In the new book, “Hunger, Hope and Healing: A Yoga Approach to Reclaiming Your Relationship to Your Body and Food,” Sarahjoy Marsh examines the complexities of disordered eating and provides real-life, applicable ways to break free from what she calls a “self-defeating cycle.”
Marsh was a guest on my radio program, “Perspectives on Parenting,” on WCHE 1520 a.m. last month. The Portland, Ore.-based yoga therapist and educator has more than 25 years’ experience in yoga study. She says those plagued by eating disorders can essentially reprogram their bodies and minds and create a “360-degree life,” the circle representing one’s journey on the path toward recovery.
Whether or not yoga is your thing, eating disorders are pervasive. Up to 24 million Americans, of all ages and genders, suffer from eating disorders; including anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. Millions more suffer from disordered eating, an addictive relationship with food marked by shame, stress or body-hatred.
Here are some more alarming statistics, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders:
• One in ten cases of eating disorders involve males.
• Up to 50 percent of women are on a diet at any given time.
• 35 percent of people who start dieting become addicted to dieting.
• 25 percent of college-age women engage in bingeing and purging to manage weight.
• Half a million teens struggle with disordered eating. (National Eating Disorders Association)
• Rates of eating disorders among those older than 50 are on the rise.
Marsh herself says she struggled with disordered eating, which included anorexic tendencies and compulsive exercising. “Yoga was my path out of that really specifically,” she says.
While tweens and teens may get attention as a segment of the population that overwhelmingly deals with eating disorders, many grown adults, including parents, are struggling with these unhealthy patterns of behavior. To parents, Marsh makes a firm recommendation.
“As parents, it really behooves us to take a look at our own relationship to food and to our body image and to be careful what we say to ourselves and to our children.” Marsh says it’s important that children learn from an early age that appearance isn’t related to self-worth, yet doing so is difficult because this concept is so culturally embedded.
So how does yoga help promote the balance that one needs in order to achieve a healthy relationship with food?
“Yoga addresses the nervous system, promoting healthy digestion and endocrine function. When digestion and the endocrine systems are working well, we thrive. We can be active; we rest better; we move better; we feel better, and we have less chronic pain. Everything really comes into balance, and yoga excels at doing that,” says Marsh.
“The issue is really complex, but the solutions—through the lens of yoga—are actually relatively simple. I’m not saying they are easy, but they are simple, meaning they are doable,” she says.
Regulating breathing is one of the first steps Marsh recommends. She says we can change how we’re breathing to regulate our nervous system and heart rate and to make us feel like we have more leadership before we make the choice to engage in either an indulgence or restriction of food. One of the major teachings of yoga surrounds this focus on breathing.
While the causes of disordered eating are certainly complex, they can come from one, major problem within an individual’s thinking. Marsh says that disordered eating often is the result of an internalized sense of shame, which she says people can change. She asserts that most people wouldn’t shame others in the ways they shame themselves. Yoga, she says, “can help shift our physiology to our base capacity for love and kindness.”
Marsh’s insights cover a lot and may offer hope to those who’ve battled a negative body image or experienced disordered eating for some time. To learn more about Marsh or to get a copy of “Hunger, Hope and Healing,” go to http://sarahjoyyoga.com/hunger-hope-healing/.