Love Your Body: Yoga Leaders Speak Out on Eating Disorders

As yogis, we are constantly preaching messages of self-love and body love, but sometimes what we preach doesn't align perfectly with how we feel about ourselves. 

At Hanuman Festival in Boulder, CO,  Eat Breathe Thrive director Chelsea Roff joined renowned yoga teachers and body image rockstars - Amy Ippoliti, Mary Clare Sweet and Mary Taylor - to share their own body image struggles and beliefs on how we can overcome some of these issues within the yoga community.


Their Stories


 

Mary Clare Sweet has been practicing yoga since the age of 12. Early on, she started to get modeling jobs in the yoga industry, as the "curvy" girl. One day, she was asked to model yoga in a book. Wanting to look her best for the opportunity, she ended up eating around one salad a day.

Amy Ippoliti explained that the way we see ourselves is as if we were wearing a cloak. 

"We're so inside of who we are that we have no perspective." - Amy Ippoliti

Amy explained that when we feel that our bodies aren't beautiful, we think that everyone feels the same way. At 14, she began binge eating, prompting a long struggle with overeating and overexercising. 

"I wasn't doing the right yoga." 

During one trip to Maui, Amy took LSD and had an experience where she realized that she could eat food and enjoy it and then not continue to eat it when she was no longer enjoying it. After, she looked in the mirror and finally had a moment of body love.

Despite the positive experience with LSD that time, Amy insists, "The real high is from yoga. Drugs don't get you high enough." 

She also explained that we all want to be approved and seen.

"It's a miracle that you are alive and in this body." - Amy Ippoliti

 

Mary Taylor was the eldest yoga teacher on the panel and experienced an eating disorder before it was a known disease. Wanting to make a positive impact on the world, Mary got involved in the Vietnam War demonstrations . At the same time, she realized that she had gained 15 pounds and wanted to lose it. While she couldn't change the war, she could change her weight.

Before long, she had lost the 15 pounds and continued her weight loss until she got down to 75 pounds and "woke up."

"No one talked about eating disorders then."  - Mary Taylor

 

After realizing her problem, Mary faced her fear head on by studying cooking in France but explained that it took her 15 years to have a healthy relationship with food.

 


Coming Into the Body Through Yoga


"It's super important to set up a space and drop into the space and truly become as embodied as we can be at the moment." ~ Mary Taylor

Amy Ippoliti: There are three things you can do. For one, start an awareness practice and be present while eating and enjoy. Don't do anything else while eating. Be a foodie. Number two is get on your mind off yourself and get passionate about helping others. Get in the mirror and see that you are really beautiful. Number three is to get involved with community and see yourself through someone else's eyes. 

"As a yoga teacher, be authenic in what you say." -Mary Taylor

 


How to Deal with a Student Struggling from a Eating Disorder in Class


Chelsea Roff: Never say anything during class to the individual. I now have the talk with people I see who are often underweight or who make themselves throw up. 

  1. Have the conversation in a private space.
  2. Ask permission to speak openly.
  3. Give observations without judgment. Do not assume and practice compassion.
  4. Come armed with resources. 
  5. Set boundaries while offering support.

For instance, Chelsea will invite the student to be in the room while she teaches but will let her know if the practice is unsafe since safety is always the top concern. 

 


To Cleanse or Not To Cleanse?


Mary Clare said that yoga is about recognizing opposites and that in her opinion, cleanses are a waste of time, that food should come from the ground, not from the box. "It's smarter to learn what feels good for you [to eat] in your body]."

"Cleanses are appealing to the people who don't need them the most." - Mary Clare Sweet

 

As an eating disorder expert, Chelsea Roff explained that diets make a person six times more likely to develop an eating disorder while cleanses make a person 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder.

"Detoxes are diets in disguise and most are very dangerous."  - Chelsea Roff

 

She clarified that detoxes meeting caloric needs can be helpful resets. 

Amy Ippoliti: If someone doesn't struggle from disordered eating, it's fine to do a cleanse.

Amy does one once yearly and explained that it should be done with the help of a proper nutritionist.

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Learn more about Eat Breathe Thrive.

Learn more about Hanuman Festival.

Top Photo Cred: Andrea Garrish - Geyer