Eating Disorders and Adrenal Fatigue
In a world where image seems to matter so much, the incessant desire to look good can really take a toll on your mental health. You may find yourself focused on being healthy. That is certainly a reasonable desire, and many of us have it. That goal may be good for you in most circumstances. But what happens when the pressure to look good drives you too far? What happens when your pursuit of being skinny or looking good causes a health problem? Or what if eating is your way of coping with stress? Eating disorders may be some of the most overlooked and misunderstood diseases.
What’s more, they can have an excruciating impact on the health of your NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response. This can lead to many disorders, and can be particularly taxing on the adrenal glands. As you likely know, this can easily result in Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS).
If you have an eating disorder, don’t worry. You are not alone. What you learn today may just set you on the path to a better life. Let’s take a look at this issue with an open mind and see what we can learn from the information.
What Are the Facts About Eating Disorders?
According to recent data from the CDC, eating disorders will impact 1 in 10 people at some point in their lives. Oddly, however, there is very little research giving us any information on the real causes. In fact, the CDC only recently began to gather data on these disorders.
Types of Eating Disorders
There are three common types of eating disorders:
Anorexia Nervosa – If you suffer from anorexia nervosa, you will typically have an obsessive fear of gaining weight. You will likely also have an unrealistic perception of your own body image, and refuse to maintain a healthy weight. People who suffer from anorexia nervosa will strictly limit the amount of food that will eat, and will still view themselves as overweight, even when they are clearly underweight. The health effects of this disease can be devastating and include multi-organ failure, brain damage, bone loss, heart trouble, and infertility. This undoubtedly causes a wide range of damage and imbalance throughout the NEM Stress Response.
Bulimia Nervosa – If you suffer from bulimia nervosa, you may be a compulsive binge eater who later throws up their food to compensate for overeating. Alternatively, you may over-exercise, or use extreme laxatives or diuretics. Both men and women suffer from the disorder. They typically fear weight gain and feel unhappy with their body weight or size. This disorder can also lead to guilt and shame, as much of the binge eating and purge cycle are done in private.
Binge Eating Disorder – If you suffer from binge eating disorder you will frequently lose control over your eating. Unlike the other two eating disorders, the episodes of binging will not be countered by compensating behaviors. Because there is no compensative action, people suffering this disorder are likely to become obese. Of course, this raises their risks for other diseases, and can negatively impact their cardionomic, metabolic and inflammation NEM circuits. Like bulimia, those that suffer from this disorder will likely experience guilt and shame. These feelings often only add to the problem and cause more binge eating.
Risk Factors and Research on Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are most likely to appear during teen years, or during early adulthood. However, they may also develop in early childhood, or later in life. Contrary to popular belief, these disorders affect both genders. However, it is true that they are significantly more common among women. Regardless of gender, those who suffer from eating disorders will have a distorted sense of their own body image.
Researchers have been finding that these disorders are caused by an interaction between behavioral, psychological, genetic, biological, and social factors. They are using new technology and science to try to understand eating disorders.
One of the approaches involves studying human genes. These disorders often run in families. The researchers are hoping to identify DNA strands that may be linked with the increased risk of developing eating disorders. These DNA factors may be useful in developing treatments later in life, or even preventing them at an early age.
Some studies involve brain imaging and provide a more thorough understanding of these disorders. For example, differences in brain patterns have been found in women with eating disorders when compared to healthy women. This type of research may help guide future developments and new means of diagnosis and treatment.
Eating disorders and the NEM Stress Response
What is the NEM Stress Response?
The NEM Stress Response is a unique method of looking at your body’s health. The NEM is made up of six major circuits. These six circuits are broken up into two categories: the neuroendocrine and the metabolism. Each of the circuits is in finely tuned balance with the others, and together they make up the NEM Stress Response.
Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) occurs when the adrenal glands become overworked for long periods of time. The adrenal glands produce hormones released by stress. These hormones include cortisol and adrenaline. The adrenal glands can be triggered by an outside influence or one of the six NEM circuits.
The constant production of hormones can wear out or fatigue the adrenal glands. As a result, they burn out and become unable to produce enough hormones for proper functioning of the body. If this process goes too far, the adrenal glands may even fail. This is why it is so important to understand the factors causing stress in the body. One source of stress is — you guessed it — eating disorders.
What Impact do Eating Disorders Have on the NEM?
Eating disorders can have a tremendous impact on your body’s health and the NEM. Not only are eating disorders caused by stress over your appearance, they also cause stress on the body itself. This is a vicious cycle that can really take a toll on the NEM network.
Eating Disorders and the Metabolic Circuits
The three circuits associated with the metabolism portion of the NEM response are detoxification, metabolism, and inflammation. Each of these can be particularly affected by an eating disorder. For example, your detoxification and metabolism circuits require essential tools and building blocks to help detox the body. These tools come in the form of vital nutrients and vitamins. Bulimia and anorexia can really impact your body’s ability to detoxify itself. Without the ability to properly create enzymes to digest food, or antioxidants to fight off free radicals, the health of the body will quickly deteriorate. Of course, this then impacts the other networks, and may lead to inflammation, hormonal imbalances, and cardionomic issues.
All three of the metabolism networks are also negatively affected by binge eating. This is especially true if obesity results from the binge eating. Your body will have to fight off so many toxins that it will not be able to detoxify properly. Additionally, the organs that produce enzymes for digestion will become fatigued. This stress can result in a domino effect that impacts nearly every organ on some level. There is no question that obesity resulting from binge eating will impact the cardionomic circuit as well. This can lead to heart disease and many other blood-related issues. There are many impacts on the metabolism networks that will be caused by an eating disorder.
Eating Disorders and the Neuroendocrine
The three circuits associated with the neuroendocrine portion of the NEM response are the hormone, neuroaffect, and cardionomic. Eating disorders are really devastating to all networks of the NEM. If the disorder carries on too long without being managed, it can lead to many issues.
For example, your body cannot maintain healthy hormone levels when it does not have a steady, reliable source of nutrition. Not only will the adrenal glands constantly be triggered by the stresses of binge eating, but a lack of eating or an excess of purging causes other hormone-producing organs to suffer as well.
Anorexia, in particular, can negatively impact the neuroaffect. One of the effects of anorexia is brain damage, which is caused by extremely low levels of nutrition. Of course, this is not something anyone wants to experience. Furthermore, all eating disorders can cause hormonal disorders that can impact the neuroaffect as well. They can lead to depression and feelings of shame and guilt. This can further worsen the eating disorder, and this cycle may be one of the hardest things to overcome when trying to reverse an eating disorder.
But that’s not all. We may think that binge eating would likely have the strongest effect on the cardionomic circuit, but all eating disorders can lead to cardionomic issues, even if the disorders are not related to obesity.
Catabolic State and Late Stage AFS
Sufferers of advanced stages of AFS often report lack of appetite and reduction of muscle mass. Weight loss can be significant as the body’s assimilation of food diminishes. Symptoms including the lack of appetite, bloating, increased gastric gas, food intolerance, food sensitivities, SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) and systemic candida may be associated. Severe weight loss may occur. This should not be viewed as an eating disorder, but rather the body’s way of slowing down in order to preserve energy. This can be very serious and warrant supervision from a healthcare professional to reverse.
What Should You Do If You Have an Eating Disorder?
If you have an eating disorder, you should seek a solution immediately. There are many solutions, but first and foremost you should talk to your healthcare provider.
Beyond that, if you have an eating disorder caused by low self-esteem, seek ways to make yourself feel better. Perhaps you can turn to art or a hobby to keep your mind on something productive. Talk to your friends or family about how you feel. You may find that they have felt the same way you do, and you can benefit from learning how they handled it. Though you may feel embarrassed, the loved ones in your life may surprise you with their understanding. You might also be surprised by how just speaking the truth and facing the problem gives you power over the darkness that once controlled your life.
Herbs and supplements like phosphatidylserine, St. John’s Wort, and passion flower that may improve self-image for some. Perhaps these would be worth a try.
If you don’t want to go to the doctor, or tell anyone you know, you can always call a helpline, or join a group online.
If binge eating is your thing, then substitute some healthy foods. Popcorn is an awesome snack, for example. It isn’t necessarily healthy, but if the choice is between a bucket of popcorn and a bucket of ice cream, pick the popcorn every time.
What’s the Bottom Line?
It may come as no surprise, but eating disorders can impact the entire NEM stress response. Whether directly or indirectly, every circuit of the NEM is impacted by eating disorders. In the modern era of extreme body images, this can lead to a feeling of inadequate self-confidence. As hard as it is, it is important that you handle any eating disorder that you may have. Eating disorders are not a solution that results in a healthy body image. In fact, they actually lower self-confidence and increase feelings of shame and guilty. If you are suffering from an eating disorder, please seek help immediately. Talk to your healthcare provider, or at the very least speak with a close friend or family member. Once you stop hiding from your own actions, you may be surprised at just how easy it can be to get better.
Do not leave your eating disorder unchecked. It can cause devastating illnesses that are much worse than the feelings of doubt or low self-image. Letting eating disorders control your life can ruin your NEM network. These disorders should definitely be handled before they lead to AFS.
Almost all of us feel insecure about ourselves at some point. But it is important that we get a handle on our fears and don’t let them control our lives.
© Copyright 2018 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
Dr. Lam’s Key Question
Can this approach to eating disorders benefit you too?
There is no doubt about the devastating impacts eating disorders can cause. But here’s the thing: there are ways to overcome these disorders. Though the science is out on the issue, improving your mental health may help. We all struggle sometimes, but there are solutions.