Refeeding in anorexia nervosa: increased safety and efficiency through understanding the pathophysiology of protein calorie malnutrition

Curr Opin Pediatr. 2011 Aug;23(4):390-4. doi: 10.1097/MOP.0b013e3283487591.


Purpose of review: This paper reviews recent publications about the physiology associated with adaptation to malnutrition and refeeding (including the refeeding syndrome) and clinical outcomes of refeeding paradigms.

Recent findings: A number of recent reviews and original publications have highlighted important differences from the assumptions underpinning the current refeeding guidelines for patients with anorexia nervosa. The notion of 'starting low and going slow' with the prescription of daily calories seems unlikely to be important in preventing refeeding syndrome. Recent publications suggest this approach does not necessarily add to safety in the refeeding process but rather the contrary. It typically results in weight loss and protracts hospitalization and nutritional recovery. Rather, the composition of macronutrients, in particular avoiding a high proportion of calories from carbohydrates, appears to be more important than the absolute number of calories. The means of initial refeeding appears increasingly important in this process, particularly following descriptions of postprandial hypoglycemia.

Summary: The study supports a review of the current guidelines. Evidence for the use of continuous feeding strategies with less than 40% of calories from carbohydrates is presented. This approach has important implications for the prevention of the refeeding syndrome as well as the safety and efficiency with which refeeding may occur for children and adolescents with anorexia nervosa in hospital.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anorexia Nervosa / blood
  • Anorexia Nervosa / complications
  • Anorexia Nervosa / diet therapy*
  • Anorexia Nervosa / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Diet, Carbohydrate-Restricted
  • Energy Intake / physiology
  • Feeding Methods
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood
  • Intubation, Gastrointestinal
  • Phosphates / blood
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Protein-Energy Malnutrition / diet therapy*
  • Protein-Energy Malnutrition / physiopathology*
  • Refeeding Syndrome / blood
  • Refeeding Syndrome / etiology
  • Refeeding Syndrome / prevention & control*


  • Insulin
  • Phosphates