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Does my child exercise too much?

With all the promotion of exercise, many parents don’t realize that it’s possible for kids to exercise too much. In fact, over-exercising or compulsive exercising may be a symptom of something more serious going on. If you have a child who seems to exercise too much, it’s important to step in and help them find balance with movement and their body.

Signs of compulsive exercise

Compulsive exercise often starts with all the best intentions. Your child may love a sport and passionately pursue being the best they possibly can. Another child may have heard that exercise is really healthy, and they want to be as healthy as possible. Yet another kid might believe that exercise will help them lose weight, which they are desperate to do. Regardless of the reason why your child tends to exercise too much, the symptoms include:

  • Exercising multiple times per day
  • Feelings of guilt and shame if a workout is missed, even if it’s for good reason
  • Tracking all exercise and maintaining extensive logs of exercise performed
  • Exercising to burn calories or lose weight
  • Wearing an exercise tracker and feeling driven to exercise more based on its feedback
  • Having rigid rules about what forms of exercise “count” vs. those that “don’t count”
  • Exercising even when sick with symptoms like fever, congestion, and infection
  • Not being willing to skip a workout while on vacation, spending time with family, or when invited on an outing with friends
  • Exercising even when clearly not enjoying the activity
  • Being very rigid with exercise and exhibiting signs of stress when it’s not possible to follow their routine
  • Hiding exercise from parents, family, and friends, such as doing crunches in their room behind a locked door
  • Only eating after exercising, and believing that if exercise is not completed, they don’t “deserve” food
  • Constantly adding new exercises to existing routine to make it longer and harder
  • Following #fitspo accounts for constant fitness inspiration

Consequences of compulsive exercise

Exercising long, hard, and frequently is considered a virtue in our fitness-obsessed culture. But the surprising fact is that over-exercising is not healthy, and may even harm health.

If your child is exercising too much, they may be developing an eating disorder. While compulsive exercise is not recognized as its own eating disorder, it frequently appears alongside eating disorders.

The saying “there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing” is decidedly wrong when it comes to exercise. Compulsive exercise is a mental condition that falls under Obsessive Compulsive Disorders. It can have serious health impacts including:

  • High risk of anxiety and depression
  • Increased probability of eating disorders
  • Decreased connection with family, friends, and peers
  • Loss of menstrual cycle, leading to calcium and bone loss
  • Chronic bone & joint pain
  • High risk of injury such as stress fractures, etc.
  • Increased frequency of illness and upper respiratory infections

Compulsive exercise often starts out for all the best reasons. But some kids are just naturally more prone to becoming obsessive about exercise. Exercising too much can hurt your child emotionally and physically, and it’s important for parents to intervene if they believe there may be a problem.

How do I know if my child has a problem?

The most important thing is to consider your child’s exercise patterns objectively. You have likely heard all the reasons they give for exercising. But take some time to look at the amount of exercise they are doing and how it is impacting their life. There’s a critical difference between healthy exercise and obsessive exercise, and you can likely sense it if you pay attention.

Here are some conditions that should make you extra-vigilant when it comes to your child’s exercise:

If they are an athlete:

A 1992 study by the American College of Sports Medicine found that more than 33% of female Division 1 NCAA athletes reported disordered eating. Obsessive exercise and dietary control are very prevalent among student athletes. Parents should be aware of whether their student athlete has a healthy relationship with exercise, food, and their body.

If they have a history of an eating disorder:

If your child has a history of an eating disorder, they need to work closely with their treatment team before engaging in any serious exercise program. Even if your child has recovered from their eating disorder, serious exercise is a potential symptom of relapse.

If they are exercising to lose weight:

Kids are surrounded by dangerous weight loss messages. It is understandable that kids want to lose weight in our society that tells them people who are thin are more valuable. But intentional weight loss fails for 95% of people, regardless of their starting weight, why they want to lose weight, or how they lose weight. If your child is exercising for weight loss purposes, you need to intervene to let them know that intentional weight loss is not healthy. It often has the opposite impact of what was intended.

How to help your child who exercises too much

If you believe your child exercises too much, it’s important to intervene. Remember that your goal is to raise a healthy person in both body and mind. This is not possible if they are suffering from an obsessive behavior like over-exercising.

First, gather your information. Give yourself some time to take note of your child’s exercise behaviors. Cross-reference them with the list provided above.

Next, think about your child’s behavior beyond working out. For example:

Have you noticed significant dietary changes?

Are they restricting entire food groups? Perhaps they are consuming large quantities of protein powder and protein bars, but not much else. Pay attention to their food habits and whether they have changed.

What about social changes?

Are you noticing that they aren’t as social as they once were? Perhaps their only socialization involves exercise?

How is your child’s mood?

Have you noticed that they have a lot of rigidity and anxiety around exercise? Is your child generally more grumpy or manic since they started exercising so much? Are they less available to do fun things because they are busy exercising?

Open the conversation

Once you have all of the information you can gather, open a conversation with your child. For example, “Jimmy, I’ve noticed that you’re spending most of your free time exercising, and I’m concerned.”

Don’t throw your list down on the table or demand answers. Instead, ask open-ended questions that help you have a conversation about how they are feeling about the role exercise plays in their life. For example:

  • How are you feeling about how often you exercise right now?
  • Do you feel anxious when you can’t fit your workouts in?
  • Are you noticing that exercise sometimes interferes with other fun things in your life?
  • Would you like to talk to someone about your exercise, food, and body?

The best case scenario is that they will be able to have this discussion with you non-defensively. Be curious about their experience, and look for curiosity on their end, too. Talk about the dangers of over-exercising, and agree on some reasonable expectations in terms of their exercise behavior.

If your child has a problem with compulsive exercise, it will be hard to have this conversation without them becoming defensive. For example, they may tell you that you don’t know what you’re talking about, that there’s no problem, and that you don’t support their health.

Defensiveness may be a sign that there is something going on in terms of compulsive behavior around exercise. At this point, consider bringing in a professional who can help you navigate these conversations with your child. A therapist can work with you to help you open conversations, or they can work with your child directly to identify whether there is a problem and, if so, determine treatment.

These conversations are difficult, but they are also crucial. Early, compassionate intervention by parents can help a child who is struggling with exercise compulsion get the help they need.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Student-athletes and eating disorders

Student-athletes and eating disorders

Being on a team is awesome, but it’s also true that student-athletes should be monitored for eating disorders.

While moderate exercise is very healthy, student-athletes may struggle with anxiety, depression, and eating disorders during their athletic careers. This is most likely due to the the stress of participating in sports in today’s hyper-competitive environment combined with the fact that coaches and parents are rarely aware of how to spot eating disorders.

As parents, we need to be aware of the dangers, signs, and symptoms to help our kids thrive as student-athletes, both on and off the field, court, track, etc.

Mental health and student athletes

Anxiety, depression, suicidality, self-harm, substance abuse, and eating disorders are all on the rise for all teens and young adults. Almost 50% of Americans under the age of 18 experience mental illness before turning 18 (Pew Research Center, 2019)

Exercise and the belonging of being on a team are positive for mental health. Yet many student-athletes find themselves suffering from food and body issues.

“Despite the well-documented benefits from exercise and sports participation on mental health, some athletes will at times experience psychological, emotional, and behavioral problems.”

Mann, et al, 2007

“The professional consensus is that the incidence of anxiety and depression among scholastic athletes has increased over the past 10 to 15 years,” said Marshall Mintz, a New Jersey–based sports psychologist who has worked with teenagers for 30 years (The Atlantic).

A study by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association discovered that many adolescent student-athletes reported higher levels of emotional disruption and mental illness compared to non-student-athletes. (Neal, et al, 2015)

What makes student-athletes vulnerable to eating disorders?

Student-athletes have some great assets in terms of belonging and healthy exercise. But they can also suffer in a highly-competitive environment. This is especially true when the athletes are held to body standards and/or wear body-conscious uniforms. Such sports include running, girls’ volleyball, gymnastics, and swimming.

Here are a few reasons why student-athletes may struggle with mental health:

1. Athletics become the primary identity

Many student-athletes build their identity around being athletic. They often build their entire sense of self and worth around their athletic performance. Athletics become the way they seek and receive positive feedback from parents, peers, and important adults like coaches. This is a risky way to identify yourself. An injury or poor performance can leave an athlete feeling bereft and worthless.

2. Fear of falling behind

Athletics is based on being either a “winner” or “loser.” And this may be motivating for some. But others can become obsessed with numbers and performance metrics. The more games won, points scored, and medals received, the greater the fear of not performing as well next time. This leaves student-athletes in a constant state of fear. They fear of letting their team, their coach, their parents, and their peers down. It becomes impossible to imagine not giving everything they have to their sports performance. They may sacrifice food, sleep, grades, physical health, and mental health to the high-stakes game of winning.

3. Unrelenting intensity

High school sports were once confined to the season, but now most student-athletes compete year-round. They put in 2-3 hrs of practice every day (sometimes more) on top of schoolwork. Many don’t get home until 7 or 8 p.m., at which time they must complete several hours of homework. This schedule continues without a break as long as they want to stay competitive. But this schedule requires a 12-hour workday before homework. With homework, student-athletes are working 15-18 hour days. This is more than 75 hours per week. That’s many more hours than most adults work.

4. Pleasing parents

Most parents don’t mean to push their kids too hard when it comes to athletics. Most do it subconsciously in an attempt to support their child along with their own ego. It’s wonderful when a child is naturally athletically talented, and usually, the child enjoys their sport tremendously in the beginning. But as they continue, many kids will keep playing even when they don’t enjoy themselves. Because they know how much their parents love their athleticism. Since their identity is wrapped up in their sport, they worry that they are not lovable without their sport. They also know how much their parents have sacrificed in both time and money for them to succeed so far. It’s hard to stop playing when you know how much your parents have invested in you.

5. Dangerous coaches

Coaches often spend more time with student-athletes than any other adult, including parents. They might be great at achieving athletic goals. But few coaches have any training in mental health and eating disorders. They tend to make massive and devastating mistakes when it comes to the emotional caretaking of our student-athletes. Coaches are incentivized to win, and their focus is on that outcome rather than any individual player’s health. In fact, coaches may ignore physical injuries and obvious mental distress. Their goal is to maintain a key player on their team, not care for that player themselves. Coaches often criticize student-athletes and engage in emotional manipulation to meet their winning goals. And, of course, coaches want their student-athletes to look the part, which means lean and muscled. In some sports, weigh-ins lead to explicit weight goals. In others, coaches never need to explicitly state weight goals. They just make comments to make it clear that student-athletes must maintain a certain physique in order to be a part of the team.

6. Body-conscious uniforms

Uniforms can either increase or soothe body consciousness. The most challenging uniforms when it comes to body issues are swimsuits, leotards, and the briefs worn for volleyball and running. In these uniforms, a student-athlete who is gaining weight has nowhere to hide. Many will simply drop out of a sport rather than continue to watch their bodies change in plain view. The uniforms perpetuate the concept that there are particular body types that are “built” for particular sports. They promote the concept that anyone who doesn’t “look good” in the uniform should not participate.

7. Dedication and perfectionism

The very same characteristics that make someone a great athlete also make them “good” at eating disorders. Great athletes are dedicated and passionate. They tend toward perfectionism and don’t shy away from following a “no pain, no gain” mentality to succeed. These qualities also makes them very good at controlling their food intake and engaging in disordered eating and eating disorders. The number of subclinical eating disorders in student-athletes are virtually impossible to measure. These behaviors appear “normal” and “healthy” in the student-athlete population. But they are not. It is often only when they put their athletic careers behind them that student-athletes recognize how deeply disordered they were when they were competing.

Signs of student-athlete distress

No parent wants their child to suffer mental distress or get an eating disorder. And yet it often comes with the territory of being a student-athlete. It is possible to compete without suffering health consequences. This requires that we monitor student-athletes for eating disorders and other mental illnesses.

Following are the major ways an athlete may experience stress, as described by Ray and Weise-Bjornstal (1999):

Affective signs and symptoms: anxiety, anger, guilt, depression, shame and feeling sorry for oneself.

Behavioral signs and symptoms: sleep disturbances, restlessness, aggressive behavior, alcohol or drug abuse, sulking, crying, poor performance, absenteeism, and clenched fists.

Biological or physiological signs and symptoms: muscle tension, increased heart rate, indigestion, stomach spasms, pain, and headaches.

Cognitive signs and symptoms: frustration, worries, distortion, exaggeration, unrealistic performance expectations, self-defeating statements, and self-handicapping.

Interpersonal signs and symptoms: withdrawal, manipulation, and argumentation.

Sensory signs and symptoms: tension, nausea, cold sweat, clammy hands, pain and butterflies in the stomach.

If your child is a student-athlete, you should monitor for these signs and be aware of their serious risks. Don’t wait for your child to ask for help. Schedule a professional consultation with a therapist who has experience working with student-athletes. If possible, maintain a regular relationship with a coach, therapist, or physician who can periodically evaluate your child’s mental health. You need support in optimizing their environment for their mental health.

At some point, our student-athletes will no longer compete in their chosen sport. Our goal as parents must be to help them maintain enough of a sense of self, and enough positive mental health, that when they stop competing, they still feel worthy of love and attention without the prospect of winning a single medal or point ever again.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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How fitness trackers contribute to eating disorders

How a fitness tracker contributes to eating disorders

It seems like almost everyone has used Fitbit or another fitness trackers – they seem harmless, so how do they contribute to eating disorders?

The truth is that Fitbit and other fitness trackers can easily contribute to eating disorders. Tracking can start out being fun and healthy. But it’s too easy to become compulsive when tracking every step and meal. In fact, most people will stop using a fitness tracker after a short period of time. It’s just not that interesting to them. But for someone who has eating disorder tendencies, a fitness tracker can quickly become compulsive.

There have been pedometers on the market for decades. But when Fitbit entered the market it created a stir because it came as a bracelet that would buzz when the user achieved a certain number of steps. It quickly launched a full-scale app to track steps, calories, weight, and more. The software app includes serious gamification to improve engagement and create an addictive pattern in heavy users.

About Fitbit

Fitbit was launched in 2007, and by 2008 it was a huge hit. It seemed like everyone was wearing a Fitbit, displaying the black bracelet on their wrist as a sign of health and fitness. The company introduced an expanded dashboard to track calories and weight, plus sensors to track heart rate, temperature and sleep.

The company went public in 2015, and reached $9.7 billion in revenue and 29 million registered users. Today it has 85 million registered users. Of those, 31 million use their Fitbit app at least once per week. (Business of Apps)

Tracking exercise & food

Fitbit and other fitness trackers can seem like a fun way to track exercise and food. Users can set up their own profile, including their body weight, and set personal weight and fitness goals. They can track their behaviors and get rewarded with badges and alerts when they achieve goals. The psychological rewards are high when the phone app whistles and dings to celebrate goal achievement.

A physical tracker can count your steps through the day. But it’s the software that makes fitness trackers so addictive. You can log your food, water, and sleep habits. Every time you meet a goal, your phone buzzes and lights up. And it’s also gratifying to see the dashboard view of how “good” you have been this day, week, month, etc.

Fitbit-Data

Fitbit taps into our obsession with our body’s activity and weight. And we love the feedback that tells us we are “good” and even “great.” Think of sticker charts for kids. Fitbit takes that basic human drive for approval and puts it into overdrive.

The combination of buzzing, lights, emails and phone notifications give you a charge of energy and the confidence that you’re succeeding. And that is exactly what Fitbit intends. It’s called the “gamification.” Those bells and whistles are purposely designed to make us become addicted to the feedback. Fitness trackers are almost custom-made for eating disorders, because they reward eating disorder behaviors in a tangible, concrete way.

Fitbit gamification

Gamification is a technique technology developers use to incentivize and increase use of their software. It capitalizes on the human response to competition, achievement and collaboration to make apps more “sticky,” meaning you’re incentivized to spend more time on them. Gamification is important because the more time you spend on an app, the greater the app’s chance is of making more money from you as a user.

You may be familiar with some of these apps, which heavily rely on gamification to increase user engagement:

  • Duolingo
  • Instagram
  • Headspace

Fitbit is a champion of gamification. The app pushes encouragement, badges, and messages about goal achievement on a near-constant basis.

fitbit-badges

And, of course, Fitbit tracks weight loss and rewards users for every pound they lose.

fitbit-25

The message “You’ve reached a new low!” should tell us everything we need to know about Fitbit.

Because of gamification, Fitbit addiction can begin in just one day of use. You can set our own goals and track everything you do through the day so that you can feel in control of your health. If you miss a goal, you can feel like a failure, and if you meet every goal, it feels like success.

Fitbit & perfectionism

Many people who have eating disorders also have perfectionistic tendencies. And the Fitbit is extremely appealing to perfectionists who want to do the right thing. Succeeding at Fitbit is possible if you are rigid/disordered in your eating and exercise behaviors. And Fitbit can make you feel as if you are doing a great job meeting your health goals. Even if those goals are disordered.

In fact, Fitbit has some warnings for people who do not meet minimum calorie requirements, but this is in fact a great incentive for someone who has an eating disorder. Rather than craving the message that they’re in the green for calories, which means they’ve had “enough,” they seek the message that they’re in the yellow and haven’t had “enough.”

Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 1.03.08 PM

The goals are easily twisted, and they add pressure to exercise even when we feel sick or tired (or both!).

It’s all too easy to rely on Fitbit to gauge whether you are hungry or need to move rather than check in with your own body for more accurate information. This places the Fitbit in a place of authority over us, even while making it seem as if we are in control. We can quickly become dependent on the reward of seeing that we “beat” our goals that day.

Fitbit can drive eating disorders and disordered behaviors. This is because of the gamification of the platform, not its validity. In fact, Fitbit is part of a class action lawsuit based on a study that found “the company’s popular heart rate trackers are highly inaccurate.” (CNBC)

Why Fitbit is dangerous for eating disorders

Fitbit supports the distorted view that health is best achieved by counting, tracking, and controlling our bodies. The fact is that our bodies are finely-tuned and able to moderate themselves if we listen to them. When we try to control our bodies, we are at risk of eating disorders.

The belief that bodies should be controlled by minds is at the heart of eating disorder behaviors, which are almost always based on the idea of restricting food in order to achieve goodness and worthiness.

Fitbit use is designed to be addictive, pushing the user to pursue excessive exercise and minimal calories every single day.

It may be a fun, benign tool for many people. But remember that about 10% of the population has, had, or will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Fitness trackers like Fitbit are like a guidebook for eating disorders. It’s very likely that the company’s most engaged users have eating disorder tendencies.

If your child who has an eating disorder, or is in recovery or recovered from an eating disorder, and is wearing a Fitbit or other fitness tracker, this is a dangerous sign. Work with your child’s treatment team to compassionately discuss the role of a Fitbit in your child’s life, and explore options for eliminating Fitbit use.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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When your child who has an eating disorder is feeling anxious, help bring calm with yoga (downward dog)

woman doing downward dog yoga pose eating disorder relief

We believe it’s useful for parents to have a few yoga poses available to use in times of great stress during their child’s recovery process.

If you have a child who has an eating disorder like anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia or OSFED, there is a high probability that feelings of anxiety are a major trigger for eating disorder behaviors. Ideally, your child should have a number of tools available for managing anxiety, and one of those tools may be a few simple yoga poses that can help ground and center your child.

It’s wonderful when we can participate in full-length yoga classes, but sometimes a single pose is all we need to reconnect with our grounded base of strength.

Downward facing dog helps facilitate deep belly breathing which calms the nervous system and relieves anxiety, fatigue, overwhelm, and stress. It can also create positive energy in the body to counter-balance anxious, negative energy that can lead to eating disorder behaviors as coping mechanisms. By adding some visualization to the pose, you can help your child process anxiety in a healthy, healing manner.

Downward Dog with Visualization and Release

  1. Begin on your hands and knees, and set the intention of calming your anxiety by using your body as a conduit for release.
  2. Remember that anxiety is just negative energy that, when contained, builds feelings of fear. Through movement, you can allow the energy to move through you rather than keeping it stuck inside your body and mind.
  3. Spread your fingers wide and press firmly into the floor as you curl your toes and lift your hips to create a V shape with your body.
  4. Lift up through your pelvis and visualize anxiety streaming out of your body. If the anxiety is “cold,” it may fall down through your fingers, toes, and the crown of your head, where it can curl up like a snake in a cave under the earth. Alternatively, if the anxiety is “hot,” you may find that it wants to release up and through your shoulders, spine or pelvis, where it can disappear into the atmosphere like a dragon’s steamy breath.
  5. Breathe in and out deeply and calmly in a soothing rhythm as you continue your visualization of the energy flow.
  6. It’s OK if tears flow – that’s a sign that you are releasing! Let them flow.
  7. Hold the pose for at least 3 minutes.
  8. Gently return to your hands and knees and repeat the pose or try another pose if anxiety is still present.

Practice this pose together with your child any time that anxiety and stress are making eating disorder behaviors more prevalent. Or, if you prefer, sit next to your child and talk them through the process of releasing negative energy from their body.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Why yoga is an excellent practice while in eating disorder recovery, and what parents should know, by Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, CYT

Jennifer Kreatsoulas writes about how yoga practice can integrate with recovery from an eating disorder and eating disorder treatment

As an athlete in early recovery from an eating disorder, I first started practicing yoga as a physical activity that wouldn’t tempt me to overexercise or become obsessed with burning calories.

Initially, my yoga practice was purely physical. I focused on learning the asanas or poses. I remember the thrill of observing how, with consistent practice, I could twist and fold a little deeper or balance on one foot a little longer.

But unlike other forms of exercise that had been triggering for me, I found that yoga is much deeper than the physical body, and deepening my yoga practice was healing, not exacerbating my eating disorder behaviors.

It was exciting to be a member of a community and make new friends who were also experiencing a greater appreciation for what their bodies were capable of. Little by little, my relationship with my body changed. I learned to reframe my strength and to release my grip on numbers—how much I should weigh, how much I was allowed to eat, and what size jeans I had to wear.

Today I’m a yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. I have found that integrating yoga concepts into eating disorder recovery can have a significant impact on how someone feels about – and within – their body.

Most of us in the West think of yoga as a physical exercise, but what many people don’t realize is that the physical exercises are in pursuit of mental health and relaxation. Using breath control, simple meditation and specific bodily postures, we learn to truly live within our bodies rather than observe them from the outside and judge them based on appearance. By integrating our whole selves – body, mind, and soul – those of us in recovery find a deep level of healing from our eating disorders.

In my work, I help others develop yoga practices and tools based to incorporate into their recovery. These tools and practices provide a sense of empowerment and space for healing. They also cultivate self-reliance, a motivation for recovery, and a renewed and/or improving the relationship with one’s body. For these reasons and more, Yoga can be beneficial of individuals recovering from an eating disorder.

Here is a list of some of the general benefits of Yoga based on my own life, what clients have shared, and current research.

  • Improve overall sense of self
  • Quiet the eating disorder voice
  • Redefine the relationship with your body
  • Cultivate compassion and curiosity about your body
  • Explore moments of feeling comfortable in your body
  • Strengthen your self-expression
  • Reframe how and why we feed our bodies
  • Expand your world to be so much more than food, symptoms, and body image
  • Help manage depression and anxiety
  • Cultivate self-reliance
  • Increase self-worth
  • Enhance physical strength and health
  • Improve organ function
  • Calm the central nervous system
  • Establish new beliefs grounded in health versus disordered eating
  • Complement traditional forms of treatment and therapy

These benefits are truly transformative and can make a significant impact on your child’s ability to fully heal from an eating disorder. If you are a parent of a child who has an eating disorder, I encourage you to support your loved one’s interest in adding yoga to their recovery. As a supportive therapy, yoga can cultivate resilience and infuse your child’s recovery with new energy, concepts, and motivation. They will also learn new ways to relate to and experience their bodies.

It is important to understand, however, that some of today’s yoga marketing and studios, or certain aspects of them, can actually obscure the deeper meaning of yoga, make it challenging to feel at ease. Therefore, parents should carefully evaluate the yoga studio environment before enrolling their child who is in recovery from an eating disorder.

Like all fitness endeavors today, yoga has fallen prey to the social media imagery promoting a particular body type. The yoga selfie craze can breed body comparison, and the hyper-focus on yoga as fitness can encourage competition with oneself and others.

Also, when marketed as fitness, there’s a risk that the essence of Yoga—the aspects that guide healing and self-empowerment—can get lost in translation. As a result, old workout patterns and motivations may resurface, causing more damage than good in the short-term.

It is not uncommon to find people who are on the spectrum for disordered eating teaching yoga classes. Depending on where they fall on the spectrum, some yoga instructors may inadvertently make comments about nutrition, including recommending juice cleanses, vegetarian or veganism, or other eating behaviors that can be dangerous for someone who is in recovery. If attending an in-person class, you may want to discuss this with the studio to determine which teachers are likely to be least triggering to your child.

In early recovery, it’s best to avoid heated studios, as your child may not be physically restored enough for this environment. Also, classes in heated studios tend to be more physically demanding. If your child has a history of trauma, I also recommend you seek out yoga teachers trained in trauma sensitivity. You might also consider your child works with a yoga therapist with a background in eating disorders to help guide his or her experience in a supportive way.

Luckily, for the long-term, there are many, many yoga options available, including a plethora of studios offering a variety of styles, books, and DVDs, YouTube videos, and other apps for home practice. The Internet makes yoga philosophy easily accessible and readable, as well as information about other practices like mantra, meditation, breathing exercises, and grounding techniques.

Yoga is not a quick fix; rather it’s a lifelong practice that complements and supports our ongoing healing. It reminds us that we are so much more than an eating disorder and the disarray this disease brings to our lives. To quote the famous yogi B. K. S. Iyengar: “Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit broken pieces together.”


Jennifer recently released a 3-part video series that is a wonderful option for someone in recovery. If your child is building a new relationship with his or her body and would benefit from a thoughtful yoga practice, consider this video series as an excellent (and affordable!) tool.

Click to learn more about this video series


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Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, CYT, is the founder of Chime Yoga Therapy and specializes in eating disorders and body image. In addition to her private yoga therapy practice, Jennifer leads yoga therapy groups at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia, is cofounder of the Body Kindness Project, and a partner with both the Yoga and Body Image Coalition and the Transformation Yoga Project. She is the creator of the home video series Yoga to Strengthen Body Image and Support Eating Disorder Recovery. Her writing on the topics of yoga, body image, motherhood, and eating disorder recovery can be found on her blog as well as a variety of publications, including YogaLiving MagazineRecovery WarriorsWomen For One, The MightyThe National Eating Disorder Association blog, and several other influential online publications. Jennifer has been featured in the Huffington PostWomen You Should KnowMedill Reports ChicagoPhilly.com, and the DailyDot. Connect with Jennifer: www.ChimeYogaTherapy.com.

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How to Model Healthy Attitudes About Exercise at Home, by Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, CYT

Jennifer Kreatsoulas talks about exercise and eating disorder recovery

Every Spring, I get an itch to run again. I daydream about the joyful feeling of running on a clear, sunny, 60-degree day–just me and the pavement and that keen sense of boundless freedom. Or sometimes I drive past my gym and remember the empowering satisfaction that bubbles up inside after a solid workout.

The truth, though, is that it only takes a few short minutes of running or stepping or rowing before those positive feelings of freedom and satisfaction are abruptly hijacked by the desire to push and force until I drop dead–figuratively and literally.

From years and years of overexercising or even using “appropriate” exercise to burn up calories, beat up my body, and undo (perceived) weight gain, intense cardio automatically turns on my merciless eating disorder mindset. Despite the best of intentions to workout for the right reasons and in a healthy, mindful way, I still find it hard to resist the pull of my eating disorder. I’ve learned to respect my limits and find activities, like yoga, that empowers versus inhibits me.

For many of us in eating disorder recovery, exercise is a hot-button topic. Whether you are like me and have a history of overdoing it, or if you are at the other end of the extreme and just plain hate exercising, or are somewhere in between, it’s challenging to untangle the benefits of exercise from the beliefs of the eating disorder. Yet, it’s crucial that we do not let our own complicated relationship with exercise influence our children.

This means finding creative ways to model healthy and appropriate attitudes toward exercise, our kids’ bodies, and your own body as well. Yes, this is hard work—even triggering at times—but the benefits to our children and the potential healing for ourselves will pay off tenfold.

How do I know? Well, I have two small girls of my own who are balls of energy and at complete and total ease in their bodies. They dance, jump, run, roll, and climb like no one is watching. Luckily, they are still young enough to not be concerned about whose watching. Nor do they have a clue about calories, weight gain, fat, thigh gaps, muffin tops, and on and on. They simply move. Carefree and curious. It’s a beautiful sight.

To help guide positive conversations with our girls about movement and model healthy attitudes around exercise, my husband and I follow these three rules:

1. Don’t comment on body parts or shape

Most children begin with a carefree feeling about their bodies; they move without worry. They don’t see separate body parts or feel limited by the shape of their bodies. Instead, they live to the fullest in the moment. We serve our children best by praising them for all things they do and try, no matter how big or small. For instance, praising them for being brave and trying something new versus having the longest and fastest legs reinforces that our values and virtues are our truest source of strength. If we build up their inner resilience in this way, they are more likely to withstand the pressures they will face about their bodies as they grow up.

2. Don’t define what counts as exercise

Whether my girls dance for 3 minutes or ride their bikes for 20, both are equally valuable forms of movement. It would be so easy for me, the once overexerciser, to label the longer activity as “real” exercise and the impromptu dancing as “not real.” Once I bring that kind of language into my conversations with my daughters, however, I risk robbing their fun of innocent playfulness and setting off self-consciousness, comparison, competition, and a need to please others through their bodies and the activities they choose to do or not do. When I watch my children play, I look for joy in their eyes. My job is to preserve that sense of joy for movement for as long as I possibly can. By not defining or ranking exercise, I allow the girls to discover what they enjoy on their own.

3. Don’t make it about you

This may be the hardest rule to follow. Like rule #2, it’s very important to not insert your preferences for, beliefs about, or relationship with exercise. Refrain from commenting in front of your children about needing to burn off lunch, the cookie you ate yesterday, or calories in general. Don’t comment on your own body parts or refer to exercise as punishment or penance. Let go of language like “I’m being good” or “I am bad” in relationship to exercise. These messages run the risk of warping the carefree joy of movement for our children. I think about all the years I lived by and with these torturous beliefs and thoughts. No matter how hard of a day I am having, I cannot speak this way in front of my children. On those days, it’s best to turn to my husband and other supports in my life.

For us parents who are in recovery as well as parents of children with eating disorders, we have an opportunity and obligation to teach our children about the importance of movement. No matter what our personal relationship with exercise may be, it’s imperative that we step up to the plate and expose our children to physical activity such as play, exercise, sports, or simple fun. In addition to the natural cardiovascular and energetic benefits of exercise, research has also shown that physical activity improves learning in children. Get our kids moving, and their bodies and brains will benefit.

Let’s face it, we live in a new social order defined by devices, social media, and virtual everything. Ultimately, this is a sedentary way of life, and although there are many, many advantages to living with technology, the downsides can set off a ripple effect of poor health. If we get our children moving now, they will be more likely to continue to embrace activity in healthy forms and amouts as they grow.


jennifer kreatsoulas

Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, CYT, is the founder of Chime Yoga Therapy and specializes in eating disorders and body image. In addition to her private yoga therapy practice, Jennifer leads yoga therapy groups at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia, is cofounder of the Body Kindness Project, and a partner with both the Yoga and Body Image Coalition and the Transformation Yoga Project. She is the creator of the home video series Yoga to Strengthen Body Image and Support Eating Disorder RecoveryHer writing on the topics of yoga, body image, motherhood, and eating disorder recovery can be found on her blog as well as a variety of publications, including YogaLiving MagazineRecovery WarriorsWomen For One, The MightyThe National Eating Disorder Association blog, and several other influential online publications. Jennifer has been featured in the Huffington PostWomen You Should KnowMedill Reports ChicagoPhilly.com, and the DailyDot. Connect with Jennifer: www.ChimeYogaTherapy.com.

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When your child with bulimia or binge eating disorder is fighting the urge or is actively binging … a yoga pose to help

We believe it’s useful for parents to have a few yoga poses available to use in times of great stress during their child’s recovery process.

If you have a child who has a binge-oriented eating disorder like bulimia or binge eating disorder, you want to help them move through the discomfort of the urge to binge.

The urge to binge is not the same as having natural, healthy hunger. Binging is a coping mechanism that your child is likely using to avoid processing difficult emotions.

Catching a binge before it begins and stopping a binge mid-flow is very challenging, and they typically happen at home or otherwise away from their therapist’s care.

As parents, we can help our children begin to recognize the urge to binge or even recognize that they are in a binge in real-time. This recognition is critical to the healing process and is one way that we can be instrumental in the healing process.

Once a binge urge or episode is recognized, your child may not be able to talk it through with you, but he or she may be able to utilize some simple yoga moves to re-group and center.

One pose that can be very helpful when the urge to binge comes on, or even mid-binge, is Tree Pose. This balancing pose requires focus and is best performed with a strong sense of the ground. Literally grounding one’s self during a binge urge or episode may, with practice, reduce the urge and lessen the impact of the binge.

Vrksasana (Tree Pose)

1) Start Standing (use a wall for support if you need it)
2) Root through your right leg and place your left foot on your ankle, calf, or inner thigh (AVOID PLACING YOUR FOOT AT YOUR KNEE).
3) Keep hands at hips, heart center, or extend your arms to the sky.
4) Stay for 5-10 even breaths and switch to the other side.

Do this pose with your child any time a binge episode is imminent or in progress. This is not a competition – it’s OK if you can only get your foot to your ankle. It’s OK if you wobble and topple. Just keep practicing together, breathing deeply and focusing on the ground beneath your foot as a stabilizing force.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Yoga poses for eating disorder recovery: crocodile pose to reduce anxiety

Yoga has been shown to be an excellent auxiliary treatment for eating disorder recovery. Many of us with eating disorders disconnect our minds from our bodies – we learn to ignore our body’s natural communication, needs, and desires. Yoga can be a great way to gradually reconnect the mind-body signals.

As a parent, having a few simple yoga moves to do with your child while he or she is in recovery can be a great way to help him or her make the mind-body connection. It’s also a great way for you to connect with your child, which is so critical to the healing process.

Makarasana, or Crocodile Pose, helps to facilitate diaphragmatic breathing (also known as belly breathing) by immobilizing the chest. When you engage in “belly breathing” you facilitate a relaxation response in the body, which makes this pose excellent during times of stress and anxiety. This may also be a great pre-meal pose to help your child get grounded before going to the table.

Here’s how to do it:

1) Lie on your belly and rest your forehead on your hands.
2) Mindfully breathe into your belly.
3) Stay here anywhere from 30 secs to 5 minutes.

Pretty easy, huh? You can even do this while sitting at a table or desk.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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How to give a simple hand massage: healing touch builds connection when recovering from an eating disorder

When our children are suffering with an eating disorder, they need connection and support from their parents. We can make a big difference in their recovery by connecting on multiple levels and providing a safe home environment in which to recover.

We have previously discussed watching videos together and trying some yoga poses. Another nice option is hand massage. As our children grow, they are figuring out how to separate from us and become independent adults. But they are still our children, and they still crave our loving touch. To avoid any awkward sense of dependence or any hint of sexuality, we can utilize hand massages with children of any age and gender to build connection and deliver healing touch.

Touch therapy has been increasingly recognized as an important, though poorly understood (from a scientific standpoint) healing treatment. One of the best documented cases for touch being an effective therapy (and one that is exquisitely designed for the parent-child relationship), is Kangaroo Care, which is an increasingly medically prescribed treatment for premature infants. Numerous medical studies have linked skin-to-skin contact between a premature infant and a caregiver to reduced pain, reduced stress, and myriad other benefits that can drastically improve outcomes for premature babies.

Providing a hand massage for just 5 minutes is an excellent way to slow down and provide focused touch-based caregiving. When our children were little, we hugged and snuggled them. We held their hands when they crossed the street, and they sat on our laps while we read them stories. As teenagers, our children don’t get touched as much, but they still crave it. For our children who have eating disorders, touch can be a good way to reconnect their body-mind circuit, which is an important part of healing.

Here is a good video overview of how to provide a simple hand massage:

We also created a printable file that you may find helpful:

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Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Yoga to strengthen body image and support eating disorder recovery – a video series from Jennifer Kreatsoulas

Yoga is frequently found to be helpful in recovering from an eating disorder. Those of us who struggle with disordered eating tend to be disconnected from our body, and yoga is a great way to reconnect and rebuild a loving relationship with our bodies.

As you support your child in healing from an eating disorder, however, you may find that not all yoga classes are appropriate for him or her. Unfortunately, many yoga teachers unknowingly trigger people who are in eating disorder recovery with talk of restrictive diets such as veganism, vegetarianism, juice cleanses, and other recommendations that are distressing and even dangerous for someone with an eating disorder.

There are some yoga instructors, however, who safely work with people in eating disorder recovery, providing a wonderful practice that can help them build a new relationship with their bodies and selves. Jennifer Kreatsoulas is one of those yoga instructors. In fact, she specializes in working with people in recovery from eating disorders.

She recently released a 3-part video series that is a wonderful option for someone in recovery. If your child is building a new relationship with his or her body and would benefit from a thoughtful yoga practice, consider this video series as an excellent (and affordable!) tool.

Click to learn more about this video series


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Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, E-RYT 200, RYT 500, is a yoga teacher and yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. In recovery herself, Jennifer is extremely passionate about helping others reconnect with their bodies and be empowered in their lives. Jennifer works with clients in person and via Skype. She also teaches yoga at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia and is a partner with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. She leads trauma-sensitive yoga classes and teaches weekly flow yoga classes. Jennifer contributes regularly to eating disorder and body image blogs and the YogaLiving Magazine. Website

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An interview about yoga, mindfulness and surviving adolescence with eating disorders with Annie Shiel and Merideth VanSant, co-founders of True U

Annie: I started yoga as a type-A, perfection-obsessed teenager, and I can’t imagine where my relationship with my body would be without yoga. In a yoga practice, we focus on how the body feels, not on what it looks like. We practice non-attachment to physical results. We listen to the body and learn to trust our intuition, including taking rest when we need it. And we learn to quiet the constant chatter in our minds – which for many of us, means a chorus of “I’m-not-good-enoughs.”

These concepts completely transformed my relationship with my body. We founded True U to make this invaluable practice of yoga and mindfulness more accessible to those who need it most: teen girls across the socioeconomic spectrum who are dealing with complex body image issues, histories of trauma, social-, school-, and family-related stress, and pursuing their passions in a society that repeatedly tells them they’re not good enough.

Merideth: The focus on external beauty is crushing. We wanted to shift the perspective from objectifying our bodies to using our bodies like the strong tools, machines, and the vehicles that they are! Each yoga class we take, mountain that we hike, ball we kick, and sidewalk that we run, we train our bodies (and minds!) to support what our bodies can do for us rather than what they look like. True U works to shift how we perceive our body’s purpose – from visual to functional. If we can do that, we can fuel and serve our bodies in a way that supports our strengths.

You use the term “survivor of adolescence” – what exactly do you mean by that?

Annie: Adolescence is ROUGH. No matter who you are and where you grow up, your teenage years are full of self discovery and the pressure to answer that seemingly impossible question: “who am I?” Ultimately we all just want to be loved, and sometimes we’re willing to change a lot about ourselves in order to get there. For me, the pressures of teenagehood led to disordered eating in my quest for control and perfection; for others, it could be bullying, negative self talk, depression, anxiety, behavioral issues, self harm… the list goes on. We call ourselves survivors of adolescence because we GET IT, we’ve been there, and we made it through and found (and LOVED) our best selves – just like the girls we work with.

What have you learned about today’s generation of adolescent girls and eating disorders?

Merideth: Our society, our culture, has created this emphasis on external beauty. In fact, we can cite research by countless economists and behavioral scientists examining how external beauty is often used as a silent indicator, predictive of career success, entry into social clubs, and treatment in public. Unsurprisingly, girls internalize these crushing expectations, which can manifest as disordered eating, risky sexual behaviors, and other self harming behaviors.

What we’re doing with True U is changing the messaging adolescent girls are hearing, and helping them create a more personally-empowered path. We communicate that our value and quality of life is not about how we look but instead how much we love ourselves, and how amazing our bodies are – just as they are! That each body deserves to be here – every shape, size, and color.

What advice would you give to parents of adolescent girls who have eating disorders?

Annie: With so much stigma around mental health, remember that your child is not her eating disorder. Talk about what she’s going through, share your own experiences, and absolutely seek professional help – but remember that in spite of everything she’s going through, she is not her mental illness and she certainly didn’t choose it. She is still a whole person with complex emotions, passions, and dreams. So while you seek care as a family, don’t forget to keep nurturing the rest of her.

Merideth: Taking care of yourself as a parent is so important. Protective factors that we know support recovery, like parent-child closeness and trust, are greater facilitated when parental self care is exercised. Self care looks different for everyone – daily walks, yoga, facilitated parental support groups that share similar experiences… anything that decreases stress, recharges, and gives space and perspective.


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Annie Shiel and Merideth VanSant are the co-founders of True U, an organization working to empower adolescent girls with yoga, mindfulness practices, and honest conversation. Annie is a trauma-informed vinyasa yoga teacher dedicated to using yoga as a tool for healing, self love, social justice, and empowerment. Merideth holds a Masters of Science in Human Development, and uses her professional and personal background to promote resiliency and empower women to build strong and inspired communities. She is a trained power flow and Rocket yoga teacher. To learn more about True U and bring their work to your community, visit www.trueugirls.com.

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Tree pose with your teenager who has eating disorders to build connection, by Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, RYT

One challenge for adolescents recovering from an eating disorder like anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder is even wanting to be in their bodies in the first place. I say this with complete and sincere understanding of how intolerable it can be to live in the body. I know the depth of self-loathing and disgust. I also know the fatal lengths one will go to shrink, hide, numb, and escape existing in their body. I’ve been there.

Yoga helped me experience my body as a source of strength rather than a heavy burden to endure. By learning how to breathe deeply, stay present, and open my mind to possibilities versus limitations, yoga showed me how to be present to my thoughts about my body and challenge them in real time. I had a choice: hate myself or learn how to use my body to ground my mind and fill up with a kinder feeling than disgust.

No doubt, this is hard work. It takes vigilance and diligence. But, I’ve seen in myself and my yoga therapy clients that small shifts are very possible when we take a risk and call on our bodies to cultivate empowerment and centeredness.

I think it’s a great idea to try some basic yoga as a family or one-on-one with your child who has an eating disorder, and tree pose is a great way to start. Tree pose improves balance and coordination while inviting calm and steadiness. As a balancing pose, tree may help your child learn to respond to feeling in balance and off balance.

Here is a video showing how to do tree pose:

My clients have taught me some creative ways to use their bodies in tree pose to calm spinning and obsessive thoughts and cultivate centeredness. Here are a few variations you can also try.

Two Feet for Grounding

Take tree pose with one foot on the floor and the other resting as a kickstand at your ankle or placed above or below your knee (just now next to your knee joint to stay safe in the pose). Ground your standing foot into the floor by pressing firmly down through the four corners of your feet. Allow all your toes to relax instead of grip. Just as firmly, press your other foot into your leg, being mindful not to force or push too hard. By rooting with both feet, your tree pose will grow taller. You also send a message to your mind that you are steady, focused, and centered. You may hold your hands in prayer at your heart, open your arms by your sides, or reach them above your head. Hold this pose for as many breaths as is comfortable and then switch sides. And if you fall out, no big deal. You can choose to switch to the other side or continue the same side.

Seated Tree

Sit upright. Begin with both feel on the floor. Pause and notice that your feet are grounded on the floor even though your mind feels like the complete opposite. Draw one foot up to any part of your leg. And, like we did above, use both of your feet for grounding. Press into the floor and your leg and allow your mind to rest on the sensations in both feet. Notice your breathing, and purposefully bring it to a steady natural rhythm and you hold the grounded sensation in your body through your feet. You can bring your hands into the mix by resting them on your lap or on the table, creating four points of groundedness.

Tree on a yoga block

Grab a yoga block and begin standing with both feet on the block. Once you feel steady, take tree pose. Start with your foot resting against your ankle as a kickstand and notice your balance. If you feel steady, you might explore drawing your foot above or below your knee. Test out your balance. Find that place where you can be centered in the pose to allow your mind a few purposeful moments to rest. You may hold your hands in prayer at your heart, open your arms by your sides, or reach them above your head. Hold this pose for as many breaths as is comfortable and then switch sides. And if you fall out, no big deal. You can choose to switch to the other side or continue the same side.

Partner tree variation

Stand side to side with your tree pose partner, facing the same way, about 1 to 2 feet from each another. Hold hands of your inside arms and bring the foot of your outside legs into tree. Holding hands, reach your arms up (the outside arms too). Have fun finding the steady point for the both of you and explore how using each other for support helps to find balance in the pose. Hold for a 5 breaths or so and then switch sides.

The idea is to take a playful attitude when practicing yoga with your child. You may be surprised how soothing it can be for your child to move his or her body in a new way and use the body to calm the mind. It’s in those moments of calm that we can work together to catch glimpses of new perspectives and begin to form a new relationship with our bodies.


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Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, E-RYT 200, RYT 500, is a yoga teacher and yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. In recovery herself, Jennifer is extremely passionate about helping others reconnect with their bodies and be empowered in their lives. Jennifer works with clients in person and via Skype. She also teaches yoga at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia and is a partner with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. She leads trauma-sensitive yoga classes and teaches weekly flow yoga classes. Jennifer contributes regularly to eating disorder and body image blogs and the YogaLiving Magazine. Website

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3 Simple Ways for Families to Get Grounded at Mealtime By Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, RYT-500

Meal time can be a highly charged time for parents who have a child with an eating disorder like anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. The parents, the child with the disorder, and the siblings and other family members may all feel high levels of tension, angst, unhappiness, and dread.

Parents and caregivers may feel like they are walking on eggshells, desperately afraid to include an ingredient or say something that will set off an argument or cause their loved one to withdraw. They worry:

  • Will he/she eat?
  • Will this meal be tense or relaxed?
  • How will I help him/her through it without my fears or frustration showing?
  • Will he/she keep the food down?
  • What will be the aftermath of this meal, and how will I handle it?

At the same time, the individual in recovery may be anxious before the meal even begins. In my early recovery days, the smell of food cooking would instantly set off a barrage of fears and worries such as:

  • Can I do this without freaking out?
  • Will I gain weight?
  • Do I have to eat all of it?
  • How can I act normal when I feel so scared?
  • Will I let my parents down again?

As for other family members, they may feel annoyance, jealousy, anger, fear, and so many other feelings that deserve to be honored as well. They may act out either towards the person who has the eating disorder or towards others at the table in an attempt to process their feelings.

If any part of what I am describing is a familiar scene in your home it may help to use some simple poses to defuse anxious energy before coming together to eat. They can be done alone or together.

These activities, when done mindfully, can help everyone calm their nervous systems and arrive at the table in a more relaxed state of body and mind.

Prayer hands

Firmly press your hands together and bring your awareness to the feeling of palm into palm, fingertips into fingertips. Take a few moments to stay focused on the feeling of your hands pressing into one another as you take 10 deep breaths in and out. Count the breaths to help deepen your focus and detach from stressful worries about the impending meal.

Stay with this hand position and your breath for as long as you need, and remember that you can return to it again during and after the meal as many times as is helpful to ground again.

Thumb to finger counts

Closeup of woman's hands meditating indoorsSit or stand still in a comfortable position. Close your eyes if you prefer. With one or both hands, connect your thumb to your index finger. Slowly tap your thumb one at a time to each finger. Bring all your concentration to this simple action and repeat “I am calm” (or another affirmation that resonates with you) as you move from finger to finger and repeat several times.

You can vary the speed of this exercises from slow to fast, depending on what helps you relax most. I like to do this before a meal, but it is also helpful to do during a meal under the table with the hand that’s not holding a utensil. The concentration it takes to do this exercise will help shift your mind away from thoughts and emotions that pull you off your center.

Palm press

grounding-mealMany of us carry tension in our hands without even realizing it. We hold our hands as fists, subconsciously prepared to fight. We might even hold such tight fists that we dig our nails into our palms. All that clenching travels up our arms and into our necks, shoulders, and upper back, causing muscle pain and tightness.

Take a few moments before a meal to physically relax your hands and upper body. Open your hands, spread your fingers, and firmly (but not forcefully) place your hands against something solid, like a wall or table. Take several deep breaths and purposefully relax your shoulders, neck, jaw, and eyes.

Hold this simple connection between your hands and a solid structure until you feel grounded and more relaxed than when you started this exercise. You can repeat this at the table during the meal as you feel tension creep into your shoulders and neck and hands. You can also press your hands into a family member’s or someone you trust and take several grounding breaths together.

In my personal recovery experience and professional experience as a yoga therapist, the meal experience is more positive when we bring less emotional weight with us to the table. I intimately know that all family members’ feelings are well founded. I also understand that these exercises won’t take away all the agitation that one may feel. They will, however, help focus that intensely frenetic emotional energy by calming your mind, easing muscle tension, and creating a mindful pause to center and ground yourself before the meal starts.

You can do them on your own or as a family. And, you may need to do one or all of them multiple times to get through a meal. That’s OK, I promise. So much of making this process palatable is learning simple ways to ground our minds and bodies when panic hits so that we aren’t overcome with frustration and fear.

These simple grounding exercises will help everyone pause, get a grip, and then come together from a place of calm and centeredness.


screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-9-35-39-amJennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, E-RYT 200, RYT 500, is a yoga teacher and yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. In recovery herself, Jennifer is extremely passionate about helping others reconnect with their bodies and be empowered in their lives. Jennifer works with clients in person and via Skype. She also teaches yoga at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia and is a partner with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. She leads trauma-sensitive yoga classes and teaches weekly flow yoga classes. Jennifer contributes regularly to eating disorder and body image blogs and the YogaLiving Magazine. Website

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Try This: Aikido as a hobby, exercise, practice and lifestyle

When your child is recovering from an eating disorder, it may be helpful to introduce new hobbies, exercises and life practices. The goal of this is to take her focus away from her body image, food and her disorder and funnel that passion into something healthy and healing.

Many people recovering from an eating disorder turn to practices like art, yoga and meditation, but there are really no limits as long as your child finds something that resonates with who she is and what she enjoys.

Aikido is a martial art that focuses on finding harmony with an opponent in order to bring peaceful resolution to a conflict situation. Aikido does not seek a fight, but it doesn’t fear one. Aikido often appears to be a dance, and it differs from many other martial arts because of its peaceful approach to conflict.

There are many ways to work towards healing an eating disorder (ED). Some parents find it helpful to launch a full-on aggressive attack against ED – the whole family draws virtual swords and fights together in an amazing show of strength.

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Other parents find it helpful to approach ED with compassion and an acute awareness of the disorder’s strength, all the while looking for ways to defuse those strengths. They find that accepting the eating disorder as an opportunity to heal, learn and grow works wonders in loosening its hold on their child.

Depending on your child’s unique personality, how she is expressing her eating disorder, your parenting style, and your professional team’s recommendations, you may consider ways in which your family can harness the concepts of Aikido in facing ED.

Aikido and other disciplined forms of movement may offer your child a path inward, a new way of moving and thinking. You may even try to learn Aikido as a joint effort to learn something new together.

Check out this video to hear more about Aikido. It’s pretty awesome, because it features a really strong guy who starts by laughing at Aikido techniques. He’s a total non-believer, but Aikido brings him to his knees (literally). Ha! Take that, big strong dude!


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

Here are some options to find an Aikido Dojo near you:

Aikido Dojo Search Engine

United States Aikido Federation