Our brain is comprised of millions of cells (neurons) that interact with neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) and hormones to produce thoughts, feelings, emotions, and actions.
To work optimally, both for our mental and physical health, our brain needs to be provided with regular and enough fuel (food). Enough food equating to the amount and the type. The consequence of this organ being deprived of food is that it lacks the vitamins, minerals, and energy to regenerate our cells and produce important hormones. For this post, we will focus on how eating disorder behaviors can interrupt the production of serotonin, a hormone responsible for our functions like our sleep, mood, memory, appetite, temperature regulation (keep us warm, cooling us down), and bowel function.
Without serotonin, these functions are compromised.
Any form of restrictive eating behavior, whether dieting or an eating disorder, reduces the body’s ability to produce tryptophan, an essential amino acid (building block) to make the hormone serotonin. Carbohydrates and protein are fundamental in the body’s ability to produce serotonin. Therefore, if adequate nutrition is compromised, so is our mental health. In short, serotonin is made from the food that we eat2.
In 2009, Kaye, Fudge, and Paulus 1 identified a potential maintaining factor for restrictive eating in someone suffering from Anorexia Nervosa. Due to reduced serotonin production by the body due to severe restriction, the body responds by increasing the number of receptors (responsible for taking in hormones) for serotonin, making the body more capable at absorbing any serotonin produced.
Their findings suggest that increased restriction = decreased serotonin production= increased receptors. The authors hypothesized that this leads to dysregulation of the serotonin system whereby starvation improves mood briefly and pressure to eat lowers mood.
What can complicate recovery, is that re-feeding causes an influx of serotonin, as the body now has the nutrients to produce the hormone. As more serotonin is produced and the body is more sensitive, individuals experience intensified anxiety, making behavior change uncomfortable.
Myrtle Oak delivers a service of both Dietitians and Psychologists who work together to support you in addressing both the food and psychological symptoms. We understand the fear and discomfort associated with challenging your eating disorder. Your ED team will help you become more aware of how the eating disorder keeps itself going and how to tackle the behaviors step by step. We offer both Dietitians and Psychology services. Contact us at (02) 4362 3443 to speak to our client care coordinators about how we can support you on your journey.