Our bodies are capable of amazing things, and there is a lot going on in there to keep us alive and attempt to make sure that we are functioning at our best. When we upset the optimal levels that our body needs to function, there are coping mechanisms that take place as built-in safety nets to help us survive. There are also specific things that happen in the presence of an eating disorder, and some of these can be exhibited as signs or symptoms to warn us of the underlying issues. For example, in times of starvation or malnutrition, when we are not getting enough energy through calories consumed, our bodies attempt to slow down metabolism in order to conserve energy1. One of the ways that the body accomplishes this is by lowering its’ body temperature. Blood circulation is decreased, and blood is conserved around the internal organs for protection, which causes a lack of warm blood flow to the extremities of the body such as the hands and feet. The blood that is sitting in the extremities gets cold due to the lack of circulation, and thus causes the hands and feet to feel especially cold. Another reason for always feeling cold is the loss of the body’s insulating layer of fat, which is normally used to keep the body warm2. Individuals with eating disorders sometimes explain feeling cold often and this is why it occurs. If this is something that is happening for you or a loved one, it’s important to speak with a health care professional to let them know. Our bodies have a specific temperature range where they function optimally, and a lower temperature range can lead to dangerous health complications.s
Other adaptive changes that the body makes in times of stress can include a reduced respiration rate or hypotension (low blood pressure), which are both also due to the slowing down of the body’s metabolism to conserve energy3. There can also be growth of a fine hair on various parts of the body in an effort to keep the body warm and insulated and try to regulate temperature. This hair growth is referred to as lanugo4. With all of this being said, when these warning signs appear it is extremely important to seek help from a professional before trying to reintroduce a higher calorie intake. The reintroduction process needs to be gradual to avoid refeeding syndrome, where your body cannot adapt quickly enough to the change and cannot cope properly. After prolonged starvation, the body shifts to get energy from different places, and is potentially deficient in essential vitamins and minerals. When refeeding, the metabolism can overwork itself trying to make up for lost tissues and it can be difficult to adapt again to a new change5. Consulting with a physician or dietitian first can help to make personal recommendations while also monitoring nutrient levels and maintaining safety above all in the recovery process.
1. Gaudiani, J.L. 2015. Why feeling cold can be a dangerous sign in anorexia nervosa. Retrieved from: http://www.gaudianiclinic.com/gaudiani-clinic-blog/2015/12/21/why-feeling-cold-can-be-a-dangerous-sign-in-anorexia-nervosa
2. Eating Disorders Glossary. Hypothermia (low body temperature). Retrieved from: http://glossary.feast-ed.org/3-treatment-medical-management/hypothermia
3. Ahacic, J.A. 2016. Nursing made incredibly easy! Vol 14-2Retrieved from: https://www.nursingcenter.com/cearticle?an=00152258-201603000-00007&journal_ID=417221&issue_ID=3331856
4. Mascolo, M. 2018. Anorexia recovery and overcoming physical side effects of an eating disorder. Retrieved from: https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/bulimia/anorexia-recovery-and-overcoming-physical-side-effects-of-an-eating-disorder
5. Grubiak, K. 2018. Restoring nutritional health in anorexia nervosa recovery. Retrieved from: https://www.verywellmind.com/restoring-nutritional-health-in-anorexia-nervosa-recovery-4115081