How Yoga Can Heal Binge Eating Disorder

Woman meditating at the beach and drink tea
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What is binge eating disorder? In an earlier post about where compulsive overeating crosses the line into binge eating disorder, I shared this quote from the American Psychiatric Association, publishers of the DSM-5: “While overeating is a challenge for many Americans, recurrent binge eating is much less common, far more severe, and is associated with significant physical and psychological problems.”

Mindless eating is usually a major component of binge eating disorder, where a person may eat in a frenzied or unconscious way and then feel regret and low self-esteem later. This can also impact interpersonal relationships, when the person wants to hide and isolate in order to overeat.

Because mindfulness is such an integral part of yoga practice, I’m finding yoga to be particularly helpful for binge eating and overeating. I’m currently offering and developing a variety of group classes and workshops in both my Clearwater and Winter Park locations, and I also see people one-on-one for yoga-based therapy.

Recovery from disordered eating always starts with awareness of why you may have developed unhealthy eating patterns, and how the eating has served an adaptive function in your life. It’s human nature for people to want to know why.

Once we have some understanding of the awareness of maybe the reasons how and why this particular problematic eating, then we can start looking towards creating healthy mindset and lifestyle practices.

We need to know what we can do with that awareness – how it can relate to making changes along the way. We work at the relationship between the mind and the body, the emotions – what we call in yoga the heart center, and how these connections have influenced your eating.

We look at how your patterns of eating have not only served you, but have formed some kind of impairment in your life. Then we want to know how a mind-body-heart practice can work towards healing this.

Mindless eating is a disconnect; a mindful yoga practice restores that connection gently and slowly. Yoga is more than just postures or asanas, it is about how to connect with inner peace through imagery and meditation; how mindful tasks can help with even behaviors and staying motivated; how self-compassion heals self-contempt; and how relaxation, along with mindfulness, helps with recognizing stressors and knowing what to do about them.

Relaxation is woven through all types of yoga practices, such as restorative, meditative and yin. The yoga we do depends solely on you and what your body needs. If it is challenging for you to move up and down from the mat, for example, we may do a session that uses only standing and grounding and empowerment postures.

Or we may stay close to the floor with yin yoga poses, possibly exploring our dark sides. Yoga uses the tool of gentle discomfort as a tool that teaches us how to tolerate discomfort. That is when we begin to change in a therapeutic way and take our practice “off the mat.”

So how does that relate to eating? Well, there are many situations throughout our day and lives that are uncomfortable, that we would like to avoid dealing with. Instead of retreating into mindless eating as a way to cope, we can bring forward the gentle perspectives we learn from yoga.

Taking yoga off the mat and into life gives us ways to handle these situations that don’t involve cutting ourselves off from relationships or reacting. We learn to respond instead of react, and make decisions we feel good and calm about. In turn, this boosts how we feel about ourselves.

Often my clients leave a session with a few prescriptive postures that are customized for their issues. They’re doable for them to practice at home and weave into their life, to integrate into their being as a way of pushing out the desire to emotionally eat or binge eat.

While talk therapy can be a very slow process, yoga-based therapy can give people grounding – literally – right from the start. Any body shape or level of health can benefit from yoga-based therapy, which is of course applied with caution  and by a trained practitioner.

Binge eating is numbing out and disconnecting from uncomfortable emotions, which then become repressed in the body, bringing additional pain. In yoga we’re reconnecting – from the mat to the plate, from the yoga studio to the dinner table.

This post originally appeared on the White Picket Fence Counseling Center blog