Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa, are recognised medical conditions. When escalates out of control they may even be life be threatening. Besides the emotional side of those conditions, like feeling of isolation, loneliness and being unhappy, there is also a physical aspect – a severe malnutrition and chemical imbalance in the body.
Even those recovering from the acute eating disorder may suffer, sometimes a lifetime of unstable weight, mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety, muscle aches, joint aches, digestive problems, hormonal issues and immune suppression as an implication of chronic nutritional deficiencies and imbalances.
To address the psychological side of eating disorder psychotherapy and counselling may be very useful. However, there is also a lot that can be done in a Nutritional Therapy perspective. Restoring the nutritional balance may significantly support the people suffering or recovering from eating disorders. It may even help them to avoid taking antidepressants or similar medication.
Nutritional Therapy Approach to Eating Disorders
1. Improving Digestion
The so-called “happy hormone” – serotonin is produced in 70% by our gut. Therefore any imbalances of our gut flora may influence the mood and behaviour. This connection between the gut and the Brain is called the Brain-Gut Axis. In relation to the eating disorder, it means that low mood, anxiety and self-destructive behaviours can actually be related to the microflora imbalance.
Candida is one of the examples of intestinal microflora imbalance. It is a yeast that can overgrow in the gut and invade the bloodstream. Candida can cause symptoms, including intensifying food cravings (particularly for sugar and starches) in addition to other symptoms like fatigue, “foggy brain” and low mood. Candida also releases toxins, which affect the liver detoxification pathways and can be an implication of hormonal imbalances, also affecting mood, cravings and other negative behaviours.
The presence of heavy metal toxicity or other gastrointestinal infections such as parasites should also be considered, as it is close related to eating behaviours.
Performing a stool test will help you to look closer at your gut health. After testing you can address the microflora imbalances with a supervised antimicrobial and anti-fungal diet, high intake of pro- and pre-biotics and anti-inflammatory foods. GI Support and Anti – Candida supplementation may also be very useful.
2. Identifying Food Allergies
Unidentified food allergies and sensitivities can often play a significant role in eating behaviours. We often crave foods that we are intolerant/allergic to, as they create an addiction like reaction in our brain. Identifying those foods can help greatly in avoiding binges or cravings.
Chronic consumption of foods that we are intolerant/allergic to will also lead to the gut inflammation, which may make it leaky. A leaky gut will allow toxins get into the bloodstream and negatively affect our brain. It is also related to digestive dysfunction, which can influence cravings, mood and behaviour.
Elimination diets are one way of identifying problem foods, but their structure and the restrictions involved can be difficult for a person already struggling with a problematic relationship with food. In this case, blood tests or other food intolerance/allergies testing methods may be more appropriate.
After discovering the problematic foods, eliminating them for 3-4 months should make a huge difference. After that, you may be able to reintroduce those foods in small amounts.
3. Balancing Blood Sugar
Blood sugar imbalance is related to food cravings, mood swings, fatigue and irritability. Consuming foods high in simple carbohydrates (white bread, pasta, rice, sugar and sweets), processed foods (packaged foods, fast foods and takeaway) or stimulants (tea, coffee, alcohol, fizzy drinks) is contributing to blood fluctuations. If we won’t balance our blood sugar it may lead to insulin resistance and further to a hormonal imbalance, which will aggregate the food cravings, mood and behavioural changes, fatigue and anxiety even more.
Regular meals, having sufficient protein and fats with each meal will help us to balance the blood sugar levels. Exercising regularly and avoiding stimulants are other important factors. The trace mineral chromium can help tremendously, as can biotn , vitamin B1 and herbs such as Mulberry Leaf Extract or Garcia Cambogia.
4. Regulating Hormones
Hormonal regulation is very important factor in eating disorders. Hormones are regulating our appetite the feeling of satiety, they are also influencing our mood, behaviour, energy levels and stress levels. Hormones are also correlated with each other and suppression or overstimulation of one of them will negatively affect other hormones.
The adrenal gland is central to many factors involved with blood sugar regulation, metabolism and the production of other hormones. Yet most of us live with chronic stress, which can either overstimulate or fatigue the adrenal gland, depending on how severe and how chronic it is. Low thyroid function may be a factor in weight gain or the inability to lose weight, yet many hypothyroid conditions are secondary to adrenal dysfunction, as these two hormone pathways are interrelated.
Lifestyle factors like adequate sleep, downtime and relaxation, together with a moderate physical activity is crucial of balancing our hormones. Also important is the avoidance of harmful toxic chemicals hidden in cans, plastics, cosmetics, cleaning products, aluminium and Teflon cookware, tap water, pesticides and fungicides, birth control pill and other medication, moulds, etc.
Dietary approach would include sufficient intake of healthy fats rich in omega 3 fatty acids (salmon, mackerel, sardines, fish oils), medium chain triglycerides (coconut oil), monounsaturated fats (avocado, olive oil), fibre (flax, chia seeds, psyllium husk), lots and lots of green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables. Useful supplements include Maca, Magnesium, Vitamin D3, B Complex and Omega 3.
5. Regulating Brain Chemistry
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that carry messages between the cells of the brain. They affect our emotions, alertness, cognitive performance, positive or negative mood, irritability and more. The neurotransmitters related to eating behaviours are serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and GABA. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which has a calming effect, while serotonin increases self-esteem and reduces feelings of depression. Dopamine is the rewards, feel good and motivation chemical, while norepinephrine is a stress neurotransmitter, which when dis-regulated suppress the appetite. Any imbalances in those can cause depression and anxiety and can be triggers for emotional eating or anorexia.
To boost the levels of neurotransmitters amino-acid therapy can be used. Meaning consuming a diet contains animal and plant protein and amino-acid supplementation. It is best to do that under a supervision of Nutritional Therapist, who will help you to choose the right amino-acid and its doses.