Eating Disorders (Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia)
Eating disorders are characterized by a distorted body image and an intense fear of being fat. This abnormal mental state leads to extreme and sometimes life-threaten- ing behavior. A person with an eating disorder may binge on large quantities of food and then vomit or use laxatives so that the food exits the body undigested, or the per- son may refuse to eat all. Although eating disorders can manifest themselves in many ways, they always result in an unhealthful, obsessive relationship with food. The best- known and most frightening kinds of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia.
Anorexia nervosa occurs most frequently in teenage girls and college-age women, and it’s estimated that about 1 percent of all young women in this age group suffer
from the disease. It is here that eating disorders take their most disturbing form: slow, deliberate starvation. Despite their obviously emaciated bodies, anorexics believe that they are overweight. They refuse food, or they eat just enough to keep their systems minimally functioning. Some may eat occasionally, just to please their families or friends, but they often purge themselves of the food afterward. It’s not hard to see that anorexia can lead to grave health problems. Weight loss, weakness, and fatigue are obvious early signs, but as the disease progresses, it can also lead to weak vital signs, irregular menstruation, and cold or tingling extremities. If the dieting continues, the person may go into cardiac arrest.
Bulimia is a more common disorder that affects a slightly older population, usu- ally women in their twenties. Bulimics also have a distorted body image, but instead of dieting down to skin and bones, they use a cycle of bingeing and purging to main- tain a relatively normal weight. Bulimics may eat thousands of calories at one sitting and then induce vomiting to expel the food from the body so that they can’t gain weight. They may also use laxatives to keep the body from digesting the food. Because many bulimics are quite successful at hiding their purging, the disease may go unnoticed for years. In fact, bulimia is often diagnosed only when a doctor or a loved one notices a pattern of medical conditions associated with bulimia. The stom- ach acid produced by frequent vomiting often causes tooth decay or a chronically sore throat. Self-induced vomiting produces another telltale sign: sores on the knuckles or the ﬁngers. Not surprisingly, bulimics also tend to suffer from nutritional deﬁcien- cies, as well as digestive disorders like constipation or diarrhea. In severe or long-term cases, the complications can be fatal. The stomach or the esophagus may rupture, or a potassium deﬁciency can lead to kidney failure or heart attack.
We do know that eating disorders are a recent and mostly Western phenomenon, rare before the latter half of the twentieth century and nonexistent in developing nations. Our culture’s emphasis on dieting and thinness is one undeniable cause of the disorder; far too many girls—and an increasing number of boys—believe that they are unlovable and even unclean if they can’t diet down to the current rail-thin stan- dard. Even if these children don’t intend to become anorexic or bulimic, it is highly likely that what starts out as “normal” dieting will disrupt the body’s metabolism and chemistry and eventually lead to a serious disorder. Family dynamics also play a role: many sufferers come from families that place great pressure on their children to suc- ceed. Although doctors used to believe that anorexia and bulimia were purely psycho- logical in nature, it’s now understood that chemical imbalances and the accompanying nutritional deﬁciencies may lead to eating disorders just as easily as they may to lead to depression.
An eating disorder must always be taken seriously. Even if a person does not meet the exact standards for an eating disorder, an obsession with food and dieting can pave the way for more serious problems. If you suspect that you have an eating disorder, ﬁnd a counselor or a friend you can trust. Talking about the disorder is one of the ﬁrst and best steps you can take toward healing it. See a doctor for assessment and treat- ment of any secondary disorders you might have developed; if your eating disorder is severe, you may have to be hospitalized so that your body can regain its strength and balance. Bulimics will need to see a dentist as well. Once you’ve talked to a doc- tor, you’ll need to follow an eating plan that replenishes the nutrients in your body and helps you reestablish healthful patterns. If you’re not already seeing a professional therapist, make an appointment. He or she can help you relearn good habits and think- ing patterns.
If you are worried that a friend or a family member has an eating disorder, you may
ﬁnd that confronting the ill person results in the individual’s denial or resistance. Sometimes the only way to help a victim of an eating disorder is to ask for profes- sional help. Call a doctor or a psychologist and ask for advice; if you’re on a college campus, the school may have an eating-disorder specialist you can talk to. In extreme cases, the person may need to be hospitalized.
SYMPTOMS OF ANOREXIA
• Unexplained and unnecessary weight loss
• Fear of being fat
• Obsession with preparing and serving food
• Obsessive dining rituals
• Mood swings
• Menstrual irregularities or delayed onset of menstruation
• Hair loss
• Cold or tingling extremities
• Irregular heartbeat
• Weak vital signs
SYMPTOMS OF BULIMIA
• Sores or calluses on knuckles
• Chronic sore or burning throat
• Erosion of tooth enamel, especially on the back teeth
• “Chipmunk” appearance from swollen salivary glands
• Digestive problems
• Weight ﬂuctuation
• Menstrual irregularities
• Erratic heartbeat
• Weight-obsessed culture
• Family problems
• Chemical imbalance
• Low levels of serotonin
• Nutritional deﬁciencies (e.g., zinc)
The following tests help assess possible reasons for an eating disorder or imbalances that may aid in recovery:
Vitamin and mineral (especially zinc, iron, and B vitamins)—blood test
Blood-sugar balance—blood test
Stress hormone balance—saliva, urine, or blood
The following suggestions will help you get back on track, but it is highly recom-
mended that you work with a nutritional therapist. A professional can help you address the particular def iciencies your disorder has created and can show you how to develop eating habits that work for you.
Instead of sitting down to a large breakfast, lunch, and dinner, eat small, nourishing meals throughout the day. This strategy will stabilize your blood sugar, and if you’re bulimic, it will help you stop bingeing.
A high-ﬁber diet will restore regularity to your digestive system. Eat plenty of whole grains, oats, and vegetables. Green leafy vegetables are also a good source of potassium, a mineral that bulimics must replenish.
People with eating disorders are often lacking protein. Plan to have ﬁsh several times a week, and include servings of soy products or beans at most meals.
Anorexia nervosa has been linked to a zinc deﬁciency. Pumpkin seeds are an excel- lent source of this mineral. Eat a quarter to a half cup daily.
Many people with anorexia or bulimia have low levels of the neurotransmitter sero- tonin. Regulate your serotonin by eating complex carbohydrates like whole grains.
Food to Avoid
Some foods fool your appetite or tastebuds into feeling satisﬁed, when, in fact, you have received very little nutrition. A goal of your dietary therapy should be to relearn how to listen to your body’s needs, so stay away from the following “tricky” products: processed food, junk food, sodas, and diet or “lite” foods.
Keep your blood-sugar levels steady by avoiding reﬁned sugar. Do not eat candy, cake, cookies, ice cream, sodas, or other sweets.
Eliminate caffeine and alcohol, substances that upset the digestive system and sometimes produce anxiety.
Super Seven Prescriptions—Eating Disorders
Super Prescription #1 High-potency multivitamin
Take as directed on the container. If you have been diagnosed as being iron- deﬁcient anemic, choose a formula that contains iron. It will supply a base of vitamins and minerals for nutritional support.
Super Prescription #2 Homeopathy
Choose the remedy from the list in the Homeopathy section that best matches your situation.
Super Prescription #3 Zinc
Take 45 to 90 mg daily, along with 3 mg of copper. Studies have found that zinc deﬁciency is common in people with anorexia or bulimia. It is also required for the senses of taste and smell and for appetite.
Super Prescription #4 B-Complex
Take a 50 mg complex one to two times daily. Many of the B vitamins are depleted because of stress and are required for the formation of brain neurotrans- mitters that balance mood.
Super Prescription #5 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)
Take 100 mg two to three times daily. It supports serotonin levels, which reduce anxiety and depression. Do not use in combination with pharmaceutical antidepres- sant or antianxiety medications.
Super Prescription #6 Gentian root (Gentiana lutea)
Take 10 drops in water or 300 mg ﬁfteen minutes before each meal. It improves appetite and digestion.
One clinical trial of 20 women with anorexia looked at the effects of their supplementing 45 to
90 mg of zinc per day. As a result, 17 out of 20 women experienced weight gain within 8 to 56 months. Also, a double-blind study of 35 women hospital- ized with anorexia found that supple- mentation of 14 mg of zinc per day resulted in a 10 percent increase in weight. This was twice as fast as with the group that received a placebo.
Super Prescription #7 Saint-John’s-wort (Hypericum perforatum)
Take 300 mg of a 0.3 hypercin extract two to three times daily. This herb helps with depression and anxiety. Do not use in combination with pharmaceutical antidepres- sant or antianxiety medications.
Vitamin B6 is important for the synthesis of neurotransmitters that improve mood and sense of well-being. Take 50 mg daily.
Essential fatty acids are often deﬁcient in people with eating disorders. Take an essential fatty-acid complex, 1 tablespoon of ﬂaxseed oil, or 3 grams of ﬁsh oil daily.
Chromium helps to balance blood-sugar levels. Take up to 1,000 mcg daily.
Pick the remedy that best matches your symptoms in this section. Take a 6x, 12x, 6C, or 30C potency twice daily for two weeks to see if there are any positive results. After you notice improvement, stop taking the remedy, unless symptoms return. Consul- tation with a homeopathic practitioner is advised.
Ferrum Phosphoricum is helpful if you are pale, weak, and anemic.
Ignatia Amara is for people with an eating disorder who have emotional swings. They feel like crying easily, have anxiety and depression, yet are averse to consola- tion. It is useful for acute emotional upsets, such as grief, which contribute to the eat- ing disorder.
Lycopodium (Lycopodium clavatum) is good for an upset stomach and bloating. The person tends to get low blood sugar and suffers from irritability and low self-esteem.
Natrum Muriaticum will help if you are often depressed and have long-standing grief associated with your eating disorder. You often crave salty foods, have a great thirst, and are averse to the sun.
Pulsatilla (Pulsatilla pratensis) is helpful if you tend to be sensitive and weepy and feel better with company. You also crave sweets and feel better in cool air.
• Bring your appetite back to normal by working Spleen 16.
• Use Stomach 36 as a general tonic for all body systems and to improve your
ability to digest and absorb nutrients.
A professional massage will help you get back in touch with your body.
Eating disorders wreak havoc on every body system. Work the entire foot for the full beneﬁt. This treatment will also give you a quick mood lift.
To reduce anxiety, work the areas corresponding to the diaphragm, all the glands, the heart, and the solar plexus.
For depression, work the head, the endocrine glands, the solar plexus, and the pancreas.
Bergamot and peppermint oils encourage the appetite. Place the vial of oil directly under your nose and inhale deeply.
People who are anxious or depressed or exposed to high levels of stress are more vul- nerable to eating disorders than others are. Many experts believe that eating disorders are a way of focusing on weight and food, instead of on complicated and unpleasant emotions. If you’re trying to recover from anorexia or bulimia, you’ll ﬁnd that learn- ing alternative ways to handle stress will reduce your need to exercise control via food.
General Stress-Reduction Therapies
For people who’ve considered themselves little more than an extension of their appetite, prayer and meditation can work wonders to restore a sense of wholeness.
If you are extremely anxious and nervous, consider EEG biofeedback. It will teach you how to recognize your body’s panic signals and show you how to subdue them before they get out of control.
Bach Flower Remedies
If none of the following suggestions ﬁts your personality, Once you’ve chosen a remedy, place 10 drops of the liquid under your tongue. Hold the drops in place for thirty seconds and swal- low. Use as often as needed.
Rescue Remedy has a steadying effect during a physical or emotional crisis. Take it if you feel a panic attack about to start or if you are overwhelmed by a desire to binge or purge.
If you’re a perfectionist and tend to be highly critical of others, Beech will help you see beauty in the world as it exists.
On the other hand, some hard-working perfectionists blame themselves for every problem that arises. Pine will help these people develop a clearer perspective.
Centaury is for people who are easily exploited and taken advantage of. This rem- edy can help you learn how to say no when necessary.
If having an eating disorder makes you feel ashamed, take Crab Apple.
For obsessive thoughts about food or about your eating disorder that just won’t stop, take White Chestnut.
• People with eating disorders often become obsessed with burning off calories through physical activity. A far better option is to take a thirty-minute walk at a moderate pace. The mild exercise will boost your spirits, and if you can get out in the fresh air and sunshine, you’ll feel even better.
• Girls who are just beginning puberty are particularly vulnerable to losing their self-esteem; they may also fear the upcoming body changes and natural weight gain. Both of these factors can set the stage for an eating disorder. You can help girls make a healthy transition into adolescence by encouraging them to develop a talent or an ability that improves self-esteem.
• It is imperative that a specialist in eating disorders manage the case of a person with an eating disorder.