20. Agency, Healing and Recovery with Chelsea Roff

episode description & show notes

Harriet is joined by Chelsea Roff.

Chelsea is the Founder and Director of Eat Breathe Thrive. An author, researcher, and educator, she has spent nearly a decade pioneering integrative health programs for people with mental health challenges. In 2011, Roff offered the first Yoga for Eating Disorders program to clients at a treatment center where she had once been treated for anorexia. This later became the heart of Eat Breathe Thrive: a seven-week intervention that combines yoga, meditation, and psychoeducation to help people recover from eating disorders. Two years later, she raised $50,000 in fifty days to kickstart Eat Breathe Thrive. Since its inception, she has brought the program to scale in thirty-two U.S states and seven countries. Prior to her work in the charitable sector, Chelsea worked as a researcher and grant writer in a psychoneuroimmunology laboratory. Her early research focused on how yoga affects the immune systems of people with HIV/AIDs and cancer. She is currently overseeing a research initiative on the Eat Breathe Thrive program, which will be the largest ever study on a yoga programme for eating disorders. This year, Chelsea took on an additional role as UK Operations Director for The Give Back Yoga Foundation. She is currently spearheading the initiative to bring The Give Back Yoga Foundation programs to scale in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe.

Harriet and Chelsea talked about yoga for eating disorders, starting our mornings with word puzzles and practising agency.

Link to Nikki Myers podcast

Link to Maintenance phase podcast

You can find Chelsea here:

Read the full transcript:

SUMMARY KEYWORDS
yoga, eating disorder, people, therapist, disorders, pandemic, organisation, feet, eating, words, feel, body, practising, nonprofit, programme, week, client, helping, sparkles, yoga mat

SPEAKERS
Chelsea Roff, Harriet McAtee

Harriet McAtee
Welcome to In Our Experience a podcast exploring the many ways of living well with Nourish Yoga Training. I’m your host Harriet yoga teacher and founder of Nourish. Today I’m joined by Chelsea Roff. Chelsea is the founder and director of Eat, Breathe, Thrive and the CO Executive Director of the GiveBack yoga Foundation, and author, researcher and educator she has spent nearly a decade pioneering Integrative Health programmes for people with mental health challenges. In 2011, Chelsea over the first yoga for eating disorders programme to clients at a treatment centre where she had once been treated for anorexia. This later became the heart of Eat, Breathe, Thrive a seven-week intervention that combines yoga, meditation and psychoeducation to help people recover from eating disorders. I had a great time talking with Chelsea, she’s a close friend. And we could have talked for much, much longer. We covered yoga for eating disorders, starting our mornings with word puzzles and practising agency and content note on this episode, we do talk about eating disorders. So do take care if you need to. Let me know what you think about this episode. I can’t wait to share it with you. Hi, Chelsea.

Chelsea Roff
Hi, Harriet.

Harriet McAtee
Welcome to In Our Experience. I’m so glad to have you here.

Chelsea Roff
Thanks. So glad to have an excuse to come to Oxford.

Harriet McAtee
I know I’m very, very pleased to have you sitting across from me. We do record quite a few of these digitally, but nothing beats having a person in the room.

Chelsea Roff
Yeah, I’m just trying to remember how long it’s been since we were together in the flesh.

Harriet McAtee
Oh, that’s a good question. Was it last summer? You came to Oxford and borrowed camping equipment.

Chelsea Roff
Oh, that’s right. That’s right.

Harriet McAtee
Yeah, and we went to the pub.

Chelsea Roff
Yeah. And you loaned me blankets and sleeping bags for a camping trip

Harriet McAtee
Gosh, that feels like ages ago.

Chelsea Roff
I know.

It was

It was, it was, it was midway into the pandemic. It was like I’m on one of those little breaks. I think. Maybe not Midway

Harriet McAtee
was that last year? Oh, no. Yeah. Yeah, it was last year because I was on Rosamond on my boat now.

Chelsea Roff
True.

Harriet McAtee
Yeah.

Chelsea Roff
Anyhow, it’s been too long.

Harriet McAtee
It’s been too long. So it’s lovely to see you. Yeah.

Chelsea Roff
Good to see you too.

Harriet McAtee
We’re gonna get started with the, the same question that I asked every guest. So what’s nourishing you this week? and it can be big, little silly, small, very serious if you want to, I’ll share mine first to help you get started. So my nourishing thing this week is that I got my nails done yesterday. And I’m gonna show the camera and they’re sparkly.

Chelsea Roff
I was noticing those at lunch actually, they’re freshly, freshly done.

Harriet McAtee
they are freshly done on my hot tip is for anybody that gets announced. If you’re up for a sparkle My theory is that the sparkles last longer than a matte colour

Chelsea Roff
feel like that could be true in, in life as well a metaphor for life the sparkles last longer

Harriet McAtee
like colours. Well, I think it’s because they show the wear less so then I’m less inclined to pick at them.

Chelsea Roff
Yeah.

Harriet McAtee
And hence I got four weeks out of my last set of sparkles.

Chelsea Roff
Wow, wow I was in I was in like a phase of doing my nails really regularly and then I got out of it in the pandemic and I’ve never gone back like not, not fingers or toes. I know and it’s been like years of doing them now I’m, now I’m like oh now I’m out of the habit and I’m saving 30 pounds a month.

Harriet McAtee
Yeah, no, they are expensive. Yeah, but I feel like I’m pretty low maintenance and literally every other aspect. Yeah, I got my hair done like twice a year.

Chelsea Roff
Oh, do it. Self-care.

Harriet McAtee
I don’t do my toes I just fingers Okay interesting because it’s not summer yet my shoes, like nobody sees my feet right now.

Chelsea Roff
Summers coming now it is yeah.

Harriet McAtee
And then it’s interesting. We’ll get to your nourishing thing in a moment.

Chelsea Roff
I thought we were just going to do a podcast about your nails.

Harriet McAtee
Well, I’m just about to talk about my feet so. People are weirdly, people are weirdly obsessed with my feet. Like, have I talked about this before the podcast? I feel like maybe I have, No, Matts shaking his head at me. But um, ya know, people into my feet.

Chelsea Roff
Okay. Which kinds of people, like people at the grocery store. They just stop and go, Oh my goodness.

Harriet McAtee
Sometimes it’s that because my feet because, because I have tattoos on my feet. People like I’ll catch them looking. And then occasionally, I’ll be walking down the street and somebody will be like, I love your feet tattoos. And I’m like, Cool thanks. And then there’s like a really interesting subset of people on Instagram that message me about my feet.

Chelsea Roff
Interesting I feel like you could really do a side hustle here with this.

Harriet McAtee
Like I just need an Only Fans for my feet.

Chelsea Roff
Exactly. You could really bring in some bucks on this. Passive revenue really?

Harriet McAtee
And they’re like, and they’re quiet, sort of like they’re quiet, interesting feet to look at because I’ve got like Yogi feet, right? So they’re like, really broad I can control my toes really well. So yeah, maybe I should start an Only Fans just for my feet.

Chelsea Roff
I’m all in support of the entrepreneurial use of feet, really.

Harriet McAtee
Thank you.

Chelsea Roff
and what’s nourishing me? Well, not your feet. But I’m sure you’re nourishing somebody with your feet talk today. I bet it’s like ASMR. Like they’re hearing you talk about your feet and they just like. What’s nourishing me? Well, I’ve got to get I’ve got to like, actually get the imagery of feet out of my head for a moment. This week, in particular. You know, the first thing that’s coming to mind is my morning routine.

Harriet McAtee
Oh, do tell, we love a routine.

Chelsea Roff
Yeah, because it’s well it’s not like one thing, but I’ve been. I’ve just kind of structured my morning in a way that’s been. And I guess I noticed it today because my morning routine was a little thrown off. So, So that’s not in a bad, not in a bad way. But my mornings recently, I’ve been waking up having a quiet cup of coffee by the window and it’s getting light again. So it’s been so nice to actually have sun at that time of morning and to have birdsong. I’ll be honest, Chordal and Wordle are working their way into my morning routine.

Harriet McAtee
Interesting.

Chelsea Roff
So that’s kind of intruding upon my morning routine, but I guess a little bit of like, and if you don’t know what those are, they’re like fun little word games. And I study a little bit of Arabic. And then I usually go to the pool and do a quick swim to start my days. And like that combination of quiet kind of contemplation and kind of using my brain and waking up a little bit and going to the pool and doing like a moving meditation in the water has been really nice.

Harriet McAtee
I am not a Wordle pass.

Chelsea Roff
Oh my god well stop the interview.

Harriet McAtee
I am a Spelling Bee person they have ever played Spelling Bee know what a Spelling Bee. So it’s like the OG New York Times word puzzle.

Chelsea Roff
Okay.

Harriet McAtee
Where you have like a letter in the middle. So there’s seven letters. And you have to make as many four-letter or more words, but it has to include the central letter. And you can use letters more than once.

Chelsea Roff
Oooo.

Harriet McAtee
Yeah. So. And then you’re ranked depending on this like so words are scored. So four-letter words, you get one point. And then any word beyond four letters, you get a point per letter. So five letter words with five points. And then you got to try and get the planograms where you use all the letters.

Chelsea Roff
Okay, okay, I’m gonna have to try it on my way back.

Harriet McAtee
It’s really fantastic. And, like I get to the genius level, which is the top level.

Chelsea Roff
Of course, you do. I mean.

Harriet McAtee
And there are only three words that I didn’t get today so far, but I’ve still got, you know, like, a few hours left today.

Chelsea Roff
Is there anything above the genius level?

Harriet McAtee
There’s the queen bee, but that’s like when you get all of the words, and I’ve only ever got that once.

Chelsea Roff
Okay.

Harriet McAtee
But I was close today. There’s only three words I haven’t got. So it’s like ticking away in the back of my mind.

Chelsea Roff
What were those three words? Did they tell you at the end what the three words were

Harriet McAtee
They tell you are the end of the next day. Yes.

Chelsea Roff
Oh, interesting.

Harriet McAtee
I think there was only three words I didn’t get yesterday, either. It’s just like that far so

Chelsea Roff
You are like so close to queen bee, just like right there.

Harriet McAtee
I know. And yesterday the words that I didn’t get were like Acacia.

Chelsea Roff
Acacia.

Harriet McAtee
Acacia, it’s a type of tree. And pitter-patter was another one that I didn’t get yesterday and like, Picante and I was like ah.

Chelsea Roff
That’s really funny. I’ve been getting mad at Wordle, recently, there’s been some words that I’m like, That’s not a word. And now you just tried it. Now you’re just taking the piss. You’re just trying to trick us. You’re shall and shawl two days in a row. I was like, that’s just,

Harriet McAtee
That’s rude. Yeah, that’s lazy. That’s lazy editing. I really love it when you get naughty words in, in queen be, in Spelling Bee, because like, occasionally you’ll get like, there was one very memorable day where you got like labia and anal. And I was, I was so happy about it, I was like.

Chelsea Roff
So you may not like Wordle but there’s also a variation on Wordle, Caboodle. And it’s only naughty words. Yeah, so it’s all so you have to have like, I’ve got a friend who plays and he hates it because he’s basically like, he’s like, he doesn’t know enough naughty words.

Harriet McAtee
Oh, that’s not my issue. Oh, wonderful. Well, I’d love to segue around like feet into word games, into morning routines. I was really here for it. But let’s talk a little bit about you. I would love to hear about your, your background and how it is that you describe what you do.

Chelsea Roff
Sure. So I wear two major hats at the moment. I’m the founder and director of a nonprofit organisation called Eat, Breathe, Thrive. And our mission is to prevent and help people overcome eating disorders. And we do that mainly through yoga and yoga therapy. So that’s an organisation I started almost 10 years ago, which I know it’s crazy that it’s been that long. And then I also have a second hat on these days as newly actually co-Executive Director of the GiveBack Yoga Foundation, which is.

Harriet McAtee
Very exciting.

Chelsea Roff
Yeah. And you’re, you’re one of our trustees here. And, yeah, so it’s a nonprofit in the US and now a registered charity in the United Kingdom. And that organisation has a bit more of a broad focus, supporting yoga teachers and yoga therapists to bring yoga to all people, and especially those facing illness and hardship.

Harriet McAtee
Lovely. I love this. Yeah, I mean, I think both aspects of it, we and we originally met through the sort of yoga, yoga service sector back when I was in my Yoga Quotadays. And, you know, it’s been, it’s actually, it’s been a real pleasure to sort of see how the work that you’ve been doing has grown and shifted over years, and now to have the wonderful recognition of being co-Executive Director.

Chelsea Roff
Yeah, along alongside Rob Schwear, who really was my entry point into this world. So it’s, it’s really cool. I think I reached a point in my career a few years ago, with Eat, Breath, Thrive, you know, I love it. It’s my passion is working with people with eating disorders. Because I had one when I was a kid, but I got to this point where I was sort of like, okay, I’ve been doing this for a few years. And what’s next? How’s it gonna evolve? Like, how do I, you know, and that’s more of a selfish thing, like, how am I going to be? How do I continue to challenge myself and give back yoga was such a great opportunity? Because it’s, it’s all kinds of challenges, you know, how do you? How do you do this kind of work at scale with lots of different populations and healthcare systems?

Harriet McAtee
And running? And also just like the logistics and organisational skills of running a big organisation? You know, that’s a challenge in and of itself.

Chelsea Roff
Yea, yeah.

Harriet McAtee
So is that how you came to yoga initially? Was it part of your eating disorder? Recovery?

Chelsea Roff
Yeah. Oh, kind of? That’s a good question. I, I’d had an eating disorder when I was, you know, throughout my adolescence, ended up in hospital for my late teens. And I didn’t get into yoga at that time. But I went to university and studied neuroscience and started, started practising yoga then and also studying yoga at that time. So it was like, it was definitely helping me at that early stage of recovery, to feel better in my body to deal with some of the mental health issues, though, I was still sort of struggling with depression, anxiety, etc. But I don’t think I at the time, wanted to be kind of open about the fact that I’d had an eating disorder. So my way in was like, I’ll go study yoga for cancer. And I’ll say, and I wanted to do like, the scientific background so that it looked legitimate, because that was, yeah.

Harriet McAtee
yeah, it’s really, it’s really, it’s really tricky to be open about, like having an eating disorder, because I had one. And I talk about it with almost nobody.

Chelsea Roff
Really.

Harriet McAtee
Yeah, like, it’s, I’ve not I don’t, I don’t hide it. But that feeling of like, not wanting to be open about it definitely resonates like it just feels sticky?

Chelsea Roff
What do you think? What do you think the stickiness is? What do you think? Like, do you think it’s a fear of, like, kind of how people will think about you, or?

Harriet McAtee
I. It’s a really good question. I think, for me, a really, really big part of my recovery was changing the people that I spoke to like changing the people that are around me changing the media that I consume so that I could give myself I think breathing space to heal. And I think one of my worries and talking about it with people is that I’m going to be confronting again, like diet culture, and like all of the things that really, you know, it wasn’t caused by diet culture, but it definitely exacerbated it. And now that I work in the wellness industry. I’m sort of like constantly having to do the work of like, you know, managing that, like, it’s recovery, right? Like, I don’t think, like, I don’t think I would ever relapse, but I’m also not sure that I would ever call myself cured. So, you know, I guess it’s, it’s more fear about, like, what it would do to me to talk about it with people and have to, like, manage other people’s emotions around it that concerns me.

Chelsea Roff
Yeah. And also, I think what you mentioned around diet culture in the wellness and yoga industry is it’s so pervasive. And I think, you know, I hear from a lot of people in recovery from eating disorders that are in the yoga space, that also don’t have to do the work of constantly having to educate, to push back or to say, well, actually, I don’t, I don’t really think that sugar is the cause of most illnesses. It’s, I mean, they’re like, it comes with a, once you’re out about it and open about it, then people feel freedom to ask about it, to talk about it, and often, to bring feedback into the conversation and put their foot in their mouth. They do and don’t mean to do harm.

Harriet McAtee
100%.

Chelsea Roff
But they do. And I spent, I think around food, and then also around bodies, you know, and what kinds of bodies are good bodies and all of that stuff?

Harriet McAtee
Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think, for me, it’s also the knowledge that initially, my yoga practice, really, I mean, my, my eating disorder was like, ticking away for a really long time. And then it got really, it got quite acute, but my yoga practice made it worse.

Chelsea Roff
I was gonna ask you that question. Do you feel like yoga helped? Or or.

Harriet McAtee
No, it hurt at the beginning. And then it was, yeah, because it was a, it was just another way of controlling things and or gave me an illusion of control, I should say. And yeah, it was only like, now it’s really helpful. But that’s after like, a decade of therapy.

Chelsea Roff
Interesting. So I guess I would be curious around one, do you think it was like mental control? Or was it also trying to control and fix your body? And then the other thing is, what, what about those years of therapy shifted? Like, what shifted in terms of how you related to the practice, or how you show up in the practice?

Harriet McAtee
Yeah, I think it was both, I think it was like a, like, a mental control. Like, I’m controlling myself. And then also an element of like, I’m controlling my body through my practice by making it look a certain way or do certain shapes. You know, like, it’s very satisfying. And then, I think, I think, I mean, what therapy helped me understand was what was like, at the root of it all for me. And, you know, once I sort of understood that, and I could see my eating disorder, as I don’t know, I guess, like, a manifestation or like a symptom of an underlying issue. And once I was able to realise that like, oh, well, I could chase my own tail trying to like solve the ED. But actually, the underlying issue is this, and I need to like, that’s the harder work.

Chelsea Roff
Yeah. Yeah.

Harriet McAtee
And that’s the thing that I need to look at. And then yoga became something that was like a tool and a resource, you know, right, you know, for benefit rather than for harm.

Chelsea Roff
Yeah, it’s funny I, we, yesterday, actually, I did a, we call it a client observation, but it’s like a one on one session with a client where we’ve got facilitators there kind of learning how to work one on one. And I’m just reflecting back to something she said because it was almost exactly the same. I was asking her about, you know, what kind of doing an intake. So what kind of, what kind of treatment? Have you gotten what’s worked, what hasn’t worked? And one of the things she was saying and she said, Well, I’ve gotten treatment, I’ve gone to therapy, I’ve gone and seen a psychiatrist, I’ve gone and seen dieticians, but all we talk about is the food. And she was like, I go in, they give me a meal plan. We talk about my problematic eating disorder behaviours, we talk about black and white thinking, which are all really helpful, those like cognitive behavioural techniques, but she goes, I just never feel like I’ve been getting to the like, Why? Why am I using food in this way to cope? And she spoke about how impactful yoga had been in helping her I think, do some of that self-reflection, but also, I think practically just start to cultivate some care and compassion for herself and to stay with herself in difficult emotions rather than running away or distracting with exercise or all of that.

Harriet McAtee
Yeah, 100%. I mean, that really speaks to my experience, I was so lucky. I think when I started therapy, I was so, so lucky with the therapist that I landed with. And I’m so grateful, it wasn’t CBT. Like, I understand that, like, CBT is enormously beneficial for lots of people, but it’s never been, it’s never worked for me. I needed something that was much more relational. So, my, my therapist was a, what did she call herself, like an inter-relational therapist. So it was like, you know, I would go in, and we didn’t talk about eating disorders for months, we just talked about relationships. And she was like, let’s talk about, you know, your relationship with your partner, or your relationship with your friends or your family, like, and it was, like, unpicking all of that, that, you know, was, was the, was the gateway to me. And then I really remember, I had then, that therapist had a baby, she couldn’t see him anymore, because she was giving birth to her. So you know, so rude. So she, she transitioned me to one of her colleagues in the same practice. And I was really resistant, angry about it at first, because I was like, you know, I understand why people have breakdowns when the therapist dies, because.

Chelsea Roff
Oh, oh, 100%.

Harriet McAtee
Such an important relationship. Anyway, I started seeing this, this new, like replacement therapist, and I’d gone in one day, and I’d had a bad, a bad week with eating disorder behaviours. And I was like, wanting, I really remember this feeling of like, wanting to go in and wanting her to, like, be angry at me for it. And she just wouldn’t, because it’s not her job. But also, she said something to me, which I’ll never forget, she was like, I’m less interested in what you did. Like, I’m not really I don’t really, I don’t really not really that interested in how this manifested. I’m interested in what got you to that point this week. And that was like a real aha moment for me, in terms of shifting my perspective on how I thought about the behaviours. And what was happening.

Chelsea Roff
Yeah, I think there can be like, such a temptation to want an external person and sometimes a therapist to almost embody that punitive voice we already have in ourselves, right. So it’s, you know, sometimes we learned growing up from our parents or from authorities in school, but we have this like, you know better, you should have done this better, you know, all, all of that. That’s like, very self punitive and off like, exactly the opposite of what’s needed to foster change, which is curiosity and reflection. And, you know, as your therapist said, like, why, what, what drove you there? Yeah. But sometimes with a therapist or yoga teacher or a partner, or a friend, we’re like, can’t you get mad at me? Can’t you just externalise the voice in my head? You know, so mean, sometimes.

Harriet McAtee
I know, it’s, um, it’s such an interesting, it’s such an interesting process. So tell me a little bit about the, the work that you do at Eat, Breathe, Thrive, and sort of how you’re helping people.

Chelsea Roff
Sure. So, Eat, Breathe,Thrive. I mentioned that I got into yoga, through the study of yoga. So I was working in neuroscience and health psychology. And we studying yoga interventions for people with cancer and people with HIV, breast cancer specifically. And I never, I never intended to start a nonprofit that was not like, oh, I’ll think I’ll start a nonprofit, but I wanted to raise some money to do a research study on yoga and eating disorders because I knew it was very helpful for me. So again, wanted to stick with the scientific thing. That would have been like, 2013 I think that I raised $50,000 on a crowdfunding campaign, and started the organisation. And I mentioned that because the whole, the whole premise originally was just to do a study on yoga and eating disorders, and that’s informed the whole Eat Breathe, Thrive approach. So I raised that money, and then I was like, oh, oh, I wasn’t expecting to actually raise the money. I hadn’t thought this. Now what? So I actually went to give back yoga, which was this nonprofit organisation that was like an incubator for small nonprofits. And I said I’ve got $50,000 I need to put it in a bank account. Can I, can I put this under the GiveBack yoga umbrella. So started Eat Breathe Thrive then as a nonprofit under the GiveBack yoga umbrella, and then created a seven-week intervention. That was a combination of yoga tools from a psychotherapy world and actually volunteer work in a local community, too. So I created that intervention so we could study it. And now today, we have studied it. But it’s, it’s an intervention that I’ve trained in yoga teachers, yoga therapists and mental health professionals to deliver in their local community, and increasingly on, you know, virtual platforms like Zoom. So what it looks like is a psychologist or a counsellor, or a yoga therapist, brings together a group of a dozen people. And each week those people meet for one session per week for two hours. And the first hour is group discussion, psychotherapy kind of based exercises, really designed to be practically useful. And then the second hour is a yoga meditation practice designed to help them embody all the stuff they’ve been working on.

Harriet McAtee
And I mean, there just must be such demand for these sorts of services. Because I mean, I know that in the UK, the waitlist for eating disorder treatment on the NHS is years.

Chelsea Roff
Yeah. And it’s, it’s gotten so much worse during the pandemic. You can.

Harriet McAtee
Why do you think that is?

Chelsea Roff
I think, similar.

Harriet McAtee
I mean apart from the obvious of like, a global pandemic.

Chelsea Roff
It’s that, but I think that we all know that the pandemic has been stressful for all of us social isolation, it’s been stressful for all of us. I think it’s exacerbated, if not kickstarted a lot of mental health issues, you know, worldwide, but I think for somebody with an eating disorder, or the history of an eating disorder, that social isolation piece can be particularly harmful. So what we saw early in the pandemic, especially in the US, was treatment centres having to close their doors. Because it wasn’t safe to have people in this, you know, all in a group, group setting, and sent patients home. And then they went home to the very same circumstances that had triggered their eating disorders to begin with. And then they were at home and away from maybe some of the resources that have been helping them at that moment, whether that be a face to face visit with a therapist, or going to school or going to daily activities that, you know, helps all of that. So I think the same thing happened with addiction recovery. I know that from our, our work with Nikki Myers at yoga for 12 step recovery. I think I read her done a guardian podcast the other day that opioid deaths are up like three times what they were before the pandemic.

Harriet McAtee
I listened to the same episode.

Chelsea Roff
Yeah, don’t quote me on that, but it was a lot.

Harriet McAtee
We can we will link, will link that episode. It was today in focus, wasn’t it? Last week.

Chelsea Roff
Really good, yeah, but I think that was a big part of it. And then as you said, you in the UK, you already had a really overstretched health care system. So prior to the pandemic, I think, I hate to be critical of this. But I don’t think the criteria for when somebody is, quote, sick enough to have to need treatment is I think, is actually really ancient in the UK. I don’t think it’s up to date with what we know of eating disorders now. So often people have to be underweight in order to get eligible for residential care. And then as you said, waitlists are really long if you’re not significantly underweight. So that leaves I mean, the vast majority of people with eating disorders are not underweight. Someone with bulimia is it’s very unlikely that they’ll ever become underweight. But they will still have significant cardiovascular issues, significant mental health issues. So those criteria for how we define what a severe eating disorder looks like, are really ancient. And if you’ve Yeah, sorry.

Harriet McAtee
I think it’s such an important point. And I, as you were, as you were speaking, I was sort of reflecting that, for me, as well. That’s one of my, that’s one of my like, fears around talking to people about my own eating disorder is that I don’t look like I ever had an eating disorder. And even when it was most acute for me, I probably didn’t fall into most people’s idea of what somebody with an eating disorder looks like. Like I was a lot. I was underweight for what I am now like I was maybe I don’t know, it’s been years since I was on a scale, but pick a number like 30 kilos lighter than what I am now. But, you know, even then I probably didn’t look unwell, I was I can’t even tell you how miserable I was.

Chelsea Roff
This is, this is what drives me crazy is that those are those are social and cultural stereotypes of eating disorders. They’re not actually grounded in any type of evidence. So what we know of eating disorders, and I’ll say it again, because I don’t think most people hear this. Most people with eating disorders are at or above a quote-unquote healthy weight and how we define healthy weight is problematic in and of itself because we use BMI. Yeah, I’m using BMI Arnold Schwarzenegger is morbidly obese. So it’s a poor, it’s a poor measure of health anyway. But you know, I, I’ll, I’ll never forget, I, back when I was doing more writing, I wrote an article for journal for Yoga Journal, about a young woman who had died on her yoga mat, in the midst of her struggles from an eating disorder, and she was dealing with bulimia and she was, she was at in her healthy weight range. So that idea that you have to be underweight to have a severe eating disorder is ludicrous. You can have cardiovascular issues from laxative abuse, from purging all of those things. And also like, I don’t think that physiological complications are a great measure of human suffering. You can have a, an eating disorder that’s severely disruptive to your person’s life and create a tremendous amount of suffering for both a person and their family and their loved ones. And you’re not going to see that in electrolytes or on the skin. And I think those individuals are just as deserving of treatment and of care.

Harriet McAtee
I mean, I couldn’t agree more. We’ll, we’ll put a link to it in the show notes. You know, the podcast maintenance phase. I’m obsessed with it, you’ll love it. But essentially, it’s like diet myth debunking. Okay. And they have an episode on BMI. Okay, which is really, is worth a listen, it’s really great. But I guess I’m curious, and how, what are some of the ways that you’re seeing in your research? And I guess also, from your experience, that you find that yoga supports eating disorder recovery? Like, what is it about yoga? 10 years of study.

Chelsea Roff
Like, where, where can I start? I mean, I’ll answer that question two ways. I’ll answer that question as I would, to a client with an eating disorder. Whos asking right at that moment, why yoga? And that was the question I asked when I had a therapist recommend I do yoga, I was like, Are you? I think I actually said, Where did you go to school? That ridiculous suggestion from like, a, like a licenced therapist to recommend yoga for someone with an eating disorder. But um, the way I would answer that now, it’s a number of things. But really practically, one thing that people with eating disorders struggle with, both in the midst of an eating disorder and especially early in recovery is sensing hunger and fullness. So some people are incredibly sensitive to fullness. Some people are incredibly sensitive to hunger, some people don’t feel hunger at all. And some people don’t feel fullness at all. And that’s what you would call in science. Interoceptions are interoceptive pathways. So you’ve got I mean, there’s lots of interoception is, I’ll just say, for anyone who’s not familiar with that, your ability to sense what’s happening inside your body at any given time. And that can be hunger and fullness, or it could be thirst or your heart rate, or your body temperature or pain. So one thing that yoga can be incredibly practically useful for is rebuilding interoceptive pathways that are under firing. So and I think also, and that’s kind of the second thing I often answer when somebody’s really sceptical of the yoga thing is, yoga can also help us cope in a healthier way when we’re when we have interoceptive pathways that are really oversensitive. Like, I’ve got clients, especially clients with anorexia, that when they start to feel full, they panic and like, they feel it as pain, they feel like there’s that pathway so sensitive, they get panic, they get anxiety. So just having like, just simple pranayama practices for breathing through that and calming the body back down can be really useful. So yeah, I think yoga can be used for a lot of ways. self-regulation, you know, managing depression and manage. I shouldn’t say managing coping with depression, coping with anxiety, riding the waves of our emotional experience.

Harriet McAtee
Yeah, yeah yeah.

Chelsea Roff
And then, you know, I think the word the term I use often is becoming more fluent in the language of our bodies. I love just, just sometimes, like, it feels like speaking German. I’m like, what am I saying.

Harriet McAtee
well, the number of times like you can say to people, like how does that feel or how you feeling and people can’t name it, can’t name it. They’re like, they don’t know what it is or they’ve read it, you know? I think yeah, learning to speak the language of your body is just yeah.

Chelsea Roff
The other thing I’ll answer to so that’s my personal kind of theory and how I’ve crafted our courses and our curriculum, what I’m, we’re learning a lot and the research that we’ve done. So we’ve got five studies that are either finished with data collection and awaiting publication or ongoing with data collection, two of which are randomised control trials, which is really exciting.

Harriet McAtee
Wow, that is really exciting.

Chelsea Roff
Yeah, for our field. But we’ve seen a few really interesting outcomes. One is that yoga seems to help people appreciate their body for functionality rather than what it looks like. So I appreciate and this came up with that client last night. I have she was talking about she’d always really hated her legs and had this like so much judgement. And she’s like, when I’m on my yoga mat, I’m thinking, My legs have carried me up mountains.

Harriet McAtee
Wow, that’s beautiful.

Chelsea Roff
Like, whoa, you know, so really appreciating this body isn’t just what it looks like. But this body is the thing that carries me through life that allows me to hug my children to carry, you know, climb mountains. So we’ve seen that, and a surprising outcome from our, our research so far, at least for our Eat BreathThrive curriculum, which is yoga plus some other things. I think the most interesting finding for me, personally, is that most of the people coming into our programme met the criteria for PTSD. And then when they came out, they no longer met the criteria for PTSD.

Harriet McAtee
Oh, that’s interesting.

Chelsea Roff
On average as a whole, which was I was like, wow, I hadn’t.

Harriet McAtee
That’s really impactful.

Chelsea Roff
Yeah, it was really thrilling. So there’s something about I think, the yoga practice, that can help people who have experienced really significant trauma get better at self-regulating, or using maybe healthy, I just say ride the wave, you know, you can’t make emotions go away. You can get a little bit better at riding those waves when they, when they hit you.

Harriet McAtee
Definitely, I mean, I think one of the things I often talk about with my students is that, and I talk about this a lot in the context, actually a pregnancy yoga. And there have been some interesting studies on pregnancy yoga, and one of the things that they found is that pregnancy yoga is really good at promoting feelings of self-efficacy.

Chelsea Roff
Oh, yeah.

Harriet McAtee
So this feeling of like, I know what I’m doing, I can do this feeling of competency of knowing that you can handle a situation, which obviously, like if you’re about to give birth, that’s quite a nice feeling to have. But also more broadly, like, I think that’s something that yoga is really good at doing of like, I know what I’m doing. I know that I can do this. And then I think, particularly when it comes to trauma, yoga, yoga is a way of practising agency.

Chelsea Roff
Yeah, that’s what I was gonna say. It’s what we use in our programme.

Harriet McAtee
Yeah. Like, there’s almost, there’s almost no other discipline I can think of that allows you to practice agency in the way that a yoga class it’s geared towards inclusion and geared towards, you know, you know, I guess trauma sensitivity, will, you know, dance, no, because dance is about looking a certain way being a certain way. Pilates, you know, all of it. It’s like, they’re wonderful disciplines and wonderful modalities and can be very supportive. But in terms of practising agency,

Chelsea Roff
yeah, I think I’ve, I feel really lucky to have witnessed and been able to listen to people’s experiences on the yoga mat, and when it comes to healing mental health issues. And one thing I’ve heard, especially from people who’ve experienced trauma is this feeling of once again, feeling a sense of ownership of their own body, feeling like this body is mine, I choose what I wish to do with it, I choose to step forward, I choose to take a moment in Child’s Pose, that feeling of self-efficacy, agency. And then I think also, I keep thinking of this client yesterday. Like the in the throes of an eating disorder in the throes of any kind of mental illness, depression, anxiety, you can feel so at the whim of that issue, you know, whether it’s I don’t feel like I can get out of bed in the morning, I’m paralysed with anxiety. I don’t want to leave the house. And to have a practice that is so empowering. So like, So finally, I feel like I can do something for myself. I feel like I can do something to feel better. And I know that in doing it, I have the experience of feeling a bit better like that is magic. And it’s so simple. It’s so weird that getting on a mat and making shapes with your body for 30 minutes does that.

Harriet McAtee
And also I think, I think the really powerful thing is that the yoga itself doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t have to be very specific. Like people always like, what yoga should I do for depression? I’m like, let’s just do yoga. It doesn’t have to be, like, you know, like, if you really want to think about it, like maybe there are some things that you could that are interesting to do, but just all yoga is useful.

Chelsea Roff
Yeah, yeah, I agree. It’s actually, you can literally make any shape of your body for moving and you’re breathing, and you’re practising that. Being with yourself. Chances are 30 minutes later, you’re gonna feel a whole lot better. Yeah.

Harriet McAtee
Yeah, definitely. Well, shockingly, we are already at the end of our time, I know. I feel like we could have gone for hours, but where can, where can our listeners find your work? Where can they find you on the internet?

Chelsea Roff
Sure. So if you’re we’ve talked a lot about Eat, Breathe Thrive. So if you’re interested in any of the research I talked about or getting trained to facilitate this curriculum or just experiencing the curriculum yourself. Eatbreathethrive.org. I’ll also mention we got a grant this year from the National Lottery. And we’re offering yoga for eating disorder recovery courses, which are a four-week virtual yoga course for free to anyone who needs them all year. So that’s really exciting. And then I didn’t talk too much about Give Back Yoga. But Give Back Yoga is a nonprofit organisation that helps yoga teachers and yoga therapists bring yoga to all people and we give free yoga mats to teachers that want to teach in prisons and care homes and their communities. And we also provide free scholarships to yoga teacher training, provide fiscal Sponsorship to, to nonprofits like small organisations that don’t have nonprofit status in the US that want to do work with yoga. So the website for that is givebackyoga.org.

Harriet McAtee
And we will link to all of those in the show notes. Well, thank you so much, Chelsea, for joining me today. It’s been such a pleasure.

Chelsea Roff
Thanks, Harriet s pleasure as always.

Harriet McAtee
Thanks for listening to In Our Experience. Don’t forget to subscribe, rate, and review the podcast. We love hearing what you think and it makes a really big difference. In the meantime until the next episode comes out. Why not check us out on our Instagram account @nourishyogatraining will pop us an email via our website. See you soon.

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