How can massage therapy help clients recover more quickly and successfully from eating disorders? Why does physical touch matter in mental health? What are some of the benefits – and consequences – of not experiencing human touch and connection? In this podcast episode, Dr. Cristina Castagnini speaks about the surprising impact of physical touch and affection on mental health and eating disorders.


  • Noticing a change
  • Why does touch matter?
  • The impact of touch on mental health

Noticing a change

A lot of things are different after the pandemic and many of the old things that people never really paid much attention to now feel new and are more noticeable. One of these things is physical touch.
I realized that something about our physical closeness and the manner in which I saw people, people in general touching – or not touching – it [seems] to have changed since the pandemic started. (Dr. Cristina Castagnini)
People became hyper-aware of closeness, and sometimes a casual touch that no one thought much about became too close, too personal, and potentially unhygienic.
It got me wondering if all those months of social isolation have somehow had an impact on the way we physically connect with and touch each other. (Dr. Cristina Castagnini)

Why does touch matter?

Within human psychology, touch is important. A few controversial studies were done decades ago, and even though they were contentious, they yielded important results about mammalian psychology:
Affection is the primary force behind the need for closeness, and there are devastating psychological and emotional [consequences] … and even death from long-term deprivation. (Dr. Cristina Castagnini)
From this research to the hundreds of studies completed up until today, research has shown that physical touch has health benefits. Physical touch can:
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Decrease cortisol levels
  • Reduce stress
Children who are deprived of touch can show signs of depression, aggression, trouble with school, and sustaining healthy friendships. Adults who are deprived of touch can experience anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

The impact of touch and mental health

Intimate touch deprivation during COVID-19 related-restrictions is associated with higher anxiety and greater loneliness. (Dr. Cristina Castagnini)
This podcast is also about body image and eating disorders, so how does this all relate? Research has shown that touching, holding, and hugging play an important role in a child’s mental understanding and formation of their body image. Some research has even shown that incorporating massage into eating disorder treatments boosts dopamine and serotonin and lowered stress. This resulted in calmer and happier patients who could better cope with recovery.
[Research] found that anorexia nervosa symptoms were reduced by massage therapy … massage therapy … decreased many patients’ dissatisfaction with their bodies and improved their self-image. (Dr. Cristina Castagnini)
Are you getting enough human connection, affection, and touch in your life? If not, how could it be impacting you? Human touch is necessary for your health and wellbeing.



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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