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More Than Food: A Needed Paradigm Shift in Eating Disorder Treatment

Updated: Sep 19, 2020

Jess Sorci-Galecki, MNT

Eating Disorders continue to compromise many American lives every year. This is not a new societal issue, but one that has been dated back as far as 12th and 13th centuries. Eating disorders gained public awareness in the 1970s. Ironically, this spike in eating disorders coincides with the beginning of the obesity epidemic and the low-fat diet trend. While the central focus on eating disorders has explored societal pressures, family dynamics, genetics, and psychological issues including trauma; little attention has focused on addressing underlying metabolic issues such as gut dysbiosis, hormonal and thyroid issues, and neurological imbalances.

Eating disorders have always spiked my interest as I struggled with an eating disorder for too many years. It was not until I learned how to properly fuel my body that I became comfortable in my skin. I learned how to eat in a manner that allowed me to move beyond controlling my food intake and focus on my overall health. Now, as a holistic nutritionist, I have seen numerous clients with co-occurring eating disorders (patients that have eating disorders along with other chronic health issues). In working with these clients, it has inspired me to think about eating disorders differently. All these individuals are experiencing some level of digestive issues, such as gut dysbiosis, hormonal imbalances, neurological issues, blood sugar issues, and overall imbalances in their metabolic health. With this knowledge, I have begun to look at eating disorders in a new light. Did the eating disorder come before the metabolic issues or did the metabolic issues ignite the eating disorder?

Clients with co-occurring eating disorders often have digestive issues such as SIBO and intestinal permeability (leaky gut). In recent years we have gained extensive knowledge on the role of the gut microbiome. Gut function is imperative for weight regulation, healthy mood and neurotransmitter production, immune function, and hormonal balance; all issues occurring simultaneously with eating disorders. To make matters worse, blood sugar dysregulation can perpetuate binge eating episodes by increasing cravings and hunger cues. Due to malnourishment, we see adrenal issues and an imbalance in sex hormones that causes even more of a metabolic imbalance in this population.

With this new thought it is my goal to include functional medicine in treatment options for eating disorders. It is time that we address those with eating disorders from a neurobiopsycosocial aspect and not just from the mental health aspect. This understanding suggests that adding a functional medicine approach to the current eating disorder treatment will greatly reduce relapses and give these individuals the healing that they have been seeking.

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