What to do if things are a little slow on the elimination side…
A diagnosis of HA is the confirmation that your body is in a state of semi-starvation. Chronic underfueling and overexercising, even short-term, forces your body to redirect the little energy coming in to the most important human functions for self-preservation (think brain or nervous system). It also means slowing down digestion and completely stopping some ‘non-essential’ functions, including fertility, growing hair and nails or temperature control.
Imagine your metabolism is a furnace. Throw some wood regularly and the furnace is active: calories are burned, muscle is being built, digestion and elimination happen without even noticing them. Only throw a tiny piece of stick into the fire every few hours, and your fire is slowly dying down: the body retains food as much as possible as fat instead of burning calories and building muscle (which requires a much higher amount of energy), digestion slows down, elimination is more haphazard and internal repairs of the body as well as some non-essential hormonal functions are left aside to maximize the energy available into prioritizing survival functions, including heart and brain protection.
As you add calories and increase food intake during recovery, your digestion is suddenly required to process a lot more food than usual. Bloating, discomfort and constipation are totally normal in recovery, and rest assured that these symptoms are only temporary. You might be advised by friends and family to restrict food groups, as your symptoms might mimic those of food intolerances or allergies, but the reality is : your case is NOT one of restricting but of refeeding and – unless you suffer from a diagnosed food allergy or digestive disease – avoiding whole food groups would be highly detrimental to your body regaining strength and optimal health. Staying ‘all in’, focused on eating all the foods and resting until you get to 3 recovery cycles is essential to retrain your gut into trusting that food is not scarce anymore and that incoming calories can be reallocated to non-essential functions again.
In the meantime, here are some things you can do to find relief from constipation without compromising your recovery:
Have a cup of hot water with lemon and honey before breakfast
I found this to be the easiest, cheapest and most effective way to keep people regular. I like to make the water warm, not boiling hot, and I add half a lemon, squeezed, and a spoon or 2 of honey, so it is not too sour. Try it for a week or so, and feel free to stop if you don’t find it to be helpful to you.
Choose simple carbs over fiber (!)
Contrary to common health advice, complementing your diet with more fiber may be detrimental to you while recovering from HA. A research published in the American journal of clinical nutrition in 2009, confirmed that “among 250 women ages 18 to 44, those who reported eating the recommended amounts of fiber had the lowest blood levels of estrogen and other reproductive hormones. Higher fiber intake, particularly from fruit, was also linked to a higher risk of having anovulatory menstrual cycles — where the ovaries fail to release an egg. High-fiber diets decrease activity in certain intestinal enzymes, leading to less estrogen reabsorption in the colon. Fiber can also cause more estrogen to be excreted from the body in feces.”[i]
Simple carbs are crucial for recovery because they are “more easily broken down to glucose” according to Nicola J Rinaldi in No Period, now what? This means easier to digest and better for recovery. As per Dr Rinaldi, make sure at least at third of your food intake comes from fats: avocados, nuts and nut butters, fatty fish (salmon), full-fat dairy, oil, butter when cooking.
Find a good probiotic
Start with a few billion bacteria and work your way up so you don’t cause extra bloating by adding too much too soon. (I like Garden of life or Renew or Lactibiane).
Add magnesium at night
Add a magnesium supplement to your bedtime routine (Natural calm is a good choice), which can help with softening stools and also with calming mild anxiety and sleep issues. Start with only one tablet even if the recommended dose is more, and work your way up to make sure it doesn’t irritate your bowel, but just gently supports elimination by softening your stool.
Drink enough (water haha)
Make sure you consume enough water during the day. What is the right amount? As usual, every body is different… Chris Sandel made a full episode about this on Real Health Radio and he recommends you decide what’s right for you by looking at your body’s signs: urinate every 3-4 hours and it should be straw coloured. More frequent and clearer colour? Drink less. Less frequent and darker colour? Drink some more.
Enjoy a light walk
Enjoying a light walk can help move things along. But since exercising is not your best friend right now, do make sure this walk doesn’t become obsessive (as in, “I HAVE to do it everyday”) or a power walk. Whatever elevates your heart rate, makes you sweat or leaves you anxious if you skip it would be detrimental to your recovery.
Remember the discomfort of recovery is only TEMPORARY. Things will get back to normal sooner rather than later. It can be frustrating to experience digestive issues, acne or other ailments showing up, but remember that your body is doing something amazing to recover, and regaining your cycle WILL bring you more freedom, health, joy and less anxiety. Give yourself time and compassion. And remember: what’s 6 months in the length of a lifetime?
Love this post!!! Constipation is such a common symptom both while women have HA (which often leads to restricting food groups even further) as well as during recovery – another tip to help while working on recovery is actually to reduce the amounts of fruits and veggies you’re eating. (I know it seems nuts, but it seems to help!!) Are you having an enormous salad for lunch? That A) probably means you’re not getting enough fuel because salad greens don’t contain a lot of energy, and B) means you’re feeling full and bloated because of the volume you’re eating. Try… Read more »
Thanks so much for this distinction Nico! So important!