During my recovery from a ten year period of binging and starving, I learned that there were certain foods for eating disorder recovery that could help balance my brain chemistry. The simple fact is that the mind of a disordered eater is imbalanced. It doesn’t mean people who have an eating disorder are crazy or weird. It is no different than someone being prone to another type of harmful self-behavior. An imbalance in the brain can be mostly corrected through therapy and eating foods that help fuel balance in the body. What are these foods for eating disorder recovery and how do they work? Read on to find the answers and my experience with each of them.
I know people get tired of hearing that they need to eat protein, but protein is one of the best foods for eating disorder recovery. Why so? Protein is made up of essential amino acids. These amino acids help to fuel neurons in the brain that aid in focus, serotonin production, clarity and they optimize blood sugar. Optimizing blood sugar is important for those with an eating disorder, because so often, blood sugar levels go astray due to periods of under-eating and overeating. Protein stabilizes insulin, increases a positive mood, and stabilizes hormones and blood sugar levels. This creates an entire array of balance that prevents disordered eating, and over time, even helps with thoughts towards disordered eating. Quality sources include lean, organic animal sources like plain yogurt, wild fresh fish, turkey, chicken and eggs. Complete plant sources include hemp protein, hemp seeds, edamame, sprouted brown rice protein, and chia seeds. Aim to eat some with each meal and snack.
2. Leafy Greens
I used to hate leafy greens and, in fact, I despised them. Once I started eating them, however, I noticed how balanced I felt and how nourished my body felt. It didn’t crave sugar or junk anymore like it once did and I actually enjoyed eating leafy greens, something I thought I’d never say. Leafy greens are powerful sources of anxiety-quelling magnesium, iron, B vitamins, Vitamins A and C, and fiber. They help to increase satiety and the happy hormone, serotonin, in the body. Leafy greens like spinach, kale and collards, and green veggies like celery, asparagus, broccoli, cucumbers and zucchini are some of the healthiest green foods you can eat. Try making them in a variety of ways until you find ones that you like and eat them spread throughout your day.
3. Plain Yogurt
I realize yogurt was mentioned in the protein category, but it really deserves a spot on its own here. Yogurt is rich in certain nutrients that calm anxiety, optimize blood sugar, and help increase serotonin by increasing tryptophan in the body. Tryptophan is an amino acid (a building block of protein) that sends signals of calm and relaxation to the brain, which fuels serotonin production. Tryptophan is also found in turkey, hemp, eggs and chicken in fair amounts. Yogurt is also rich in calcium and magnesium. When combined, these two minerals combat anxiety, lower blood pressure and send anxiety away. The probiotics in yogurt also help increase serotonin in the gut, where it is manufactured to reach the brain. Taking care of your stomach is key to fueling serotonin production. The probiotics in yogurt help to do that. Choose organic and unsweetened as much as possible, or at least choose hormone-free brands to avoid excess hormones in other varieties, which can offset your estrogen levels.
4. Root Veggies
I once used to fear all carbs until I learned what certain root veggies like carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, beets, and acorn squash could do for me. These root veggies are powerful sources of magnesium, B vitamins, Vitamin C, potassium, fiber and natural carbs that actually lower your glycemic index and prevent sugar cravings. They also help to ease tension, PMS symptoms and their water and fiber content prevent irregularity, which is common in girls with eating disorders. Have these root veggies once or twice a day, or at least five times a week. They are delicious roasted in the oven with a little seasoning!
Coconut is such a great food and let me tell you why. The fats in coconut are some of the healthiest, most powerful brain fats you could be eating. They are used for immediate energy to the body and optimize serotonin production in the body. Coconut is also rich in lauric acid and natural antibacterial agents that prevent bad bacteria in the body. An abundance of bad bacteria in the body can lead to sugar cravings, which can spur disordered eating. Besides that, coconut is rich in fiber and essential beauty nutrients. I love coconut flour, shredded unsweetened coconut and small amounts of coconut oil that I use throughout the day. Don’t worry if you’re sensitive to nuts; coconut is technically a fruit and not considered a nut at all.
Another wonderful source of healthy fats, avocados are rich in nutrients that help balance brain chemistry that can lead to disordered eating. Two most valuable nutrients in avocados are folate (Vitamin B9), and Vitamin B6. These two B vitamins send a sense of calm throughout the body and ease tension. They also decrease PMS symptoms like a bad mood, anxiety, headaches and tension. These essential vitamins are also found in asparagus. Avocados' healthy fats are monounsaturated fats which nourish the brain and enhance serotonin production in the body, along with increasing heart health. Eat ¼ cup a day or more to get the benefits.
7. Chia and Hemp Seeds
Along with being a protein source listed above, chia and hemp seeds deserve their own spot in this list of foods for eating disorder recovery. Both seeds are two of the most comprehensive sources of a variety of nutrients, including magnesium, iron, B vitamins, plant protein, Vitamin E and fiber. They help to increase satiety in the brain and fuel serotonin production because they also contain Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids have been strongly linked to preventing anxiety, depression and other mood disorders.
Fish is a powerful source of protein, magnesium, potassium and Omega 3 fatty acids. These nutrients help to stabilize blood sugar levels, calm anxiety and increase satiety. They also help prevent PMS symptoms. By preventing depression-like symptoms, these nutrients also help to prevent the likelihood of indulging in eating disorder behaviors. Eating disorder behaviors can occur with habit, but often times they occur from stress, tension or a low mood. By balancing the brain chemistry that leads to this scenario, you can prevent the problem from occurring. Fish, along with chia seeds, is a great place to start.
Spirulina is a sea algae that is the most concentrated source of protein, chlorophyll and Vitamin B12, along with iron, of any other food. Spirulina is a powerful food that most everyone would benefit from, but especially those with tendencies towards disordered eating. Spirulina’s nutrients help to increase focus, clarity and calmness in the body. These nutrients also help to ward off sugar cravings and enhance satiety in the body. A little goes along way, so I like to implement 1 tsp. per day in a smoothie so I can’t taste it, but many people who like the taste sprinkle it on all kinds of things like salads and more.
Once you have balanced your hormones and brain chemistry, recovery is so much easier on the road to a lifetime free of disordered eating. Eating foods rich in nutrients like these foods listed are a great place to start in balancing your brain chemistry and your hormones. Most importantly, eat regular meals full of healthy foods and seek therapy if you need to as well. Do you know someone who has recovered from an eating disorder?