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 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.