Bloating and other body changes in ED recovery

When entering recovery from bulimia, one of the first (and scariest) challenges is accepting the changes your body may experience.

Things are typically less scary when we know what to expect. While everyone’s body reacts differently to the phases of recovery, here are some common changes that most do experience, along with a few helpful tips for handling them.

The initial bloating phase

There have been endless blog posts and forum discussions about the ‘recovery bloat.’ It is something that almost everyone asks me about during consultations.

Individual case studies and a general consensus of the recovery community indicate that this bloating is definitely real and experienced by a majority of people who enter recovery. Don’t let this deter you though, as it typically only lasts through the beginning phases.

As you begin structured eating, your body isn’t accustomed to having regular meals yet. This rebalancing phase is often the point where people begin to feel bloated and uncomfortable. Try not to feel frustrated about this. Your body is just going through the process of adapting to having regular meals and snacks. The digestive process may take some time to regulate itself and become normal again.

Tips for handling bulimia bloating:

  • Try probiotics and/or digestive enzymes. Ask your doctor which type and dosage would be recommended for getting your digestion back on track

  • Avoid laxatives or ‘dieter’s tea’ because these products only damage the digestive system, causing increased constipation and bloating in the long-run

  • Peppermint capsules can be helpful, also hot water bottles

  • Gentle stretches - there are specific ones that are better for digestive issues

  • Don't wear tight clothing on tummy as this puts pressure on your gastric nerves

Weight fluctuations

One of the biggest fears that most people have is that recovery will lead to weight gain. While weight fluctuations are fairly common, it is important to note that eating disorders are not an effective way to manage weight in the first place.

Changes in eating habits almost inevitably lead to weight changes. Some people experience weight fluctuations as they begin to practice structured eating, while others do not experience much change in their weight at all. The more quickly you can normalise eating habits, the more quickly your weight will stabilise as a result.

Tips for handling recovery weight fluctuations:

Practice patience. Remember that you are in it for the long-term and weight changes aren’t worth throwing away your recovery efforts. Weight gain is not a bad thing, even though your ED and diet culture are trying to convince you otherwise. Stick with structured eating. Regular, balanced eating helps prevent binging, which in turn helps normalise your weight. Avoid the scale. Weighing yourself will only increase anxiety about fluctuations. Don’t torture yourself with a daily number.

Water retention This can come and go throughout recovery. There are several causes for water retention such as increased sodium intake, hormonal changes and dehydration. Water retention is perfectly natural, as our bodies are made up of 70% water, so it is to be expected that this level would fluctuate as your body is adjusting.

Tips for handling water retention Stay hydrated. It sounds odd that dehydration would increase water retention, but our bodies actually hold onto water when not enough fluids are supplied.

Avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol. Both of these cause dehydration, which will only worsen water retention over time. Have salt in moderation. Too much sodium can increase water retention, although our bodies can generally process a moderate amount.

Don’t let these challenges scare you away. On the other side, here are some of the many positive body changes you can expect:

  • Better quality sleep at night

  • Increased energy

  • Feeling generally more calm

  • Less anxiety

  • Clearer skin

  • More stable emotions

  • Improved self-esteem

  • Overall better health

  • A reduction or complete elimination of having a sore throat, puffy eyes, swollen cheeks, upset stomach and endless other negative effects.

  • Better immune system

  • Stable hormones

  • Mental clarity

  • More time to think about what is truly important in life

  • Eventually a life without an ED!

As you embark on your recovery journey, remember that these body changes are to be expected, but are very different for everyone.

Also keep in mind that the uncomfortable side effects such as bloating are temporary and will pass. No matter what changes you experience, never give up on recovery because the negative effects of bulimia far outweigh the discomfort that recovery may sometimes bring.

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