Symptom Mismanagement: Eating Disorders Awareness Part 1

If you have IBS- you’ve likely experienced the gut-wrenching pain that leaves you desperate to try any remedy that may give relief. Enter Google.  

Type in IBS treatments, diets for IBS, or any combination of the two and you will find an abundance of solutions for what bothers you. Desperation + Information Overload makes it difficult to distinguish pseudoscience from evidenced-based research, which can harm your health and put you at higher risk for developing an eating disorder. 

This may seem like a leap but I am not being dramatic. The jump from “dieting” for symptom management to an eating disorder is not far.  Eating Disorder Hope reports that 35% of dieting becomes obsessive, and 20 to 25% of those diets turn into eating disorders. Additional statistics related to eating disorders can be found at The National Eating Disorders Association.

Dieting does not just mean eating less to lose weight- it is any manipulation of what you eat as a means to an end.  Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place to make dietary changes for disease management, but it should be done under professional supervision and the patient should be informed of the risks associated with this treatment.  

If you are contemplating diet changes, whether elimination of certain foods, Low-FODMAP, or something else completely, use the below tips to mitigate risk:  

Identify Your Dream Team.

Find a registered dietitian with eating disorder experience AND expertise in treating gastrointestinal disorders. Bonus points if that person also practices from a Health at Every Size perspective (more on health at every size later).  

Connect with a therapist. Evidence supports the use of therapy as part of treatment for some GI disorders, PLUS a therapist can help you navigate anxiety, stress, and obsession that may accompany your treatment journey. 

Work with a primary care physician or gastroenterologist. Avoid self diagnosis. There are a myriad of things that cause GI symptoms and a doctor is best equipped to find the source.  

Manage Expectations & Accept that Health is a Moving Target.  

Food may be one piece of your treatment puzzle but it is likely not the only one. Research suggests that some combination of diet, exercise, stress management, medicine and/or the ever elusive “lifestyle” changes can help manage IBS symptoms.  

Be patient with yourself and the team, as many sufferers must use trial and error to figure out what works for them, and what works today might not work tomorrow. 

Analyze Your Motives.  

Be honest with yourself and your team. Is there any part of you that is attempting the diet hoping weight loss will be a side effect? Diets- including but not limited to elimination diets, should not be used for weight loss.  

Be Realistic.  

Elimination diets are meant to be followed short-term- as long-term use raises risk of malnutrition.  

If you or someone you know is changing your diet to improve IBS symptoms use the above tips. If you or someone you know uses elimination diets and you think it may have morphed into disordered eating behaviors, find a local eating disorder professional in your area for further evaluation. The National Eating Disorder Helpline has a number of resources to help.

Stay tuned for Part 2 & 3 of this series during NEDAwareness Week (National Eating Disorders Awareness Week).

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