Inside Out: Exploring the Impact of Othering on Eating Disorder RecoveryAug 12, 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.
Other (noun): ə-t͟hər: One considered by members of a dominant group as alien, exotic, threatening, or inferior (as because of different racial, sexual, or cultural characteristics) —Merriam Webster
Research in psychiatry has recognized culture as significant to the cause and expression of eating disorders for a long time, but how do widely shared cultural values shape how we think about eating disorders socially, and how we reproduce social inequality and systemic exclusion when it comes to recovery?
In this blog post, we’ll explore how the experiences of othering of foodways, and the creation of ingroups and outgroups, impact eating disorders and how yoga therapy can support inclusive recovery.
Diet Culture and Language
While food can be something that brings people together, conversations about how and what to eat can be political, appropriative, and have significantly different impacts on people with intersectional identity markers. The language we use about and around food, especially with regard to what foods are “guilt free” “clean” healthy” or “comforting” can quickly draw dividing lines between whose cultural foodways do and don’t belong.
Food writing and memoirs often include stories of immigrant children who were teased because their parents packed them their cultural equivalent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich - whether it biryani, pasta, or sushi - all of which have come into their own in popular food culture now, but in earlier times may have prompted the bearers of those lunches to reject those meals, develop unhealthy relationships with cultural foods, and modify which aspects of their identities they present - all in an effort to be part of the in-group.
In addition to individual impacts, the use of harmful language when it comes to foods of systemically excluded groups - notably the implication that traditional African American foods are inherently fattening or “bad” for health can contribute to an increase in microaggressions and other subtle forms of racism that can contribute to increased rates of disordered eating in members of these communities.
Why Yoga Therapy Can Help
How can yoga therapy support a more inclusive eating disorder recovery for people who live with an eating disorder and who may be seeking care that includes incorporating their cultural foods and ancestral food practices, which they may perceive as unhealthy or undesirable?
We have already explored how the yamas (yuh-muhs) can generally be helpful. In this post we are going to learn more about how we can apply the yama of aparigraha (uh-paree-gra-hah). The graha in aparigraha means to take, to seize, or to grab, the pari means on all sides, and the prefix a negates the word itself – basically, it means ‘non’. Thus, aparigraha is often translated as ‘non-greed’, ‘non-possessiveness’, and or more accessibly, as generosity.
But how does being generous support inclusive eating disorder recovery? Aparigraha can be practiced by deliberately making space and working within our individual beliefs and systems to include underrepresented people and communities, including their foodways and traditions. This ranges from being inclusive and inviting when our diverse colleagues share their home cooked recipes, to making space for people to share their experiences and listening to them with generosity instead of judgement.
It also means celebrating and appreciating the diverse food cultures that make up our communities, recognizing how they have supported and continue to support our wellbeing. It means acknowledging where food and food preparation techniques come from, seeing beyond the current marketing fad that is selling you turmeric lattes as though they were “invented” in the last decade when they have been part of ayurvedic medicine for centuries.
The practice of yoga, particularly when it is a customised practice co-designed by your yoga therapist will help you reconnect with your capacity for generosity and cultivate your capacity to appreciate the diverse food cultures in your community. It might also help you better appreciate your food culture, and to take what we need, keep what serves us in the moment, and to let go of othering, or appropriative ways of engaging with food practices when the time is right so you can restore your relationship with food and community.
This is done with the eventual focus of achieving your goals. Since the practice of aparigraha includes reflection and habit change, your yoga therapist will help you (re)build this capacity by suggesting an accessible daily practice that includes self-reflection, observation and study. Your task is to tap into your capacity for generosity and appreciation to motivate yourself to complete it.
This deliberate way of deepening your self-awareness and where you might struggle with it, as well as which techniques help you change over time is particularly helpful in recovery because it gives us the space, and the attention to observe where we might limit our success by claiming things that are not ours or holding on to things that no longer help maintain our wellbeing. As our capacity to reconnect to ourselves and our communities grows, we are better able to practice new habits, and restore our relationship with food and community.
Call to Action
As a researcher, you might use the practice of aparigraha to explore what you perceive as “other” when it comes to foodways, and your relationship with food. You might also explore how the systems and structures that inform your research questions or methods contribute to the cultural appropriation and/or othering of food and eating practices? Over time, you might examine how the systems you work within centre specific ways of eating and examine how you can use your privilege to shift the culture, or the policy.
You could also choose to deliberately model inclusive practices for your colleagues - including ways to include more culturally appreciative and inclusive approaches to food, or by specifically adding an analysis of cultural foodways to your work. The practice of aparigraha when it comes to 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 to a more generous approach.
If you are a care provider, you might use an aparigraha practice to explore how you can engage with cultural foodways from the perspective of generosity and appreciation. You may also explore how the language you use around food and food choices contributes to the inclusion, or exclusion of the people you support.
You might also choose to deepen your knowledge of traditional or cultural food options that support the communities you work with and use these practices in your work with individuals to design solutions that enable them to recognize and celebrate their cultural or ancestral ways of food preparation and eating to support healing and connection with community. You might also ask questions or policy and decision makers, and become more clear about what inclusion means in your organization, and how you can remove barriers that exist as you support recovery.
If you are seeking care for yourself, or someone else, your practice of aparigraha might include deliberately appreciating your cultural or ancestral food ways and reconnecting with them in a way that feels safe and accessible. You might also explore generously nourishing yourself with these foods. You might work with your yoga therapist, or other care providers to explore ways to incorporate those foods and practices into your healing journey. Or you might name and appreciate the barriers you experience in learning more and incorporate these foods and practices as they relate to eating disorder recovery to your care team and community so they can help work to address the systems that maintain and enforce those barriers.
If it feels comfortable you might also use the practice to inform research and to help change systems at a more fundamental level. You might be generous in your choice to share which forms of care or support to address eating disorders within the context of multiple barriers, or ongoing exclusion 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 aparigraha to deepen your self-awareness and reconnect with ancestral foods and cultural practices to support your recovery, 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 https://www.instagram.com/holisticyogatherapist/ and https://www.instagram.com/yogaforeatingdisorders/
Resources to Support Your Exploration
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