Because it is so good, I'm reprinting it in its entirety here.
It’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and this is for the beautiful young women living with the largely closeted heartbreak of anorexia or bulimia, and for their families. It’s for those so far unable to acknowledge their secret, and for those in psychotherapy or on meds yet again wondering if they’ll ever successfully tame the monster, and for those resisting meds because they’re not sure the side effects are worth it, and for those who thought they had it licked only to be now ever more protective of their secret.
Not that everyone with an eating disorder falls under that umbrella. Many do find healing with a combination of psychotherapy, antidepressants and/or alternative therapies. But not all do, or they do for a while and then relapse, the dashed hope of relapse sometimes being even more difficult than initial admission of illness.
Both anorexia and bulimia are medical conditions that occur alongside other neuroendocrine, biochemical and psychological loss of balance, making the job of pinpointing cause and finding effective treatment a challenging one.
Eating orders don’t, of course, restrict themselves to young women, but young women make up the majority of those afflicted, and it afflicts more of them than we suspect. And like seemingly everything else, we’re developing these things at ever-younger ages, the average age of onset having dropped from the teen years to the pre-teen years, which coincides with girls reaching puberty at ever-younger ages and putting on weight when they are psychologically ill-prepared to deal with societal pressure to be thin.
But although it is almost certainly exacerbated by the thin-is-beautiful cult that is our culture and the almost-habitual dieting that goes with it, and though the Neanderthals still sending the message that a woman can never be too thin are cruel, whether their toxic energy is directed at a daughter, a lover, or channelled into the beauty industry that says it most powerfully, there is much more to it than that.
Because whatever the psychological triggers, eating disorders are biologically sustained when brain systems regulating appetite malfunction. The big question is how those systems can be restored to normal function, but whatever the cause and whatever the treatment path chosen, our successes will be limited by the availability of basic building blocks for healthy brain chemistry.
What we know for sure is that normal appetite regulation and healthy neurotransmission go hand in hand, and for healthy, non-inflamed neurotransmission to take place, key nutrients need to be available. Given the prevalence of dieting among young women, coupled with the already thin nutritional status of our convenience-food, Coke-preferring (or no-food preferring) young and the thin-ish nutritional quality of much of our food supply, key nutritional deficiencies are all too common.
Some of the most fascinating research with eating disorders has focused on leptin and ghrelin levels, those two little chemicals that regulate appetite, and while we still have much to learn about them we know that appetite-stimulating ghrelin has been found elevated in patients in bulimia research subjects, while appetite-suppressing leptin has been shown to be abnormally low, and we know that intake of high-sugar foods and the absence of key nutrients play a key role in that balance.
Zinc, B12 and omega-3 deficiencies (common among vegetarians as well as dieters and candy-bar lovers) are key nutrients for healthy nerve myelin and serotonin transmission and have been linked to altered appetite control. None of us are exempt from these deficiencies of course, but given that meat and dairy are such solid sources of these nutrients, vegetarians, dieters and those with eating disorders will always be more prone to coming up short.
While eating disorders are more complex than simply changing our nutritional intake, nutritional status is all too often an overlooked but critical component of recovery. Because whatever progress made with improved serotonin transmission or psychotherapy, lasting change is not likely without the essential high-grade fuel required to sustain it.