Eating Disorders and Homeopathic Treatment
by Francine Kanter, CCH, RsHom, Board Certified Homeopath
Dying to be thin has become not just a figure of speech but a literal phenomenon in our culture. As an active individual in our society, I am aware of many young women who struggle every day with the obsessive-compulsive tendencies of eating disorders through starvation (anorexia nervosa) or binge-eating and then vomiting (bulimia).
Statistics reveal a startling picture of eating disorders in the U.S.: Anorexia and bulimia affect nearly 10 million women and 1 million men (primarily teens and young adults). Eating disorders are the most lethal of all the mental disorders, killing 6 to 13 percent of victims, 87 percent under the age of 20.
Eating disorders can lead to long-term health complications, including congestive heart failure, growth retardation, dental problems, constipation, stomach rupture, swelling of the salivary glands, anemia, loss of kidney function, and osteoporosis.
Between 13 and 20 percent of college students report engaging in the binge/purge cycle of bulimia. Seventy to 80 percent of fourth graders report that they are dieting. In a recent study, young girls were quoted as saying that they would prefer to have cancer, lose both parents, or live through a nuclear holocaust than be fat.
In the 1970s and 80s, anorexia nervosa was regarded as an upper and middle class problem. More recent studies indicate that it is increasingly common among all races and social classes. An eating disorder reflects an extreme obsession with body image and food. This compulsion can be so severe that it becomes the focus of the person’s entire existence and cripples their day-to-day functioning. Everything they think about or plan, socially and personally, relates to eating, bingeing, or purging. Then they struggle with the emotional and physical repercussions that follow.
Where does it begin? Opinions about the root cause of eating disorders vary, but most researchers agree that familial, societal, interpersonal, psychological, and biochemical factors play a role in this complex problem. Often, there is a family history of eating disorder or severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. Sometimes there is a history of having been teased or ridiculed about size or weight.
In some cases, a form of starvation can begin as early as birth; that is, when caregivers do not comfort and nurture a baby, the child may grow up not knowing how to self-soothe in a healthy way. Instead, the child seeks abnormal amounts of external comfort or relief. Caregivers who do not accurately listen to, acknowledge, and validate their charges make it difficult for children to learn how to value themselves. If a child’s previous attempts to receive love and attention have brought disappointment, frustration, or even abuse, the result may be a distorted, negative self-image. A young child or adult may turn to eating disorders as a substitute. They deal with indigestible facts and feelings by eating or not eating, soothing their hurt through food. Their self-esteem is based on how well they control their food intake. If they fail to control their eating habits, starvation or purging may follow. This vicious cycle then repeats itself again and again. Never too thin!
Societal influences and the media play a huge role in influencing the manifestation of eating disorders. In a study of female Stanford University students, 68 percent felt worse about their appearance after looking through women’s magazines. In addition, pro-anorexic web sites on the internet motivate and instruct viewers how to become the best anorexic they can be.
Alternative ways to treat eating disorders. Adequate nutrition, reducing excessive exercise, and stopping purging behaviors are the foundation of treatment. But in order to achieve that, the patient will need enormous mental and emotional support from their family and/or a support group. Psycho-therapy is also extremely helpful in some cases. Family support is crucial in playing a role in the healing. The family needs to understand the patient and avoid any criticism.
Some gentle physical activity such as yoga is good for the body and the mind. As nutritional support there are various herbal remedies that are helpful during the healing.
Homeopathy’s role. As Homeopaths, we treat the whole person and not just the symptoms of the eating disorder, so it is important that we conduct a comprehensive intake interview in order to get the complete symptom picture before prescribing a remedy. Due to the secretive nature of this disease, the patient may not share that the eating disorder is their main complaint. They may only disclose this after rapport has developed between the Homeopath and the patient. Once a patient takes a well chosen homeopathic remedy, it is more likely that they will open up about their hidden thoughts and behaviors during subsequent follow-up visits.
In my experience, successful treatment of people with eating disorders takes much time and persistence on the part of both the patient and the Homeopath; two to four years of consistent case management is common. Although patients should see some response fairly early in treatment, they will experience ups and downs. A relapse of starving, bingeing, or purging does not mean that the patient has reverted to square one. When setbacks occur, the patient is advised that as with any addiction, old behaviors can recur until the body reaches equilibrium and can withstand the compulsive urges. As their vital force becomes stronger, relapses will occur less often.
Low self-esteem, insecurity, and a need to be accepted and loved typically lie at the core of these cases. These patients need a lot of reassurance and support, especially when they begin to gain weight, which can be very frightening to them. Therapy and support group are also recommended during Homeopathic treatment. A well-chosen homeopathic remedy can work wonders to balance their entire system. With the body in a state of equilibrium, the compulsions of starving and bingeing and the delusions of distorted self-image begin to lessen.
Francine Kanter, CCH, RsHom, is a Board Certified Homeopath, practicing for over 18 years, with an office in Coral Springs. Contact her at 754-484-7988, 808-652-2001, [email protected], or visit FKanterHomeopath.com. See ad page 56.