The Intricate Connection: Eating Disorders and Gut Health

Pittsburgh Dietitian Blog Posts
May 29, 2024

Eating disorders cast a shadow over an individual's physical and mental well-being. The repercussions extend beyond the surface, often affecting even the most intricate systems within the body. Among these, gut health takes center stage, displaying a delicate dance between the mind and the digestive system. Let’s explore the intricate connection between eating disorders and gut health, shedding light on common GI symptoms and practical tips for support and recovery.

Warning: Lots of bathroom talk to come.

Common GI Symptoms Associated with Eating Disorders

The gut, often referred to as the "second brain," responds sensitively to our emotional and psychological states. Consequently, eating disorders can trigger a range of gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms that further exacerbate an individual's distress. This includes things like constipation, bloating, diarrhea, gas, acid reflux, and cramping.

Constipation– Many individuals with eating disorders experience constipation, which can be attributed to inadequate hydration, insufficient fiber intake, and imbalanced fat consumption. This discomfort can escalate the cycle of distress and negative self-perception.

Bloating– The feeling of fullness and bloating is a common symptom, often accompanied by a distorted body image perception. This can perpetuate the cycle of restrictive eating, leading to more severe GI issues.

Diarrhea– While not as frequently associated with eating disorders, diarrhea can surface due to various factors, including stress and diet-related triggers. The cycle of anxiety and digestive distress becomes a vicious loop.

Gas– Excessive gas can exacerbate feelings of discomfort, leading to further avoidance of certain foods and social situations, which is a common occurrence in those with eating disorders.

Acid Reflux– Stress, anxiety, and restrictive eating patterns can contribute to acid reflux, amplifying physical discomfort and psychological distress.

Cramping– Emotional turmoil associated with eating disorders can manifest as physical cramping, further fueling the disarray within the body.

Supporting Gut Health: Practical Tips


  1. Proper hydration, appropriate fiber intake, and balanced fat consumption are important factors in managing constipation. Work with your care team to figure out what is suitable for your journey.
  2. Incorporate ginger tea between meals to stimulate gut motility, reduce gas, and alleviate bloating.
  3. If improvement is lacking, magnesium supplementation might be considered, under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Gas and Bloating

  1. Begin by addressing and ruling out constipation. For persistent severe bloating and odorous gas, consider assessing food intolerances and dietary triggers.
  2. Embrace mindful eating practices, chewing food thoroughly, and eating slowly.
  3. Practice the "Rest and Digest" approach – engaging the senses by smelling and looking at the food before consuming it to enhance salivation and prepare the body for digestion.


  1. Consider if you're consuming excessive insoluble fiber from fruits and vegetables.
  2. Reflect on whether you're consuming a lot of foods that contain sugar alcohols. These products are known to cause diarrhea!
  3. If you’re experiencing diarrhea every few days, consider if it might be related to constipation.
  4. If you're facing daily episodes of diarrhea, explore if anxiety or stress could be contributing factors.some text
    1. To address urgent diarrhea linked to stress response, try activating the vagus nerve through humming or other relaxation techniques.
    2. Increase saliva production by preparing to eat through smelling or looking at your food, as this may help calm the stress response.

Ultimate Goal: Nourishing Diversity for Gut Health

The journey toward recovery involves nurturing a healthy relationship with food and your body. The key to restoring gut health lies in embracing a diverse diet. The broader the variety of foods consumed, the greater the diversity of gut bacteria. This diversity, fostered through dietary richness, promotes optimal digestion and minimizes the likelihood of GI symptoms.

Remember, the journey is about addition, not subtraction. Rather than focusing on what to eliminate, concentrate on incorporating a wide range of nutrient-dense foods into your diet. While supplements like probiotics might seem appealing, the true power lies in the diversity of your meals. 

This is often easier said then done. Managing you gut health and an ED diagnosis is not easy. The intricate connection between eating disorders and gut health underscores the importance of comprehensive care. As you embark on this path, prioritize self-compassion and a commitment to nurturing both your mental and physical well-being. Lean on your care team when things get difficult– we’re here to help.

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