msinkblot

Yoga and eating disorders

16 posts in this topic

I'm curious about your experience with yoga and eating disorders. Is it a safe way to treat EDs? Do any of you have any personal experiences?

I know for me, it helped me to accept myself as I was, wherever I was, and not be so harsh on myself. I haven't had a diagnosable ED, but I have a few friends struggling with EDs at the moment and I'm wondering if yoga could become another harmful coping mechanism, or something beneficial. I have been in the position of having to gain weight to get my period back and it's a very frightening position to be in! So I can understand some of the struggle of recovery.

Ayaksma likes this

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I don't have firsthand experience, but my high school friend was suffering anorexia and OCD with exercise. She finally got professional help to let go of control, and now she is a psychiatrist and guest lectures at universities about eating disorders.

Yoga can help (see end of this post), but I encourage seeking an individual therapist to help the recovery and maintain it. The timeline really depends on the person - for me, going to weekly sessions, it took me a year to fully understand what was bothering me (a secret I held for decades),  another 6 months before I told my sister, and then another year before I was confident in myself to tell my husband.  I know it's not the same as an ED, but as someone seeking help for mental health, I just wanted to throw out a possible timeline so no one expects immediate results. 

Anyway, this is such interesting timing. Speaking to your question, I just finished reading chapter 6 of Anna Forrest's Fierce Medicine. She talked about how yoga helped her bulimia, and she had to figure out what she was really hungry for and do that instead.  See the attached excerpt - the dotted underlines are a popular highlight.  So, yes, it is possible (like it was for you), but some people will need more outside influences to recover with therapy or other programs. 

Thanks for sharing your story - these things are not often talked about, and I am glad to hear that you are not afraid to bring it up with your friends.

 

Screenshot_2016-03-25-10-28-12.png

msinkblot and Ayaksma like this

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Oh, wow! That is powerful. I remember when I was malnourished (even if it wasn't characteristic because I was eating 3 meals like a "normal person". But I was in a state of perpetual stress and restricting my 'true appetite' because of my living situation at that time... I was already considered a 'hunger monster' and I felt a lot of shame about my appetite. I went to a psychiatrist too and they just told me I was 'spoiled' and had to get over my idea of how much i should eat and eat tilI I was sick. That wasn't encouraging and put me off psychiatrists for some time!), I definitely felt like my body and mind were at odds and continuously fighting. Such trauma is hard to get over, I think. The body remembers it. When I first did yoga, I felt dizzy and confused, but slowly it became like a "check-in" so I could see where my body was at that given time and breathe through it. It was a huge release to be in my physical body and not have it be antagonistic to me. It really helps with the trauma of being malnourished, especially over time . That quote is hence really profound for me!

As for my friend... I feel like it is even harder when it is someone close to you, who has gone through numerous treatments (I haven't), and none of them worked. And to be able to talk about how yoga has benefited me in recovery in general- a super super long process that can admittedly last years- sort of falls on deaf ears since she doesn't want me to tell her to honour her hunger and to go for that 'binge' because it's what she needs... I still have periods of extreme hunger and I find having my husband next to me just qualls the anxiety so i can "breathe through it". When we rush through any meal, I find there is no space. That is also a habit I'm still having to cultivate- to breathe *when* I'm eating. Eating with my husband helps a lot. It's difficult when I'm alone and I have to be accountable to myself!

Until now, I don't know what I experienced is a ED or not because I feel so much shame about having been told numerous times when I was physically malnourished that I was anorexic and I should just eat till I was sick by people who supposedly loved me. So I feel like I can't 'come out' with it, per se. Even if I can identify with a lot of it. :P It's harder when you don't have an 'enemy' besides yourself... For me, I associated that state of denying yourself with a certain environment and once I left it, recovery came easy (I associated eating with nourishing my needs for the first time rather than sacrificing myself physically so as not to be too 'grotesque'). I think it's not always so easy for most. 

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It sounds all really difficult.  But I wanted to clarify that a therapist and a psychiatrist are not the same. The psychiatrist is mainly there to manage medications while the therapist will sit and talk through - many are not medical doctors. In the US they are LMFT (licensed marriage and family therapist), a social worker, or a doctorate in psychology or some other field.

I also had a bad experience with my first psychiatrist and found a new one that likes hearing me talk about what else is going on in addition to my medications, just so she has the full picture. She herself says most of my issues should be resolved by therapy over time.  Therapy really focuses on identifying what destructive thought patterns or beliefs are going on and working on how to change them. Therapy is open to everyone who wants it (usually any kind of stress) - they don't need to be diagnosed with anything at all. 

I only brought up psychiatrist just because my friend turned out to be most interested in that field, not because a psychiatrist actually helped her.

Hildegard likes this

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Oh! I wasn't referring to your friend at all. I think that the fact she went through those experiences and rose up better to educate others about it in psychiatry is amazing and so, so important. I wish there were more people like her. I just mean it in the sense that in our culture of weight loss and health obsession, things like eating disorders are often misunderstood even in psychiatric circles. It's people like her who will change the shape of the future. :) I'm so glad that she decided to use her experience to the benefit of future sufferers. 

yogafire likes this

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Oh. You just gave me insight on why she chose that field. :) yeah, I just wanted to make sure my therapy suggestion wasn't interpreted as to see a psychiatrist. 

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I don't think yoga solves ED, but it can be used as a tool to help learn to cope with some of the problems that come with having problem with eating issues, not just ED. This is a bit personal, but I think it will help you understand by what I mean by that.

Two years ago, on June 5, 2014, I lost my grams to a stroke. It took her six months to succumb to that stroke and it was very painful to watch her die. Two months later, my great-aunt, one of her only surviving sisters (and undoubtedly my favorite) passed from cancer and then about a month later, my brother basically said at midnight (of course), "Hey, guess what! You're all becoming grandparents and an aunt!" and his girlfriend was 20 weeks pregnant. Having autism, that was just what broke everything. My eating patterns, which had been out of whack since December 2013 - when my grams had her stroke - really careened out of control. I lost something like 15 pounds and for someone who was 95 pounds, that was weight I couldn't lose and my behavior really got out of whack.

I started equine therapy February 2015 and regular therapy May 2015 to help with my eating and was diagnosed with disordered eating. I started doing yoga at home to help me learn calmness because I could not handle being around my nephew as he was just too loud. The crazy loudness can trigger me to not eat. The bonus is it helps stretch out my muscles for equine therapy. I've learned when I'm feeling stressed, I have to go do some yoga to recenter. Just folding myself over helps switch my attention from, "It's getting too crazy, let's not eat anything to try and get some attention," to, "Okay, let's focus on myself and my breathing. Feel how my hair swishes and plays on the floor." It's silly but it works.

I'm about 3 or 4 pounds shy of where I need to be now, but it's okay. I'm not going to get it all in 15 months, but I'm not skeletal anymore. I have the word "strength" tattooed behind my right ear to help remind me of my grandma (there's a few stories behind that!) and to listen to myself.

Was that really long? I hope that wasn't long and emotional. I sometimes feel I get really long.

Edited by KateZena
years off

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It's very fun and relaxing (go to me for getting my years off though.) I'm learning to canter now (which normally takes years for people; I've been riding a year); when I come home, I do some yoga to release the muscles I still hold really, really tight because I haven't learned to relax fully into something so fast.

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@katezena That was a really beautiful story! And I can totally empathize. I also tend to lose weight in times of stress/changes/ travel. I am (or was till 1 month ago) also a 95 pound girl who can't afford to lose weight... I lose 5 pounds in 2 weeks and take 6 months to gain it back. So losing weight because of those stressors can really make me careen backwards. Recently, I've been trying to incorporate Candace's "5 breath meditation" into my mealtimes. I will tune in for 5 breaths and most of the time, I realize how tense my body always is. It really helps me to have meal times be my "peaceful" time, haha. Having lost weight again after some recent travels (I was eating well but maybe not enough for the amount of walking I was doing), I'm trying to get back in the wagon of not letting my mood interfere with my appetite. It's definitely an ongoing journey.  It's really nice to meet others with the same struggle. In a society in general celebrates losing weight, it's kind of hard to be in a position of having to gain weight without feeling a bit silly.

You also mention equine therapy: how's that going with you? It sounds really lovely. I'd love to hear your experiences with that too. :)

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@msinkblot You're right, it is so hard to be in a position where you have to gain weight in a society that's all about losing weight. You often find yourself explaining why you're trying to gain weight and it can feel like you're talking to a brick wall. Sometimes, when you lose even just a few pounds, people say, "You look fabulous," and it can create a system of bad thoughts (which began to happen to me and that's why I started therapy because I knew that was the beginning of an eating disorder) or you wonder what they have been taking because you don't feel you look good. I knew I wasn't in a good system of thought, so I got help. There's a difference between an eating disorder and disordered eating (which I'll leave a link to) and many people with ED have disordered eating.

Oh, I love equine therapy! It's a lot of fun for me! I find it very peaceful, but very challenging at the same time. I did my last show to qualify for Illinois Special Olympics Friday and got second place in my class which is fine by me. I actually leveled up (as I call it) out of my NFP (sniff sniff) to Tribute Farms (which is next door!) and I'm being taught by a coach who can take me to more local competitions when he feels I can compete in them. When my coach isn't there and at a competition, I stay and work with someone from Horsefeathers Riding NFP, so it's the best of both worlds. I still ride the same horse - a quarter mix named Scooby Dooby Doo - in both barns so I'm really happy. I did Special Olympics last year so I won't be so nervous this year! It's a lot of fun.

The NFP I go to works with people with disabilities, so you may not qualify if you're interested in the "therapy" part, but they (and most other NFPs) are always looking for volunteers! You still get a lot of the benefits while helping out. Many volunteers get the chance to be on the back of a horse, but it really depends on the place you go to. You will get to brush horses, feed them, muck the stalls, be a sidewalker (which is often what many volunteers say is the best perk; walking and guiding the horses and watching kids/adults do their therapy), pick up poop (I know, so much fun), tack up and tack down horses.

I'm still learning many of the things dealing with horses, but when I'm done with my lesson, I always clip Scooby to his lead rope, put him away in his stall and tack him down (aka, take off his stuff), put his tack away and close his stall door. I also give him a treat after. I'm not allowed to tack him up as he is a bit temperamental despite my protests. ONE DAY! I'm very good with him. I know all of his crazy moods. I'd like to volunteer, but I'm still trying to get a little more comfortable with the layout and the horses before I fully commit. There are horses and ponies I'm very comfortable with (Red Rover, Chance, Captain America, Scooby) and some that give me the willies mostly because 1) I haven't ridden them (Vince, Ice, Cassie, Oreo, Wesley...) or 2) they are VERY tall (Apollo, Vince.) The more I learn their personalities, the less scared I am. Apollo, though, he just scares me and I've ridden him multiple times. He's stubborn out in the arena, pushy in his stall and he's plain HUGE compared to all 5'2.5" of me.

Here's all about disordered eating and why it's different from eating disorders, dieting, and normal food behaviors:

http://www.eatingdisorders.org.au/eating-disorders/disordered-eating-a-dieting

If you're interesting in where I go to equine therapy or even why it's beneficial, here's my NFP's site (the video is AWESOME!):

http://www.horsefeatherscenter.org/

This is my little NFP in the New York Times (I still smile the biggest smile ever when I see this):

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/07/05/with-hippotherapy-the-horse-provides-the-therapy/

msinkblot likes this

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Wow, hippotherapy sounds great. I've always wanted to be with horses, but I guess I will have to wait till Singapore where horse-riding is a thing (they probably have therapy too, although I'd like to take up riding all the same :D). We don't really have a stables in Montreal, strangely! Only the police ride horses, haha. Your horses sound really sweet, and I imagine being around animals is very soothing, like a form of yoga. 

As for disordered eating/ eating disorders, I think I exhibited clear signs of disordered eating perhaps when I was 17-18 (say, 8 years ago) for a short period. But I had no idea 'how to eat', and the food at home was not to my tastes so everything turned me off (I had just moved from Singapore to Canada). I had a period of just eating nuts and oatmeal because I disliked my stepmum's cooking. I couldn't digest it, though, and I had stomach issues every single day (maybe 'healthy food' works for some people, but for me it doesn't). I was used to eating rice, fish, soft white bread everyday and the rice at home was too dry, the meat and everything was too oily I couldn't eat it. The only time we ate fish... it was deep-fried and I disliked it. I was already a picky eater, but this was different. Somehow this turned a switch on in my brain... and I think that was what triggered it. I sort of decided to try and make all my own meals... and as a 17 year-old, it spiralled down into disordered eating.

Nowadays, the 'switch' is off. I don't get urges to not eat or eat less... if I eat less on a given day, I actually feel guilty about it and try to make up for it. I let myself have 2nd and 3rd dessert if I want or a snack at 1am (I do this almost everyday because it helps me to sleep). I have difficulties eating in the afternoon, so allowing myself food at night works. I found a way around those neural circuits and gradually I think they changed. It took about 3 years though for the thoughts to disappear so they were not dominant. And till then I still had episodes of conscious/subconscious restriction followed by binge episodes when my body panicked. I never gained or lost weight during these episodes after the initial gain (to get my period back), so it was mostly a mental battle. 

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@msinkblot I do therapeutic riding over hippotherapy. Therapeutic riding is basically horse lessons, only tailored for a person with needs (I have HF Autism, so mine is geared toward making me calmer, helping me think in stages and flexibility.) Hippotherapy is PT/OT/Speech therapy, whatever you need rolled in one on a horse which would have been great when I was little and had those things. Hippotherapy didn't exist when I was little; it started up when I was around four/five and wasn't covered by insurance. It's great for people who can't walk as horses are the closest thing to a human's stride.

Our horses all have unique personalities, like all horses. Scooby is quite sweet to humans - especially older ones (he's not too fond of children) - but he will kick other horses if they come within his personal bubble. He's a good match for me as I'm a bit like that. I'm very smitten with horses and dogs, but I get a bit uppity when humans get in my personal bubble. We have a mare named Cupcake who just won't take crap from anyone; she likes to buck and needs an experienced rider. Apollo (his show name is Sir Clippity Clop) is this big draft horse who can be pushy. Red Rover is very ticklish. Chance loves everyone. Ernie is very tiny and cute. We have lots of horses (about 15) and I think I talk about them all of the time. HA HA! I'm still learning about the newest 5 to enter our little barn. :)

Here's info on hippotherapy from Canada. You may be able to get more information from here as opposed to an American website: http://www.cantra.ca/en/our-services/hippotherapy

 

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I keep forgetting to update to put this, but I thought you guys would like to see a physical picture of how much I've changed over the past year and 3 months. This all from going to therapy (I was doing trauma therapy really for the first six months before stepping down gradually), yoga and the horse lessons. The first picture was me near my absolute lowest weight ever, the middle is about half way there, and the one on the right was taken on Friday. I don't go on a scale often (I try to limit it to once every two weeks so I don't obsess), but Friday is me back to my original weight from 2 years ago. You can see most of the change in my face and arms.

 

progress.jpg

Ayaksma, Hildegard and HGB like this

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@Hildegard Thank you. It's been hard but I keep on trucking. I'm still really anxious about going through my closet and trying things on to see if they still fit. I know there are definitely things that won't, some of those things may be things that I really love and won't be able to transform into something else that would fit me like a skirt (if it's a dress), but I know I'll have to face that. So stressful.

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