TW: Eating disorders.
I have had three different eating disorders, anorexia, bulimia, and restrictive type, in my 20-year-old life. Even though I consider myself “past” them, they obviously still linger here and there, especially during stressful and depressing times like the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite my recovery, I am still affected each and every day by them, psychologically and physically. Not only do each of them cross my mind, but they have brought immense, hopefully temporary, physical damages to my body.
When you go through an eating disorder, it undergoes malnutrition. Every part of your body begins to endure stress because of malnutrition, from your brain to your toes. My eating disorders have affected my body in several ways, from digestive struggles, heart function, menstruation, and energy levels.
One of the most common consequences of eating disorders is digestive distress. Most people consider an eating disorder to take place during the actual event and fail to consider and are often unprepared for the after-effects it does to one’s body.
The first group of symptoms that normally follow an eating disorder includes bloating, gas, constipation, acid indigestion, and abdominal pain. If the body does not process the intake of food regularly and consistently, it will weaken its efficiency to do just that. When you do start consuming normal amounts of food consistently, because of your slowed metabolism, the food will sit in your stomach longer than it should, which can result in various digestive problems. This isn’t meant to discourage you from recovery. You CAN overcome this disorder. But be prepared for a few months of unusual changes as your mind and body adjust to a new normal.
For me, I have severe Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Due to my limited food intake, the interior lining of my stomach got super thin and weak, ultimately causing the important bacteria and digestive enzymes to decrease, leaving my stomach to have difficulty digesting food properly. Thus, I began to have acid reflux “episodes'', where acid sneaks up on my throat and burns. It is truly one of the most painful feelings. This happens weekly, and it is more than a sore throat. It prevents me from living my life fully because I physically cannot move, and keeps me awake at night.
In addition to my stomach lining peeling, the size of my stomach also got smaller because of my decreased food intake. Because of this, at the beginning of my recovery process, my stomach needs to be stretched back out to normal size which is extremely uncomfortable.
I have tried numerous medicines like Tums or Pepto Bismol, which I would take daily, to try and cure my GERD, but nothing seems to work. I need to see a specialist soon because the problem persists years later.
Other common issues I continue to encounter with my body are dehydration and always being cold. When I was consuming laxatives to try and lose weight, I ended up in the hospital because I fainted due to an electrolyte imbalance. This effect also impacted my function, as I had heart palpitations because I did not have key nutrients like magnesium, calcium, and potassium. I now always make sure to drink plenty of every day. At the same time, because I was so underweight, I did not have much heat for my body to hold onto, and was constantly cold no matter how many jackets or blankets I used.
This is the hardest thing to talk about, but I also lost my period for a little over a year. I never told my mom or anyone else because I was so ashamed of it. I also did not want to tell her because I knew if I did, she would force me to get actual help. When it came back, I did not tell her because the problem had been resolved on its own after I had become a healthy enough weight.
Lastly, I became anemic because I was not eating enough protein or iron. Anemia caused me to become super tired all of the time because I did not have an adequate amount of red blood cells that the mineral iron provides to keep my energy levels up. I wake up in the morning feeling good, but when it turns to the afternoon I cannot function properly and want to nap all of the time.
Amidst these physical challenges, the most important thing for you to do is continue to keep eating even if you may not feel like it. The more baby steps you take the stronger and more fulfilled you will be in the near future. It is normal to be in some pain and discomfort during recovery. No one said recovery is easy, but it is definitely worth it.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder or know someone struggling, please click here.
Click here for links to my eating disorder stories.
Written by: Jessica Norris