While searching for natural methods to alleviating the symptoms of eating disorders, I discovered research on the effects of the ancient tradition of yoga on binge eating, bulimia, and anorexia. It’s well known that yoga’s focus on slowing down the breath has a calming effect on the mind and the entire body. What could be better when in the throes of an eating disorder--wanting to binge or compulsively exercise--than to have an instantaneous way to calm the urges?
No drugs, just your breath. Something you don’t need insurance for or an appointment to get or a prescription to fill.
A study done in 2009 by the Seattle Children’s Hospital and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health had over fifty 11-16 year olds (only four boys) in a eight week study. Half did the normal treatment for eating disorders and the half added yoga to the traditional treatment according to Maia Szalavitz of Time.com. Szalavitz said, “Fifty five percent were suffering from anorexia, 17% had bulimia and the rest had been diagnosed with 'eating disorder-not otherwise specified….'"
The yoga group did only two hours of yoga a week yet even a month after the study, the yoga group was still doing better than those that received the traditional treatment alone. It is amazing that only two hours of yoga a week had such positive results.
However, the result of the next study of binge eaters is even more encouraging. Binge eaters participated in 10-week therapy and yoga study carried out at the University of the Rockies. According to the university’s website, “…binge eating episodes drop from about five to less than two per week. The program combined an hour of yoga with a half-hour group discussion each week.”
Lead researcher of the study, Deborah Patz Clarke said, “Yoga also raises awareness of and responsiveness to the body, which makes it an ideal modality for helping treat psychological disorders that take the body hostage, such as eating disorders or substance addictions.” Only one hour a week, imagine if all eating disordered victims practiced yoga daily.
I contacted long time yoga instructor and therapist Heather Jassy to see what she thought. Ms Jassy said, “The meaning of the word yoga is union…unity between mind and body, body and breath---harmony--through careful attention to ones thoughts and physical sensations. By slowing down and paying attention to our needs, we learn what those needs actually are. The most helpful aspect of yoga for those with eating disorders is that the focus in yoga is on what the body can 'do' instead of 'how it looks.'" Amen!
Of course more research needs to be done. No one is claiming that yoga is a cure for eating disorders, but it is certainly a tool to relieve some of the negative symptoms. And that is good news.
Heather Jassy is creator of the Reframe Productivity System and her current position is Director of Member Experience at Lockerz.com