Are you getting enough fiber? (the other kind)

It has been a while since I have written about my love for knitting on this blog. But if this summer has been the summer of cooking, it has also been the summer of knitting.

I saw a therapist once whose opinions I otherwise was not very fond of, but who had some interesting things to say on the subject of knitting. Knitting -- or any craft work -- can be an excellent distraction from eating (when one tends to eat too much; I don't recommend it for this purpose if your tendency is towards restriction). It's very hard to binge when you have two long needles in your hands and a pile of wool in your lap! It's also hard to smoke, to drink, to have sex, to do drugs (hey! -- that's an idea: substitute one kind of needles for another...). You get the picture. Knitting emerges as the sort of perfect compulsion control technique. Oh, cognitive-behavioral therapy!

To clarify: I did not learn knitting for compulsion control. I learned to knit when I was seven years old from my grandmother, and I have been knitting ever since. I knit during the lean years where there weren't any age-appropriate patterns (late adolescence, late 1990's), I knit before the celebrities joined the crew, and I am still at it, thrilled that there are so many young designers and online knitting resources, such as Ravelry.

With the help of that therapist, I was able to make the connection between knitting and that oh-so-lovely-feeling of being in the flow (thank you, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi). Flow as in: uninterrupted concentration; delight; calm; connectedness. This is how I feel when I knit; once I recognized these feelings, I was able to harness this knowledge to use my knitting more deliberately, to replace more destructive hobbies.

If I feel the urge to eat after dinner, the worst hours of the night for me, I sit down with a knitting project and dedicate myself to it for at least 15 minutes. By that time, the urge has usually passed, and I am so engrossed in my knitting that it takes all my husband has to convince me to put it down to come to bed. Knitting, I find myself absolutely bedazzled by fiber and the infinity of combinations that I can produce with my needles and thread. I study lace patterns; compare color swatches; and linger over new designs. There is so much to knit, I don't have time to think about snacking or wander into the kitchen. Knitting, at times, has been my safe haven, a place to put all of my energy and concerns and anxiety, and spin straw into gold:

Take the sweater above, my best fit yet: the Katharine Hepburn cardigan, from Lace Style. I sewed on the last buttons while in Italy a few weeks ago, and now that I'm here in Minnesota, where the weather is cooler, I wear it in the evenings.

There is something so satisfying and so nourishing in creating a sweater -- the ultimate act of self-care, I think, is to dress oneself warmly. Knitting brings me deeper comfort than consuming any culinary dish, and produces more fuzzy-inside feelings than those famous exercise endorphins.

Here's to form meeting function!


Emily Jolie said...

That is beautiful, Ai Lu! Both the sweater and your experience with knitting. Just the kind of reminder and inspiration I needed as I have been struggling a bit these past weeks.

I used to do a lot of crafts when I was younger. A little bit of knitting, some sewing, some cross-stitch, and a fair amount of crocheting. I also used to make bracelets out of yarn, and, oh, did I ever love all my different colors of yarn! Combining different colors and creating various patterns could make me so happy! :)

A few years ago, I got back into crocheting, and I felt with it the way you describe feeling about knitting. When I got home from grad school, I couldn't wait to sit down with my crochet project for a little while. (So much better than heading straight for the pantry or the fridge!) Then I wouldn't want to stop, as I'd become so absorbed in it, and it was so meditative and soothing. Just recently, I thought about picking it back up.

I continue to thoroughly enjoy your blog, Ai Lu! Thanks for your inspiration!

with care,


Emily Jolie said...

Hi again, Ai Lu!

I wanted to let you know that I've written a post about you on my blog... http://nourishyoursoul-private.blogspot.com/2008/08/avidalegria.html

with care,


Carrie Arnold said...

My friend sent me this, and I'm not sure whether to love her or hate her because of it:


I crochet (coordinating *both* knitting needles was far beyond my limited hand/eye coordination), but I love fiber. Of all kinds. Years of laxative abuse will do that to you.

Ai Lu said...


I love the knit shop search link! Thanks for passing it on.

It's funny how I have New York City mapped out according to knitting stores; if I'm in Greenwich Village, I'll stop by Purl Soho; if I'm in the Upper West Side, it's Knitty City at 79th and Amsterdam; and if I'm in Morningside Heights, I'll find a way to spend an hour at Yarntopia.

I want to tell you again how much I love reading your blogs and learning more about research on eating disorders. You provide such a valuable service to the ED community, and I admire how you are able to combine your personal experience with hard-core reporting.

Keep it up!

~Ai Lu

emmy. said...

hi, ai lu :)

i've just recently discovered your blog and can't imagine how i haven't come across it yet.

i, too, believe that knitting has some incredible effects on mental health. i was known for my crocheting/knitting "behaviors" during group. i could usually bang out 3 or so hats during a night program session and often found myself being a slight distraction to both patients and staff alike, haha.

keeping my hands busy did a lot for me, including calming some of my terribly severe ocd symptoms. not to mention, it's such a simple, repetative motion, like a big girl's equivalent to a rocking cradle. (especially - and pardon my knitting nerdiness for a moment - if you're using bamboo knitting needles.. the sound is much softer than metal or plastic.)

i'm in the same boat as you, as my grandmother taught me to knit when i was 7 (no joke) and there was yet to be any connection between the hobby and what effects it would have on my well-being and compulsions as an adult.

i always joked that you haven't officially entered recovery until you've learned to knit. every program i've been in, at least 90% of the patients were knitting/crocheting and most had at least given it a shot. why is there no knitting therapy group?

now i'm all excited about it. i think it's time i bring out the needles again for the winter :)

Ai Lu said...

Hi, Emmy:

I haven't been blogging all that long -- just started in May this year -- and it has taken me some time to figure out what direction I wanted to go with my blog, so I'm not surprised you haven't come across it before. But I'm so glad you have! It's hearing from other people who have struggled with eating disorders that makes this such a worthwhile pursuit, isn't it?

At first I really wanted to write a blog about food, which I'm passionate about (despite -- or because of -- my past eating disorder), but the more I read the food blogs out there, the less interested I was in presenting food in the same old way. Also, I think that having had an eating disorder makes me view food in a very different way than the majority of food bloggers, and I wasn't seeing that perspective represented on the internet.

As for knitting and recovery -- I find it very funny that you refer to your knitting during group therapy as knitting "behaviors"! What a very ironic way to criticize the tendency that the mental health profession has to pathologize everything. Yes, knitting is useful for calming compulsions; that doesn't make knitting a mental disorder, though sometimes it feels like anything we (ED folks) do is considered pathological.

I have checked into your blog from time to time and I love your slogan "choosing life over mere survival." That's what recovery is about, isn't it?

Take care,
Ai Lu