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Now You See Me - Exploring How Intersectional Identity Markers Impact Eating Disorder Recovery

body image eating disorder gender health help holistic yoga therapy inclusive recovery inclusive therapy intersectionality lgbtq2sia yoga therapy yoga toronto May 06, 2022

This blog is part of a special 12-month series titled, “Inclusive Eating Disorder Recovery: How Yoga Therapy Can Help” written for Yoga for Eating Disorders. Through my blogs and related social media posts, I will explore how we can use the ethics of Yoga, personal practice, movement, breath, focused attention, and meditation to create recovery spaces that are inclusive and reflective of diverse lived experience. Join in the conversation on Instagram by following along @yogaforeatingdisorders and @holisticyogatherapist.

ntersectionality (noun): ˌin-tər-ˌsek-shə-ˈna-lə-tē: The complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups. —Merriam Webster


Our identities are not not fixed. Instead they continue to be shaped by many factors including race, gender, and economic status. How we experience our identities and see ourselves is our body image and this self-perception is complicated by the experience of intersectionality. Experiencing multiple forms of discriminiation linked to how we physically appear in the world, can result in acute or chronic trauma responses. These can trigger, or exacerbate eating disorders. By taking the time to develop our understanding of the impact of intersectionality, and the lived experiences of people affected by it, we can start to help unpack the complexity of experience, pattern, and learned behaviour.

In this blog series, we have explored how racism and colonisation, food insecurity before and during COVID, and gender identity each impact the experience of living with and seeking support to recover from an eating disorder. As we become more aware that eating disorders can be caused by a broad range of bio-psycho-social, as well as emotional and spiritual factors, it is easier to understand that eating disorders impact people across diverse demographic markers differently. As an example, studies suggest that in cultures where fasting associated with religious observance is common and encouraged, anorexia can be more prevalent but less diagnosed. 

Another aspect that is slowly coming to light as our cultural consciousness shifts is how intersectionality, or the experience of multiple forms of discrimination based on identity markers, impacts the experience of eating disorder and recovery. Our next challenge is to better understand how the complex experience of intersectionality, or multiple forms of concurrent discrimination related to gender identity, racial markers, as well as access to income and employment, plays a role in how people can or cannot access safe, appropriate help to support their recovery.

What the Research Says

Researchers are already aware of this gap and have suggested that “intersectionality-informed approaches, which examine the ways in which one's multiple social identities interact to inform risk for ED outcomes, offer an established framework for identifying frequently underserved individuals who may be at greatest risk for EDs.”

They also recognize that intersectionality doesn’t only confer an increased level of risk, or contribute to a higher prevalence of eating disorders. Intersectional identity can also confer protective factors and those are worth considering when developing recovery plans by using a strengths based approach. 

Why Yoga Therapy Can Help

How can yoga therapy support a more inclusive eating disorder recovery for people with intersectional identities who live with an eating disorder? We have already explored how the yamas (yuh-muhs) and niyamas (nee-yuh-muhs) can generally be helpful. In this post, we are going to specifically explore the niyama of svādhyāya (svahd-YAH-yah).


Svādhyāya comes from sva or Self, and ādhyāya or the practice of knowing. It literally means ‘one’s own reading’ or ‘self study’. In yoga therapy, this practice is encouraged in the form that Patanjali (puh-tuh-un-juh-lee) noted in the yoga sutra, where it says “Study thyself, discover the divine”. This may sound like an inaccessible, esoteric, or deeply religious practice. It is not. The intention is about recognizing the aspects of ourselves that are universal - across all the markers that make up intersectionality.

The practice of yoga, particularly when it is a customised practice co-designed by your yoga therapist to help you achieve your goals, includes time built in for daily self reflection, observation and study. It may begin with the accessible practice of observing your breath and how it changes over the course of movement, and then develop into a deeper observation of your thoughts, and the space between them. 

This deliberate practice of noticing how we change over time is particularly helpful in recovery because it gives us the space, and the attention to notice the things we do that serve us, as well as those that may harm us. As our awareness of these things grows, we are better able to practise new habits, and build new neural pathways so we feel better. 

In the long term, this practice of self-study brings us in closer contact with our true self. If we choose, we can also deepen our awareness of what inspires us, what we are curious about, where our biases shape our views, and learn what we know, and what we think we know. This deliberate deepening of awareness can help us shift our perspective, address hidden biases and act more inclusively.

Call to Action

If you are a researcher, you might use the practice of svādhyāya to start to become aware of your external biases, and over time, perhaps deepen your awareness to notice your internal biases as well. You could also choose to deliberately build questions around how you better account for the intersectional nature of identity when studying populations into your methodology.  You might also choose to help build the body of research and knowledge around the experience of intersectionality, to help fill the gaps in information about what it is like to be experience disordered eating along with multiple forms of discrimination and how that impacts access to care and support. The practice of self awareness, and awareness of how you see the world might also help you decolonize your approach when working with systematically excluded colleagues, or change how you work with communities.

If you are a care provider, you might use a svādhyāya practice to make space for care seekers to disclose their experience of intersectionality by gently asking open ended questions about their experience. You might also ask questions about different experiences of discrimination, or levels of access so you can factor those aspects in as you support recovery. 

If you are seeking care for yourself, or someone else, your practice of svādhyāya might help you better express your experience with intersectionality as it relates to eating disorders to your care team and community so they can help connect you with resources and support. If it feels comfortable you might also use the practice to inform research and to help shift the dominant narrative. You might also choose to share which forms of care or support to address eating disorders within the context of multiple experiences of discriminiation were most helpful so that other community members, care providers and system builders are aware and can integrate that information into their decision making.

If you are already using the practice of svādhyāya to deepen your awareness of yourself, and how you see the world and are seen in it to drive intentional healing within yourself or in your community, we would love to learn more about what you are up to. 

Please share how it is going so far, what has worked well, and what you might set aside. Tell us in the comments, or message us on instagram at and

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