In Canada, it is estimated that about 1.5% of the female population aged 15-24 years is affected by an eating disorder (NEDIC 2014). And with eating disorders (anorexia nervosa in particular) having the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness, it still baffles me why the topic isn’t brought to more awareness. While the lifetime prevalence rate of eating disorders is higher among women, men are certainly no exception. It’s now recognized that between 50-80% of a person’s risk for an eating disorder is a result of genetic and biological factors and in most cases of eating disorders, dieting and/or caloric restriction is often the triggering factor (EDNS 2015).
Eating disorder recovery is an incredibly complex process involving multiple factors that should be addressed in treatment. What I find most commonly overlooked is the role of gut health and nutrient replenishment in the recovery process – a topic that I could probably write an entire novel on.
Optimal digestion and nutrition
It’s not uncommon to find eating disorder patients presenting with a number of digestive complaints. From the stress of meal time to specific digestive issues like low stomach acid or poor transit time, it’s no wonder that food reintroduction for many can be a struggle. All the more reason why gut health and addressing gut concerns can be so important, and how and what is addressed is largely individual for each person. What’s also important to note is that if digestion isn’t optimal, our bodies will have even more of a struggle absorbing the ever-so important nutrients that we require.
Eating disorder recovery is an incredibly complex process involving multiple factors that should be addressed in treatment
The gut-brain axis
A great example is the link between gut health, brain health and counselling. Therapy is vital in eating disorder recovery and takes a lot of willpower and brain capacity to work through complex beliefs and habits that have developed over time. However, if a malnourished brain isn’t receiving the necessary nutrition above and beyond the basics of caloric energy, it’s going to make that road to recovery a lot more challenging. Basic essential nutrients like zinc, magnesium and vitamin B12 are not easy to assimilate from our food when our digestive tracts are functioning at less than optimal. And it’s these nutrients that can provide such tremendous benefit for a patient going through eating disorder recovery, to the point where ensuring adequate nutrient repletion of certain nutrients can very well enhance the rate of recovery.
Eating disorder recovery is multifactorial and involves an intimate interplay between physical, mental and emotional health. From counselling to peer support to nutrition and dietetics to physical and functional healing, it’s important that all aspects are properly supported and nourished by a team of healthcare professionals, friends, family and peer support.
Eating Disorders Nova Scotia (2015). Learn more about eating disorders. Retrieved from www.eatingdisordersns.ca
National Eating Disorder Information Centre (2014). Statistics. Retrieved from www.nedic.ca
Su JC; Birmingham CL. (2002 Mar). Zinc supplementation in the treatment of anorexia nervosa. Eat Weight Disord: 7(1):20-2. PMID: 11930982