If the thought of yoga doesn’t bring to mind long-haired, half-naked gurus in India, it probably makes you think of thin young people in pretzel poses. True that, but it’s also become popular among populations that you might not expect. Yoga increasingly is being incorporated into treatment programs for young people who may be too thin or too fat – adolescents with eating disorders.
Dr. Cora C. Breuner helped conduct a study of 50 girls and 4 boys with diagnosed eating disorders. Participants were randomized to treatment with standard care (every-other-week appointments with physicians or dieticians) or standard care plus individualized yoga for 12 weeks. The yoga group showed significantly reduced food preoccupation immediately after each yoga session and significantly decreased Eating Disorder Examination scores at 12 weeks (J. Adolesc. Health;2010;46:346-51).
Speaking at the annual meeting of the North Pacific Pediatric Society, she gave a brief update: the teens in the yoga group showed greater improvements in weight a year after the study ended compared with the control group.
“Pretty much every eating disorders unit in the country now has yoga,” said Dr. Breuner, professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, Seattle.
I don’t know about every eating disorders program, but a quick look on the Web found plenty that include yoga and lots of independent yoga classes geared toward people with eating disorders. On this list of eating disorder treatment programs from EDreferral.com, for example, yoga is mentioned by nine facilities in California and one each in Arizona, Hawaii, Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia. I found others online in Michigan and Washington, too, with just a few clicks.
Dr. Breuner’s 2010 study isn’t the only one endorsing yoga for eating disorders. Here’s another (Psychology of Women Quarterly 2005;29:207-19). Columbia University reported on this trend in 2007. And the Wall Street Journal reported in 2011 on increasing use of yoga not only for kids with disorders but for healthy students, under the clever headline, “Namaste. Now Nap Time.”
Some of the key goals of yoga are to strengthen the mind and body and the connection between the two. It’s not a solo treatment for eating disorders, but it supplements the standard strategies of weight stabilization, nutrition therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and family-based therapy.
That last one is another big change in the field that has happened since Stanford University researchers began showing in 2007 that it’s very helpful in treating children and adolescents to use parents as agents for positive change in a non-judgmental manner.
“Now we bring parents in right away to help with refeeding the child,” Dr. Breuner said.
It’s only a matter of time, I suspect, until we see special yoga classes for parents of children with eating disorders.
–Sherry Boschert (on Twitter @sherryboschert)