- Dina Cohen
ED Recovery and Your Gut
ED recovery is hard mental work, but it can be hard physiological work, too. It can feel uncomfortable to eat regular meals and snacks after your body has been through periods of restriction and/or erratic eating. Here is some of what you might experience:
1) Feeling Uncomfortably Full
Restricting food can cause gastroparesis, which is slowed stomach emptying. As an adaptation to restriction of calories, stomach muscles lose their normal strength. This results in food remaining in the stomach for much longer than it should. Until gastroparesis resolves, you may feel uncomfortably full or even nauseous after eating normal amounts of food. You may also experience heartburn, pain, and bloating. This does not mean you are eating too much; it means your body still needs to heal, and the best way to do that is by eating regular meals and snacks. However, there are ways to minimize discomfort. Choosing foods that are easier to digest can help you feel better during this time. Stick to low-fiber foods (temporarily avoiding fruits and vegetables) and include plenty of liquid and semi-solid foods (such as yogurt and ice cream). Eating frequent smaller meals should feel better than eating fewer larger meals. Medications are also available to help manage gastroparesis.
2) Constipation and Diarrhea
Similarly to gastroparesis, constipation occurs after dietary restriction as part of the body's effort to conserve energy. The colon's movement slows down and things get backed up. While a high-fiber diet is commonly recommended in the treatment of constipation, this is not a good idea when the constipation is the result of a slowed metabolism as it will just cause more discomfort. Eat at regular intervals to help promote more regular bowel movements. Know that improved nutrition and the resulting increase in metabolism should help resolve constipation, but if it is a significant problem for you, talk to your doctor about treatment options to help you feel better during this time.
Diarrhea can be another symptom you experience as your digestive system re-learning how to process food properly again. This, too, should resolve in time as your digestive enzymes replenish and your gut restores its natural rhythym.
3) Gas and Bloating
We all have good bacteria in our gut that help our bodies extract nutrients from food. Limiting the variety of foods in your diet leads to a reduction in the variety of good bacteria in your gut. This means that when you start eating a more varied diet, you may feel discomfort until your gut bacteria re-populates. Gas and bloating can be a result of this lack of bacterial diversity. Some people come to the mistaken conclusion that they have become intolerant to certain foods, but what is far more likely is that the body just needs some time to get used to having them again. With regular eating and time, the gut bacteria will become more diverse and symptoms should resolve. Probiotics may be recommended on an individual basis but are not always indicated.
The process of eating well again can be a little rocky, but communicating with your doctor and registered dietitian can help ease the way. You can do it!