Bulimia bloating and other body changes in recovery

Girl holding her stomach due to feeling bloated

When entering recovery from bulimia, one of the first (and scariest) challenges is accepting the changes your body may experience. As a recovery coach, I’ve not only helped people make it through the various body changes that take place; I’ve actually experienced them myself.

Things are typically less scary when we know what to expect. While everyone’s body reacts differently to the phases of recovery, here are some common changes that most do experience, along with a few helpful tips for handling them.

The initial bloating phase

There have been endless blog posts and forum discussions about the ‘recovery bloat.’ It is something that almost everyone asks me about during coaching sessions.

Individual case studies and a general consensus of the recovery community indicate that this bloating is definitely real and experienced by a majority of people who enter recovery. Don’t let this deter you though, as it typically only lasts through the beginning phases.

As you begin structured eating, your body isn’t accustomed to having regular meals yet. This rebalancing phase is often the point where people begin to feel bloated and uncomfortable. Try not to feel frustrated about this. Your body is just going through the process of adapting to having regular meals and snacks. The digestive process may take some time to regulate itself and become normal again.

Tips for handling bulimia bloating:

  • Try probiotics and/or digestive enzymes. Ask your doctor which type and dosage would be recommended for getting your digestion back on track.

  • Get some gentle exercise, but be careful not to overdo it. Remember that your body is healing.

  • Avoid laxatives or ‘dieter’s tea’ because these products only damage the digestive system, causing increased constipation and bloating in the long-run.


Weight fluctuations

One of the biggest fears that most people have is that recovery will lead to weight gain. While weight fluctuations are fairly common, it is important to note that bulimia is not an effective way to manage weight in the first place. Most people experience stable weight once their chaotic eating patterns have finally subsided.

Changes in eating habits almost inevitably lead to weight changes. Some people experience weight fluctuations as they begin to practice structured eating, while others do not experience much change in their weight at all. The most common cause of weight gain during recovery is continued binging and purging. The more quickly you can normalize eating habits, the more quickly your weight will stabilize as a result. Many people actually lose weight once they are able to stop binging and purging and stick with regular structured eating.

Tips for handling recovery weight fluctuations:

Practice patience. Remember that you are in it for the long-term and temporary weight changes aren’t worth throwing away your recovery efforts. Stick with structured eating. Regular, balanced eating helps prevent binging, which in turn helps normalize your weight. Avoid the scale. Weighing yourself will only increase anxiety about fluctuations. Don’t torture yourself with a daily number, just allow your body to heal and try to focus on your success.


Water retention

This can come and go throughout recovery. There are several causes for water retention such as increased sodium intake, hormonal changes and dehydration. Water retention is perfectly natural, as our bodies are made up of 70% water, so it is to be expected that this level would fluctuate as your body is adjusting.

Tips for handling water retention

Stay hydrated. It sounds odd that dehydration would increase water retention, but our bodies actually hold onto water when not enough fluids are supplied.

Avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol. Both of these cause dehydration, which will only worsen water retention over time. Have salt in moderation. Too much sodium can increase water retention, although our bodies can generally process a moderate amount.


Positive Recovery Changes.

Don’t let these challenges scare you away. On the other side, here are some of the many positive changes you can expect:

  • Better quality sleep at night
  • Increased energy
  • Feeling generally more calm
  • Less anxiety
  • Clearer skin
  • More stable emotions
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Overall better health
  • A reduction or complete elimination of having a sore throat, puffy eyes, swollen cheeks, upset stomach and endless other negative effects.

As you embark on your recovery journey, remember that these body changes are to be expected, but are very different for everyone.

Whatever happens it can be helpful start practicing strategies to love your body.

Also keep in mind that the uncomfortable side effects such as bloating are temporary and will pass. No matter what changes you experience, never give up on recovery because the negative effects of bulimia far outweigh the discomfort that recovery may sometimes bring.

Jen Knaebel

Jen Knaebel

Jen Knaebel works as Bulimia Recovery Coach.
She takes a practical, compassionate approach to coaching and is knowledgeable about many therapeutic interventions.

Learn more about 1-1 coaching with Jen and sign up
Jen Knaebel
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27 Responses to “Bulimia bloating and other body changes in recovery”

  1. Denise on

    This article really helped! Thank you but I do have a question … I am having a hard time finding a true eating disorders doctor/therapist in my area! And I have seen a lot. Please do you or anyone know of someone in Westchester Ny

    Reply
    • Jen on

      Hi Denise,

      I’m so glad you found the article to be helpful! Unfortunately, I am not familiar with any treatment programs in NY. We do offer support through our 1-1 coaching program. Here’s a link if you would like to take a look: http://www.bulimiahelp.org/posts/jen-coaching/ Please let us know if you have any questions or would like more info about the program.

      Reply
    • Alicia D Valdez on

      How long does it take for your body to fully recover from bulimic on how long does those fluids last in your body how does your body go to normal

      Reply
  2. Concerned on

    Thanks for all the great resources. I was just wondering what is meant by the comment that typically, bloating only lasts for the beginning stages of recovery. Is a year after beginning recovery still considered the beginning, or would this be considered unusual? I’m wondering whether to keep looking for other causes of the symptoms I’m having, or whether to just be patient. My doctors can’t find any medical cause, but they also refuse to acknowledge that bulimia is even a relevant factor to consider which is confusing to say the least.

    Reply
    • Jen on

      Hi there, and thanks for your feedback! I understand how confusing it is to work with professionals who may not be very familiar with symptoms of bulimia and recovery. What is meant by the ‘beginning stages’ isn’t really a time frame, but more of a state of recovery. If you are still experiencing relapses quite often, you can expect to have bloating. However, if you have been b/p free for several months and are still bloated, you may have some food sensitivities or other digestive issues to address. Some other common causes for bloating are eating too much fiber and raw veggies, lactose intolerance or eating too quickly. I hope that helps!

      Reply
  3. Grace on

    Hi “concerned”! I also experienced bloating and general discomfort for much longer than a month or two. I was having serious constipation issues. After a year I discovered my body reacts poorly to certain foods, such as gluten. Working with a gastronomisist I started eliminating this and feel generally better. Not always 100% but our bodies are a little more sensitive now to poor eating! If I make sure to get fruits and veggie is usually and have probiotics I always feel great.

    Reply
  4. Ssemom on

    I am just starting the recovery process and may I ad it’s very difficult !!! I’m also in the beginning stage of recovery and the bloat is horrible .. I was wondering is bran( fiber) good at this time because fiber sometimes gives u the bloat or shld we stay away from that in the first part of recovery…

    Reply
    • Jen on

      This is a good question. While everyone’s body reacts differently to different supplements, it is a good idea to steer clear of too much extra fiber. Typically, we can drink enough water and get adequate fiber in our foods to get digestion moving, so we don’t need to take any extra. Certain types of fiber supplements can cause gas and bloating, making your problem even worse! Here’s a helpful WebMd article on fiber supplements, which also encourages eating natural fiber sources instead of taking a manufactured type: http://www.webmd.com/diet/fiber-health-benefits-11/fiber-supplements Hope that helps!

      Reply
  5. Lynsey on

    I am really worried as my weight has fluctuated and now I am one stone heavier. I started recovery 2 months ago but have started to relaps. Your help has help me start recovery though so thank you

    Reply
    • Jen on

      Hi Lynsey,
      I’m so glad that you are going two months strong into recovery! I hope the weight fluctuations aren’t getting you down too much. Remember, you are a valuable person with good ideas, a vast personality and all kinds of traits that have nothing to do with your weight! Try focusing on your strengths, talents and abilities instead of things that make you feel down. A shift in perspective can make all the difference! Never give up on recovery. It is the best thing you’ll ever do for yourself.

      Reply
  6. Jennifer on

    Hello, I was googling to help find steps to recover.
    I really want to recover but before I do, I was wondering if I need to go to a doctor to check up on my body?
    I’ve been binging/purging for 7 years to this day. I did a basic check up on January this year, but because it is so basic, I was wondering if I need to go to a doctor to do detail examinations of the stomach & neck area?
    I really want to get better but I don’t want to enter a clinic.
    I’ve confessed to my husband about my bulimia but he seems to be confused on how to help me. I really want to go back to 7 years ago when i could eat like a normal person. I can’t help but envy you for recovering.
    Thank you for listening to my rambling.

    Reply
    • Richard on

      Hi Jennifer, I always recommend that you see your doctor. Especially if you are anyway concerned that there may be something wrong. It will help to put your mind at ease.

      Reply
  7. Candice scully on

    I have been bulimic for 22 years had many failed attempts at recovery I don’t think I’ll ever recover am to addicted.

    Reply
    • Anonymous on

      I also have been bulimic for 22 years but I have been in recovery for three months now. It is doable. I always think about my size and about the weight I am gaining but on the other hand I feel like a normal me. I feel powerful cause I took the decision of recovery rather than waiting until it is too late.

      Reply
        • Lilie on

          Hi i been bulimic for 15 years too and the same of you i have one month of recovery ,can you tell me how you felling like gluten sensitive or something else.

          Reply
      • Hyacynthe on

        I’ve had bulimia for 20 years. I began recovery 14 days ago. I’ve had a few skips and I’m concerned about weight gain and size, although I’m at the same time feeling more hopeful about life. My mood is more stable. I never thought I would be bulimia free for even one day so having over a week under my belt is awesome.

        Reply
  8. Valerie on

    This has been very helpful…especially the probiotics. I never thought about incorporating them into my daily routine.

    Reply
  9. Helena on

    Hello. Appreciate this site and that you taking the time to answer our questions. The two extremely obvious side effects that I’m experiencing is the bloating (dress pants are quite snug now) and the swollen glands (“chipmunk cheeks”). I’m very embarrassed about the cheeks. I’ve searched and searched for a way to diffuse them but haven’t come up with anything other than ice packs…I’ve been ice packing for the last couple days and it has done nothing for it. How long does it take for the cheeks to go down? When I eat and keep it down, it seems like the cheeks get more pronounced. I have to try to hide behind my hair at work and in life and it’s awful…I’ve gotten around the bloat by wearing baggier clothing. I understand (after reading many sites on recovery) that these effects are typical in recovery but the cheek are a REAL problem. Any suggestions? How long does this hideous effect last?
    Thanks in advance.

    Reply
  10. Laura on

    Hi there! Thank you, Jen, for this excellent article on a topic so many of us struggle with! In addition to your probiotics and gentle exercise tips, I’d like to share what has helped ease my digestive system and promote comfort in keeping food down:
    -warm lemon water first thing in the morning (rinse out your mouth with plain water to prevent tooth enamel erosion)
    -1-2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar w water about 20 minutes prior to meals
    -fennel, mint, and ginger after meals
    -parsely with salads
    -chlorophyll, tumeric, dandelion root, and milk thistle all help the liver and inflammation
    I don’t do all of these things every day, but I do a few every day (for example, drink ginger tea after dinner, apple cider before lunch, and chlorophyll caps in the morning) and I feel like it helps. I would encourage folks to research these remedies online and experiment with doses and methods that work best for them (for instance, it may be easier to for you to incorporate apple cider capsules in your daily routine if you don’t like drinking it). Love and blessings to you and all who are reading this 🙂

    Reply
  11. Vee DelaRose on

    This page is really helpful I’m on day 7 I was bulimic when I was 16 for about a year then stopped and purged from time to time then I stopped never had side effects as of 2014 I started and it became every day July 13,2018 I stopped cold turkey it’s been rough few days I’m so bloated and feel miserable and sometimes I get full where I don’t purposely purge but it happens and I get upset Bc I didn’t induce it today on day 7 I decided to make my own change and do a magnisum high diet for a while I’m logging my steps Bc it makes me feel better and more in control since purging after my binges was my control and now that’s gone I feel like a whale w all this water weight and the pain and when I look down and see all the water in my belly and feel it hanging is miserable but I’m trying my best to stay positive I’m keeping hydrated with water and green tea and smart water these past other days i ate whatever I wanted but I was not craving soda or anything o was craving more juices which was the opposite of when I was bindging I was craving sodas and stuff at that time had bad heart burn it was miserable o was getting chest pains that felt like mild heart attacks that’s what possessed me to stop I have a little boy and every night I would cry Bc I would feel
    Like he’s going to lose me and he needs me but I would always say tomorrow o will stop and tomorrow would never come … but today is a good day even though I don’t feel as awesome I’m keeping positive I didn’t milks work out at 5 am to sweat out the water which didn’t help much I drank water ate a banana for breakfast then went to work took my lunch which I’m calling cream poop Bc that’s what it looks like but it’s basically garlic spinach broccoli tomatoes and red kidney beans puréed w a dash of sea salt like legit a dash and I purchased some whole almonds no salt or any flavor to eat in between meals as well as a non fat yogurt for a snack prior to me leaving work it’s haed I’m also inrakonnplenty of fluids as I can and rub to pee I haven’t felt sick where I would need to throw up after stepping into a healthier form today yesterday my choices of food were bad and I felt sick although I didn’t purge I just couldn’t move or feel well after I ate and would feel like crap reading and looking for bulimia help and recovering is really important and everything to me right now and your page has brought me comfort thank you I believe myself I was 91 pounds 7 days ago cold always ! Even in 98 degrees feirinheit weather I was weaker even tho I’m retaining water I feel better I started wearing make up to not feel bad about my rounded swollen face appearance and staying away from the scale I just wanted to share my first week and thankful to have found this page right now

    Reply

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