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  • Writer's pictureKatherine Chivers

Has anyone been diagnosed with brain-based bulimia?

According to the official diagnostic boards, I've never seen a diagnosis of brain-based bulimia, but there has been research to show that there are differences in the way the brain works for different types of disorders. Researchers have found that there are specific neurobiological differences in the brains of people with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder or other eating disorders. And these differences affect how we eat, our mood, whether we experience anxiety, our personality and how we make decisions.

We have neurons that send signals to each other, using chemicals known as neurotransmitters that help to push forward the electrical impulses that the brain sends throughout our system. Related to eating disorders, there are two primary neurotransmitters that we're going discuss, which are serotonin and dopamine. Each of these influence how we think and behave, our personalities, and according to research, a person's risk for developing an eating disorder.

Low serotonin is responsible for negative moods, low self-esteem, self criticism and other signs of depression.

Serotonin controls our memory, how we sleep. our mood, our appetite, and our digestion. Low serotonin is responsible for negative moods, low self-esteem, self criticism and other signs of depression. People with anorexia were found to have significantly lower levels of serotonin, which is likely an indication of starvation, because what happens is our body actually synthesizes serotonin from the food that we eat. So when we eat, we actually create serotonin. In people with anorexia, it was found that they had lower levels of serotonin, because they have been eating less food. The interesting thing was that they found that when people with anorexia started to eat again, their serotonin levels spiked, which actually caused them to have anxiety and emotional disturbance. And so because of that, the stress they were feeling would then prompt them back into starving themselves again, so it had a negative effect.

Now, in people with bulimia, they found that when they go without food for longer periods of time, for example during sleep, they have a larger drop in serotonin compared to people without eating disorders, which would then lead to bingeing and increased irritability. There are also some research studies that found that there was a particular type of serotonin which made people with bulimia more impulsive, they also found these differences in serotonin were persistent after recovery. So that indicated to researchers that maybe these were already present before the bulimia actually started.

Now in people with binge eating disorder, researchers found that they suffer from chronically low serotonin levels, which contributes to binge eating because the binge eating then relieves these depressed moods that people are feeling, which are caused by the low serotonin. So when the serotonin level is low they'll binge, and then that will cause more serotonin to be released, which will then increase their mood and provide a temporary relief from the stress and other feelings of negative emotions. But then what happens is, is they feel bad from the bingeing, so if people have bulimia, then they'll purge in some way by vomiting or over exercising or taking laxatives. And then that just creates a negative feedback loop which is perpetuating this binge purge, binge purge cycle.

Now we'll talk a little bit about dopamine, everyone knows this as the pleasure drug as it's linked with reward-motivating behaviors. So for example, in a simplistic form, you might study more to get good grades. You might be a good girl so that you can get ice cream after dinner, or you might go to work early so that it increases your chances to get a raise. So you do something with the hope or the intention to get a reward from doing that behavior, and dopamine gets released when your brain is expecting that reward. So if we go to work early, we get do dopamine release because we're expecting to get this reward of getting a pay rise. And then you come to associate this particular activity with pleasure, and even the anticipation of that pleasure is enough to raise your dopamine levels. Dopamine also helps regulate our emotions, our memory, our hormones, and our sensory processes.

Dopamine also helps regulate our emotions, our memory, our hormones, and our sensory processes.

Researchers have found that people with anorexia experience an overproduction of dopamine, and that actually leads them to be experiencing anxiety and a kind of hyperactivity or a hyper vigilance. And the strange thing is that it actually gives them the ability to go without pleasurable things like food, because they've already got this overproduction of dopamine.

In people with bulimia and binge disorder, researchers have found that they actually have lower levels of dopamine. So the binge eating actually leads to a dopamine release in the body which elevates the mood, and there's a hyper-responsiveness to the rewarding feelings from that food, so it makes eating more rewarding and pleasurable than it would be in people without bulimia or binge eating. So because there is this over responsiveness to the reward, it leads to a continuation of that compulsive overeating because they're experiencing more pleasure than usual from the binge eating.

Researchers also found that there are differences in the way people process the rewards from food after even recovering from an eating disorder, so they believe that the traits may have already existed in these people. But it's also possible that these traits were developed as a result if the behaviours, because for example, binge eating can actually alter the way your brain is releasing and distributing serotonin, so it can start to change the way your brain is behaving. It can also result in deficiencies in brain function which comes from malnutrition, and that depends on your diet outside of your eating disorder behaviors.

Neuroplasticity is the brains ability to change and adapt as a result of experience.

Now, the other important thing to note here is the field of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brains ability to change and adapt as a result of experience - so our neural networks, and our neurotransmitters in the brain can actually change the way they connect and behave in response to new information and new behaviors. Neuroplasticity is something I have personally found works, especially with my thoughts, because I found that the more I don't attach to negative thoughts and only let in the positive thoughts, the more my brain has gotten used to only taking in positive thoughts to the point that the negative thoughts often become so distant and so muffled in the background because of all these new neural networks that I've been creating. So the key is to commit yourself to engaging in these positive exercises, as frequently as you can, so that you can start rebuilding your neural networks. That also goes for continuing to eat consistently so that our brain gets used to this consistent eating and our serotonin and dopamine levels aren't rising and falling as quickly, and they can start to be a bit more constant so that we're not experiencing these high levels of stress, anxiety or emotional ups and downs.

There are also natural ways that you can increase your serotonin levels and your dopamine levels, and these will also help these neural networks reform. So the way you can increase serotonin is by increasing your exercise levels, exposure to sunlight and eating!

Some natural ways to increase dopamine naturally is by eating lots of protein, apparently because of the amino acids found in protein, taking probiotics, exercise, getting more sleep, listening to music, and meditating.

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