Posts Tagged ‘dieting’

Yoga, Eating, and Being Round-ish


Since everyone else is talking about it at this time of year…

At my heaviest, in college, I weighed 205 pounds — having been overweight since about sixth grade.  (High school and obesity is a sad combination; just fyi.)

My lifestyle these days is very different from anything I would have imagined at 18 years old, but I definitely still live with the physical and psychological effects of spending my formative adolescent years as a very round girl.  

I’ve now lost my excess weight, which was a hard-fought battle.  I am proud of the success; I think it’s good to acknowledge it — But to be honest, my road to weight loss was paved with self-hatred and exhausting self-criticism.  (Just because something is successful doesn’t mean it’s truly positive.)  

…When I encountered Yoga, it was its compassion and mindfulness that I found appealing.  I’d spent my life ignoring, depriving, and hating my body.  This exercise that invited me to look at my body, to listen to it, and to appreciate it — no scornful critiquing in sight — was utterly new… And very precious.

Child's Pose

Yoga invited several crucial changes to my physical body, my coping mechanisms, and my self-perception… Changes that are still very much in development.

And since they’re in development, looking in the mirror is still very tricky for me.  What I see is a combination of reality and of the images and ideas I formed about myself years ago.  

I still struggle with using food outside of its intended purpose(s).  Depending on the moment, it often  functions as reward, as comfort, as distraction, or as a poor substitute for self-kindness.


(Sometimes I think I’m being good to myself by eating a few cookies.  But if I was truly good to me, I’d give myself more rest.  I’d take deep breaths.  I’d notice the sunset, the air, the moment.  I’d laugh more often, I’d confide more often, I’d listen more.  But — I can’t.  I haven’t learned that kind of love or compassion.  I simply don’t yet place that much value on me.

So, when it comes down to it, a few cookies, a bag of chips, a bowl of M&M’s — They’re like throwing cheap presents at myself, hoping they distract me from seeing that I never spend time with me.) 

Offering Chocolate

And just so we’re clear, it’s not that there isn’t any genuine pleasure to be found in food.  It’s just that to find it, you have to truly be there with it.  Smelling it, tasting it, savoring it… Mindful & present.  You can’t be using it to get something or somewhere else.

Enter Yoga’s compassionate practice.  Namaste

What does Yoga have to do with eating?  With the pleasure of food, with being good to one’s self?

The practice of Yoga helps you learn to slow down, to embrace stillness and quiet, and to truly listen to your body.  You learn to be comfortable with the silent moments, and to hear what it is that your body, your mind, and your spirit really need.  

Through Yoga, you also generate a compassionate acceptance of your body — learning that who you are, right now, right here on the mat, is good and beautiful.  You can slowly peel away the habit of judging yourself against cultural standards, commercial images, or even your own expectations.  

Once you begin to accept and love yourself as you are, you can start to look at whatever emotional and spiritual hungers are driving you to find fulfillment, distraction, and/or comfort in food.  

Finally, using the steady strength, perseverance, and trust learned in the physical practice of Yoga, you can open up to these discovered hungers.  You can learn more about your real needs and then work to meet them in truly nourishing ways.  

Perhaps that will mean something as right-now as saying “no” more often, studying more about Journalingyour spiritual path, or calling a friend.  Maybe it means something as long-term as changing careers, examining a close relationship, or seeking professional counseling.  Maybe it’s a calling, a hobby, volunteer work, making time for family… It could be many things at once.  You’ll know what it is — what your body, mind, and spirit really need — when you take the time and make the space to listen.

And thankfully, Yoga can offer that time & space.

As far as eating goes, over time, your attention to your physical needs as well as your spiritual and emotional hungers will heighten your awareness of how you treat yourself: including what you put into your body.  Rather than choosing certain foods based on the restrictions of a “diet,” you’ll be inclined to choose healthier fare simply because it’s more nourishing.

Mindful eatingAnd when you do choose a few cookies, you’ll be able to enjoy them fully & mindfully — Not as a poor substitute for deeper human needs.  

For more on Yoga and the effects of the practice on eating, dieting, weight loss, and self-esteem, see “Why Yoga Works when Diets Often Fail,” offered by Yoga Journal Magazine.  An excerpt appears in my previous post.

Here’s to peace, health, and (truly) good food for all of us…

…And to a beautiful, mindful, and hopeful New Year!


Why Yoga Works…

From “Why Yoga Works when Diets Often Fail”

There are many reasons why people feel powerless over food and gain weight. I use food as emotional comfort or to calm my anxiety. Sometimes eating seems the easiest way to feed unfulfilled inner hunger. Often, people rely on fast food to speed them through their too-fast lives. Many simply ignore their bodies’ needs for nutrition and exercise. Regardless of the cause, yoga is an antidote for food oblivion—it slows us down so we experience the body and commune with the spirit.

If there are emotionally based reasons why a person eats unwisely, it may be that yoga—especially the relaxation—opens a channel for clearing those emotions. Varshell relates a student’s discovery after shedding 20 pounds: “This woman realized through yoga how many emotions she stored in her body. She usually stuffed those feelings with food,” she explains. “I’m convinced if you don’t allow yourself to release emotions, they’ll come out as rage, disease, depression, or excess weight.”