Can Yoga Help Overcome Binge Eating?

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Perhaps you know the feeling: you’re uncomfortably full and surrounded by empty cartons or crumpled wrappers. That sick feeling begins to bubble up from your core: it’s not only a physical sensation of unpleasant fullness, but deeper, darker humiliation and guilt, coming down from a high that’s replaced by gut-dropping shame and anxiety.

When we binge, we tune out. We go unconscious, we disembody, we are nearly unreachable. The logical part of our brain shuts off, and our bodies go into panic mode. Not enough, is the message that your body receives. Not safe enough, not supported enough, not grounded enough: Danger.

But what if you caught yourself before reaching that stress level? What if you closed your eyes and deepened your breath, settling back into that loving, quiet place that always dwells within you? Yoga can help us reign in our emotions and regain control over our behavior to overcome binge eating. It can gently eliminate the anxiety, and reprogram negative patterns we have around food.

Instead of the violent tossing back and forth on the waves of a binge, core yogic principles encourage balance. Furthermore, yoga can equip you with the tools to remain aware and in control before you get to the point of binging. But how can Yoga help overcome binge eating?

Yoga brings you into the NOW

When we binge, we lose ourselves to dread. Like a snake coiled to strike or poised to flee, our bodies go into fight or flight mode, a physiological stress response to a perceived attack. Our breath quickens, our pupils dilate and we may become nervous or excited.

We are seeking relief when we’re triggered to binge, and for whatever reason–underlying associations and correlations or deep-seated beliefs about eating–we mistakenly believe that eating as much as we can will bring that relief.  We are binging because we need something that we are not getting, but it’s usually not food.

By implementing a combination of physical yoga postures, meditation and breathing exercises, we can become fully present in the moment, and from that place, we can begin to calm ourselves and overcome binge eating.

Yoga gets you out of your head

Let’s face it: binging isn’t about being in your body. If it were, we’d be able to stop eating when our bodies tell us we’re not hungry anymore. Binging is a mind-game where your brain goes into survival mode. In order to pull yourself out and overcome binge eating, you need to drop in to your body.

In the Yoga Sutras, an ancient text outlining how to practice, one of the first things that mentioned is this: Yoga chitta vritti nirodhah.

Or, if your Sanskrit is rusty: Yoga is the quieting of the fluctuations of the mind.

Just what a panicky mind needs–fewer fluctuations and a little more balance! Practicing yoga–or any other mindful technique for that matter–is like pressing the slow motion button on your mind. Using breathing techniques to drop into your body allows you pull yourself from the frenzy of a binge, nudging you back into reality. It teaches us to observe and tune into the true self instead of getting caught up in the dialogue in our heads.

Yoga gets you into your body

The yogic practice first and foremost rehabilitates the connection between mind and body. By slowing down and tuning in, we allow our bodies to communicate with our minds, telling us what they need.

Listening carefully enough, your body will tell you when she needs an afternoon nap or an all-out sprint. She will tell you if she’s hungry for a warm bowl of stew or a long, cozy hug. The practice of yoga allows us to trust again. Truly turning in and coming back to physical and energetic awareness is key in stopping binge eating.

Yoga stimulates your feel-good chemicals

There are few cool body hacks that ancient yogis knew and took full advantage of: linking breath with movement, extending the exhales longer than inhales, and withdrawing the mind from engaging in stress-inducing thought patterns.

These activities trigger the PNS, or parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the ‘rest and digest’ mode of our nervous systems. It’s responsible for those lovely, relaxed sensations in the body, releasing oxytocin (the fuzzy bonding hormone) and the secretions for optimal digestion, sexual response, and circulation to non-vital organs, like skin.

Activating your PNS not only lowers stress levels, slows your heart beat and decreases blood pressure, it also boosts your immune system, lightens your mood and allows you to rest and recuperate completely. The long-term benefits of hanging out with an activated PNS include a healthy circulatory system, better sex, general longevity, and cultivating deeper, more satisfying relationships.

With your feel-good chemicals flowing, a calm mind, and a keen awareness of what your body is feeling, you can begin to notice what you experience when you’re most likely to binge. You are suddenly aware of the emotions, triggers and energetic highs and lows of that state, and that awareness, rooted in the mindful practice of yoga, is where we can begin the journey to heal and overcome binge eating.

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