Tori Cavanaugh knows what it is like to eat too much or not enough with negative results.

Her eating disorder started in high school and worsened when she went to college, was assaulted and never told anyone.

“It was a secret that fueled my eating disorder,” she said.

Years later, she got into treatment, which included yoga.

“I can’t say yoga was my favorite thing at first,” Cavanaugh said. “But I always felt good afterwards. My mind was quiet. My body felt relaxed.”

Eventually, Cavanaugh became trained to teach yoga to both children and adults.

Today, the 35-year-old Janesville woman reminds her students to leave their judgment outside the class.

She wants them to appreciate what they can do and not demean themselves because they think someone strikes a better yoga pose than they do.

In the past, Cavanaugh had a hard time doing yoga because she judged herself based on what everyone else was doing.

Later, she came to see her body as an amazing creation.

Now, she helps young people see their bodies in a positive light.

“Children may learn they are not good enough because of outward appearance,” Cavanaugh said. “I tell them—as well as adults—to honor their bodies.”

She is passionate about teaching yoga because it helped her heal.

“Yoga wasn’t what saved me from my eating disorder,” Cavanaugh said, “but it was a gateway into a deeper understanding and appreciation for my body and my soul.”

Practicing gave her a sense of peace.

“My mat became a place where I could escape the outside hectic world and be with myself,” Cavanaugh explained.

She will teach a free yoga class this month to promote body awareness and acceptance.

“Both men and women have body issues,” Cavanaugh said. “They don’t like something about their bodies. It’s not a struggle unique to people with eating disorders.”

The Janesville event is sponsored by Project Maria, a local eating-disorder awareness group. The group began in 2016 in response to the death of Maria Dorn, who struggled with anorexia nervosa.

The illness is one of the most common forms of eating disorders.

“We know for certain there are students who are being treated every year for eating disorders,” said Shauna Wessely, a Spanish teacher at Milton High School. “It looks different for every student.”

She is the co-founder of Project Maria, and Dorn was her student.

“After her death, her best friend and I decided there is a lot of room for growth and improvement in how we handle eating disorders,” Wessely said.

She explained that a person does not have to be extremely skinny to have an eating disorder.

“An eating disorder can range from overeating to undereating or overexercising,” Wessely said. “There’s actually a wide range of disorders. All can result in serious outcomes if not treated.”

She warned that the family of a young person might not recognize an eating disorder.

“Many teens are very independent,” Wessely said. “It’s easy for them to hide an eating disorder from their family. That can be very scary.”

The group offers guidance to families and a caregiver support group.

“The No. 1 thing we want people to know is that they are not alone,” Wessely said. “It is not shameful to have an eating disorder or to have a family member with an eating disorder. We want people to feel like they can come to us and know they are not judged.”

Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

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