Holistically Healing Bulimia
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by episodes of uncontrolled eating, often involving abnormally large quantities of food. This binge eating is then often followed by induced vomiting, use of a laxative, diuretic, or enema, and/or obsessive exercising to rid the body of the excess food eaten during the binge. Bulimia can affect anyone of any age, sex or social status, but women statistically are at greater risk for developing this eating disorder.
Although there is no known cause of eating disorders such as bulimia, it is believed to be the result of one, or a combination of, psychological, biological and societal factors. This is to say that bulimia is very rarely just about the food. Episodes of binging are commonly stress related and may actually be an attempt to manage emotions by focusing attention away from unpleasant or uncomfortable emotional situations. We are taught from a young age that food offers pleasure, comfort, solace and security. Psychologically speaking, those suffering with bulimia are using food as a means to soothe their emotions or escape difficult situations.
Further, the actions of induced vomiting, the use of laxatives, diuretics or excessive enemas are also a psychological means to purge the body of uncomfortable emotions or repressed experiences. Developing awareness and mindfulness of your emotional state, and establishing normal eating habits are important to finding freedom from bulimia.
Sociologically, many women who suffer from bulimia come from families where they experienced physical or sexual abuse; in some families, substance abuse is also a factor. In particular, if a woman’s emotional needs were not met in childhood, she may come to believe that her problems would be resolved if only she were attractive enough - and this obsession leads to bulimia.
People with bulimia often feel extremely guilty about their behavior and keep their actions secret; which is why it can be incredibly difficult to identify. Unfortunately, many serious complications can arise due to bulimia, including anemia, depletion of fluid balance, electrolyte imbalance, hypoglycemia, infertility, internal bleeding, kidney or liver damage, malnutrition, amenorrhea, mental fuzziness, loss of muscle and bone mass, low pulse rate/blood pressure and a weakened immune system.
Understanding the deeper psychological, societal or physiological factors driving the behavior is fundamental. It is important to seek necessary support to heal from the often underlying emotional history that feeds into a pattern of binging and purging. A large portion of bulimia recovery is about developing a deeper emotional and spiritual connection with your mind and body, so emotional healing is a priority.
A Shake A Day
Consuming a nutrient-packed smoothie during the day is extremely beneficial for those overcoming bulimia. When the body is fuelled by all the nutrients it needs, it will crave less junk and cause less need for a binge. A smoothie packed with the right essential nutrients will also reduce sugar cravings and balance blood sugar levels.
Below is a smoothie recipe that includes necessary nutrients the body is most likely deficient in and so desperately craving. Drinking this smoothie in the morning for breakfast or during the day will provide the body with the energy it needs to carry on with the day.
· 1 whole banana
· Large handful of watercress , parsley, or cilantro
· 1/4 tsp of moringa powder
· 1/2 tsp of maca powder
· 1/2 tsp of turmeric powder or 1-inch cut of turmeric root peeled (anti-inflammatory) and/or ginger (which warms the body)
· 1 tbsp of a powdered greens- chlorella and/or spirulina
· 1 tbsp of ground hemp seeds
· Small handful of ground pumpkin seeds, almonds or cashews or 2 brazil nuts ground
· Half a freshly squeezed lemon and grated peel OR splash of apple cider vinegar
· ½-1 cup coconut water for electrolyte balance
· 1 scoop simple protein powder (as few ingredients a possible)
Whole Food Focus
The focus should be on consuming quality, whole foods. Whole foods are foods that are whole by nature and have (if any) an extremely small ingredients list. Essentially focus on fresh fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates and quality protein sources. Processed junk foods, heavy starches, refined sugar and white flour products are the opposite of what will help you feel good, so while increasing whole foods , actively decrease foods that are not serving you or supporting your recovery. Berries, kiwi, citrus fruit, and melon are all excellent fruit options, though any fruit in moderation is recommended. Vegetables such as cabbage, bok choy, spinach, watercress, squashes, kale, seaweed and much more are some of the most nutrient-packed vegetables on earth and should be eaten in abundance. Complex carbohydrates include oatmeal, sweet potatoes, yam, quinoa, barley, lentils, beans are all complex carbs that can be incorporated into meals and smoothies. Good quality protein sources include eggs, beans, lean, organic meats, wild-caught fish and nuts/seeds. Consuming a variety from each category each day will support the recovery of bulimia.
Blood Sugar Balance
Balancing blood sugar is such an important step when it comes to recovery. For individuals who experience binge eating, glucose levels in the body are most likely dysregulated, which can cause various issues within the body; balanced blood sugar is essential for all cellular function within the body.
Chronically elevated blood sugar can lead to problems such as insulin resistance and the onset of diabetes; as well, low blood sugar can lead to binging. Multiple organs in the body play a role in the management of blood sugar including the pancreas, liver, and adrenal glands, so when we are constantly binging we are putting our organs through extreme stress and sending our body on a roller-coaster ride.
The following supports blood sugar regulation
Regular meals + Regular meals times
Eliminate refined sugar and carbohydrates from the diet, such as packaged foods, fast foods, baked goods, white flour, soft drinks, etc.
Include protein with every meal, such as almond butter, raw nuts, fish, lean organic meat, wild caught fish, seeds, eggs, etc.
Include more fiber in the diet, incorporating lots of vegetables, beans, lentils, oats, rice, and fruits
Affirmations are commonly used in order to switch a way of thinking in a positive way. Since bulimia is largely an emotional and mental disorder, incorporating these steps is crucial. Affirmations influence the subconscious mind and activate its powers while simultaneously changing the way you think and behave. Positive statements make you feel positive, energetic and active, and therefore, put you in a better position to heal. You can make your own individualized affirmations, but I have listed some examples below for your use or inspiration:
I care about my wellbeing.
I enjoy the blessings of nutritious foods.
I am worthy of improving my health and feeling vital.
I vibrate from within.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, also known as CBT, is often a beneficial tool to access in combination with nutritional therapy or food therapy when facing bulimia. Since bulimia is often associated with negative thinking patterns, CBT can sometimes help people break free from destructive behaviors and thought patterns. Understanding proper coping mechanisms that you can apply to your life will be beneficial now and in the long run.
Practicing stress management can greatly assist anyone fighting bulimia. Regular, moderate exercise, deep breathing, meditation, visualization, yoga, aromatherapy, journaling, affirmations and much more are all excellent ways to relieve stress and are good for easing depression.
Hydration is so important when it comes to bulimia recovery. Dehydration can lead to various health issues and can actually be contributing to bulimic habits. Being dehydrated can mess with your hunger signals. Sometimes we misunderstand our body’s urge to hydrate with its urge to eat, contributing to the binge cycle and causing further dehydration in the process. We need water for our brain to function at optimal levels, so being in a dehydrated state doesn’t allow us to think clearly and hinders our ability to form new habits and recover. It can also cause electrolyte imbalances, kidney failure and a whole list of other health problems. Aim to drink half your weight in fluid oz periodically throughout the day. You may also drink herbal teas and diluted juice.
Burdock root is said to cleanse and eliminate impurities from the blood, as well as protect the liver. Bulimia can often cause further issues within the body such an anemia and other types of deficiency, so burdock root is an amazing herb that can help produce more blood cells in the body or otherwise strengthen the blood. Burdock root also has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, which further help to cleanse the body of toxic overload and strengthen each cell.
TO USE:Burdock root can be consumed as an infusion, To make an infusion, use 4-5 tbsp of fresh burdock root in a quart mason jar, cover with hot water for 4-8 hours (or overnight)
Licorice Root can be helpful for glandular function, which is often compromised when an eating disorder is present. Bulimia can often result in irregular blood sugar levels due to food binging and sometimes induced vomiting. Licorice root will help to bring sugar levels to an optimal level, which will help decrease the need to binge or eat more than the body needs. Licorice root is also an excellent adrenal tonic and will help you to recover from, and cope better with stress.
TO USE:Licorice root can be consumed as a warm tea. Steep for 20 minutes & then consume.
Ginseng is beneficial in various ways, such as through stimulating appetite and improving digestion while addressing any stress, anxiety or depression that is often associated with bulimia or eating disorders in general. Ginseng will help to soothe the brain while it is going through this emotional time. Ginseng is also great for energy production and adrenal regulation.
TO USE: Ginseng is best consumed in tincture form.
Marshmallow root is an extremely soothing herb. In cases of regular induced vomiting, the throat may become chronically sore and inflamed. Marshmallow will help to cool, soothe and heal the lining of the esophagus. Similarly, if laxatives or enemas were used regularly, marshmallow will help to soothe the digestive tract.
TO USE: as an infusion, 1 tbsp of marshmallow root in 3 cups of water. Let sit overnight, strain and drink throughout the day.
Probiotics are friendly, beneficial bacteria. These bacteria, as well as harmful bacteria, are normal inhabitants of the large and small intestines and are a very important part of a healthy digestive system. When we have compromised digestion, immunity or have been on short or long-term antibiotics, probiotics help to balance our digestive tract with the proper quantities of bacteria, which ultimately help our body assimilate and absorb vitamins and minerals from our diet, improve the immune system and protect the liver.
GENERAL DOSAGE: 30-50 billion CFU’s/day on an empty stomach. This will help the good bacteria pass quickly to the small intestine.
Digestive enzymes are necessary for increased nutrient absorption. Bulimia can often cause deficiencies in nutrients and in some cases, complete malnutrition. Enzymes are lost during this process and are vital to digest food and carry nutrients through the intestine walls and into the bloodstream, muscles, nerves, tissues, and glands. By using digestive enzymes, we are promoting optimal digestive health, which in turn is beneficial for all processes within the body.
NOTE- Consult a health care practitioner prior to use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have diabetes, gastrointestinal lesions/ulcers, are taking anticoagulant agents, anti-inflammatory agents or antibiotics, or are having surgery.
Multivitamin + Mineral Supplement A good quality multivitamin contains all the necessary components for good nutrition. Bulimia can result in extreme vitamin and mineral deficiencies, so very high doses are advised due to the nutrients passing fast through the gastrointestinal tract + cannot be absorbed very well. Absorption of vital vitamins and minerals is already compromised due to compromised digestion, so taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement in addition to a balanced diet specifically tailored for bulimia is recommended, at least for the beginning stages of healing/until the digestive tract has healed and is able to absorb all the nutrients it needs through a proper diet.
Free Form Amino Acids - To counteract protein deficiency (a serious problem common in bulimia), I am recommending a free-form amino acid supplement. Freeform means that the amino acids are pre-digested and does need digestion for the body to be able to absorb it so in a way that is already a plus because it will be absorbed by the body quicker. Protein deficiency will increase muscle and bone loss, will slow down metabolism, cause low concentration, mood swings, fatigue, and increase blood sugar imbalance.
L-Glutamine- The digestive tract is often extensively damaged with long-term bulimia, particularly with the use of laxatives. Healing the gut is important to enable nutrients to be absorbed effectively. L-Glutamine is the most infamous amino acid for repairing the lining of the intestines.
TO USE: up to 1-3 grams daily.