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HEALTH CONCERN? BioHealth Health Concerns

Naturopathic Medicine for Eating and Dieting Disorders

Contributing Author: McFadzean, Nicola N.D.

Nicola McFadzeanDr. Nicola McFadzean is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor, trained in both the United States and her native country of Australia. She received her Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington. Dr. Nicola works with a wide variety of health conditions, ranging from cognitive issues to digestive problems to hormonal imbalance. She can access a full spectrum of laboratory testing to assess imbalances in the body, while having the freedom to prescribe natural remedies and prescription medications when necessary.

» Website: www.drnicola.com

 

Weight loss is a multibillion-dollar industry. Many different diets exist and a plethora of supplements are sold. Yet, the majority of people who lose weight on a diet will gain it back in a relatively short period, plus interest. This cycle is great for the industry, as there is always a new miracle product or diet plan that can offer the next “solution.” However, the cycle has left many people disillusioned, frustrated and even more overweight than when they started.

Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa, are well recognized conditions. These conditions often start with a “harmless” diet that escalates out of control, are at worst life threatening and at best are guaranteed to make sufferers unhappy. Many people, after recovering from the acute phase of an eating disorder, join the millions of chronic dieters described above who suffer from unstable weight, mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety, and a feeling of powerlessness over their situation.

The lines separating dieting disorders, eating disorders, compulsive eating, food addiction and mood disorders are blurred. In reality, this is not a black and white issue but a continuum along which most people fall, especially those who have a history of, or are currently experiencing, some type of problem with food, eating or body image.

Finding Natural Solutions
To address these eating issues, the allopathic medical community, after offering antidepressant therapy, is pretty much stumped. Psychotherapy is certainly helpful but frequently fails to go all the way to find a full resolution of the problem.

Thankfully, naturopathic medicine has a lot to offer regardless of how many times a person has been in the diet roundabout. The reason is that we consider the whole person—not only the physiological and biochemical, but also the emotional and spiritual components behind a person’s health issues. The following program is tailored to address the physiological problems faced by people with eating or dieting disorders. The cause and effect aspect of some of these problems is unclear. What is clear, however, is that if any of the following factors are out of balance, recovering from a food problem of any kind will be difficult.

Regulating Brain Chemistry
First, regulating neurotransmitters is important. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals found in our brains, and they affect us on many levels, from thoughts to emotions to levels of alertness. Examples are serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and GABA. Imbalances in the brain chemistry can cause depression and anxiety, and can be triggers for “emotional eating.” GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which has a calming effect, while serotonin increases self-esteem and reduces feelings of depression. We can use amino acid therapy to boost the body’s production of neurotransmitters without producing the side effects experienced when taking the antidepressant therapies used in allopathic medicine today.

Balancing Blood Sugar
Second, balancing blood sugar is important to reduce cravings and to relieve mood swings and irritability. Frequently eating small meals, having sufficient protein with each meal and exercising regularly are important factors here. The trace mineral chromium can help tremendously, as can biotin, vitamin B1 and herbs such as gymnema. Several fantastic formulas are available that contain a combination of natural factors specifically tailored for blood sugar regulation. Hormonal balance, particularly adrenal health, is also important here …but more on that later.

Improving Digestion
Third, we must look at the condition of the digestive system. In naturopathic medicine, we realize the importance of digestive health and liver function to good health. A problem frequently found in chronic dieters is Candida, yeast that can overgrow in the gut and invade the bloodstream. Candida can cause a host of symptoms, including intensifying food cravings (particularly for sugar and starches) and causing fatigue and a ‘foggy head.’ Blood or stool testing can determine whether an overgrowth has occurred and is contributing to the problem. The presence of heavy metal toxicity or other gastrointestinal infections such as parasites should also be considered.

Regulating Hormones
Hormone regulation is key. The adrenal gland is central to many factors involved with blood sugar regulation, metabolism and the production of other hormones. Yet most of us live with chronic stress, which can either overstimulate or fatigue the adrenal gland, depending on how severe and how chronic it is. Low thyroid function may be a factor in weight gain or the inability to lose weight, yet many hypothyroid conditions are secondary to adrenal dysfunction, as these two hormone pathways are interrelated. Women who reach for chocolate the moment PMS strikes suffer hormonal and neurotransmitter imbalance. Chocolate boosts serotonin levels in the brain, which is why eating it makes us feel better, at least temporarily.

Identifying Food Allergies
Food allergies and sensitivities often play a role in eating habits. Identifying these culprits can be a great help in avoiding binges or cravings. We often crave the foods that we are allergic or sensitive to. And typically, we do not realize the extent of how troublesome those foods are until we eliminate them and experience the difference. Elimination diets are one way of identifying problem foods, but their structure and the restrictions involved can be difficult for a person already struggling with a problematic relationship with food. In this case, blood tests or other energetic testing methods may be more appropriate.

Using a “Non-Diet” Approach
Finally, there must be an end to dieting! Dieting slows the metabolism, leads to rebound overeating and weight gain and, frankly, is no fun. An adequate amount of calories is 2,100 for women and at least 2,500 for men. These calories should be made up of whole grains, good quality proteins, healthy fats and tons of fresh vegetables. The major difference with this type of approach is that, along with the amino acid and other supportive therapies addressing the components above, the sugar, starch and fatty food cravings will disappear. So while a diet feels like a restriction of calories plus a “white-knuckle” restriction on certain types of foods, a “non-diet” such as this will be characterized by lots of food and a feeling of well-being without all the cravings.

This approach to eating has been successful with people in many different situations, from chronic dieters to bulimics, and even to alcoholics. Anyone who has tried to diet, stop drinking, stop overeating or curb any addictive pattern knows that willpower alone is not the answer. A program such as this brings the body back into balance, regulates the brain chemistry and provides relief from the powerful cravings and mood swings that go with feeling out of control of our own health and well-being.