Overcoming Eating Disorders

  • 2 Aug 2010
  • Reading time 11 mins
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Anorexia and bulimia aren’t simply in the mind. Nutrition plays a bit part of disperceptions in eating disorders.

Anorexia – essentially, self-starvation – was first identified by Dr William Gull in 1874. This is his treatment: ‘The patient should be fed at regular intervals, and surrounded by persons who could have moral control over them, relations and friends being generally the worst attendants.’ Today, treatment is often essentially the same, summed up as ‘drug them, feed them and let them get on with their lives’ in an article in the Guardian describing treatment in ‘leading hospitals’. The ‘modern’ approach includes ‘behaviour therapy’, that is, rewards and privileges, and drugs to induce compliance. The drugs include psychotropic drugs such as chlorpromazine, sedatives and antidepressants. The diet is high carbohydrate, sometimes as much as 5,000kcals, with little regard to quality.

Bulimia is binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting or laxative use, and is probably a more common condition nowadays – although it may also be the easiest to hide, as bulimics may approach or exceed normal weight. Some anorexics are also bulimic. Some bulimics are not anorexic. It is still a food/weight compulsive/obsessive disorder, characterised by:
• Recurrent episodes of binge eating (rapid consumption of large amounts of food in a discrete period of time)
• A feeling of lack of control over eating behaviour during the binges
• The person regularly engages in self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, diuretics, strict dieting, fasting, or exercise in order to prevent weight gain.
• A minimum average of two binge eating sessions a week.
• Persistent over-concern with body shape and weight.

The Zinc Link
The idea that nutrition, or malnutrition, could play a part in the development and treatment of this condition did not really emerge until the 1980s, when scientists began to realise just how similar the symptoms and risk factors of anorexia and zinc deficiency were (see table below). As early as 1973 two zinc researchers, K. Hambidge and A. Silverman, concluded that ‘whenever there is appetite loss in children zinc deficiency should be suspected’ [1]. In 1979, Rita Bakan, a Canadian health researcher, noticed that the symptoms of anorexia and zinc deficiency were similar in a number of respects and proposed that clinical trials be undertaken to test its effectiveness in treatment [2]. Meanwhile, David Horrobin, most renowned for his research into evening primrose ......

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