Or cry. Or pull out your hair. Or make you want to throw in the towel and never get out of bed again?
My dear friend Dr. Simone Laubscher is a renowned doctor who lives in London. I met her for the first time at the recommendation of a friend who said she had met with someone who was helping to treat eating disorders and cancer through diet and nutrition, which of course, immediately peaked my interest. I walked into my first appointment to find a gorgeous, young blonde with a zeal for life and a laugh to match, making me double-check the name on the door to see if I’d accidently picked the wrong room. Shouldn’t big, important doctors be old men with long faces in boring, white coats?
Simone has proved to be anything but boring in my life.
I called her up to ask for her expertise on the matter of nutrition as it pertains to eating disorders, and between her full-time clinic in London, opening two new clinics in Cairo and Barbados this year, creating and manufacturing a line of unbelievably delicious gluten-free products, being an amazing wife and mother of two babies, she still found time to give me some info, and here’s what I got.
Most bulimics don’t understand that carbohydrates/starches (such as cakes, cookies, breads, etc) begin digesting in the mouth with an enzyme called salivary amylase. Before the food even hits the stomach, it’s already being digested—going straight into the blood stream. With carbohydrates being the go-to binge choice, their extremely high glyceamic index makes a person’s blood sugar surge initially, only to plummet after about thirty minutes, leaving the person feeling completely exhausted. I knew this pattern well—binging heavily on carbs only to crash very shortly thereafter, both physically and emotionally.
The hellish cycle of bulimia is one that never ends. The binger is always chasing and longing for another rush after each binge and purge. The food intake is too much to handle, so the food must be thrown up. Then the binger crashes with their blood sugar. But after the rush from the binge leaves and the body hasn’t received the nutrients it needs to function, another rush is needed. The cycle then continues, round and round, over and over again. You swear this binge and purge will be your last time, but physically and chemically, you’re making it almost impossible to win the battle.
Vitamin and mineral levels become depleted in the body as a result of the poor food choices and the fact that you’re throwing up most of your food. And because the body isn’t receiving the nutrients it needs to function properly, cravings increase. This, compounded with low blood sugar levels, leaves a person fighting uncontrollable cravings.
“You see, your body doesn’t know that there’s a 24/7 supermarket down the road, so it’s going to go into survival mode when it doesn’t get the food it needs,” says Laubscher. “Once that happens, you’re going to have one heck of a fight on your hands.”
Our bodies are extremely smart and geared towards survival—even if our choices are not. Eating disorders, however, go against that survival instinct and are, instead, a slow form of suicide. When our bodies aren’t getting the nutrients and fuel they need to survive, they will scream the message through cravings, crashing blood sugar, headaches, emotional overloads, fatigue, and exhaustion. You basically feel insane and unstable—all the time.
Most bulimics don’t choose proteins as their first choice in a binge. If it was between a packet of turkey and a packet of Twinkies, you better believe I went for the Twinkies. They usually go for the carbs: the box of cookies, the entire dozen donuts, the bag of chips, the pan of brownies, anything in the vending machine. Because proteins aren’t usually ingested in a binge, there isn’t any communication between the stomach and the brain. The body needs carbs and proteins for the brain to register that the stomach is full and it’s time to stop eating. When the body is overloaded with only carbs, then purged in bulimia, the blood sugar rises with the binge then crashes violently, telling the brain that the body is even hungrier than it was before the binge began. The appetite then goes crazy, and believe me—you feel crazy right along with it.
Proteins and good fats are also released into your blood stream more slowly than carbs. When eaten slowly, the brain gets the message loud and clear that the body is full, and you end up putting the fork down, feeling satisfied.
“This is actually key for someone to physically win over bulimia,” says Laubscher. “If you switch to protein at each meal (such as eggs, fish, chicken, seeds, nuts, pulses/beans, etc), choose a good fat (such as olive oil, olives, avocado or a low fat cheese), and you chew each mouthful approximately 20 times, your tummy and brain will start to get the right messages. You will be able to make good choices, and then lose the desire to binge.”
On top of everything else, restricting, binging, and purging can slow down and ruin the body’s metabolism. Your metabolism involves a complex network of hormones and enzymes that not only convert food into fuel, but also affects how efficiently you burn that fuel. Your metabolism is also influenced by your age, your sex, heredity, and proportion of lean body mass. So more muscle means higher metabolism.
Think of your metabolism like a fire.
When you skip meals and stop putting fuel onto the fire, the flame gets low and reduces your body’s ability to burn what needs to be burned. When I thought I was being good by skipping breakfast, (because I had binged the day before and was trying to ‘fix’ my mistake), my body would go into starvation mode and my metabolism would lower. With my metabolism then lower, my body would store my lunchtime meal as fats and not burn the calories asfuel. I had taught my body and my metabolism that food was inconsistent, so when it would actually get food, it would store it on my thighs, butt and tummy because it didn’t know when the next meal was going to come. I had trained it to be that way.
Now let’s talk about what all this up-and-down roller coaster riding does to your brain. As the blood sugar rises and falls with your food intake, your neurotransmitter serotonin gets severely depleted. This isn’t really something you want lacking in your body.
“Serotonin is often called our ‘happy molecule’ and is responsible for making us feel happy and full of joy,” says Dr. Laubscher. “When your ‘happy molecule’ becomes lacking, you obviously become more prone to depression, low self-esteem, self-loathing, which are all classic emotions that come with bulimia and anorexia.”
At the height of my eating disorder, I never made the connection between my depression and the chemical and nutritional make-up of my body. I never bridged the two concepts together or concluded that one might be helping fuel the other—but they were completely, absolutely, positively tied together. That is why Dr. Laubscher sees patients every day who are now able to tackle the emotions of their eating disorder as she helps them regulate their food intake and blood sugar imbalance. Once she’s devised a program based on her 10 point biomarker system used to crack each patients metabolic code, finding stabilization through the nutrients the body needs, it’s much easier for the person to then tackle the emotional roots behind the addiction because the physical body is no longer screaming for the food that it needs. She successfully treats patients all over the world through in-person appointments, Skype (don’t we all love technology?) or over the phone, and has also written books and teaching CDs entitled Free to Live From Depression, Free to Live at the Size You Want, and Free to Live From Cancer. (www.rejuv.co.uk)
Dr. Laubscher (or Simmy) has helped me in so many ways for me to finally find freedom from the cycle of bulimia, anorexia, and overeating, and if you just happen to be in London, I highly suggest popping in for a visit, (or a hug). If not, email her clinic for a Skype consultation or find a nutritionist or therapist in your area.