Although eating disorders may appear to fall perfectly in the realm of the nutritionist, in truth they have less to do with food and more with mental and psychological difficulties. To be more precise, eating disorders are essentially about a biochemical imbalance in the brain aggravated by an unfavourable emotional-mental situation. The problematic relationship with food is but the symptom; the root cause of the illness is to be found much deeper.
In natural nutrition, much as in homeopathy, the higher up the body the disease, the more severe it is; a brain symptom is more serious than a foot symptom. The level at which the symptom manifests itself is an indication of the toxicity in the body. Deep set eating disorders are a sign that toxicity has reached the head, like in other serious, chronic conditions, such as depression, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or schizophrenia. You’re talking toxicity at the highest levels. The fact that such deep set disorders, in particular anorexia, often occur at teen age is both worrying and intriguing. How did such young girls (did anyone wonder out loud why young men rarely suffer from eating disorders?!) manage to accumulate such a high level of toxicity in such a short lifetime?
As with any other deep, chronic conditions and high levels of toxicity, the picture is likely to be multi-faceted and complex. I believe most cases of eating disorders share a profound physical deficiency coupled with a mental or emotional imbalance. The mental/emotional imbalance may well be due in part to the physical deficiencies, which affect the brain, but it can also have its roots in life circumstances.
When talking of deficiencies and toxicity at head level, think immediately Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs). EFAs, which are contained in the oils and food we eat, are a vital component of the brain. Brain function can be greatly affected by the lack of such essential fatty acids. For instance, people suffering from depression or learning difficulties all too often are found to be badly lacking in these essential fats.
These fats are called ‘essential’ because they are just that – vital for our health yet cannot be produced by our body, which is why we need to consume them regularly as part of a healthy diet. The one EFA that has been systematically removed from food manufacturing in the last 60 odd years is the Omega 3 type, because it deteriorates quickly and so is unsuitable for food processing and a long shelf life. Not surprisingly, it is precisely this EFA which has been found most lacking in people suffering from biochemical imbalances in the brain. Not only is Omega 3 no longer part of our normal diet, it is also easily destroyed by bad nutritional habits (in particular the consumption of bad fats and sugar), and by smoking, drinking and the Pill, all of which are commonplace and even considered ‘cool’ by teenagers.
Interestingly, puberty is the time of life in which the brain has the biggest need for EFAs, as the frontal lobe develops and with it – sexual maturity. Note that EFAs are also the building blocks for sexual hormones in our body, which start appearing around puberty time. In the absence of its essential building blocks, the starved brain cannot grow nor function as it should. Indeed, the difficulty to accept or adjust to sexual maturity is an underlying theme with many anorexia sufferers.
Still, I suspect that the lack of EFAs alone and the huge stress this puts on the developing brain is not in itself sufficient to bring about anorexia or bulimia. Something else happens before or around the time the disease erupts to increase the stress to unacceptable levels which manifest as an eating disorder. This could be (and I suspect it often is) a strong emotional background – a trauma of some sort or a particularly difficult relationship with one’s closest; but it could also be a serious dose of medication or the wrong vaccination at the wrong time, which can deprive the brain in one go from a big load of EFAs and be just the thing needed to push one over the edge. Puberty in particular is a very volatile time. It may not take too much to mess things up at a time of such profound yet delicate change.
Whilst anorexia is most commonly associated with puberty, bulimia can and does appear more regularly later on in life. Everything I have written so far applies to bulimia as well, except my feeling is the emotional factor plays an even greater role. Although a severe imbalance not to be taken light-headedly, bulimia is not as dangerous as anorexia. Bulimia is more about excess and lack of control, which is why in some cases it can be carried on for years without anyone noticing it. Anorexia on the other hand can result in death, and it is difficult to ignore the look of a true anorexic.
Both bulimia and anorexia are in fact a desperate and sad cry for help. It may not even be a conscious cry for help; in fact, most likely it isn’t. Yet those who, using food, actively harm themselves, sometimes to the point of risking death, make a very powerful statement. They cut themselves off from the rest by not doing the basic thing we all do to live – eat. They send out a very strong signal. The trouble is, it’s a scary signal to most of us precisely because it threatens this most basic of functions, and because the motives may not be clear, especially to those closest to the person.
Treating someone suffering from an eating disorder with natural nutrition can be a tricky matter. What sets natural nutrition apart from many other therapies is that this is a therapy where you have to take charge and actually do things for yourself. You cannot rely on someone else to do things or administer cures to you. Yes, eating disorders can be resolved through natural means – not so much nutrition to begin with, more naturopathic techniques to restore some integrity to the body and resume communication with every cell. There could be some way to go before one even starts talking about food for eating. The issue is whether the anorexic or bulimic is sufficiently willing to bring about a change to their condition and whether the therapist can reach out and successfully connect with the person to establish a ground for common work. If the will is there, relationship is built and integrity slowly restored, you can hope for a thorough resolution of the illness not just on the physical and biochemical level, but on the deeper, hidden and more meaningful emotional levels, too.
© Vardit Kohn, August 2005. No part of this article may be copied or reproduced without prior written consent.