Eating Disorders

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How Can Brain-based Therapies Help Eating Disorders?

At the core of help for eating disorders is improving an irregular brain performance pattern. You can read about the types below.these patterns create an unhealthy relationship with food. If you have a loved one that is suffering from an eating disorder, you already know how unhealthy the relationship is, but it has little to do with food.

Let me share an example of a young lady that we have helped at Leigh Brain & Spine. When Jamie came to us she had already worked with a psychologist and a nutritionist, to little avail. Both of these service providers are incredibly important, but there was a missing link. The missing piece was shifting the brain ‘s operating mode at the neurological level so that Jamie could use the techniques and strategies that her therapist were giving to her. Jamie started Neurofeedback therapy with the team at Leigh Brain & Spine and things began to change for her. Slowly she began to eat more and more often. The doctors at Leigh Brain & Spine could see her brain performance pattern improving on their computer-generated charts from Jamie’s Neurofeedback sessions. Over time, Jamie’s brain was in a better mode and her life was too.

If you need help for eating disorders, the doctors at Leigh Brain & Spine can perform the proper testing needed in order to create a treatment plan for a more comfortable and better way of life.

What does Help for Eating Disorders look like?

Eating disorders are a group of conditions marked by an unhealthy relationship with food that come from differences in the brain’s reaction to food and eating. For example, brain patterns exist that make it difficult for a person to feel calm and regulated, in control of themselves. These patterns have an underlying neurological basis that leads a person to compulsive behaviors. A compulsion creates a strong desire or need. Unfortunately, the desire in eating disorders, is to eat, not to eat, or a combination of the two. Hence, the person feels like the need to eat or avoid eating to feel in control. Eating disorders are not really about food. It’s an unhealthy way to try to cope with emotional problems.

Eating disorders develop during the teenage and young adult years. Also, they affect young women more than any other population. They can coexist with other psychological and medical issues. What this means is, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, emotional regulation issues, and substance abuse often go along with eating challenges. Diagnosis is usually difficult because most times the person keeps their behaviors hidden from others. These disorders are serious, causing life-threatening health issues and can be fatal if left untreated.

Help for eating disorders addresses the underlying functioing of the brain to help it shift into a better mode of performance. When your brain works better, so does your mind and body. It seems complicated, but really it is that simple.

Frequently Ask Questions About Eating Disorder

Can Eating Disorders Be Cured?

Eating Disorders are known to be caused and made worse by three factors:  (1) Stress, which is correlated with another, separate, brain pattern, (2) ADHD, still another brain pattern, and (3) the brain pattern associated with a specific eating disorder such as Anorexia or Binge Eating. When these three factors are addressed in concert, symptoms can reduce and be resolved much more quickly. At Leigh Brain & Spine, the doctors identify the disruptive neurological patterns using qEEG Brain Mapping and then regulate those patterns toward optimal functioning using Neurofeedback Therapy.

What Causes Eating Disorders?

Stress and trauma have been shown to be a major contributing factor to eating disorders and can make eating disorders worse. Essentially, there is another, separate, brain pattern that causes and perpetuates stress. It can make eating disorders more serious when the person’s brain is also using this pattern.

Stress can set the neurological processes that trigger a compulsive behavior into motion. When this happens, feelings of loss of control can exist for the person. Eating, or not eating, can help that person calm their nervous system for a while.
New studies have found that altered brain patterns, within the reward system of the brain, happen for those who suffer from Anorexia. When most people sit down to eat, the reward centers provide the sense of happiness associated with eating. In people who struggle with Anorexia, the reward center is not activated properly. Instead, it sends signals of anxiety in place of those of reward. Therefore, not only does stress trigger eating disorders in many cases it is an underlying component. The cascading effect, that can be lethal, can be seen in Nature magazine’s illustration.

Are Eating Disorders Hereditary?

Although eating disorders are not necessarily hereditary, they can run in families. What this means is that the way your brain performs is similar to your parents’ brains. For example, ADHD and anxiety run in families and are shown to be involved in eating disorders. However, how you use your brain has been shown to be a powerful factor too.

Studies show that people with ADHD are 3.8 times more likely to suffer from an eating disorder than those without ADHD. A review of many studies relating to ADHD and Eating Disorders presented by James Greenblatt, M.D. showed an incredibly strong relationship between ADHD and eating disorders. In fact, the relationship goes both ways since people with eating disorders are 2.8 times more likely to have ADHD. The main findings from this research include:

  • Impulsivity strong predictor of eating disorder behavior, especially for binge eating and bulimia
  • Children with ADHD are at risk for disordered eating
  • Dysphagia
  • ADHD is a risk factor for obesity
    • Over 50% of youth treated for obesity have ADHD
    • 24.7% of people being treated for obesity had ADHD
    • 46.2% of people with extreme obesity had ADHD

ADHD and eating disorders are clearly linked and can negatively affect each other and seriously impact a young person’s ability to function in the world.

What is the most effective treatment for an Eating Disorder?

Due to its effectiveness in helping people with this difficult and dangerous, albeit sometimes fatal, disorder many top eating disorders clinics now use Neurofeedback Therapy as their first line of defense. Neurofeedback Therapy provides neurological regulation to a disrupted brain pattern that is at the heart of eating disorders. Essentially, Neurofeedback re-wires an improperly wired brain for better neural performance. Scientific studies prove that Neurofeedback regulates the underlying brain patterns associated with Binge Eating Disorder, Anorexia, and co-occurring ADHD and Stress with great success rates. With better brain function comes alleviation of symptoms.

Why are Eating Disorders Hard to Treat?

Eating disorders, such as Binge Eating and Anorexia Nervosa, have been shown by Science to be associated with underlying neurological brain patterns that are different from those people who do not have an eating disorder. What this means is that when a person suffers from an eating disorder, it is the way the person’s brain is functioning that is making it happen or making it worse. Most times the neurological pattern is not addressed through treatment of eating disorders, only the person’s behaviors are treated.

Also, eating disorders have been shown to occur more in people who have ADHD. An ADHD brain pattern is easily identifiable and can be optimized with very high success rates using neuroscience and technology. In this way, alleviation of ADHD and eating disorders can occur simultaneously. Stress responses have been found to be at the heart of eating disorders too. These patterns can also be visualized and regulated.

Once the brain patterns that are at the core of the issues are identified on qEEG Brain Mapping then brain functioning can be improved neurologically to a symptom-free optimal brain pattern using Neurofeedback Therapy’s advanced technologies.

What Do I Do If I Think I Have an Eating Disorder?

First visit your primary care physician. He or she will investigate the status of your eating issues will make sure you are not suffering from a more serious health condition that might be impacting your ability to eat. If you would like to have your brain functioning evaluated for the brain patterns that are associated with eating disorders, call the professionals at Leigh Brain & Spine. The doctors can perform a comprehensive neurological assessment to determine if you are a strong candidate for brain-based therapies to alleviate your eating disorder challenges.


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About Dr. Trish Leigh


Dr. Leigh,  is considered a thought leader in educating people on how their brain’s work, and how they can utilize brain-based therapies, as well as do-it-yourself strategies, to make their brain work better. When your brain works better, so does your body, by improving physical and thought processes to perform better.