Planting Seeds of Change: How to Support Your Recovery Through Gardening

The first steps of recovery are often the hardest. Finding an activity that helps you heal can be a critical step early in your journey. After years of battling restriction and over-exercise tendencies, I recently discovered that gardening helps me foster a better relationship with food, reduce chronic anxiety, reconnect with my body, and develop food mindfulness. 

We all have unique recovery journeys. Gardening and horticulture therapy can reduce stress and positively reshape your experience with food. Scientific research demonstrates the benefits of therapeutic gardening for binge-eating disorder, negative self-image, and many other eating disorder manifestations. 

With a bit of research, most people can connect with local community gardens. In the same vein, even something as small as growing a tomato plant on your apartment balcony might bring you joy and change the way you relate to food. 

Here are some valuable lessons I learned after spending months gardening and organic farming. 

Relearn what it means to nurture

The care that goes into growing and harvesting food was a profoundly emotional experience for me.

For example, when you work with the earth, the tender act of caring for and nurturing your food is a way to learn to nourish yourself. Nurturing a seed to sprout is analogous to the recovery process. You need patience and willingness to invest time and energy toward growth.

Anxiety reduction

Spending time in nature is always a mental health booster. In addition, gardening can be a beneficial treatment setting to reduce anxiety and OCD. By focusing on what is in front of you, gardening is physically and emotionally satisfying. It allows you to feel truly present. In addition, you often get to enjoy the fruits of your labor afterward.  

Mindful movement 

I found the laborious nature of outdoor work was a healthy substitute for my compulsive over-exercise. Gardening helped me safely and healthy balance a caloric intake based on intuitive eating. For instance, after working for a few hours, I finally fell into a regular movement pattern. This led to regular mealtimes and returned hunger cues. Simple movements allow you to connect with a natural environment of growth and healing and re-discover your sense of self. 

Destigmatize your food ideologies

For most of my life, I thought of food as a numbers game to balance a calorie deficit. After gardening, I began to see food as something more, a process of production, harvest, and consumption.

My appreciation for the cycle from ground to mouth expanded my perspective of food, and I moved away from a mindset of eating as a direct link to outward appearance. 

Exploring new activities is a great way to make progress on your path to recovery. Try including multiple approaches, like goal-setting or journaling with your gardening practice. You might be surprised by the positive difference they can make. 

(Last Updated: August 5, 2022)

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