Yoga can contribute to the recovery process of eating disorders in a variety of ways, and a number of studies have shown that it can improve symptoms of sufferers when used along with standard therapy. Yoga has long been a popular therapy in integrative approaches due to its physiological and psychological benefits. For a variety of patients suffering from anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating yoga can provide a deep sense of peace and relaxation, reduce their preoccupation with food, and improve symptoms of their disorder.
These complicated medical conditions are most often accompanied by depression and anxiety, and medical prognosis is generally poor. About half of patients with an eating disorder (ED) have a history of major depression. In the attempt to control anxiety and depression many turn to forms of high intensity exercise that is not beneficial to their condition. By substituting yoga for more strenuous exercise patients can reduce the impact on weight loss as well as the symptoms of anxiety, depression and preoccupation with food.
In a randomized controlled clinical trial of yoga in the treatment of eating disorders at Seattle Children’s Medicine Department, yoga therapy demonstrated a significant ability to improve eating disorders when used along with standard care. The purpose of the study was to evaluate the ability of yoga as a treatment option to decrease dietary and psychological symptoms in adolescents suffering from ED. In the trial, yoga treatment was shown to lower the level of food preoccupation significantly after each yoga session, as well as decrease participants anxiety and depression over time.
The study focused on adolescent patients receiving outpatient care for a diagnosed ED. The disorders varied throughout the group and included Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and ED not otherwise specified. Patients in the study were between 11 and 21-years-old, and included 50 girls and 4 boys; 26 were randomized to receive standard care plus individualized yoga treatment, and 27 were in the control group and received only standard care during the eight week trial. Interestingly, all patients from the control group chose to complete individualized yoga treatment after the study.
The yoga protocol consisted of two one-hour private yoga sessions with a RYT-200 instructor certified in Viniyoga by the Yoga Alliance. An eating disorder examination (EDE) was given after each of the 16 yoga sessions. The results showed decreasing EDE scores after each session for the yoga group, while the control group EDE scores decreased initially, then returned to baseline after 12 weeks. Based on the results of the patient evaluations, researchers inferred that food preoccupation may be reduced through the focus of attention on yoga poses. Patients confirmed this, stating the yoga practice was the only hour when they did not think about their weight.
In the end of the study, yoga did not decrease weight, and body mass index remained stable for all participants. The effect yoga had on food preoccupation scores suggested that yoga was a successful recovery therapy, and could be effective as an intervention before or after meals to reduce anxiety.
Viable treatment options such as yoga are being discussed and examined as part of National Eating Disorders Week to provide solutions that can improve symptoms of sufferers and provide them with means to recovery. This week-long focus on the issues is sponsored by various organizations which work to increase awareness, focus on prevention, and assist with better access to treatment, including the National Eating Disorders Association in the United States.
By Mimi Mudd