Keto and eating disorders: what's the relationship?



The statistics on eating disorders are startling. Did you know that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate amongst any other psychiatric disorder? While eating disorders can affect anyone, females are disproportionately affected; ladies between 15-24 are 12x more likely to die from anorexia than any other cause of death. Currently, ~70 million people are suffering from an eating disorder. [1,2] Diets and diet culture is often blamed for the high prevalence of eating disorders but, research suggests the ketogenic diet could actually be helpful. Is it possible going keto could be beneficial in the treatment of eating disorders?

the ketogenic diet and eating disorders

What Are Eating Disorders?

The term eating disorders is a broad classification for patterns of disordered eating and includes anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, purging disorder, avoidant food disorder, pica, orthorexia nervosa, rumination syndrome, muscle dysmorphia, body dysmorphia, feeding disorder, night eating syndrome, and general eating disorders.

While disordered eating may not seem deadily on the surface, obviously based on the shocking statitics behind their high mortality rate, these disorders take a serious toll on the body.  Eating disorders can cause muscle atrophy (including the heart), electrolyte imbalances (can lead to arrhythmias and heart failure), reduced metabolic rate, infections, constipation, damaged bowels and intestinal obstruction, stomach rupture, sore throat, malnutrition, pancreatitis, parotitis, bezoars, intestinal, stomach, and esophagus perforations, fainting, dizziness, sleep apnea, neuropathy, decreased hormones levels, disruption to menstruation, osteopenia, type II diabetes, hair loss or lanugo, and more. [3,4]

What about Keto and Eating Disorders? 

While research is limited on the relationship between the ketogenic diet and eating disorders, some early studies do suggest that it could actually be beneficial. The metabolic state of ketosis mimics the body’s starvation response, which could be helpful to those who suffer from anorexia nervosa or any other eating disorder that seeks out a starvation feeling/ food depreivation.

The prevailing theory behind using keto for eating disorders is based on the starvation response associated with ketone production mimicing the anxiolytic feeling an individual might receive from starving themselves. This provides the feeling that someone suffering from an eating disorder may crave, without actually risking someone’s health . [5]

Furthermore, case studies have shown individuals who suffer from an eating disorder may benefit from a more restrictive diet. Since the general guidelines to keto are so straight forward, i.e. limit carb intake, many people have reduced food anxiety because they know exactly what they can eat. Strong anecdotal evidence of a reduction in food-related anxiety, feelings of guilt, and binging supports the use of a keto for eating disorders. [6]

the ketogenic diet for eating disorders like anorexia

Overcoming a Lifetime of Disordered Eating

Are you interested in reading more about someone who used the ketogenic diet to treat their eating disorders? Read more about Chef Debbie Lee and watch her video on how she developed a healthy releationship with food and eating habits.

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