What is an eating disorder?
Eating disorders are complex mental health disorders that relate to food and eating behaviors. The three main eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. The etiology of eating disorders can be attributed to many biological, psychological, cultural, and social factors. 7 The brain controls eating behaviors but the gut also has an influence over our food choices and behaviors. Therefore there is a strong connection between gut health and eating disorders.
Connection Between Gut Health and Eating Disorders: Gut-Brain Axis
The Gut Microbiome
The gut microbiome includes all of the bacteria, fungi, and viruses that our bodies host. The environment of our gut microbiome allows for a diverse collection of microorganisms to thrive. These microorganisms help regulate our metabolism by breaking down foods that otherwise wouldn’t be digestible. The bacteria we have living in our gastrointestinal tract also interacts with our brains. Our gut microbiome can influence our moods, emotions and behaviors.
Gut health and eating disorders can have a strong connection. New research has linked the status of our gut microbiome with the prevalence of different psychiatric disorders. 8 There is now evidence confirming that changes to our diets can have a large effect on how our brains function. This evidence has made physicians and scientists want to look at diets and the makeup of an individual’s microbiome as the target for neuropsychiatric disorders. 5 These findings highlight the effects that extreme eating behaviors can have on gut functioning.
Those who are experiencing stress, anxiety or disease often experience alterations to their behavior, cognition, and emotion, along with abnormal gut function. These variations often cause increased levels of inflammatory cells in the gut and lead to intestinal dysbiosis. 8
Connection Between Eating Disorders and Gut Health: How can disordered eating affect gut health?
Eating disorders and gut health can have a strong connection and can impact gut dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is defines as an imbalance of gut microbiota that can lead to unhealthy outcomes and inflammation. 7 The presence of dysbiosis and inflammation in the gut is linked to causing different mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. 3 Harmful changes within the gut microbiome can increase risk of disease. This can result from an overgrowth of harmful microorganisms, the loss of beneficial microorganisms, or a decline in microbiome diversity. 7 A less diverse gut microbiome can lead to an increased risk of anxiety, depression and other emotions that contribute to the onset of eating disorders. 7 This shows that gut dysbiosis can influence mental health and eating behaviors.
Gut dysbiosis can occur from being in periods of extreme caloric restriction, an eating behavior commonly seen in individuals with anorexia nervosa. By severely restricting food, gastric emptying is delayed which can result in bloating and early satiety 7. Purging behaviors can also cause dysbiosis by risking damage to the mucosal lining and disturbing normal motility of the gastrointestinal track. 7 By disrupting normal gastrointestinal functioning, the gut microbiome is also affected.
Connection between Benefits of Probiotics
Probiotics are microorganisms found in fermented foods that promote the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut. Probiotics are good for you because they help replenish your body with healthy bacteria that diversifies the microbiota inside the gut. Recent data has shown the benefits of probiotics as a an adjunct treatment for mental and neurological disorders. (MDPI). Research done on rats when administered a bacteria called Bacteroides uniformis showed a cessation in binge eating and a reduction in anxiety like behavior.7
Healing your gut
In individuals recovering from an eating disorder, gastrointestinal difficulties are common. In a study done on women with eating disorders, 98% of women met the criteria to be diagnosed with a gut disorder. If you’ve recovered from an eating disorder and are now looking to heal your gut, download my free Beat the Bloat guide and get in contact. For a nourishing gut friendly recipe, try this smoothie. Let’s work together to restore your gut back to health!
1. Clapp, M., Aurora, N., Herrera, L., Bhatia, M., Wilen, E., & Wakefield, S. (2017, September 15). Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis. Retrieved from National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5641835/
2. Eating Disorder Hope. (2021, June 4). The Role of Gut Health in Eating Disorders. Retrieved from Eating Disorder Hope: https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/blog/the-role-of-gut-health-in-eating-disorders
3. Góralczyk-Bińkowska, A., Szmajda-Krygier, D., & Kozłowska, E. (2022, September 10). The Microbiota–Gut–Brain Axis in Psychiatric Disorders. Retrieved from MDPI: https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/23/19/11245
4. Perez, M. E., Coley, B., Crandall, W., Di, L. C., & Bravender, T. (2013, April 13). Effect of Nutritional Rehabilitation on Gastric Motility and Somatization in Adolescents with Anorexia. Retrieved from National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3923459/
5. Seitz, J., Trinh, S., & Herpertz-Dahlman, B. (2018, December 17). The Microbiome and Eating Disorders. Retrieved from National Library of Medicine : https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30704642/
6. Sharp, A. (2022, March 16). Consequences of eating disorders for your digestion and gut health. Retrieved from Abbeys Kitchen: https://www.abbeyskitchen.com/consequences-of-eating-disorders-for-your-digestion-and-gut-health/
7. Terry, S. M., Barnett, J. A., & Gibson, D. L. (2022, November 3). A critical analysis of eating disorders and the gut microbiome. Retrieved from Journal of Eating Disorders: https://jeatdisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40337-022-00681-z
8. The Emily Program. (2019, May 28). Eating Disorders: The Brain-Gut Connection. Retrieved from The Emily Program: https://www.emilyprogram.com/blog/eating-disorders-the-brain-gut-connection/