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Managing the Gastrointestinal side effects of Anorexia Recovery

Over the 25+ years of seeing patients recover from eating disorders, I have been impressed by all the clever and creative ways clients dealt with the gastrointestinal side effects of Eating Disorder Recovery. The most common problems encountered were abdominal pain, acid reflux, nausea, gas, bloating, chronic constipation, and a generally slow digestive system. Overheating after eating and a fast heartbeat after eating are also common. Uncommon digestive problem reports included the presence of a fecolith (a hardened clump of feces in the digestive track), torturous colon, sulfur smelling burbs, and leaky gut type problems.

Own dear departed Dr. David Rosen used to teach patients about the effects of anorexia on the body. I remember him saying that anorexia killed off two of the fastest growing cells in the body, Hair cells and the villi that line the intestinal track. The injury to the villi, among other things, produces a slow transit time, known as gasteroparesis. Weight restoration and a return of regular eating heals the villi and the intestinal track, but it takes some time, and patients often reported about the ways they managed the bumps along the way.

Health consequences of Eating Disorders: more detail about the gasterointestinal problems

I share their hacks here to encourage you to have faith that the digestive track can heal and restore itself to full health and mobility. Sometimes it just needs a little help along the way. These hacks were all very short term crutches that helped clients deal with the hiccups along the way.

Please do not take the following as medically recommended treatment for yourself. I only share to help you see there is a range of ways people have dealt with the recovery of the digestive system. Please, please discuss your problems with your physician and perhaps share this list with them to see if any of these ideas would be good for you.

The constipation in recovery can be stubborn, and occasionally a physician will recommend the use of a stool softener or laxative type product. We all understand products of this kind can be used in the service of an Eating Disorder. If you have to take these, you need to be very honest with yourself about whether you are using them for good or ill.

Best Hack for Chronic Constipation: One patient found a long lasting recovery of her digestive system by the use of a Chia Seed pudding, and a probiotic. She said the Chia seed pudding had an amazing and immediate effect on her constipation. I believe she used a simple recipe with whole milk and maple syrup.

Acid reflux/Nausea/Gas: One patient swore by a combo of Rice Chex, Gas X, Tums, and if necessary the addition of over the counter medication Pepcid AC (Famotidine) and Prilosec (Omeprazole). The Rice Chex seemed to have an amazing ability to neutralize her acidic stomach. Chronically having an empty stomach seems to make some people have a high amount of stomach acid. I believe she took the Prilosec on a longer term regular basis to down regulate the production of stomach acid, and she took the Pepcid as needed to treat the acid on days when it bothered. She was later bumped up to a prescription level acid blocker. Keep in mind research shows the longer term acid regulators are only taken for a period of time

Abdominal pain and bloating: Dr. David Garner at the River Centre Clinic used to regularly recommend to patients early on in recovery to take an over the counter digestive enzyme supplement (Amalyse, Protease, and Lipase) Nice explanation of what the enzymes do.

Listing of the best reviewed OTC digestive enzyme supplements

Chronic Constipation/slow digestive system transit time: One gastroenterologist recommended that a chronically constipated patient take a double dose of Miralax daily to help her system recover. The single dose packs made it easy to get started. This can be mixed into any kind of beverage, hot or cold. Using a full 16 oz of really cold or really hot beverage, and mixing it very thoroughly make it as tasteless as possible.

Another patient reported that she occasionally needed to use a Ducolax suppository to break through a chronic constipation. She reported teh suppository caused less nausea and abdominal muscle cramping than the Ducolax suppository pill. Other people may find the opposite is true for them.

I share these tidbits of patients stories, to show what different people have done to break a stalemate or a logjam in the digestive system. These hacks are short-term fixes in the midst of a longer arc of overall recovery, where the digestive system eventually healed itself through weight restoration and the return to normal eating.

Medication Management: One patient with an eating disorder and chronic inflammatory pain found that her low mood and despair caused her to forget to take her prescribed medications. She found daily, weekly and monthly pill boxes and eventually this electronic pill dispenser invaluable to help her stay up to date and regular in her medication regimen.

Be well!

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