September 17, 2014

First published: Evening Echo September 12 2014

By Louise McCarthy 



AFTER suffering from bulimia and anorexia in the past, Cork woman Louise George emerged from her life experiences to become a yoga instructor.

Now she teaches Hatha Yoga to men and women at Douglas Yoga Centre and feels that it can assist people battling eating disorders, along with a wide range of other life issues.

Ms George has noticed that a significant amount of young Cork women are enrolling in yoga citing stress and anxiety. She says many are working long hours, fearful of losing their positions in an uncertain economic climate and yoga is the only time they get to reconnect with their bodies.

“People go away grounded from yoga. I do a lot of restorative yoga, which involves blankets and conscious relaxation.

“It is making a choice to give yourself time for the body to heal and relax. Yoga is becoming more popular, people are less afraid of it,” said Ms George.

The mother-of-two, who moved to Cork in 2007 because of her husband’s job, recalls a time when she weighed just 5 stone 12 pounds, in contrast to her current 9 stone 4 pounds.

Ms George said that her battle with food began at the age of 18 when she started university in Liverpool.

“I was a sensitive person, quite a deep thinker. I was not trying to hurt myself, I was trying to cope. In the media everything is about dieting and weight, it is very easy to get hooked on dieting,” said Ms George.

She recalls the times when she even weighed the lettuce, obsessed with calories.

“By the time I left university, I had bulimia and anorexia for a couple of years. You become very good at hiding the disorder, it is your coping mechanism, it is an emotional illness.

“I might have had a massive plateful of food that was very low in calories and would cut everything into very small pieces. You kind of know you are getting thin, but you don’t want to admit it.

“There are days when you are terrified of what you are doing: and days when you say you are not thin enough. My periods stopped, bulimia was intermittent. If you starve long enough, you think about food, and then you panic and get rid of it, you feel messy,” said Ms George.

The now healthy and happy woman recalls how the addiction was an unhealthy coping mechanism.

“You feel you are achieving something, you are running on air, sometimes your body produces adrenalin, sometimes you are exhausted. Your moods go up and down, when I gained weight, I felt down, and if I lost weight, then I felt better.

“The only thing you can control is what you put into your body. I had friends who had healthy coping mechanisms, for instance, they played hockey, the most nurturing thing I do for myself is yoga, turning to my body and listening to what it needs. I did not do that for most of my adult life,” said Ms George.

She recalls first realising that she needed to take action when she caught a glimpse of herself from a mirror in a nightclub and did not recognise the waif-like figure.

“At that moment I saw what everyone saw, I scared myself, I got a book on eating disorders, I was a text-book case,” said Ms George.

The real spur to change came about when her boyfriend who she had been travelling with died from a brain tumour at the age of 30. She was only 22, while travelling she had been battling with an eating disorder.

“I said enough, I have a life to live, he died when he was 30. I always felt I had to make every year count, it was a big wake-up. I was kinder to myself,” said Ms George.

It was around this time that she began working in counselling, and spent over a decade working in various eating disorders clinic in and around Liverpool.

She found yoga not long after moving to Cork, having left a job she loved, with two young children and no family or friends nearby, and her mother died from cancer.

“It was really awful moving to Ireland, I had only been in Cork once before, only in the last few years it has become home. I had a five year old and a two year old and no friends or family around me, yoga was very important to me.

“I did not plan to be a yoga teacher, I liked the people I met, it is non-judgemental. I have also worked with great people in therapy, people who stick therapy are brave.

“They don’t want to be a part of the rat-race, they are spiritual.

“I am 100% sure that I will never go back to having an eating disorder, it could have gone one way or the other, it could have killed me, but I did not leave it get so bad. I am very lucky to do work that is meaningful to me, it is an extension of me,” said Ms George, who also does one-to-one yoga,

Meanwhile, Trish Shiel, Clinical Manager of Eating Disorder Centre Cork on the Lough Road, reports that there are currently people attending the services ranging in age from 16 to 48. The out-patient facility was initially established by concerned parents in 2007, it is a charity that relies on HSE funding.

There are now six psychotherapists employed, while a GP and dietician are affiliated to the service.

Group work and family education all form part of the services available.

“Eating disorders are a little understood condition. It is a serious mental health condition that needs psychological and physical help. It is a way of managing deep inner distress. It is not a lifestyle choice or a way to get attention,” said Ms Shiel.

She explained that very often sensitive people who are intelligent with perfectionist tendencies and naturally anxious dispositions can develop eating disorders.

The therapy sessions are free of charge but people need to agree to attending GPs and nutritionists. Although the majority of people with eating disorders are female, there are also males, and both show similar symptoms.

Pointing out that this mental health condition is one with the highest mortality rate, Ms Shiel feels that although society is getting better at understanding eating disorders, there is still a long way to go.

“Even in the U.S they only started understanding eating disorders in the ’80s. There is now some evidence to believe that there is a genetic link involved in eating disorders,” said Ms Shiel.

She said that while recovery can be slow, and the amount of time varies, it is possible.

“Life is taken away with an eating disorder and recovery is coming back to life,” said Ms Shiel.