Alright. Publicly talking about my digestive difficulties and menstrual cycle isn't my idea of a good time, but I have been wanting to write about this for awhile. Both are potentially triggering issues that many of us face in recovery so I decided to go for it and do this TMI (too much info) post. Here we go...
Bloating, gas, pain, abdominal distention, and of course constipation are all common digestive difficulties during the early stages of recovery. After a period of starvation, digestive enzymes and a crucial bacteria needed to digest food are reduced causing these uncomfortable symptoms. For many of us recovering from eating disorders, this phase is often so bad it turns us away from recovery all together.
In my personal experience (TMI warning), during the first 3-4 weeks of eating normally I didn't have bowel movements once. Not exaggerating. Other patients going through this process with me, said they had similar "back up" anywhere from a few days to a full month. Depending on duration of the disorder prior to re-feeding, consistency of eating, and even the types of foods consumed, the amount of time this process takes varies from person to person.
Even after my first bowel movement - the most exciting day of my life - I still struggled with irregularity for quite sometime. I've read that spacing out food throughout the day as much as possible and yogurts with live active cultures can both help regulate the digestive system during this phase of recovery. It is also tempting to cut back on calories during this time, but that is actually one of the worst things you can do. In order for the metabolism to regulate again, it needs those calories to keep the "fire burning."
Unfortunately, it is one of those things I had to suffer through in order to move forward. I wish there had been a way around it, but at the same time it keeps me motivated to never (ever ever ever) fall back into eating disordered behaviors. Going through that process once was enough for me.
After about four years without having a period, due to lack of body fat, the day I finally did get my first period last year was somewhat traumatic. In my disordered mind, getting my period back meant I had reached a healthy weight and at the time, a healthy weight made me fat. Yes, if you must know I did cry the morning it returned.
At my treatment center if someone did something out of the ordinary or made an important stride in recovery, they were given a star (it was just a sticker). This was always a big deal because they were rarely handed out. Everyone would ask what the person did to deserve the star and they would get to spend the day bragging about their progress. Exciting stuff.
During our morning weigh-ins the day my period returned, I told the two therapists weighing me the big news and to my surprise they were both THRILLED. I remember them congratulating me and saying how proud they were of me, all while I was throwing myself a pity party for officially being "fat." One of the therapists reached in her desk drawer and gave me a big star to celebrate getting my period.
Sounds kind of silly, I know, but it really did help me realize what a huge sign of health this was. Getting your period back during recovery is one of the most triggering turning points for most patients and I can fully understand why. Honestly, I kind of enjoyed not having my period; what girl wouldn't? The real reason it is so traumatic, however, is it meant I finally had enough body fat for my hormones to regulate themselves again. But I was forgetting the many benefits that come with menstruation - as odd as that statement might sound.
One common misconception surrounding the return of menstruation is it automatically means an individual has reached their body's set point weight. This is simply not true. I know girls who got their period back 10-15lbs before their goal weight and other girls who didn't get it until 2-3 months after reaching their goal weight. Again, like so many aspects of recovery, everyone is completely different. Also, it has taken my period this entire year of recovery to regulate. The thing that helped me most was consistency with my meal plan. Just like with my digestive difficulties, the more stable my weight was, the quicker my body could begin functioning properly again.
With the discomfort involved in digestion regularity, knowing I was officially at a healthy weight thanks to the return of my period, and all of these new emotions surfacing, this was by far the most difficult phase of recovery for me. The good news is, however, I am finally beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. As my insides continue to normalize, the better I feel about every aspect of my life.
Spending an entire year feeling uncomfortable in my own skin has been difficult, but if it means I will finally begin to find a happy medium, it was a year well spent.