Anorexia and Compulsive Exercise: How I Made the Connection to My Unhealthy Gut
By Jennifer Schmid
September 15, 2015
I suffered from poor digestive health since birth. I was a colicky baby and was on and off antibiotics with bladder and kidney infections until surgery at the age of 12. I thought it was normal to have intestinal pain and problems almost every time I ate, and my IBS symptoms lasted until my late 30’s. At that time, I was eating a diet that was high in processed carbohydrates, low fat, and not much protein.
In the late 1990’s I started to develop an exercise addiction that led to an eating disorder. I was in and out of the hospital and residential facilities for many years. For me, exercising would temporarily ease my intestinal distress as well as create the endorphins I was lacking. It also helped ease my anxiety.
I started listening to Dishing Up Nutrition around the time it first started to air. It wasn’t until my third major intestinal surgery in 2012, that I decided I needed lifesaving help. I had stopped absorbing most of what I was eating and I was miserable. I was also diagnosed with osteoporosis in the fall of 2012.
I made an appointment with a nutritionist at Nutritional Weight & Wellness to address my eating and lifestyle habits. My nutritionist helped me make the connection that my unhealthy digestion was causing my anxiety, exercise addiction and eating disorder. She explained that neurotransmitters, or good brain chemicals like serotonin, are made in the small intestine. I was deficient in those neurotransmitters most of my life.
After one month of eating the Weight & Wellness Way and taking supplements to get my intestines to start to heal, I felt drastic improvements in my health (Read my original success story here). I started on a probiotic, which I like to refer to as my BBB defense system. Not the Better Business Bureau, but rather Beneficial Bifido Bacteria. I also started taking l-glutamine which is very healing to the digestive tract. Bone broth has also been healing to my gut. My favorite recipe for that is in the Weight & Wellness Cookbook and Nutrition Guide.
I learned that gluten, soy, dairy, sugar, coffee and alcohol were harming my gut. Eventually I stopped eating all grains and legumes as well. I learned that I wasn’t drinking enough water and that I need to drink half my body weight in ounces of water per day. I changed to Reverse Osmosis water versus using my Britta-filtered tap water, because elements such as chlorine and fluoride can be damaging to the gut lining. I notice if I am not drinking enough water because I experience intestinal distress, and water eases those symptoms quickly. I learned that due to my surgeries my intestines were not as efficient as they once were. This means that raw veggies, some raw fruits, and raw nuts are no longer an option for me, but I can still enjoy cooked vegetables. The fruits that are tougher to digest I can cook as well, for example stewed apples. Nut butters are also a great way for me to enjoy nuts.
It’s important for me to get at least 8 hours of sleep. If I get under 7 hours of sleep my digestion suffers. I have learned to avoid stress and the stress of too much exertion as well. My faith, as well as yoga, has been great at helping me with that.
I never made the connection that my poor intestinal health could affect my brain health. I was also unaware the antibiotics taken during childhood killed most of my good gut bacteria. Once my gut started to heal, the most exciting changes were in my thoughts and behaviors. The desire to over-exercise, and my anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behaviors diminished. All my eating disorder thoughts and behaviors left. I was so relieved to be able to learn and trace the actual cause of what led to all of these behaviors! All I needed to do was get change my biochemistry by eating real food. The knowledge of the gut-brain connection was the missing puzzle piece for me.
The incredible power of good nutrition
Shortly after meeting with my nutritionist at Nutritional Weight & Wellness, I was driving home from work and started to head to the gym. All of a sudden I thought to myself, “I don’t have to go to the gym today!!!” I drove home crying knowing that I had reached complete freedom. Keep in mind that in the past, nothing would stop me from going to the gym. I used to drive through awful weather (even a blizzard) to get to there. This is when I realized how powerful nutrition is.
Now I eat food that is compatible with my body and brain.
Eating animal protein 5 times a day has made a tremendous difference in my brain health, which supports my moods. Eating balanced meals 5-6 times a day is key for me. I always think PFC: protein, fats, and carbohydrates in the form of mostly veggies at every meal and snack. I find the fats so important for me to heal all the damage done to my cells over the years.
I feel more confident in my clothes, as I restored to a healthy weight and have had no problems maintaining that.
In addition to healing my gut, anxiety, compulsive exercising and anorexia, nutrition has healed me in many other ways. I reversed my osteoporosis, my back pain went away, and I can sleep through the night. I feel free, healthier, and happier. I never dreamed that talking to someone about my nutrition would make such a difference in my life.
For more information on intestinal health and eating disorders, listen to the September 12, 2015 podcast of Dishing Up Nutrition with special guest Jennifer Schmid.