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  • Janelle Hunt

Get Off The Hamster Wheel

Eating disorders can have serious implications on a person’s physical and mental health, especially when it comes to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Poor nutrition, lack of nutrients and eating disorder behaviors can lead to changes in the gut bacteria and can disrupt the digestion process. The more dysregulated the gut is, the more symptoms arise which can feel intolerable, often leading to someone having an even harder time eating more, which is necessary for healing. Clients often describe feeling like they’re on a hamster wheel and are unable to get off. It is important for those suffering from an eating disorder to understand the risks of their condition on their gut health so they can take steps towards healing their GI tract, which can ultimately help lead to recovery.

How Can Eating Disorders Affect Gut Health? When one is struggling with an eating disorder, a person may be having behaviors and their food intake may become overly restrictive. This can lead to various gut problems, such as gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying), altered gut microbiota, increased gut permeability, increased irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, and decreased secretion of enzymes from the pancreas and bile from the gallbladder to aid in proper digestion. These can result in diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, and a further lack of nutrients being absorbed.

Also, if one is having behaviors and/or not eating enough, there will be inadequate electrolytes available to make gastric juice in the stomach, therefore, making food sit like a brick in the stomach. In addition, over exercise can be a component of an eating disorder which causes the body to be in a fight of flight response, thus further inhibiting food from moving through the gut at a normal rate.

Tips Along with finding a team of medical professionals who can help determine the next best steps for treatment, here are some tips that may help lead someone on their healing journey with their gut, thus helping them move in the direction of recovery:

  • Eat regular meals throughout the day.

  • Chew food to applesauce consistency.

  • Drink plenty of fluids, with electrolytes in them, if needed.

  • Eat adequate amounts of protein, carbohydrates, fats, fiber and colorful food.

  • Increase fiber very slowly.

  • Get adequate sleep.

  • Work on mindful eating.

  • Stimulate the vagus nerve to help with relaxation – humming, gargling, or practicing breathing techniques.

  • Work with a dietitian to help get back on track with proper nutrition and gut health.

Eating disorders are serious conditions that require medical attention. Paying attention to healing the gut through proper nutrition and decreased behaviors can help someone get off the hamster wheel and find freedom from their eating disorder.


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