Holistic recovery from eating disorders

February 23 through March 1 is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, a time to draw awareness to eating disorders and the importance of ongoing holistic recovery from the mental, emotional and physical manifestations of these illnesses. The field of naturopathic medicine focuses on holistic recovery from all types of illnesses, including eating disorders.

The theme of this year’s national eating disorder awareness week is “I had no idea.” Considering this, what is your awareness of the following facts?

“I had no idea.” Eighty-one percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat.More than one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys attempt to control weight by skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting and/or taking laxatives. More than one-third of U.S. adults are obese. Clearly, as a society, we are out of balance on both ends of the spectrum, and the populations that are affected include not only the stereotypical teenage female, but young and old, male and female alike.

“I had no idea.” Eating disorders include not only anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, but also binge-eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. For women between 15 and 24 with anorexia nervosa, the mortality rate associated with the illness is 12 times higher than all other causes of death.The binge and purge cycles associated with bulimia nervosa can cause electrolyte imbalances, leading to heartbeat irregularities and potentially heart failure. Binging and purging can lead to gastric rupture or esophageal bleeding, both of which also can cause death. Obesity, associated with binge-eating disorder, leads to increased risk of heart disease,Type 2 diabetes and cancer,as well as increased all-cause mortality.

“I had no idea.” Individuals with a history of an eating disorder may experience symptoms of digestive imbalance throughout their lives. Stress and anxiety associated with food or meal times further contribute to abnormal eating patterns and digestive dysfunction. Digestive dysfunction further contributes to mood disorders and is associated with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as physical symptoms of anemia, hypothyroid, poor immunity, fatigue, skin problems, chronic pain and so much more. Naturopaths spend much of their time focusing on digestive health as our overall wellness depends on our ability to digest and process the foods we eat.

“I had no idea.” Both females and males with eating disorders may experience dysregulated hormones. Dysregulated hypothalamic and pituitary signaling also may contribute to abnormal hormone levels and may be caused by food restricting and high stress states. Females with a history of eating disorders often have an abnormal or absent menstrual cycle and diminished fertility. Appropriate levels of hormones are necessary for healthy bones, skin and mood. The risk of osteoporosis due to low levels of sex hormones, high cortisol (stress hormone) and malnourishment in both females and males is considerably higher in individuals with a history of restrictive eating. Naturopaths work to treat each of these possible etiologies of bone loss when helping individuals decrease their risk of osteoporosis, and use nutritional and botanical supplements to support the restoration of a normal hormonal cycle and improve fertility.

“I had no idea.” Depression, anxiety and/or obsessive compulsive disorder commonly co-exist in individuals with eating disorders. Treating these psychological imbalances is possible with herbal medicine and clinical nutrition. Genetic variations, particularly those associated with methylation, may lead to mood disorders and other health risks. Naturopaths perform testing for these genetic variations and neurotransmitter imbalances and use specific nutritional treatments to support imbalances.

A healthy diet with a diverse spectrum of whole food and organic ingredients will promote a healthy weight and metabolism. Naturopathic support for ongoing recovery from eating disorders is a holistic approach utilizing herbs or nutritional supplements with clinical evidence for their ability to decrease stress, anxiety and depression, improve digestive wellness and nutritional status, and promote hormone balance and bone, skin and cardiovascular health.