Most bulimics, recovering bulimics and anorexics have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) either before, during or in recovery from their eating disorder.
doctors used to tell patients it was “all in their heads”IBS is typically characterized by pain/cramping in the lower abdomen, nausea, gas, bloating and alternating diarrhea & constipation. Pain may be continuous or intermittent throughout the day, week, month, etc. The cause is not fully understood — some doctors used to tell patients it was “all in their heads” because there is nothing functionally wrong with the small or large intestine. However, more people in the health and medical profession are starting to understand more about IBS.
The funny thing about IBS and eating disorders is that there are a lot of similar things at play, just as there are with eating disorders and depression. For example, IBS is related to disturbances in the nervous system, which also happens with bulimia. Usually, IBS causes excessive activity in the small intestine and/or colon. I once had an ultrasound by a doctor who believes bulimia is caused by a diseased gall bladder. During this test, the radiologist pointed out — “Look at her small bowel (small intestine) fluttering so fast, was this happening before we administered the drug for this test?” The answer was yes — with no food in my system since the previous night’s meal, my small intestine was fluttering madly away. No wonder I had digestive distress most of the time.
I chose to repair my liver, gut and gall bladderInstead of having my gall bladder removed, I chose to repair my liver, gut and gall bladder. I at least wanted to give it a try before having surgery because I could find no evidence that removal of the gall bladder resulted in long term recovery from an eating disorder (especially a long-term/chronic ED). I also started to read more and more about the body and mind as a system — rather than a dysfunction of just one part — I really believe there is something to this. I believe we can bring ourselves back to health without medically invasive procedures (at least most of the time!). BED seems to be doing the trick — my digestive system feels healed. In this post, I will share some tips that I have learned over the years to help with digestive distress. I hope they help ease any pain you may be feeling.
First Things First
Digestive distress can be caused by many issues in the body and mind spectrum – stress, fear, worry, poor nutrition, accumulation of toxins from food or the environment, disruption of natural rhythms like sleep, etc. It’s difficult to trace & diagnose the root cause of digestive distress for this reason — and the fact that there may be “nothing wrong” on your medical tests.
The more you get in touch with your body and aware of your state of mind (catching your thoughts — catching yourself in worry, stress, fear or negative thinking), the more you will be able to sense what might be creating imbalance for you. For example, I used to drink coffee all the time and now I don’t. If I do have an occasional sip of coffee, I can feel the caffeine rush after just 4 sips. I feel the affect on my thinking (a bit cloudy & revved up) and I can see what it does to my natural sleep rhythms (disrupts them). The more aware you are about things like this, the easier it will be to decide what works for your health.
Tips to Ease Digestion
Over the years, I’ve had many tests and tried many things to ease my digestion, here are some tips.
Food & Drink
- Drink fennel tea – fennel is a spice that you may see often in Indian meals. It is sometimes chewed on after Indian meals to ease digestion. You can take a tablespoon of fennel seeds and put it in a tea strainer. Steep hot water over this for about 1o minutes and sip the tea. Hot tea can be soothing to your digestive system and add water for hydration. Yogi brand tea makes several options with fennel, ginger, peppermint and other ingredients that soothe the digestive system. Experiment with what works for you (e.g., peppermint, while a good digestive aid, is irritating to me, but may work for you). You can also make tea with fresh ginger, cut up and boiled. Strain the water & drink as tea — I sweeten it with a bit of stevia.
- Pay attention to what you eat and drink – foods that irritate the gastro-intestinal tract can cause pain and bloating. These foods and drinks tend to be coffee (regular & decaf — it’s the oil that floats on the coffee that irritates the system), carbonation, alcohol and foods that are very high in fat. One source to look at is Heather Van Vorous’s Help for IBS website. It may provide some helpful information. It did not really help me completely — because I believe the root cause for IBS eating disorders are a bit different. Not all people with IBS develop addictions that further harm the body-mind connection, so you may want to work with a health professional who knows how the body-mind system heals best from addiction as you experiment with nutrition plans.You are your own best guide when it comes to how you feel before, during and after you eat — keep a journal and identify how what you eat impacts your body and moods.
- Consider talking to an Ayurvedic doctor or counselor who can help you choose spices to cook with – these can be soothing to your digestive system. Based on my individual needs, I started using fennel, cumin, coriander, hing and a few other spices in my cooking.
- Consider reducing flour products and eating whole grains. Flour is hard on the digestive system — leave some pretzels in water for an hour or so and see what happens. Flour does not move quickly through the digestive tract and can create issues with constipation or build up of toxins. The grains recommended by The Body Ecology Diet are amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat (Kasha, not Kashi) and millet. All grains should be soaked overnight or for 8 – 12 hours to make the protein more readily absorbed by your body. I found that soaking grains helped me tremendously. Nuts and seeds that are soaked similarly ease digestion.
- Experiment with the amount you eat at one meal – your digestive system may need smaller, more frequent meals rather than 3 large meals. Experiment & record the results in your food journal to see what works best for you.
- Pay attention to your emotions before and during your meals – Read the post I wrote on your sacred connection to food for more tips on easing your mind during meals.
- Liver flush drink – from The Body Ecology Diet, – when you wake up in the morning, squeeze a fresh lemon and combine it with 6 0z. of water. Mix in a tiny pinch of stevia (be careful, stevia is 100 times stronger than sugar — it’s a calorie free, natural herbal sweetener found in the health food store’s vitamin section). This helps your liver, an important part of your digestive system. The stevia in the drink also helps regulate blood sugar.
- Lie on your back (wait at least an hour after a meal) with a hot water bottle on your abdomen – this creates warmth and comforts your digestive system.
- Lie on your stomach, possibly use a rolled up hand towel under your left hip to stimulate your colon. Abuse of laxatives or bingeing and purging can reduce your colon’s natural function. This can help stimulate your body’s natural urges.
- Meditate and do other stress management activities – calming your mind has a direct effect on your body and can help with digestive distress. Consider this healing meditation and focusing on your digestive system.
- Get plenty of sleep – at least 7 hours of sleep is important for healing your mind, body & spirit. When I was first starting down my recovery/relapse journey, I learned that the more sleep I had, the more “centered” and healed that I felt. I was more stable in body and mind –including my digestion — when I had enough sleep. Experiment to see what amount of sleep is right for you.
- Yoga – a yoga practice can calm the mind, deepen your breath (bringing oxygen into your system and further calming you) and ease digestion. Forward bends and twists are quite good for digestion, among other poses.
- If you have gas after meals or when at work, consider going for a light walk on your own. Walking is great for your digestive system and if you walk somewhere away from others, you can relieve your gas without being embarrassed. See if you can make a commitment to doing this after meals when you are working around other people. Holding gas in only makes it worse. In my experience, being able to respond the body’s needs for elimination and gas has helped tremendously. Work environments are not always conducive to this, so be creative when deciding how you can meet the needs of your body. I used to get in my car in the parking lot and just sit and relax after eating, if it was not possible to take a walk alone.
- Abdominal massage – gently massage your colon by starting approximately a hand’s width near your right hip-bone and massaging slightly up and to your left and down toward your left hip-bone. Be very gentle and follow the shape of your colon on your abdomen. This can soothe and stimulate your digestive system. Buddha Belly Breathing is another exercise that massages the organs increasing circulation of blood, lymph, nerve information, and chi.. A massage therapist or health practitioner who knows massage may be able to teach you some good techniques for this. I have always been intrigued by Maya Abdominal Massage as well and plan to give it a try sometime.
- Make a massage oil with any carrier oil (like jojoba oil) and a soothing essential oil, like lavender. An Ayurvedic counselor or doctor can tell you which massage oil is best for you. A bindi massage oil for your dosha might be useful for this. You can massage this oil all over your body, taking the time to love and appreciate your body while you do this. Then take a bath or shower. This can be very soothing and relaxing for body, mind and spirit. I use sesame oil from the health food store with about 40 drops of lavender to 8 oz. of oil. This makes a nice massage oil for the pitta dosha, which when imbalanced, can create compulsive disorders, like bulimia & other addictions, and poor digestion.
If you have other tips and ideas to share, please leave a comment below and share with us! Your ideas are welcome and appreciated!
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