Eating Disorder Recovery/ Health and Wellness

Reversing the Physical Effects of Bulimia

Reversing the Physical Effects of Bulimia

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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.

Read about my full history with eating disorders here

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).

My stomach first thing in the morning. Not too bad and you can see some slight abs, but you can also still see the parentheses around my belly button, giving it the appearance of a pot-belly.

My stomach first thing in the morning (sorry for the lighting). Not too bad, and you can even see some slight abs forming, but you can also still see the parentheses around my belly button, giving it the appearance of a pot-belly. I also have a slight “frowny” belly button.

 

When I push the skin together, you can see the crepe-y loose skin. I am not pushing very hard at all in this photo.

When I push the skin together, you can see the crepe-y loose skin. I am not pushing very hard at all in this photo.

 

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!

 

DISCLOSURE: This post is not sponsored, but you will find affiliate links on this page. The price you pay as a consumer does not change, but I may make a small commission based on your purchase. Thank you for supporting Fit Happy Free!

<3 Jordan


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15 Comments

  • Reply
    coco
    December 1, 2017 at 4:02 am

    Hi I was wondering How long your symptoms lasted for, I’m recovering bulimic for 3 months now and binge and purge free for 2 weeks. At first it felt great I had so much energy and most of my recovery I was eating healthy meals and maybe purging once a day or once every 3 days but now I’ve hit a wall the last 2 weeks. I was so worried I went to the hospital and they did a EKG and blood tests and everything was perfect, the DR actually said it’s once of the healthiest blood tests she’s seen. Everyday I feel like I have a cold flu without the coughing and fever. My whole body is so sore, I have 0 energy, my muscles ache and I Know I just have to work past this but I’m just wondering how Long did it take you for your body to feel like it hasn’t been hit by a bus? …suprisingly digestive issues are not so bad and I can live with the bloating and stomach pain but my body feels so tired and sore.
    Thank you so much!

    • Reply
      Jordan
      December 1, 2017 at 11:53 am

      Great job for recovering!!I’m not a doctor,but it sounds like your body is still adjusting, and depending on how well you feed it it could take some time. I had the body aches and flu feeling for a few weeks but after eating whole foods and focusing on an anti-inflammatory diet and exercising regularly my body adjusted and then I felt loads better. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water and getting in electrolytes (potassium, sodium and magnesium are important, taking supplements or adding a little more salt to your foods can help with those), and getting in some exercise, just going for a walk or just moving more. If you don’t feel better in a couple of weeks then maybe your body could be reacting to something you eat, foods can have different effects to our bodies (like some processed foods cause me to have joint pain) but I would definitely talk to a doctor if you’re still concerned–again I’m not a professional, I’m speaking from personal experience but I hope that helps, if you keep pursuing health it will get better! I hope you start to feel better soon and I’m happy that you are recovering!

  • Reply
    Julia
    January 17, 2018 at 6:57 am

    HI there,
    I was bulimic off and on for years. I’m now 52! Recently after a very high stress situation I went out drank and ate too much and purged! It landed me in hospital with severe GERD, and I’m very sick 2 months later. Can you tell me a little more about your recovery and how long it took? Not a day has gone by where I can eat without acid burning, I’m full and nauseous all day. I’m losing hope that this will ever improve. Please tell me it will in time.
    Best regards
    Julia

    • Reply
      Jordan
      January 17, 2018 at 8:05 am

      Hi Julia, it will! It just takes persistence and time. For me it helped to pinpoint which foods made me feel the worse and try to avoid them. I find that when I avoid gluten, processed sugars, legumes, acidic food like tomatoes and oranges, and some grains it helps me. I also find avoiding alcohol and coffee helps too. Then it’s a matter or letting your esophagus and your stomach heal. When we purge all the stomach acid can tear away at our esophagus which can lead to all of those uncomfortable feelings, so letting it heal properly without purging is important. It took me a while to heal properly, and at first I relied on pepcid AC and digestive enzymes a lot. But after a while I got to a point where I didn’t need to take meds all the time, but I do like to keep probiotics around to help nourish my gut. You mainly just want your stomach and esophagus to heal, which takes time and patience, and maybe avoid some more acidic foods for a while. Hang in there and don’t give up hope!

  • Reply
    Julia
    January 29, 2018 at 10:39 am

    Hi again Jordan and thank you for your comments. Do you still suffer from Acid reflux and sore throat? I feel like all the food is just going to come tumbling out if I even bend over…and my throat is on fire every morning from reflux at night! Does it ever get better? Did you have surgery to fix that? Im feeling discouraged.
    Julia

    • Reply
      Jordan
      January 29, 2018 at 11:05 am

      Hi Julia! I didn’t have surgery to correct it, although I think I might have a hiatal hernia which could contribute to the acid reflux, I haven’t really talked to my doctor about that as much, but I probably should. I still do get acid reflux every so often when I eat certain foods, so I try to avoid the foods that seem to aggravate it the most as much as I can. I’ve taken Nexium, Prevacid and Pepcid AC in the past as recommended by different doctors to help with the symptoms, although I don’t like to rely on medicine very much some of them did help a little. I think it’s a matter of training our bodies to accept the food again and get accustomed to it, and letting it heal. Throwing up will hinder the healing process. I did it for so long that my body was pretty much trained to reject foods, so I had to teach it to accept it again. I powered through the pain and took a few different meds as recommended by my doctors to help and after a while it got a lot better. I still do need to watch it with specific foods, I now have intolerances to gluten, dairy, and processed sugars. I also can’t tolerate raw fruits and veggies too much, I tend to stay away from too much fruit anyway because of the sugars, and I mainly eat cooked veggies. Don’t feel discouraged, a lot of us have been there! I would pay attention to what your eating and take note if any specific foods tend to trigger those symptoms more than others, and focus on nourishing your body with whole foods and proper nutrients.

      • Reply
        Julia
        January 29, 2018 at 11:24 am

        Thank you Jordan
        I have lost close to 30 pounds and can’t seem to put the weight back on. I am waiting for a referral to a GI specialist to see if I have intolerances, malabsorption issues etc. Evening time I have an appointment with the dietician to see if I can get some help from her. Do you have any other suggestions for me?

        • Reply
          Jordan
          January 30, 2018 at 1:14 pm

          Seeing a GI Specialist is the best thing to do, and that’s what I would have suggested. They are the ones that can really help diagnose and prescribe things that can help our GI tract. I would definitely voice all of your concerns to them and include everything. You can always try a naturopath doctor as well although I know a lot aren’t covered by insurance. Our bodies are amazing and will heal themselves, just as long as we let them. For me it took a while before I was able to see relief, but I would still purge maybe 1-2 times a month and that was hindering my process. Once I stopped completely and focused on making health my #1 priority I started to feel a difference within about a month. Then I did a whole30, and after those 30 days I felt amazing, no issues! Most days I feel fine, unless I eat specific foods that trigger the indigestion or gerd, but I feel like this is normal, almost everyone has some sort of food intolerance where they will feel some type of discomfort, be it gas, bloating, indigestion..etc. Pinpointing which foods trigger that is the tricky part. That’s why I loved whole30, it helped me find those. I know it’s difficult but patience is key, and seeking out your doctor’s advice.
          Keep treating your body with the love it deserves and it will love you back!

  • Reply
    Julia
    February 8, 2018 at 3:52 pm

    Hello again Jordan
    So sorry to keep pressing you with questions I’m just very anxious. I am still losing weight because the burning in my gut after meals is indescribable. So much pain I have developed a fear of food. Did you go through that? We’re you ever constipated? I am at the 2 1/2 month mark since stopping (purging), yet I feel weaker and worse. I am currently in hospital to see if the damage is permanent and/or if this is all in my head I desperately need another message of encouragement. Did you lose weight at first and how did you ever get to the point where you started healthily putting muscle back on?? Please respond, thank you so much,
    Julia

    • Reply
      Jordan
      February 8, 2018 at 4:30 pm

      Hi Julia. You said it has been 2 1/2 months, how long were you purging before-hand? What kind of foods do you eat now? I would definitely direct all questions to a doctor, but I did experience all of those uncomfortable feelings. I didn’t lose weight, I gained it at first, but I was a mixture of anorexic and bulimic and my metabolism was severely messed up at that point, since it wasn’t used to me feeding it on a regular basis it stored everything as fat so my body would have some sort of fuel. Regularly eating protein and complex carbs helped my metabolism level out and helped me gain muscle back. I would say it probably took me a good few months to feel completely normal again, because I spent a lot of time doing elimination diets and whatnot to try to pinpoint my exact food sensitivities and intolerances. Have you tried consuming any probiotics or digestive enzymes? Does any type of medicine help alleviate some of the pain? I would definitely recommend talking to a doctor, specialist or nutritionist so you might better know the extent of the damage and how to effectively handle it, all I can say is I did personally experience acid reflux, gerd, heartburn, constipation, lazy bowel syndrome, indigestion, cramping and bloating… and I feel great nowadays most days. It took me several months to fully heal, but I also think that could be due to the fact that I was still eating some foods that my body doesn’t like. I still get uncomfortableness sometimes but I think I have a hiatal hernia that contributes to my indigestion, which I hope to see a doctor for soon. I definitely understand the anxiousness, I was there too, and many times just wanted to give up and give in to old habits, but I also wanted to be healthy and happy again and hated how I felt before. Hang in there and keep treating your body well, and definitely ask your doctors for help.

      • Reply
        Julia
        February 8, 2018 at 4:53 pm

        Thank you Jordan
        To answer your questions…I was not a regular purger, but have always had high anxiety, so if I felt anxious after a meal I would purge. I did this for about 10 -20 years periodically. Leading up to this whole mess I was drinking quite heavy and purging at least once/day a few days a week. My final purge I had to really thrust on my stomach to bring the food up as it was stuck. It was excruciatingly painful and that is why I fear I have done some irreversible damage.
        I have been tolerating mostly soups and high calorie drinks like ensure. Everything else causes BURNING chest pain

  • Reply
    Yvette
    March 13, 2018 at 4:36 pm

    Hello Jordan, thank you for your post! I was a mixture of anorexic and bulimic as well – for about 6 years. The last time I threw up was actually in August 2016 (wow, I can’t believe it that I made it) but I’m still extremely constipated and I’m just desperate. I’m at uni so I have never had anyone to help me so it’s highly likely that I made many nutritional mistakes during my recovery – I was extremely overeating, unable to find the right portion size… just a mess. The last year I fell for the magic of magnesium that I took for about 3-4 months as it was the only laxative that worked more than once – I got mentally addicted to it until I had to stop taking it as I felt I was at a point of dying when I combined it with wrong food. But that was in July 2017! And I’m still here, constipated and just desperate. I eat clean – paleo (lots of veggies&water), I gained around 10 kilos (which bothers me but I try not to think about that as I exercise almost daily)… and nothing works (although I still have a tendency to overeat). Am I just being impatient? Do you think that overeating can be the problem (&is it really bad for recovery)? I hate it because my belly is big all the time and it makes me (and feels) uncomfortable and I’m just miserable (no social life, nothing). Doctors don’t know anything. I still hope it’s just a very long road to recovery, but I’m losing even that hope.:( thank you, yvette

    • Reply
      Jordan
      March 26, 2018 at 8:58 am

      It’s hard to find a balance between undereating and overeating, and it can get pretty frustrating. I still struggle from time to time to know if I’m overeating, especially since that little voice can still creep up from time to time and make me think that I look too pudgy. I’m not a nutritionist, but I found that oo many veggies made me feel that way. I can’t do a lot of raw veggies and fruits because it makes me feel uncomfortable and bloated and doesn’t seem to digest well, I have to stick to cooked veggies, but I think that is a fairly common problem. I also no longer eat strict paleo, I stay away from too many nuts and eggs because they make my belly feel bloated and big, and I try to keep my fat lower than the typical paleo diet that seems to have lots of bacon, eggs and meats, and get some complex carbs in the form of rice, sweet potatoes, and sometimes quinoa and oats (I find my body can tolerate them and it helps with constipation). Although a lot has improved since I’ve been recovered for years, my body still has a few problems with foods. I’m actual seeing a GI doctor at them moment for some lingering issues. Have you tried going to see a nutritionist? Maybe one that specializes in eating disorders? They might be able to give you more insight, I know it can be hard to find one though. Hang in there and keep working to find what works for you

  • Reply
    megan seftas
    May 18, 2018 at 11:11 am

    Hi Julia,
    I’ve been bulimic for years and been free from it for a year but I constantly have anxiety that I damaged my esophagus. My teeth were awful bc of the acid exposure and I implanted my entire upper arch!! So I keep thinking about what condition my esophagus is in. Thoughts? I’m terrified to get an endoscopy

    Help!

    Megan

    • Reply
      Jordan
      May 18, 2018 at 11:40 am

      I was recently in the same boat. I’ve been having some digestive issues lately and pain in my chest, and I figured that since I hadn’t ever really seen a gastro doctor that it was time I went and had things looked at, to make sure that I didn’t cause any real damage. My GI doctor first had me perform a barium swallow test, which is not difficult but the barium that you have to drink is quite thick and milky. That test usually can let the doctor know if there are any leaks in your esophagus or if you have GERD. When that test came back normal they performed an endoscopy, and honestly that was probably the easiest procedure I have ever had performed on me, much easier than the barium swallow. I felt a little bit of gas-like pain the next day in my chest but other than that no pain or discomfort or recovery time, if anything it was fun because of the medicine they gave me to knock me out for the procedure (my husband enjoyed my ramblings when I woke up from it). My EGD ended up showing that everything was fine except some gastritis in my stomach. I’d definitely recommend seeing a GI doctor, if just to get a peace of mind that there is no lasting damage, and if there is then they can come up with a treatment plan to help.

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