Could you please share with us about your eating disorder story?
I developed an eating disorder when I was in high school. I went on a diet with a few friends and made a bet. I won the bet and lost the most weight but then I just kept going. In a year I lost about 25 pounds and went on to lose 40. I felt like instead of avoiding “fattening” food, that food itself was fattening and my fear of gaining weight took over all reason. Though people said I was emaciated I felt successful and in control and just could not turn it around. It was like I had been brainwashed.
What was the turning point that you realized a positive change was needed?
I remember when I went below 80 pounds even though I kept telling myself I did not want to lose anymore weight. My fear of gaining kept me from eating enough to prevent losing and I could not believe I had fallen below 80 pounds. I realized at that moment that I was not in control of it but it was in control of me. I decided I needed to go see someone and went to the college health center.
What challenges did you come across when you started the change mentally and physically?
The entire process was challenging. It goes against everything you have trained yourself to do when you eat more, when you tell yourself you need to gain weight. All of that goes against a strong voice in your head that says you must eat less and never gain. Changing clothing sizes, people making comments about any weight gain, even if they mean it as a compliment… all of these things threw me into a tizzy and made me want to restrict again and stop trying to get better. Mirrors were an issue too so I ended up taking most of them out of my house.
How did you find out about Yoga?
Yoga was offered at my local gym. I did not know much about it but when I suffered a running injury I was looking for something else to do while rehabilitating. I cried during my first class thinking that this would never keep me in shape. Yet, there was something intriguing, something I felt and noticed about how my body and brain could work together. There were things the teacher said that I know to be true but was not experiencing in the way I was living my life. I kept coming back for more and eventually found myself going 4 to 5 times a week.
How do you see the relationship between Yoga and eating disorders?
Yoga is an ancient practice and philosophy designed to help people unite mind, body and soul. Those with eating disorders live with all three of these disconnected. They don’t know how to be in their bodies with reverence and respect. They don’t know how to breathe or calm themselves, be still and alert at the same time. Yoga, especially when taught in philosophy and not just the physical poses or asanas is a whole system which can help bring people back to who and what they truly are and what matters.
What are the keys in battling an eating disorder?
This is a funny question for me because I wrote a book called 8 Keys to Recovery From an Eating Disorder. It might sound weird to say, “Go read that book” but in all seriousness, my co author and I did come up with what we thought were essential ingredients for recovery. The keys are 1, you have to have motivation, patience and hope. Key 2 is that you have to strengthen your healthy self and it will take care of your eating disorder self.
Why did you want to become a therapist?
I feel like I was always a therapist. I was the one that people came to for help or advice or just a listening ear. But once I was a school teacher I wanted to learn more about psychology and I became a school counselor and in the process learned about marriage and Family Therapists. I decide I would become one and got that degree. I thought it would help me be a good teacher and counselor but then I realized I wanted to also do private practice. I wanted to help troubled teens but never thought at all about treating eating disorders. In 1978 it did not seem you could make a career out of that.
How does someone tell if he/ she is developing an eating disorder?
It is a bit hard to know exactly when one goes from a diet to a disorder but part of it comes from having choice taken away. In an eating disorder the person really does feel like he or she cannot eat fat or eat over a certain amount of calories or eat desserts. It becomes an obligation to follow rules rather than live one’s life making choices about what to eat or not eat. Then there are the obvious behaviors like purging and taking laxatives, obsessive weighing. If you start doing that it is a problem to look into no matter what, even if you don’t do it enough to meet specific eating disorder criteria. Get help right away because most likely the behaviors will continue and get worse. Hiding, lying and secrecy are also a good indicator of a serious problem.
Could you tell us more about your newly launched book “Yoga and Eating Disorders”?
I had the idea for this book around 2000. I had been seeing my clients with eating disorders benefit greatly from yoga. Many said it was the first time they could be in their body without judgment or dissociation. I also began to meet other professionals having the same positive experiences with yoga as I was. I started collecting people who were willing to write about it. The book is the culmination of several authors sharing their personal stories where yoga meets eating disorders. Some are professionals who use yoga in conjunction with other therapies, some are yoga teachers, some are people who healed their eating disorder through yoga. Yoga and Eating Disorders: Ancient healing for a Modern Illness, is a great resource for anyone wanting to understand how these two fields come together in an important way. Joe Kelly is an excellent editor and I asked him to help me organize and edit the various chapters.
What do you think of organic food culture becoming popular, is it practical for everyone?
This is one of the issues that we even discuss in the book. We talk about the shadow side of yoga. People doing yoga to burn calories, or becoming so involved with the philosophy they use it inappropriately. For example, someone with anorexia might find it very compelling to only eat organic or raw food. People with anorexia like food rules, guidelines to follow that are clear and initially make some sense in regards to health. For example eating only organic food can be a way to be healthy and it is easy to follow, i.e., the food is organic or it is not. However, if there is nothing organic to eat someone with anorexia will skip eating, most other people will recognize that eating something is better than nothing and will not skip eating just because it is not organic. Anything done to an extreme or done to the point where choice is taken away is not good.
What is your opinion about fasting? When should one do fasting?
There is a lot of research on fasting and how helpful it can be. However, people with eating disorders should not fast. I have seen this go badly so many times that I am confident when I tell my clients that fasting would not be good for them. For some people it might be appropriate but for those with an eating disorder it is an extreme that can lead to a slippery slope. Once the person has been recovered for a couple years it might be fine to fast but while ill or early in recovery it is not a good idea. The kind of temperament that most people with an eating disorder have, is one that can easily get them into trouble when applied in the wrong way. For example perfectionism is fine when wanting to get good grades but is problematic when wanting to get an A in dieting.
What is a general concept of eating? Eat only when you are hungry?
I have written a whole chapter called Conscious Eating, which is in my book 8 keys to Recovery From an Eating Disorder. It is really too hard to explain it all here but Conscious Eating is really about being aware and conscious regarding your body and it’s needs, your eating choices and being in balance. It is about eating things that are nutritious and getting in the important nutrients while at the same time being able to eat for fun and pure pleasure.
What is your diet plan for a average yogi?
what are the do’s and don’ts in food that help with the yoga experience?
I don’t even have anything different to say to a yogi than I would say to anyone. You don’t have to eat anything special to be a yogi. I think you need to be aware and not too rigid or too chaotic. You should be able to eat with or without people and not feel you need to hide the truth about your eating. I find that many yogis eat according to rules and are not really making good internal choices. I don’t think that is being a good yogi.
Does the quantity of the food intake really matter for an energy level of the body? Is it correct to say eat more to grow more?
Food is like fuel so of course quantity involves how long the car or body will run on that amount. But people can seem to defy that rule at times. I have seen people with anorexia, including myself, run miles daily on very little food. But what happens is that the body compensates. Calories will be taken from other important functions like bone density, hair growth, menstruation and even brain function. This fools people into thinking that they don’t really need more calories but over time the body will suffer great consequences from these deficits.
In your opinion, who gets to live healthier – a non vegetarian, a vegetarian or a vegan?
I have seen a 99 year-old man who looked and acted like he was 70. He ate meat, drank coffee and smoked. I have seen pure vegans and raw food eaters die at 28 and 32 years old from malnutrition. This question is far too difficult to answer and depends on way too many variables. It is silly to think that there is one way of eating for everyone. We are all different, with different genetic backgrounds thus our bodies often do better in one way of eating verses another. But I think longevity depends on one’s attitude and even one’s attitude towards food and eating. Once when the Dali Lama had hepatitis he broke his vegetarian diet and ate red meat that was prescribed by doctors. To me this is the sign of a great man. The rules we follow cannot become more important than the person following them or the meaning behind our rules has been lost.
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