Belly pain, difficulty going to the bathroom, and overall digestive discomfort are overly common and under discussed in the eating disorder community. And all too often doctors are eager to prescribe heaps of Miralax, Dulcolax, and other laxatives to get things moving and pain-free. Not only are these laxatives unsafe to be taken in excess, but most of the time they don’t give you even a fraction of the relief you need. There’s a much simpler option waiting for you.
In case you haven’t seen the commercials or swallowed the snow-white powder that is Miralax, here’s a quick overview. Miralax is referred to as a “gentle constipation relief” and while it is technically safe to take every day (as my doctor suggested I do and many others have been instructed as well) it’s not really productive. Ever heard the phrase “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should”? Well, just because you can take Miralax daily doesn’t mean you should trust it to dissolve all of your belly pain or frustrating bowel movements.
At one time I was taking two scoops of Miralax, twice a day (9 AM and 10 PM) and still felt as constipated as ever. But just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, I stopped taking Miralax and somehow the constipation became even more painful and irregular. Trust me, shelling out dollars for obscene amounts of Miralax and taking little packets with you to dinner parties and clubs is no way to live. Especially when it doesn’t even work. That’s not to say that a dose of Miralax here and there for less regular and severe digestive issues isn’t helpful, but for many of us in the ED community: it doesn’t cut it. Simple as that.
The Dulcolax Days Are Over
If Miralax is the sweet but ditzy and ultimately unqualified tutor your parents first hired to help you with your schoolwork, Dulcolax is the army drill sergeant who replaced her. Dulcolax is rough, tough, and blunt. One little pill makes most people go running for the nearest restroom instantly. Due to its potency, Dulcolax is not like Miralax in that it is not advisable to take it regularly. And are you ready for this? Even that didn’t work on me. Talk about build up, back up, and belly PAIN. My doctors were mystified. I was ready to give up on ever finding digestive relief. And then I met a gastroenterologist (a doctor who specializes in the stomach and intestines) who said something that changed everything: “Have you tried removing artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols yet?”
You Want Me To Do WHAT?
Like many people who have struggled with an eating disorder, I became very dependent and accustomed to choosing diet, zero calorie, or lower calorie options whenever possible. And in this day in age where fad diets reign supreme, the options are everywhere. And while on some level I was aware that all the fake sugars (AKA artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols) weren’t great for me, I had no idea how much havoc they were wreaking on my stomach. That’s why whenever anyone emails me about belly pain, difficult bowel movements, etc the first thing I recommend that they do is cut out the diet crap that is home to all these chemicals. And their reactions are always something like this:
I would love to cut out artificial sweeteners, but real sugar, full fat yogurts, full calorie items are still fear foods for me
Look, I get it. I do. Cutting out all the diet drinks, 80 calorie yogurts, Walden Farms syrups, etc was probably one of the toughest mental battles I’ve ever faced in recovery. And I would never ask anyone to go through it unless it wasn’t entirely worth it. It is.
Ahhh! They’re Everywhere!
If the idea of fear foods and adding more calories into your diet by removing artificial sweetener and sugar alcohol products terrifies you, you can head over to THIS post about challenging fear foods or watch the VIP video on breaking up with safe foods. But hear me out first. It’s important to know what exactly these fake sugars are doing to your body, so you’ll be really motivated to get rid of them. The symptoms on the free checklist / printable above aren’t some abstract “probably won’t happen to me” list. They’re symptoms that I have experienced personally, every single one of them:
- abdominal pain
- change in heart rate
And one extra: irregular (read: nonexistent) bowel movements. You want this stuff as far away from your body as possible. The problem is though, it’s not always easy to spot. I designed the checklist / printable above so you can save it on your phone, easily pin it, or print it out and tape to your mirror. Because it can be really difficult to know where these artificial sweeteners are hiding. Like in
- sugarfree gum
- diet drinks
- “light” juice
with sneaky names like
- xylitol / sorbitol
Do yourself a favor and lay off the laxatives. Don’t start by pumping stool softeners into your body; start by taking the artificial crap out. You’ll notice how much different your body feels within the first month. It’s not going to be easy. But once you regain control and peace of your body and see what it’s like to live without constant pain and bathroom frustration – you’ll wish you had started sooner.
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