In her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride offers an unconventional perspective on the origin of an eating disorder.
Dr. Campbell-McBride’s explanation was the first that made sense to me as I struggled to help my daughter Shannon, who I knew was doing everything she could to restore her health. (Read Shannon’s story here.)
Nutritional deficiencies play a large role according to Campbell-McBride, which leads to a disruption in the immune system. The following is excerpted from Chapter 6: Eating Disorders
“The result is constant infections. As infections are treated with antibiotics, the damage to gut flora follows, which impairs immune function even further. The vicious cycle of infections and antibiotics brings more infections and more antibiotics; the result – more damage to the immune system and to the gut flora.
GAP Syndrome develops where the abnormal gut flora starts producing toxins, which flow through the damaged gut wall into the blood and get distributed around the body. As these toxins get into the brain, they cause problems with mood, behaviour, learning, concentration, memory and sensory perception. It is the sensory perceptioin, namely self-perception, that goes badly wrong in these children who then go on to develop an eating disorder. When an anorexic girl looks in the mirror, she does not see how painfully thin she looks; all she sees is fat and obesity. She is not pretending and she is not “deceiving herself”. The reason for that is her altered sense of perception, caused by toxicity in the brain.
In this book we have discussed the altered sensory perception in autism and other learning disabilities; the same thing happens in these children. Just as in babies with failure to thrive, the brain of the child learns on some level that food makes it ill, so the appetite gets suppressed and the whole attitude to food changes. Toxicity coming from the gut blocks various centers in the brain, so they are unable to handle appropriately the sensory information coming from the eyes, ears, taste buds, tactile nerve endings and other sensory organs. This information gets distored and misinterpreted by the brain. And not only self-perception suffers in children with eating disorders, but other forms of perception as well: perception of taste and texture of food, sense of smell, tactile perception, sense of danger, reading of social situations, perception of human relationships,and emotions, perception of right and wrong, perception of important and trivial, etc., etc.
Gut degeneration. Abnormal gut flora damage the gut wall, making it porous and “leaky” and unable to fulfill its functions. Gut lining is the site of active cell regeneration: the cells there are constantly shed off and replaced by newly born young cells. In order to produce new cells the body needs healthy gut flora, nutrients and hormones, none of which are available in these patients. So, the gut lining degenerates and is unable to handle food properly. At the same time the gut cannot produce digestive juices and enzymes essential for food digestion and absorption. As a result the person cannot digest and absorb the food properly, which leads to more nutritional deficiencies. Children and adults with eating disorders suffer from digestive problems, which get worse when they are coaxed to eat (pain, bloating, indigestion, constipation, diarrhea, flatulence, etc.) as their gut is in no fit state to handle food. The typical carbohydrate-based diet given to these patients harms the gut even further: the food does not get digested properly, instead it feeds the pathogenic microbes in the gut allowing them to produce more toxins. Instead of being a source of nourishment the digestive system in these children becomes a major source of toxicity in the body.”
Dr. Campbell-McBride goes on to talk about hormonal exhaustion which results from the nutritional deficiencies.
“As hormones rule our metabolism, growth, repair and a myriad of other functions in the body, the child stops growing, menstruation become irregular or stops altogether, sexual development arrests, teh child develops poor muscle tone, osteoporosis, fatigue, emotional and behavioural problems, inability to concentrate or learn, sleep problems, skin problems etc., etc. As mainstream medicine gives no thought to what particular food these children should eat, in eating disorder clinics these children are largely given carbohydrates. As the child is low in hormones, the body cannot use the calories from these carbohydrates, so they get stored as body fat. That is why these children put weight on very quickly as soon as they start eating, which leads to a relapse of the eating disorder as these girls and boys are frightened of putting weight on. So, the idea of mainstream medicine to “get them to eat anything” is not only wrong, but damaging in the long run.
GAPS always comes with a craving for carbohydrates, as these patients have swinging blood sugar levels. The patients with eating disorders, even severely anorexic patients, binge on processed carbohydrates: sweets, chocolates, cakes, soft drinks, etc. When the blood sugar level drops they have an irresistible urge to bring it up again. The processed carbohydrates and sugar feed abnormal gut flora and perpetuate the whole problem further or make it worse in the long run. The only way to take cravings under control is through an appropriate diet! And that, in my opinion, is the only way to deal with an eating disorder, be it anorexia, bulimia, compulsive binge eating or any other form.”
Interested in learning more about Dr. Campbell-McBride’s approach? Check out the GAPS diet website as well as her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome.
I would like to buy this book, kindle edition, but cannot find it anywhere
Andrea Fabry says
It’s available on the GAPS diet site for 28 dollars.
I can’t find it on kindle either!
Diane Engelstad says
I am in the midst of this painful struggle with my daughter, who just turned 18, and has anorexia for two years now. She spent 7 months in an intensive day program, and everything you and Dr Campbell-McBride say about how it doesn’t work is true for us. I was nervous about “[Everything called] Food is Nourishment”, but at the time it was our best hope, given her extremely low weight and deterioration. My daughter quickly lost 20+ pounds in the six months since she left the program.
Do you know of any programs that use the GAPS diet for recovery? Getting my vegetarian daughter (whose mind has no resilience or capacity for any amount of information like this) to embrace a challenging diet seems impossible to me, but I believe it’s the only way forward. Any suggestions are helpful!
Andrea Fabry says
I am not aware of any programs, but if I learn of any I will let you know. It’s so tough as the mom, Diane. Clearly, you are doing everything you can and I applaud your tenacity. I feel for your daughter too.