Nutrition for Eating Disorders

Nutritious food keeps the body running in good working order. Eating disorders are psychological disorders in which people develop a distorted view of their own body and severely restrict their intake of food. These disorders take a destructive toll on the victim’s body, robbing it of muscle mass, straining the kidneys and heart, leeching calcium out of bones, rotting the teeth, provoking bowel bleeding and constipation, eliminating menstrual periods, reducing cognitive functions, losing hair, and decreasing libido. Eating disorders most commonly affect women and adolescent girls, but boys and men can also develop these disorders. Psychological counseling is recommended for people with eating disorders. Nutritional counseling is an additional treatment method that goes a long way to help a person with eating disorders learn how to eat proper foods and eat proper portions.

How Can Nutrition Help Eating Disorders?

Good nutrition is essential for everyone, and especially for people recovering from an eating disorder. First, make sure the person with the disorder has been evaluated by a qualified doctor and is on a treatment plan. Nutrition therapy from a registered dietician, in combination with psychotherapy and pharmacology or various forms of alternative medicine, can help a person with an eating disorder recover.

Part of a successful treatment plan is returning the person to a pattern of healthy eating. The body of a person who has been starving herself is in a terrible state and needs nourishing food to regain energy, restore chemical balance, and improve mental clarity.

These foods can help an individual recover from an eating disorder:

· Whole foods provide nutrients that can revitalize the body. Whole grain bread, brown rice, fresh fruit and vegetables, and lean meat will give depleted bodies a boost of energy. Processed foods offer sugar, high fructose corn syrup, fat, bleached grains, and very little in the way of nutrients.

· Calcium found in low-fat dairy and leafy greens help strengthen bones and teeth. Excessive dieting leeches calcium out of bones and makes them brittle. Young girls who have been suffering from an eating disorder have been shown to have the bone mass of elderly women. Moreover, excessive vomiting tears the enamel off of teeth.

· Lean meat, legumes, and fish provide the essential protein that malnourished bodies need.

· Omega-3 fatty acidsfound in fish, eggs, and nuts provide a boost to the heart. Anorexia sufferers risk heart disease and heart arrhythmia because the body does not have enough fat and mass to sustain proper heart function.

· Fluids and sodium from water and sports drinks are necessary to restore electrolyte imbalance and replace water loss due to dehydration from excessive vomiting, laxative use, and diuretics.

Athletes who suffer from eating disorders require specialized nutritional counseling. Sports such as wrestling, running, ballet, and gymnastics, with their emphasis on lean, toned bodies, present with an unusually high number of practitioners with eating disorders. These athletes restrict food, have a too-low body mass index, have low muscle mass, abuse protein drinks and supplements, and try to lose water weight with diuretics and saunas.

Athletes need to focus on food-based nutrition rather than supplements, carbs and fats for energy, protein for muscles, adequate fluids and electrolytes, and vitamins and minerals to maintain performance and nutritional balance.

Why Use Nutrition to Help Eating Disorders?

Good nutrition practices can help prevent eating disorders. Young girls and boys get their body image and self-esteem from the world around them. Involving children in food preparation and teaching them to recognize realistic body images can prepare them for healthy habits they can use throughout their lives.

Help them focus on good health and healthy eating rather than on their weight and what the scale says. Children can be “chunky” but healthy if they are eating the right foods and engaging in exercise. Teach children to eat when they’re hungry and not for emotional reasons. Let them know there is never a good reason to starve themselves. Don’t criticize a child’s weight or complain about your own size. Develop healthy meal plans in advance and stick to them.

Watch for warning signs that may indicate a young person may be on her way to an eating disorder: obsessively counting the calories of everything she eats, only eating “diet” or low-fat foods, saying she’s fat when she is actually quite thin, abusing laxatives, vomiting, weighing herself all the time, and exercising excessively.

What Is Good Nutrition?

Good nutrition is characterized by a diet comprised of a healthy balance of nutritious foods and limited intake of unhealthy foods. A diet dominated by lean protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and low-fat dairy gives a person high energy and nutrition for the body to function in a healthy manner. Fast food, junk food, fatty and fried foods, caffeine, and excessive amounts of alcohol hurt the body’s ability to perform and should be avoided or eaten in very limited amounts.

What Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are prevalent mostly among teenage and young adult girls, but about 5-10% of cases occur in boys. Victims typically feel a sense of powerlessness in their lives, suffer from low self-esteem, and have a poor body image. They use food, either the restriction of food to the point of starvation or excessive food to the point of obesity, as a way to take control of some aspect of their lives.

Prevailing thought is that eating disorders are caused by emotional problems exacerbated by adolescence or by physical and sexual abuse, but scientific studies are showing a genetic correlation, as susceptibility to eating disorders are found to run in families.

Some common forms of eating disorders: Anorexia Nervosa is a condition in which people restrict their intact of food, sometimes to as low as 300 calories a day. Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by periods of binging on large amounts of food then vomiting or using laxatives to purge the food from the body. Binge Eating Disorder and compulsive overeating is when people overeat, but do not purge, and gain excessive weight.

Additional Resources is a website focused on eating disorders.

An online resource titled “Eating Disorders during Adolescence: Nutritional Problems and Interventions” provided by the University of Washington.

An article on eating disorders from the American Dietetic Association.

Eating Disorders and Athletes

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