The Role of Yoga in Eating Disorder Treatment

Rebecca Jaspan, MPH, RD, CDN, CDCES

 

An individual with an eating disorder is in a state of conflict with their physical selves.  Often the beginning steps in treatment involve helping you to feel more at home in your physical body, trusting your feelings and body sensations, and translating that into information about your unique experiences in the world.  Yoga helps support a connection between what you are feeling in your body and grounding your thoughts to the present moment.

 

So, what is yoga?  Many of us associate yoga with a number of physical postures and poses done on a mat.  In addition to the physical movements, yoga also involves a mental and spiritual practice, focusing on mindfulness and breathwork.  The practice aims to create union between body, mind, and spirit.1

 

For many with an eating disorder, being asked to sit with their body and breath can feel extremely uncomfortable.  Yoga helps clients learn to sit with and push through their discomfort and do their best to stay in the present moment.  They are asked to notice their thoughts and feelings without placing any judgement on them.  Yoga offers a safe avenue for individuals with eating disorders to engage in physical activity and offers them a new and different way to move their bodies.  Many individuals find they gain a deeper sense of being present without ruminating about the past or future.  Additionally, they become more in tune with their bodies and find acceptance and compassion toward themselves and their bodies.  They also gain a greater ability to listen to and respect their body’s needs.

 

More and more inpatient and outpatient eating disorder treatment centers are using yoga as part of their programs. Research shows a strong relationship between the use of yoga therapy and improvement in eating disorder symptoms. One study looked at the use of a yoga practice in the outpatient setting and its impact on anxiety, depression, and body image disturbance in adolescents with eating disorders.  Twenty adolescent girls, ages 14-18, were recruited from an eating disorder clinic and they participated in 12 weekly yoga classes in addition to standard multidisciplinary care.  The participants completed questionnaire about anxiety, depression, and body image disturbance before their first class and after completion of 6 and 12 classes.2

 

After completion of 12 weeks, there was a statistically significant decrease in anxiety, depression, and body image disturbance.  Yoga combined with outpatient eating disorder treatment shows to be a promising adjunct treatment strategy.2

 

As our name suggests, your dietitian at Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition and Yoga believes the practice of yoga and certain elements of yoga, such as breathwork and mindfulness, are important tools in eating disorder recovery.  Talk to your dietitian about incorporating a yoga practice into your treatment plan.

 

  1. Arora S, Bhattacharjee J. Modulation of immune responses in stress by Yoga. Int J Yoga. 2008;1(2):45–55. doi: 10.4103/0973-6131.43541.
  2. Hall A, Ofei-Tenkorang NA, Machan JT, Gordon CM. Use of yoga in outpatient eating disorder treatment: a pilot study. J Eat Disord. 2016 Dec 9;4:38. doi: 10.1186/s40337-016-0130-2. PMID: 27980773; PMCID: PMC5148831.

 



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