Potassium and Eating Disorders

Friday, Dec 03  •  


Written by  Taylor Anderson, Primary Care Provider at Avalon Hills

Today, I’m going to talk about a very important electrolyte that is needed for our bodies to function correctly. The electrolyte is potassium. Potassium is needed for our individual cells to function correctly. These cells make up tissues which in turn make up organs and organ systems. 

Potassium can be found in many foods including bananas, cantaloupe, avocados, potatoes, broccoli, spinach, winter squash, beans, nuts, milk, and so many more! The cool thing about our body is that it helps to regulate our potassium levels through the kidneys. If the kidneys detect low potassium levels, they hold onto potassium from the urine. If the kidneys detect high levels of potassium, it is lost through the urine. People with kidney disease sometimes have problems regulating this important electrolyte. 

Negative impacts of low potassium or hypokalemia include muscle weakness, respiratory failure, cardiac arrhythmias, elevated blood pressure, altered acid-base balance, renal abnormalities, and glucose intolerance (Mount, 2019). 

Elevations in potassium called hyperkalemia can also have negative impacts on the body including muscle weakness that can lead to paralysis, cardiac arrhythmias, altered acid-base balance, and renal abnormalities (Mount 2020). 

Eating disorders can affect potassium in different ways. Vomiting leads to a loss of potassium, therefore, causing hypokalemia. Laxative abuse can also cause an excess loss of potassium. Potassium is one of the vital electrolytes that are closely monitored in patients with eating disorders during nutritional rehabilitation. Refeeding syndrome is a complication that can arise during nutritional rehabilitation. According to Mehler (2021), refeeding syndrome  “In significantly malnourished patients, the initial stage of oral, enteral, or parenteral nutritional replenishment causes electrolyte and fluid shifts that may precipitate disabling or fatal medical complications.” With refeeding syndrome, there will be low levels of phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium. Muscle weakness and wasting (rhabdomyolysis), congestive heart failure, breakdown of red blood cells (hemolysis), seizures, peripheral edema, and respiratory insufficiency can also accompany electrolyte imbalances in refeeding syndrome (Mehler, 2021). 

To prevent refeeding syndrome, laboratory values are closely monitored and supplementation of phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium may be necessary during the beginning of the rehabilitation process. Nutritional rehabilitation should happen under the supervision of medical providers and may require medical hospitalization.

The health of our clients at Avalon Hills is monitored closely because of the potential serious side effects eating disorders can cause. When they are admitted into our inpatient facility, they have a team of mental and physical health professionals who are with them every step of the way. If you have questions regarding the services we provide, feel free to visit our “Contact Us” page and submit your information. Our admissions team will reach out to you directly to answer any questions you may have.


Healthwise. (2020). Getting enough potassium. Retrieved from https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/tv7855

Mehler, P. (2021). Anorexia nervosa in adults and adolescents: The refeeding syndrome. Retrieved from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/anorexia-nervosa-in-adults-and-adolescents-the-refeeding-syndrome?search=refeeding%20syndrome%20adult&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~97&usage_type=default&display_rank=1

Mount, D. B., (2020) Clinical manifestations of hyperkalemia in adults. Retrieved from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/clinical-manifestations-of-hyperkalemia-in-adults?search=hyperkalemia&source=search_result&selectedTitle=3~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=3

Mount, D. B., (2019). Clinical manifestations and treatment of hypokalemia in adults. Retrieved from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/clinical-manifestations-and-treatment-of-hypokalemia-in-adults?search=hypokalemia&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=1