• How to Practice Compassion for Someone with an Eating Disorder

    Facing an eating disorder is hard. Really hard. That goes for if you are a person who has an eating disorder yourself, or if you have someone in your life with one: a friend, loved one, co-worker, or student. Facing an eating disorder can be confusing, scary, frustrating, and sad. An eating disorder is a beast of an illness.

    You may wonder what you can do to help. It is so natural and caring to want to help relieve suffering, your own or someone else’s. But attempts to help and fix an eating problem can often be met with anger, resistance, or withdrawal. Helping is often the wrong place to start when facing an eating disorder. Compassion, instead, needs to come first.

    What is compassion? Kristin Neff, a well-known mindfulness teacher, teaches that the word compassion literally means “to suffer with.” To have compassion, we start by making a lot of room to be present with the lived experience of someone who is suffering. This takes time, true listening, and open-mindedness. And then, with this deep presence, we offer kindness, understanding, and patience. Compassion can be profoundly healing—truly, the most important ingredient in relieving suffering.

    How can we develop compassion for the people in our lives with eating disorders? Real compassion takes real work to develop. Start with yourself, acknowledging how hard this might be, and move forward without expecting it to be easy, perfect, or permanent. Just like yoga offers different practices to move towards liberation—study, meditation, asana, pranayama—so we can draw tools from yoga to help you cultivate compassion (karuna in Sanskrit):

    Self-study: mindfulness of your own stories

    Before you listen, take time to acknowledge and understand stories or judgments you may carry about people with eating disorders. We all have stories and stereotypes about who gets eating disorders and why—whether from life experiences, media, or a class in school. Some common stories are that eating disorders only happen to thin, white, young, wealthy girls. Or that they are about control, vanity, or attention. That they are caused by bad parenting, societal messages, or incorrect nutritional information. That if a sufferer could just love their body, they would get better. That having an eating disorder is a choice. That because you learned to love your body or because you fully recovered from an eating disorder, you know everyone else can recover like you did. Some of these stories are true for some people with eating disorders. They are not true for every person—we are truly all so different as human beings.

    Ask yourself—how do your stories affect how you respond to a person with an eating disorder? How do they affect your listening, your expectations, and your patience?

    Beginner’s mind: cultivate curiosity

    Take time to learn about the complexity of eating disorders, and the diverse ways they present. Start by educating yourself without putting the burden of teaching you on your loved one. Read stories about people who have eating disorders that don’t fit the conventional narrative. Read about people of color, transgender people, men, fat people, older people. Learn about genetic research, which can help you let go of blame.  Learn about how how malnutrition affects behavior, about the link between restrictive eating and binge eating, about how systematic oppression affects both illness and recovery, about health at every size. Hold each new fact or idea with tentative, flexible understanding.

    Then be open to learning directly from the person in your life with an eating disorder. Ask with gentle, non-demanding curiosity if the person would like to share, and let them know it’s okay if they don’t. If they do share with you, express gratitude. Let go of your own shame or blame, as these emotions make it very difficult to learn.

    Seeking truth: awareness of suffering

    People with eating disorders can experience a great deal of emotional suffering, even well into the recovery process. They usually experience intense physical suffering as well—digestive difficulties, headaches, fatigue. Unfortunately, neither of these types of suffering are visible to onlookers. It is a great myth that you can tell who has an eating disorder or “how sick” someone with an eating disorder is by looking at them. People can have anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or other food struggles and look any kind of way—thin, fat, and everything in between. Yet people with eating disorders almost always believe that they are not sick enough—not sick enough to really have an eating disorder, not sick enough to deserve care, not sick enough to heal.

    Unfortunately, our culture reinforces this idea of “not sick enough” with a medical system that only offers care to sick patients that show up in certain bodies, and with media that highlights only super skinny people. This is a double suffering—to suffer and then to have that suffering invalidated, ignored, and invisible.

    You can practice compassion by reminding yourself that eating disorders are also illnesses of the mind and heart, even when someone appears physically well. Stay curious about the person’s emotional state, instead of focusing on their physical behaviors or appearance. Welcome expressions of suffering by calmly asking questions to elicit more, or saying, “thanks for sharing with me.” Avoid criticizing emotions as irrational or turning away from suffering by offering positive thoughts or minimizing discomfort with comments like, “focus on the good things in your life” or “this too shall pass.”

    Practice equanimity: acknowledge and tend to your own emotions

    How do you feel when you approach someone who has an eating disorder? Do you feel anxious? Scared? Annoyed? Angry? Triggered? Ashamed? Where do you feel those emotions in your body? What thoughts or memories come up?

    Do not make it the responsibility of the suffering person to make your discomfort go away. Tend to your own body, mind, and heart. Get support for yourself. Care for yourself is crucial to have the endurance to be present for the long and winding path of the healing process.

    Lovingkindness: offer patience and hope

    We each express and experience kindness in our own unique way. Act from your heart. Know that being kind doesn’t mean that you can’t set limits or boundaries with your loved one—it just means that you set those boundaries with love and understanding of the emotions they bring up. Keep the light of hope for the other person’s healing alive within you.

    There are many ways to offer help—lots to do for someone with an eating disorder. But start with compassion, and you will not only have offered a gift to the person who is suffering. You will also have opened up your own heart and your own capacity for healing, presence, and love.

    NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition intended as a deep dive into yoga & body image

    By Suzannah Neufeld, MFT, C-IAYT

    Suzannah Neufeld, MFT, CEDS-S, C-IAYT, is a licensed psychotherapist, certified eating disorder specialist, and certified yoga therapist. Suzannah’s dedication to compassion for people with eating disorders comes from her work supporting individuals and families in their healing since 2003, as well as from her own lived experience with an eating disorder–she has seen again and again the profound power of compassionate relationships in the recovery process. 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.

  • 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