Bloating And Digestion Issues In Recovery (Part 1/3)

This is a 3-part video series dedicated to bloating and digestion issues in recovery. Because I know this is such a huge topic and one thing that so many people struggle with so I want to take my time and really talk about this.

In this series, we will look into why you are having issues with bloating and digestion, what are the key things you need to do to overcome it, and also some tips on how to deal with the symptoms.

Disclaimer

You should not recover alone and always seek professional and medical advice. The information in this video is for general information purposes only.  And what is right for you, and exactly what steps YOU should take is something you must discuss with your doctor.

 

What is happening with your digestion in recovery?

So why are you experiencing all of these uncomfortable symptoms?

In recovery, it’s very common that when you stop restriction, and you start to eat and rest more you may start to experience symptoms like:

  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Acid reflux
  • Nausea
  • Feeling too full but hungry at the same time
  • Food sensitivity symptoms (like gluten and lactose sensitivity)

You may actually fear that you have developed IBS or Celiac disease, or maybe you have all the symptoms of Gastroparesis.

You think there is something wrong with your body and think that you must start to eat a very limited diet to deal with the symptoms.

You may feel like all the weight is gained around your stomach area first, you may feel pregnant, your stomach may feel very painful and uncomfortable.

This also contributes to the eating disorder fear of “gaining and gaining endlessly” and feeling like the body is just “ballooning up”.

But actually, what’s really happening, is that because of your past of eating disorder, where you have dieted and restricted calories, it has done a lot of damage to your body and also to your digestion.

Maybe you did water fasting or intermittent fasting, you purged through self-induced vomiting or overexercising, maybe you did “detoxes” and “cleanses”, you likely excluded a lot of foods from your diet.

And if you come from restriction then your body is malnourished and in a state of starvation…

…and ALL OF THAT is actually the reason you experience all these uncomfortable symptoms right now in recovery.

You don’t have these symptoms because you are “eating too much” or because you have real food intolerances. But rather the cause is the restrictive past you come from that has compromised your digestion and your entire body and it needs recovery to heal and normalize.

You don’t have these symptoms because you are “eating too much” or because you have real food intolerances. But rather the cause is the restrictive past you come from that has compromised your digestion and your entire body and it needs recovery to heal and normalize.

And I’m not saying that real food intolerances don’t exist. As I said before, always consult your doctor first and get tested.

BUT I’m just saying that restriction is VERY often the real cause of these symptoms and you may not need to exclude foods for the rest of your life to overcome these issues and with recovery, all those uncomfortable symptoms can actually pass.

Excluding foods from your diet is a very serious thing and you may unnecessarily set yourself up for a lifetime of restrictions where it might not actually be needed and there is another way out of this.

I’m talking from my own experience because I ate a very limited diet when I had an eating disorder and this actually caused me to have some real issues with digesting gluten and lactose to the point that I thought I’m intolerant.

But thanks to recovery I was able to overcome that and this gave me back so much freedom with food and I’m so thankful I was made aware of this information that I’m about to share with you over the course of this video series.

Let’s look into why you have these uncomfortable digestion issues and bloating in recovery from an eating disorder.

1. Slowed down digestion.

The first reason is that when you restrict food your digestion slows down.

Just the same way as your metabolism will slow down with restriction, your digestion will also slow down. It’s a survival response from your body.

When you are malnourished and there is not enough food coming in on a consistent basis then your body will slow down your gastric emptying.

And this is exactly why you may start to experience symptoms of Gastroparesis. Which means food stays in your stomach for longer than is normal.

  • You may feel a lack of appetite when you are actually starving.
  • You may feel nauseous when you eat more food.
  • You may feel full for longer but still be mentally hungry.
  • You feel the food is just “sitting there” and not digesting.

It’s because the body wants to conserve as much energy it gets for you to survive for longer.

When there is a lack of food the body doesn’t want to speed up the digestion but will rather slow it down. It can take up to 5 times longer the food to digest for someone in recovery compared to a normal healthy person.

For example, the men in the Minnesota Starvation Experiment reported having just one bowel movement per week when they ate 1500 calories per day. It was their body trying to conserve energy for survival.

Also, when you start recovery and you start to eat more, it doesn’t mean the digestion will automatically speed up overnight.

Remember all the damage starvation has caused to your body, there is so much restriction and malnourishment to undo. So much to heal, recover, and restore.

So even in recovery the body rather holds on to the food for longer to maximize the nutrient utilization for healing purposes.

Also, the body doesn’t know if starvation is fully over yet and doesn’t feel safe enough to speed up the digestion. Your body has been through nutritional trauma and it takes a while to get over it.

It’s an uncomfortable phase and it takes time but eventually, the digestion will speed up again with recovery.

2. Stomach muscle atrophy.

Secondly, starvation causes your stomach muscles to be utilized for energy.

When your body is in starvation then it doesn’t take the energy just from your fat stores to fuel your body but it takes energy from ALL of your body.

When you restrict, diet, starve yourself your body starts to cannibalize itself to get energy. It borrows energy from your organ tissue, muscle tissue, bone mass… your organs and even your brain can shrink in size.

Your muscle mass can waste away from starvation and your stomach is also a muscular organ.

So to be able to have normal digestion you need a lot of fuel to reverse the damage malnutrition has done to your digestive system.

3. Loss of digestive enzymes and healthy gut bacteria.

Next, restriction causes your body to lose digestive enzymes and also it decreases the production of healthy gut bacteria.

For example, it is very common that when you stop eating foods with gluten or lactose then later when you introduce them back into your diet you can start to experience very uncomfortable symptoms.

You maybe think that this is the “proof” that those foods are bad for you and you should exclude them from your diet. But what is really happening is that because you didn’t eat those foods consistently for a while your stomach just stopped producing those specific enzymes that are needed to digest those foods.

I remember when I was restricting and trying to “eat clean” I really thought that having so many digestive issues from eating any “unhealthy foods” was a “sign” that my body is just so sensitive to “bad foods” when actually, it was just a sign of how weak my digestive system had got.

Also, restriction, and especially behaviors like self-induced vomiting, taking laxatives, cause some serious damage to your gut microbiome. Those behaviors irritate your stomach lining and destroy healthy gut bacteria. Here you may experience symptoms like acid reflux, stomach ache, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.

And to start building up healthy gut bacteria and also to start producing the digestive enzymes you actually need to start including various foods back into your diet and also to eat more food in general so the digestion has the necessary fuel to heal itself.

4. Disturbances in appetite regulating hormones.

Also, the restriction will affect your appetite regulating hormones, your hunger and satiety hormones ghrelin, and leptin.

Your hunger hormones will go out of whack when you are starving.

  • You can start to feel very hungry or very full.
  • Or you can feel full and hungry at the same time.
  • Or you don’t feel your hunger at all but still experience all the other symptoms of starvation.

Basically, your hunger and fullness cues seem to be all over the place and not reliable.

And this is exactly why “intuitive eating” doesn’t work for many people in recovery. Because our normal hunger and fullness cues are so messed up.

  • This is why counting calories to make sure you are eating enough can be lifesaving in recovery.
  • Why things like sticking to regular eating, eating every 2-3 hours are super important.
  • And why mechanical eating and even force-feeding can be necessary for recovery from an eating disorder.

This is also why so many people feel “gut full but body empty” in recovery. They can feel physically filled to the brim but mentally still feel so hungry.

This happens because your gut sends the signal to your brain of being physically full, but the nervous system still sends a signal that there is a need for more food to restore the complete energy balance.

And this is why extreme hunger is normal in recovery and why responding to your mental hunger is necessary. Your stomach can feel very very full, but in terms of your entire body, it’s still malnourished and it needs A LOT of food to fully recover.

Unfortunately, this is also where many people confuse their hunger in recovery with “emotional eating”, “food addiction”, “boredom eating” because they “feel full” like they are “overeating” but in reality, the body is sending signals to eat more food for a reason.

Because “stomach fullness” is not the same concept as truly being nutritionally energy balanced.

Because “stomach fullness” is not the same concept as truly being nutritionally energy balanced.

It takes a lot of food to overcome malnourishment. With the foods you eat your body is not only just gaining “unnecessary fat” but literally building up your entire body, specifically internally all the things you don’t see from an external view.

Like restoring muscle tissue, your organs, and your brain, it restores your bone mass, it restores your normal metabolism and heals your hormones and so many things.

It all requires so much energy. This is why you can’t eat like a “normal person” in recovery, because you are not in a normal situation.

You need WAY more food than a normal healthy individual because your body has so much more work to do, your entire body and its systems to restore and recover.

Also see my video on “Weight gain is just “unnecessary fat” HERE.

And this is why your number one job in recovery is to eat and to rest to give the body an optimal chance to restore itself as quickly as possible.

5. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

When you don’t eat enough calories and restrict many types of foods or food groups you will also develop vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

And also, eating disorder behaviors like purging, taking laxatives, depletes your body from essential nutrients, and contributes to developing deficiencies.

And so many vitamins and minerals are required for healthy digestion but if eating disorder is causing your body to deplete them or not absorb them properly then it just adds to the digestion issues.

BUT before you start worrying about adding in vitamins and minerals the first thing is to get enough calories since this is the most important nourishment you need for healthy digestion.

Because you can eat as many nutritious foods you want but if you don’t get enough calories, it won’t heal your digestion.

The number one thing why people fail to improve their digestion in recovery is because they don’t eat enough calories to begin with.

6. Chronic stress.

And the last thing I want to talk about is the state of chronic stress restriction and eating disorder creates in your body. And this state of chronic stress takes a huge toll on your digestion.

When we are in stress our body goes into this “fight or flight” mode. And temporarily this heightens our senses so we are better able to act on the stressful situation.

And it also slows down your digestion because in a fight or flight situation it’s not very useful to spend time and energy on eating and digesting food.

Temporarily its not a big deal, but it becomes a big deal when you are in chronic stress, like we experience in an eating disorder, and the body cant come out of the stress. So it keeps sending those stress hormones that keep suppressing your normal digestion.

Plus, stress increases the acid in your stomach that can cause indigestion and heartburn. And it can also cause healthy gut bacteria imbalance that further adds to the digestive issues.

Stress alters your digestion in so many ways and some common stress-related gut symptoms are: 

  • indigestion 
  • heartburn
  • stomach pain 
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • bloating
  • loss of appetite 
  • nausea
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) 
  • stomach ulcers
  • …to name a few

And the stress can be from the physical effects of an eating disorder but a lot of stress also comes from the mind. Your mind and body are so much connected.

You can add more stress to your body by your thoughts, for example. Things like self-criticism, self-hate, body image issues, in general, mental health issues can keep you in a state of stress.

And this is why to heal the digestion you need to work on your physical recovery but also mental recovery because it’s all connected.

And to understand more about stress and its effect on your body and your digestion I recommend you to watch my video about stress HERE. 

In the next posts, I will talk more about the bloating and digestion issues, what steps to take, and how to deal with it. So stay tuned!

And if you want to know more about recovery and how to do it step by step then please read my book “BrainwashED”

If you wish to work with me one one one, then I offer 12-Week Recovery Coaching where I can help you go through your recovery step by step and offer support and accountability. Read more and apply HERE.

4 thoughts on “Bloating And Digestion Issues In Recovery (Part 1/3)”

  1. Awesome content – thanks Elisa!

    At the age of 60 and after dieting for probably 50 years or so, I am in the state you describe in this article. I’m in the process of adding back foods that were “forbidden” for years (I did extreme low carb and IF) and am finding EXACTLY what you describe is happening.

    At first, introducing wheat products which had been eliminated from my diet for a very long time, made me physically ill with major bloating, abdominal distress and significant angina. As I continue to eat them, I’m finding the issues are slowly dissipating. The angina was the first to go and I don’t remember the last time I felt it.

    I also have adrenal burnout and some hypothyroidism and am suspicious that my past severe restrictive eating has been a significant contributor those issues and to many of the digestive issues I’m experiencing now. I’m finding with eating from all food groups and adding carbs back to my diet has led to much better energy, lessening of crippling fatigue and a decrease of my meds for both conditions.

    Sadly though, I’m at my highest weight ever and the temptation to go on yet another restrictive diet is very real. That said, reading your site content is so helpful, as I am realizing that doing so would be catastrophic to my health.

    Thank you so much.

    1. I’m glad you find my content helpful! 🙂 And I’m also happy you see some issues resolving and it’s a great sign of recovery and getting better! And being at lower weight is not worth your overall health. I know it can be hard at times but see the bigger picture and what is more important in the long run! You can do this!

  2. wow!! What a valuable info!! The more I read about it, the more I get surprised. I suffer from amenorrhea since almost 13 years now and i am trying to get it back. I am 1.53 m and I weight 38 kg, so I think I probably get it back once I gain some weight… You said that when you eat, all that energy is used to restore your muscles and bones, etc, I am scared because in some post you have said that amenorrhea may cause osteoporosis, so if I eat more can I restore complete any damage in my bone mass? Is there anything else that I can do or take?

    Thank you for everything you do

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