The Wrong Way: The Relationship between IBS, Mental Health and Eating Disorders
Last updated: May 2018
*Warning: this article contains possible triggers*
I know that I am not alone when I say that sometimes IBS affects not only how my mind thinks, but also how it sees the world -and myself. I've written about body image before, but this article is different; this time, I'm tackling something a bit more disturbing: eating disorders.
Depression and IBS collide
I recently suffered a mental health episode wherein I relapsed into self harm and self medication. Though this episode did not necessarily feel different from others, it led to something that I have not truly indulged in since high school: anorexia. When body image and IBS collide, sometimes the only thing we think that we can do is forgo food altogether. We eat healthy, we feel terrible; we binge and feel terrible, so what is left? Defeated, depressed, and sick we desperately cling to something different that might make us feel better -feel thinner, less bloated, less uncomfortable. We count calories, drink water instead of meals, or stop eating entirely. We think we've found the answer - but we are wrong.
When eating disorders are trending
During this last episode, my loss of appetite was intense. I was down, I hated myself, and I focused all my negative energy on my body -my image, my fat, my skin, my thighs, my face... I knew that when I ate, I felt bloated, I felt uncomfortable, so I did what I thought was the only answer. I abstained. Ultimately, being an academic at heart, I decided to research methods of losing weight. I looked for thin women to follow on social media. I Googled different foods to eat that had the least amount of calories. And then, I discovered something that was so disturbing it had the power to help me come out of my self-deprecating depression. This thing that I found referred to itself as 'thinspiration.' It targeted, and was perpetuated by, mainly teenage boys and girls (usually the latter) and ultimately used memes, mantras, imagery, and catchy phrases to promote eating disorders and being "thin."
This discovery was difficult for me. I empathized. At first, I even indulged. I poured over images of dangerously thin women on social media and swooned over their protruding bones and lack of puffy, swelling, bloated stomachs. I read memes that suggested ridiculous eating habits and shouted slogans, such as "skip dinner, wake up thinner," or "you don't have to be the fat friend forever!" My indulgence, however, was short lived. I soon realized how disturbing this trend truly was -especially when I found the hashtag "pro Ana." No, Ana is not a woman -it is short for pro-anorexia. Make no mistake, when I say 'found' I don't mean it was difficult; on the contrary, these trends popped up everywhere. They were prominent, they were loud, and they were enticing. They did not require any work to 'find.'
My journey back to the right way
These pro-ana and thinspiring trends had one positive affect: they helped me realize how wrong I'd been. Indulging in my mental state and juvenile dreams of being 'skinny' were not the answer to my IBS and cognitive health. This discovery helped me get back into trying to eat healthily and, most importantly, forced me to communicate with my partner. I told her about my recent discoveries. We conversed, intensely, about its disturbing aspects and how it originally drew me in. We talked about my IBS and how to truly get control over my body and mental health.
Furthermore, I hadn't gone to the gym in weeks because of my episode and felt terrible. My fibromyalgia was flaring up because I hadn't been active. I knew I needed to get back into my routine, but in order to do that I would need to start eating again. I needed energy, fuel for my journey back into fitness, back into mental stability. Additionally, I needed positive imagery to help me visualize my progress. I went back to social media to see women I'd been following who promoted healthy living, fitness, and power-lifting. I giggled at their memes about stuffing their faces with carbs in order to survive a leg-day at the gym and felt inspired again.
This was the right way to counter my IBS, fibromyalgia, and mental health. Positive reinforcement, communication, and staying active. Sedentary life is the catalyst that causes pain, discomfort, and mental instability. I started by just going outside with my partner to walk our dog, then tried to eat small meals during the day, and ultimately was able to get myself back to the gym.
I am still recovering. This is not an easy road. But, I can say that I am no longer on the wrong road. It might be an uphill battle, but I will ride it out, stay on course, and eventually reach my destination of stability again.
Which of the following symptoms of IBS do you experience most frequently?