When food is medicine

April 28, 2015

Self-Paced Course: Non-Diet Academy


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A Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) with a master's degree in dietetics & nutrition. My passion is helping you find peace with food - and within yourself.

Meet Katy

If you are in recovery from an eating disorder, food is literally your medicine.  It's simultaneously the thing your ED makes you afraid of.  The irony in this never escapes me.  What an awful illness.  When contrasted to an illness like cancer we can see how different the scenario is when the patient wants to take their medicine to get better.  In ED's there are often not only fears related to taking the medicine (food), but ambivalence toward the desire to recover is common.  What will life be like after recovery?  Who am I without my ED?  Some people genuinely believe their life would be worse without their ED.  Not much incentive there to recover, huh?

Food is medicine in recovery for several reasons.  First of all, the calories in the food are energy for the body.  The body needs energy just to be alive – we call this basal metabolic rate.  Even a person in a coma needs calories so the organs can keep functioning.  The body also needs additional calories to cover activities of daily living such as brushing teeth, walking around, etc.  And on top of that even more calories are needed for the body to repair itself internally, as the ED has caused damage that we can't see on the outside, typically to muscles and organs.  The grand sum of these caloric needs is often shockingly high for patients, as if their fears about eating weren't already strong enough.

Another reason food is medicine is because of the macro- and micronutrients we get from food.  Food is hand's down the best source of nutrients, as it's the most bioavailable to the body for use.  Supplements are shown to have little value.  Many people with ED's are lacking in a wide array of nutrients, and the body needs to replenish its stores.  The additional nutrients are also used in the healing/repair process. 

And, finally, food is medicine because of its impact on the brain.  When nutritional status in the body is poor the brain can literally shrink in size.  This is scary, but it's also reversible with nutritional rehabilitation.  We also know that poor nutrition results in lower serotonin levels in the brain, which contributes to depression and anxiety, especially anxiety about food.  The amygdala (fear center) in the brain is basically telling the person that the food is dangerous, making it incredibly difficult to eat normally.  With proper nutrition, the neurochemical balance is improved, resulting in lower anxiety and possibly improvements in mood and cognitions. 

Pretty powerful stuff.  Food is so amazing in so many ways.  Instead of being afraid of it, let's celebrate all of the wonderful things it does for our bodies.


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