Educating yoga instructors about eating disorders and offering yoga classes as part of eating disorder prevention programs may help avert these illnesses, according to the author of a review article published in Advances in Eating Disorders: Theory, Research and Practice (2014; 2 [2], 136-45).

Diane Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, MPH, RD, professor at the School
of Public Health at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, noted that in a study of both yoga and Pilates participants, the prevalence of people with disordered eating behaviors was equal to or greater than it is in the general population. This creates an opportunity to use the class environment to reach and help those with eating disorders.

Neumark-Sztainer said that more research is needed. “We know intuitively that yoga can help [with disordered eating behavior], but now we need hard data from research studies that examine the potential for yoga to help with body image and other eating and weight concerns.”

In speaking with IDEA Fitness Journal, Neumark-Sztainer suggested that instructors interested in helping with these issues should teach participants to “focus on the feelings inside—not the position and how you look. Use mantras that promote a feeling of well-being. Practice gratitude and body acceptance. Try doing less rather than more. Practice self-compassion. Learning to know the subtle changes in the body may help (we don’t know this yet) in recognizing signs of hunger and fullness.

“But mainly, use this time to [help participants] be kind to [themselves], as we receive so many messages about what we should look like and should do and end up beating ourselves up. Try a different approach. Remember this is a practice—a journey.” Neumark-Sztainer is the author of I’m, Like, SO, Fat!: Helping Your Teen Make Healthy Choices About Eating and Exercise in a Weight-Obsessed World (Guilford 2005).