Eating disorders + IBD – is there a link?

Body image is a controversial topic! For someone with Crohn’s disease (a form of IBD), an Ostomy, AND a history of an eating disorder, this is even more the case!

“An eating disorder?”, I hear some of you say. This is not something I have spoken about in public before, and very few of my close friends even know, but I used to be bulimic.

I have travelled a bumpy road when it comes to body image and food. Having IBD created even more bumps, and really made me reflect on my entire connection with and feelings around food.

Food is such a huge part of life! It is our body’s fuel. Apart from the nutritional factor, there’s the social side of food too. I love eating out and the whole process of sharing a meal and creating memories around the dinner table. Food has always played a big role in my family, in a good way!

The IBD / Food Relationship

Having IBD can forge a tumultuous relationship between food and eating. Eating can cause stomach pain, bloating, constipation, or diarrhoea. I’ve had many days when I would rather not eat than deal with the consequences – and there goes any desire to eat socially as well . . . with all the associated social implications!

Diet can play a role too. Whilst diet is not a cure, some people find changes to diet can help ease IBD symptoms. A qualified dietician guided me through several different diets. I completely cut out some of my favourite foods (coffee oh how I missed thee!) and even tried 2 weeks on a pure liquid elemental diet aimed at resting my bowel. Struggling to get down 5-6 of those chalky milky vanilla flavoured drinks a day and eating no solid foods was my worst nightmare, but anything was worth a try. Unfortunately for me, diet did not help, and in fact my symptoms actually worsened on some.

With IBD, food can go from being your best friend to your worst enemy.

From IBD to eating disorder or vice versa 

WP_20160321_18_16_13_ProMy healthy and not so healthy relationship with food started long before I had any signs of IBD. I used to be quite a chubby teenager. I was bigger than most of the other girls in my year and remember looking in disgust at photos of myself from primary school. I was highly influenced by all those glamourous (and probably photo shopped) pics in the latest edition of Dolly. Why couldn’t I look like those girls? I just wanted to fit in and be popular.

So what did I do? I became bulimic. It started when I was around 14 or 15. I starved myself during the day, barely eating anything other than a piece of fruit. As soon as I got home I would binge, and then stick my fingers down my throat to make myself regurgitate my dinner each night. I knew it was wrong and unhealthy, but I didn’t care. I told myself that my bulimia was not as severe as some – after all I didn’t make myself vomit after every meal – but I was still bulimic . . . and ashamed . . . and embarrassed . . . and of course it didn’t make me fit in either.  This went on for several years.

By the end of high school, the binging and vomiting became less frequent and eventually stopped all together. I really don’t know what made me stop. I met a guy (who is now my husband) who helped me feel better about myself. I grew up. I realised the damage I must be doing to my body. I’m really not sure why I stopped, I’m just glad that somehow I did.

When I experienced my first symptoms of IBD (over a decade later) and was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, my teenage experience with bulimia crossed my mind on more than one occasion. There are many articles discussing disordered eating and the impact IBD can have on eating behaviours, including potentially leading to eating disorders. BUT WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER WAY AROUND?

Being bulimic must have wreaked havoc on my digestive system. I often question how this might have impacted my Crohn’s. There is no evidence that I’m aware of, suggesting any link between bulimia and Crohn’s or that having an eating disorder could cause IBD, but I have to put it out there, and I do question whether more research is needed.

Healthy body image + acceptance

I now have a much healthier relationship with my body, how I view it, look after it and what I put into it. Having IBD has definitely contributed positively to that.

Of course, I still look at some of my body parts and wish they were shaped a little differently (don’t we all?) and some days I still have conflicting thoughts about my personal body image, but that’s okay.

I’d love to be one of those people who could shout from the rooftops: I AM FULL OF CONFIDENCE AND I LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT MYSELF AND MY BODY!!! But really how many of us can honestly do that?

I now have an Ostomy due to my Crohn’s disease. Most days the bag attached to my belly does not concern me in the slightest. It is just a part of me. A part that I wouldn’t be alive without. A part that gave me my quality of life back. A part that is unique and beautiful in its own way. I am grateful for my body and what it does for me, in spite of how I mistreated it.

Despite my past (or perhaps as a result of it) I am now all about fostering positive body image, self-esteem and a healthy outlook. Talking about these things, exploring our feelings, acknowledging without judging, all this is essential.  12036907_1045511255482943_4409287466893492368_nI have stumbled along the way . . . I am still not 100% in love with my body, but I have come a very long way. I now have a much better relationship with my body: I understand it and value it and most importantly, I now care for my body, and I am learning to love and accept myself just exactly as I am.

Laura xx

Anyone needing support with eating disorders or body image issues are encouraged to contact Butterfly’s National Support Line on 1800 33 4673 or





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