After years of battling an eating disorder and exercise addiction, a yoga practice restores a healthy balance and body image
My eating disorder began just before I started Physicians Assistant School. At the time, I engrossed myself in the world of bodybuilding and fitness, lifting weights 7 days a week and purging my kitchen of anything that contained an ingredient I couldn’t pronounce. I viewed food as ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’, ’good’ or ‘bad’.
I was stuck in an orthorexic mindset, ultimately terrified of food. I was afraid to eat white sugar, white flour, or anything with chemicals, yet I wandered around the grocery store, desperately wanting to buy boxes of cookies and other sweets I told myself I couldn’t have. Sometimes, I caved and purchased ‘dirty’ foods. Because I severely restricted my diet during the week, I’d binge and eat the entire box in one sitting (and then some!). Guilt would set in; I felt ashamed and loathed myself for being so out of control. “I need more willpower!” I told myself.
After the worst binge I’d ever experienced, it finally clicked that something wasn’t normal about this lifestyle. That’s when I made it my plan to pursue recovery.
With support from family, friends, and a therapist, I began to understand that it was possible to find freedom from the diet mentality.
I had no idea what food freedom really looked like until I submerged myself in it, but I had to give up the diet mentality to do it. Turns out recovery is a lengthy process. I’ve been surrounding myself with positive, uplifting podcasts, positive affirmations, journaling — all of which have made an incredible difference in my life — but it is yoga that has been the most beneficial for me.
Here’s what I’ve learned from my yoga practice:
I accept myself for who I am now, not who I will be in the future
Every time I practice yoga, I’m reminded to connect with my breath, my body, and my soul. Inhale peace and calm; exhale doubt, guilt, and shame. Getting in tune with my breathing opened up a whole new world for me because it forced me to pay attention to the fact that I am alive and I’m choosing to accept and forgive myself. Yoga is a gentle practice, and it always brings me back to the present moment. Practicing grace and forgiveness on the mat has also helped me practice those things off the mat.
I relinquish control
Yoga teaches you to be aware of your actions, thoughts, and their impacts on your life. It teaches you to be kind toward yourself and others. It also teaches you to let go of the things you’ve been trying to control, but cannot. It has helped me learn that I don’t need to force my body to fit in any mold.
I am aware
On the yoga mat, I am aware of what my body is doing with every single movement and breath. Off the mat I now have that same awareness. I’m aware of every action, every thought, and consequently, I’m able to make choices that are appropriate for me. I’ve noticed that I’m increasingly aware of my hunger and fullness. I eat slower and actually taste what I’m eating. Instead of starving myself, overeating, or binge eating, I’m aware of my body’s state and what it’s feeling and doing.
I crave putting healthy foods into my body
When I finish yoga, I feel renewed and energized, ready to treat my body with complete respect, compassion, and kindness. It makes me want to eat healthy because I know that my body functions best that way. I don’t feel forced to eat healthy foods, but I crave them. I still crave sugar and chocolate because I’m human, but I don’t feel like I have to have those things all the time. Yoga has helped me connect with what my body needs and craves.
I am continually discovering myself
Yoga is essentially a practice of self-discovery. Through the act of awareness, I am always analyzing why I do what I do. Am I eating for comfort? What am I really feeling? Do I eat when I’m stressed, depressed, or anxious? What type of movement sounds good to me right now?
Instead of beating myself up for eating emotionally or not exercising, I’m much more inquisitive about my thoughts and actions. I’ve been able to turn, “I shouldn’t have done that” into “Why do I feel this way right now? Is something deeper going on?”
If you, like me, have struggled with disordered eating and body image issues, I encourage you to take up this practice. Yoga has been extremely beneficial in my recovery, and I’m sure it will be the same for you!
>You may also enjoy reading Yoga: Beyond Movement, by Aditi Shah