Constipation and bloating are considered “normal” parts of life—at least if you are 3 in 4 Americans.
And, if you’ve struggled with an eating disorder, constipation and bloating are considered “normal” parts of how you feel around a vast majority of meals.
In fact, studies show that approximately 75-percent of individuals who have struggled with anorexia—particularly longer than 5 years—experience constipation and “fecal incontinence” (difficulty “going”). (Seleri et al, 2014 ).
I am one of them—and chances are, if you are in recovery from an eating disorder, you may be too.
MY GUT STORY
For the 15 years that I struggled with severe anorexia constipation, IBS and bloating were my “norm.”
Sometimes I “went” to the bathroom. Sometimes I didn’t.
Bloating was expected after most meals.
And I never questioned if my stool was loose or watery.
Even prior to anorexia setting in at age 10, my gut was never quite right.
As young as 6-years-old, I remember crying to my mom that I “couldn’t go,” and my pediatrician diagnosing me with “slow gut motility” and IBS—prescribing me a “fiber rich” diet with Bran Flakes instead of Fruity Pebbles, plenty of pulp-filled Tropicana Orange Juice and Fiber One Bars and yogurt for snacks.
Nevertheless, throughout most of my childhood, teens and young adult life, my body never saw a real food—subsisting off of the “Standard American Diet” or the “Standard American Dieting Diet:”
- As a kid, I lived off Pop-tarts, Bagel Bites, Kids Cuisines and frozen broccoli with fake cheese sauce.
- In my dieting-days as a teen, I moved on to Diet Cokes and Pretzels for lunch, fat-free yogurt, Lean Cuisine’s, fat-free Fudgesicles, and fat-free rubber string cheese.
- Come college and young adult hood, I was all about “clean eating”—egg whites only, whey protein shakes, sugar-free Jell-O Quest Bars and Crystal Light.
…And my “gut issues” still persisted.
The thing is I never connected my food to my gut issues.
Moreover,.I never connected my food to my brain function and struggles with my eating disorder (the brain-gut connection).
And neither did other healthcare professionals…
“IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD”
This was a common response that recovery coaches, nutritionists, doctors and therapists told me over the years—professionals who shrugged off my complaints of abdominal pain and constipation.
“Of course you’re not having any bowel movements,” or “Of course you’re bloated”…
Justifying it with: “It’s because you haven’t been eating,” or, “It’s because your stomach has shrunk, and there hasn’t been anything in there for awhile!” or, “It’s because you’re scared of the food—it’s all in your head.”
And resolving: “Just get over it—It will get better when you are able to eat enough to gain weight,” they’d say.
The nurses would give me an extra order of Miralax, a Colace stool softener, Lactaid dairy tablet, Tums, or tell me to, “Just eat more prunes, whole grains and fiber-rich cereal from the breakfast menu,” and call it a day.
In response to the silencing and suppressing of my GI symptoms by my healthcare providers, I learned to “just suck it up” and stop complaining about them.
(After all, “They have the white lab coats…they must be right…Who am I to speak up?”).
Nevertheless, I’ll never forget…
Crying myself to sleep many nights during treatment with the foods I had been forced to eat that day rising up into my chest and throat.
Or the urgency to run immediately to the restroom after an ice cream or take-out pizza challenge and soiling myself—since I had to wait 30-minutes outside the locked bathroom door until my food had “digested.”
Or the scolding I received when the four Pop-tarts plated on my breakfast tray came up in the toilet—against my will—as my body shook in a cold sweat, not knowing what it had just been forced to eat.
Or the plastic NG tube inserted down my nose every night for six months, as I struggled to fight back my tears of the pain I felt in my nose, throat and gut.
In spite of all my complying and “doing the right things” though, my gut “issues” never resolved…and they weren’t just in my head.
In fact, research shows that individuals with eating disorders experience the same gut symptoms that individuals without eating-disorders do.
Unfortunately, a vast majority of health care practitioners, treatment programs and hospitals within the “eating disorder recovery” space don’t acknowledge or recognize this.
BEYOND MIRALAX & PRUNE JUICE
The list of “gut issues” or GI disorders that can be encountered for many who struggle with eating disorders is long.
Some of the most common include:
- Difficulty in emptying the bowels, usually associated with hardened stools and not “going” every day.
- Bloating, Gas & SIBO. The feeling of being “swollen,” sometimes (but not always) related to SIBO—small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. SIBO is a condition where imbalanced, unhealthy gut bacteria invade your GI tract, leading to symptoms of gas, bloating, nutrient deficiencies, brittle nails/hair, fatigue, skin breakouts, anxiety, autoimmunity, food intolerances and blood sugar imbalances.
- A GI disorder that affects the large intestine (colon) and causes cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation.
- Reflux, GERD, & Heart burn. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic digestive disease. GERD occurs when stomach acid or, occasionally, stomach content, flows back into your food pipe (esophagus). Heartburn is a form of indigestion felt as a burning sensation in the chest, caused by acid regurgitation into the esophagus. Both are often due to low stomach acid and suppressed digestive capacity.
- Gastroparesis & Slowed Motility. Slowed stomach emptying and/or slowed elimination when of the muscles of the stomach or colon (or the nerves controlling the muscles) causes the muscles to stop working.
It’s difficult to determine which comes first too—Did you get an eating disorder THEN start experiencing gut “issues?” OR did you have underlying “gut issues” then gradually begin struggling with an eating disorder?
Answer: It can be a mix of both.
There’s NO doubt that eating disorders are a source of stress to the body.
From under-eating, to overtraining, binging, purging, and struggling with anxiety, OCD and depression, the body is OUT of balance to say the least.
Enter: Gut “issues.”
In fact, did you know that higher levels of stress (physical and mental) are associated with increased constipation , IBS , and decreased serotonin levels produced in the gut —your “feel good” brain chemicals?
Moreover, 90-percent of your serotonin is produced in your gut.
Hence, if you have “gut issues,” it’s no wonder that, when you’re low in serotonin, you feel MORE depressed, anxious, and OCD.
Enter: Eating Disorders.
The gut and brain go hand-in-hand, and if you’ve had “gut issues” or symptoms for a long time, these may help explain a big reason why you were more prone to the mental health battle.
In other words: Beyond just taking Miralax, eating prunes or popping Tums (to suppress gut symptoms), there may be some deeper (gut) healing to address in your personal healing recovery.
SURVEY SAYS: EATING DISORDERS & GUT HEALTH RESEARCH
Several studies in recent years have confirmed the tremendous impact that eating disorders have on gut health, and vice versa—hinting that “gut restoration” and healing can equally contribute to your long term recovery success—both ED and gut-symptom free.
For instance: Probiotic use—and rebalancing of the “health” of the gut micro biome—has been linked to decreased depression.
In one study, 65-percent of IBS patients reported significantly reduced depression after taking probiotics, compared to placebo patients.
Several other studies have determined that individuals with eating disorders (anorexia and bulimia) have different (unhealthier) gut bacteria altogether than “normal” controls—suggesting that certain gut bacteria may be a key player driving the “disordered” brain and lifestyles. This dilemma is further complicated when we don’t eat enough, or don’t eat a balanced diet (i.e. the eating disorder), and the gut bacteria only worsens.
In addition, the overgrowth of bacteria further contributes to loss of appetite and/or fullness and hunger cues—explaining the reason you may not want to eat, or why you “can’t get enough” (i.e. your gut bugs are craving things).(1 , 2 )
Unfortunately, newer research (1 , 2) on the currently practiced (and widely accepted) models of re-feeding in eating disorder treatments (i.e. low fiber diets, processed foods, grain-based), reveals that gut bacteria remains the same or worsens during treatment—Explaining the reason “why” I personally continued to feel “not great” throughout my four in-patient treatments and dozens of hospitilizations.
Sure, I was “healthy” according to a number on scale or blood pressure reading, but inside, I still experienced gas, bloating, constipation and abdominal distress a majority of the time.
The good news?
Researchers in every single one of these studies have also concluded that, by rebalancing the gut flora and tailoring treatment to your unique needs https://drlauryn.com/work-with-me, positive recovery outcomes are more likely.
Enter: My own “lightbulb” moment: Gut healing.
MY GUT & EATING DISORDER RECOVERY
Recovery from my eating disorder—and eating disorder brain—truly began when I began to heal my gut, and concurrently, redefine what health meant for me—inside and out.
Not “orthorexic” health (i.e. “I am scared of foods that aren’t organic, low-fat or excessive workouts). Nor eating disorder hospital health either (i.e. Standard American Diet, and band-aiding gut symptoms with Tums and Miralax instead of digging deeper).
But, redefining true, “feel-good” health for me—like:
- Nourishing my body with real, whole foods
- Re-connecting with my own intuition (my “truth,” intuitive eating, intuitive movement, intuitive thinking and being—honoring my mind, heart and gut)
- NOT caring about calories, but caring about nutrients
- Doing things I love (outside obsessing about food or working out)
- No longer living out of fear or timidity
- And loving my “gut”—both physically and emotionally
Recovery did not officially begin UNTIL I began to dig deeper and heal, from the inside out.
And at age 28—18 years after the eating disorder, and 5 years into “recovery”—I FINALLY discovered one missing link in my own healing journey all along:
SIBO—“Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth”—a driving factor behind my bloating, constipation, IBS, and chronic stress ALL THOSE YEARS.
If you’ve struggled with constipation, bloating, IBS or other gut issues in your recovery too, you are not alone—and a “big answer” as part of your own physical (and mental) healing journey may very well be in your core.
Here are 5 Steps to Healing from “Gut Issues” in Eating Disorders—and my top recommended 10 Bloating & Constipation Relief Tips you can do now if you experience symptoms regularly.
5 Steps to Healing from “Gut Issues” in Eating Disorders
- Gut Check.
Assess: How do I feel? You were born intuitive—knowing when you’re hungry, full, tired, happy, sad—and everything else. Eating disorders have a tendency to HIJACK your brain and body—making you forget how to listen. But the answers are deep inside. Beyond your food rules about what foods are “good” or “bad,” and beyond your meal plan (what you “should” and “shouldn’t” eat), close your eyes, take a deep breath, and ask yourself, right now….”How do I feel?” On all fronts! Are you exhausted? Stressed? Imbalanced? Energetic? Cramping and nauseas? Bloated? Constipated? Overwhelmed? Frustrated? This is a mental and physical check in (remember our brain affects our gut, and vice versa, our gut affects our brain). In order to determine if your “gut issues” are “all in your head,” or something else, you must recognize how you feel right now. For instance, in my eating disorder, I TOLD myself that I felt “horrible” if I ate butter or took a day off of working out, but felt “amazing” if I avoided carbs, drank Crystal Light, and worked out 6 to 8 hours every day. The reality? I felt the OPPOSITE. As recovery (and permission) ensued, I gradually discovered I felt AMAZING eating butter (and other fats) as part of a balanced meal, I felt AMAZING when I varied up my workouts, slept in some days and gave myself grace, and I felt HORRIBLE when I drank Crystal Light (i.e. bloating, constipation, abdominal cramps), I felt LIGHT-HEADED when I cut the carbs, and I felt DEPLETED every day when I trained—as my muscles ate away at themselves.I had to do a serious gut check in multiple areas, and this is the first step to recognizing what—if anything—may need to change.
- Change Your Outlook.
Recovery—and healing (physically and mentally)—became a whole new ball game when I began to change my outlook on the process of recovery. Instead of OTHER people forcing me to “eat this” or “do that” or to “go to treatment”—I began to see my recovery, health and healing as MY CHOICE, and changed my outlook to see my recovery as “Operation Lauryn,” “Makeover Lauryn,” or a FUN NEW ADVENTURE and JOURNEY in getting my life back.
- Get Back to the Basics.
For starters in “healing your gut,” I always suggest “baseline” gut hygiene tips as a starting place for building a foundation of a “healthy gut” inclusive to:
- Eating Real Foods—Meats and fish, nuts and seeds, lots of colorful veggies and leafy greens, plenty of healthy fats with each meal, some fruits and starchy tubers, and lots of water. It’s less about calories, and more about nutrients (i.e. a 500-calorie plate of salmon, sweet potatoes, broccoli and butter has MANY more nutrients your body and gut can use than 200-calories of artificially-sweetened yogurt and a fake-protein Quest Bar)
- Breathing & Slowing Down to Enjoy Your Food. “Rest and digest” with 1-2 minutes of slowing down, taking some deep breaths, saying a prayer and becoming present—physically and mentally—for the act of eating.
- Chewing your food well. Digestion STARTS in the mouth. If we don’t break our food down well, or just try to get it over with, we’ve short-circuited the digestive process.
- Drinking Water (throughout the day). Aim for half your body weight in ounces to get “things flowing.”
- Cooking Your Food. In eating disorders, it can be easy to DISCONNECT from our foods—turning to frozen Lean Cuisines, bars, shakes, takeout or other modes of convenience and “comfort.” Reconnecting with our food allows us to begin to experience healing in a whole new way—as we nourish ourselves, starting in the kitchen. Consequently, our gut generally is more accepting of real cooked foods than the bars, shakes, frozen meals and takeout we’ve built a majority of our diet on.
- Varying Your Food. SCARY?! Nah…it doesn’t have to be. We can be eating but starving (at a cellular level) if and when we eat the SAME foods day in and day out. Our body is only getting ONE source of amino acids for instance if we eat chicken every day for lunch and dinner, or ONE source of Magnesium if we eat spinach as our primary leafy green veggie, or ONE source of healthy fats if we only eat avocados and almond butter. By varying our food, we provide our body not only with different nutrients, but different proteins and enzymes to help us break down our foods.
- Supplement Savvy.
Once the basics are addressed, a few key “game changers” on the supplement aisle to add to your digestive healing protocol in recovery include:
- Prescript Assist Soil Based Probiotic. 1 at night. 1 in the morning. (Find it here in my Love Your Gut Dispensary)
- Food Probiotics. Eat 1 serving of fermented foods (sauerkraut, kombucha, plain full fat fermented yogurt, kefir) each day for lactic acid probiotics
- Digestive Enzymes. 1 to 2 with each meal. (Find it here in my Love Your Gut Dispensary )
- Prebiotic Fiber (to help your probiotics “stick” around). Partially Hydrolyzed Guar Gum 1 serving/day.
- Don’t Go it Alone.
Once you’ve decided you’re ready for healing, connecting with a practitioner who is skilled and knowledgeable in eating disorders and gut healing can be a tremendous “tool” in your tool belt and save you years and countless Google searches in the long run. This individual can help customize your own gut healing protocol, as well as assess if you have any underlying gut issues going on (i.e. SIBO, parasites, leaky gut, etc.) through appropriate testing in order to help you fully heal. Interested in learning more or healing your own gut? Connect with me today—and we can schedule a complimentary 15-minute call to see if I am a good fit for you. I work with clients all over the world, and do the work I do because it did NOT exist when I was going through treatment.
- Supplement Savvy.
Bonus: 10 Bloating & Constipation Relief Tips
- Apple Cider Vinegar. Add 1 tbsp. to 2-4 ounces of water and drink before meals.
- Magnesium Calm. 1/4 tsp in water before bed to easy constipation.
- Eat 1-2 forkfuls of sauerkraut.
- Sip ginger or licorice tea.
- Drink warm lemon water.
- Rub Castor Oil or peppermint or lavender essential oils on your stomach.
- Use a squatty potty and take your time to “go.” http://amzn.to/2x658qR
- Try downward dog and upward dog sequences, while deep breathing. Or jump up and down like you are on a rebounder 10-20 times to jostle things up.
- Add coconut oil to your veggies, and cook and soften veggies to consume (instead of eating raw)
Eliminate artificial sweeteners.