Using Trauma-Informed Yoga To Treat Eating Disorders & Substance Use Disorders

Using Trauma-Informed Yoga To Treat Eating Disorders & Substance Use Disorders by Timberline Knolls

Many people struggle with the effects of trauma during their lives. But this can be especially true for people who are working toward healing from certain behavioral health conditions, including eating disorders and substance use disorders.

For those who are struggling with these concerns, trauma-informed yoga can be a powerful component of the healing process. Trauma-informed yoga is a gentle and person-centered approach to yoga practice that strives to empower participants and help them reconnect with their bodies in a safe and therapeutic way.

Characteristics of Trauma-Informed Yoga

Trauma is a person’s unique response to an overwhelming or distressing situation. According to survey data, about 61% of U.S. adults have endured at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE), and almost 1 in 6 have been through four or more ACEs prior to age 18.

Trauma-informed approaches recognize the need to support people wherever they may be on their personal paths to healing from trauma. Key components of trauma-informed care include:

  • Physical and emotional safety
  • Choice and control for participants
  • Collaboration with providers
  • The presence of trust and respect
  • Opportunities for empowerment and success

Trauma-informed yoga embraces the above principles while also incorporating the potentially healing practices of mindfulness, breathing, and safe movement. Recognizing the way trauma can reside in the body, trauma-informed yoga invites participants to connect with their physical experiences in a safe, supported way. While trauma can disrupt self-regulation, harm self-esteem, and cause a heightened sense of danger, trauma-informed yoga can begin to repair these feelings of disconnection and reestablish safety.

How Trauma-Informed Yoga Can Help

The lingering impacts of trauma can contribute to or worsen the symptoms of an eating disorder or substance use disorder, as well as complicate the recovery process. So it can be crucial for someone who is in recovery and wondering whether yoga can help to find a safe trauma-informed program.

A trauma-informed approach to yoga involves helping participants access healing in an individualized and careful way. Participants should ideally experience the following qualities in a trauma-informed yoga session:

  • The facilitator uses accessible and inclusive language to guide the class and respects each person’s bodily autonomy.
  • Healing and safety are top priorities, and each person moves at their own pace and only engages in practices they feel comfortable with.
  • The experience supports nervous system regulation and helps each participant achieve a calm and present state. This can help someone who is receiving treatment for an eating disorder or addiction establish a sense of safety and stability that can promote recovery.

For those who have eating disorders, trauma-informed yoga can also help with managing some of the unique struggles that may come with these disorders, including feelings of anxiety, shame, and low self-worth. Because trauma-informed yoga uses simple, accessible movements and lets participants determine their own experience, it can offer a safe, nonjudgmental, and healing setting for participants. Additionally, it can help deepen the mind-body connection and promote needed relaxation.

Trauma-informed yoga can also help those who are suffering from substance use disorders navigate recovery and improve their well-being. One study looked at the benefits of trauma-informed yoga for various groups, including people who were receiving treatment for substance use concerns. The study found that:

  • After attending multiple trauma-informed yoga classes, 18%-36% more students stated that they were using self-regulation skills in their daily lives.
  • Among the students who were receiving substance use treatment, a majority said that yoga was a helpful part of treatment and that they learned skills that helped them abstain from substance use.

Finding the Right Trauma-Informed Yoga Programming

Trauma-informed yoga can offer many pathways to better well-being and be an excellent complement to traditional therapies. But it is not a one-size-fits-all approach. If someone is receiving treatment for an eating disorder or substance use disorder, it can be helpful for them to be their own best advocate. Many treatment programs and providers offer yoga that is trauma-informed, but an effective program ideally honors individual needs and promotes emotional and physical safety at each step. Recovery is a process, and yoga can play a healing role when it meets someone where they are on their journey.

Why Eating Disorder Screenings Should Check for Addiction

Why Eating Disorder Screenings Should Check for Addiction

By Timberline Knolls 

Eating disorders and addiction are like partners in crime. Where one goes, the other often follows.

Up to 50% of people who are in treatment for an eating disorder also have a substance use disorder, while about 35% of those who are in treatment for addiction also have an eating disorder. Experts estimate that people who are suffering from addiction are 10 times more likely to have an eating disorder than the general population.

So why are these behavioral health conditions so connected?

The Battle with Body Image

Part of what ties these two conditions together is their connection with body image. Feeling uncomfortable with the size or shape of your body can be upsetting, and it can make even everyday activities too nerve-wracking to get through. When you spend nearly every day with that kind of stress, you may look to almost anything to change how you feel about your looks.

Some turn to over-the-counter medications like laxatives and diuretics, while others misuse prescription stimulants like Adderall® and Ritalin® and still others may use illegal drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine to control their weight.

For many people, abusing certain substances is the only way they know how to manage the distress they feel about their body. The unintended consequence: an eating disorder and addiction.

Numbing Difficult Feelings

But eating disorders don’t always have to do with the way someone feels about their body. Sometimes someone’s relationship with food is actually tied to painful memories or difficulty managing intense emotions.

Research shows that people who have an eating disorder are much more likely to binge eat on days when they are feeling depressed, anxious, or stressed. Eating in certain ways can be a coping mechanism in the absence of healthier strategies.

But if those feelings or memories become overwhelming, a person might try to self-medicate the emotional pain they’ve been experiencing by abusing a substance like alcohol or prescription painkillers.

If they don’t receive any sort of professional intervention, that puts them at a high risk for developing an addiction on top of the eating disorder they’re already struggling with.

Comprehensive Screenings Are Key

There’s no doubt that eating disorders and addiction can be intertwined in many ways. That’s why it’s so important for someone who has an eating disorder to also be screened for addiction.

By conducting a comprehensive evaluation before a person starts eating disorder treatment, their care team can assess whether their life has been impacted by substance misuse. This will allow the care team to create an eating disorder treatment plan that also integrates therapies and services that are geared toward addiction recovery.

Living with two behavioral health conditions can be incredibly challenging. But with the right treatment, it’s possible to live a healthy, productive and satisfying life.




Eating Disorders & Substance Use Disorders Commonly Overlap

Eating Disorders & Substance Use Disorders Commonly Overlap

By Timberline Knolls 

Struggling with an eating disorder or substance use disorder by itself is difficult enough. Facing both of these challenges at the same time can feel impossible.

Unfortunately, these two disorders commonly co-occur. Different studies cite various numbers depending on what is being measured or which population is being studied, but the rate of co-occurrence is generally thought to be somewhere between 17% and 46%.

The likelihood of someone who is living with an eating disorder also misusing substances is particularly high. A 2003 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that up to 50% of individuals who have an eating disorder abuse alcohol or illicit drugs, compared with just 9% of the general population. That same review found that more than 35% of people who abused substances also had an eating disorder.

Most research seems to note a stronger association between bulimia nervosa and substance use (36.8%), with anorexia (27.0%) and binge-eating disorder (23.3%) the next closest comorbidities.

Complex Illnesses with Complex Relationships 

It’s unclear exactly what the associations between eating disorders and addiction are. Substance use can begin before, at the same time as, or after the onset of an eating disorder, and it’s uncertain whether one drives the other or if they co-occur coincidentally.

People often use food and substances to cope with various obstacles throughout life, so even without a specific link, it’s easy to see how a person in recovery from an eating disorder may use substances to offset the stress of recovery. In a similar manner, a person who is recovering from a substance use disorder may develop disordered eating traits to compensate for the lack of chemical reinforcement in their body.

Based on a variety of research, there are several theories about why these two disorders may overlap. Substance use disorders and bulimia nervosa, for example, seem to share some behavioral traits, such as increased impulsivity. Some researchers believe that both disorders have some common risk factors, such as:

  • Low self-esteem, depression, or anxiety
  • History of childhood abuse
  • Family history of eating disorders or addiction
  • History of trauma
  • Shared brain chemistry
  • Being prone to messages from advertisers or media

How Someone Who Is Struggling Can Get Help

Both eating disorders and substance use disorders can have an array of frightening physical, emotional, and mental complications. Medication that is used to treat certain substance use disorders may exacerbate symptoms of an eating disorder, for instance.

It’s crucial to find a comprehensive treatment model that treats the whole person rather than just the symptoms of addiction or an eating disorder. This method considers each person’s unique needs, caring for both disorders while accounting for the potential of overlapping complications.

Through a holistic approach that may include principles of expressive therapies, family systems, 12 Step, spirituality, nutrition therapy and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), people who are struggling with co-occurring addictions and eating disorders can begin to find that recovery is attainable.