Yoga and Eating Disorders: An excerpt from Carolyn Costin’s new book

Carolyn_Costin_LtGreen_Portrait_CircleMonte Nido Founder and Eating Disorder Expert Carolyn Costin, MA, MEd, MFT is renowned for being an advocate and activist in her field.  After recovering from her own eating disorder, Carolyn became a therapist and began treating people suffering from eating and body image problems. She went on to open Monte Nido in Malibu, California because she wanted to create something different.  “I wanted to create a center for healing in a home like environment, surrounded by nature.”  She has authored numerous books, and most recently released her fifth book. “Yoga and Eating Disorders” bridges the knowledge and practice gaps between mental health providers and yoga practitioners who work with clients suffering from disordered eating.  It is an invaluable resource for mental health and yoga professionals, as well as individuals and family members struggling with eating disorders.

Fifteen years of treating eating disorders prior to opening Monte Nido taught me the importance of incorporating healthy exercise. Taking away all exercise, as was the general practice, did not work. In private practice a no exercise rule is almost impossible to enforce. When enforced under 24-hour care, clients go right back to unhealthy exercise habits after discharging. Monte Nido has a gym, exercise equipment and a fitness trainer, but it is yoga that profoundly transforms our clients’ approach to exercise in a new and healthy way. Of course, many clients are initially interested in yoga because it purports to provide some kind of exercise. Yet, whatever clients come in the front door expecting, yoga provides a back door into teaching them much more.

My knowledge of the history of yoga barely scratches the surface. I am not adept at any particular form of yoga. I don’t call myself a devotee of any kind of yogic philosophy. What I know is that yoga, as a practice and philosophy, helped me embody what I already cognitively understood was true. It helped me live in my body with awareness, respect, non-judgment, harmony and honor. It enhanced my ability to be still, go inside, maintain balance, avoid comparison and be in the moment, yet not totally disconnected from the past or future. Practicing yoga taught me to accept where I was while, at the same time, guiding me to improve. If yoga did all this for me, how could it not be beneficial for my clients? I began recommending yoga to certain clients in my private practice. At the hospital eating disorder unit, where I served as clinical director, I lobbied to hire a yoga teacher for the patients. I was denied. Then, in 1996, I decided to open my own program, Monte Nido, the first residential eating disorder facility licensed in a home setting.

Yoga fit right in as a way to enhance and physically concretize what I was trying to do: help clients realize that the eating disorder self is ego/ mind out of control. Help them understand that they are not their eating disorder self. Help them separate from it and re-connect with their true nature or soul. Once connected to soul, things like weight get into proper perspective, where a number on a scale is no longer a matter of consequence.

Yoga can decrease eating disorder symptoms while not decreasing BMI. In a study of eating disorder clients, ages 11 through 21, the control group received “standard care” (physician and dietitian visits), while the test group received standard care along with individualized yoga. The yoga group demonstrated greater decreases in eating disorder symptoms a month after their treatment, while the control group showed some initial decline but then returned to baseline levels. 9 Food preoccupation dropped significantly after all yoga sessions. Both groups maintained BMI levels and experienced decreased anxiety and depression over time. The researchers conclude: “Results suggest individualized yoga therapy holds promise as adjunctive therapy to standard [eating disorders] care.”

People with eating disorders are disconnected from, even at war with, their bodies. Their minds are in a state of constant comparison. They are judgmental of themselves and others, out of balance, caught in habitual behavior patterns, and living in the past or future. As a yoga teacher said in class just this morning, “Our bodies live mostly in the past and our minds in the future; yoga helps us bring both into the present moment.” While yoga facilitates awareness, connection and unity of mind and body, we do not claim that yoga alone can heal eating disorders. Instead, Yoga and Eating Disorders: Ancient Healing for a Modern Illness demonstrates an important role for yoga in an overall treatment strategy aimed at transforming body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, addictive exercise, sabotaging thoughts and self-destructive behaviors.


All excerpts above reprinted from “Yoga and Eating Disorders” with permission. Read more about the use of yoga in therapy buy purchasing Carolyn’s book, “Yoga and Eating Disorders”To learn more about Monte Nido and the programs it offers, visit their website: or call 888.228.1253.

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