How do eating disorders affect nutrition and mental health? I would venture to say that having nutritional deficiencies can cause eating disorders, as well as mental health struggles, such as anxiety and depression.
I recently read an article, in researching this topic that backs up my way of thinking. I treat and see many teen girls and women that struggle with eating disorders, body image issues, anxiety, depression, etc. One thing that most of them have in common is the struggle to eat a well-balanced, healthy diet and get balanced, healthy exercise as well.
It is often excessive exercise to maintain their eating disorder that causes nutritional deficiencies. Or, if someone comes in stating they have anxiety or depression, I ask what their diet, sleep, and exercise regimen looks like. It is often lacking in balance and frequency. Many people that suffer from anxiety have poor diets or don’t eat often enough (anyone who struggles with anxiety knows that skipping meals is a no-no for anxiety, as it exacerbates it).
Also, these same people tend to have sleep issues that could possibly be linked to nutritional deficits as well. Ever wake up in the middle of the night hungry? It could be that you did not get enough nutrition the day before which can cause sleep issues. The lack of sleep can then cause anxiety. See the trickle-down effect?
I am writing this article today to educate those who do not understand or know enough about the links between nutritional deficiencies, food sensitivities, eating disorders, and the effects of all of this on your mental health. I hope you will find some solace in the knowledge that with some changes to your diet, and help from professionals, you can overcome and recover from eating disorders, as well as anxiety and depression.
Often, counseling and anti-depressants are prescribed for eating disorders and mental health struggles, which in some cases have proven necessary as I have counseled these people. However, sometimes a change in diet and getting the nutrients you need, plus counseling, can benefit someone trying to recover from an eating disorder and/or mental health issue such as anxiety.
Below I am going to copy an article that I read that discusses why incorporating vitamins/nutrients into a healthy, well-balanced diet with the help of a doctor/naturopath/nutritionist, along with counseling from a professional, can help someone overcome their eating disorder, and improve their overall mental health.
You may agree or disagree with the points in this article, but in reading the research and treating those with eating disorders, I have found that nutritional deficits have a strong link to these struggles. So once you read this below, have an open mind and as I was once told: “take what you like, and leave the rest.”
“As a psychiatrist, I am clearly familiar with the psychodynamic issues underlying eating disorders, and I see psychotherapy as a vital part of treatment. At the same time, I would like to share my experience with observing and treating some of the biochemical underpinnings, hastening recovery, and helping to maintain it as well.
Many years ago, a psychologist who specializes in eating disorders began to send me her clients because she had heard that antidepressant medications worked for these patients. I had by then shifted to a more holistic approach, so I told her that before I prescribed antidepressants, I wanted to try some more natural methods.
I had discovered that in many cases of eating disorder, there is an underlying biochemical issue – a combination of food sensitivity, blood sugar imbalance, and nutrient deficiency. She agreed, her patients cooperated, and we had some excellent, medication-free results. This encouraged me to continue on this natural path as I have to this day. Here are some of my discoveries, as well as subsequent research by others in this growing field.
We crave the foods that we are sensitive or “allergic” too. Not a typical allergy with hives or stomach aches, these sensitivities are intolerances, often inherited, and show up in any number of ways – for example, depression, inability to lose weight, eating disorders, tinnitus, unexplained aches, and pains – many, many others. The very foods we crave will create the most symptoms and are the most damaging. In fact, food cravings are similar to an addiction to alcohol. As you withdraw from the foods you’re addicted to, you begin to have withdrawal symptoms and the cravings begin.
And if you happen to be addicted to wheat or baked goods, you can never get enough of them, so you binge on them, despite your best intentions to the contrary. People addicted to grains may drink excessive amounts of grain-based liquor or beer and can become alcoholics. They’re sensitive to and addicted to the alcohol, but it’s the grain-base that is causing the problem. They can even feel “drunk” after eating cereal or baked goods. Not so different from your regular carb-binger, except the target is alcohol instead of refined carbs.
It’s not just a matter of willpower. In order to break the addiction cycle, in addition to avoiding the undesirable foods, you have to supply the body with a good, supportive nutritional program of healthful food, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Then, the cravings will often simply go away!
It’s quite remarkable; with a nutrient-rich diet, and good vitamin and mineral formula, you can stop the cycle. In fact, once the diet and nutrients are in place, the cravings and addictions will often just fall away. Remember that nutritional supplements are not a substitute for healthy food, but a supplement to restore missing ingredients and balance biochemistry.
Magnesium is often deficient, and taking it can be very helpful. It’s great, too, for muscle tension, insomnia, and even, heart palpitations. The amino acid glutamine is also useful for reducing cravings. I’ve had former alcoholics (yes, former) say that the glutamine cut their cravings for good; they no longer were battling the desire to drink. They were done for good. Glutamine works similarly with bulimics and binge eaters.
Zinc: Some years ago, researcher Alex Schauss did a study on patients who were suffering from anorexia nervosa. By using a simple test called a zinc taste test, he found that they were zinc-deficient. He then gave them liquid zinc therapeutically, with very successful results. The test consists of the person taking some liquid zinc sulfate solution in their mouth, and if they describe it as having a bad or strong taste, they usually have sufficient levels of zinc.
On the other hand, if they can’t taste the solution or if it tastes just like water, then they may have a cellular zinc deficiency, even if their blood levels look adequate. It’s a vicious cycle since zinc deficiency affects taste, so zinc-deficient anorexics don’t taste their food, so are less motivated to eat it. Zinc supplementation has continued to be used in nutritionally oriented settings, including my own practice.
Serotonin: Bulimia and binge-eating are often treated with the SSRI antidepressants such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Lexapro They raise brain levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger in the brain that causes a feeling of well-being and relaxation, and reduces hunger. Rather than using medication, my preference is to prescribe the materials that make serotonin, the amino acids L-tryptophan or it’s relative, 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), and there is research to back it.
In her book, The Diet Cure, Julia Ross refers to a study where bulimics were deprived of tryptophan. In reaction, their serotonin levels dropped and they binged more violently, ingesting and purging an average of 900 calories more each day. In another study, adding extra tryptophan to the diet reduced bulimic binges and mood problems by raising serotonin levels.
More recently, an Oxford researcher, Katherine Smith, reported that even years into recovery, bulimics can have a return of their cravings and mood problem after only a few hours of tryptophan depletion, concluding that, “Our findings support suggestions that chronic depletion of plasma tryptophan may be one of the mechanisms whereby persistent dieting can lead to the development of eating disorders in vulnerable individuals.”
The herb St. John’s Wort provides another way to raise serotonin levels. I have discussed this along with dosages of tryptophan and other nutrients in my book, Natural Highs.
Thiamine: As we have seen, nutrient deficiencies can aggravate anorexia, and it should be treated with nutrient-rich diets. For example, restricting your diet will make you deficient in such vitamins as Vitamin B1 (thiamin). It’s found in foods that people with eating disorders rarely eat — including beans, whole grains, seeds, meats, and vegetables. Common signs of thiamin deficiency are loss of appetite, weight loss, constipation, anxiety, chest pain and even sleep disturbance along with depression and irritation. Sound familiar?
Blood Sugar Swings
One mechanism underlying the craving and eating (or drinking) cycle is blood sugar imbalance: low blood sugar sets off the craving. The brain experiences this dip as life-threatening starvation, followed by a frantic search for whatever will raise blood sugar. Just picture our ancestors in the jungle, short on food, and having to hunt for their next meal—or die. We, on the other hand, just go to the refrigerator. The quickest fixes here are sugary foods or other refined carbs such as bread or pastries. And we don’t even burn any calories on our hunt.
Bottom Line: Treat Nutrient Deficiency with Nutrients
I will often order a blood test to see which amino acids are low, and by replacing them, the body (and brain) comes into balance. As a result, the food cravings will often be greatly relieved or even, come to a halt, as noted in the case of glutamine for acute cravings.
There are other natural treatments, as well, for cravings due to food sensitivities. Acupuncture and acupressure have been shown to help, especially some techniques such as NAET that can actually eliminate the food sensitivities themselves.
The point is, instead of simply taking an antidepressant, there are many other ways to approach what at first appears to be strictly a psychological problem. The combination of psychotherapy and a nutritional/biochemical approach is the most useful, and I have successfully treated many patients without resorting to medication at all.
Not only does this approach work as well as medication, but in my experience, working with the body’s chemistry rather than introducing more chemicals in the form of medication, is often superior. It’s faster, has none of the side effects, and has many side benefits. I developed Brain Recovery AM & Pm formula to provide many of the nutrients mentioned here and more, to balance amino acids, serotonin, blood sugar, and mood.”
Written by: Hyla Cass, M.D. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/hyla-cass-md/eating-disorders-the-nutr_b_478647.html
Fascinating article, right? I have wondered about a lot of these findings before, in doing my own research, and agree with many points this doctor made. One point being, that there is an underlying biochemical issue going on in most eating disorder cases. I’m sure someone could prove me wrong, but in treating eating disorder clients for almost eight years now in private practice as well as an eating disorder clinic that I worked at years ago, I find this to be true.
If you can treat the biochemical problems with proper nutrition and supplements, plus ongoing counseling, I believe the outcome of an eating disorder and/or mental health issue can be a full recovery. It’s not to say people don’t relapse or then go through struggles later once they recover, but hopefully, they have learned healthier coping skills through counseling which is what I do daily in my practice with my clients.
As well as learning more about nutrition and how to incorporate a well-balanced diet into their everyday lifestyle. It is important to remember that it is a lifestyle choice to eat healthy and well-balanced meals and to get help from professionals when struggling with something that becomes out of your control.
Please remember that eating disorders are highly addictive and even though people feel they are controlling themselves, they often become out of control as a result of this illness. Help is right here, so please contact me if you would like to schedule an appointment to get a handle on your eating disorder (and/or mental health struggles as well, since eating disorders are often comorbid issues).
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