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Some Thoughts on Self-Advocacy, IBS, and Disordered Eating

Did my eating disorder cause my IBS?

In a word: no.

If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you know that I both have IBS and a history of disordered eating. You’ll also know that eating disorders, in many cases, cause digestive problems, including IBS.

In fact, most health care professionals that I’ve seen about GI issues suggested that I eat more, which, I think, is great advice.

A number of bloggers that I follow and admire have also discussed how restrictive eating can cause digestive problems. Emily, for example, did a really honest post about this on Friday.

I want to communicate to you in this little post that disordered eating–whether that’s restricting, purging, bingeing, or some combination–can absolutely cause digestive issues.

But at the risk of sounding very defensive and potentially hypocritical, I’m quite certain that disordered eating did not cause my own GI issues. Aggravate, absolutely. But not cause.

I’m certain of this because I have memories of crummy tummy days going all the way back to junior high, before I even knew what a calorie was, let alone kept track of them. I remember that my mom suggested I take baking soda for tummy distress, and after that, I often went to the kitchen and threw down a couple of tablespoons of baking soda mixed in a little water.

That almost never worked, by the way.

I also have rather embarrassing memories of much more severe IBS flare-ups later in high school, again before I had any kind of restrictive relationship with food. I distinctly remember being in lots of pain at an ice cream parlor while a friend of mine argued with a director in the community youth theater program about whether or not I had lactose intolerance.

In fact, I believe these sometimes quite painful IBS flare-ups are one of the major reasons I developed an eating disorder. I think I very likely would have developed disordered eating without the IBS as a contributing factor, diet culture being what it is and my anxiety and perfectionism being what they are. Still, I don’t think I would have developed anorexia without the series of almost totally incapacitating flare-ups I had in the summer of 2014. Not only did these flare-ups make me not want to eat (duh), but they also habituated me to eating small amounts and waiting a long time between meals–which, in turn, made things even worse when I ate larger amounts or more frequently. It was a vicious and dangerous cycle.

Sometimes I wonder if I should write two separate blogs: one about IBS and FODMAPs, and one about recovering from restrictive eating. I don’t want readers who might themselves be struggling with restrictive eating to come to this site and say, “I feel bloated sometimes too. I should go low-FODMAP and cut 50 bajillion things out of my diet.”

But my digestive distress and my ongoing journey to improve my relationship with food are so intrinsically connected in my mind that I can’t imagine separating these things into two blogs.

Steel cut oatmeal with blueberries, butter, milk, flaxseed and brown sugar. Eggs on the side.

So why I am a sharing this indecisive “Disordered eating often causes digestive issues but I don’t think it caused mine” spiel with you today?

One, because I think there needs to be a more sophisticated dialogue concerning how these things interact,

two, because every individual person is different and has their own needs,

and three, because I believe in self-advocacy. And I believe that self-advocacy is sometimes neglected when it comes to eating disorders.

Fuzzers and I went to the pumpkin patch this weekend. That’s why my photos have nothing to do with the content of this post.

Disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder have such negative stereotypes associated with them–in part, I believe, because they disproportionately affect women. On the one hand, women with anorexia are stereotyped as bimbos who only care about their looks, and women with BED are stereotyped as self-indulgent, weak, and apathetic about appearance and health.

Anyone who reads any of the awesome bloggers I’ve linked to on my Favorite Bloggers page know these stereotypes couldn’t be further from the truth.

I worry, though, that these stereotypes sometimes interfere with our ability to self-advocate. And I think that’s a problem.

I may not be a medical professional, but I am an expert on my own body, and I am the only person capable of completely understanding my own experience, just as you are the only person capable of completely understanding yours.


Sorry this post is a bit rambly. My brain is fried. Still, looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this one.

Do you ever feel that stereotypes have interfered with your ability to self-advocate? How so?



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  1. Emily says:

    I really appreciate that you talk about both on your blog Joyce, because they’ve made me think about how our bodies are so inter connected, and how God created us in a way that one thing affects the other thing in our bodies. It’s been amazing to learn more about my body as I’ve been in recovery, and I’m so thankful that you share these things too with such honest transparency.

  2. Cora says:

    Huh. So interesting.

    First of all, your blog is your blog and it is this very unique and personal experience you have – this combination of IBS/low-FODMAP/and a history of disordered eating that makes it so wonderful and unique. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

    And that’s very interesting because I can say with certainty that our experiences are completely the opposite. I NEVER had digestive troubles before my ED. Hell, its taken three years POST beginning of recovery for any difficulties to even arise. Even through my hospital program.. nope. Never any problems. I can thank my Dad for those awesome genes.

    So for me, I do think my history has caused my digestive issues. Which really sucks. But it also really really sucks to have to have dealt with these issues all your life. And then the obvious reasoning toward disordered eating must have just been its own whole very difficult experience.

    As the years go on I’m getting a lot better at self-advocacy. I’m learning to own my own story. To learn my whys, accept myself for my past, and let go of any stupid stereotypes out there. Thank you for being so strong in this.

  3. Kaylee says:

    Way to go for speaking up for yourself! And yay for breaking stereotypes! I love all those bloggers on that list too. I for one am so glad you combine both topics–IBS and your ED recovery–in a single blog. I’ve really learned a lot from you on both fronts.

    Though it’s not the same, I’ve wondered a lot about my recent allergies, if they’re a product of my own eating disorder. As someone who wants things to be clearcut, the whole chicken-or-egg of it all annoys the heck out of me. But I guess all we can do is accept that we’ll never know for sure, keep conversations going and stay curious.

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