Eating disorders destroy the gut.

* Eating disorders are easily-triggered bastards. I’ve realized that this is because it doesn’t want me to have information that might help. Articles and stories about eating disorder recovery tend to make those of us suffering very uncomfortable. I often called “bullshit” on the information within. I also didn’t sit with uncomfortable feelings well. It would lead to an increase in anxiety and an explosion of eating disorder behaviours. I didn’t learn until much later that uncomfortable isn’t fatal. The misery ends. *

I just finished eating a fudge-covered mint Oreo cookie. Or perhaps a mint Oreo covered in fudge? At any rate, the deliciousness clocks in at one-hundred-and-twenty absolutely empty calories (they’re best enjoyed cold. Keep them in the fridge). Empty calories don’t bother my eating disorder brain (eating disorders aren’t too concerned with nutrition), but the consumption of that many calories as a non-meal still creates a twinge. Snacks are still work for me. I have to choose to not reduce what I consume at the next meal.

Reduction is my default setting. Choosing otherwise is recovery.

It’s work, convincing myself not only that I’m not fat and that a cookie won’t make me fat, but that it doesn’t matter if I get fat.

It’s work, believing I’m more than a body that’s yet to get to the perfect I was waiting for before life could begin.  

Body dysmorphia.

It doesn’t matter if I’m imperfect. I’m starting to believe this, another “good thing,” as Martha Steward would say. Accepting imperfection is necessary for recovery, and recovery is necessary for life.

The eating disorder’s quest for perfection destroys more than our spirit and soul, however. It wrecks our insides too.

Especially our guts.

If your eating disorder involves you maintaining a too-low weight for long periods, not only are you bringing the osteoporosis (get checked), but your body has given up expecting you to feed it appropriately and is now cannibalizing your insides. It even goes after the brain, which explains much. Our bodies don’t like starvation. They fight to survive. The body will fight to survive even when the brain doesn’t care. [i]

Our insides are mostly muscles. On a not unrelated side note, that’s the part of the cow we eat. Not only do muscles need to get fed, but they also need to move. Eating disorders mess with that. Those of us who dance with starvation have intestines that gradually give up from lack of use. In severe cases, the bowel becomes necrotic. Organs rotting inside your body is as far from perfect as it gets.

This is probably a good place to remind people that eating disorders are only and always trying to kill you.

Bad bacteria.

I like the starvation aspect of anorexia well enough, but my eating disorder drug of choice was bulimia. Bulimia kills the insides too.

Bulimia became my primary neuroses not because I didn’t love anorexia, but because the binge-purge cycle allowed a release from the anxiety that builds inside my brain until it feels like I’ll go crazy.

That’s the binge, or at least part of what drives it, especially in the early days, before it becomes not only pathological but habitual.

The purge is the release, the freedom from the panic circling the brain. It brings moments of peace before self-disgust and self-hatred kick in. These feelings aren’t strong enough to pull you out of the disorder, but they do a good job of destroying the soul.

I always worried that not all of the food was coming back up. This is because I knew it wasn’t. No matter how good you are, some food remains. Some food moves on into the intestine, into calorie absorption. Bloating will occur. Ditto constipation.

When you don’t eat enough regularly and properly, a slow/blocked gut is a regular occurrence. The laxatives initially meant to deal with the “uncomfortable fullness” were quickly co-opted by the eating disorder.

Two for “gentle overnight relief” quickly becomes twenty, a number that initially leaves one cramping in a fetal position on the floor as your body tries to turn itself inside out like a sea cucumber under threat. The body acclimates, however, and the number of pills one needs to get hollowed out climbs, passing twenty in short order.

One box, one dose.

I took too many laxatives on too many occasions, resulting in embarrassing trips to the emergency room, inactive charcoal to drinks, and condescending lectures by revolted doctors that remain absent of offers to help. Luckily, once I had a few visits under my belt, I didn’t go back. Not because I didn’t overdose on laxatives again, but because I now knew how to treat myself.

The problem with laxatives is that the intestines get habituated. Before long, they don’t work without them.

Thank God laxatives are free.

Just kidding, they aren’t. They are small, however, and so became one of the things I regularly shoplifted to support my disease. It creates cognitive dissonance when you hold yourself up as a good person, but regularly steal things.

Weaning oneself off of laxatives is challenging. You have to retrain your intestines and get them interested in moving without a chemical kick start. There’s much bloating in the early days and much backing-up, a challenge for people who can’t bear to feel full or fat.

Walking and water will help, though don’t go overboard on the latter. So will yogurt, the kind without the buckets of sugary fruit. So do carrots. The real solution, however, is time. Unfortunately, patience is another quality people with eating disorders lack. We’re about instant gratification. We’re about now. At least, that’s been my experience.

*If you struggle with an eating disorder, or you know someone struggling with an eating disorder, and you or they aren’t getting help, you’re going to want to change that. The longer the eating disorder lasts, the harder it will be to beat. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of psychiatric illness. Early intervention is vital before the eating disorder becomes hardwired. It will take over your life. It will kill you. To quote “Contagion,” “it doesn’t have anything else to do.”

[i] As it turns out, “too low” isn’t subjective. If your default when people try to address your weight is a defensive and pedantic focus on numbers, you definitely have a problem.

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