Sprout Yoga

Eating Disorders are more than just anorexia and bulemia: Yoga and Binge Eating Disorder

In Uncategorized on February 26, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Recently, I was reading “Your Body Speaks Your Mind” by Deb Shapiro, a great book about what messages your body tells you through injury and illness. I’m reading this book as part of a book I’m writing on injury to body causing injury to sense of self, called “Falling.” Deb Shapiro is also the author of Yoga for Depression, a well recognized source that we’ll discuss in later posts and blogs. I’m also reading this book as part of the book reviews we at Sprout Yoga do for our newsletter, available here: http://www.sproutyoga.org.

So, the thing that struck me was this line, concerning the throat chakra “This chakra is also related to addictive behavior. When you repress your feelings or ignore deeper issues of pain, you need a way to keep them down. Addictions, such as over-eating, drug abuse, or alcholism, easily serve this purpose.” Shapiro goes on to discuss how the throat chakra forms a bridge between the head and the body, the mind and the heart. Its not hard then, to understand that those working on ending over-eating would be helped by a practice that unifies the head and the heart, the mind and the body, such as yoga.

But what struck me was not that yoga can help with compulsive over-eating, but that we can agree that compulsive over-eating is an addiction. Whereas, in contrast, we understand and agree that anorexia or bulemia is a disease. A disease that in-patient treatment is effective for when presenting in the most extreme forms.

Now, I understand that addictions are diseases, but it caused me to wonder, why do we not call compulsive overeating a disease? That question also is in my mind when I say that yoga can help those overcoming an eating disorder, people think of anorexia and bulemia, eating controlled and exercise induced anorexia, not compulsive over-eating. Nor do people think of yoga as helpful for disordered eating and body hate.

So with that in mind, I decided to share some information about compulsive overeating first.

Compulsive Overeating: An overview.

The Recovery Group, on the web at http://www.therecoverygroup.org/special/compulsive.html, states “Victims of Compulsive Eating have what is characterized as an “addiction” to food, using food and eating as a way to hide from their emotions, to fill a void they feel inside, and to cope with daily stresses and problems in their lives…. Compulsive eating has to do with how many hours you spend preoccupied with thoughts about what you are eating and what you look like.”

This strikes me because I’ve always thought that anorexia was an addiction to NOT eating. As I heard one young woman say recently “I found out I was adopted, and thought that my birth mother wanted me to disappear… I stopped eating, as a way of disappearing.” This rang so true for me in how other people coping with and overcoming eating disorders treat their bodies, they don’t eat as a way of filling that void inside them from other traumas.  Interestingly, the Recovery Group sums up the similarities this way “Words like, “just go on a diet” are as emotionally devastating to a person suffering Compulsive Overeating as “just eat” can be to a person suffering Anorexia,” and also discuss how people with  compulsive overeating use their bodies as a shield, to keep people away, often common among sexual abuse survivors. So, in essence, compulsive overeating and anorexia are similar and opposite at the same time – anorexics try to disappear, compulsive eaters try to build extra layers of protection.

Compulsive Overeating: Binge Eating

The Recovery Group also likens binge eating to bulemia, stating “Men and Women living with Binge Eating Disorder suffer a combination of symptoms similar to those of Compulsive Overeaters and Bulimia. The victim periodically goes on large binges, consuming an unusually large quantity of food in a short period of time (less than 2 hours) uncontrollably, eating until they are uncomfortably full. The weight of each victim is usually characterized as above average or overweight, and victims tend to have a more difficult time losing weight and maintaining average healthy weights. Unlike Bulimia, victims do not purge following a Binge episode….. As with Bulimia, Binging can also be used as self-punishment for doing “bad” things, or for feeling badly about themselves.”

Mirror-Mirror, http://www.mirror-mirror.org/compulsive.htm, a website about eating disorders, also discusses some of the traits of BED, noting: “Compulsive overeating usually starts in early childhood when eating patterns are formed. Most people who become compulsive eaters are people who never learned the proper way to deal with stressful situations and used food instead as a way of coping.”

It goes on to say, importantly, “In today’s society, compulsive overeating is not yet taken seriously enough. Instead of being treated for the serious problem they have, they are instead directed to diet centers and health spas. Like anorexia and bulimia, compulsive overeating is a serious problem and can result in death. With the proper treatment, which should include therapy, medical and nutritional counseling, it can be overcome.”

The Recovery Group goes on to provide diagnostic criteria for Binge Eating Disorder,

Recurrent episodes of binge eating.

An episode of binge eating is characterized by both of the following:

A. Eating, in a discrete period of time (eg, within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances;B. A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (eg, a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating).

2. The binge eating episodes are associated with at least three of the following:

A. Eating much more rapidly than normal
B. Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
C. Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
D. Eating alone because of being embarrassed by how much one is eating
E. Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or feeling very guilty after overeating
F. Marked distress regarding binge eating.
G. The binge eating occurs, on average, at least 2 days a week for 6 months.
H. The binge eating is not associated with the regular use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors (eg, purging, fasting, excessive exercise) and does not occur exclusively during the course of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.

3. Eating and/or Sleeping Problems

In addition, the University of Pennsylvania Office of Health Education, on the web here: http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/ohe/library/bodyimage/compulsive.htm, also states “Unlike anorexia and bulimia, a large percentage of compulsive overeaters are male.” It lists the signs and symptoms of BED as

Signs and Symptoms of Compulsive Overeating/Binge Eating Disorder

  1. Fear of not being able to control eating, and while eating, not being able to stop.
  2. Isolation. Fear of eating around and with others.
  3. Chronic dieting on a variety of popular diet plans.
  4. Holding the belief that life will be better if they can lose weight.
  5. Hiding food in strange places (closets, cabinets, suitcases, under the bed) to eat at a later time.
  6. Vague or secretive eating patterns.
  7. Self-defeating statements after food consumption.
  8. Blames failure in social and professional community on weight.
  9. Holding the belief that food is their only friend.
  10. Frequently out of breath after relatively light activities.
  11. Excessive sweating and shortness of breath.
  12. High blood pressure and/or cholesterol.
  13. Leg and joint pain.
  14. Weight gain.
  15. Decreased mobility due to weight gain.
  16. Loss of sexual desire or promiscuous relations.
  17. Mood swings. Depression. Fatigue.
  18. Insomnia. Poor Sleeping Habits.

For more information on BED see the Renfrew Center’s website, here: http://www.renfrewcenter.org. Renfrew lists among the various approaches to healing eating disorders as the “Addiction and Trauma Recovery Integration Model” (ATRIUM) is a comprehensive recovery model which combines psycho-educational, process, and expressive approaches to meet the challenges of trauma and addiction and how they relate to each other.

How is Compuslive Overeating Disorder Different From Obesity?

In his paper, “Obesity, Behavioral Biology, and Rational Overeating,” Trenton G. Smith of Washington State University discusses the genetic components of obesity, stating: “The normal form of the obese gene is now known to encode for leptin in humans as well as mice, and though genetically inherited defects in the obese gene are exceedingly rare in human populations, a few cases have been documented.

Historically, overeating has been viewed as a personality disorder, a symptom of “weakness of will,” and the response of the medical community to the afflicted was limited to formulaic lifestyle advice (“Exercise more!”; “Eat less!”; etc.) or referral to psychoanalysis, neither of which has proven particularly effective at producing thinner patients (Goodrick and Foreyt 1991, Brownell and Rodin 1994). As it has become clear that obesity is consistently associated with a host of health problems–including hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer–and that certain demographic groups (e.g., the poor) are at higher risk, obesity has increasingly been viewed as a public health problem. Epidemiologists studying the phenomenon have typically utilized prospective studies or large-sample surveys, mining the data for “risk factors” (usually chosen from the popular explanations for obesity: TV, sedentia, fatty foods, etc.) (e.g., Dietz and Gortmaker 1984, Ching et al. 1994). The ultimate aim of these studies is to produce an effective treatment.

Essentially, binge eating disorder can make you obese, but not everyone who is obese has binge eating disorder. See http://kidshealth.org/parent/growth/feeding/binge_eating.html, discussing the prevalence of BED in nonobese kids.

Yoga for Addictions

Its widely known in the yoga community that Yoga can be helpful to those in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. As reported in the Yoga Journal, http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/679?print=1, Mary Margaret Frederick, Ph.D states “addicts are profoundly out of control internally. They have knee-jerk panic reactions and tempers. The will and determination yoga requires helps people regain control over their body and their mind.”

But that seems a bit simplistic, doesn’t it?

The Yoga Journal article goes on to state that “Journal of Alternative Therapies that found yoga to be useful in addiction treatment. Based on a randomized clinical trial using yoga at a methadone clinic in Boston, the study revealed that in a group setting yoga was just as effective as traditional psycho-dynamic group therapy.”

I still feel like that’s not getting at the heart of why yoga works for dealing with addictions.

“Aruni Nan Futuronsky, the director of retreat and renewal at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, teaches a program called “Yoga of Recovery‹12-Step Spirituality” because she believes yoga and the 12 steps complement each other. She points out that the second step acknowledges a power greater than ourselves and the 11th step dictates meditation and prayer: “I see addiction as the ultimate disconnection from the body. Yoga philosophy teaches us about addiction when it teaches us about running from sensations in the body.“” As reported in the Yoga Journal.

Yoga for BED.

The relevance then, for yoga for BED is that it assists in learning not only to FEEL the body’s sensations, but what to do when those sensations aren’t comfortable. How to moderate the breath when a situation becomes complex, scary or uncomfortable. It teaches us, while holding positions that have activated the muscles, or while balancing, that we are strong, we are loved and we are loving. All while feeling slightly off center, or vulnerable, or even well, “like a geek” as one student put it.


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  1. Great blog and hope to have time soon to come back and read some more! xx

  2. thanks Hannah! I usually update the blog tuesdays and thursdays.

    you can also catch us on twitter at premapadma

  3. Thank you for this post, it’s exactly what i needed. i’m struggling with binging, and and fighting a session right now actually. it’s past midnight, i’m still full, drinking herbal tea but the voice in my head is screaming EATEATEATEAT. i keep focusing on my non physical hunger, but the level of anxiety is rising. I’ve been reflecting on this behaviour ,off and on for months, but more so in the last month. Food was my first addiction, then booze, then booze+ drugs, then drugs, now mostly food. [ the amount of drinking has risen significantly in the past 2 months, but it remains less then the average person . however, i drink alone]
    i’m half arsed in my yoga practice but do it when the body starts to seize up. i’m chalking this up to self sabotage, but i have to wonder, are there certain poses that would help A) get through a binge/ intense cravings and B) help root out the roots of these addictions/ problems? on a side note i have great trouble with my twists, could this be related?
    Thank you once again for your post and the links within. the Need to eat has subsided a bit, but the tightness in the chest is still there. ( i find it odd that i was triggered tonight, i got Really good news that countered the fears that I’d been facing this past week. upset and anxious i understand, but relief??? that’s a new one.)

  4. Yoga really helps me, I have no more worries and problems with eating.

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