Tummy troubles

This may not be an appetizing post, but I don't feel much like talking about food at the moment.

You see, I've spent the better part of the evening hunched over with the cramps that are part and parcel of "irritable bowel syndrome," that nebulous disorder that can't seem to be pinned down. Yes, I know that I am under stress (but stress doesn't cause this disorder, the Mayo Clinic says -- it merely aggravates it); I know that I had coffee this morning for the first time in a week; I know that I slept poorly last night and have been working much too hard in every area of my life. But why must my innards always suffer?

The gut knows, the gut knows...

I spent almost every evening of the summer of 2005 in much the same position, clenching a hot water bottle to my stomach in the hopes of staving off the cramping and shaking, to little use. Over the course of that summer, after I had spent the previous three years ignoring my belly's signals, I was forced to pay close, painful attention to every motion that my gut made. I became intensely aware -- almost too aware -- of its whimsies and downfalls, and over time noticed that some things made it better, other worse. On the winning side: hot water bottles, herbal tea, and yoga. On the losing side: wheat, oats, raw vegetables, peanuts and almonds.

I understand how chronic illness can play with your brain, how the possibility that "just this one thing" will bring about a miraculous cure. If only I avoid wheat, I thought, I'll never have a stomachache again. This was more or less the case, but the problems still came back from time to time, and I could never be entirely certain that it was the absence of wheat and peanuts, and not some external factor, that was behind the disappearance of my symptoms.

As a scientist, it is frustrating to belong to a sample size of 1. We live our lives as case studies, as exercises in uniqueness. If there were a thousand other people with the same history of an eating disorder, all presenting with the same nightly battle in their bellies, then we might be able to draw some conclusions about it. But here I am the scientist and the subject, and I'm witnessing my own body give way to distress even as I plot new "studies" of my own. A course of acupuncture, an herbal tonic, a return to the no-wheat diet, an elimination of caffeine, an extra hour of sleep, a deep back massage -- what other methods do I have but trial and error? I can use these, one by one, and hope that I'll see a return to normal functioning over time. But I will probably have little idea of why things have gotten any better or any worse, just as right now I don't have a clear explanation for why these cramps have struck me now, when any other week this school year has been just as stressful.

At this point, the scientist in me becomes frustrated, and the mystic wants to take over. Symptoms are signs, she whispers. Listen to what the gut is telling you. Easy to say, hard to follow. My gut rarely speak -- it rumbles and roars! It makes be pay attention after so many years of neglect. Even as I turn my attention towards books and intellectual pursuits, it demands an audience, and won't take no for an answer.

So, for now, I am going to attend to these needs, and go change the hot water bottle.

One last question: has anything similar happened to you? What connection do you see between your digestion and your eating disorder?


TwistedBarbie said...

Oh jeez,
My digestion is a MESS.
Its either SUPER fast or SUPER slow.... and once every few weeks, i digest normally and am hungry JUST when Im told I should be.

M said...

I have acid reflux, and while I don't know if it was actually caused by the eating disorder, I'm sure years of purging didn't help any. Interestingly, it has gotten a lot better in the last six or so months-as has my eating disorder. Still, I'll have a day or two where I'll just be terrible, and I once again feel that sense of dread, thinking "will this ever go away? Is it my fault? What worked the first time to make it go away?" I actually didn't make the connection until I read your post, but I have similar fears about my eating disorder. I feel very strong in my recovery, but I don't know exactly how I got to this point. If I were to ever slip, or heaven forbid relapse, I worry that I would be back at square one, not sure how to get out of the hole I'd fallen down.

Reagan said...

You can read about my battle with IBS here: http://curvygirly8.blogspot.com/2009/01/tmi-for-sure.html (haha)

Just had my first ever flare-up last month and it was HELL. I never thought about it, but I suppose it could be related to my former anorexia. It messes with everything.

But hang in there and I hope you feel better. Oh, and please post if you find something that works for you! My doc gave me some good medicine, but it dries up everything... saliva, sweat, eye juice...it hurt!

Ai Lu said...

Oh boy, so this happens to most people with EDs, it seems. What a mess!

I also struggle with the knowledge/suspicion that my gastro problems may be my own fault, because I had an eating disorder -- but that's a bit twisted thinking, as if my eating disorder were entirely my fault, too!

Sarah said...

I had a history of ulcers prior to my ED, but ED has definitely made digestion an even more interesting process for me. I rarely get hungry, although after 2 years of "by the clock" eating and trying to feel something, anything I have begun to notice when I do feel those pangs, which used to be impossible.

During refeeding, I basically never felt like anything digested (lovely delayed gastric emptying.) Even now, I swear that sometimes I can feel the food just sitting in my stomach and going NOWHERE for up to two hours after I eat, when all of a sudden I feel it move down physically in my body and I get an immediate sense of relief--finally, it's doing something--though physiologically, I know the process of digestion occurs when I chew. I feel hyper aware of my stomach's inner workings.

I also became lactose intolerant during my ED because I avoided all dairy for 11 months. This produced a "secondary lactose intolerance" which I have really never been able to get rid of, even with some tries to get my body more used to dairy. So I mostly avoid it now or take a pill. If I already feel psychologically bad after eating, why should I also feel physiologically bad? This is where my personal issues with ED-related guilt come in--I used to eat dairy just fine as a child, and I feel like I "broke" my body's ability to process it. I still feel guilty, even though my mom is now lactose intolerant as an adult as well and my GI doctor said that you inherit your GI system primarily from your mother.

Anyway, yes, I know I am oversensitive to my stomach's workings now when previously I may have just ignored them or let them be dull in the background, but I also understand now what makes it better (like for you, yoga and tea. And LOTS of Rolaids. And sometimes just going to bed.) I'm just rambling now...thanks for your interesting post.

Standing in the Rain said...

I'm having GI issues up the ying-yang these days. I also have some autonomic nervous system issues that are attributed to the anorexia, but *i think* have also caused the GI issues. I can't figure it out. One day I'm vomiting, the next I'm on the toilet all day, and currently, haven't had a BM in two weeks. Go figure, right?

Who knows. But girl, you are NOT alone!

Ai Lu said...

Hi, Standing in the Rain:
I just stopped by your blog and love it! Thanks for leaving your note so that I could read another cool blog. And I very much sympathize with your stomach problems. I hope that you're getting the treatment you need -- they seem a little more serious than usual.
Take care,
Ai Lu