When Eating Food Hurts
There’s a “new” eating disorder out there that no one is really talking about.
It has nothing to do with fear of “getting fat” or gaining weight, counting calories or obsessing over your next meal.
It has nothing to do at all with the desire to restrict, avoid or fill a void with food.
But, it has everything to do with fearing food—or, rather, fearing what food may do to you.
I’m talking about the fear of food hurting you.
- The fear of eating food that cause your stomach and digestion to feel awful;
- Worry and stress over what to eat (or not eat) based on how certain foods may make you react (bloating, constipation, IBS, skin breakouts);
- And the uncertainty around trusting your body—feeling like a prisoner in your own skin.
Call it an “eating disorder,” a worry disorder, anxiety, a digestive disorder, or straight up My-Body-Is-At-War-With-Itself disorder, what do you do when you WANT to eat food, but you often feel awful when you do?
How do you make peace with your body and food when your body doesn’t seem to be on board?
What do you do when eating food hurts?
If you’ve ever struggled with feeling like your body (and digestion) is fighting against you, read on…
BEEN THERE, GOT THE T-SHIRT
There was a time in my life when I feared food.
Actually two distinct times in my life.
However, both times looked significantly different.
Exhibit A: Anorexia & Orthorexia
From the time I was 10-24, I was at war with food.
Anorexia and Orthorexia definitely don’t see food as a “friend” and, in my mind, food made me fat, made me gain weight, made me weak and did other things to my body I did not want it to do (like form cellulite, or work against my perfect-eating and flat-ab efforts).
I also developed the belief that I did not deserve food.
Sure, I was told “every human being needs food to survive,” but, I believed I was the exception.
I believed I needed to earn my food in order to eat it.
- 6-7 hours spent in the gym burning off calories or earning my next meal.
- 500 crunches every morning before my feet hit the floor
- Carefully counting out each almond or yogurt covered raisin or Wheat Thin that I ate.
- And obsessing over my next meal/planning my next meal hour after hour
(Rituals that I look back on now and think, “Ha, did I really believe that?” Yes. I did).
Fast forward to my recovery—14+ years later and I finally healed my relationship and view of food.
As I began to learn more about real food and experience the nourishing benefits of what eating real food did for my own body and mind, I finally began to believe, “This food thing isn’t so bad.”
However, little did I realize my recovery was not over…
Exhibit B: Fear of Eating Food That Hurts
By the time I was 24, I was no longer at war with food…but I started to feel at war with my body (or rather that my body was at war with me).
Not in an “I-hate-my-body” type of way, but in a, “I am scared of what my body will do if I eat this” sort of way.
At age 24, I discharged from my last ever treatment center—definitely more at peace with food, but a new sort of unrest beginning to develop…
An unrest with my body.
If I was doing everything right in my recovery…why did I still feel so lousy inside?
Thanks to SEVERAL imbalances in my own gut and health after my previous 14-years putting my body through a simulated concentration camp, my body was not 100-percent happy in its own skin, and it often experienced gas, bloating, loose stools, constipation and unexplained stomach pains sometimes when I ate to prove it.
These symptoms didn’t happen all the time, but they happened enough for me to STOP questioning if they were normal or not—figuring I’d always feel that way.
While I did my best to nourish myself with a balance of real foods, not neglecting proteins, fats and carbs, certain foods made me flare more than others—even “healthy” foods.
Nuts had me curled in a ball on the floor, wondering why shooting sharp pains struck.
Eggs made me feel queasy all morning long.
Sweet potatoes left me in the bathroom several times throughout the day.
Bison never settled.
I liked the idea of adding goat cheese to a salad, or eating a homemade paleo almond butter cookie, but my constipation would last for days if I did.
“What gives?!” I wondered—frustrated with why eating foods (that I finally made peace with) hurt so much.
Perhaps you can relate: You’re doing everything “right” or trying to take care of your health, only to feel like your body (and stomach) are laughing at you in your face.
If so, you’re not alone, and there may be some deeper digging to do.
GUT HEALTH 101
Throughout my eating disorder, and even my childhood, NO ONE ever talked to me about gut health.
I was a C-section baby from the start, which already put me at risk for a more sensitive gut micro biome (since I never swallowed my mom’s “good” gut flora in the birth canal).
As a kid, I experienced gas, bloating and constipation frequently and my pediatrician prescribed me “Fiber One” cereal with strawberries every morning to help cure it.
Growing up, it was normal to eat Capn’ Crunch for breakfast, PB & J for lunch, Goldfish for snack and Stouffer’s lasagna for dinner and ice cream for dessert, with no conversation about the lack of veggies, water, protein and fats in my dry, grain and dairy based diet.
In eating disorder treatment, doctors and nurses tried to help my frequent stomach pains, cramps, gas, bloating and constipation with Miralax and Colace (laxitives), Tums and Lactaid pills—while my nutritionists told me I experienced these things because my body wasn’t used to eating “normal foods” like Egg McMuffins, Poptarts Ben & Jerry’s, pizza, Snickers bars and graham crackers with peanut butter.
They said, “With time, your body will get used to it.”
The thing is…”Normal”—or rather feeling normal—never came.
Constipation, bloating and gas still stuck around. And I didn’t understand why.
It wouldn’t be until several years later, as I began to pursue my education in nutrition and later functional medicine, that I would discover a few missing links in my “healthy eating” and self-care puzzle.
Low and behold, I had SIBO—small intestinal bacterial overgrowth—that had more than likely been there for years, completely unaddressed.
In addition, a parasite I’d contracted when I was 10-years-old, in my first-ever eating disorder treatment hospital, had lingered for all those years.
No wonder I’d had IBS, stomach pains, bloating and plenty of other digestive woes all those years after!
Once I realized what I had, I turned to what I knew I needed to do to start to fix it—an antimicrobial supplemental approach to kill off the bacteria; a time away from FODMAP foods that made things feel worse; and ensuring I was practicing the Basics of Digestion (see below).
HEAL YOUR GUT
“Healing the gut” is easier said than done, and there is no ONE solution for every BODY.
There can be MANY reasons your digestion and gut feels “off,” some including:
- Low stomach acid
- Sedentary or overtraining
- SIBO-Bacterial overgrowth
- Imbalanced organic acids
- Toxic exposure
- Poor food hygiene (not chewing your food, eating on the go)
- Not eating enough, or eating too much in one setting
- Lack of water intake
- Not chewing your food or chilling out at meals
- Distracted eating
- Overconsumption of fermented foods
- Lack of veggies and fiber
- Too many raw veggies
If you’re gut feels “off” or like certain foods “hurt,” here are 5 tips for starting to figure out your own gut mystery (and healing your relationship with food).
- Be an Investigator. A good place to start when thinking about supporting and healing your gut is to become acutely aware of your body’s rhythms and patterns. What times of day do you feel more “off”? Are there certain trigger foods or themes you notice during the times or days where the pain comes? Keep a food log for 3-7 days and simply be an intuitive observer.
- Once you finish logging, now it’s time to be your own experiement. Notice nausea most days after eggs? Experiment with eliminating those from your diet this week and see how your body responds?
- Just because you’re mixing things up, or perhaps experimenting with finding your trigger foods does not mean restriction. Begin to think in the “abundance mindset”—what is the least restrictive I can be within what my body can handle? Aim for a variety of veggies, meats and healthy fats your body and gut can handle.
- Eat Regular Meals. As much as it may hurt, try to keep a consistent meal flow to support continued digestive “flow” and regularity of your digestive “muscles.”
- Probiotic Up. Good bacteria to ward off the bad guys and help set the stage for success. Double up—one in the morning and one at night—for some extra gut love.
- There’s no getting around the basic “universal laws” for good digestion, and if you’re not implementing them, start today. These include:
- Chewing your food
- Taking 1-2 minutes to breathe before meals
- Sitting down and taking 20-30 minutes out to eat meals
- Eating undistracted (not in front of a TV or desk all the time)
- Drinking half your bodyweight in ounces of water most days.
- Boost Stomach Acid with Apple Cider Vinegar or HCL Supplement. Support low stomach acid with some extra support to help with the initial stages of digestion.
- Test Don’t Guess. Instead of throwing darts at a dart board (and hoping they land), GI testing for things like SIBO, parasites, food intolerances/allergies, and even hormonal, thyroid and adrenal imbalances, may point right back to an imbalanced gut microbiome. Partner up with a knowledgeable functional medicine or nutritionist to help you run and decipher these.
Looking for support or guidance in healing your gut—and relationship with food?
Connect with Dr. Lauryn at Thrive today to make an Initial Intake appointment and get your own customized treatment protocol, nutrition plan and lifestyle plan.
You were meant to thrive (in all areas)—including food.