Refeeding Syndrome may be a severe medical complication of having an eating disorder.  The challenge to both patients, and often medical professionals, is that little information or protocol have been established for treating this condition and it may vary greatly in severity and presentation. In short, reintroducing food in a person’s digestive system after suffering from a moderate to severe level of eating disorder with caloric restriction, weight loss and/or malnutrition can be difficult and even dangerous without specialized care.

What Is Refeeding Syndrome?

Refeeding Syndrome occurs when a potentially fatal change in the electrolytes and fluids in the body occurs, typically associated with malnutrition after the patient begins to receive increased caloric refeeding. These shifts in electrolytes and fluids occur as a direct result of metabolic and hormonal changes in the individual. Numerous factors play a role in this situation, including changes in glucose, fat metabolism, protein and other nutrients.

Individuals who have not eaten for five or more consecutive days are at a high risk for developing this condition. This stems from the fluid imbalances, electrolyte changes, and the metabolic derangements. It is important to note that refeeding is not the same as renourishment.

Renourishment is the reintroduction of food to a person who has suffered from anorexia nervosa or other eating disorders in which food is slowly introduced to the body and carefully medically monitored as the patient is renourished and weight restoration occurs. Refeeding leads to increases in insulin. It also causes a decrease in glucagon. This speeds up the metabolism.

Is Refeeding Dangerous?

Yes, simply stated, refeeding can cause dangerous medical effects, including cardiac and/or respiratory failure and, in some cases death.  It is critical in these situations that proper and careful medical care is provided to patients.

For those who are suffering from an eating disorder or those who are malnourished for other reasons, it is always necessary that trained medical professionals continuously monitor the medical recovery of the illness. With proper care, it is possible to avoid refeeding syndrome and to improve a person’s health and well-being over time.