• Demystifying Eating Disorders

    “Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses;
    they are not a lifestyle choice, or a diet gone ‘too far’.”
    -National Eating Disorders Collaboration

    When I was diagnosed with an eating disorder in the 90’s, there was not as much awareness of these mental illnesses as there are now. After I went to treatment in college and learned about how eating disorder symptoms are a way to cope with painful feelings, I remember feeling so relieved, because I was worried that my preoccupation with losing weight made me shallow.

    I too had fallen into the trap of believing common stereotypes about eating disorders: that they are related to vanity, that they are just about controlling my food and body, and that I just had to eat and get over it. Over 20 years now on my healing journey, I still hear these rumblings about eating disorders from those who may have not had a reason to understand or learn about them. In the spirit of debunking these and other stereotypes about eating disorders, I offer some helpful education and resources.

    WHAT ARE EATING DISORDERS?

    Eating disorders are serious but treatable mental illnesses caused by a range of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness, and suicide is also common. In order to recover, individuals who are affected usually require professional help and support.

    According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Characterized by an obsessive preoccupation with weight, food, and body shape, eating disorders are associated with persistent eating behaviors that negatively affects one’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

    The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) identifies five types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), binge eating disorder (BED), and other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED). Not yet in the DSM but on the rise is orthorexia, which is characterized by an obsession with eating only healthy foods.

    Other types of eating disorders include pica, and rumination disorder. Symptoms associated with these disorders, such as restricting food and/or food groups, bingeing, purging, abusing laxatives, and over exercising, are ways of coping with trauma and other painful feelings and life events.

    Individuals affected by eating disorders are also prone to severely negative body image and body dysmorphia, a mental health disorder in which characterized by obsessively thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in one’s appearance. Co-morbid conditions include depression, anxiety, mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and addiction.

    Common medical complications include but are not limited to blood pressure issues, electrolyte imbalances, reduction of bone density, muscles loss and weakness, severe dehydration, fainting, fatigue, hair loss, dental issues, hair loss, dry skin, digestive problems, circulation problems, and hormonal imbalances.

    WHO IS AFFECTED?

    Only until recently, has the popularly held image as to who is affected and what an eating disorder looks like—emaciated, white, privileged adolescent girls—this mental illness affects every age, sex, gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic group.

    Knowing that eating disorders are characterized with a preoccupation with food and weight, it may seem counter-intuitive, but what is so important to understand is that weight is not a clear sign of an eating disorder. We typically think of eating disorders in terms of extreme thinness, but that is not the case for many who are affected. In fact, one can have anorexia, an eating disorder characterized by food restriction, without being underweight. Other eating disorders can present with various weights, too.

    The mental processes associated with eating disorder behaviors and physical ramifications (which include much more than weight), all contribute to the diagnosis of an eating disorder. One size does not fit all and includes every age, sex, gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic group—a fact the eating disorder community is working hard to raise social awareness of.

    HOPE IS REAL

    As the awareness of eating disorders continues to increase in our schools, among parents, and in the medical field, we are in a much better position to prevent eating disorders compared to when I was first diagnosed in the 90s. Treatment options are many, and include residential, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and outpatient. Many treatment centers focus specifically on eating disorders, and some addiction treatment centers also specialize in eating disorders, as these two mental health conditions often co-occur.

    Online resources, such as the National Eating Disorder Association, Mirror-Mirror Eating Disorder Help, and Eating Disorder Hope are filled with helpful information for those experiencing an eating disorder as well as for their loved ones and supports. In addition to discussing the warning signs and symptoms of eating disorders, these websites also provide invaluable information about eating disorder programs and treatment, screening tools, free and low cost support, help hotlines, and advice on how to talk with loved ones who you are concerned about.

    Whether you are experiencing an eating disorder or worried about someone in your life, hope is real. I urge you to consult online resources like the ones mentioned here and reach out to eating disorder support groups—you don’t have to go it alone. Connecting with others going through something similar just might be the key to taking the next step in your journey.

    By Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, C-IAYT

    Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT, is a certified yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. She is the founder of Yoga for Eating Disorders, creator and host of Real Body Talk, author of Body Mindful Yoga, an international speaker, and mental health advocate. Jennifer provides yoga therapy via online and in person, and leads yoga therapy groups at Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia. She also teaches workshops, retreats, and specialized yoga and eating disorder recovery trainings for professionals. Her writing about her personal journey of eating disorder recovery and professional experience as a passionate yoga therapist has appeared in Yoga International, Yoga Journal, Recovery Warriors, and other influential blogs. Jennifer has appeared on Fox29 news and has been featured in the Huffington Post, Real Woman Magazine, SJ Magazine, Medill Reports Chicago, Philly.com, YOGA Magazine, and on several podcasts. Connect with Jennifer: www.Yoga4EatingDisorders.com and www.JenniferKreatsoulas.com.

    Photo Credit: White Flower Bloom by Aaron Burden 

  • Exploring Yoga & Body Image with Omstars – The Yoga Network

    Welcome to the “Exploring Yoga & Body Image” Blog Series on Omstars!

    We’ve gathered yoga teachers, social justice activists and inspiring critical thinkers to lead us on a deep dive into yoga & body image! Our new blog series gives you the opportunity to learn from the top thinkers and activists in the field of body positivity, plus,  join a bigger conversation that will create lasting change, both in your life and in the world. This free blog series holds space for this work with inclusivity and compassion. But, it’s not only blogs—we will also be hosting IG and FB lives with each of these powerful voices. The path then culminates with a live discussion panel, hosted in Miami at Miami Life Center which will also be filmed for online viewing and made available via the Chat & Chai podcast. This weekend event, taking place June 7th-9th 2019, will be accompanied by a weekend of workshops for those able to attend. Many of these workshops, if not all, will also be recorded and available on Omstars thereafter, so as to make these vital and potentially world-changing workshops accessible to all.

    Discussing yoga or movement, diet culture, or basically any conversation about body image can be challenging; whether you feel the effects of negative or hurtful comments yourself, or you are unsure how to approach the issue and learn more about the topic. Either way, having clear guidance to navigate both the inner and outer work is needed. Think about this blog series as a kind of community re-education. We seek to bring the discussion of beauty, body and culture to the forefront of awareness, and in doing so, we hope to crack the myths of privilege and mainstream beauty norms. Relying on solid facts and research, our expert team of leaders guide you through a powerful process of self-discovery. We hope you will be engaged with us each step of the way and share your own stories, be active in the comments and join as many of the livestreams as possible.

    REAL inclusivity means being willing to have difficult conversations AND hold each other in a space of vulnerability, tolerance and kindness. When we learn to sit with and hold ourselves in this way, it teaches us how to then hold this space for others. This isn’t just a blog series, this is about creating a movement towards waking people up, opening up an important conversation and creating a safe, caring and supportive space for people to explore their thoughts, feelings and ultimately a chance for people to support each other in a meaningful way.

    But more than anything, we want you to know this— We hear you, we see you and we are here to support you.

    Without further ado, we’d like to introduce you to our esteemed group of experts from the Yoga & Body Image Coalition who are leading the charge on this series for us.

    LAURA BURNS

    Laura Burns is the fierce, fat, feminist founder of Radical Body Love Yoga. She’s obsessed with bringing body-affirming yoga and self-love coaching into as many lives as possible. Her commitment is to helping folks honor their bodies in each moment, regardless of size, ability, age, gender expression, ethnicity, and experience with trauma. She feels called to help people become more present in their bodies, more loving toward themselves, and to move forward toward living the life they want and deserve.

    Through her online courses, workshops, classes, and radical body-love activism, Laura is sharing her personal experience with the life-saving power of yoga and body-positivity with the world. Accessibility, trauma-sensitivity, and body-autonomy are the guiding principles of all her work and interactions with the world. Laura is an E-RYT 200, YACEP, trained and certified by Curvy Yoga, a Certified Punk Rock Hoops Instructor, a Community Partner with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, and the creator of the HoopAsana and Radical Body Love Yoga philosophies and practices. She lives in Houston, Texas and sets up shop online at radicalbodylove.com.

    DIANNE BONDY

    Dianne Bondy is a social justice activist, author, accessible yoga teacher, and the leader of the Yoga For All movement. Her inclusive approach to yoga empowers anyone to practice—regardless of their shape, size, ethnicity, or level of ability. Dianne is revolutionizing yoga by educating yoga instructors around the world on how to make their classes welcoming and safe for all kinds of practitioners.


    Dianne is the author of Yoga for Everyone (DK Publishing, Penguin Random House) and a frequent contributor toYoga International, DoYouYoga, Yoga Girl, and Omstars. She has been featured in publications such as The Guardian, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan, and People. Dianne’s commitment to increasing diversity in yoga has been recognized in her work with Pennington’s, Gaiam, and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition, as well as in speaking engagements at Princeton and UC Berkeley on Yoga, Race, and
    Diversity. Her writing is published in Yoga and Body Image Volume 1, Yoga Rising, and Yes Yoga Has Curves.

    Find Dianne online on IG, Facebook and Twitter or at diannebondyyoga.com and  yogaforalltraining.com

    CELISA FLORES

    Celisa Flores: Since obtaining a Master’s degree in Counseling in 2007 at CSU Fresno and a PsyD in Clinical Psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology in 2013, Dr. Flores worked as a therapist and program director in a wide variety of mental health treatment setting. This diversity of experience allowed research and training to expand her skills as a Feminist therapistwith emphasis on Eating Disorders, Mindfulness and women’s issues.

    With a history of providing individual, group, family, and couples counseling services, as well as therapeutic yoga services, Dr. Flores has focused on evidence-based practices, providing guidance and support in Mindfulness in Recovery, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and other self-empowerment strategies. In addition to training as a therapist, she is a Certified Yoga Teacher, also trained in Mindful Stress Reduction, Reiki and as a doula. By integrating a variety ofholistic tools into recovery and wellness, she works to create a long-lasting, sustainable wellness plan.

    Now proudly with Center for Discovery, providing clinical outreach for Orange County and the Central California region.  This role has included national and international training and speaking engagements on eating disorders, mindfulness, yoga, body acceptance, and professional wellness, as well as facilitating accessible, body-affirming yoga annually at the Los Angeles NEDA walk.  With a passion to support other therapists and community members with understanding eating disorders and treatment as well as self-care and overall wellness, she is always working to share information, research and training.

    MELANIE KLEIN

    Melanie Klein, M.A., is an empowerment coach, thought leader and influencer in the areas of body confidence, authentic empowerment, and visibility. She is also a successful writer, speaker, and professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies. Her areas of interest and specialty include media literacy education, body image, and the intersectional analysis of systems of power and privilege. She is the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery + Loving Your Body (Llewellyn, 2014) with Anna Guest-Jelley, a contributor in 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice (Horton & Harvey, 2012), is featured in Conversations with Modern Yogis (Shroff, 2014), a featured writer in Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Mindful Living (Llewellyn, 2016), co-editor of Yoga, the Body and Embodied Social Change: An Intersectional Feminist Analysis with Dr. Beth Berila and Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016) as well as the editor of the new anthology, Yoga Rising: 30 Empowering Stories from Yoga Renegades for Every Body. She co-founded the Yoga and Body Image Coalition in 2014 and is the co-founder of The Joy Revolution. She has been practicing yoga and meditation since 1996 and currently lives in Santa Monica, CA.

    Connect: melaniecklein.com, ybicoalition.com, yogaandbodyimage.org, yogarisingbook.com

    JENNIFER KREATSOULAS

    Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT, is a certified yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. She is an inspirational speaker and author of Body Mindful Yoga: Create a Powerful and Affirming Relationship With Your Body. Jennifer provides yoga therapy via online and in person at YogaLife Institute in Wayne, PA, and leads yoga therapy groups at Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia. She teaches workshops, retreats, and specialized trainings for clinicians, professionals, and yoga teachers. She also mentors professionals who wish to integrate yoga into their work with eating disorder clients. Jennifer is a partner with the Yoga & Body Image Coalition and writes for Yoga International and Yoga Journal and other influential blogs. She has appeared on Fox29 news and WHYY’s “The Pulse,” and has been featured in the Huffington Post, Real Woman Magazine, Medill Reports Chicago, Philly.com, The Yoga International Podcast, and ED Matters Podcast. Connect with Jennifer: www.Yoga4EatingDisorders.com.   

    SUZANNAH NEUFELD

    Suzannah Neufeld, MFT, C-IAYT, is a licensed psychotherapist, certified yoga therapist, and mom of two who has specialized in supporting people coping with eating disorders, body image concerns, and maternal mental health since 2003. She is a co-founder of Rockridge Wellness Center, a counseling and health collective in Oakland, CA, where she has a private practice. Suzannah is the author of the book Awake at 3 a.m.: Yoga Therapy for Anxiety and Depression in Pregnancy and Early Motherhood (Parallax Press, 2018). She is also a contributing author in the anthology Yoga Rising: 30 Empowering Stories from Yoga Renegades for Every Body. Learn more at www.suzannahneufeld.com

    SABRINA STRINGS

    Sabrina Strings, Ph.D. has always wanted to write. As a young girl, her parents gifted her a little desk so that she might have a proper place to sketch out the tiny imaginative stories she passed to them when the inspiration struck. Today, Sabrina is constantly seeking ways to combine her love of writing, her passion for yoga, and her devotion to teaching and community service. As a yoga teacher, she offers free and dana-based yoga classes and workshops in low-income, POC-dominant communities like Oakland, Richmond, and East Los Angeles. She the co-founding editor of the first-ever publication dedicated to interrogating the link between race, gender and the modern practice of yoga, Race and Yoga Journal. As a professor, she travels the world giving talks on race, yoga, and women’s history. She teaches courses on feminist theory, social inequality/collective liberation, race/gender and embodiment, and food justice. She is on the Community Resilience Project Faculty Advisory Board, where she helps to organize and promote local actions for environmental and climate justice. As a writer, her social commentary has been featured in The Feminist Wire, Truth-Out Independent News, and Yoga International. Her writings on the nexus of fatness and blackness can be found in Fat Studies, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, and the Oxford Handbook of Body and Embodiment. Her new book, Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia (NYU Press 2019) explores how the phobia about fatness has been historically related to fears of racial integration.

    MELANIE WILLIAMS

    Melanie Williams is an East-Coast-based, fat, queer, non-binary yoga teacher and self-love advocate, called to create profoundly accessible spaces for self-inquiry and the inward journey by integrating mindfulness and adaptive movement practices with the spirit of social justice. They believe that the goal of yoga, as of life, is collective liberation and in turn challenge contemporary yogis to dismantle the systems and beliefs that hold us all back. In addition to teaching group and private yoga classes, Melanie offers workshops that explore queer identity and body image, leads adaptive yoga teacher trainings, helps coordinate trainings internationally for Accessible Yoga, champions diversity and inclusion in the yoga industry as a member of the Yoga & Body Image Coalition leadership team, and serves leading industry groups as an expert advisor on diversity and accessibility.

    By Kino MacGregor, Anna Wechsel and Melanie Klein