Healing disordered eating and digestion. Simultaneously.
It is possible. It’s freakin’ hard. But it is possible.
And I want to talk about how and why they both matter today. It’s where I see most people struggle, because they want to have food freedom, ditch the obsessive thoughts over food in their mind and live their lives again. But if your digestion is not healed, it makes it virtually impossible to heal your disordered eating when everything you eat makes you feel bloated, gassy and in pain. Digestion issues themselves cause fear around food which only perpetuates the issue. If you have IBS, you know exactly what I am talking about. Let’s discuss this further…
The Effect Stress Has on the Body
When we have disordered eating tendencies, whether that’s stressing in your mind constantly about the perceived healthiness (or lack there of) of the foods you are consuming or undereating for what your body truly needs or overexercising or even stressing if a food will give you digestive upset…you are putting the body in a state of stress.
When you put body in a state of stress, it goes into fight or flight mode. This is a survival mechanism your body is so amazingly-smart to have created. You used to use the fight or flight mechanism to outrun a lion or tiger (or bear, oh my!) and of course in that exact moment, it would be unwise of your body to create a baby or form a bowel movement…reproduction and digestion capabilities are optional bodily mechanisms, breathing, a pumping heart and moving limbs to outrun said lion….not so much. In today’s world, the large majority of us live in a constant state of stress. Driving to work and getting stuck in traffic, relationship or family issues, a deadline at work, obsessing over what you are eating, constant frustration over digestion issues…its all still perceived stress to the body. Your body and the hormonal cascade that occurs to deal with stress doesn’t quite understand the difference of stress from running from a lion or the stress created from a traffic jam. Cortisol is released in a very important cascade of events (as well as other hormones and neurotransmitters- trying to keep things super simple) that shuts down digestion as it activates the sympathetic nervous system. We are supposed to eat in the parasympathetic, not the sympathetic where gut motility and stomach acid are not present and can trigger symptoms of IBS.
Overtime of constant cortisol output, the cascade of events to create the fight or flight response begins to no longer work properly. This is known by many as adrenal fatigue, although that term is not correct in describing what truly happens. Your adrenals do not actually fatigue, but rather the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis begins to dysfunction. This alone, can cause digestion issues as the gut-brain axis is altered and the vagus nerve (the connector between the gut and brain) is shut off. This is important because your brain needs to know where the gut is in order to talk to it! HPA axis dysfunction itself can also be inflammatory to the body, can effect the balance of your gut flora and can further lower stomach acid…Low stomach acid is of important note as it can be the underlying root cause of SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), especially recurring SIBO. AND to make matters worse, digestive issues like IBS and SIBO can themselves cause HPA axis dysfunction because those issues alone cause stress to the body.
You can take all the supplements you want, change your diet in million different ways but if you do not address the underlying issue, your stress levels and the fact that disordered eating itself is stressing out your body, you will never be able to fully heal.
Eating Intuitively Can Be Difficult with Digestion Issues
So maybe you are ready to let go of your obsession with eating perfectly, ready to give up the 1,200 calorie diets and want to just learn to listen to your body in order to determine how to eat. I LOVE intuitive eating, it saved me in so many ways. It is always a goal of mine to eventually get my clients eating intuitively by the time we are done working together. But you cannot be intuitive initially when healing both disordered eating and digestion issues.
Two of the major principles on intuitive eating is making peace with foods and learning to listen to hunger and fullness cues. What I have found when working with clients is making peace with foods is difficult when there is constant fear of digestive upset. There’s a constant voice in your head wondering if you should cut this food group or that food group, if you need to eliminate FODMAPs, if you should eat vegan or paleo, if you should eat more fermented foods, etc etc. There’s so much information and honestly untrained guidance on the internet these days adding more of these thoughts to your mind, too. I know these people have good intentions, but it makes it really difficult to listen to your own body to determine what is working for it, to know what is actually appropriate to eliminate or add to your diet and to truly heal rather than constantly mask your symptoms. For example, if your IBS is caused from dysbiosis of gut flora from either too many bad microogranisms or not enough of the good microogranisms, fermented foods and/or probiotic supplementation will be helpful. But if you have SIBO (which the large majority of those with IBS have) it will actually worsen the symptoms of SIBO.
It is also extremely difficult to listen to hunger and fullness cues with digestive issues, as it completely throws off your body’s natural cues. I personally remember when I was still in the middle of healing my own digestion issues, I would go days without eating enough (accidentally) because my digestion would be in pain, and once I finally had one of those random days where I would have no issues, I would be ravenous. I work clients closely to ensure they are eating enough, giving their bodies adequate fuel and nutrients to heal adrenal issues and gut issues while working on the mental component to set their minds free from disordered eating.
While I do believe certain diets or eliminations of foods can be helpful for some, it is one of the many reasons that I believe its critical to work with a trained professional in determining if its necessary or not. Meg and I always have a goal to make our clients diets as least restrictive as possible, and for many no restrictions are even necessary. Including the standard low FODMAP diet, as when on antimicrobials and healing SIBO or IBS, happy and fed bacteria are better eradicated (read more about that here). Paleo or autoimmune paleo can be an appropriate therapeutic approach for some people, and the same goes for gluten free. But it’s simply not necessary for all, and I believe can do more harm than good especially if the food restrictions cause extra stress mentally. In my opinion, this includes food sensitivity testing, which again can be appropriate for some but unnecessary for many. I have had clients come to me after receiving food sensitivity testing and its only created immense fear around those foods, yet they still have digestion issues. That’s because the bacteria need to be dealt with, the gut lining needs to be repaired (what is creating the food sensitivities is intestinal permeability, aka leaky gut) and the mindset piece is never discussed!
So how do I heal from disordered eating while also healing my digestion?
Honestly, work with a practitioner who specializes in both. I have had many clients come to me who have already seen a functional or conventional doctor for help with their digestion, but didn’t properly heal because the disordered eating wasn’t addressed or they didn’t receive the support they needed to heal it. I’ve also had clients who have worked with practitioners in healing the disordered eating, but true healing was difficult because of the digestion issues. It’s something I am super passionate about because I’ve experienced both. And healed both. Simultaneously.
It’s why we offer our packages like the 6 month intuitive eating and digestion healing package, so there’s the time to heal both. It’s why we also have a 6 month comprehensive package if you also need to correct ‘adrenal fatigue’ or regulate your hormones (for instance you do not have a period at all or its irregular or you have intense PMS symptoms, all signs your hormones are not regulated) in addition to healing disordered eating and digestion issues.
For the majority of our clients with digestion issues, we first encourage testing to confirm diagnoses and discover the root cause of your IBS. I prefer to use the breath test first, as its believed approximately 84% of IBS is actually small intestinal bacterial ovegrowth (SIBO). From there we use herbal supplementation like antimicrobials to address the gut flora issue, an individualized diet depending on the person and focus heavily on the mindset piece. We do things differently at Nourishing Minds Nutrition. In our first sessions we talk about your morning and nighttime routines. We teach you how to get into rest and digest mode when eating. We encourage you to do activities that stimulate the vagus nerve. But most importantly, we focus on rekindling the beautiful relationship that can exist with food. To let go of judgement and fear of food causing you to feel bloated and gassy. To look at eating as an opportunity to explore and experiment with what works for you. To use positive affirmations, visualization and manifesting that you can indeed heal. You are your own healer, we just act as your support system (we offer unlimited email and text support to our clients in addition to the counseling sessions) and facilitator in the healing journey.
If you have questions about combining the two for ultimate healing, comment below or feel free to email me anytime at email@example.com. I’m here to support you as I’ve been there myself and work with many clients in this place as well, and it’s so, so worth the time and effort to heal both disordered eating and digestion issues.