here I am.
Elizabeth Alice was born 7 weeks ago this past weekend, and early motherhood (now of two, which is challenging squared, not challenging multiplied by two) has been beautiful, messy, occasionally heart-breaking and totally worth it.
Also, I’m tired.
Which is what got me thinking about this post – the experiences of birth and early motherhood are a profound reminder of the immense impact that physical health and self-care (or lack thereof) can have on emotional well-being.
I’ve been through this before with my son in his infancy, but the interruption of sleep several times a night for the first few months, combined with the body’s recovery from any birth trauma, the re-organizing of hormones, and never having two hands free at the same time (well, almost never) can seriously undermine two things: your emotional well-being, and your ability to do anything about it.
How is this all related to eating disorder recovery? (Because it so is.)
The collection of behaviors associated with any eating disorder, be it severe restriction, binge eating or purging are similarly destabilizing to the body, and therefore to the mind. And as I think I’ve mentioned before, your brain is connected to your body at the neck. Malnutrition, wacky electrolyte balances, dehydration, type two diabetes, impaired digestive health… All of these are common results of disordered eating, and all of them can pretty severely impair your functioning. In a way, that makes having an eating disorder a lot like postpartum depression. A brain in a sleep-deprived, malnourished, or otherwise compromised body is not a happy brain.
In many cases I’ve seen in my practice, the depression and anxiety a person is experiencing along with their eating disorder are either caused by, or at least deeply exacerbated by, what they’re doing with food. Additionally, the physical sequelae of the disorder directly impair the ability to recover. Dr. James Greenblatt, whose article I’ve just linked to, is the Chief Medical Officer at Walden Behavioral Care and a solid resource for information about these connections.
Example: gut health. Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating can all do a number on the intestinal flora that allow for happy digestion, or may be in part caused or exacerbated by gut microbe issues (for a good overview, check out this article). So what? Screwy gut health can make you gassy, bloated, malnourished or overweight, as well as depressed, all of which make recovery way harder.
If my anorexic client is faced with the task of learning to eat again, and she’s depressed, and every time she eats she feels bloated and therefore “fat” because her belly bugs are out of wack, how’s that going to go?
If a binge eater has done solid work to decrease binge episodes and is enjoying food in moderation again, but his gut flora are keeping him both depressed and overweight, how will that impact his motivation?
Luckily, we can make lifestyle and supplementation choices that may right the ship, in terms of gut health, and could thereby have a profound impact on (linking to Dr. Greenblatt again) recovery. In my own experience, the use of a probiotic supplement and digestive enzymes made the early phases of recovery, as well as maintenance, far more bearable. When my body was better able to handle the food I needed to eat, and eating gave me energy rather than a distended stomach, trusting the process was more of a possibility.
So, in summary because apparently I’ve missed writing and gave you all a novel here: the postpartum period has been an important reminder to me about the intricate links between physical and emotional wellness. You can’t feel good if you don’t feel good, if that makes any sense. I’ll be returning to my practice with renewed empathy for why this link makes eating disorder recovery so extra challenging, but also a renewed belief in the importance of supporting my clients in tending to the bodies their minds are trying to live in.
(I’m not a doctor, so this isn’t medical advice, but rather for information purposes only. Please consult your doctor before making the decision to try any supplement.)