This morning I attended a fascinating lecture for eating disorder professionals in New York City.  (Yes, as well as being immersed in yoga and spiritual practice, I am also a neuroscience nerd). Leah Graves RD and Scott Moseman MD each presented on research that suggests brain differences in anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder, and non-eating disorder population.  I hope to share with you some interesting findings that stood out to me today:

 

  • Dr. Moseman spoke to his belief that anorexia is an anxiety disorder where restricting food and focusing on weight becomes the mechanism of managing already high levels of anxiety and genetically predisposed character traits such as perfectionism, obsessive compulsive tendencies, altered interceptive awareness such as overactive bladder function (I was surprised to learn people with anorexia actually have an unusually high rate of bed-wetting), harm avoidance and possibly altered gastro-intestinal function.
  • Many of these traits exist prior to the development of an eating disorder. New brain studies show that people who struggle with anorexia do not have the same reactions to reward  as people without anorexia, and that there are disturbances in dopamine systems, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. Brain differences in this area explain why a "normal" eater feels agitated by hunger, while someone with anorexia may feel calmed by hunger.  In fact, the area of the brain associated with delay of gratification is overly active in anorexia. Some of these brain differences may explain, for instance, why those who struggle with anorexia also have a difficult time receiving positive feedback and latch onto any sign of criticism. 
  • Research studies on brain function in bulimia and binge eating disorder (the most common eating disorder), also show neurobiological and regulatory differences that account for traits such as impulsivity, commonly associated with this population. One of these differences is the down-regulation of dopamine in the brain. Specifically, something that would satisfy a non-eating disordered person may under-satisfy someone with this type of eating disorder due to the way dopamine functions in the brain.  However, because there is a high comorbidity in bulimia with substance abuse, trauma and other psychiatric disorders, most brain research studies focus on anorexia. Hopefully more studies will allow for a better understanding in this area.  
  • Genetic predisposition is now thought to contribute to 50-80% of those who develop an eating disorder. These estimates are similar to those found in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
  • 40-50% of people with anorexia are vegetarians, whereas only 3% of the general population is vegetarian. Vegetarianism can be a major risk factor for developing an eating disorder. Avoiding sources of nutrients, such as in animal protein, can make recovery and weight-restoration even more difficult for someone with dietary limitations. While this is not necessarily a neuroscience fact, there are brain changes in anorexia (areas of the brain can actually shrink) that depend on proper nutrition and weight stabilization to be restored to normal function. The good news is that by cultivating healthy eating and exercise habits, our brains can function at their maximum capacity. 

My hope is for understanding more about neurobiology and food behaviors to allow for a  holistic approach to treatment and recovery. I believe that when we practice self-awareness and acceptance of the more difficult parts of our personality (and even brain chemistry), we can work to channel these parts in a healthier way that serves our well-being and health.  Happy Friday!

     Namaste,

           Anastasia

 

I just returned to NY after attending three full days of the Academy for Eating Disorders'  annual ICED (International Conference on Eating Disorders) in Boston. I had the opportunity to hear ground-breaking new research from experts in the field of eating disorders, neuroscience, psychology, and medicine.  My intention in sitting down to write on this Sunday morning is to be able to share a bit of what stood out to me with you, and that some of this information you can apply to your own recovery or in caring for a loved one. 

Photo by Nousha Salimi Photography

Photo by Nousha Salimi Photography

1. Brain ChangeDiet change that is associated with a reward (i.e. compliments on losing weight, coping with emotions etc) creates a new habit. Habit shifts activity into an area of the brain called the dorsal striatum. Over time, this behavior (ex/food restriction) becomes outcome independent, which means that it is no longer dependent on external cues or the 'because' to be reinforced. This finding supports, from a physiological perspective, why it is so difficult  for someone struggling with an eating disorder to stop engaging in food-related habits or use future consequences as motivation. 

2. Brain Plasticity: The prefrontal cortex is an area of the brain that myelinates the latest, is most modifiable, and is implicated in mental illness. Myelin is made of fatty acids and aids in the efficiency of a signal from one neuron to another. Did you know the brain is the organ that contains the most fat??? In recovery, weight gain leads to brain changes and the potential to recover white matter lost in severe restriction. (Yes, the brain actually shrinks and does not function properly during an active eating disorder!). In recovery, there is an improvement in cognitive tasks. 

3. Exercise + Recovery: In one experiment, low body weight and increased running, even before any food restriction, was a predictor for anorexia. Compulsive exercise is associated with longer hospitalization, earlier time to relapse form an ED, and poor long term outcome. Exercising a lot when anorexic is also a predictor of suicide. On another note, learning to have a healthy relationship to exercise can also be vital in recovery, and has shown to decrease stress, depression, and anxiety. Ask me more about yoga and recovery!

 

Namaste,

Anastasia

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AuthorAnastasia Nevin

 

While listening again to my recent Food Psych interview (which you can find below!),  I was inspired to write more about finding spiritual purpose in order to be able to heal from addiction and dis-ease. In my own experience, discovering and tapping into my Soul's essence helped to put my attachment to a physical appearance, size and weight into perspective and to be able to see the larger picture: my physical body is a earthly vehicle for my Spirit to do its work.

At the time many years ago,  this was a deeply healing and relieving realization that supported my recovery and allowed me to realize how important it is to take care of and to feed our physical selves in order to connect, communicate, serve and share our inner light from a grounded place. 

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In yoga and spiritual practices, the word "dharma" implies that every soul is born into this lifetime with a specific and individual purpose, and it is our responsibility to fulfill that purpose in our lifetime. This concept may seem overwhelming and it is also beautifully profound. It is at the root of  healing.  

My invitation to you is to spend some time exploring your purpose,  what truly makes you feel like yourSELF,  what inspires you and makes you feel ALIVE! Give yourself permission to play and be curious. What better time than spring to birth new parts of ourself and dive deep!

Happy April!

Light and love,

Anastasia

 

 

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Released: Mar 25, 2015

This episode features two guests who used yoga in their own recovery from eating disorders and are now working to help others heal. Nutrition therapist and yoga instructor Anastasia Nevin discusses her history with food and why she believes healing has to involve connecting to your body. Then, yoga instructor and author Sarahjoy Marsh shares her painful eating disorder history and how she first stumbled upon yoga.     

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AuthorAnastasia Nevin

Yesterday I presented a webinar as part of Cigna's free webinar series for eating disorder awareness. I feel honored to be able to share my experience both personally and professionally in the recovery process and how we can heal our relationship to food. In this presentation I speak about the use of a meal plan as a stepping stone to move towards Conscious Eating. Check out the link below to gain access to the powerpoint and audio. 

 

http://www.cigna.com/healthwellness/behavioral-awareness-series/truth-about-eating-disorders

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AuthorAnastasia Nevin

We are officially in Kapha Season, the Ayurvedic Dosha associated with Late Winter/Early Spring. Kapha plays the role of the "Protector", governing bone structure, frame and muscle in our physical body.  Kapha dosha is comprised of the elements earth and water, which together make mud. So when we have too much Kapha energy we can feel stuck, heavy, lethargic, and congested.

Sound familiar? I certainly have some Kapha and can relate to feeling bogged down by the heaviness of winter and recent slower snow days here in NYC.

Here are a few simple tips for how to support your health in Kapha Season:

     1. GET UNSTUCK: Reduce your salt and dairy intake. When Kapha is out of balance we tend to retain more water and fluidsleading to bloating or edema. Out of balance Kapha can also manifest in developing allergies, sinus issues and congestion. If you suffer from congestion, try using a neti pot in the morning. You can also try taking trikatu, an Ayurvedic formula made of pepper and ginger on a teaspoon of honey twice a day to reduce congestion.

    2. EXPLORE TASTES: Eat foods that are PUNGENT, BITTER, and ASTRINGENT. According to Ayurveda, these are the 3 best tastes or "Rasas" for Kapha dosha. Think hot mustard seed, black pepper, arugula, brussel sprouts, radicchio, parsley, cilantro, legumes and green teas.

    3. GET SPICY: Winter is a good time of year to add a dash of cayenne pepper, ginger or your spice of choice to your cooking to spark up your energy. So spicy lovers, go ahead!

    4. OIL IT UP: Take your Vitamin D! For cooking use corn, almond and sunflower oil. Kapha skin tends to get dry, so you can practice self-massage or abhyanga, massaging your skin using sesame oil as a daily self-love practice. 

    5. MOVE YOUR BODY: Ayurveda encourages us to sleep a little less and rise a little earlier during Kapha Season, so get up early (ideally before 8 am). Get some cardio in or a dance class when you can!

To your health and a beautiful, nourishing month!

Anastasia

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AuthorAnastasia Nevin

 

You know that moment when it feels like you are involved in some kind of Divine joke and the characters in the story of your life keep reappearing, guised in new forms?

I have certainly noticed myself, at times, showing up to face circumstances that very creatively and sometimes humorously repeat themselves: a specific crossroads in a relationship, a difficult colleague who challenges my sense of self-worth, an impulse to act out in a way my wiser self knows does not align with my actual needs. 

“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know”

Pema Chodron writes, in her book When Things Fall Apart. 

Wow. These words sometimes feel like a painful stab of truth, asking us to see difficulties as teachers.  In my own practice, I have worked hard to get to know myself and the way I tend to escape from pain and difficulty. This awareness has allowed me to slowly and over time practice making better choices.  

I have learned that the more I show up on my mat with an open heart to meet myself with kindness, the less I feel crushed by those darker layers of myself in other parts of my life. I have practiced, to the best of my ability and with a lot of guidance, taking a deep breath, stepping back and seeing whatever I need to see from more of a bird’s eye view perspective.

“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know”

I recently took a restorative class on a night when I was feeling unsettled and overwhelmed by some unpleasant events that had happened earlier. I had a difficult time staying present, my entire body was aching, and I noticed a long decision making dialogue happening inside my head. As the class was about to end, the teacher acknowledged how much courage it takes to choose to practice restorative yoga and to choose sitting quietly with ourselves. 

Even as a regular teacher and student of restorative yoga, these words nailed me.

Choosing to be kind and loving to ourselves, even the not-so-pretty parts of how we sometimes show up, takes endless courage. Allowing ourselves to feel what we are feeling also is no easy task. As we move through the chaos of the holidays and the end of another year, we enter a time where reflection, slowing down, and self-care are vital and needed healing rituals. 

Let’s enter this new year soaked in kindness, gentleness and a whole lot of love. 

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AuthorAnastasia Nevin

 

We often hear the expression "injuries are great teachers", and yet in the moment we want the pain and discomfort to go away as fast as possible so we can go back to our daily routine. This weekend, I was confronted with an old injury in my neck. As I felt my neck seize up and go out of alignment, I thought about how hard I had already worked on this part of myself. (Hadn't I spoken enough difficult truths and caused enough chaos already?!) And yet again, there was a part of my expression that in some way  was being stifled. 

I've had quite a few ailments in my life, and each one in its own way has reminded me to go underneath the physical into the more subtle aspects of what was happening. For me, the Chakra system has been a great way to understand and heal myself. 

The Fifth Chakra, also called Vissudha or "pure", is located in the physical region of the throat. This energy center governs communication, creativity, expression and listening. The fifth chakra is about our basic right to speak and to hear the truth.  The demon of this chakra is lying. Someone who is balanced in this area has a strong voice, good timing,  is a good listener and communicates clearly. Deficiency in this area may manifest as fear of speaking or having difficulty putting feelings into words, while an excess can translate into talking too much as a defense mechanism or gossiping. Physical manifestations of fifth chakra imbalances include disorders related to thyroid, mouth, ears, neck, throat and TMJ. 

If you relate, here are some healing practices you can do to find more balance:

1. Neck rolls:  Try this when you first wake up. Find a comfortable seat, close your eyes and move your head gently in big circles in both directions, breathing into any stiff or tight spots.. You can find your own pacing and bring  love to this area.

2. Singing! : Singing is a beautiful way to tap into the power of our own voice.  I love to play my favorite songs to accompany me,  or I find time to chant and play my harmonium at home. 

3. Affirmations: I love "I hear and speak my truth" as a mantra for the Fifth Chakra. You can practice this out loud or write an affirmation in your  journal as a daily sadhana (spiritual practice). 

4. Asana/Physical Postures: Camel Pose, Shoulderstand (you can do a variation with a block under your sacrum if the pose bothers your neck), and Fish Pose. 

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AuthorAnastasia Nevin

     

  In Ayurveda, the time of year associated with fall (autumn-early winter) is known as Vata season. Vata is one of the Ayurvedic doshas or constitutions that not only is found in Nature but also exists inside our body. The qualities of Vata are fast, light, cold, dry, clear and contracted, irregular and rough. Vata governs change and when in balance facilitates spirituality, creativity, imagination and wisdom connected to the higher chakras. Vata people are quirky, sensitive, enjoy spending time alone (but hopefully not too much!), and tend to both learn and forget information quickly. They can struggle with physical issues such as joint problems, thyroid issues, scoliosis and neuropathy. Depending on your individual make up, you may discover you have been born with more Vata, or perhaps you have a loved one that possesses these traits.

    One of the main principles of Ayurveda is "like increases like". In other words, we may tend to have an affinity towards foods, activities or habits that actually push us more OUT of balance. As someone who has discovered I have quite a bit of Vata myself, I want to share some tips that have helped me stay grounded and balanced during the Fall, a time of year that can lead to Vata ailments such as anxiety, constipation, dry skin or insomnia. 

  • Foods

Cook with Sesame Oil! (you can also rub sesame oil on your hands and feet before bed for help with insomnia).Roast some root vegetables such as squashes, beets, sweet potato, carrots and add some extra fats such as avocado, nuts and ghee (clarified butter) to your food. Vata is drying so adding more oil will help lubricate the joints, one of the areas of Vata imbalance. Sweet, salty, and sour are the best tastes for Vata. 

  • Yoga:

Stay low to the earth. Squats, warrior poses, and balancing poses are best. Think of digging your feet into the mud. Practice headstand and stay a little longer than usual.

  • Mantra:

Fear is a BIG one for Vata. When I'm feeling out of balance, I do a fear protection mantra. Other mantras to balance Vata include chanting to Ganesh (The Remover of Obstacles) or to Lakshmi (who symbolizes abundance and sensuality). 

  • Essential Oils:

The best oils for Vata (and some of my favorites) are Vanilla, Clove, Sandalwood, Jasmine and Sweet Orange. 

  • Music:

Vata needs a steady beat to calm an often overactive mind. Percussion or Classical Music with a repetitive melody is best or you can try practicing in silence.

I hope you enjoy the glory of Fall. If you are interested in learning more about Ayurveda and how to stay healthy, I am doing an Introduction to Ayurveda Workshop on December 7th. See the events page for details and to sign up.. 

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AuthorAnastasia Nevin

This week I took a yoga class in which the teacher asked us, while we were moving through a series of physical postures,  to find a place in our body that felt like "enough".  She then took this question a step further and asked us to consider how we can feel what is "enough" in our life off the mat.

I thought this question was a beautiful reminder to find gratitude in what we already have without constantly needing to fight and push for MORE.  In a physical yoga or asana practice, the practice of "enough" can show up as sometimes not taking a deeper variation such as a bind or an arm balance, and instead choosing to breathe into the vastness of a simple, expansive shape. 

On a personal note, asking myself to check in with this idea of "enough" has allowed me to practice offering up the idea that doing MORE is somehow linked to my self-worth. 

As we move into the darker months, gratitude as a spiritual practice keeps us closer to the light, inspiration, abundance of our life as it exists.  On days where I feel a bit all over the place, I try to write down three things I am grateful for each morning in my journal. Even this simple gesture helps keep me focused on the positive.

Today I am feeling grateful for the beauty of my home, the crisp air of fall, a day to simply rest at home, and a delicious slice of pumpkin pie I will be enjoying later tonight. What are you grateful for..?

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AuthorAnastasia Nevin