I recently came across the idea that power posing could have a positive impact on people suffering from eating disorders, and anorexia in particular. This comes from research done by Gervais and Smith which was published in the Psychology of Women Quarterly. They did some experiments that involved having women sit with either restricted posture or expansive posture, and then measured food intake. They looked at gender issues and body image as well as other factors. I was mostly interested in the idea that adopting a power pose could have an impact on anorexic behavior.
If you have not heard Amy Cuddy’s Ted talk on power posing, it is worth listening to. She made popular the “Wonder Woman Pose” as well as other postures that have an impact on how we feel and behave. In general, the research seems to show that when we sit or stand in a way that is constrictive, such as wrapping our arms around ourselves, hunching over or crossing our legs tightly, that we feel and behave as if we are less capable and less powerful. On the other hand, when we have a posture that is more expansive such as standing up straight with our hands on our hips, or our arms outstretched overhead, or stretching out in our seat with our feet on our desk, we feel and behave as if we have more power and confidence.
This all makes sense to me, so I’m curious about the relationship with anorexia. In my personal and professional experience, one of the common experiences of those with anorexia is that we want to take up less space, to feel and appear smaller. It might be because we don’t want to be seen, or we think we feel less vulnerable when we are less visible, or we might feel like we don’t deserve to take up space. To accomplish taking up less space, we eat less. That’s where the study mentioned above comes in. The researchers found that women with eating disorders ate more when they adopted a more expansive body posture. Of course, I am simplifying the study, but that’s the short story of what they found. So, could this be a new tool in combatting anorexia?
I wish the answer was simple, but it’s not. I don’t think that power posing every day will cure anorexia – but that’s not really what the researchers are saying anyway. I do think it could be a powerful tool that could help facilitate healing though. Power posing is not going to change the underlying things that caused the eating disorder, but it could help jump start the process of healing. If standing like Wonder Woman can cause beneficial chemical changes in our brains, then that could lead to the next step of eating just a little more, which could lead to the next step of having the energy and ability to do some emotional work, which could lead to the next step of not needing to take up less space, and so on and so on.
Anorexia is such a vicious cycle it can be difficult to know where to jump in to start the healing process. No one caught in the eating disorder web wants to just start gaining weight on blind faith that it will make things better. But what if we could create the chemical change in the brain to make us feel better without having to gain the weight first? What if we could adopt a power pose which would make us feel a little stronger, which would in turn make us want to feel even stronger? My thought is that using power poses we could start a domino effect that might jump start healing in a less threating way. It’s not a magic pill or anything close to that. But what’s the harm in giving it a shot? It doesn’t carry as much perceived risk as eating more or purging less. It’s quick, easy, and has no harmful side effects.
I have been trying out the Wonder Woman pose for the last few months since I heard about it, and I must admit I like the way I feel when I do it. I have even convinced my kids to do it occasionally when they have a test or a job interview. They of course laugh at me, but because I am Wonder Woman, I don’t really care!