In continuation of our Healthy Body, Healthy Mind series this month, we shift our focus to eating disorders and how they affect mental health. Unfortunately, eating disorders are more common than many people may think. In fact, an estimated 1 in 20 people will be affected by an eating disorder at some point in their lives. At Recovery NOW, we know first-hand the powerful effects of eating disorders and how they impact the mind.
Unhealthy food habits can have a detrimental effect on mental health. For example, a body deprived of nutrition will eventually enter starvation mode, which significantly increases the risk of developing depression. In severe cases, a person may even experience irreversible brain damage, which can lead to a lifetime of mental health issues.
In a 2011 study from the University of Colorado, researchers found that bulimic women who engage in frequent binge/purge episodes have weaker levels of dopamine production in the brain, a chemical associated with learning and motivation. Another study in 2012 from Uppsala University in Sweden also found alarming changes to the brain in individuals diagnosed with anorexia. Those studied demonstrated significant reductions in gray and white brain matter – specifically in areas of the brain associated with the somatosensory systems and ‘reward’ system.
In addition to the direct effects of eating disorders on mental health, these conditions can also lead to health-related complications that ultimately impair mind and body function. For instance, people with a history of overeating are not only prone to obesity, but they may also develop serious illnesses like diabetes. Research has shown that Type II Diabetes can shrink the brain and also significantly increases the risk of dementia.
Nutrient deficiencies are also common in people with eating disorders and can impair mental function. For example, low potassium levels, which are often found in people with anorexia or bulimia, can lead to abnormal psychological behaviors, such as depression, anxiety and even psychosis. Other nutrient deficiencies associated with mental health problems include those related to B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, selenium, magnesium and zinc.
Eating Disorder Signs and Symptoms
Many people think of eating disorders in their most critical stages – those that have led to severe undernourishment or extreme changes in weight. While it is true that people with eating disorders can find themselves in grave health, the earlier stages of these diseases produce more subtle and less obvious symptoms. Examples include:
It is important to seek help at the first signs of a possible eating disorder, as early intervention may improve the effects on long-term physical and mental health. Since eating disorders themselves often co-occur with mental health disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, and anxiety disorders, treating these illnesses can make treating an eating disorder easier.
University of Colorado Denver: Eating Disorders Impact Brain Function
BMC Psychiatry: Anorexia Linked to Reduced Brain Structure
At RecoveryNOW, we’ve deemed this month ‘Healthy Body, Healthy Mind Month’ in an effort to raise awareness about the effects of physical wellness on mental health. The two are closely intertwined, which is why there are so many people who struggle with co-occurring mental health and physical abuse disorders. In this first post, we want to spotlight the importance of diet and exercise in promoting a healthy mind, as well as what steps you can take to promote positive physical and mental wellness.
Many people choose foods with their figures in mind, but it is less common to develop eating patterns based on how it affects mood, energy and mental health. As good as it may taste, food’s ultimate purpose is to serve as fuel for the body – including the brain. In the same way nutrient-dense foods produce a nourished mind, toxic foods set the grounds for an unstable mind.
Most convenience foods, such as those that are pre-packaged or purchased in fast-food restaurants, are highly processed and devoid of healthy ingredients. Two in particular – refined sugar and carbohydrates – rob the body of energy and contribute to serious health conditions, such as weight gain and diabetes. Consumed in large quantities, they also significantly increase the risk of developing depression.
While it may be easy to forgo healthy food choices in favor of those that taste better or are more convenient, it is important to choose a diet based on whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and nuts. Consuming three balanced meals a day and drinking plenty of water will not only improve appearance, but is can also reduce a person’s risk of depression by as much 30 percent.
A balanced diet will contain many of the vitamins and nutrients necessary for optimal mental health. However, some foods are richer in mind-nourishing nutrients than others. Leafy greens, for example, are high in folate, which has been linked to a lower risk of depression. Similarly, salmon and other oily fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to improve the symptoms of ADHD and stabilize mood in people with depression.
Perhaps the most notable vitamin associated with depression risk is vitamin D, a nutrient primarily derived from sun exposure rather than food. Studies have shown that depression is less common in people with high vitamin D levels as opposed to people with low vitamin D levels, who are more prone to seasonal affective disorder. It is easy to raise vitamin D levels by spending just a half hour in the sun three times per week. Note that people with fair skin may require far less exposure to achieve healthy vitamin D levels.
Many people hit the gym to shed a few pounds or improve cardiovascular health, but exercise benefits more than just your body. In fact, exercise is one of the most powerful tools available for boosting mental wellness. Best of all, it is completely natural and 100 percent free.
There are several ways exercise improves mental health. The first is by reducing stress, which is a major trigger for many different mental health disorders. People who exercise have higher concentrations of norepinephrine, which is responsible for regulating the brain’s response to stress. Furthermore, exercise can also boost endorphine levels, creating a sense of happiness and improving overall mood. It is these feelings that are responsible for ‘runner’s high’, a sensation many people report feeling after clocking a few quick miles on the pedometer.
It is important to note that all of these ‘feel good’ chemicals do more than just create a temporary sense of euphoria. Scientists have also proven they are capable of helping people prone to anxiety avoid experiencing symptoms. In fact, spending 20 minutes running a local trail is a greater stress-reliever than spending the same time in a warm bath. As an added bonus, exercise improves appearance, which can lead to improved self-confidence.
Taking care of your body does not have to be expensive or time-consuming. Shop the outer perimeter of the grocery store or visit a local farmer’s market for fresh finds. Instead of spending money on a gym membership, try biking to work or walking to dinner with family or friends. Everyone has the right and access to a healthier body and a healthier mind.
Millions of people suffer with eating disorders every day, many of whom go undiagnosed. Conditions like bulimia, anorexia and binge-eating disorder often produce symptoms that are similar to other medical conditions. In fact, some eating disorders are actually caused by a medical condition. For example, anorexia – a loss of appetite for food – is not always an emotional disorder fueled by a desire to lose weight. Rather, it can also be a secondary medical condition in which a person loses his or her appetite because of other health conditions, such as GERD, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease.
Though primary diseases are usually easy to diagnose, patients may feel reluctant to reveal secondary eating disorders because of the cultural stigmas that are often associated with them. Alternatively, an eating disorder, such as bulimia or anorexia, may be a mental illness, yet continue undiagnosed or complicated by unrelated health problems that produce symptoms similar to those of eating disorders. Often, people with a primary eating disorder will attempt to hide the condition by making a self-diagnosis of another condition, such as a food intolerance or gastrointestinal disease.
Since most eating disorders produce an unhealthy body mass index (BMI), anyone with a BMI that is too high or too low should be thoroughly evaluated by an eating disorder specialist – even if the symptoms are believed to be caused by a pre-existing health condition. By working together with a specialist and a nutritionist, patients with eating disorders can learn to eat healthful, balanced diets and maintain a healthy weight. Our Eating Disorders Specialist Marilyn Brown, LMFT assists individuals and their families with eating disorders recovery
Sarah Marie House an upscale sober living for women located near Historic Old Torrance is now accepting residents in recovery from eating disorders as well as substance abuse and addiction. Recovering from an eating disorder presents similar challenges as those face in recovery from substance use and learning to live a clean and sober lifestyle free from unhealthy eating behaviors is important for overall recovery. A safe and supportive environment that also provides the key component of accountability is key and at Sarah Marie House the director Kathi Donahue provides just that, and only 15 minutes away from the beach!
Sarah Marie House provides 24 on-site management and Kathi is available daily to residents to provide support. In addition to 24 management Sarah Marie House has a daily 12 step/recovery meeting requirement and all residents participate in daily morning group meditation and evening reflection time together. The staff at Sarah Marie are committed to supporting a successful transition to a sober lifestyle so all aspects of an individuals recovery program including referrals to support services and providers are implemented as needed.
Sarah Marie House is currently accepting new residents. Contact Kathi Donahue for more information! Details below.
or visit www.sarahmariehouse.com
Partnerships are key to providing comprehensive care so Recovery NOW, Inc. is committed to building relationships with other providers. Contact us today to schedule a site visit at your facility! For more information on treatment for Addiction, Eating Disorders and other mental health concerns please visit our main page at www.RecoveryNowLA.com.Marilyn Brown, LMFT Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist/Social Media Director Recovery NOW, Inc. www.RecoveryNowLA.com
Recovery NOW, Inc. is excited as a part of our blog to share information on our treatment centers site visits with our readers. Being a clinician I recognize how important it is to be able to give our clients first hand information on the treatment centers we may refer them to for a higher level of care. As an outpatient therapist when I refer my clients to a higher level of care for treatment it is important for me to be able to honestly reassure my client that the treatment model and interventions used at the center are evidence based practices. I also often coordinate with and need to reassure families that their loved ones are being sent to programs that equipped and qualified to treat their family members individual concerns. Simply reading websites and talking to providers on the phone is often not enough to get an honest impression of the care being offered. Most treatment centers are open to clinicians calling and scheduling tours and site visits however my visit to Eating Recovery Center of Califonia on May 23, 2014 located in Sacramento, was an exceptionally well organized and structured Professional Onsite visit.
Eating Recovery Center of California provides 7 day per week Partial Hospitalization and Intensive Outpatient Services for those with eating disorders and co occurring substance use disorders. The visit was coordinated by Melinda Kolberg, the Professional Relations Coordinator and she was a fantastic and well informed host. After being greeted by Melinda, our group of Therapists, Registered Dieticians and Registered Nurses were introduced to the staff and educated on key components of the treatment provided by ERCCA. All aspects of the program were presented and outlined by the director of that area of treatment. We were given information on the clinical assessment process (which is offered free of charge both in person or by phone), the medical and nutritional departments, and general program information for both the adult and adolescent services. Eating Recovery Center of California offers family support both in group and family session format, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Mindfulness and other process and goal setting groups throughout the day. ERCCA also provides 7 day per week treatment with a medical staff (RN) onsite at all times which is helps address the problem of clients relapsing into behaviors over the weekends which is common in 5 day per week programs. In addition to the great information and networking at the site visit we were treated to a wonderful breakfast, snacks, lunch, and the best cookie I think I have ever eaten!
In addition to the program the staff is warm, friendly, and you get the feeling they are truly invested in the work they do. After the site visit I feel confident and truly look forward to working with Eating Recovery Center of Calfornia in the future. Visit their website at www.EatingRecoveryCenter.com to learn more about treatment programs, professional onsite visits, and their conference in Denver Colorado coming up this August!
Marilyn Brown, LMFT Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist/Social Media Director Recovery NOW, Inc. www.RecoveryNowLA.com