Eating Disorders and Hormones
Hormones have many effects on women's health and body. The female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone, are known for their influence on a woman’s reproductive health. This can range from menstruation to pregnancy to menopause and more. But your body also makes and uses many other kinds of hormones that affect other aspects of your health. This is shown in the form of your energy level, weight, mood and much more. Hormonal changes are often a result of malnutrition.
At a young age when my hormones were in full teenage swing, I was struggling with anorexia. Anorexia nervosa is a condition in which a person loses an unhealthy amount of weight on purpose through dieting, sometimes along with excessive exercise, bingeing, and/or purging, and sometimes dangerous usage of laxatives or diet pills. People who struggle with anorexia have fear of gaining weight and a disturbed body image of themselves. I can remember when I was 16 and never wanted to look in the mirror because I was scared of what was looking back at me. I never saw myself like everyone else did. Almost like I had blinders on and could only see the bad in myself.
Our eating habits and weight have an important relationship with our hormones. At the time of my eating disorder, I never really understood the harm I was doing to my body and the long term effects and stress I was putting my body through as a young woman. Hormones influence our overall growth and development, bone growth, puberty, fertility, level of alertness, sugar regulation and appetite.
While struggling with negative body image and not wanting to eat because I did not want to gain weight I was starving my body of what it needed to survive and function. My metabolism started to slow down and I developed issues with my bowl because my body was not processing foods right anymore. Metabolism allows our bodies to grow, maintain energy, and respond to the environment around us. Several hormones are involved in regulating the body’s metabolism, many of which are severely affected by eating disorders. Your body needs nutrition and needs food in order to function the way they are made to function. Hormonal changes are an appropriate response to starvation inorder for the body to save energy. Personally, I experienced many changes in my body like dry skin, always being cold, hair loss, and constipation. My thyroid hormones were greatly affected by any lack of nutrition.
Eating disorders can stimulate the production of the “stress hormone” which releases higher risk of sleeping problems, anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. I would have anxiety attacks at the dinner table over chicken and peas that would last hours. If my food was not planned out,, god forbid the waitress at the restaurant got my order wrong, BAM instant anxiety attack! The level of my panic my brain let my body go to was crazy. My whole body would turn against me and my muscles would spaz, my heart would race, my eyes would go black, and I would not be able to hear anything.
Eating disorders mainly affect young people at what would otherwise be the peak of their reproductive lives. I battled with my eating disorder from the time I was 14 to about 23 years old.
Something I never realized was that unhealthy eating styles can lead to changes in reproductive hormones that are responsible for maintaining regular periods, sex drive, healthy hearts and strong bones. Some women will have irregular periods, some will stop having them altogether and some may suffer infertility. This is the body’s response to try to save energy and prevent reproduction in a starving individual. In the middle of the battle with my eating disorder my periods became very irregular and painful (I was later diagnosed with Endometriosis that I will dig into in a later post!) It was not until I was in college that I really understood the harsh effects of not eating, over exercising, and diet pills could do to me not being able to one day have children.
I am 26 years old now and in all honesty I feel guilty sometimes and put myself down for hurting my body for so long and the thought of me maybe not being able to carry a child because of this disorder. I am at a healthy weight and maintain my mental health and physical health not only for myself in that moment but for myself in the future. Hormones more times than not, return to normal levels once eating is back to normal. Some women with eating disorders are at higher risk of complications around the time of pregnancy, including the need for a caesarean section, postnatal depression, miscarriage, complicated delivery and premature birth. However, most pregnant women who have recovered from eating disorders have healthy pregnancies. If you are a pregnant woman reading this, think about the magical things your body is doing to help grow and nourish your little creation!