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Going Hungry Episode 4: Causes, Effects, and Which Is Which

For someone who rarely blames others and easily forgives, I’m remarkably consistent about blaming myself and never forgiving myself.

Two things I tend to blame myself for:

  1. my eating disorder (anorexia)
  2. and my functional gut disorder (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)

I’m ashamed to admit that I took such poor care of my body for such, in retrospect, shallow reasons.

And I tend to believe that if I hadn’t taken such poor care of my digestive system by feeding it so little, I would never have developed IBS. After all, a few studies have suggested that there is a high correlation between eating disorders and IBS, and, at least according to one study, most of the subjects in the study developed the IBS after they developed the eating disorder.

Since reading this study a couple of years ago, it’s easy to blame myself for the intense bloating, the cramps, the *cough cough* lack of regularity, the nausea. Its easy to think, if I’d never let myself starve and purge, I never would have messed up my digestive system so badly.DSCN1370



A couple of awesome fellow bloggers, Kate of the Domestikated Life and Cayanne at HealthyEzSweet Life, got me thinking in the past couple of weeks about the relationship between GI issues and eating disorders, and how easy it is for those of us with eating disorders in our past to blame ourselves for GI issues, from pain to dysfunction to celiac disease. I could so, so relate to these ladies’ thoughts.

I actually had my first IBS flare-up in high school, long before I lost significant weight, before I exercised or ever thought about the calories in my food. The sudden nausea and discomfort, I believe in retrospect, was caused by mild panic over a terrifying prospect: having to kiss a boy onstage in a production of The Crucible.35373_1374356318989_3831904_nI know, I know…in retrospect, such a dumb thing to be worried about. But for a week or two during that production, I hardly wanted to eat anything, and my stomach would cramp a few bites into most meals.

Throughout my undergraduate years, I remember having these flare-ups periodically, for no particular reason that I could identify. They certainly weren’t the “norm,” weren’t a constant in my life, but they were frequent and similar enough that I recognized them as a pattern of familiar symptoms. “Here goes that thing again,” I would think.

I noticed a slightly different bloated feeling (feeling over-full after only a small serving) more and more toward the end of college. If I ate a heavier lunch, I often still felt, not just a lack of appetite, but downright discomfort by the time supper rolled around. My response to this was to assume that I was overeating and eat less, skip snacks, go to the gym more, and make my meals even smaller.

I had an extremely painful, downright debilitating flareup right at the beginning of the summer when my weight took a dramatic turn, and I remember feeling very uncomfortably bloated–even by my own standards–for much of that summer. So, logically, I ate less. But the feeling didn’t go away. So I ate less. And less. And less…226319_10151005496268149_1226557063_nTherefore, I might conclude, my IBS, in fact, caused my undereating. Following this line of thought, it’s tempting to tell myself (and others) I never really had anorexia nervosa at all, but merely a reduced appetite and as a result, slowed metabolism.



On the other hand….

It also makes sense to me that, if I had a predisposition for IBS somehow naturally or genetically, my eating disorder aggravated the IBS all the more.

For instance, you remember how I said that the bloated/stuffed feeling became more and more common for me in my later years of college?

That’s around the same time that I really started eating smaller portion sizes, started adding up calories in the back of my mind, started refusing to snack even though I was hungry, started getting to the gym at least five days a week. I ate more and more super-high-fiber foods like Grapenuts, Kashi Go Lean!, extra-high-fiber wraps, popcorn, split peas, and avocados, as well as replaced solid snacks and drinks with iced fruit tea and artificial sweetener.DSCN0936I wouldn’t be surprised if, as a result of being underfed and forced such a difficult-to-digest diet, my digestive system slowed down and became more finicky.

So which is the cause and which is the effect: the IBS or the eating disorder?

And, more importantly, why do I care?

The first question is both very difficult and very easy to answer: I don’t know.

As for the second question: I care for a simple reason that I imagine any reader who’s been through something difficult will relate to: I want to know why these two very unpleasant things happened to me. Specifically, I want to know to what extent these two unpleasant things are my own fault.DSCN1366Of course I know that’s not a healthy way of thinking about all this. That’s my blame-myself brain at work, when I should be letting the past be in the past and forgiving myself for my mistakes.

Shit happens, after all.

I just watched Forrest Gump on Monday night! First time I’ve seen that movie since I was a little kid. One of the big themes of the film is the idea of destiny: does stuff happen for a reason, or does stuff just happen by chance? Forrest, when he’s talking to Jenny at the very end of the film, suggests the idea that perhaps both things are true.DSCN1365Sometimes we make poor decisions, and we suffer the consequences. Sometimes shit just happens. And sometimes, it’s a little bit of both.

Thanks to Amanda for letting me think out loud today!

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  1. Emily says:

    Wow, I completely agree with that feeling of ‘being full’, which is really bloating. It saddens me that our sin brought suffering into the world. But it GREATLY gives me hope and encouragement that God sent His Son to HEAL people, to save us, and I’m praying that you would experience healing, because suffering is NOT good.

  2. My stomach has been a lot more finicky since I recovered from my eating disorder as well, but it’s getting slightly better with time and diet tinkering. And I know this is easier said than done, but DON’T beat yourself up over this. It isn’t your fault. Anorexia isn’t a choice, and it’s not like you went out and said “I’m going to do things that I know will give me stomach problems down the road.” No. We have to live with the consequences of our actions, but a lot of those things are not foreseen and NOT our fault. You can’t go back and change the past, but you can do your best to make the most of what you’re going through right now… as difficult as it might be. Just don’t lose hope and keep working to make things better 🙂

    1. Joyce says:

      Thanks so much for your inspiring words, Amanda! You’re right, I never made a conscious decision knowing what the consequences would be–I just have to deal with the consequences now. Wish it were so easy. I appreciate all the wheat- and dairy-free treats your blog provides 😉

  3. Diane Wahto says:

    The honesty of your blogs is inspiring. As one who suffered from IBS the last few years of my teaching career, I tried every remedy I could come up with to ease its effects. It would have been one thing if I’d been an office worker in an office or a cubicle, who could get up and take a bathroom break when it was necessary. Teachers and college professors can’t do that. My doctor tried to help me, but it wasn’t until I started drinking the non-lactaid milk that I found relief. Also, I think it helped that I was able to retire and didn’t have the stress of teaching any longer.

    Who knows why our digestive system gets so messed up? I sure don’t. Best of luck to you in your quest to find a solution.

    By the way, you were excellent in The Crucible. If you were nervous about kissing a boy, it sure didn’t show.

  4. Cora says:

    I think Amanda said everything I was hoping to say (though probably more eloquently put)… So basically “diddo” what she said. It really sucks. There’s no doubt about that. But it isn’t our “fault.” We didn’t choose to have this happen to us and we were doing what we thought was “right” in the moment. Now we just have to learn to live with the new circumstances, but it won’t make things any better by lamenting on the past. I say this also for myself – as it is something I really struggle with.

    1. Joyce says:

      Thanks, Cora. I think this post came out a little whinier than I intended–but you’re right, we did do what we thought was right at the time. It’s hard to forgive ourselves for our own mistakes, isn’t it?

  5. Kate says:

    as a result of being underfed and forced such a difficult-to-digest diet -> I’m fairly certain this is a huge cause of mine. Plus the overuse of medication in hopes of helping. However unlike you I never had problems before my eating disorder. I agree that wanting to understand the cause is natural. We want to work out why things happen to us. I think it’s the swelling that causes the problem. Dwelling will only make things worse. If anything, it’s more reason for me to work so that I never have a relapse!

    1. Joyce says:

      Agreed–I actually don’t dwell on it too much–but when I do think about the cause, I do find myself kicking myself a bit.

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