Millions of Americans suffer from an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating. Among teens, the death rate for anorexia is 12 times higher than the other causes of death. Eating disorders are often difficult to successfully treat.
Anorexia is characterized by emaciation and an irrational fear of becoming overweight along with an obsession with food and weight loss. Bulimia consists of episodes of compulsive overeating and can be followed by purging, fasting or heavy exercise. Binge eating is characterized by uncontrollable eating and subsequent weight gain.
Here's three ways yoga can help relieve eating disorder symptoms.
Anorexia and Bulimia Relief
A 2013 systematic review, published in Disability and Rehabilitation, reveals physical therapy including yoga can help patients suffering from anorexia and bulimia.
Belgium researchers analyzed eight randomized, controlled trials examining the effectiveness of physical therapy on patients with eating disorders. Physical therapy interventions included yoga, aerobic exercise, massage, and body awareness therapy.
The researchers found yoga, aerobic exercise, massage, and body awareness therapy significantly reduced eating disorder scores and depression in anorexic and bulimic patients. Furthermore, yoga, aerobics and body awareness therapy can promote quality of life in patients with eating disorders.
"This systematic review demonstrated that specific physical therapy interventions, including aerobic and strength training, massage, yoga, and basic body awareness therapy might have beneficial outcomes on eating pathology, body mass index, body fat percentage, muscular fitness and depressive and anxiety symptoms," the study authors conclude.
Yoga Helps Treat Teen Eating Disorders
A study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, reports yoga therapy can help relieve eating disorder symptoms in teens.
Researchers from Seattle Children's Hospital Department of Adolescent Medicine administered either standard care or standard care with yoga therapy to 50 girls and four boys (aged 11 to 21 years old) with eating disorders for eight weeks. The diagnosed eating disorders included anorexia, bulimia disorder and other unspecified eating disorders.
The yoga group participated in semi-weekly one-hour yoga practice for eight weeks. The instructors were certified in Viniyoga by Yoga Alliance. The standard care group was offered yoga after the study was completed to encourage participation in the program.
Eating Disorder Examination (EDE), Beck Depression Inventory, State-trait Anxiety Inventory and Food Preoccupation questionnaire responses were obtained from the participants, BMI (Body Mass Index), hip and waist measurements were also obtained.
The researchers found that the yoga group had greater decreases in eating disorder symptoms than the standard care group. The yoga group had reduced EDE scores and Food Preoccupation responses. Findings also revealed no BMI changes and decreased anxiety and depression in both groups.
"Results suggest that individualized yoga therapy holds promise as adjunctive therapy to standard care," the study authors conclude.
Yoga Help for Binge Eaters
A study, published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, found yoga can help reduce binge eating episodes.
Australian researchers administered either a 12-week yoga program or no yoga (wait-list control group) to 90 women (ages 25-63 years) with binge eating disorder (BED) and a body mass index (BMI) over 25. People with a BMI of 25 or greater are considered overweight.
Binge Eating Scale (BES) and International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ) responses were obtained from the participants, BMI, hips and waist measurements were also obtained.
The researchers found that the yoga group reported reduced binge eating episodes and increased physical activity. The yoga group also had significant reductions in BMI, hips and waist measurements. However, the wait list control group didn't report any improvements.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
Elaine Gavalas is co-founder of Simply Centered and an exercise physiologist, nutritionist, yoga therapist, weight management specialist, and healthy recipe developer.
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