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How Eating Disorders Affect the Digestive Tract: Part 2

How Eating Disorders Affect the Digestive Tract: Part 2

In a previous blog post, I wrote about common gastrointestinal symptoms that may occur as a result of long-term disordered eating behaviors. Oftentimes, however, I have clients that have been suffering from GI symptoms as far back as they can remember, predating their eating disorder. We explore how their chronic GI symptoms may have played a role in the development of disordered eating behaviors, and this makes sense for several reasons. GI conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can cause issues such as diarrhea, bloating, and/or constipation that may worsen in relation to specific types of foods or perhaps it feels like any eating episode leads to symptoms. Additionally, clients may have gone to a gastroenterologist to help get answers to how to manage their symptoms and simply be told to follow a “Low FODMAP” diet that eliminates or severely restricts whole food groups. Unfortunately, in this scenario, clients are not taught the most important part of this diet, which is the reintroduction of previously omitted foods. Disordered eating behaviors such as restricting how much is eating or limiting the diet to a small selection of foods that are “safe” may start as a means to control symptoms, but overtime can be a risk factor for the development of an eating disorder. As discussed in the previous blog, a restricted diet pattern will contribute to worsening GI symptoms, further reinforcing the belief that food is the cause of your GI dysfunction vs. learning how food can work for your GI function.

Another such scenario I’ve seen in clients includes malabsorptive conditions that may cause weight loss or weight fluctuations such as with Celiac, Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis or short bowel syndrome. With more severe symptoms, weight loss is common, followed by a regain of weight after treatment with steroids or other medical interventions. This subsequent weight gain can lead to more preoccupations with one’s body shape or weight and may even result in purposeful misuse of medication or dietary restriction to lose weight again. Chronic conditions themselves can lead to co-existing mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, or require surgery such as ostomy formation, further worsening one’s self-esteem or quality of life; all of which are risk factors for eating disorders. While research is limited on this topic, knowing some of the various risk factors for eating disorders is still a valuable tool for early intervention or possibly prevention of this life threatening condition.

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