Eating disorders, especially those induced by extreme dieting are becoming worryingly common nowadays. And with the unrealistic portrayal of women’s bodies that we see in the media, it’s no wonder, really. We are constantly told we have to be skinnier, fitter, have a certain percentage of muscle and of fat. Basically be anything but what we are, never being happy with ourselves. Recently, there have been a few campaigns that try to teach women to be happy with who they are, but I feel like the message is still too weak.
If you follow me for a while, you know that I’ve had quite a few issues due to extreme dieting. And if you’re new here, check out my two blog posts where I talk about how my diet took over my life and how I healed from binge eating disorder. Let me tell you one secret though: healing takes time. I still have moments when I feel fat or when I hate myself for overindulging. The right mindset is something to be work for. But there are a few things that have helped me stay in it and yoga is definitely one of them. Any workout is great, but yoga has that extra something that helps me stay away from the “you’re not enough” mentality. Here’s why.
It calms the mind
One of the main aspects about yoga is its focus on the breath. Most yoga classes will start with a short meditation that will help you get out of your head and focused on your breath. This will help you feel calmer already and you’ll be able to set aside those nagging diet thoughts even if only for a while. For me this has been a major help, as during my diet days I would constantly think about how much I’d eaten, what I was going to eat, how many calories did I actually eat and how many would I burn with a certain workout.
It’s true it might take a while before you actually let go on those thoughts and truly focus on your breath. You’ll see during the first yoga classes, it’s really easy to allow your mind to wonder during that silent meditation. The most important thing though: don’t judge the thoughts that come. Let them come, then let them go.
It helps you focus on more than the physical aspect
Yoga is so much more than a workout. If you are a beginner to yoga and you are struggling with an ED, I suggest you do not try intense classes focused on weight loss, such as Bikram. Start with something more classical and simple such as Hatha. I myself made the mistake to only go to power classes in order to burn calories. But in doing that you’re still giving in to the weight loss thoughts and to your ED in general. Sure, breathing is still an important factor in any yoga class. But if you are facing an ED, a class that focuses on weight loss and sweating will only exacerbate those thoughts.
It challenges you
The fun thing with yoga is that it is not as easy as many think it is. Don’t believe it? Try holding a warrior to for 1 minute. Or do a few sun salutations, proper chaturanga included. Then come and tell me how your legs and your arms feel. Strength training and cardio are challenging as well. But there you will also have the change to sometimes rush through movements if you’re doing cardio, or there’s loud music, or you talk to a friend. The point is, with yoga the challenge is greater because all you can do is breath and “enjoy” the pose. It’s more a mental challenge in many of the classes, which for someone suffering from an eating disorder is very helpful.
It is not a competition
Ok, I admit this one may be hard to believe. And I’ve been a victim of the comparison trap in many yoga classes. Most teachers, especially in the more challenging vinyasa classes will remind you that yoga is not a competition. And if they don’t, you keep reminding yourself that.
Yoga is about honoring your body and being thankful for what it can do. About honoring where you are on that day, in that moment, which may be different from where you were the day before, and different from where you’ll be tomorrow. And different might mean today you are less flexible, or less strong, or less able to balance than you were yesterday. Balancing postures especially have a way of being different regardless of how advanced you are. And they can be a good reminder that maybe you are too tired, maybe you’ve been focusing on the wrong things and it is time to turn your attention inward.
Unlike eating disorders, yoga teaches us to honor our bodies
And this is one of the key ways in which yoga can help you beat eating disorders. Many EDs feed on shame and guilt each time you step on the scale, or you eat something “forbidden”, or you don’t burn enough calories at the gym. Whereas yoga tells you to honor where you are in the present moment. Because only honoring the present you can you find room for improvement in the future. Guilt and shame cannot bring anything positive, because they are by definition negative feelings.
I hope you found this post helpful. I want to go back to my basics and start doing more posts to help you fight against eating disorders and against diets that inevitably lead to an ED.
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