Complimentary Therapy For Eating DisordersYoga as a Tool for Healing the Mind/Body Connection in Eating Disorder Treatment

Eating disorders, such as Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorder can take a incredible toll on the human body. They can attack the mind, body, and spirit of a person. A successful journey to recovery often requires a self-nurturing process to heal these physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds. “This is why yoga is frequently used in the treatment of eating disorders,” yoga advocate Chelsea Roff explains. “I think yoga can be a game-changer in eating disorder treatment because it provides a safe way for clients to begin to explore their body and its sensations again. It helps clients rebuild a conscious connection between mind and body, which is so often severed in the heat of an eating disorder.”

In an article posted in Eating Disorder Hope, by Jacquelyn Ekern and Crystal Karges, they write, “The practice of yoga teaches awareness of the body’s functions and feelings, which can be helpful to a person who has been disconnected from body and mind. Mindfulness is at the core of Yoga therapy, which encourages deeper perception and awareness of oneself, which is often neglected in the throes of an eating disorder.”

Connecting the Mind and the Body

It’s not uncommon to see yoga listed as a complimentary therapy option at a major eating disorder treatment center. This ancient practice is often incorporated as a form of complimentary therapy because it can strengthen the relationship between the mind and the body. According to the article, research has shown that practicing yoga and meditation on a regular basis can be an effective discipline for integrating the mind and body, and improving physical, mental, intellectual, and spiritual health as well.

The Yoga Journal reports that a recent University of California study demonstrated that yoga practitioners had greater body awareness and responsiveness to body sensations than nonpractitioners. Because yoga has been proven to be successful in helping clients with mental health conditions that are often comorbid with eating disorders, such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression, many clinicians are trying yoga with clients, with excellent results.

Yoga and the Process of Healing

Ms. Ekern and Ms. Karges cite the following benefits for someone in recovery from an eating disorder:

  • Increased attentiveness to one’s body functions and feelings
  • Improved mood and decreased irritability
  • Improved body image and self-confidence
  • Greater sense of well-being
  • Increased feelings of relaxation
  • Healing from physical tension and pain
  • Improved ability to focus
  • Physical benefits, such as greater muscular strength, cardiovascular function, and flexibility
  • Improved sleep patterns
  • Diminished impulsivity and irrational thoughts/behaviors
  • Better interpersonal relationships
  • Increased optimistic outlook on life and positive mind-state

Yoga and Change

In a Huffington Post interview, Chelsea Roff says, “The short story is that yoga brought me to a place in my recovery that no form of talk therapy or medical treatment ever had before. Downward dog certainly didn’t cure my eating disorder, but the practice did teach me how to relate to my body in a more compassionate way. And more importantly, perhaps, going to yoga introduced me to community -to the people I soon came to consider family- and I suppose that’s exactly what I needed to fully step into recovery.”

Before she became a registered yoga teacher, Lisa Diers was a dietitian specializing in eating disorder treatment. After teaching yoga in to eating disorder clients, she says saw the impact yoga was having at mealtime, and in group and individual sessions. “What I observed profoundly shaped my vision for yoga in ED treatment,” she says, in an article for SCAN’s Pulse, a publication produced by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Some examples of the changes she witnessed in clients include the following:

  • Renegotiation of trauma
  • Use of positive coping skills to calm down during high anxiety events (grocery shopping, meals, symptom succession)
  • Decreased manifestation of anxiety at mealtimes
  • Increased awareness of internal hunger and fullness cues
  • Enhanced ability to challenge negative body image, checking, and behaviors
  • Reclaiming positive movement (from over-exercising to under-exercising)
  • Appreciation of what the body is capable of versus appearance
  • Facing fears and challenging old beliefs of self
  • Having fun, laughter, joy, feeling hopeful
  • Decreased isolation
  • Increased awareness of and decreased engagement in comparison (body and food)
  • Increased awareness of and decreased engagement in negative self-talk
  • Increase in deep breathing and grounding techniques at mealtime
  • Utilization of yoga to aid in digestion

“People who struggle with eating issues often have a very difficult time with flexibility and change,” adds yoga teacher and nutritionist Anastasia Nevin. In an article for Sonima, she writes, “Calling attention to the physical experience of moving through postures is one way to cultivate awareness about our relationship to transitions off the yoga mat. Bringing yoga into eating disorder recovery is a way to access memories, messages, and wisdom stored in the body that are not always accessible in more traditional forms of talk therapy. The ultimate goal of recovery is in fact yoga: re-connecting and integrating all parts of the self to live a more intuitive, peaceful, and soulful life.”

A Way of Life

The best examples of the positive changes that yoga can produce may be the yoga teachers and advocates that learned the practice during their recovery from eating disorders. On her website, Joanna O’Neal writes, “My relapse also empowered me to change the direction of my career. I have since left my job, started Chime Yoga Therapy, and returned to teaching yoga. I also became a trained yoga therapist and specialize in eating disorders. Besides raising my children, I believe there is nothing more important I can do with my life than to help others reconnect with their bodies and feel empowered in their lives.”

A Disclaimer

If you would like to learn more about the ways that Yoga can help your recovery process, you should first talk with your healthcare provider or treatment team, experts say. Like any form of physical exercise, if you are currently struggling with an eating disorder, you should not attempt to learn yoga without medical supervision or guidance by a certified instructor trained in eating disorder treatment.

Recovery is Possible

If you are suffering from the symptoms of an eating disorder, call Center for Discovery now at 800.760.3934. We’ve been helping families find their way to recovery and lifelong healing for nearly 20 years. Call today and speak with one of our highly trained admission specialists. Or click on the link below for a FREE assessment or virtual tour to see the treatment center closest to you. All calls are completely FREE and strictly confidential.

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Our effective behavior modification programs are personalized and tailored to fit your family’s needs. Center for Discovery’s integrated multi-faceted levels of care range from residential treatment, intensive outpatient programs, to partial hospitalization programs for adults, adolescents, and teens that are struggling with eating disorders, depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and most major mental health disorders.




Benefits of Yoga for Eating Disorder Recovery, by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC, and Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC. Retrieved November 23, 2016.

Huffington Post: How Yoga Can Become a Game-changer in Combatting Eating Disorders, by Rob Schware. Retrieved November 23, 2016.

Yoga Journal: The Truth About Yoga and Eating Disorders, by Chelsea Roff. Retrieved November 23, 2016.

SCAN: Discovering the Role of Yoga in Eating Disorder Treatment, by Lisa Diers, RD, E-RYT. Retrieved November 23, 2016.

Chime: Yoga For Eating Disorders, by Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, E-RYT. Retrieved November 23, 2016.