We tend to be generally familiar with many of the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder in our loved ones -- dramatic weight loss or gain (depending on the disorder), obsession with food and weight, depression, isolation, and so forth. However, we don't talk much about what happens after a person with an eating disorder starts to get better. Although I've been mulling over this idea for a post for quite some, Clare's post on her struggle with the physical fallout of her food restriction and compulsive overexercise spurred me to get writing.
As you may know, although I have struggled with using eating as a way to soothe myself, my most life-threatening battle with disordered eating manifested about five years ago in starvation, food restriction, and overexercise. I dropped to 112 pounds, which is not much on my 5'7" frame, and for a while would eat only salads (which contained nothing more substantial than veggies and low-cal dressing). I experienced heart palpitations, thinning hair, dry skin, constant feelings of cold, a non-existent libido, extreme fatigue, and bruising due to my body's lack of fat. It was, in a word, bad.
By the grace of God I somehow found myself being treated by a loving therapist twice a week, who challenged me to increase my food intake and, more importantly, ask why I was abusing myself so much. And, slowly, I put healthy weight and fat back on my bones and so entered recovery.
Happy, right? Looking back, yes, I know that this was all very good, even while I might not have shared those sentiments at the time. But there were side effects that accompanied my slow journey back to health that nobody talks about. Although the side effects each recovering disordered eater experiences can be very different, my particular struggle was with poop.
As I worked to attain an adequate daily food intake, my body struggled to digest anything and everything. This side effect is fairly common with folks who restrict food, especially if there has been laxative abuse involved. My problem was probably compounded by the fact that, even while I was including nutritious additions in my diet, I still enjoyed a massive veggie salad everyday. Combining my bowl of uber-fiber with my already comprised digestion meant that I had gas. Lots and lots of it. Basically, I smelled like poop all the time. My students asked why it smelled like somebody had soiled their pants. It was mortifying.
I wish I could give other recovering disordered eaters a works-like-a-charm method to avoid this bloating, constipation, and gas. But there isn't any such method. All I can say, as trite as it may sound, is that it gets better. Just keep working on getting better, and your body will eventually follow.
And for those who know someone who's battling an eating disorder, be kind. Understand that your loved one is very much aware of her poopalicious issue, and that she needs your reassurance that you are still by her side, even if it is a very smelly side at the moment. I am so blessed that the Best Husband Ever showed this grace and love to me. Instead of pointing out that I smelled, or that my stomach was always distended, he didn't even mention it until much, much later, after I was out of the gassy woods, and even then he reassured me that it was okay. He knew it wasn't my fault, and that he preferred it to my being on death's door, completely imprisoned by anorexia.
Please extend the same love to friends or family who are struggling to climb out of the pit of disordered eating! Although it may seem like a small courtesy -- or maybe it seems like a huge favor -- do it anyway. Your loved one will be profoundly grateful.
Is there a side effect that you or a loved one has experienced during recovery that no one ever said to expect? How did you or your loved one deal with it?
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