The Use of Yoga as an Intervention for Binge Eating in Eating Disorder Recovery
While in recovery from an Eating Disorder, behaviors are often a guide. Observing behaviors can give clues to deeper thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and needs. An identifying marker for ‘binge eating’ is a feeling of being out of control, a disconnection if you will from one’s whole self. Yogic movements and breathing techniques can help someone to connect with their whole self, as well as a higher/wiser self and can therefore be an effective intervention for those who struggle with binge eating.
As a Registered Dietitian and trained yoga teacher specializing in Eating Disorders, I have come to understand that there are different forms of binge eating and not all experiences are the same: there are binges driven by a force of frenzied energy, a yearning for recognition/self-care, or a desire to escape what is. The following are yoga based interventions that I have observed as helpful behavior modification techniques.
Binges driven by a force of frenzied energy, anxiety, or stress (what a yogi might call the ‘monkey mind’):
This type of binge might include eating standing up, taking large bites, not fully chewing food before swallowing, and eating at a fast pace. Those who struggle with this form of binge eating often struggle in a broader sense to slow down, to surrender to the flow of life, and to be in the present moment with all that currently is. Transitions during the day from one task to the next, or coming home from a day of work are high-risk times for these individuals. Using yogic techniques during these transition periods as an outlet for energy flow and to re-connect with self can be profoundly helpful. A suggested yoga sequence: In a seated position, lion’s breath three times and Kapalbhati breath for thirty seconds to one minute, followed by three to five minutes in legs up the wall pose (Viparita Karani).
Binges driven by a yearning for recognition, self-care, or love (in yoga an imbalance in the solar plexis and heart chakras):
Markers of this type of binge include eating in a comfortable place such as a couch or bed, eating highly palatable food, and savoring every taste/flavor of said food. It is all rather romantic while also surprisingly self-loathing and comes from a place of longing and deserving. Suggested yoga poses for intervention: bow pose (Dhanurasana) three times for five breaths, reclined bound angle pose (Supta Baddha Konasana) with one hand on heart the other on navel for three to five minutes, and corpse pose (Savasana) while covered with a heavy blanket for three to five minutes.
Binges driven by a desire to ‘shut-down,’ ‘power-off,’ ‘numb-out,’ or escape the current reality (what a yogi might call not being present):
This type of binge is often planned in advance and entails completely mindless eating without recognition of the foods’ flavors. It often occurs while simultaneously watching TV or using alcohol or other substances. The eating itself in combination with the outside distraction is used in an attempt to stuff down or escape uncomfortable and intolerable thoughts and emotions. Those who experience this form of binge eating benefit from practicing therapeutic techniques of emotional tolerance and titration. Recommended yoga asanas: uncomfortable poses with breath such as hip-opening poses (figure four, thread-the-needle, and pigeon). However, in the moment of a behavior urge, a more effective yogic intervention might include a few sun salutations (Surya Namaskara), A or B, to assist with the flow of energy, release of intense emotion, and grounding to the earth/reality.
As with all forms of activity included as part of Eating Disorder recovery, it is important to use yogic intervention in combination with other interventions and coping skills so that physical activity is not the only method of emotional and energetic management solidified.
“In the rubble of your shaken spirit, an illusion and a truth”
About the author:
Christina is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and is currently working towards her Certification as an Eating Disorder Specialist with IAEDP. She works at The Lotus Collaborative in Santa Cruz, Ca and at her own practice. Christina decided to pursue a career in nutrition after meeting with a Registered Dietitian who was instrumental in her own recovery from an eating disorder. She has made it her personal mission to help teen girls and adult women battle their eating disorders in order to create a healthy relationship with food and their bodies.
Christina takes an anti-diet approach to health and weight management and is an advocate of Intuitive Eating© and Health at Every Size©. She has developed her own unique approach to nutrition and health counseling by building a deep but light-hearted connection with clients. She addresses thought and behavior patterns that lie below the surface of eating behaviors to help clients eventually move past these self-limiting behaviors. Christina can be contacted through her website: www.ChristinaLynnRD.com