This post took me a while to write, but I feel it is an important topic. I have posted a little here and there before about living with eating disorders, but never really went into the aftermath and the negative physical side effects that I am still dealing with today from all of the damage I did to my body, and why it is not just mentally hard to recover from an eating disorder, but it is physically hard as well. This post is to talk about some of the natural ways I have found of reversing bulimia effects in the body.
When you spend 10+ years of your life throwing up all of your food, you will probably end up with some health issues. Bulimia is a vicious cycle of bingeing and purging, and can cause some serious damage to your throat, teeth, stomach, esophagus, heart, kidneys and gut. Not to mention the psychological damage it causes. Just reading this article about the dangerous health effects of bulimia is scary to me. Sometimes I think I got off easy for all that I put my body through for so long, and sometimes I wonder if my digestive system will ever feel completely “normal” again. Although I have been recovered for years now and it has gotten better, I do still have to pay for the damage that I did to my body throughout the years.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. All I intend to describe is what I do and why I do it. The words and other content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other health care worker. Supplement at your own risk.
In some of my heavy bulimia days, I would go through a day bingeing on insane amounts of food, and purging multiple times a day… sometimes even up to 20 times in a day. It wasn’t long until I no longer needed to stick my fingers down my throat. It got to the point where I could simply bend over, push on my stomach and will my food up.. and I could make it quiet. It made it very easy to hide, and no one really suspected that I was still deep into my purging habits. To this day I could still vomit without help from a finger if I really wanted to (which I don’t). Doing it so frequently trained my stomach valve not to close all the way, and it got to the point where I could sometimes feel the food coming back up without even willing it to. It was like a natural reaction for my body at that point. On top of that my throat constantly hurt, my hair was falling out, I was always dizzy, I had very low concentration, irritability, poor sleep, and social anxiety. And my food just seemed like it would not digest.
It was mentioned when I saw my surgeon that my bulimia could have been the cause of my umbilical hernia. Years of retching can cause your stomach muscles to weaken and give way. I remember feeling that belly button pain every time I binged, most likely because all of that food caused it to push through. I ended up having surgery to correct it.
It makes recovery and reversing bulimia very difficult when you are trying to reintroduce food back into your system and your body’s natural reaction is to reject it. It took a while to get to feeling how I do today, and it’s still not completely perfect, although it is much better. I still get an unsettling feeling whenever I am really full, and I find that certain foods trigger the uncomfortable feelings in my gut. During the re-feeding process, it’s important to take it slow, and focus on getting in whole foods.
It was a slow process. One day at a time I had to introduce more food into my system and will it to stay down. I had to try to ignore the terrifying feeling of gaining everything back if I kept food in my belly, which was difficult. Because I did gain weight. Of course I gained weight. My metabolism was completely screwed up at this point, and my body was confused. Reintroducing more food caused my body to store it for future fuel, since it didn’t know when I was going to eat again. When you are not feeding your body the amount of fuel it needs, your body is trying to conserve energy, so your metabolic rate might go down. My body was also re-hydrating. I had to constantly tell myself that my body would eventually adjust, and that it was now getting the nutrients it needed, and that my metabolism would level out soon.
Which it did. It took some time, but soon enough my metabolism did start to adjust to eating more. My body started to realize that I was now feeding it on a regular basis and my metabolic rate started to shift back to normal. It was a hard process to get through, and that fear of weight gain and the constant urges to resort back to purging were difficult to battle. I had to keep reminding myself that my health mattered more than my weight, and that I didn’t want to continue a life of feeling miserable and sick all of the time.
But the process of reintroducing food wasn’t just mentally tough, it was physically tough. Holding onto food was extremely uncomfortable. My stomach was trained to reject food, so keeping that food in my body was unsettling. I was constantly dealing with a myriad of uncomfortable feelings ranging from indigestion, gas, bloating, acid reflux, heartburn, stomach pain, nausea, and lazy bowel syndrome. It was hard not to resort to throwing up just to make the uneasy feeling in my stomach go away. I had to be careful of what I ate at first. When I was in the hospital they gave me Boost and Pedialyte since my body was able to hold onto liquid nutrients a little more easily. I was also prescribed drugs such as Reglan, and proton-pump inhibitors such as Nexium, Prevacid and Prolisec. I didn’t want to be taking these forever though, since I don’t like taking medicine. I tried chewing peppermint gum after eating meals to help lessen the feelings of acid reflux, which helped, but I sometimes would chew too much (like, at least a pack a day) and the excess sorbitol gave me other digestive problems.
I am one of those people that doesn’t like to take medicine unless I need to, and would rather use natural ways to heal my body. I have tried various remedies to help combat all of the inner and outer health issues that I had acquired. Here are some of the things that have helped me along the way.
Inner Health – Stomach and Digestive System
Eating whole foods and eliminating trigger foods – Once I started to reintroduce more food, I tried to focus on real, whole foods. When I first started eating a paleo diet, I noticed that my gut felt better all around. Doing the paleo challenge had me eliminate specific foods from my diet, and I eventually started to reintroduce foods one at a time to test my reactions. In doing so, I noticed that certain foods seemed to trigger the unsettling feelings. I can tolerate grains and legumes okay, but I found that when I avoid gluten, dairy, yeast and processed sugar altogether it helps keep the uncomfortable tummy feelings at bay. I don’t know if that means I am intolerant, or if it is just a reaction trained in my body to reject it–since these were the types of foods that I would binge and purge the most. But whatever the reason, my tummy just feels loads better if I avoid them. My face also clears up more too, so that’s a bonus! But if I am attending some sort of event and want to have a slice of cake, I will take a Digestive Enzyme before eating.
Digestive Enzymes – Digestive enzymes are supplements that help to ensure that foods are fully digested. They help to make food easier to break down. Taking them really helped with the uncomfortable bloating after eating. There are a variety of different enzymes that digest different things. It’s best to talk with a healthcare professional to see if you would benefit from taking a digestive enzyme, and what kind would be best suited for you. But if you’re interested to know which supplement I use, I found Zenwise Labs Digestive Enzymes helpful to me. They also contain pre and probiotics.. These were my best friend for a while. I don’t take them as much anymore, but I will carry some with me if I think I might eat something that could cause discomfort, or I want to eat any dairy, or on a cheat day when I want a cupcake.
Taking Probiotics – Probiotics help to replenish the good bacteria in your stomach, which can help to keep the bad bacteria at bay. Eating probiotic fermented foods like kefir and kombucha can be beneficial too. The Greek yogurt I eat contains probiotics, and I take Nutrition Essentials’ Probiotics.
Teas – I keep some bags of tea around in my desk at work and at home for any time I might feel discomfort. Remember how your mother would buy you some ginger-ale when you had a tummy ache? That’s because ginger can be a great tool for soothing the stomach and reducing nausea. I drink ginger tea to settle my stomach when I am feeling nauseous. Peppermint tea is also a great natural remedy for certain stomach ailments, including bloating, gas, and constipation. Peppermint tea contains carminative elements, which helps gas move through the body as it forms instead of remaining in one place. Also, if you use essential oils, just inhaling peppermint oil might help reduce nausea and vomiting.
Outer Health – Skin & Hair
Dry-brushing – I have some loose skin in my stomach, a result of both losing a large amount of weight rapidly and the constant stretching of my stomach that I did while bingeing and purging. I would sometimes binge on so much food that my stomach would stick way out, enough to look like I was 8 months pregnant, and then purge it. As a result, my skin never completely bounced back when I did start to lose weight naturally. It is not terrible and I don’t have any sagging, but even in the morning when my stomach is at it’s smallest I still have what looks like a small pot-belly. When I was my thinnest I still had that pooch. Planks are not a flattering position since the extra skin hangs and is very evident, and when I push the skin around my belly-button together gently you can see the crepe-y skin (see photos below).
Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot you can do for loose skin. Maybe time can heal it, but since I am getting older my skin does not bounce back as well as it used to. Dry brushing seems to be helping slightly. But it still might never be perfect. I may always have a small pot-belly and not feel comfortable enough to wear a bikini, or de-shirt during a WOD. But the dry brushing has slightly improved the appearance and some people have claimed that doing it twice a day over time has improved their loose skin. Read The Wellness Mama’s post about dry brushing to learn more about it.
Hair – When I was younger, I had a lot of thick, curly hair. I hated it back then, but I would love to have my curls back now. Years of being undernourished caused my hair to become very thin and break very easily. It started falling out a lot, and I was pulling out fistfuls of hair every day. Over the past few years it has regained some of its health back from eating enough protein and carbohydrates, but it no longer curls the way it used to. I have been adding collagen to my diet, and that helps a bit (and it helps my skin too). I try not to wash my hair everyday, and use shampoos that are free of sulfates, parabens and silicones. I also take a Biotin supplement. It seems to be slowly getting back to a healthy state, but it is a very long and slow process, and I might never have the spiral curls I had when I was younger.
I think it is important to talk about the healing process and the challenges of recovery. The longer you have an eating disorder the worse the long-term effects will be. While my symptoms are annoying, I know I could have had it much worse. And with time they have been improving, although I do have to be mindful of how I am eating. There is always hope for recovery. It might be a tough process, but over time it gets better and it gets easier, and there are some good natural ways you can help repair your body. It’s best to talk with a healthcare professional about your personal recovery because every body is different. Remember that your health comes first. Treat your body with love and it will love you!
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