Please note that this is an Archived article and may contain content that is out of date. The use of she/her/hers pronouns in some articles is not intended to be exclusionary. Eating disorders can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights.
By Christa Banister
While it’s occasionally been dismissed as a little too hippy-dippy for some or decidedly low-impact for others, it’s no secret that yoga has a huge number of health benefits. Not only can it help significantly improve strength and flexibility and promote serenity in our increasingly hectic lives, but yoga can also be a real game-changer for healthy sleep, pain management and even lowering blood pressure.1
For anyone who is seeking treatment for an eating disorder, something that affects 24 million Americans and has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, yoga has been deemed surprisingly effective in providing a positive sense of community, promoting a life-giving, non-judgmental self image, teaching the essential connection between mind and body which helps fuel healthy decision-making and offering an outlet for stress through deliberate breathing exercises.2
In order for those who’ve dealt with anorexia, bulimia or binge eating to get the maximum benefits out of yoga, an environment of self-acceptance and compassion, rather than competition, is fostered by yoga therapists. In a review published in Disability and Rehabilitation, physical therapy that included yoga was successful in significantly reducing eating disorder scores as well as depression in both anorexic and bulimic patients. The study also suggested that quality of life was improved with yoga in the mix.3
Breaking Through with Teens and Binge Eaters
A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health produced an intriguing insight: namely, that yoga therapy helped alleviate symptoms of eating disorders in teens.
When comparing standard care alone to standard care with yoga therapy given to a group of 50 girls and four boys between ages 11-21 with eating disorders, researchers from Seattle Children’s Hospital Department of Adolescent Medicine discovered that the group who participated in a semi-weekly hour of yoga practice for eight weeks had greater decreases in eating disorder symptoms than those who participated in standard care alone.3
Another study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine also made the connection between yoga and improvement in binge eating episodes and overall health. When testing a group of women ages 25-63 with binge eating disorder and a body mass index (BMI) over 25, which is considered overweight, the women whose treatment included a 12-week yoga program had fewer instances of binge eating and a marked increase in overall physical activity. In addition to a significant reduction in BMI, these women gained other health benefits including smaller hip and waist measurements.3
Getting to the Heart of the Matter
It’s not surprising considering all the mixed messages people are getting from magazines, movies and television about body image, food and dieting, but it’s still alarming to hear that eating disorders and unhealthy nutritional mindsets are a daily struggle for 20 million females and 10 million males in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.4
But as people have begun exploring out-of-the-box solutions like yoga therapy, which is now being used in eating disorder treatment centers across the US, there have been countless success stories as people regain self esteem and find relief for depression, anger and anxiety. And for those struggling with anorexia in particular? Regular yoga practice has been linked to rebuilding of strength and bone density that has been damaged and lost when the body is deprived of food and all the vitamins and nutrients that accompany it.4
That’s a real game-changer in a world where four out of 10 people have either personally suffered from an eating disorder or know someone who has, according to a study conducted by the National Eating Disorder Association. The act of regularly sweating together in the name of health and healing is definitely worth exploring.4
1 Gordon, Serena. “What Yoga Can and Can’t Do For You.” HealthDay News, December 30, 2013.
2 Schware, Rob. “How Yoga Can Become a Game-Changer in Combating Eating Disorders.” Huffington Post, July 30, 2013.
3 Galavas, Elaine. “3 Ways Yoga Can Help Relieve Eating Disorders.” Huffington Post, August 7, 2013
4 Nevin, Anastasia. “The Role of Yoga in the Treatment of Eating Disorders.” SONIMA, July 2, 2015.