For The Love of Digestion
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Trigger Warning: this blog contains discussion of disordered eating behaviour, read at your own descretion.
I’m going to be writing about poop and digestion. Ugh. Right? I thought you needed fair warning.
One of the benefits of recovery from an eating disorder is being able to answer the call of nature. It sounds simple, and it is, but for someone with a history of an eating disorder, digestion is complex and life changing. For many years, and still today, my internal pipes are quite stubborn. They are angry, erratic, loose, retentive, and just plain impossible. That said, since committing to recovery, my digestion rewards me with more success than disappointment. There’s that old saying, “What goes in must come out.” In the throes of an eating disorder, that is easily forgotten. When I don’t eat enough, my body doesn’t give up the little it gets. It’s hard to understand why my fibre rich, but very limited diet, doesn’t relieve my constipation. I try to drink lots of water, which only makes me rush in a panic to the nearest toilet. Peeing constantly when constipated is like hearing the phone ring, only to pick it up and realize it’s not the right caller. After so many failed attempts, I lose hope.
Desperate for relief in my sickest days, I turned to laxatives. Laxatives only add logs to an unlit fire. Food needs to be in our stomachs or these medications do nothing but cause discomfort and perpetuate a vicious cycle. The larger issue for someone with an ED is that food is scarier than laxative abuse. It’s impossible to make a connection between bowel distress and lack of food when food causes crippling anxiety. Eating disorders are akin to having a tape recording of negative, self-destructive thought continuously playing in one’s brain. The noise is deafening and all we can do is try to survive. The possibility of becoming sick from bowel troubles causes worry too; but not in the same obsessive way that ED thoughts do. It’s ironic that I am a health conscious person and I popped laxatives like candy. This caused gas, bloating, and horrible cramps. My life revolved around the toilet, and I forgot what my old life was like. In my tortured head, I was only trying to relieve constipation. It never occurred to me that constipation was a symptom of horrible thoughts I couldn’t escape. In sleep, I dreamed of ice cream. I’d wake up fearing I’d eaten it.
After four years in treatment, I still struggle with severe digestive problems, but now, I don’t panic and use extra medication – I eat more. My body usually takes care of the rest. I feel sad when I think of the years I hurt my body. Overall, my intestines are quite forgiving. They owe me nothing, but I owe them regular food and hydration. One of my favourite quotes is, “When we know better, we do better.” (Maya Angelou) I know now that if, nothing goes in, nothing comes out. It’s very simple, but sometimes the simplest things make all the difference.