Eating Disorder Recovery · Uncategorized

Eating Disorders and the Brain

Things are beginning to look up again for me. Living doesn’t paralyse quite so much or make me want to claw my way out of my body. The tears are lessening and the words are coming back. It feels that the heartbreak that has clouded my last few weeks is healing. I don’t know the reason for why this has started to be the case, just as I don’t know why it even started in the first place. The only thing I am sure of is how grateful I am for it and I am going to keep being that way rather than worrying for the next round of low mood. My anxiety is still pretty high but I know that that is something that I am just going to have to keep working on…keep challenging the false beliefs that my mind creates in the hope that I can keep disproving them.

For the last couple of days I have been trying harder to understand my Eating Disorder and why it exists in the first place. Why is it that I think the way that I do and what caused that abnormality in my brain. It helped that yesterday Dr J ran his Health and Wellbeing group and the topic for it was Eating Disorders and the Brain. It helped being able to look at something that is so personal but in a scientific and objective way. I think the main thing that I took away from it is that my Anorexia is not just something intrinsically wrong with me but in fact there are physiological reasoning for it and the symptoms that I experience are also seen in a lot of people struggling. Take for example why even when I can logically and rationally talk myself into believing that food is just food and nothing terrible is going to happen, when it comes down to actually eating it, it is much harder to kick that thought process into gear because the Amygdala overrides the other parts of the brain and is flooded by fear. That was one of the crucial things that he highlighted yesterday…Eating Disorders are essentially a disorder of fear. We are scared to eat, to gain weight, to feel, to move forward or to live a life of the unknown when you have known nothing else other than the disorder. I could also see why Eating Disorders are so deadly. Whenever I thought about the complications that could arise from the disorder, I thought of the fact that it could damage my fertility or weaken both my lungs and heart. I thought about how it could make my bloods out of whack and lead to a variety of deficiencies and imbalances. I occasionally considered what I was doing to my bones and the test results from my bone density scan which showed that I have osteopenia in my Spine. Hardly ever did I consider the impact that starvation had on my brain. Yes, there was the flags that showed it wasn’t quite up to speed; the memory loss, confusion, lack of concentration but that was it really. I didn’t think about how in starvation you slow down the information that is passed through your brain stem, making things like regulating your temperature, breathing or the running of your other vital organs harder for your body to do. I also didn’t realise that our bodies require 25% of the glucose we consume in order for our brain to function. In an image of an MRI scan, he showed us how much difference nutrition has on the brain. In an image before treatment (the one on the right) you can see how the brain has shrunk and the deep crevices in the lobes appear. This affects all aspects of our thinking, our movement, senses, logic and basic cognitive functions.

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In the second image you can see how the brain has changed back to its regular size and weight. The surface smoother without the crevices in between. Now it would be easy to think that that is someone else and my brain would not look like that because you can’t actually see the physical damage unless you had an MRI but that’s not the case. Think of all that the ways the eating disorder has influenced you from your thinking, personality, mood, anxiety levels, obsessiveness and emotional regulation and then tell me that the Eating Disorder is not destroying your brain. The thing is though it is fixable. That second image is of the same person 9 months after re-feeding and weight restoration. The only difficulty is that to get to that point you have to go through recovery and we all know that recovery itself is brutal. The emotional and psychological turmoil can often lead us to abandoning ship altogether and going back because it hurts less or it makes more sense. Even after weight restoration it remains a struggle because the bit that controls our awareness of our bodies, thoughts and our perceptions of the outside world still remain abnormal after re-feeding. The Insula – where all this happens – only begins to improve after being weight restoration and maintaining that for some time. That’s a hard one to bear, isn’t it? The only thing I can say to that and the only thing Dr J could say that to offer some reassurance is that if you preserver, if you keep arguing against all those negative things you think about yourself there will come a time when it gets better. We were built to survive and our bodies will forgive us…but only up to a point.

I hope your day is kind to you.

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