Bowels, Bloating & Battling an Eating Disorder
Bowel and digestive issues are one of the most common problems people with eating disorders face, yet they are also one of the least talked about. We still see it as a taboo, “too much information” and as something we just shouldn’t talk about. We need to change this.
Eating disorders can affect our digestion in a number of ways, from delayed stomach emptying, chronic constipation, bloating, cramping, diarrhoea, incontinence, the list goes on. This is something that can affect anyone with any type of eating disorder and isn’t just confined to restrictive types or those who are underweight.
And for others, bowel and digestive issues can be a trigger for their eating disorder, as well as a maintaining factor. This has been the case for me.
My bowel issues started before my eating disorder, they made me think about what I was eating for the first time. I felt full, bloated, in pain and started having irregular and different bowel movements. That, combined with overwhelming change, was the trigger for my eating disorder.
The eating disorder then compounded those issues, causing additional constipation, even worse bloating and pain, it became a vicious circle, but every medical professional simply blamed the eating disorder which clouded their view. As a result, my bowel prolapsed, my pelvic floor deconditioned and I now have a permanent stoma (colostomy) as a result.
Trying to manage digestive issues whilst also trying to find my own version of recovery is a constant battle. On the one hand, I need to try and diversify the foods I eat, challenge myself and eat regular, nourishing meals. On the other, I spend hours every day in pain, discomfort and trying to manage things. I also have to spend 2-3 hours each day managing my stoma which becomes exhausting.
This can be compounded by those who tout “recovery” as complete freedom, intuitive eating and honouring hunger and fullness cues. The truth is though that this just isn’t always possible. When you’re constantly bloated, in pain and feeling full, it’s impossible to go by how you feel and still maintain a stable form of progress. So mechanical eating is the only way to go.
This means eating by the clock, regular meals, and often eating the same things quite a lot too. It’s true that this isn’t “ideal” or “perfect”, but sometimes it’s the only way. Keeping that routine and regularity is sometimes the only way to keep pushing through the horrible symptoms and keeping nourished.
And when they say “the symptoms will get better”, this is true for many people… but not everyone. Some people have chronic bowel issues like myself. We will always be managing things the best way we can. This means we will never be “perfect” “recovery” models, but our recovery will be managing things in the best way we can.
There are, however, some things I have noticed which tend to help and minimise the issues:
Eat regular meals. Having an empty stomach and then eating larger amounts can cause additional bloating and gad build up. If you’re able, regular eating can help this.
Heat. Hot water bottles are my best friend, as are warm showers.
TENS Machines can be super helpful when cramps are really bad.
Don’t try too many different things at once. That way it can help you realise if any foods cause additional pain, bloating or triggers.
Bloating can also be a body image trigger, try to avoid body checking when you’re really full/bloated.
Keep pushing through. I know it feels impossible to do, but it is possible. And don’t worry if you’re not perfect. You’re managing things the best way you can, and that’s valid.
Finally, we need to talk about it more. Poo is not a dirty word, it’s a natural thing we all do in some way, shape or form. Talk about poo, farting, digestion, bowel habits and everything in between. We need to normalise normal bodily functions!
Take it from someone who has to wipe it off the walls, floor (and often myself too) every day… it’s not a taboo!