The Connection between Eating Disorders, Obesity and Our Food Supply

 

 

On the Scale

This is a guest blog post by Dr. J. Renae Norton

I’ve been treating eating disorders (ED’s) and obesity for nearly 25 years and have always had good outcomes.  My rate of success improved dramatically, however, when I discovered the critical role that processed food plays in causing as well as in preventing recovery from Anorexia, Bulimia, Bulimarexia, (a combination of the two) Binge Eating Disorder (BED,) Emotional Eating and Obesity.

I made this discovery as I researched a new book that began as a rant about the lack of successful treatment in the field of Eating Disorders and obesity.  However, as I gathered more data, the book morphed into an examination of the toxic nature of U.S. foods and the impact they have had on the onset, treatment and relapse rates for both ED’s and Obesity in the U.S.

Like most practitioners, I am aware of the epidemic of obesity, especially among U.S. children. The demographics are also changing for those with eating disorders i.e. we are now seeing anorexia among very young children (5 and 6 year olds) older women (25 and up instead of the 12 to 18 year olds that had been the norm) and men of all ages (rates have gone from 5% to 10% in the last decade.) These are all groups that have been relatively unaffected by ED’s in the past, so the changes are perplexing as well as disturbing.

Another alarming change was a new and more lethal form of Anorexia, unofficially referred to by many of us as Bulimiarexia, made up of individuals who restrict except when they are going to purge what they eat. In my experience, they are more difficult to treat and have more serious complications such as cirrhosis of the liver, osteoporosis, and kidney failure as well as premature hair and tooth loss.  For example, I currently have two women under the age of 25 who have no teeth. One does not have enough jaw bone left for implants. I have seen several other patients with no teeth over the past 2 years, which is a new phenomenon in my practice. Another problem that is showing up with greater and greater frequency is Vitamin D deficiency. This is more serious than it sounds as Vitamin D deficiency is implicated in some of the most serious chronic diseases of our time.

In general, serious medical complications for those suffering from all forms of disordered eating, are rapidly becoming the rule rather than the exception.  This observation is born out by the findings of such groups as the American Council on Science and Health who report that obesity is “the second largest cause of preventable cancer, after cigarette smoking……and that it may exceed smoking as an avoidable cause of cancer ” in the near future.

Even more disturbing, are the complications of obesity for America’s children, who currently have the dubious distinction of being the most obese children in the world (tied with Scotland).  More and more U.S. children suffer from diseases that were once associated with middle age, such as Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, heart conditions and joint deterioration.  As a result, many are destined to have a lower their life expectancy than their parents. ED’s also take a toll on life expectancy. For example, females between the ages of 15 and 24 who suffer from Anorexia, have the highest mortality rate for that age range. Studies have also shown that the risk for early death is twice as high for Anorexic’s that purge, or Bulimarexics, than for those that do not.  Given that this new form of the disorder is increasingly more common, we can expect the mortality rates to go up even more for this population.

There appears to be a connection between the current epidemic of obesity, the changing demographics of ED’s, and the escalating medical complications in both groups that is not on the radar of most practitioners. This may help to explain why recovery rates are so low for ED’s and obesity. For Anorexia and Bulimia recovery rates across all forms of treatment are only about 50% at best. They drop to 30% for treatment that relies exclusively upon residential care. For those who are obese, or overweight, the failure rate is even higher, in as much as 95% percent of all those who try to lose weight by dieting alone fail. Finally, when one considers that yoyo dieting is a significant risk factor for developing an ED and that approximately 41% of the U.S. population is on a diet at any given time, the outlook is dismal at best for Americans.

The question is why is this happening? The answer is pretty straight forward, but difficult to believe none-the-less; For the past 40 years, there has been an escalation of substances known for their neuro-toxic, obesogenic, diabetic, carcinogenic and addictive impact added to the American food supply for the simple reason that they increase profits for the food industry. Not coincidentally, this is the same period of time during which the health of Americans began to decline, obesity rates began to rise until they reached epidemic proportions, and ED’s proliferated, showing up in heretofore unaffected demographic groups. These problems are not occurring in other countries where such substances are regulated. The negative impact of toxic food additives on the health of our nation has been significant if one considers the following:

Life Expectancy: United States life expectancy is 42nd in the world

Infant Mortality: In 1960, the U.S. had the 12th lowest infant mortality rate in the world. By 1990 it had dropped to 23rd place, and the most recent study in 2008 estimated that the U.S. is now in 34th place.

Effectiveness of the U.S. Health Care System : We spend more on health care than any other nation in the world ($6,714 per person in 2006) but get less, according to the World Health Organization, which ranked our health care system as 37th in overall performance, and 72nd by overall level of health.

Treatment for Disordered Eating Ignores the Role of Safe Nutrition. In general, treatment fails more often than it succeeds, because it fails to recognize the role that food additives play in damaging the parts of the endocrine system responsible for healthy weight management. The majority of the damage from unnecessary food additives, insecticides and genetically modified (GMO) foods is to the hormones that regulate hunger and fat storage. One such hormone is Leptin.  Research has shown that Leptin, which is found in adipose tissue, is too high or too low among those suffering from Anorexia, too low among those suffering from Bulimia and too high among those who are obese. In order for recovery to take place, Leptin levels must restored to their normal level. Yet the vast majority of practitioners are unaware of Leptin, or the role that it plays in ED’s and Obesity. Food additives have been shown to damage Leptin receptors and signaling mechanisms.  This results in food addictions, food cravings, excessive appetite loss, excessive central fat storage, and food allergies that cause bloating, constipation and/or diahrea.  Disturbed Leptin levels also increase the likelihood of relapse among Bulimic and Anorexic patients and may explain the phenomenon of yoyo dieting.

In general, the “cleaner” (the less processed) the food, the less damage to the endocrine system; likewise, the less damage to the endocrine system, the less likely the individual is to end up with disordered eating.  In terms of recovery, eliminating food additives, carcinogens, obesogens, and GMO’s and incorporating “clean” foods has a dramatic affect on overall health, the quality of the food and therefore the quality of the eating experience. Finally, relapse is much less likely when the Obese or ED patient is eating “clean” foods that are also delicious.

This last piece is critical, since most people with disordered eating assume that eating “healthy” will be a miserable experience.  Nothing could be farther from the truth. Try preparing and eating meals made from real, whole ingredients. With grass fed beef and dairy, as well as organic eggs and produce, you can improve your levels of vitamin D and have healthier bones and teeth; You can protect yourself from heart disease, high blood pressure, and all number of neurological disorders; You can experience decreased levels of anxiety and/or depression and in so doing improve the quality of your life significantly.  In other words, eating clean has been a life-changing experience for many and it could be for you as well.

Dr J Renae NortonDr. J. Renae Norton is a clinical psychologist, published author and Director of the Norton Center for Eating Disorders  in Hyde Park, a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. For the past 10 years she has noticed a connection between the epidemic of childhood obesity, eating disorders, and the increasing complications of both in her clinical work as well as in her research. Visit her website  www.eatingdisorderpro.com and check out her blog

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  • Bdathomas

    I have switched to mostly clean eating and joined weight watchers and I have lost 160 lbs. I have learned to notice the difference in the way I feel , act, and eat when I eat chemically altered food. Its hard to stop. Thanks for the blog

    • Brian

      Congratulations on your weight loss! I’m assuming you have joined Weight Watchers, but do not eat any of their processed foods? I’m guessing that their foods are just as guilty of additives as any of the other??  Do you just stick to their points system, and eat with a whole foods approach?

  • Bdathomas

    I have switched to mostly clean eating and joined weight watchers and I have lost 160 lbs. I have learned to notice the difference in the way I feel , act, and eat when I eat chemically altered food. Its hard to stop. Thanks for the blog

  • Ana

    Excellent article. I commend you for being one of the few in your field to encourage these kinds of treatments and bring to light the danger that food additives and processed foods represent. 

  • Dave

    As a professional chef who teaches clean eating in Southern California and a frequent contributor to the Fooducate blog I would like to mention that my totally free website has over 600 recipes that would compliment this well written and insightful article.  http://www.newtaste.com

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      It’s time to post a new recipe Dave ;-)

      • Dave

        Hemi,
        Amber chose one of my favorite recipes and I think that it would be a great one to share on your blog. Black bean soup is very popular, easy and fun to make, healthy and delicious!!
        http://www.newtaste.com/spicybbean.html

    • Amber

      Thank you for posting the link, I am going to be making spicy black bean soup for dinner tomorrow!  I have no imagination in the kitchen when on my own and I look forward to using your recipes!

  • Casey

    Lately, I have been thinking about the relationship between increased eating disorders and obesity. My theory is they both are exacerbated by the emphasis in our culture on eating for reward instead of nourishment which is reinforced by marketing messages. Yesterday I saw a McDonald’s billboard for a sugary drink which was advertised as “the road to happiness.” I pointed out to my children how ridiculous this message is and how it causes harm.

  • Marlo

    I would like to know more about this:

    “For the past 40 years, there has been an escalation of substances known for their neuro-toxic, obesogenic, diabetic, carcinogenic and addictive impact added to the American food supply”

  • Jim

    The American Council on Science and health is hardly a credible organization. It seems to be an industry shill and according to Wikipedia.
    “The ACSH is known as an “industry-friendly” group.[23] In 1982, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a watchdog and consumer advocacy group, known to spar with ACSH, published an extensive report on ACSH’s practices that stated, “ACSH appears to be a consumer fraud; as a scientific group, ACSH seems to arrive at conclusions before conducting studies. ”

  • Jim

    The American Council on Science and health is hardly a credible organization. It seems to be an industry shill and according to Wikipedia.
    “The ACSH is known as an “industry-friendly” group.[23] In 1982, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a watchdog and consumer advocacy group, known to spar with ACSH, published an extensive report on ACSH’s practices that stated, “ACSH appears to be a consumer fraud; as a scientific group, ACSH seems to arrive at conclusions before conducting studies. ”

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/X6XV6JZK42NML3LECZAJFPDX3M Jame

    I don’t think GMO’s belong on the list of “problems”

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/X6XV6JZK42NML3LECZAJFPDX3M Jame

    I don’t think GMO’s belong on the list of “problems”

    • Guest

      **  I don’t think GMO’s belong on the list of “problems”  **

      Oh YES they most certainly do!

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/X6XV6JZK42NML3LECZAJFPDX3M Jame

        no they don’t, we’ve using GM techniques since the dawn of time, and have evolved because of them. You don’t believe in evolution? I’m sensing conservative retroactivism emanating fro your direction

        • Christine

          No we haven’t been using GMOs since the ” dawn of time”. Only since the 1990′s.

          • http://profile.yahoo.com/X6XV6JZK42NML3LECZAJFPDX3M Jame

            Humans have altered the genomes of species for thousands of years through artificial selection. Your rant against GMO is a form of technophobia. When technological applications fail, its more constructive to petition to governments than to blame the technological process proper.

  • Brian

    Great article! I think something else that should be said about this it that the government’s insistence on low fat foods has created a market for all kinds of fake foods. People obsess over it, and end up eating frankenfoods thinking they are doing good for themselves, but then don’t lose weight, so they go to other methods like eating disorders. If you would have just eaten the higher fat food from a clean source in the first place, you would have been much better off. I’d love to see the government start talking about this more, and to stop propping up the industries that create these products!

    Essentially what I am trying to say is to stop obsessing over the macronutrients, and start obsessing over food quality. The hardest part to switch the general public over will be to convince them that the convenience foods aren’t really that convenient, and that preparing whole foods really does not involve much effort. You just have to plan a bit differently.

    • http://eczemablues.com/ Mommarcie

      Agree with Brian to eat more whole foods – started reading about this as I’m preparing an Eczema Kids’ Nutrition series that’s just published on my blog eczemablues.com; whole food are always better, as they can reduce the added sugar in more processed food, which is inflammatory.

  • http://hayleeatkinson.blogspot.com/ Haylee

    AMEN.

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  • Anonymous

    While I realize this isn’t the scope of this blog, why not address some of the non -diet contributors to eating disorders and obesity ?  There are many factors that contribute to eating disorders, and surely the unending stream of unrealistic messages  aimed at women to have a perfect body aren’t helpful.

    As far as talking about men, why not talk about sports like wrestling where unhealthy practices are almost encouraged to make weight.  That sets up participants for a lifetime of unhealthy eating patterns.

    To make eating disorders simply about fast or processed food isn’t telling the whole story.

    • Holly May

       The point of this article is to touch on the role that the food supply plays as a contributing factor in eating disorders. Dr. Norton does not deny any of the other many issues that combine into sources of eating disorders, she is merely trying to call attention to one that is not generally talked about or understood.

      It is important for the public to understand just how dangerous it is to have our food supply becoming more and more poisoned everyday. By trying to solve the issue of “dirty” eating, it is possible to make a push towards recovery. Alerting everybody to the importance of real food, it may be possible to help those suffering from eating disorders to view their disorder from a different angle and attack it using a different approach that will hopefully yield more successful results.

      I would recommend that you visit her website to read what she has written about the other contributing factors that you are interested in.

  • Anonymous

    While I realize this isn’t the scope of this blog, why not address some of the non -diet contributors to eating disorders and obesity ?  There are many factors that contribute to eating disorders, and surely the unending stream of unrealistic messages  aimed at women to have a perfect body aren’t helpful.

    As far as talking about men, why not talk about sports like wrestling where unhealthy practices are almost encouraged to make weight.  That sets up participants for a lifetime of unhealthy eating patterns.

    To make eating disorders simply about fast or processed food isn’t telling the whole story.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003239260702 Ruth Stone

    So a book plug, some very sketchy science and some very odd ideas about eating disorders? There is not an assumption amoungst eating disordered individuals that eating “clean” will be a miserable existence. They tend to feel that eating adequately will be impossible. Eating high-quality food is not the problem- eating in a rational manner is. And relapse rates are not different depending on what the person is eating. They depend on support and quality of care. People with EDs often eat incredibly “clean” due to the strenuous food rules they live by.
    Also “Obesity” (with Deathfat Magic Capitalisation) is not a medical condition. It is a bodily state. If it was there would also be another magic condition called “Underweight”.

    But then due to the general ridiculousness of the rest of this article I doubt you are listening.

    • FinallyFree

      Not true that people with EDs often eat incredibly clean; in fact, I would argue that they eat extremely unclean.  As the author defined clean, how do all of the diet drinks, sugar-free foods, endless gum/mints and “light” chips that are crafted made using varieties of toxic sweeteners, artificial flavorings and scary non-food ingredients that most would be hard-pressed to define, qualify as clean? I’ve struggeld with both anorexia and bulimia for years and have had many, many close friends who have struggled with the same and those are the foods we lived on.  Remember, the eating disordered are generally afraid of calories and the low/no calorie food market is basically saturated with the toxic garbage the author discusses. We weren’t afraid of the chemicals we poured into our bodies, just the calories. My body has taken a long, long time to recover from this abuse.

      The only thing that has helped to pull me out of that hell has been eating whole foods aka “clean”.  From personal experience and watching the experience of literally a dozen friends I can see the truth in this article.

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  • http://jeffreylipmando.blog.com/2012/05/07/why-its-so-hard-for-children-to-lose-weight/ childhood obesity,

    You cannot tell your
    child he is overweight or fat, he already knows it. Classmates tell him all the
    time. You cannot restrict his food or tell him to eat less while you or his
    siblings are eating bad food.
     

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  • http://twitter.com/DevRoast Development Roast

    Thanks Dr Norton. I’ve previously speculated on the possible link between advertising cycles and yo-yo eating of entire nations. Namely that from season to season, advertising sends mixed messages with XMas and NY encouragement to gourge to the ‘you must slim down’ messages of detox and summer holidays that follow. (http://inesad.edu.bo/developmentroast/2011/07/stuffing-and-starving-how-cycles-of-advertising-are-contributing-to-the-rise-and-rise-of-eating-disorders/). I wonder if you had any psychological or other studies that you could share that look specifically into this issue.

  • Christine Bravo

    Nice write up. We should all realize that eating disorder is a life threatening disease and shouldn’t take for granted. However, I believe that with a high level of personal commitment, recovery from an eating disorder is attainable.