Psychiatry & Psychotherapy
Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Eating Disorders Hermosa Beach, San Pedro and Long Beach California

Psychiatry & Psychotherapy
Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Eating Disorders Hermosa Beach, San Pedro and Long Beach California

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Image of teenage girl with eating disorder

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind Month; Part II: Eating Disorders

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.

Girl with anorexia being on restricted diet

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:

  • Extreme preoccupation with food
  • Extreme preoccupation with weight
  • Constant dieting
  • Excessive exercise
  • Denying hunger
  • Binge eating
  • Purging (forced vomiting)
  • Food rituals
  • Laxative abuse

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.

Resources:

University of Colorado Denver: Eating Disorders Impact Brain Function

BMC Psychiatry: Anorexia Linked to Reduced Brain Structure

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