Sunday, January 22, 2012

Yoga and "Thinspiration": How Natural are "Natural" Weight Loss Supplements

Despite our uber cynical and critical selves, pressure to fit a certain "body ideal" thrives... especially in the cognitive dissonance that is Western Yoga. We may pay lip service to how yoga is for "every body" and many of us are fighting the good fight, but mainstream perception as well as what gets often (incorrectly if you ask me) tagged as "art" always includes one of the 5th percentile: skinny female form, scantily clad and achieving all the physical that is often touted as "secondary" to the yoga practice.
For 95% of us, this is the physically impossible ideal we're encouraged to strive towards.

This stuff is insidious, unconscious but most certainly present. A billion dollar advertising industry isn't wrong when they assume that the 300+ ads we as a population see a day isn't influencing our spending, how we feel about our bodies and our selves. Disordered eating has been directly linked to advertising and social/cultural body ideal pressures... and 95% of all people who suffer form disordered eating are women. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental health issues (Nedic for more information)

When a yoga instructor has pages after pages of pinterest boards with "thin ideal porn" of thin yoga bodies and degrading negative self comments- something is wrong. Previously to social media like facebook, twitter and pinterest there were such sites called "pro-ana" websites. Where women would post and peruse photos and "motivational" posts of extremely thin women. These websites are unhealthy eating, harmful tips on losing weight and perpetuate the unrealistic body type ideal. A quick search on pinterest of "thinspiration+yoga" reveals some pretty disturbing photos. Taking it a few steps further and you'll see entire pins filled with thin bodies (typically without heads) and non-realistic board statements such as: "Do you think she got this skinny by sitting on her ass and eating crap?..." (actually, healthy eating and great exercise can't change bone structure- part of that is genetics- hence the unrealistic ideal).

Many of these pin boards feature thin yoginis in acrobatic asanas.

We know that diet pills are bad, that dieting is unhealthy (and unsuccessful, resulting in higher weight gain)... but what about when we attach words like "eco, organic, natural" or even "ayurvedic" to a program/product? Of all the greenwashing- this stuff irks me the most.

For example: "natural weight loss herbs" and "slimming supplements". A fantastic article co-written by my husband Andrew here on EcoYogini a few years ago delves more deeply into the sociological fallacies of the supplement industry. What's interesting is the historical significance of how we've been quietly shepherded into accepting that taking supplements in lieu of whole foods (such as calcium instead of drinking milk) has allowed the supplement industry to create acceptance of a pill as a true food healthy alternative.

The true definition of what we're looking for to be "natural" would be something that is the least modified. Powdered and pill supplements are far from this definition.

Self-proclaimed "natural" weight loss supplements are even more sketchy in nature as they often have poor safety trials and extremely loose regulations. For example, in 2009 Health Canada recalled 68 brands of "natural" weight loss supplements because they contained undeclared prescription only ingredients, some of which had serious health side effects. (Adria Vasil, Ecoholic January 5th 2012). Also reported by Ecoholic, some supplements have been found by to have hexavalent chromium (that cancer agent on Erin Brockovich) and a quick stroll through the warning archives reveals an unending stream of recalls and violations.

We shouldn't forget herbs that appear straightforward as well. Such as Hoodia which is now an endangered species in Africa. Environment Canada has had to stop thousands of illegal shipments of diet pills containing Hoodia. It's so important to consider how those third world country herbs were collected and processed, it's not like they magically appeared in pill form someone had to input labour.

Staying healthy is important. If becoming healthy is part of your plan this year, instead of thinking "weight loss" try thinking "health-gain". Honestly, natural supplements aren't healthy, and many aren't actually environmentally friendly (or safe).

If someone encourages you in your yoga practice to take supplements, try a purge or makes your feel like there's an end-point body ideal: they're not practicing yoga. 

**NB: as an astute commenter pointed out (Thanks Nicole!)- supplements prescribed by an accredited Naturapathic doctor are a different kettle of fish. At the same time, even then you should try to do what you feel comfortable.
article copyright of EcoYogini at


  1. THis post is spot on and completely awesome. Way to go! Love all the research mentioned and included too.

  2. I totally agree with your post! However, it may be appropriate to take supplements prescribed by a naturopath to support your health, and any great ND will recommend a safe brand. Those kinds of supplements are a whole different kind than of those which you speak. We need, as a community and species, to promote good health and healthy practices! Maybe if we stopped buying into the whole "thin" ideal? I admit, I have a looooong way to go with that one, I can talk the talk, but walking the walk becomes more problematic. I'm working on it.

  3. @Nicole: OHH that is a good point! Thank you! I'm adjusting my post to reflect that :)

  4. Home run, girl! Wow, this is awesome. So many points that really hit home. I looked at the Pinterest link you shared and yikes - that's not thinspiration - that's crazy unrealistic! I guess if you lose weight, you suddenly become really tan, too. LOL.

    And the supplements - I remember Andrew's post on that, which I loved, and totally agree with what you are saying. Why aren't we more focused on getting our nutrition from whole foods rather than pills? Crazy!

  5. great post! i have been seeing and reading so so many pictures of acrobatic yogis and of course i think oh i want to be able to do the same. after praticing yoga fr 5 years i am still not able to do a handstand and I am ok with it. all those pictures should not be taken too seriously.

  6. Awesome post!

    Time and again, I've seen these yoga ads that look like they're more interested in seeling anorexia, diet pills and "yoga products" than the craft itself.

    Don't we women get bombarded enough with the whole starving body "ideal" prepubescent androgyne without having it shoved in our faces when we do yoga!

    [rant rant rant rant]

    Yeah, shared your post with a few non-bloggy friends too.


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