Ayurveda and Eating Disorders

By Dr. Anju Sodhi (Bams, ND)

Food is essential for life. Yet, many individuals develop an unwholesome relationship with food to the extent that it negatively affects their health. In the United States, it is estimated that up to 30 million people suffer from an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder. Worldwide, the figure increases to nearly 70 million sufferers. Generally speaking, anorexia is depriving the body of food, bulimia is eating a large amount of food and then purging it, and binge-eating involves the excessive intake of food at one sitting without purging it.

In most cases, eating disorders occur simultaneously with other mental health conditions. For example, 48-51% of people with anorexia nervosa, 54-81% of people with bulimia nervosa, and 55-65% of people with binge eating disorder are also diagnosed with anxiety disorder.[1]

In their book, Almost Anorexic, Jenni Schaefer, BA, and Jenny Thomas, PhD described a list of general eating disorder traits (e.g., perfectionism, obsessive-compulsiveness, sensitivity to emotional pain, intelligence), as well as traits of those with anorexia (e.g., persistence, low risk-taking, attention to detail, preference for routine, ability to delay gratification), and traits of those with bulimia (e.g., impulsivity, risk-taking, need for new experiences, intolerance of routine). In Ayurveda, these personality traits can be associated with certain dosha characteristics and imbalances. For example, individuals with a primary vata constitution tend to act on impulse and respond to stress with fear, worry, and anxiety. Those with a primary kapha constitution have emotional tendencies toward greed, attachment, and depression. People who suffer from a pitta dosha imbalance tend to binge eat when they are overly stressed, whereas individuals with an imbalance of vata will not feel hungry and will tend towards starvation when they are stressed. Individuals with excessive kapha tend toward obesity, overeat when they experience stress, and are almost always binge eaters who live sedentary lives.

In Ayurveda, an imbalance of the doshas is often the cause of most mental and physical ailments. The first step in rebalancing the system is diminishing the overabundant dosha. When the doshas are in balance, the desire to be out of balance weakens. Ayurveda offers a variety of options to restore balance including yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, and herbal remedies. In addition, restoring digestive health and establishing proper food choices and routines is necessary for any individual facing an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are serious conditions that can have a profound mental and physical impact. It is important to talk with a physician if you or anyone you know is suffering from an eating disorder. Remember, recovery is real, and treatment is available.

[1] Ulfvebrand, S., Birgegard, A., Norring, C., Hogdahl, L., & von Hausswolff-Juhlin, Y. (2015). Psychiatric comorbidity in women and men with eating disorders results from a large clinical database. Psychiatry Res, 230(2), 294-299.

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