Only in recent years has the behavioral health field fully realized the profound healing benefits of simple gardening for those with eating disorders. Timberline Knolls has therapeutic vegetable gardens at both our residential campus and our partial hospitalization program that are created by clients and staff alike. Each garden contains everything from bell peppers, broccoli to green onions and Swiss chard. Although the gardens look different due to location, they offer similar benefits.
Most direct therapy occurs in office settings in which participants remain stationary. Gardens require working in an outdoor environment. Just spending time in the sunshine is positive. Digging in the ground, nurturing the soil, planting and maintaining the garden necessitates easy movement.
Although consideration must be given to which vegetables will thrive in a certain environment, once decisions are made, our gardeners are set free from thought. While focused on pulling weeds or watering plants, the mind is given a time-out. The past and future are irrelevant. Every woman is living in the moment, concentrating on the plants that depend on her.
People consist of a mind, body and a spirit. Many feel closer to their higher power while in nature. Watching a desolate patch of earth transform into a thriving, colorful garden cannot help but nourish the spirit.
Gardens offer a host of subtle treatment analogies—one is cultivating patience. Immediate gratification is not part of this process. Just like recovery, vegetables take time to grow. Disappointment is natural if a plant fails to thrive. Conversely, there is fulfillment and delight when another plant grows healthy and strong. Crops are harvested and used in the kitchen to create nutritious meals.
Perhaps the most important aspect of a therapeutic garden is the destigmatizing of food that takes place. Planting, growing and ultimately consuming the crop goes a long way in negating the fear, anger or hatred that those with disordered eating often have toward food. Our hope is that this appreciation for food will carry over to heal relationships with other challenging foods in recovery.