Digestive Issues & Eating Disorders: How to ease discomfort without obsessing
By: Stephani Fenkanyn, Health Educator at BANA
For many eating disorder (ED) clients, digestive difficulties are, unfortunately, something that they are dealing with in parallel with their eating disorder. In one study of ED clients, 90% reported abdominal distention and more than half reported abdominal pain, gastric distention and early satiety and nausea. It has also been found in research that 41-52% of patients with EDs also have been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms are very common in anorexia and are often misdiagnosed as IBS rather than a symptom of an eating disorder. These, and additionally studies, support that digestive difficulties are a barrier in treatment and recovery.
Because EDs and digestive difficulties are so closely intertwined, this post offers up some simple strategies that may help in alleviating digestive discomfort and pain. Remember that is very important to talk to your doctor and dietician about your gastric symptoms, as well, in order to rule out any other GI issues such as dairy intolerances, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or celiac disease.
Below are some simple strategies to implement into your daily routine for alleviating GI symptoms…
Start slowly! – Don’t feel as though you need to start ALL of these suggestions at once. Choose 1-2 realistic strategies that you can implement and see how you feel.
There is a strong link between our gut health and stress. When you experience strong emotions, such as anxiety or anger, it is likely that they will affect proper digestion of food. A good way to manage this is to reduce stress through methods that work for you. Here are some possible techniques you can try out to calm the nervous system:
- Yoga. Yoga, not only reduces stress, but improves body image and mindfulness, and the gentle movement gets your digestive juices flowing
- Deep breathing. Deep inhales & slow exhales can be used whenever you are feeling stressed and right before meals.
- Essential oils. Some calming oils include: lavender, sandalwood, and ylang ylang. Try rubbing 1-2 drops in your hands and inhaling prior to/during/after a meal, as needed.
- Acupuncture may reduce stress and improve digestion.
- Sometimes less is more. Reduce stress on the body by refraining from intense exercise frequently. Some studies have linked increased intestinal impermeability during exercise.
- Sleep. Not getting enough sleep can really mess with our whole body’s system so put together a relaxing bedtime routine to aid in getting a restful night’s sleep.
Does “It must be something I ate” sound familiar? There are some foods that help support our digestive health. Here are some tips:
- Eating smaller, more frequent meals may be helpful to ease digestive discomforts.
- Essential fatty acids are very healing for our gut lining. They can be found in foods like avocado, olive oil, fatty fish such as salmon, and eggs.
- Bone broth is also healing as it contains a variety of minerals and amino acids.
- Sometimes eating raw fruits and vegetables can be hard on our digestive tract because it takes more effort to break down. Instead of a raw salad, try boiling, sautéing or roasting veggies. Starchy fruits, like apples, are known to cause bloating and discomfort. If you notice a particular fruit or veggie upsets your stomach, talk to your dietitian about how to navigate these challenges while also healing your relationship with food.
- Ginger tea or putting fresh cut up ginger into hot water for homemade tea is known for alleviating nausea and increasing gastric motility.
- Peppermint oil has been shown to alleviate pain. It can be consumed as tea or in edible form.
- Drinking warm water before and after a meal may aid in digestion.
- Apple Cider Vinegar may improve digestion. Mix 1-3 tsp with a glass of water and drink 15-20 minutes before a meal to help increase the productive of digestive juices.
- Using a heating pad after meals may ease stomach pain.
- Gentle stomach massage following the digestive track. Start at the lower left and follow the intestine to the right and up, and then continue back the way you came.
- Avoid eating too fast, using straws, chewing gum, and consuming carbonated beverages frequently as they can bring more air into the digestive tract and increase bloating and gas.
- Nutrition Counselling in the Treatment of Eating Disorders by Marcia Herrin & Maria Larkin
- Salvioli B, Pellicciari A, Iero L et al. Audit of digestive complaints and psychopathological traits in patients with eating disorders: A prospective study. Digestive and Liver Disease. 2013;45(8):639-644. doi:10.1016/j.dld.2013.02.022.
- Sato Y, Fukudo S. Gastrointestinal symptoms and disorders in patients with eating disorders. Clin J Gastroenterol. 2015;8(5):255-263. doi:10.1007/s12328-015-0611-x.
- Shen Y-HA, Nahas R. Complementary and alternative medicine for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. Canadian Family Physician. 2009;55(2):143-148