Why Gastrointestinal Disorders Increase the Risk of Eating Disorders

Recent research reveals a noteworthy statistic: 23% of individuals with gastrointestinal (GI) disorders exhibit disordered eating habits. This surpasses the average prevalence rate of eating disorders in the general population by 13% (1). This article aims to explore the implications of this connection and shed light on the intricate relationship between these two health conditions.

Understanding the Complex Connection:

The American Psychiatric Association defines eating disorders as behavioral conditions marked by severe and persistent disturbances in eating behaviors, coupled with distressing thoughts and emotions. Simultaneously, GI disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), present disruptions in the digestive system, leading to symptoms like abdominal discomfort and irregular bowel habits.

The Intersection of Eating Disorders and Gastrointestinal Conditions:

1. Gastrointestinal Disorders as Precipitating Factors for Eating Disorders:

Individuals dealing with chronic discomfort and unpredictable symptoms of GI disorders may resort to disordered eating as a coping mechanism.

This can manifest as restrictive eating habits, driven by a desire to exert control over bodily functions, gradually leading to the exclusion of more and more foods.

2. Impact of Eating Disorders on Gastrointestinal Health:

Eating behaviors inherent in eating disorders contribute to nutritional imbalances, irregular dietary patterns, and electrolyte disturbances.

This, in turn, leads to poor GI health, evident in symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

Comprehensive Treatment Modalities:

1. Psychotherapeutic Interventions:

Recognizing the Gut-Brain Connection is crucial for addressing both conditions effectively. Treating this bi-directional highway is essential for improvement.

The vagus nerve, connecting the brain and the gut, plays a critical role in symptom improvement.

Therapeutic support and stress management, beneficial for eating disorder (ED) recovery, also contribute to improving GI symptoms.

2. ED-Informed Nutritional Counseling:

Dietetic interventions play a pivotal role in establishing balanced and nourishing dietary habits, addressing nutrient deficiencies, and fostering a positive relationship with food.

Consideration should be given to GI interventions that eliminate major food groups, as these can be challenging in ED recovery and may not be necessary for overall recovery.

3. Medical Management:

Collaboration among mental health professionals, dietitians, and gastroenterologists is imperative for devising comprehensive treatment plans.

In Conclusion:

Recognizing the intricate interplay between eating disorders and gastrointestinal conditions is crucial for providing effective and comprehensive care. Given the frequent overlap between these disorders, acknowledging and supporting both conditions during treatment is paramount for achieving successful outcomes.


Written By: Andrea Kent, MPH, RDN

Photo Credit: Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Originally Published: https://www.kentnutritioncounseling.com/articles/gidisordersandeatingdisorders

Citation: 1.Harer KN. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Disordered Eating, and Eating Disorders. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2019 May;15(5):280-282. PMID: 31360143; PMCID: PMC6589841.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.