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Published August 28, 2018

GSE research team taking on one of the largest studies of yoga effectiveness for eating disorders

Measuring the benefits of a yoga program

Worldwide, 30 million people practice yoga and half of them say they started yoga because of recommendations from a physician or therapist. Practicing yoga can lead to an improved quality of life, including a lower heart rate, relief from anxiety, stress, depression and insomnia, and overall physical health, strength and flexibility.

Despite the known benefits of yoga, health insurers and government healthcare systems do not cover therapeutic yoga programs. In order to secure funding from health insurers and national health systems, substantial academic research must show yoga-based interventions can improve the outcome of eating disorder treatment.

Scholarly evidence on the effectiveness of yoga to prevent and treat eating disorders may come from Catherine Cook-Cottone, professor from the Department of Counseling, School and Educational Psychology. Cook-Cottone received a grant from the Lululemon Athletica’s philanthropic initiative (Here To Be) through Give Back Yoga Foundation to explore the effectiveness of the Eat, Breathe, Thrive yoga program, created by Chelsea Roff.

“I, along with my co-leader (clinical associate professor) Wendy Guyker and doctoral students on our research team, are looking to see if the Eat, Breathe, Thrive program helps those at risk for or struggling with eating disorders,” said Cook-Cottone. They hope the research will pave the way for yoga-based mental health programs to become eligible for “third-party reimbursement for services … on a larger scale.”

While there have been previous studies on the effectiveness of yoga, no study has looked at a comprehensive program or long-term outcomes. Prior studies have also had flaws such as too few participants or have been too short in duration. The current study is an opportunity to collect data on an established yoga program that services hundreds of individuals in the community, educational and medical settings.

The Eat Breathe Thrive project is three distinct studies focusing on three separate groups: individuals with clinical eating disorders, adults with run-of-the-mill food and body image issues, and college athletes, including female athletes who may be uniquely at risk. The team will also be interviewing participants to give voice to those who have experienced the program.

The two-year study will answer three questions: Is the Eat Breathe Thrive program an effective adjunct treatment for eating disorders? Can yoga-based programs help to prevent eating disorders? Does the program support mindful eating, emotional resilience and body confidence?

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