Healing through Embodiment

This week I want to talk about something vulnerable for me:  disordered eating and healing through embodiment practices.

The topic can be a little touchy for some folks so if that’s you, feel free to skip this one.

We won’t be talking about food or eating in class this week (it’s outside of my scope as a yoga teacher), but this newsletter topic is inspired by an upcoming conversation my dietician friend Mayuko Okai and I will be having on Instagram Live on Thursday, June 17, 2021 at 4p Pacific. Tune in live or catch the replay if it’s something you’re interested in. You can find Mayuko’s Instagram here. 

Read on for a story about my history with food, working out, and healing through embodiment practices. 

Disordered Eating and Healing Through Embodiment Practices

The Beginning

When I was about 16 to 18 years old I had a pretty extreme interest in being “skinny.” I would pull on my low rise jeans and grab at my love handles with the idea that if I just cut calories and worked out enough I could get rid of them. I was proud of myself if I managed to eat a few bites of food during the day and a lean cuisine after school. By dinnertime I was so hungry it was hard to avoid what my parents plated up, but I considered it success when I kept my serving small and controlled. I hated running but forced myself to do it in the Texas heat. I figured if I could burn more calories than I consumed then I was okay. It was an obsession to me, but to people on the outside my behavior might have looked like health. In hindsight, it was my attempt to control the emotional rollercoaster of adolescence.  

College Years and Diet Pills

My freshman year in college I had a friend who, like me, had a “skinny” hobby. She told me about diet pills and I asked her if she could get me some. At the time I had no idea that the ephedra I was taking had an effect like speed on my body. To be honest, I didn’t notice a difference, but wow was I wired that year! My parents once visited and asked if I was on something. I said no, not because I was lying but because I didn’t know that I was!  

I was in the college rec center down the street from my dorm every day using machines that told me how many calories I was burning. I remember getting a cold and asking someone if it was okay to work out when I was sick. They said it probably was, so I didn’t take a break. It was like a compulsion, I had to burn the calories. 

What Calculus has to do with Anything

During this same time I was taking calculus and having the absolute most difficult time I’ve ever had in school. I was taking catch up classes, in mentor and tutoring sessions multiple times a week, and spending hours every day struggling through my homework. It was this anxiety (and probably the pounding heart that the diet pills gave me) that led me to the free mental health care at the student services building. I thought I was going in to talk about the stress of college. Not knowing anything was wrong with my eating and working out behavior and having nothing to hide, I answered all the therapist’s questions honestly. I was taking this big yellow diet pill. Working out every day no matter what. Calling it a “good day” when I eat one low cal tortilla with a one piece of turkey on it for lunch. She sent me home with a book called Intuitive Eating.
I only read the first chapter, if even that. But in those few pages I found one exercise that went like this: Throughout the day as often as you think about it, rank your level of hunger from 1 to 10.  

Y’all…I couldn’t do it. I had no idea how hungry I was. I couldn’t tell when I was full. I was totally disconnected from my body’s signals. Remember how I said I didn’t notice I was any different when I was amped up on the diet pills but my parents asked me if I was on something? I wasn’t hearing the signals my body was sending my brain. I just wasn’t in touch.  


Discovering I had a Problem

It was this that finally made me realize I had a problem. I noticed my obsession with burning calories and the crazed way I felt at the gym, like I had to reach a certain number that matched or exceeded the calories I consumed that day. I didn’t want to feel that anymore, so I stopped working out entirely. At least for a while. 

I would go on a run from time to time after that year. I tried hot yoga but the membership was too expensive and the heat seemed redundant in Austin. There were some free yoga classes at the rec center but by that time I was living off campus and it was too far away for me to go often. The thing was, when I stepped back into the gym I hated it, and that familiar urge to keep moving until the calories were gone would creep back in. I didn’t enjoy any of my attempts at fitness. I still wasn’t connected to my body, but at least I wasn’t abusing it like I had before.  

A Different “Work Out” Experience

Fast forward past graduation when I find myself in Portland with a new friend who tells me he wants to try Pilates mat classes. We live in the same neighborhood so I say I’ll do a $30 month with him at a place nearby and off we go. In Pilates, I did most of the class with my eyes closed. It was so different from any work out experience I had ever had. The studio was nothing like a gym. Nothing about it brought back any of my calorie burning fixation. To be honest, it didn’t seem like it would burn any calories anyway, I hardly ever broke a sweat even though I found the exercises challenging. I loved it. And you know what snuck up on me? A toned body. A strong body. A body I could feel, move, and coordinate in ways I hadn’t been connected to for so long. I found myself on a path back to myself. 

There’s More to Say…

There’s more to this story, like where yoga comes in to become the framework of my practice, my discovery of trauma science and the use of embodiment practices in helping heal trauma, recognizing the role anxiety and depression play in my life. There was so much I was missing when I was disconnected from my felt sense of self, from my embodied experience, from my body in general. So much I was missing, but was there nonetheless. There has been much to discover since I’ve found a gentle, accessible, trauma-informed way back into my body. The journey continues for me every day.  

If you’d like to hear compassionate, considerate Mayuko and me talk more about the ways each of us has learned to listen to our own bodies and find more enjoyment in the mindful moments of everyday life, please join us on Instagram on Thursday at 4p Pacific. If you want to get into the embodiment practices directly, you’re always invited to join me three times a week on Zoom for free

Thanks for spending some time reading my story today. If you have a story of your own that you’d like to share with me, please do. And if you feel you need resources, I will do my best to point you in the direction of help and healing.

Image Credits – all from pexels

  • butterfly image by prasanthdas ds 
  • rainbow hands by cottonbro 
  • yellow pills and blue mat roll by Karolina Grabowska 
  • treadmill by Andrea Piacquadio
  • path through mountains by Tyler Lastovich
  • hands on heart by Puwadon Sangngern