How can nature therapy help people who are in eating disorder recovery? Do you love the ocean, water, and nature? How can the natural world help you regain self-love and self-compassion through activities like surfing and kayaking? In this podcast episode, Dr. Cristina Castagnini speaks about surfing into recovery with Sandi James.


Sandi is a lived experience clinician and researcher, a certified eating disorder recovery coach, and a vocal advocate. She has recently presented a webinar looking at Surf Therapy and water-based approaches to healing for complex and co-occurring disorders, ran a pilot Mindfulness-Based Circus Arts program for young people struggling with mental health, and is about to start a Ph.D. program researching the experiences of eating disorder treatment: identifying, responding to, and addressing harm experienced throughout the treatment process.

Sandi is a surfer, scuba diver, and enjoys everything outdoors, and is passionate about working with people from a harm reduction and person-centered approach to help others find recovery.

Visit Sandi's website and connect on her personal and business Instagram profiles.


  • How surfing helps
  • Surfing as an aspect of treatment
  • Become involved in the community

How surfing helps

Sandi takes people out into life. Through surfing, or kayaking, she takes them into water and into the world to both appreciate the beauty of what’s out there and to get them out of their heads and into their body in a new, safe, and playful way. If someone is not able to surf, she usually takes them canoeing or kayaking.
There’s still the water, still the engagement with life and not punishing them for not achieving the goal or whatever, but providing an alternative that is still pretty spectacular to do. (Sandi James)
With surfing, you can learn new things about yourself and the world, and how you approach life, because it teaches you many new lessons. It teaches you how to be patient with yourself, how to get back up again and again, and how to have fun while doing it.
If you’re in the surf, it’s about building mastery. It’s about falling down, laughing, [and] getting back up. Like, it’s not the end of the world if you can’t do it today, we try again tomorrow. (Sandi James)

Surfing as an aspect of treatment

Every person responds differently to treatment for an eating disorder, and there is no fixed option or one-size-fits-all for anyone. If a person is going through recovery, it may take lots of different types of healing and helpful modalities to get them from one place to the next. Surfing can be one of these steps because it allows you to interact with your body in a way where you are aware, where you are having fun, interacting directly with nature, and practicing failure as a pathway to joy, not the opposite.
There’s a lot of work going into looking at the flow state that you get into [while surfing] and that’s accessible through other methods as well. (Sandi James)
The flow state that you can achieve through surfing is also available to people through things like drawing, singing, or moving the body in other ways. Surfing can also be considered a form of nature therapy.

Become involved in the community

When you find yourself a good group of people who can meet you where you are, make sure to give back to the group as well by sharing your experience. Remember that eating disorder thoughts prefer shame and silence, so you can more easily eradicate them when you share them with others that you feel safe around. After some time, you can connect more closely with what is real and around you than the ED thoughts that are trying to convince you otherwise.
Until you step back and go, [“What?”] And I guess that’s where the humor comes in … when you laugh at it, it loses a lot of power. (Sandi James)



  I am a licensed Psychologist and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist. While I may have over 20 years of clinical experience, what I also have is the experience of having been a patient who had an eating disorder as well. One thing that I never had during all of my treatment was someone who could look me in the eye and honestly say to me "Hey, I've been there. I understand". Going through treatment for an eating disorder is one of the hardest and scariest things to do. I remember being asked to do things that scared me. Things I now know ultimately helped me to get better. But, at the time, I had serious doubts and fears about it. If even one of my providers had been able to tell me "I know it's scary, but I had to go through that part too. Here's what will probably happen...." then perhaps I would not have gone in and out of treatment so many times. My own experience ultimately led me to specialize in treating eating disorders. I wanted to be the therapist I never had; the one who "got it". I will be giving you my perspective and information as an expert and clinician who has been treating patients for over 2 decades. But don't just take my word for it...keep listening to hear the truly informative insights and knowledge guest experts have to share. I am so happy you are here!


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