Let's Talk About Poop & Restrictive Eating Disorders
Everyone produces it so perhaps it's time to talk about it… And because, yes, restrictive eating disorders and the necessary process to overcome one will affect your general digestion and hence your poop, creating varying degrees of discomfort and bowel changes that can be alarming, especially if you aren't sure if it's 'normal' or where to turn for advice.
By definition, 'restrictive' eating disorder means that you are not eating enough - be that in food quantity, type, density or frequency. And when you eat restrictively, because your stomach and intestines are the receiver and processor of the foods you do consume, the whole system is going to be affected. When you don't put enough into it, you can't expect your digestive system and bowel to keep functioning in a normal and happy way.
It's a bit like if you under fuel your car—it will have an impact on the engine and exhaust...
And when you have been under-fuelling your whole body for any length of time, leaving it with restoration and repair works to do, the reality is that your body will put a low priority on maintaining and repairing your digestive system because it will use the first precious energy supplies to restore and re-nourish more vital organs. Therefore, your stomach and intestines will need some vital repairs before they can work optimally for you but these repairs won't happen immediately. This all means that at the start of the process to overcome the eating disorder, you need eat more to get the energy into your body so that it can do all the necessary repairs, but this additional food intake has to enter a stomach that is not yet able to digest at its best.
Therefore, there are all kinds of poop related and digestive issues that you might experience both with a restrictive eating disorder and when overcoming one. These include constipation and diarrhoea (potentially swinging between the two), IBS type symptoms, lots of gas (which can be smelly or cause pain when it becomes trapped), stomach bloating like you never believed possible, as well as issues with feeling excessive fullness on what are still smaller amounts of food, stomach spasms and cramps. You might also experience nausea or acid reflux at the upper end of your digestive system (but this post will focus on the poopy end!).
You know then that there might be changes to your poop and digestive system when you have a restrictive eating disorder and when you are overcoming one, making the process that bit more challenging (like you needed additional challenges!). So the important thing is how to manage any digestive or poop-related problems that you do experience.
Tips to Cope with Poop-Related & Digestive Issues with a Restrictive Eating Disorder
Ensure that you do continue to eat more, eat without restriction and keep putting lots of food in the top end of your digestive system. The more you put food in the top, the more it keeps the system running or gets it running more smoothly with perseverance. Any constipation you might have should begin to shift as your gut motility picks up and the poop will eventually be pushed out the other end or if you are facing symptoms of diarrhoea then ongoing intake should help to calm it over time, bulking out the stool.
Avoid hard to digest foods like high fibres and raw veggies which will make your symptoms worse. Let's also be honest—the eating disorder loves these foods from a restrictive perspective too so cutting them out will not only help your digestion but will help your brain re-programming too (win-win!).
The other food types that the eating disorder is likely to hate but that can do wonders for the digestion are the high fat, highly processed foods so aim for more of these over anything else. The higher fat and more processed food types really do ensure that your digestive system has less hard 'work' to do as they are easier to digest, leading to less pain, spasms and bloating and the higher fats will help everything slide through a bit more easily too.
Avoid jumping to any conclusions that you have 'food intolerances' of particular food types. Your stomach will find it hard to digest food types that it has not been used to for any period of time because it won't have the necessary gut bacteria and enzymes to digest these foods. This does then lead to more poopy issues and pain / bloating when you are eating them again AT FIRST. But if you continue to eat them regularly, pushing through the challenging physical symptoms (that I know will also add to the emotional and mental symptoms and challenges in the process too), the sooner your digestive system will develop the flourishing gut flora and enzymes it needs to easily tolerate all these foods so you never need to avoid anything again, leading to complete food freedom!
Antacids or wind settlers might help with stomach pains, spasms, acid or gas symptoms.
If you do have constipation, use laxatives with caution. If you have any history of laxative abuse, I always recommend speaking to a professional about how to address this and wean off any reliance on them. But if you are experiencing ongoing constipation issues, with or without a history of laxative abuse, speak to a professional about whether laxatives are advisable and if so, what type to take, ensuring that use of them is with care and not developing into a compulsion or habit.
A good fluid intake, without fluid overloading, to maintain hydration and keep the stool soft is advised.
Belly massages can help with constipation, trapped gas, pain and stomach bloating. Gently apply pressure to the stomach and massage it in a circular motion. This can also help you become friends with your belly, especially if you chat to it in a friendly way while gently massaging it!
Hot water bottles and warm compresses can also help with belly pain and symptoms.
Even if it's a struggle or perhaps especially if it's a struggle, RELAX as much as you can! When you are constantly in a state of elevated stress and go go go mode (which most people with restrictive eating disorders are most of the time) then your adrenaline and cortisol levels remain elevated and this really does affect the digestion. When the body is in a stress response, the brain will dial down the digestive system as if it perceives a threat and need to escape, stopping to eat or digest is not top of the agenda. Therefore, this chronic elevated state of stress will lead to worsening digestive issues, with potential constipation. The reality is that the only threat you are under is coming from avoiding food, not resting sufficiently and being in energy deficit, so do the things that feel the most wrong to allow your brain and body to learn that it's safe to fully relax now, lower the adrenaline and cortisol and ramp up the digestive system. Rest, relax your body and mind, and eat so that it all comes together for a happy and comfortable belly!
Swings between alternating bowel habits are also very normal when you are eating more and your body is adjusting to the changes you are making in the process to overcome the eating disorder. Therefore, if you are going from diarrhoea to constipation and back again then just remind yourself that this is ok and it's normal and it will all settle in time. The calmer you stay about it, continuing to eat and use other methods to soothe the symptoms, the more likely it is to all settle down in no time.
It's also important to remind yourself that not going to poop every day or the same time every day is ok. Some people do get very anxious about their bowel habits and feel it needs to be routine and relate food intake to it. Don't over-focus on it. Every human is different when it comes to what is normal with pooping for them. Some people go every day or more than once a day, others go every few days and both these situations are healthy and normal. Just focus on the food, eating, resting and relaxing, ultimately letting your body heal in all the ways it needs to.
If you do have poop related rituals (which some people do) such as feeling that you can't eat before you have been to poop in the morning, then work on deliberately changing those rituals and beliefs, which in this case might be to deliberately eat before you poop every morning, so that you lose that association. Ultimately though, work on removing your focus from your poop and just putting it on what really matters - eradicating the eating disorder!
I don't think that anyone goes through the process of overcoming an eating disorder, which of course involves eating more and removing the restrictions on the what and when you eat, without their digestive system and poop being affected. Expect it, don't stress about it, relax all you can, eat all you can and treat your belly with kindness, soothing it with loving rubs and warmth and it will all heal and start working much more comfortably and effectively for you in no time.
**For more information on eating disorders and how to overcome one, please don't miss my newly available books,
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If you like to listen, as well as (or instead of read!) then this blog post is the transcript of a podcast episode which you will find on my podcast series,
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