Briohny Smyth and Yoga for Eating Disorder Treatment

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Jordan Shakeshaft’s Q&A with Briohny Smyth on  is truly inspiring. Briohny shares how yoga was the starting point for her recovery after battling eating disorders for years.

Yoga helps people struggling with body image issues and eating disorders because practicing yoga gets people out of their heads and focused on balance, pose, breathing, and most importantly—the concept of “being one with nature”. Yoga also appropriately challenges someone dealing with poor body image to begin  acknowledging, feeling and seeing their bodies with positive regard. In yoga you learn to become aware of your breathing—our bodies provide us with life. Learning poses require you to discover and learn knew bodily sensations—our bodies deserve loving touch not self-harm. Yoga makes you sexy—our bodies are most desirable when they are healthy, strong and exude confidence 🙂

Read the Q&A with Briohny here.



Depression Is an Illness


Relationships are needlessly severed between people dealing with psychiatric issues and the people who love them. Inaccurate perceptions and prejudices about mental illnesses persist, making it difficult for many to talk about what is really going on. In addition, misunderstandings, uncomfortable feelings, limited support systems and incorrect diagnoses make it tough for families and individuals to speak up and ask for help, even though mental diseases are treatable like physical ones.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “Mental illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.” *The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that in any given year, an estimated 13 million American adults (approximately 1 in 17) have a seriously debilitating mental illness. Mental health disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States and Canada, accounting for 25 percent of all years of life lost to disability and premature mortality. Moreover, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for the deaths of approximately 30,000 Americans each year. *–Extracted from

With all the facts, people continue to treat mental illness like a taboo subject. Anyone growing up in our survival of the fittest society quickly learns to put on a brave face and “act as though” to fit in and compete. And if a person who is clinically depressed doesn’t, his or her behaviors may be misinterpreted as being lazy, seeking attention or apathetic. Unlike the symptoms of many physical diseases, the early signs of a mental illness aren’t as black and white and often go unchecked or noticed until the situation advances. However, neglected mental health issues do worsen and can cause death.

Not having the ability to speak about difficult emotional issues (mental disorders and otherwise) perpetuates a cycle of hosting environments where maladaptive coping skills, like an eating disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder or substance abuse, thrive. Sometimes one person in a family or group is blamed for the unrevealed issues of others. The “scapegoat” hides or preserves unhealthy domestic or social issues. Children growing up in environments like this don’t always develop addictions or eating disorders; however, since children are naturally sensitive and do not understand what empathy is, their home life promotes being overly responsible and feeling “bad” when not able to fix things, which is often carried into adulthood.

Finding support, therapy or a helpful group can be challenging when someone’s issues are already too embarrassing to talk about. To add salt to the wound, many affordable insurance plans don’t cover mental illness or have a shoddy plan in place unless premium rates are paid. Going out of pocket to have psychiatric evaluations administered costs thousands of dollars and when the results come back, clear findings aren’t guaranteed. Sometimes patients are told, “nothing abnormal was detected.” This is especially true when the medical professional is only looking at the dangers of the maladaptive coping skills and not considering the patient’s genetics, environment, the length of time the behaviors have been active, and to what degree the behaviors are being performed. Paradoxically, having the courage to seek professional help sometimes leaves families and individuals feeling baffled, angry and hopeless.

When we suppress our feelings or turn a cheek to serious issues affecting our health, we enable an atmosphere of distrust, shame and anger. Silver Linings Playbook and The Soloist are good films but do not realistically depict what mental illness looks like in real life. True accounts of psychiatric diseases are not near sexy enough to be in Hollywood. It’s okay to admit when you need help. Whether you’re an individual who no longer recognizes the person in the mirror, a scared parent or significant other who doesn’t know where to turn, or a patient with little hope, talking honestly to loved ones who you trust gets the ball rolling.


Can Someone With an Eating Disorder Be in a Relationship?

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Calculating calories, avoiding situations where food will be present, obsessing about body image and isolating can make finding love pretty difficult. I cringe when I hear or read people personifying his or her eating disorder and referring to it as “Ana,” “Mia” or “Ed.” It personifies an eating disorder and perpetuates the idea of harboring a “relationship” with one’s eating disorder instead of experiencing intimacy with others. The feelings of unworthiness, depression, anxiety and crippling insecurities are what make it difficult to be in a healthy relationship; eating disorder behaviors, or maladaptive coping skills, offer the patient a reason not to participate or even try–it occupies his or her time.

Anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder (BED), and eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) impair judgment, compromise health, lead to isolation or erratic behaviors, and are life threatening. Relationships affected by eating disorders can work if treatment, time and tolerance exist. However, more commonly these relationships are toxic because of destructive behaviors and enabled roles.

An adult’s unconscious attitude about unresolved issues can cause him or her to seek a partner that will fulfill the part of the person(s) who taught him or her at a young age a certain belief system. The person will find people that accord to this in order to trigger familiar feelings. For instance, if a young girl hears she has no chance at success because she isn’t smart enough, as an adult she may seek men who berate her in order to experience the familiar feelings associated with being “not smart enough,” thus, perpetuating negative coping skills.

One of the most difficult things for someone with an eating disorder to do is to be honest about what is really going on. It’s a genuine fear for someone who has been using an eating disorder as a way to deal with uncomfortable feelings. Until they know another way, their eating disorder serves a viable function in their life. In the beginning, alone, speaking the truth aloud can begin the journey of taking back one’s life. The next step is talking to a counselor or trusted adult. In addition, if enough courage and trust exist, talking to a significant other is necessary if there’s any hope for that partnership to evolve.

I knew a beautiful, smart woman who struggled with anorexia and bulimia. She had dated as a younger woman but eventually closed herself off from any opportunities to meet new people. “I trust him,” was the last journal entry that she shared with me. I think she was finally beginning to accept herself and trust others again, but years of anorexia and bulimia had compromised her health and she passed away that spring. The memory of her laughter provides a smile and that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you are in love. Therefore, I guess love and eating disorders can exist, just not happily here on earth.



The Fashion Industry Doesn’t Cause Anorexia


Kate Moss modeling skinny jeans, Fashion Week, and the rest of globalized fashion predict how some men and women see themselves; however, models wearing anything from haute couture to discount clothing does not result in the diagnoses of anorexia−it’s not that simple. One of the main criteria for anorexia is refusal to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height (body weight less than 85% of that expected). Therefore, a 5’4 adult woman whose normal weight range is between 108 and 132 would weigh 92 pounds or less. How many fashion-blog obsessed women or fashionistas do you know who are super skinny like that? Not that many I bet. Deeper psychological issues in addition to probable genetics have more to do with anorexia than fashion does.

The fashion industry influences people’s clothing choices for obvious reasons, and striving for an on-trend look or wanting to look good isn’t a crime. Although, when people have uncomfortable feelings about themselves, they tend to externalize their issues and often focus on their outward appearance, including their fashion. For example, a woman focuses on the “perfect, slimming outfit” in hopes that she’ll appear a certain way instead of looking inward to figure out how she can be her best. A lot of men and women will use fashion in a sense to avoid their feelings and focus on something outside themselves. Fashion becomes their scapegoat.

Fashion is an art form and a business. Designers, marketers, PR companies and retailers rely heavily on provocative imagery to shape their targeted audience. It’s manipulation. The same can be said of the music, broadcasting and advertising industries. Significant clothing trends like corsets, feet binding in China, minis, and variations of skinny jeans have been around for a long time – so has anorexia. Fashion and anorexia linked when media had its growth spurt in the 1980s. But I like what Judy Scheel, Ph.D., L.C.S.W. says, “Culture provides context, not cause.”

The tragic death of Israeli fashion model Hila Elmalich, or the accusations of models’ appearances in Madrid causing eating disorders help explain why the finger pointing happens. However, doctors and researchers still don’t have an answer for what causes anorexia, yet it causes the highest rates of death among all mental illnesses. Upgrading insurance benefits for treatment and additional funding for education and awareness would garner better results than erroneous articles on whether or not a model has an eating disorder or holding the fashion industry accountable for anorexia.