Yoga to overcome eating disorders

Submitted by Kevin Pederson on February 5, 2013
Eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia nervosa, and compulsive eating are emotional disorders. Individuals who struggle with any of these eating disorders often binge eat. Eating disorder treatments involve group, individual or family psychotherapy, medication, nutrition counseling, medical observation, and in some cases, hospitalization. So how beneficial is it to augment these treatment options with a gentle discipline such as yoga?


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Using Yoga to Overcome Eating Disorders

Over the past several years, research shows that the practice of yoga can help individuals with eating disorders.

  • By its very nature, the gentle exercises and the focus on breathing techniques may help individuals overcome anxieties related to food and eating. Yoga allows individuals to reflect rather than act on impulse.

  • Yoga helps to focus on self-esteem rather than body image. Yoga also allows individuals to engage in healing negative body image. Reflection on the satisfaction with one’s body attributes can address eating disorder symptoms.
  • Past trauma, negative relationships and other emotional conflicts trigger eating disorders. Individuals use food as a defense or escape. The calm awareness that comes from practicing ‘mindful’ meditation in yoga may help establish good eating habits.
  • Yoga may be practiced at any age to disengage from unhealthy eating or exercise patterns. In a 2006 study conducted by the State University of New York with 45 fifth grade girls show how discussion, yoga, and relaxation could help improve attitudes towards food. At the end of the 10-week program, the girls stated that they felt less likely to engage in destructive eating behaviors or driven to over exercise in order to become thin.

Yoga Poses to Combat Eating Disorders

While there is no right or wrong yoga pose for eating disorders, it is best to choose exercises that suit your style. Yoga poses such as Balasana (Child’s Pose) or Matsyasana (Fish Pose) activate balance and reflection. Other poses such as Halasana (Plow Pose) or Purvottanasana (Reverse Plank Pose) facilitate a communication between your digestive organs and rest of the body. Further, a gentle, restorative yoga class may benefit individuals who suffer from anxiety, depression or stress, while a fast paced, flowing vinyasa yoga class may help individuals who need motivation and energy.

If you are suffering from an eating disorder and would like to practice yoga to overcome it, you must talk to a qualified practitioner of yoga. Discuss your condition, symptoms and what you expect from your yoga class. Many yoga studios offer classes targeting eating disorders. In such cases, your yoga class acts as a support group to help you address your challenges.

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