When I was in my 20s I was a Food Addict.
The label came about way before having a DSM diagnosis was popular. In fact, according to every therapist, I did not fit the profile of “Anorexia” or “Bulimia,” and therefore I must be “fine.”
But “fine,” I wasn’t.
I found myself in college eating cake—the whole cake—at three a.m. while crying. I didn’t know why I was doing it, except it felt like a release of sorts.
As I began to study addiction and how the brain works I started to notice that my patterns of behavior mimicked a drug addict’s. I was hiding and eating. I wouldn’t eat in front of friends, or I would simply order the obligatory salad and hoard the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream later.
I sought counseling and therapy, and all I ended up with was a pile of pills that made me worse. Then, I walked into a yoga class and it all changed.
Here are the four principles I’ve learned that have helped me kick my Food Addiction:
1. Your Yoga mat is your sanctuary.
You cry here, you release negative feelings here, you meditate here. You do not, under any circumstances, cry in the fridge. I labeled my mat “The Sanctuary” and began to treat it with respect. I found myself saying “I need my sanctuary” when I was stressed—not, “I need that 3400-calorie cake.”
2. If you find yourself wanting to eat in order to numb those feelings, get out the Sanctuary Mat and do 10 Sun Salutations.
If at the end of 10 Sun salutations you still want to eat and cry, then have at it. However, I learned that after 10 Sun salutations my mood would shift; I’d feel lighter, happier and wouldn’t want to eat. What my body wanted was more yoga. I found my practice increasing from 10 minutes to 20 minutes and more.
3. Learn to breathe out the negative feelings in your body and feel the “stuck” spots.
I learned that Warrior Pose made me angry, not relaxed; I began to explore which body parts felt stiff. My hamstrings began to scream to me in the pose and they needed to be heard, so I focused all my attention on releasing them and moving in a fluid motion. In Warrior II, I learned to release the negative energy in my body through my fingers and imagined it leaving and going to the sky, leaving me relaxed and in balance.
I was begging to let my body “talk” and be heard for the first time in my life, and it felt good. My desire, my need, my addiction to food was slipping away. My Sanctuary Mat held the keys for me to unlock myself.
4. Challenge yourself.
Pick a yoga pose you can’t do, but want to learn. It’s a goal; it’s a challenge, and once you conquer it, you feel empowered. That was a new word to me. The feeling of accomplishment. Eating cake I could do, but Stork Pose took some work. Work was good. It kept me busy, it kept me productive. Eating at three a.m. got me nowhere and left me with guilt and shame the following day.
What if you could unlock your potential on a yoga mat? Learn who you really are, let your aches and pains (both physical and emotional) be heard and acknowledged.
You owe it to yourself to achieve your full potential and release whatever demon you have haunting you in a simple yet effective yoga class. No medications, just you learning about you.
Author: Cali Estes, Ph.D
Editor: Toby Israel
Photo: Author’s Own