This blog post is a very special edition brought to you by our yoga teacher Nicole Jones. She was courageous enough to share her story in a testimonial of her struggle with, and recovery from, an eating disorder. Nicole is an inspiring yoga teacher and we are so very grateful to her for sharing her story with you on our platform. I hope that it can inspire in many the desire to work towards developing self-acceptance, body appreciation and compassion for themselves and others. Thank you Nicole.
From a very young age I never felt like I quite fit in and always thought I was different. To try and blend in I pushed myself to be seen as an achiever. I strived for success in everything I did because I did not just want to be involved I wanted to excel. I wanted validation. I wanted to be both noticed and accepted. I didn’t know why I felt quite so insecure and inadequate, but for as long as I can remember I had this burning desire to be “perfect”.
When I was 14 years old I was top of my class, popular amongst friends and played competitive hockey and AAA soccer. My soccer team made it to the National championship and won the title in 1998. It was around this time where psychologically things took a turn. Ironically, the moment that sticks out most from the championship weekend, and I remember it like it was yesterday, was not when we won, but when a teammate said I had “A big Booty”. It’s amazing that what should have been an exhilarating time of my life was overshadowed by such a menial comment. I think something snapped in me that day. After years of having an unkind internal dialogue suddenly my worst fears came true: someone from the outside was pointing out a flaw I had noticed about myself, true or not, and something had to be done. From that moment I started to question my size, my body, my appearance and it quickly spiraled into a self-hate cycle I could not seem to break. I started to monitor my food intake, count calories and restrict my diet. Food became my obsession. Food was all I thought about and at the time I thought I was being healthy. This was just the beginning of my journey with an eating disorder.
I quickly developed an obsessive need to burn off every single thing I ate. What started as a passion for a Tae Bo fitness class at a local gym turned into a calculated attempt to control calorie loss. I would get anxiety if my elliptical machine was in use when I entered the gym. I had mental breakdowns if there were snow storms and I had no way to get to the gym. My relationship with food and exercise was beyond irrational. A debilitating fear took over me when things didn’t go as planned, I was convinced I was going to get fat. I looked in the mirror everyday and all I saw was a person I hated to look at- a distorted image of who I was.
At the age of 15 I was sneaking on a friend’s bus after school so I could get to the gym to do cardio before my 6pm fitness class. My last three years of high school are a complete blur. My focus and attention was dominated, and controlled by my eating disorder. What started off as just dieting became all that I knew, and it controlled my every move. I became so aware of where I was going, with whom and what I was eating. Excessive exercising and a restricted calorie intake developed into full blown bulimia nervosa, a disorder that carries so much shame that I did everything in my power to hide it for years and years. I lied, I hid, I manipulated and I did whatever I could to make sure I could throw up after eating. Looking back I thought I was in control, but in actuality I was so out of control I could barely keep it together. I often remember my loved ones describing being around me as similar to “walking on eggshells”. You never knew when I would crack.
In my late teens I was forced to see a nutritionist and I made small attempts to get better, but what ended up happening was, I got better at hiding it. I had periods when I wouldn’t vomit and my obsession for exercise would subside, but the moment I felt stressed I would bounce back into my binge eating and purging. It got to a point where I remember crying as I would vomit because I hated who I had become, but I felt like I had no way of stopping. Food and the way I looked was all I cared about, I felt as though it was my measure of self worth. Looking back I have a hard time believing I survived it all.
Only now do I recognize that the trigger for my eating disorder had nothing to do with my physical appearance at all, but food and my body was something I could control (or at least try to) unlike my emotions/feelings/thoughts I had about my sense of self. Feeling uncomfortable for most of my teenage years was part of me struggling to come to terms with my sexuality, my identity, and the woman I wanted to be. Time, however, is what breathes the understanding of our experiences. At that point I was seeking some way to appear just like everybody else- as if that was some kind of answer.
The summer before entering university I was in a very verbally abusive relationship, which didn’t help my self-worth, but shows just how little I thought of myself. I decided I would travel with a friend at the time to Europe, to explore another country, gain independence and experience life. This trip ended up taking a turn for the worst, a memory that I live with everyday of my life. I was raped. Now years later I am finally facing the impact of what happened to me. I’m left with flashbacks of waking up in someone else’s room, vivid memories of the abuse that happened to me on that night. I would pay to erase these memories from my brain, but I can’t. That night I was violated and with that I lost my pride, self-worth and my freedom. Instead of facing the incident head on, I chose to shelve it and told myself I’d be okay and I could deal with it alone. So I did and I kept it in for almost 7 years. I chose to pretend it didn’t exist, to move on and “forget” what had happened to me. Little did I realize the impact that would have on me long term.
Fast forward 3 years, excessive drinking and self-destructive behavior in combination with full-blown bulimia- I was at my worst. I hated myself more than ever, I had no self-esteem, but I somehow had an incredible capacity to keep an image of perfection to all those around me, never ever allowing anybody to see my layers and what was going on inside.
Then at 24, I was introduced to Bikram yoga. From the first moment I stepped into the studio I felt an instant need to come back for more. This is when my journey to recovery began. I started to practice every single day and that place became my new safe space: somewhere I could be and find a little bit of peace in my day. I would drive from off island about an hour there and back everyday, I didn’t care what it took, I needed to get on my mat. I sensed security and a sense of peace for the first time. Through this practice I started to feel my body and started to value what it could do, I started to tune into sensations and actually start to feel. I learned how to breathe with awareness and I developed a new relationship with myself: one of self-appreciation, as opposed to hate. I started to look at food differently as well, taking up cooking as a pastime. I stopped making myself sick and started to fuel myself with the nutrients I needed. I practiced Bikram yoga every single day for 4 years and then I discovered Moksha, the next step in my journey. Although I thought I was so much better than I was I didn’t realize what was to come.
Through Moksha, I was able to identify my needs, my wants, my values, my morals and discover more and more of who I truly was. I slowly started to appreciate my body and what it could do. I started to stand in my own power, something I had never done. I learned about health from another set of eyes and completely changed my relationship towards myself. Moksha taught me compassion for myself, which in turn allowed me to have so much more room for love, empathy and compassion for others. Yoga literally transformed my life and allowed me to survive an eating disorder I thought would have a grip on me my entire life. I now teach and have made it my life’s work to help others step on their mats and allow them the opportunity to unravel and face their own demons. The process doesn’t happen overnight, but making that choice to walk into a studio or try yoga for the first time is a powerful opportunity for anyone to have.
Yoga has taught me to love, appreciate and value myself in ways I never thought were possible. I now have a healthy relationship with food, my body and I genuinely love who I see in the mirror. These are things ten years ago I never thought would be possible. My journey with yoga saved me and I am forever grateful for what it has done for me. Today I look back and embrace every piece of my puzzle because had I not experienced it at all, I would not be where I am today. I now live my passion and do my very best to be authentic in my teaching and allow for others to unravel. I am not perfect and I never will be. I am proud of my story and of who I have become. I hope my story serves others in a positive way and allows people to relate to the struggles and provide, if nothing else, hope toward love and light.
What does the research say about yoga and eating disorders?
The subject of yoga as a therapeutic intervention for individuals with eating disorders has only begun to be studied. To date, research shows that, supported by other treatment modalities, yoga can help increase self-awareness, self-reflection and the ability to self-soothe in individuals with eating disorders. Yoga has also been demonstrated to be effective as an adjunct therapy for improving eating psychopathology and decreasing binge eating. Additional research examining the value of yoga interventions for individuals with eating disorders is needed.
Yoga does not provide and does not replace individual professional care and advice, provided in light of your unique situation and needs, by a health care professional. If you are suffering from an eating disorder or any other psychological disorder we advise you to contact a local health care professional to help you devise a comprehensive treatment plan. If you need help finding a professional near you please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nicole Jones is a Physical Educator and Yoga Teacher in Montreal, Quebec. Learn more about Nicole here.
Balasubramaniam, M., Telles, S., & Doraiswamy, P. M. (2012). Yoga on our minds: a systematic review of yoga for neuropsychiatric disorders. Frontiers in PSYCHIATRY, 3.
Carei, T. R., Fyfe-Johnson, A. L., Breuner, C. C., & Brown, M. A. (2010). Randomized controlled clinical trial of yoga in the treatment of eating disorders. Journal of Adolescent Health, 46(4), 346-351.
Douglass, L. (2009). Yoga as an intervention in the treatment of eating disorders: does it help?. Eating Disorders, 17(2), 126-139.
Kristeller, J. L., Baer, R. A., & Quillian-Wolever, R. (2006). Mindfulness-based approaches to eating disorders. Mindfulness-based treatment approaches: Clinician’s guide to evidence base and applications, 75-91.