Quick Help Guides Eating Disorder
Eating Disorder Info
Information adapted from Sick Enough - A Guide to the Medical Complications of Eating Disorders by Jennifer Gaudiani
What Happens to Our Bodies When We Starve Them?
When our brain senses famine - give it lack of availability of food, or intentional efforts to reduce intake, there is a cascade of events that often occurs.
Parts of our brain that control day-to-day functions such as digestion, heart rate, temperature, and reproductive hormones become alerted. Our metabolic rate slows, which is our brain and body's desperate attempts to conserve energy. Our heart rate and digestion slows, our blood pressure drops, blood flow to hands and feet are reduced, which all work to decrease our energy level. It is our body's way of getting us 'hold still' and conserve energy until the famine subsides. All of this has obvious impacts on your ability to think, concentrate, and meet your academic and social obligations as a college student.
But I Don't 'Look Sick'
Every body responds differently to inadequate energy intake. If we take three different people of similar age and body size and reduce their energy intake, all three will have entirely different physiological responses to restriction. One person might have a slowed heart rate, but normal weight, digestion, and energy levels, while another experiences normal heart rate and slowed digestion. Some people might lose weight, and some lose no weight at all. Our genetics determine our bodies response (and resilience) during times of famine - this is why someone who suffers from a severe eating disorder with underlying medical complications may continue to "look normal" despite the dangerous impacts starvation is having internally.
Starvation and the Brain
A malnourished brain is constantly scanning the environment for threats. Restriction will make us more anxious, vigilant, and rigid in our way of thinking and behaving. A starved brain registers threat in the environment in the form of famine, and almost always becomes an anxious, preoccupied, overwhelmed brain. Restriction and starvation almost always results in sleep disturbances. When your brain is on high alert, getting into a space of calm, rest, and relaxation can be nearly impossible at times. Mood dysregulation, depression, despair, hopelessness, becoming socially withdrawn, and obsessive thinking about food are all commonly experienced as a result of restriction.
Risks of Purging
Regardless of weight, purging can make a person dangerously ill. Because physiological changes occur so rapidly, a person can wake up 'healthy' in the morning, and have life threatening complications by the afternoon. This is due to the abrupt changes in electrolyte levels, potassium, and hydration status. The body simply can not adapt quickly enough. Life threatening complications happen swiftly and without warning. Increased complications can come from the patient or their medical team engaging in size bias and not seeing the individual as 'sick enough' as often times someone who suffers from bulimia or excessive purging will also fall into a 'normal' weight range.