Yoga Can Lead to a Healthier Relationship with Food
Yoga is a lifestyle, not just a workout. It is physical, emotional, and mental training to evolve into your best self. When people undertake a yoga practice, they often become healthier in ways they never expected. One of those ways for me was developing a healthier relationship with food. Whether you are trying to establish and maintain a healthy weight or just be at peace with your body as it is, yoga can help.
Our culture is so body-obsessed, focused on celebrities with perfect (or not so perfect) physical attributes. We probably all know celebrities’ “perfection” isn’t even real, though the critical messages can still be difficult to hear. Young girls in particular receive constant messages that can distort their body image. I saw it in myself and so many others; I see it in the 9-year-old girl in my life. Sometimes this distorted self-image leads to eating disorders and health problems. Yoga can help. It cultivates a loving relationship with oneself (and therefore one’s body and what is put into it). It leads to moment-to-moment awareness, allowing us to really enjoy food (and other pleasures) without judgment.
As a young woman I briefly struggled with disordered eating. I binged, I starved; I gained weight and then lost it. I never felt satisfied. I obsessed over food and my “imperfect” body. I was focused solely on being thin and definitely not getting the nutrients I needed. I would not be surprised if this led to my hypothyroidism and not menstruating for a full year and a half. Not to mention the emotional damage from being so obsessed and self-critical. It was a nasty cycle! I never even spoke to another person about it until very recently. I was ashamed and I’m pretty sure no one in my life would have guessed I was doing this to myself. So many people have trouble with body image and eating disorders, though. Whether it’s seemingly innocuous self-denigration in the form of humor or full-blown bulimia or anorexia, many of us have a troubled relationship with food and our bodies from time to time. This is why I’m sharing my experience now. I am so grateful that yoga helped put things in perspective for me. I hope that others struggling with eating disorders or body dysmorphic disorder will discover all that yoga can offer!
Getting into the yoga habit, creating a daily home practice (supplemented by occasional classes) helped me appreciate my body. I realized how strong it could be, how flexible. I learned to cherish the body I had, to treat it kindly. I learned that some of the things I had been telling myself were simply untrue! (I am actually flexible enough to do a wheel pose. I am strong enough to have made it through 200-hour yoga teacher training. I am disciplined enough to maintain a healthy diet, and actually really enjoy it!) I rediscovered the joy of cooking and eating and learned to listen to my body’s cravings more intelligently. Yoga led me to this healthier mindset in many ways. Centering myself during practice and tuning in to my body’s needs overflowed off the mat. Now in daily life I notice I am more mindful. I’ve come to really enjoy eating without any guilt. I tend to eat very healthy because a whole foods plant-based diet is what makes me feel and perform my best. But I definitely enjoy the occasional piece of cake or pizza without guilt! And I am passionate about finding and creating ridiculously delicious recipes that are healthy, too. So cooking and eating are a joy and not a source of stress anymore. Yoga and meditation allow me to be more “in the moment” — and only when you are truly in the moment can you fully enjoy it!
The discipline of the yoga practice centers me. I know it is always there to support me and that I will always feel better when I step off the yoga mat. Even if it is just a gentle movement meditation, my body knows what it needs. When I honor my body’s needs, I find I am most content, balanced, and serene. Yoga brings me inward. Focusing on my breath and an intention, even in a class surrounded by many others I gaze internally and learn about myself. In a challenging pose I come directly into the moment. I am truly experiencing life as it is, NOW. The present is the only time we can act, and yoga helps us to really be present. In a challenging or even a more relaxed pose I find balance and feel the nuances of muscles I hadn’t realized were there! Yoga makes me much more aware of my physical, mental, and emotional fluctuations. Therefore, I am more aware of the foods that support my health and those that deplete it. I know that over- or under-eating is self-defeating both physically and emotionally. I have learned to be moderate and enjoy great health without depriving myself of anything.
Looking back, I understand why I struggled. I had been (and am still) receiving many messages about “beauty.” Some were from the media, some from immediate family members or peers at school. These messages led to the belief that I wasn’t good enough. I scrutinized my face, my body. Was I ugly? Was I too fat? Too skinny? I fluctuated from feeling totally confident to completely self-conscious. It is much easier now to maintain a positive self-image. My eating and exercise habits are consistent and healthy, and I know how to take better care of myself. And yuck. No one likes to be around anyone who is so self-obsessed! You can’t enjoy life that way and no one spending time with you wants to hear it! Including yourself! Ego, please, stay in check. Life is to be enjoyed! There’s no need to make it difficult for ourselves.
So put away your mirror! Throw away your scale! Focus on what makes you happy. Get to know your body intimately and begin to see the effects that various foods have on it. Enjoy discovering fun new cuisines. Take care of yourself and be your own biggest fan. Notice when you tell yourself you aren’t good enough. You are perfect as you are! Remember that. And every day, do yoga. Meditate. Even if you practice just one pose. Even if you sit for just one minute of silence. As you get to know yourself better, over time, peeling back the layers of your perception you will find a beautiful self underneath. And you will understand how to nourish that self, body, mind, and spirit. Yoga can help!