The Naturopathic Treatment of Binge Eating Disorder
Article contributed by: Carrie Decker, ND
Naturopathic medicine is a branch of medical care which many people are not familiar with, yet when they either hear about it or experience working with a naturopath, they often find it to be the missing link in our healthcare system today. Naturopathic physicians believe in a holistic approach to care, using natural treatments whenever possible to focus on treating both the cause and the totality of disease.
Naturopathic doctors also spend time educating patients so they are empowered to make changes to support their health and prevent disease on an ongoing basis.
Support Through the Many Ups and Downs
As a naturopathic physician who works with clients with eating disorders, each of these considerations is an important part in supporting an individual in recovery from binge eating disorder. A holistic medicine approach considers the many different aspects of physiology which leads to the symptoms of binging; as well as other systemic dysfunctions which both may be an effect or an ongoing cause of symptoms.
The path of recovery is one with many ups and downs, and having a physician which is understanding and engaged in supporting from multiple directions can make a significant difference in recovery.
Individuals with and without an eating disorder often find that what they think was healthy food is something that is creating symptoms for them; whether this be allergies or irritable bowel syndrome, or the behavior of binge eating. Processed foods are filled with ingredients that are created to artificially enhance the taste of food – and create the craving for more.
Both individuals with binge eating disorder and those without such a diagnosis can probably remember a time when they started eating something – perhaps a crunchy, salty chip or a high sugar frozen dessert – and had a difficult time stopping at 1, 2, or even 3 portions. This may be for a multitude of reasons: such foods are lacking in nutritional content (which the body is demanding), blood sugar imbalances, or sensitivities to the chemicals or some aspect of the food which is being eaten.
The Best Approach Is Sometime Avoidance
The best approach for all individuals in a grocery store is the avoidance of the aisles – the whole foods which will be better for our health are not found at the periphery. Alcohol abstinence is also important in recovery from binge eating as it lowers the threshold of judgment concerning food and behavior as well as leading to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), easily triggering a binge even after the initial intoxication period has ended.
If food sensitivities have been determined, the avoidance of such foods is important as they can create inflammation, leading to a variety of symptoms including emotional imbalance and binging symptoms.
Balancing blood sugar is important for individuals who experience symptoms of binge eating as sugar (glucose) levels in the body are important for regulating many aspects of cellular function. Chronically elevated blood sugar can lead to problems such as insulin resistance and complications of diabetes, whereas low blood sugar can lead to binging symptoms.
Multiple organs in the body play a role in the management of blood sugar including the pancreas, liver, and adrenal glands.
Keeping A Balanced Diet</3>
Addressing aspects of diet which will help to balance blood sugar is important, and includes reduction of high glycemic index foods like breads and pastas, and making sure that fats and proteins are a part of every meal. Chromium is a mineral which is helpful for improving blood sugar regulation for both elevated and low blood sugar.
Digestive bitters and other bitter foods in the diet help to decrease the cravings for sweet as well as to improve digestion. Specific herbs and nutrients also are useful for blood sugar balancing and improving insulin resistance if this has been shown to exist.
There are many specialty tests which naturopaths use to help individuals recover from disease. In addition to the standard tests they may order as physicians, they may utilize:
- Cellular micronutrient testing
- Urinary neurotransmitter analysis
- Salivary cortisol and hormone testing
- Food sensitivity testing
Each of these may have a place in supporting an individual in recovery from an eating disorder.
Nutrient Deficiencies Can Lead to Binge Eating
Different subclinical nutrient deficiencies may lead to binging symptoms or mood imbalances, as the body is craving things to make up for that which it is lacking. Urinary neurotransmitter analysis is used to direct treatments with amino acids or other nutrients and botanicals to support imbalances in:
and other neurotransmitters rather than using medications such as SSRIs (including fluoxetine and citalopram among others) unless necessary.
Salivary cortisol provides information about the adrenal response, and plays a role in supporting the adrenal aspect of blood sugar regulation, as well as supporting the body in fatigue and sleep disturbances.
Stress on the body from binge eating patterns may lead to other problems including digestive symptoms of heartburn, gas, bloating, and abdominal pain. Digestive problems and abnormal gut flora may contribute to cravings and disturbed eating patterns.
Hormonal irregularities due to the stress on the body from dysregulated blood sugar may lead to mood symptoms. Adrenal and thyroid disorders can also occur with abnormal eating patterns. Each of these problems benefit much more from holistic treatment as they are closely linked. Individuals who are trained in the practice of naturopathic medicine are well suited to work with each of these problems, and often do on a daily basis with the many clients they see.
About the author:
Dr. Carrie Decker is a board-certified naturopathic physician with the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners, graduating with honors from the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon. Dr. Decker works with clients locally in Wisconsin as well as distant regions via telemedicine (Skype or phone) services. To find out more about Dr. Decker or naturopathic medicine, visit www.BlessedThistle.info or call 608.620.5831.