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    Social Work & Nutrition: Providing Eating Disorder Care through the Mind-Gut Connection

    In Canada, March signals the start of the spring season, as well as Social Work and Nutrition month. At Boomerang Health, this is an opportunity to celebrate and highlight the ways in which these two professions work alongside one another. While social work and nutrition may seem unrelated, they are actually connected in the same way that our minds and stomachs are naturally linked, through the mind-gut connection.

    If you’ve ever had a “gut feeling” or a “gut-wrenching experience” (and let’s face it, who hasn’t?), then you’ll know first-hand that our gastro-intestinal system is sensitive to our emotions and connected to our brains. Some scientists have begun to refer to our guts as our second brains, because they are the only organs in our bodies that possess their own nervous system. Did you know that our guts are also responsible for the creation of many of the neurotransmitters that connect to how we feel? In fact, the gut is the primary site for 90% of serotonin production in the body.

    The importance of the mind-gut connection is especially relevant in the case of eating disorders; conditions which severely impact both one’s physical and mental well-being. Social workers with expertise in the mind, and dietitians with expertise in the gut are uniquely equipped to collaborate in providing holistic care, with a strong emphasis on the physical, emotional and social dimensions of eating disorder recovery.

    How can we foster a healthy mind-gut connection for children who struggle with disordered eating? Below we have highlighted some key strategies:

    1. Create a regular eating routine. Ensure that children are following a regular eating pattern (3 meals and 3 snacks per day is recommended). Regular nutrition is important for all aspects of cognitive and physical functioning. As result, eating at regular intervals throughout the day ensures that childrenhave enough energy for general functioning as well as for healthy growth and development.
    2. Increase variety. Eating disorders have a tendency to decrease both the quantity and variety of food that childrenfeel comfortable eating. This food restriction has the potential to result in both short and long-term physical and mental health consequences. Including a wide variety of foods in our children’s diets allows for a healthy nutritional profile that meets all bodily needs.
    3. Lose the labels. We often use labels to describe foods, such as: “good”, “bad”, “healthy”, “unhealthy” or “junk”. When supporting a healthy mind-gut connection, it is important to communicate that all foods fit! As such, aiming to discuss foods neutrally allows children to develop comfort in consuming all foods.
    4. Get an assessment. Eating disorders are serious illnesses that are associated with significant physical and mental health challenges and require treatment. If you are concerned that your child may be struggling with disordered eating patterns reach out to your paediatrician or an eating disorder program for a comprehensive assessment.

    For more tips about fostering healthy eating habits in children, check out these blog posts:

    Healthy Eating Habits: Turn Down the Pressure and Turn up the Fun!

    Picking Apart Picky Eating

    About Taylor Hamilton, MSW, RSW

    Taylor is an emerging professional with a passion for working with children and youth, particularly those living with a variety of medical, developmental and mental health challenges. Taylor is an MSW, RSW and has been working in the field of mental health and community care for the past six years. She received her BSc in psychology from Wilfrid Laurier University and went on to earn her Master’s degree in Social Work from King’s University College at Western University. Taylor has experience working with children, adults and families in school board, community and clinical settings. She specializes in supporting those living with anxiety, behavioural and emotional regulation difficulties, eating disorders and body image concerns. Taylor values a strengths-based approach in her therapeutic work, prioritizing collaboration when assisting clients to create a safe and supportive space in which to work on their individual goals, develop needed skills, decrease distress and improve overall quality of life.