How support groups improve recovery outcomes

support groups eating disorders

Why social connection is a key ingredient to success in recovery

 

Living with an eating disorder and determining the road to recovery can feel like an isolated, uncertain and scary place. A big part of these feelings may stir from a fear of abandonment or aloneness, which can be challenging, especially if we have a limited support network of people who can directly relate to our situation.

Reaching out to a friend or relative who may never have experienced or witnessed an eating disorder before may leave you feeling misunderstood or uncomfortable opening up fully. However, seeking support groups and reaching out to like-minded people can be a crucial pillar in your healing journey. 

Whilst eating disorder support group research is limited, we know that they have been helpful for individuals and families with other conditions, including cancers, hospitalised adolescents, and bereavement, with the most beneficial effects associated with regular and long-term attendance. (1,2,3,4) Human connection is powerful, and it’s been shown to reduce the risk of relapse.

This article will dive into the potential power of support groups in eating disorder recovery, touching on some of the fantastic research by a critical name in this field – Dr Daniel J. Siegel, a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry from UCLA’s School of Medicine. 

 

Who is Dr Siegel?

Dr Siegel has done extensive research into attachment, human relationships and the neurobiology of children, adolescents, families and communities. 

He is a pioneer in ‘interpersonal neurobiology’ – an interdisciplinary approach looking at the sciences that make up the human experience and connection, encompassing mental health, anthropology, sociology, developmental psychology, and so much more. (5, 6)

Dr Siegel encourages this ‘consilient’ approach to medicine in its practice – one that considers multiple fields, theories, and ways of thinking, to reach a more holistic, inclusive attitude to health. (6)

He developed the term ‘mindsight’ to refer to our cognition in this synergetic way and is the director of the Mindsight Institute – an online platform of courses, tools and videos to explore this area deeper.

 

What is ‘mindsight’?

Mindsight is a term coined by Dr Siegel, which highlights the way in which we see ourselves and our brains and connect with others on a deeper level.

It can be described as the detachment of our thoughts from the ‘self’ and our identity. It is the acknowledgement of our feelings and emotions without being overwhelmed by them. Developing a practice and awareness of ‘mindsight’ can separate and overcome these consuming thoughts and beliefs about ourselves, which may be more damaging than helpful. (6) It can be seen as similar to developing a mindfulness practice or using yoga as a crutch in recovery.

Mindsight is something we can learn and develop with experience – rewiring our thought patterns and brain structure to serve us best. These connections can be formed throughout life and not just in childhood – emphasising the power of our brain’s neuroplasticity and its adaptability to change.

 

What does neurobiology say about human connection?

Research has demonstrated that these interpersonal connections between others in our day-to-day life catalyse further neural integration and stability, boosting our emotions, attention, mood, thoughts and behaviour. (6)

It stimulates the growth and activity of fibres in the brain that are integrative – such as the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus and corpus callosum, which are all responsible for strengthened connections between various brain regions. (6)

Studies have shown that the prefrontal cortex can be an indicator of social network size, cognitive competence, as well as empathy and understanding of others. This has been found with online interactions, too. (7, 8, 9, 10)

 

Why are our interpersonal relationships important?

Dr Siegel believes that by schools, society, and parents or carers, we are taught to believe that the ‘self’ is merely comprised of you as an individual, in your body, and little else. The two have been ‘equated’, and this is taught to us from a very young age. (6)

The reality is, in fact, that our ‘self’ goes far beyond this – the self is indeed within us, but also between us.

The ‘self’ includes our connections with other individuals, our society, and the planet as a whole. When we open the ‘self’ up to this, we receive and give compassion, kindness, empathy and love to those around us. (6)

We don’t live in isolation, but in connection, and the idea of the ‘American Dream’ and individualistic societies are not always quite as ideal as they seem. To ignore that humans crave and depend upon common understanding and collaboration is perhaps a reductionist and outdated view.

Relationships give us a sense of being seen, heard, felt and connected – and create well-being in our bodily lives – the mind and body. Well-being is dependent on this integration and sharing of energy and information. (6)

In modern medicine, physical symptoms have gained far greater focus than one’s lifestyle, experiences and individual needs. This is not optimal medical practice – and research shows that a person-centred care approach can be more effective, empowering and rewarding, with longer-lasting benefits, too. (11, 12, 13)

 There have been several studies carried out on the practitioner-patient relationship, and many have shown that the empathy provided to a patient has a profound effect on healing, immune response and mental health. (14, 15). There was found to be improved compliance and greater satisfaction when individuals felt heard and understood.  (16)

Practitioners who were attuned to their patient’s conditions were the ones who saw the best clinical outcomes, as well as feedback measured by the consultation and relational empathy (CARE) measure. In the study, participants were even found to recover more quickly from a cold when a more empathic approach was used. (17)

 

The PART theory 

PART is a framework of Dr Siegel’s, which stands for the following:

 

Presence:

Being present with another person, giving them the time and holding space to listen to what they have to say.

Attunement:

Focusing our attention on the inner nature of a person, their internal being. Taking the time to affirm their journey and make comments of empathy goes a long way.

Resonating:

Not becoming the other person entirely, but making an effort to deeply feel their feelings and be changed and moved by their situation.

Trust:

Engaging and inviting interpersonal integration to build rapport.

The above elements can be applied to a support setting to create a safe and open space for individuals, within a group or one-to-one, to create integration and interpersonal connection. (6)

We hope you enjoyed reading this article and learning more about the sheer power of connection and relationships – which is why we encourage you to make social support a priority as you may prepare to recover from an eating disorder.

Our all-new THRIVE programme includes weekly support groups with peers, so you can feel empowered, beat disordered eating and heal your relationship with food. Sign up today!

If you are seeking some 1-1 guidance on your recovery journey, remember you can also get in touch with one of our dietitians today and book a free, no-obligation discovery call.

Stay strong, brave, and beautiful! 

 

Priya Chotai, BSc ANutr

EHL Team x 

 

References

1. McGee SJ, Burkett KW. Building a support group for parents of children with brain tumors. J Neurosci Nurs. 1998 Dec;30(6):345-9. DOI: 10.1097/01376517-199812000-00005. PMID: 9949973.

2. Stevinson C, Lydon A, Amir Z. Cancer support group participation in the United Kingdom: a national survey. Support Care Cancer. 2011 May;19(5):675-83. DOI: 10.1007/s00520-010-0887-9. Epub 2010 Apr 28. PMID: 20424867.

3. Yvert A, Radjack R, Moro MR. Groupe de parole pour adolescents hospitalisés : un appui pour grandir [Support group for hospitalised adolescents: support for growing up]. Soins Psychiatr. 2017 Nov-Dec;38(313):19-22. French. doi: 10.1016/j.spsy.2017.09.004. PMID: 29173568.

4. Gibson A, Wladkowski SP, Wallace CL, Anderson KA. Considerations for Developing Online Bereavement Support Groups. J Soc Work End Life Palliat Care. 2020 Apr-Jun;16(2):99-115. DOI: 10.1080/15524256.2020.1745727. Epub 2020 Mar 28. PMID: 32223368.

5. Siegel DJ. Mindfulness training and neural integration: differentiation of distinct streams of awareness and the cultivation of well-being. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2007 Dec;2(4):259–63. DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsm034. PMCID: PMC2566758.

6. Siegel, D. (2014). Interpersonal Connection, Self-Awareness and Well-Being: The Art and Science of Integration in the Promotion of Health. Lecture, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

7. Lewis PA, Rezaie R, Brown R, Roberts N, Dunbar RI. Ventromedial prefrontal volume predicts understanding of others and social network size. Neuroimage. 2011 Aug 15;57(4):1624-9. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.05.030. Epub 2011 May 15. PMID: 21616156.

8. Kanai R, Bahrami B, Roylance R, Rees G. Online social network size is reflected in human brain structure. Proc Biol Sci. 2012 Apr 7;279(1732):1327-34. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2011.1959. Epub 2011 Oct 19. PMID: 22012980; PMCID: PMC3282379.

9. Powell JL, Lewis PA, Dunbar RI, García-Fiñana M, Roberts N. Orbital prefrontal cortex volume correlates with social cognitive competence. Neuropsychologia. 2010 Oct;48(12):3554-62. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2010.08.004. Epub 2010 Aug 14. PMID: 20713074.

10. Noonan MP, Mars RB, Sallet J, Dunbar RIM, Fellows LK. The structural and functional brain networks that support human social networks. Behav Brain Res. 2018 Dec 14;355:12-23. DOI: 10.1016/j.bbr.2018.02.019. Epub 2018 Feb 20. PMID: 29471028; PMCID: PMC6152579.

11. Ndoro S. Effective multidisciplinary working: the key to high-quality care. Br J Nurs. 2014 Jul 10-23;23(13):724-7. DOI: 10.12968/bjon.2014.23.13.724. PMID: 25072333.

12. Beach MC, Inui T; Relationship-Centered Care Research Network. Relationship-centered care. A constructive reframing. J Gen Intern Med. 2006 Jan;21 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S3-8. DOI: 10.1111/j.1525-1497.2006.00302.x. PMID: 16405707; PMCID: PMC1484841.

13. Mercer SW, Reynolds WJ. Empathy and quality of care. Br J Gen Pract. 2002 Oct;52 Suppl(Suppl):S9-12. PMID: 12389763; PMCID: PMC1316134.

14. Coulter A, Oldham J. Person-centred care: what is it and how do we get there? Future Hosp J. 2016 Jun;3(2):114-116. DOI: 10.7861/futurehosp.3-2-114. PMID: 31098200; PMCID: PMC6465833.

15. Kim SS, Kaplowitz S, Johnston MV. The effects of physician empathy on patient satisfaction and compliance. Eval Health Prof. 2004 Sep;27(3):237-51. DOI: 10.1177/0163278704267037. PMID: 15312283.

16. Stewart M, Brown JB, Boon H, Galajda J, Meredith L, Sangster M. Evidence on patient-doctor communication. Cancer Prev Control. 1999 Feb;3(1):25-30. PMID: 10474749.

17. Rakel DP, Hoeft TJ, Barrett BP, Chewning BA, Craig BM, Niu M. Practitioner empathy and the duration of the common cold. Fam Med. 2009 Jul-Aug;41(7):494-501. PMID: 19582635; PMCID: PMC2720820.

 

Why recovery isn’t just about weight restoration

eating disorder recovery

Three reasons why recovery is beyond merely physical

 

Weight restoration can be a crucial indicator of recovery on one’s healing journey from an eating disorder. When weight restored, you might feel stronger and may have reversed your symptoms related to starvation syndrome – which is already a significant and remarkable achievement!

While reaching your restored weight can positively affect your pathway to food freedom, it is also a hugely uncomfortable challenge to face eating what feels like vast amounts of food and experience rapid weight change. We empathise with you!

Studies have shown that eating disorder recovery heavily involves biological and neuropsychological factors, where those who are on the recovery journey report hope, support from others, and self-acceptance as integral in the process. (1)

Recovery is non-linear, and there is a need for more complex and flexible measures to understand the endpoints, timelines and processes of recovery. (2) It is necessary to recognise why it may not be too helpful to make weight our sole focus of recovery – and why it’s vital to think much further outside the box.

Below are three reasons why eating disorder recovery goes beyond the return to a ‘normal’ weight and other factors to consider on your healing journey, too. 

 

ONE: Health goes beyond physical measures.

We know that our whole health, particularly in eating disorder recovery, comprises far more than just weight. Mental, social, environmental, occupational, spiritual and emotional health are all relevant and valid facets when it comes to our health, too.

For example, if someone was injured in a potentially fatal car accident, but their fractures had now recovered, we wouldn’t assume that all of the trauma and fear that may have surfaced from this singular event has magically disappeared. 

It could take this person years before they feel comfortable travelling by car again. This could cause restriction in other areas of their life – such as in their occupation or social life – perhaps even evoking feelings of guilt or isolation. From this sole experience, we can see the consequential impacts on multiple forms of our health.

In the same way, although a stable weight may be reached, this doesn’t mean that we are in the best mental or emotional state that we would be considered ‘recovered.’  The weight gain itself could stir up inner conflicts too, so it is important to learn about how to cope with this.

These additional pillars of health cannot be defined or measured by a number on a scale or a portion size. So, putting weight as the threshold by which one is recovered can be seen as reductionist – losing sight of the broader picture.

You must also consider your emotional resilience, the relationship with have with your body and how you interact with the world around you.

 

TWO: Remembering the power of cognition.

Only looking at weight restoration as a measure of healing from an eating disorder assumes that this objective measure is the only indicator of recovery – and that our personal experiences and cognition is also healed through weight restoration.

Thought and behaviour play a massive role in our recovery. Although our weight may have normalised, this doesn’t mean that our mindset is positively aligned with achieving a complete and sustainable recovery. It is also beneficial to identify and detach our recovery ‘self’ from our eating disorder ‘self.’

Reaching a place of freedom, intuitive eating, and body compassion is no easy feat, and particularly for someone with an eating disorder, this may still feel like a lifetime away. They may still experience body shame and have a massive fear of gaining weight or continue to feel extreme hunger throughout the day. All of these can be signs that they may still be a long way off recovery. (3)

Those healing from an eating disorder may feel guilt for any weight changes or uncomfortable eating large amounts of food and limiting their heavy exercise routines.

Although recovery may be visible from a weight perspective, we do not know the whole story of someone’s mental state and any silent disordered thinking that they may experience. 

A big part of healing from an eating disorder is our mental health and self-talk – so again, ignoring this misses out a significant factor of one’s recovery path.

 

THREE: There is no such thing as a ‘normal’ weight.

It is important to remember that weight is an individual and relative term and that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to our bodies. 

You may have reached what is considered a ‘normal range BMI,’ but this is a social construct and one that has been criticised in the media time and time again for its potential inaccuracy. Weight is not a highly accurate measure of health – read why here.

Weight is personal to you – it goes beyond a number on a scale and involves how you feel and perceive yourself at that weight. It also doesn’t account for our unique build and other health conditions or situations that may shift our set point weight or what feels ‘normal’ for us. (4)

Focusing on weight implies that people are recovered through reaching a number on a chart and may further reinforce the visual stereotype of an eating disorder – being thin, emaciated, and usually female. 

We know this stereotype is often inaccurate, and eating disorders can manifest in any body shape, gender or race. The idea that all eating disorders look the same on the surface is simply not true. 

This may lead people to believe that they are not ‘sick enough’ due to their now-restored weight, and they may not feel an urgency to continue to recover or may feel they no longer need to. Being unwell is not a ‘look’ – and so it’s important to consider health from a more holistic viewpoint. (4)

We hope you enjoyed this article and are sending you plenty of strength and positive energy, no matter where you are right now. This kind of self-work takes immense courage, and we are here to support you along each step of the journey. 

Reach out to us at hello@embodyhealthlondon.com to chat with one of our specialist dietitians and book a discovery call today!

 

Priya Chotai, BSc ANutr

EHL Team x 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

  1. Bardone-Cone AM, Hunt RA, Watson HJ. An Overview of Conceptualisations of Eating Disorder Recovery, Recent Findings, and Future Directions. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2018 Aug 9;20(9):79. DOI: 10.1007/s11920-018-0932-9. PMID: 30094740.
  2. LaMarre A, Rice C. Recovering Uncertainty: Exploring Eating Disorder Recovery in Context. Cult Med Psychiatry. 2021 Dec;45(4):706-726. doi: 10.1007/s11013-020-09700-7. Epub 2021 Jan 2. PMID: 33389444.
  3. Bardone-Cone AM, Johnson S, Raney TJ, Zucker N, Watson HJ, Bulik CM. Eating disorder recovery in men: A pilot study. Int J Eat Disord. 2019 Dec;52(12):1370-1379. DOI: 10.1002/eat.23153. Epub 2019 Aug 16. PMID: 31418898.
  4. Hayden, M. Why ‘Weight Restoration’ Isn’t Recovery — ThoughtsbyKenz. 2021 Jan; Retrieved Nov 26 2021, from https://thoughtsbykenz.com/posts/2021/7/11/why-weight-restoration-isnt-recovery

How human connection reduces the risk of relapse

human connection and eating disorder recovery

How human connection reduces the risk of relapse

Eating disorders rely on isolation; letting others in threatens its very existence. The eating disorder thrives on disconnection from your loved ones, convincing you that it is you and your eating disorder against the world! There is little brain space or energy for any external relationships when you’re in the throes of an eating disorder, as the thoughts and behaviours are all-consuming. Because of this, it only makes sense that the opposite action of prioritising human connection is needed in recovery to prevent relapse.

Not only is this our clinical experience in treating clients with eating disorders at Embody Health London, but it is also backed up by evidence.

One study found that social connectedness was inversely correlated with levels of eating disorder symptoms; in other words, a greater sense of connection was associated with fewer eating disorder symptoms.1

Another study looking at recovered individuals found that recovery was largely influenced by the sense of connection and support the individual felt within their family and friend groups, and within the patient-practitioner relationship.2 They also reported feeling more hopeful about recovery when they developed stronger emotional connections with friends and family who supported their recovery.

We also know recovery isn’t dependent on having a lot of support, but rather on having good quality support. Quality over quantity! So who might these supports include in your recovery journey?

 
Close family and friends

These are most likely the people you spend the most quality time with and the ones you might feel most comfortable reaching out to in difficult moments. Be as open and honest with them as you can about what you’re experiencing, as well as how they can best support you. They want to be there for you but just might not know how to.

What can be helpful in this case is to give some specific examples of what is most helpful for you when anxieties are high, such as talking it through, engaging in distraction, or mindfulness.

If you are having difficulty accepting support, think about how you feel when you are given the opportunity to provide support to others. If you want to provide a helpful resource to a loved one – share our blog to help them understand how to support eating disorder recovery.

 
Your wider community

These are the people who can help you to feel a broader connection to your community and purpose, and might include people from school, work, or a class or group you’re involved in. They might not know the details of what’s been going on but can help you to stay engaged in hobbies and things you enjoy under the threat of relapse.

Beware of unhelpful topics of conversation, as not everyone is well-versed in rejecting diet culture (as we are sure you know)! It can be helpful to have a plan to divert these types of conversations, such as changing the subject or excusing yourself. You can learn more on our blog on how to deflect food comments.

 
Peer support groups

These are people who have gone through (or are going through) eating disorder recovery can directly relate to what you’re going through. Research has found that connecting to people with lived experience not only demonstrates that recovery was possible in the face of relapse, but also decreases isolation.2

There are support groups available both face-to-face and online, depending on your location. For those in the UK, Beat facilitate a range of support groups for people of all backgrounds. 

 

Treating team

An incredibly important support in preventing relapse if you ask us (although we’re a little biased)! Your treating team can include a dietitian, psychologist, psychiatrist, GP, mentor, recovery coach and many more professionals. These are the people who can help you to develop the skills to navigate challenges and provide you with a sense of accountability – remember that true accountability lies with you though!

While your engagement with your treating team will naturally decrease over time as your recovery progresses, it is vital that you reach out immediately if you recognise any red flags of relapse, even if it has been a long time since you’ve been in contact.

The most important thing that we want to reiterate is to ask for help when you need it. We know this can feel scary and you might feel some kind of way about being vulnerable with those around you. However, the people who care about you want to support you and get you through challenging times.

Lastly, remember that relapse is not a failure – it’s an expected phase of recovery and an opportunity to grow and learn about the areas that need strengthening for a life free from an eating disorder.

If you a seeking a dietitian as part of your treating team, that’s where we come in! You can get in touch with us. We’d love to hear from you!

As part of our newly re-vamped online programme we are so excited to share that THRIVE includes weekly support groups so you can have a go-to safe space where you will feel understood and supported every step of the way. 

Karli Battaglia, APD

EHL Team x

 

References

  1. Nunez N. Social Connectedness and Eating Disorder Symptomatology. Psychology. 2019;38.
  2. Linville D, Brown T, Sturm K, McDougal T. Eating Disorders and Social Support: Perspectives of Recovered Individuals. Eating Disorders. 2012;20(3):216-231.

 

Beliefs holding you back from full recovery

limiting beliefs

Three limiting beliefs your eating disorder has you believe

 

Recovery is hard enough as it is, not to mention when we hold unhelpful limiting beliefs that prevent us from reaching our full potential.

A limiting belief is a state of mind, conviction, or belief that you think to be true that limits you in some way.

We work with hundreds of clients who feel limited in their recovery due to these beliefs. Whilst, of course, we are all unique, there are some common limiting beliefs that many of our client’s experience. 

In today’s blog we are going to explore a handful of these beliefs and hopefully shed some light on why they are worth reframing. Because after all, beliefs are ever-evolving – not static.  

 

#1 FULL RECOVERY ISN’T POSSIBLE

Let’s start by saying… full recovery IS possible and it’s never too late to begin!

Why do we feel so strongly about this? Because we witness this possibility every day and research says it is, too.

With the right support and willingness to make change, you CAN recover.

What is full recovery?

It could be defined as an improved quality of life due to being free of all eating disorder symptoms and returning to a healthier body weight (if underweight). Beliefs and attitudes about body image, food and exercise are also normalised and healthy.

Factors that make it more challenging:

  • Not being aware of the eating disorder or of having a problem: If you’re here reading this, this likely isn’t you! Therefore, the world is your oyster! For those that are not aware, the right medical support is needed to ensure they are stabilised and then there is scope for engaging in recovery. 
  • Severity and duration of the eating disorder: The longer and more severely you have lived with your eating disorder the longer it may take to recover. But don’t let that put you off. Think about how much your life is impacted by the eating disorder – do you really want that to continue into your future? How much longer can this go on? You’ve got a life to live!
  • Anxiety or depression: Eating disorders often present with anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)1,2,3. Therefore, to recover fully it can be helpful to have the right therapeutic interventions to deal with the anxiety and/or depression alongside the eating disorder.
  • Low self-esteem and perfectionism: It have been shown that some of the maintaining factors of an eating disorder are underlying clinical perfectionism and low-self-esteem4. This tells us how engaging in a therapy is helpful to address underlying causes. 

 

#2 I WANT TO RECOVER IN A “HEALTHY” WAY

You want to have a go at recovery, but don’t want to eat that because it’s “not healthy”, right?

Holding onto “healthy” or “clean” eating is keeping you trapped. Healthy/clean eating in the context of eating disorder recovery is likely just a restriction dressed up with a halo.

We have to be very careful of this, because we also run the risk of recovering from one eating disorder into another – for example, from anorexia into orthorexia. This is NOT a good thing. It can be just as harmful and is not freedom!

Healthy eating has many definitions. It is perceived as a “good thing to do” in society and therefore if we suggest that our choices are based on “healthy eating” then it can be a get out of jail card for the eating disorder, and it can continue to go under the radar.

What do we know about the eating disorder staying under the radar?

Eating disorders THRIVE in isolation. If you are not allowing yourself to be honest with your intentions for healthy or clean eating, you are not allowing yourself to find food freedom.

It’s immensely important to challenge ALL foods as part of your recovery – including “fun foods”. If this doesn’t happen, food fears will continue to creep in and limit you from living a full life.

 

#3 I WANT TO RECOVER, BUT STILL BE IN CONTROL OF MY WEIGHT

In order to fully recover, we need to be able to accept that our body will change. Our body’s weight will change across our life. If we are still gripping onto the idea that we can “stay skinny” or “not gain any more weight” then we are letting our eating disorder control us.

The desire to still be in control of weight is driven by FEAR. We are scared. We fear what weight gain might look like, people’s opinions, what it might feel like, and what it may mean about us.

In order to overcome the fear of weight gain, we have to stop and move away from any weight-controlling behaviours. This is absolutely necessary. Every time we engage in weight control behaviour, we teach our brain that it needs to be afraid of weight change and that keeps us trapped in a negative loop of other unhelpful eating disorder behaviours such as the restriction-binge cycle or purging and over-exercise.

When we learn to let go of the control of our weight, we make room for SO MUCH more in our life. How much time a day do you spend thinking about your weight or ways to control it? Yes, too much. What else could you do with that time? Imagine the possibilities!

Your weight is the least interesting thing about you. Don’t give it so much of your energy. You are a whole person, you have so much to give to the world – the world needs that.

To learn more about how our dietitians can support you in your eating disorder recovery, book a free discovery call.

Zoe Light, RD

EHL Team x

 

 

 

References

  1. Godart N.T., Flament M.F., Perdereau F., Jeammet P. Comorbidity between eating disorders and anxiety disorders: A review. Int. J. Eat. Disord. 2002;32:253–270. doi: 10.1002/eat.10096.
  2. Godart N.T., Perdereau F., Rein Z., Berthoz S., Wallier J., Jeammet P., Flament M.F. Comorbidity studies of eating disorders and mood disorders. Critical review of the literature. J. Affect. Disord. 2007;97:37–49. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2006.06.023
  3. Garcia S.C., Mikhail M.E., Keel P.K., Burt S.A., Neale M.C., Boker S., Klump K.L. Increased rates of eating disorders and their symptoms in women with major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders. Int. J. Eat. Disord. 2020;53:1844–1854. doi: 10.1002/eat.23366
  4. Fairburn C.G., Cooper Z., Shafran R. Cognitive behaviour therapy for eating disorders: A “transdiagnostic” theory and treatment. Behav. Res. Ther. 2003;41:509–528. doi: 10.1016/S0005-7967(02)00088-8

 

The power of yoga in eating disorder recovery

yoga and eating disorders

Yoga as an embodiment practice

 

There is a growing interest in the benefits of practicing yoga for those struggling with an eating disorder. You might be wondering how a form of exercise could help with eating disorder recovery – however yoga is about so much more than moving from pose to pose or sitting cross legged on the floor. By promoting slowing down and turning the awareness inwards, yoga encourages a harmony between the mind and body that is lost through the eating disorder.

In this article, we’ll do a deep dive into the benefits of yoga in eating disorder recovery and the evidence supporting it.

 

What does the research say?

There is plenty of evidence supporting the benefits of yoga in eating disorder recovery. To describe a few…

One study of a group of women with Bulimia Nervosa or EDNOS found a significant decrease in eating disorder psychopathology after six months of twice-weekly yoga classes.1 The most significant impact was seen in a reduction in eating concern, weight concern and restriction.

Similarly, a study of women between the ages of 18-30 found a reduction in body-image dissatisfaction and spent less time focused on their appearance when they practiced yoga twice a week for twelve weeks.2

Another small study of adolescents with an eating disorder being treated as outpatients found a significant decrease in anxiety, depression, and body image disturbance after completing a weekly yoga class for twelve weeks.3

 

What is it about yoga that supports recovery?

Yoga can be uncomfortable, both physically and emotionally. By offering a safe space that is free of distraction, there is the opportunity to process and release emotions that may have been pushed down for a long time or coped with through the eating disorder. You might also find you can prove to yourself that you can survive hard things and that discomfort will pass. Learning to sit with discomfort and respond to your feelings rather than react are key skills for eating disorder recovery, as they allow you to navigate the urge to engage in disordered behaviours.

Another idea that is emphasised in most yoga classes is meeting yourself where you’re at. This means not comparing yourself to others, or even to your own “best self”. Instead, yoga encourages you listen to your body in any given moment, and to give it what it needs. Some days your healthy self will want a little more movement; some days it will need rest. Both are okay!

We said earlier that yoga is not just about the poses, but they have their place too! Moving (or holding still) with mindful intention allows you to connect in with your body without any focus on appearance. Despite an often-obsessive focus on the body, eating disorders leave us feeling incredibly numb and disconnected from our physical selves. Too often, we treat the body like the problem, when reconnecting with it can actually be the solution.

 

What should I look for in a yoga class?

Not every yoga class is going to be helpful, especially in the early stages of recovery. Choose classes that are gentle and focused on relaxation and stretching rather than more intensive movement. These classes are sometimes called “Yin yoga” or “restorative yoga”. Yoga classes that are trauma-informed, or even specifically directed towards eating disorder recovery are also out there – we suggest Googling what is available in your area.

Like almost all good things, diet culture has unfortunately found its way into some parts of the yoga community. While many studios are “safe” spaces, not all will be. Have a look at their website and social media to see what kind of messaging they promote and avoid any that refer to using exercise or food to change your physical appearance.

It should also be noted explicitly that while we obviously believe in the power of yoga in supporting eating disorder recovery, it should be practiced in combination with other treatment modalities and should NOT replace traditional evidence-based treatments. Make sure you discuss with your team before you introduce any exercise!

To learn more about how our dietitians can support you in your eating disorder recovery, book a free discovery call.

 

Karli Battaglia, APD

EHL Team x

 

References

1. Karlsen K, Vrabel K, Bratland-Sanda S, Ulleberg P, Benum K. Effect of yoga in the treatment of eating disorders: A single-blinded randomized controlled trial with 6-months follow-up. International Journal of Yoga. 2018;11(2):166.

2. Ariel-Donges A, Gordon E, Bauman V, Perri M. Does Yoga Help College-Aged Women with Body-Image Dissatisfaction Feel Better About Their Bodies?. Sex Roles. 2018;80(1-2):41-51.

3. Hall A, Ofei-Tenkorang N, Machan J, Gordon C. Use of yoga in outpatient eating disorder treatment: a pilot study. Journal of Eating Disorders. 2016;4(1).

 

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