Thursday, September 1, 2016

Hope and healing for eating disorders

One of the most complex and devastating types of conditions that we face today is eating disorders.

Eating disorders present a unique challenge because they are not solely a physical OR psychological condition but BOTH—specifically, a behavioral (psychological) issue that involves eating (a physical event) and the hefty price (both physical and mental) of the resulting severe nutritional deficiencies.

In anorexia, Nervosa's cycle of self-starvation, the person’s body is repeatedly denied the nutrients it needs to function and is forced to slow down all of its processes to conserve energy.

This can result in:
  • Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, indicating that the heart muscle is changing. This also presents a risk for heart failure and death.
  • Reduction of bone density (osteoporosis).
  • Muscle loss and weakness.
  • Severe dehydration, which can trigger kidney failure.
  • Fatigue and low energy.
  • Dry hair and skin; hair loss.
On the other hand, the binge-and-purge cycles of bulimia can cause the following:
  • Electrolyte imbalances that can lead to irregular heartbeats, heart failure, and death.
  • Gastric (stomach) rupture during periods of bingeing.
  • Inflammation and rupture of the esophagus from frequent vomiting.
  • Tooth decay from stomach acids released during frequent vomiting.
  • Irregular bowel movements and chronic constipation.
  • Peptic ulcers and pancreatitis.
They’re not rare!
Eating disorders are not as rare as you may think.  According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 20 million women and 10 million men in the US suffer from an eating disorder at some time in their life.

Despite their prevalence and serious health consequences, very little funding is awarded for their research as compared to other brain/psychological conditions like Alzheimer’s or schizophrenia.
And get this—the CDC doesn’t even have disease entries for anorexia or bulimia on its website!
But eating disorders are REAL conditions—not a fad, phase or lifestyle choice but a true illness for which people that are suffering need help.

And one of the places to look for help is in the area of certain nutritional deficiencies!
Here are three deficiencies that are recognized as triggers or contributing factors to eating disorders:

The zinc link
During the 1980s the idea began to emerge that certain nutritional deficiencies could play a part in the development of eating disorders when it was noted that the symptoms of zinc deficiency and anorexia were virtually identical:
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Amenorrhea
  • Impotence in males
  • Nausea
  • Skin lesions
  • Malabsorption
  • Disperceptions
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
Since that time several studies have been done that show dramatic improvement in eating disorders when supplemental zinc was introduced.

Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 helps create serotonin from the amino acid tryptophan. Serotonin is the body’s feel-good neurotransmitter that is linked with happiness. When our serotonin levels drop (as they can with B6 deficiency), so do our feelings of self-esteem.

This can create a dangerous cycle, especially in body-conscious young girls.  As their self-esteem drops, girls tend to see themselves as “fat” (regardless of how slender they may be) and diet vigorously, which in turn even further depletes B6 and serotonin.  Eventually, their serotonin-starved brain can become obsessed by thoughts they can’t turn off or behaviors (dieting) they can’t stop—creating a pathway to an eating disorder.

Omega-3 essential fatty acids
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are crucial to proper brain function, hormone production and neurotransmitter production (including serotonin).

Unfortunately, many people with eating disorders see all fats as fattening and something that must be avoided, thereby further worsening the challenges their brain has to deal with (including anxiety and depression) as well as making themselves susceptible to hormone imbalances and low serotonin levels.

Hope and healing from eating disorders
First and foremost, dealing with an eating disorder requires treatment with a skilled psychotherapist that is experienced with these conditions.  Inpatient hospitalization may also be necessary depending on the severity of the condition.

In addition, filling the gaps with any nutrient deficiencies is a MUST!

Step one is to concentrate on nutritious real foods and avoid nutrient-poor refined carbohydrates and sugars as much as possible.  Also, drinking adequate water is crucial to combat dehydration.
Step two is to seek out helpful supplements:

A full-spectrum multi-vitamin and mineral formula can provide healthful doses of zinc and vitamin B6, and serve as a “safety cushion” of other vital nutrients while the person recovering from the eating disorder is attempting to improve their eating habits.

Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil supplements are crucial since our food supply is severely lacking these fats that are essential to brain function.  Omega-3 EFAs are also a natural anti-inflammatory which can help counteract a GI tract that may be inflamed due to frequent vomiting.
Probiotics can help ease chronic constipation as well as support a healthier intestinal environment and improved nutrient absorption.

A complete amino acid formula can help restore needed protein to the brain, heart and muscles, especially if the person recovering is a vegetarian or vegan.  Also, vitamin B12 is a must to help restore energy and mental clarity for vegans and vegetarians since their diets are lacking in food (animal) sources of this nutrient.

By addressing both the psychological and physical/nutritional aspects of eating disorders, the level of success of the recovery process can be enhanced dramatically…eventually restoring better health and lifelong healthful eating patterns.


  1. I have been blessed with complete recovery from bulimia/anorexia in the early 1980’s. On top of that, I “switched addictions” and moved from obsessing about dieting to alcoholism, from which I also have been in recovery for the past 23 years. I received thoughtful, helpful treatment from doctors, psychologists and nutritionists at the time, and supplementation was NEVER brought up except that I was encouraged to take calcium supplements. So thank you so much for stating what might be obvious, but at the very least was overlooked in the past. I believe the dangerous path I walked as a young woman is related to, and may have been triggered by, an inadequate diet of common, processed, western foods. Had I understood more about true nutrition, I might have recovered more fully and faster. Furthermore, in my case the eating disorder and alcoholism were linked, I believe, to underlying hypoglycemia. What I didn’t know at the time is that alcohol is readily converted to the kind of sugar the brain can USE in hypoglycemic individuals—much more readily than food. Thus there is an instant “feel good” response in addition to intoxication. Without knowing it, I had put myself on a “slow drip” of alcohol.

    Quite a few years ago your Great Taste, No Pain book helped me solve some vexing digestive issues. And guess what? Digestive issues also fueled the eating disorder!

    My most recent revelation in the area of food is that I cannot tolerate carrageenan, the supposedly “safe” food additive (thickener) that’s been in use since the 1960’s. (Info about carrageenan at ). It took me years to go to the trouble of avoiding it to see if it made a difference because MY symptoms were mild—basically just too much gas. Other people develop serious health issues such as ulcerative colitis. I’m beginning to really appreciate the strong constitution I was born with to have made it through so many health problems more or less “in the dark.”

    My point is that SO MUCH suffering can result from our misunderstanding of that which we put into our bodies. What a shame that so much of what we eat originates in the corporate money-making mindset and that we are often guided more by how we look on the outside than how we are nurturing our health from the inside. Thank you for sharing so much information that truly helps make a difference!

    1. I too suffered from bulimia/anorexia starting in 1975. I finally am finally fully recovered after nearly years of suffering and unsuccessful treatment, including counseling with numerous mental health professionals. Not once was my diet and malnourishment ever even dfiscussed or addessed. It was I who got interested in nutrition and supplementation and started treating myself, including doing a zinc challenge test using a liquid zinc supplement. If you can't taste the metallic taste of the zinc, you are deficient. For me, it basically tasted like water.

      In 2013, I discovered I have a common gene mutation, MTHFR C677T, that contributes to decreased ability of the liver to detoxify, problems breaking down some nutrients into their bioavailable forms, congenital, and psychological issues among many others. I was already eating a clean, Paleo diet but cleaned it up even more, and I've followed the food combining rules Sherry recommends since 1977. I also had a comprehensive blood test from Spectracell labs of my nutritional status. After addressing the gene mutation and optinmizing my vitamin/mineral and anitoxidant status with a few tweaks to my diet and supplementation, the battle I fought for nearly 40 years with an eating disorder and NEVER thought I could overcome (althought I was always hopeful) was finally overcome.

      I suffered for so long I couldn't even remember what it felt like to have a normal relationship with food. Now after only about 1 1/2 years of freedom I can't relate to how things were before. I am positive that correcting underlying nutritional deficiencies and rebalancing my brain chemistry with real food and supplements allowed me to recover fully.

      For anyone suffering from any type of eating disorder, the key to recovery is addressing unbalanced and depleted brain chemistry using diet and supplements, including amino acids when indicated. Otherwise, it's like using a bandaid to cover symptoms without addressing the underlying cause. Unfortunately, even now western medicine typically doesn't understand the importance of diet and nutritional status.


    2. Wow! I also suffered anorexia, bulimia, alcoholism and hypoglycaemia. I didn't realise they could be so intrinsically linked. I became chubby as a child when diagnosed with the HG and started eating supper at bedtime to mitigate the occasional morning comas. I also had asthma so couldn't run about as much as my friends (and asthma attacks brought on a HG attack). Whatever it was, I started obsessing about my weight aged 7 and had full blown nervosa mid-teens. I spent all my 20's battling the shame of bulimia. It's the chaotic nature of the disease that is so frightening and overpowering. It's encouraging that a much greater understanding of these conditions can lead to new treatments and hope for those still possessed by these horrors. To anyone out there suffering in silence, please go seek help. There is no shame and the sooner it's addressed the better. The world is a far better place for me without being afraid of/obsessed with food. My only obsession now is to avoid the processed muck forced into our diets and stick to proper, homemade cuisine. Thank you Sherry!


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