How to overcome eating disorders?
In this article, we try to understand some common ways where we could be having disordered eating, what might be the root cause, and where can we begin to heal ourselves.
Eating disorders are not random and invisible. Decades ago, my association with this term was a distant aunt who struggled with anorexia. When we bring the conversation to disordered eating, which we should, we are talking about more common and subtle aspects, which can happen to anyone around us.
In this article, let’s understand some common ways where we could be having disordered eating, what might be at the root, and where can we begin to heal ourselves. Breaking this important conversation into these aspects can help us have the clarity that this topic needs. Do note that this topic might also need care with an expert who is skilled in handling this area.
Signs of eating disorders
As I mentioned at the start, it is not just about anorexia. There can be other aspects of disordered eating which might happen to anyone. What are some of these? Can the happen in children?
I’d like to break this down into three different aspects so we can get insight into what happens and how it does in adults and children.
1. Social media is tricky. We are always trying to put our best foot forward and most times, we do not get a true picture of anyone. I met someone who was very conscious of healthy food and healthy eating. Digging deeper, I came across a personal struggle that was going on within. There were some foods that she felt were unhealthy for her. She would eat them and eat to the point where her body rejected the food and she vomited. Because she was not sticking her finger in to regurgitate, it was not perceived visibly as an eating disorder. After gently going into a deeper conversation, the realisation was that she felt guilty for eating those foods, and her body seemed to reject it later, where it felt as if it was not a problem anymore.
2. A dear friend’s son was cajoled into eating breakfast every morning with the incentive that he would get a KitKat if he ate his food. Over time, it became more than incentive, and tipped over into behavior issues, tantrums, screaming and crying to the point of choking if he did not receive the KitKat. Somewhere, picky eaters have reasons why they do not want food, and these include deficiencies and gut health. We must help our children by looking deeper, rather than facilitating the situation where we encourage disordered eating.
3. Another friend, a very successful professional at her job, had a great deal to cope with. She struggled being a single mom, managing a very stressful and time-consuming career, and the struggles of being a single parent. Whenever the scales tipped to excess, and there was stress from dealing with crises, she would reach for anything that was sugar, especially desserts and binge eat until her digestion got so affected that she had to take medication to help her move past.
These are all disordered eating patterns, not necessarily to the extent of having a diagnosis of an eating disorder.
What are some of the roots of disordered eating?
We are all unique and there can be a pattern of root causes that are different in each of us. However, there can be some common areas which lie at the root of all these patterns.
1. Blood sugar imbalance can be the reason why there is craving for foods that may not work well for us. It might also be the reason why we cannot cope when there is a spike in stress, as cortisol and insulin are two sides of a coin. When blood sugar is spiking and crashing, we have fluctuating moods, excess cravings, poor resilience to stress, and no control over what we seek out.
2. Gut health is also a big reason for what we crave and what we choose to eat. The microbiome has been found to be a part of our personality. Overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria such as yeast can make us crave the foods that can lead to us binge eating or overeating to the point of impact, without us having any control over those cravings.
As the gut microbiome quality is improved and brought to a point where there is variety and diversity of beneficial bacteria, our ability to have balance with eating improves. This is more so in children. If your child does have disordered eating patterns, seek out help to improve their gut microbiome.
3. Sympathetic dominance, where we are mostly in a state of fight or flight, rather than having a balanced autonomic nervous system, can imbalance blood sugar and adrenal function. It gets important to prioritize some relaxation techniques, daily. This excess fight or flight is also what is called vata imbalance in ayurveda.
4. Trauma is part of why someone can have eating disorders. If there was someone who rushed you in your meals as a child, then you might consume a lot of food in a small window. It can also happen when someone has not had enough food during childhood and somehow forget that they now have food in plenty. It can happen if a child is forced to finish a certain amount of food until they feel sick.
5. Nutrient deficiencies like zinc can make someone, especially a child, be a picky eater. This tips into a spiraling effect where we might cajole them with unhealthy foods to eat their meals. Nutrient deficiencies can also lead to poor neurotransmitter production, including serotonin and dopamine. This then means that we seek high sugars to get a quick hit of those neurotransmitters.
How to help someone with disordered eating?
The best way to help yourself or someone you know with disordered eating is to work with a practitioner. This will help understand specific root causes and gentle ways of implementing improvements. That said, we can begin with some basics.
1. Improving blood sugar balance is the first step. Starting the day with some protein, in whatever way that is doable, will set the right blood sugar for the day. In children, this can be as simple as a protein drink to help regulate morning blood sugar. Even if it feels daunting to change dietary patterns, beginning with just breakfast and having a protein and a vegetable is a great step in the right direction.
2. If you are not working with a practitioner, adding a high-quality multivitamin will help adults and children with trace minerals and vitamins that might be missing. Getting nutrients from food is ideal but remember that anyone with disordered eating patterns is probably not having an ideal diet. Waiting for the perfect day where that might happen can impact them now. Starting there can be helpful.
3. Adults or children, having a trained counsellor with whom there can be conversations which help unravel and release traumatic patterns from childhood can be transformational.
4. Journal when you have an episode where you binge eat or eat until you feel sick. Be mindful and gentle with yourself. Be honest but gentle. This is key. With the woman who ate and threw up, it took gentle but honest conversations for her to look deeper and notice that it was happening too frequently. She did not judge herself negatively, neither did she remain in denial.
5. If you do need, seek out a health practitioner in the space of disordered eating. Not all practitioners are qualified to work through this area. It can help to find the one whose work is specifically in this space. There is no stigma to this.
This is a deep conversation with several more aspect to it. This is just the beginning and if you would like to know more, seek out the blogs of experts in this field.
Edited by Megha Reddy
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)