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Dr. Nicola’s Approach to Eating Disorders

The line between eating disorders, compulsive eating, food addiction and mood disorders is blurred, but many of us fall somewhere along the continuum. Whether you are stuck in a pattern of chronic dieting, binging and purging or compulsive eating, regardless of how many times you have been around the diet roundabout, there is a way out!

There are many factors on a physical and biochemical level that affect your ability to maintain a healthy weight and recover from disordered eating patterns. Some of these factors may have contributed to your problem to start with; others are secondary effects. Whether cause or effect, it is clear that if any of these factors are out of balance, recovering from an eating problem of any kind will be difficult.

Regulating Brain Chemistry

First of all, it is important to regulate our neurotransmitters. These are the chemicals found in our brains, and they affect us on many levels, from thoughts to emotions to levels of alertness. GABA, for example, is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which has a calming effect, while serotonin increases self-esteem and reduces depressive feelings.

Imbalances in brain chemistry can cause depression and anxiety, and trigger emotional eating. We can use amino acid therapy to boost the body’s production of neurotransmitters without producing the side effects of antidepressant therapies that are so commonly used today.

Balancing Blood Sugar

Secondly, it is important to balance blood sugar, so that cravings are reduced and mood swings and irritability are relieved. Eating frequent 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 and vitamin B1, and herbs such as gymnema. Cinnamon is wonderful for insulin resistance, a common problem caused by excessive dietary sugars, which can lead to weight gain and type 2 diabetes.

Improving Digestion

In naturopathic medicine, we realize the importance of digestive health and liver function. A problem that is frequently found in chronic dieters is candidiasis, which is when yeast overgrows in the gut. Candida can cause a host of symptoms including food cravings (particularly for sugar and starches), fatigue, foggy headedness and inability to lose weight. Other digestive infections such as parasites should also be evaluated.

Regulating Hormones

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 over-stimulate or fatigue the adrenal glands, depending on how severe and how chronic it is. Low thyroid function can be a factor in weight gain or the inability to lose weight, and 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 are suffering symptoms of both hormone and neurotransmitter imbalance. Chocolate boosts serotonin levels in the brain, which is why 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 have allergies or sensitivities to, and typically, we do not realize the extent of how troublesome those foods are until we eliminate them from our diets.

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. A good calorie level is 2,100 calories for women, and at least 2,500 calories for men. These calories should be made up of good-quality proteins, healthy fats, some whole grains and tons of fresh vegetables. The major difference with this type of program is that with the amino acid therapies and other supportive therapies addressing the components above, cravings for sugars, starches and fatty foods will not be a problem!

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.