Yoga Is Curing My Eating Disorder

Daniela Vladimirova
Daniela Vladimirova

It’s a strange thing when you are starting to see the light at the end of the long and tiring eating disorder tunnel. For 10 years I’ve felt a certain way about food and my body and it’s consumed me in unimaginable ways. To have thought this way for so long and to now be removed of that is kind of… disconcerting. Of course it’s great to finally be winning the battle – because that’s exactly what it is. It’s literally a daily battle in your head and let me tell you it is EXHAUSTING. But at the same time it’s all I’ve known since I’m 12 years old and I’m not even really sure what to think anymore. I felt defined by this disease for so long and now it’s slowly but surely losing its grip on me and I feel really good but at the same time it’s like “okay… who am I”?

To make a very long story as short as possible, I started being bulimic when I was 12 and officially stopped at the age of 22 (technically 23 if you count one slip up this year). It wasn’t consistent, there were on and off periods but by the time I was 16 it was in full blown effect. I saw a therapist briefly senior year of high school but stopped going to him after I left for college (HUGE mistake on my part, in hindsight I think he could’ve really helped me). I’ll never forget my great friend Ben finally getting it through my head to stop puking when I was 21. I don’t remember what he said and I’m 200% sure he doesn’t either but whatever it was, it stuck. Since then I’d gotten a LOT better. By the time I was 22 I finally stopped WANTING to throw up which is really big and by the time I was 23 I had officially stopped, and I can confidently say I will never force myself to throw up again. The thing is that just because the action was removed and no longer a part of my daily routine it didn’t mean I was really any better. I’d still binge which sucked and really fucked with my head because half the point of the bulimic binge is the purge after. The underlying issue(s) that were at the root of my bulimia were gone. They were still there and actually driving me crazy and turning me into a complete psycho. Anyway, I promised to make a long story short so after I graduated college and entered the #realworld I realized that I really couldn’t do this on my own anymore. A combination of support from family and friends, therapy with an eating disorder specialist, and Cymbalta started to speed up the recovery. I was so anti therapy and medication but I just remember waving the metaphoric white flag and succumbing to it (therapy first, medication about 10 months later).

Things were definitely moving in a more positive direction, and by the beginning of this summer I really started to feel like I was slowly getting better. My best friend Gabriella had started working at this local yoga studio and had been encouraging me to try a class. I’d taken yoga a couple of times before but never really understood the hype about it. It had always seemed like a glorified stretching class to me. I did acknowledge the health benefits and of course it’s a form of exercise that can contribute to my weight loss so I decided to go for it again. Anyway, I finally got around to taking a class and it was good – don’t get me wrong I definitely preferred that class in a real studio as opposed to a class in my gym but my reaction wasn’t much more than “that was nice”. Gabriella, who’s been practicing for 4 years and who is currently studying for her certification to become a yoga instructor herself, kept saying that I absolutely NEED to take this one instructor’s class. I’ll leave her name out since I don’t want to show specific preference in the studio but Gabriella said her class is “AMAZING” and I’ll absolutely love it. So I decided to give it another go, and take this allegedly amazing class one day after working out. At the risk of sounding completely scripted, I’m going to say that this was the class that changed it for me forever.

She was unlike any other instructor I’d ever taken class with before. She’s spiritual and verbally motivating (not in a cheesy or hokey way at all) and she also gives you a kick ass workout. I can’t even tell you what she says during her class because I don’t remember exactly but all I know is that she doesn’t stop talking and she doesn’t just go through the motions of throwing out poses but she takes you to another level. It’s like a therapy session and a yoga class all in one. I can’t believe I’m admitting this but I actually cried in that first class with her. I’m not the only one who has; her words are really powerful. After that class it clicked for me and I understood the hype over yoga. I finally got it, connected to it and felt UNREAL. Never in my life had I ever felt stronger, more present or more in control. I couldn’t believe I’d gone so long without it in my life. Ever since then I’ve been practicing regularly (including 6 am classes before work – something I’d always despised and was now not only able to actually wake up for but also looking FORWARD to) and I will never stop. From when I started in June to present day not only have I never felt better but I’ve also noticed an improvement in my yoga practice, a difference in my relationships with family and friends, progress in my running, a noticeable weight loss, a surge of energy, growth in therapy and a new kind of happiness that I’ve never experienced before. Most importantly, I feel like the eating disorder that I’ve clung to almost my whole life is finally disappearing for good. This is something I never expected would actually happen.

Back in high school I did some group therapy at the recommendation of my then eating disorder therapist. I was very hesitant but ultimately ended up participating until I left for my freshman year of college. I remember really liking a lot of those girls. Most had completed inpatient treatment (something my parents were considering for me). A lot of them practiced yoga… I never really put two and two together that yoga is pretty amazing for treating eating disorders. I recently came across this. Of course, it has to do with two things that are relevant to me so naturally I read it. The article discusses how yoga could be used as treatment for eating disorders – and it all made sense to me. The author Anna Coventry states this:

“I noticed a change in how I viewed my body straight after my first yoga class. Of course I didn’t completely revamp my self-image within 24 hours, but I did begin to see myself in a different light. After a couple of weeks of practicing, I started to view my body with a foreign thing called respect and after a couple of months of regular practice, I began to listen to what my body was asking for and changed my diet accordingly”

This is IDENTICAL to my experience – I felt, and continue to feel the exact same way. She goes on to explain how exactly yoga helps with an eating disorder. I encourage anyone who is suffering from an eating disorder or just anyone in general who struggles with their body in any way to read her article fully but basically here is the gist of how yoga can really can be the Rx for treating an eating disorder:

BALANCE

When you practice yoga, balance is the key. Anything you do on one side you do on another. The poses in yoga have a direct effect on glands in the endocrine system which can help regulate metabolism, appetite and even menstrual cycles (all these things are affected by eating disorders).

SELF AWARENESS

So many people who suffer from eating disorders are aware of their body, but their image is completely skewed and unhealthy. Yoga is all about awareness…awareness of the body and mind, breathing and staying in the present, the here and now. This type of awareness is healthy and positive because it shows a person what they are capable of achieving with their body. As Anna Coventry says, this type of awareness leads to an increase in the desire to respect and honor his or her body. Once this awareness is achieved a healthy lifestyle will surely follow.

ENERGY

Before yoga, my energy levels were completely out of whack. I used to pass out on the bus to and from the city each day, down 4 cups of coffee a day and barely have any energy to drag myself to the gym at night let alone wake up at 5 am for a pre-work session, even if I was in bed by 9pm. This had a lot to do with my eating disorder and the depression and anxiety that came along with it. A single yoga class has the ability to wake up and refresh you. The poses are designed to shift energy, which is absolutely elating. Now I can wake up at 5:30, head to a 6 AM yoga class without any coffee, not pass out on the bus to work, AND get in a decent workout when I come home at around 8PM. Another thing re: energy – yoga is about bringing POSITIVE energy to you as well. Surrounding yourself with positive energy is hard but when you practice it every day in yoga, it resonates in your life.

MIND AWARENESS

Meditating is really hard. It is REALLY hard to shut off your brain, especially when you’re the type of person who thinks about what they’re eating for lunch and dinner before breakfast is even over. As I stated before, yoga makes you more aware of your breathing, your movement, your body… this ultimately changes the way you think and can create the opportunity to challenge the thought process that is involved in an eating disorder. A really smart meditation instructor said to me once that so many people are concerned too much with the physical aspect of yoga and don’t take the time to concentrate on the mental part of it. It’s so true – the mental and physical aspects of yoga go hand in hand. One cannot exist without the other, the balance must exist.

This ended up being a very long article and I’m sure I lost a ton of readers who decided it was too long for them or irrelevant to their life but I hope that whoever is still reading walks away with something. I still have a long way to go and a lot of myself to discover but yoga has helped me so much in this journey. I want anyone and everyone out there who suffers from eating disorders to know that there IS a way out of its clutches. Life does not have to be about food or your body or trying to live up to IMPOSSIBLE STANDARDS THAT NOBODY – NO MATTER HOW MUCH IT SEEMS LIKE THEY CAN – CAN ACHIEVE. The road to recovery is a long one but I swear, the other side is better. Practice yoga. I promise it’ll be worth it. TC mark

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