressure and cortisol levels. A daily twenty-second hug increases oxytocin levels in the brain, lowering heart disease risk (Matthew Hertenstein, Ph.D., director of the Touch and Emotion Lab at DePauw University).

"Touching someone while apologizing helps build a connection and can help ease a person's irritation at the moment" (neuroscientist Michele Noonan, Ph.D.) And, of course, since you are in connection, your discomfort decreases too. You feel each other's humanity.

See: "The Power Of Touch: How Physical Contact Can Improve Your Health"

We need physical human connection. Infants die without it (marasmus.) Deprivation of human touch contributes greatly to overeating, self-destructive habits, and sexual abuse. Touch deprivation creates a sense of feeling alienated from ourselves and isolated from other people. The results are boredom, sexual dysfunction, unsatisfying relationships, and fear of intimacy.

See: "Wellness is a Choice: Need for Touch"

I'm not talking about sexual seduction or needy grasping. I'm talking about incorporating ways of being physically in contact with others throughout your day to get your needed 4, 8, or 12 hugs a day, as Satir suggests.

Ways of Touching and Being Touched to Enhance Your Life

See: "The Importance of Loving Touch to Develop a Bond with Your Child" by Gill Tree

If you have children in your life, adopted or not, they thrive on hugs, cuddles and snuggles. And you will too. Be generous with your attention and physicality. A light caress on the head on tender little squeeze on the shoulder as you pass by them doing homework, watching TV, working on a project counts. That counts for adults too.

Explore platonic, nonsexual and restorative touching opportunities in your life. Social dancing is a great place for touch. Try dance classes, clubs, and community centers.

A five-minute dance gives you a range of touch and sensory awareness that includes sharing rhythm, leading, play and both gentle and firm body communication with hands and shoulders. Even mistakes, such as someone getting a foot stepped on, and the apologies that ensue are part of the physical connections we need.

See Ronald E. Riggio's Ph.D. article, "Are Most of Us Touch Deprived?"

Massage: Get yourself a massage from a professional or exchange massages with a friend. I recommend getting a full-body massage from a professional so professional boundaries are tended to. With friends, you can exchange neck, hand, foot, and back massages. Arm and lower leg massages are good, too. Give yourself the experience of giving and getting platonic skin-to-skin contact on a regular basis.

When you are greeting or saying goodbye, incorporate attentive touch with the transition. This can be a long tender embrace with a loved one. It can be a caring holding of hands or a tender cheek press with a friend. It can be an expression of warmth through shaking hands.

And don't be afraid to reach out physically while in a conversation. Touch someone's hand. Squeeze their wrist.

See: "Are You Touch Deprived" (not the same as above).

Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin

Anthropologist Ashley Montagu writes, “The communications we transmit through touch constitute the most powerful means of establishing human relationships, the foundation of experience...it would greatly help our re-humanization if we would pay closer attention to the need we all have for tactual experience.”

See: "Bridging the Great Divide: Touching Our Most Basic Humanity" by Linda Marks, MSM.

Bringing touch into your life on a daily basis, being conscious of touch, welcoming the skin to skin contact in safe and tender ways may surprise you with a boost to your eating disorder recovery.

  1. How can you bring more human touch into your life?
  2. Where are the opportunities to let yourself be touched?
  3. Where are your opportunities to initiate touch?
  4. Where are your present or new activities that naturally include platonic touch?

Other articles to review

Why It’s Important to Explore the Science of Touch

The Audacious Science Pushing the Boundaries of Human Touch

How Do You Capture the ‘Essence of Touch’ - Especially During a Pandemic?

Why Love and Touch Were Once Called ‘Dangerous’ and How Science Proved That Wrong in the 1950s

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Written by Joanna Poppink, MFT. Joanna is a psychotherapist in private practice specializing in eating disorder recovery, stress, PTSD, and adult development.

She is licensed in CA, AZ, OR, FL, and UT. Author of the Book: Healing Your Hungry Heart: Recovering from Your Eating Disorder

Appointments are virtual.

For a free telephone consultation, e-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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