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Uncovering the benefits of functional medicine for treating eating disorders

Updated: Mar 19

There is no single reason why someone may develop an eating disorder. Eating disorders are complex and multi-factorial, but functional medicine can play a positive role in understanding those factors, and helping eating disorder recovery.

Uncovering the benefits of functional medicine for treating eating disorders

The term 'eating disorders' in this post is referring to all eating eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, ARFID, orthorexia, OSFED, PICA and Rumination Disorder.

Why do people develop an eating disorder?

No-one actually knows why someone develops an eating disorder. It is a complex, multi-factorial illness that doesn't discriminate on gender, race or age.

An eating disorder can also be present in someone who is of a healthy weight for their own shape, height and individual genetics - there are often too many stereotypes about who has an eating disorder based on appearance.

An eating disorder can also change over time. It can start with restriction and lead into binge eating or orthorexia. For others, it can carry several features of different eating disorders all at once.

Factors that can influence someone's susceptibility to developing an eating disorder include:

  • Genetics

  • ACE's (Adverse Childhood Events or Experiences) - e.g. abuse, neglect, household dysfunction such as violence or addiction, parent or carer death, bullying, etc

  • Biological elements including the onset of puberty and gut microbiome status

  • Neurodiversity traits and how this may affect food perception and appetite

  • Type 1 Diabetes

  • Sports or certain activities - some activities such as gymnastics, ballet or modelling can often put a lot of emphasis on an individual to be certain weight or size

  • A parent obsessing about their weight, size or food

  • Nutrient deficiencies

  • Neurotransmitter imbalances

  • Infection or mould (this specifically relates to PANS/PANDAS which is not an eating disorder but can be a factor behind someone developing anorexia)

Here at Urban Wellness, we have been working with eating disorders for many years and whilst two clients may present with the same diagnosis (e.g. anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa) , how that eating disorder started, and how it presents day-to-day, is very individual.

This is where functional medicine can really come into play.

Please note, functional medicine should be used as a tool to support an individual with their eating disorder, alongside the appropriate nutrition and therapeutic support. Using functional medicine alone is not enough to address an eating disorder. A multi-disciplinary approach is essential and ensuring that the individual is medically safe an absolute priority.

How can functional medicine help someone with an eating disorder?

Functional medicine is about treating the individual. It is about assessing their own unique health journey and all the factors that have influenced it - physical, physiological and psychological. It is about working to understand the root cause or drivers that may have contributed to the eating disorder, or may be increasing the severity of it, and then the modifiable diet and lifestyle factors we can change to improve health.

In eating disorders this may include:

  • Supporting any nutritional deficiencies

  • Addressing stress and improving sleep

  • Identifying any hormone imbalances

  • Supporting neurotransmitter balance

  • Improving digestion and bowel movements

  • Ruling out any underlying infections, parasites, mould or viral loads

  • Understanding if there are any food allergies or intolerances

  • Balancing blood sugars

Gratitude Journal

Here at Urban Wellness, we have a team of experienced eating disorder nutritionists that will also help clients with other challenges of an eating disorder:

  • Helping to overcome fear around certain foods

  • Nutrition education (or re-education) about what health eating and balance really means

  • Helping create beneficial lifestyle practices to reduce and minimise stress, anxiety and overwhelm

  • Meal planning / adequate daily food intake requirements in anorexia nervosa or low BMI clients

  • Strategies to create a more varied diet, especially for neurodiverse client where taste/texture and smell can play a key role in food choices

We also work alongside many GPs, private doctors, therapists, education coaches and the NHS to support individuals.

Eating disorders & other on-going health issues

A lot of our clients also have (or had) an eating disorder but they are also experiencing other on-going health concerns such as chronic gut problems like gastroparesis or IBS, chronic fatigue syndrome, MCAS (Mast Cell Activation Syndrome) or EDS (Ehlers-Danlos Synrdome), and more.

The challenge can then be finding someone to support them without exacerbating the eating disorder, or re-triggering it. It is not suitable for someone with an eating disorder, or eating disorder history, to "just go on the Low FODMAP" diet or try an elimination diet or gut repair programme to relieve their symptoms. This can often create more fear, more restriction or trigger a previous eating disorder or behaviours.

The functional medicine approach is absolutely key in these cases, personalising the approach to the individual to allow them to find relief from their on-going symptoms whilst also supporting eating disorder recovery. This can take time, but it is possible.

We also offer functional testing which can be really useful for an individual to get a better understanding of exactly what may be going, including:

  • Comprehensive stool and SIBO testing (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth)

  • Nutritional Assessments like Metabolomix+ to better understand a patients' nutrient status

  • Genetic testing: MTHFR and methylation, nervous system and metabolic

  • Food allergies and intolerances

If you would like to find out more about how we can help, please book a free 30-minute call with one of the team to discuss further.

For further information or support on eating disorders, these links may be useful:





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