November 29, 2016
How to Let Go of the Power Struggle with Your Eating Disorder
by Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, RYT
For years, I felt defeated by my eating disorder. No matter how hard I tried to give up my food rules or feel unbothered by the size and shape of my body, I always fell short, like I just couldn’t muster up enough willpower to follow through. This endless cycle of building up steam only to fall short (or even flat) predictably fed a toxic cycle of failure and shame.
Would I ever be carefree again? I’d ask myself repeatedly. Would I ever be able to see food as food and not as a caloric value or exchange? Would I ever feel safe in my body and trust myself to eat in balance instead of under or overeating?
The harder I forced and pushed myself to answer “Yes,” the more that reality felt like a big, fat impossibility. The more I bullied myself to be “different,” the heavier the shame became and the tighter I clung to my eating disorder.
Can you relate?
If you can, I want to offer you hope and the space to be exactly who you are, today, in this very moment: whether you just binged or are planning one, whether you are obsessing about a new diet or are currently in the grips of one, trust that you don’t need to fist fight with yourself, that you don’t need to beat the eating disorder out of you. No, you just need to breathe.
A while back I had a “aha moment.” I realized that if I accepted the eating disorder instead of forced to banish it, my relationship with myself changed. When I learned to study my thoughts and behaviors rather than feel threatened by the struggle to be rid of them, my mindset shifted from defeated to empowered. Somehow, when I accepted that my eating disorder is a part of me (versus a stain on my soul or a shameful illness), it’s power lessened. Little by little, and with diligent practice, I shifted from blindly going along with eating disordered thoughts and behaviors to being proactive about making choices that served me best.
I want to share with you a simple yoga practice to empower you to respond proactively to urges and self-defeating thinking patterns. I do and teach this practice often to shift out of “ED head” and get in sync with my breath and body. It’s like hitting the reset button, a way to push pause and come out from under worry, anxiety, panic, urges, and other related feelings.
Next time, instead of getting in a duel with your eating disorder about what, where, how, and when, or fall into a cycle of shame and failure, try moving in this calm but rhythmic way for even just 2 minutes. This short practice will relax your nervous system, ease muscle tension, and clear out your head. You can do this practice anywhere and at any time; no yoga mat is required, and the movements can be as big or as small as you like.
- Sit or stand comfortably and tall. Roll your shoulders back and relax them. Softly set your eyes to a single point.
- Inhale, and raise your arms to shoulder height with palms up. You can also take them forward or out to the sides. Exhale, and lower your arms, hands down. Repeat this rhythmic movement 5 to 8 times and then return to the starting position and notice how you feel. Know that there is no right answer to that question.
- Next, bring your hands to your heart in prayer. Inhale, and reach your arms out to the side, pressing your palms away from one another. Exhale, and bring your hands back to your heart at prayer. Repeat this rhythmic movement 5 to 8 times.
- Return to stillness, standing or sitting, and check in with yourself. How do you feel? Are you calmer, clearer, or still overwhelmed?
- Choose to continue with these movements or go on with your day, and know you can return to them as often as you need to clear out your head and calm your body.
You can repeat these two exercises or get creative with reaching your arms up over your head or even twisting by reaching one arm forward and one arm back. The most important thing is that you move in sync with your inhales and exhales. You might even say “inhale” and “exhale” out loud or to yourself to help slow down your thoughts and soothe your anxieties.
I believe we come closer to peace of mind and body when we feel empowered, when we feel in charge and recognize that we have choices. When we perceive ourselves as defeated, we feel the opposite: hopeless and without choice. You always have the choice to pause, breathe, move, and hit the reset button. You don’t have to exhaust yourself in a power struggle with the eating disorder. I know this is hard work, and I also know it’s possible to feel empowered. Choose to breathe instead of fight with yourself, and little by little, you will sense a shift in your relationship with your body and self.
Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, E-RYT 200, RYT 500, is a yoga teacher and yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. In recovery herself, Jennifer is extremely passionate about helping others reconnect with their bodies and be empowered in their lives. Jennifer works with clients in person and via Skype. She also teaches yoga at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia and is a partner with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. She leads trauma-sensitive yoga classes and teaches weekly flow yoga classes. Jennifer contributes regularly to eating disorder and body image blogs and the YogaLiving Magazine.