Although the long-term effects of yoga are not known, the apparent short-term symptom relief from yoga may improve the quality of life during treatment for adolescents with eating disorders.
How Effective Is Yoga in Eating Disorder Treatment?
A 2010 pilot study was one of the first to give support to yoga as an effective adjunctive treatment to improve eating disorder symptoms.
A total of 50 girls and 4 boys aged 11–21 years were randomized to an 8-week trial. Of these, 27 were randomized to standard care and 26 to yoga plus standard care. The No Yoga group was offered yoga after study completion as an incentive to maintain participation.
Outcomes were evaluated at baseline, end of trial, and 1-month follow-up; a key evaluation tool is the Eating Disorder Examination (EDE) questionnaire.
The results showed differences in outcomes for the Yoga and No Yoga groups over time in eating psychopathology, with Yoga group showing decreasing EDE scores, whereas the No Yoga group’s EDE scores decreased but returned to baseline levels after 12 weeks.
Why Is Yoga Effective in Treating Eating Disorder?
Studies show that yoga practitioners have better body self-perception and healthier dietary pattern, which may help intervene in eating disorders.
In a study of 158 female Yoga practitioners on body self-perception and attitudes toward food, participants reported greater self-acceptance and appreciation of their bodies, and researchers observed improvements in body satisfaction and self-acceptance along with reduced disordered eating associated to their Yoga practice.
According to Yoga philosophy, there are intimate connections of diet with mind, and foods have an unknown subtle essence difficult to prove through modern scientific methods. Studies show that yoga practitioners usually have lower intakes of fats, and higher consumption of fresh vegetables, dairy products, whole-grains and functional foods (e.g. soy-based products), which could help in eating disorder interventions.
T. Rain Carei, et al. 2010. “Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial of Yoga in the Treatment of Eating Disorders.” In Journal of Adolescent Health, 46(4, April): 346-351.
Arnulfo Ramos-Jiménez, et al. 2015. “Yoga, bioenergetics and eating behaviors: A conceptual review.” In International Journal of Yoga, 8(2, Jul-Dec): 89–95.