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Ep. 21: Bridging the Gap Between Disordered Eating and Gut Issues

What is your gut telling you about your digestive health?


When it comes to digestive symptoms, it’s important to trust your gut and seek the necessary treatment for those symptoms.


In this episode of the Love Your Gut Podcast, I talk about the many pieces of the gut health puzzle, the importance of variety, the cascading symptoms from stressors, and which steps to take to maintain adequate gut health.


Topics Covered in This Episode:

  • [02:28] A story about a client.
  • [07:43] Many pieces of the puzzle.
  • [09:27] The portrayal of gut health.
  • [11:30] Disordered eating and the nervous system.
  • [12:41] Gut imbalances.
  • [15:45] Symptoms of under-eating.
  • [17:58] Short-chain fatty acid deficits.
  • [21:24] Looking at the order of events.
  • [24:54] Calming the nervous system while eating.
  • [25:57] Actionable steps.
  • [31:23] A quick summary.


If this episode has been helpful, hit me up on Instagram, and tell me about your experience!


Product recommendations:

Heather’s Tummy Tamers.

  • For relieving gas: Fennel tea or seeds.
  • Digestive bitters.
  • Improve magnesium: Epsom salt baths, pumpkin seeds, or magnesium supplements.
  • Constipation: Ginger tea and simulating the vagus nerve.


  • “The widest variety of foods that you can consume equals the wider variety of bacteria that you have in your gut.”
  • “Gut health is about abundance.”
  • “Meal hygiene is the concept of how you eat, not necessarily what you eat.”
  • “We want to make sure that we’re focusing on gut health from an abundance standpoint versus a restrictive standpoint.”


Connect with Dr. Heather
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Are you following my podcast? If you’re not, I want to encourage you to do that today so you don’t miss any future episodes! I would also appreciate it if you would leave me a review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify! I read each of them, and they help me make sure I am providing the content that you love to hear







Dr. Heather Finley

Dr. Heather Finley  00:01

So at the end of the day, if you are under fueling or under eating, then it’s going to affect the bodies or the guts ability to contract so that you can have an adequate bowel movement, because that requires energy. 

Dr. Heather Finley  00:17

Hey, welcome to the love your gut podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Heather Finley, I know what you’re thinking, how am I supposed to love my gut when all it does is hold me back. I thought the same thing before I found my own relief from my own gut health issues. I dedicated my life to getting to the bottom of my own gut issues, so I can help women just like you transform theirs. Now I’m here to guide you through your own gut health journey. We do this through identifying your root causes and making sustainable and transformational changes. As a result, you can unleash your true potential. My goal is to empower you with the information and tools you need to love your guts. So it loves you back right here on this podcast. Hello, hello, and welcome back to the next episode of the love your gut Podcast.

Dr. Heather Finley  01:06

I’m so excited to do this solo episode today where I’m talking all about disordered eating, and gut issues, and how they intermingle together. And sometimes you might be in this chicken or egg scenario, wondering what is causing what and where do I even start? Now if you know a bit about my story, you know that for many years, in an outpatient practice, I primarily saw eating disorders. And part of the reason in addition to my own struggles with gut issues, and my own family history of colon cancer, I really pivoted into digestive health because of the lack of understanding that I felt that there was in the disordered eating world, and the eating disorder world, in the sense of digestive health, I felt like I kept seeing patients that were coming to me with all these digestive issues, and no one could help them. So really, that’s what this is about today, if you’re struggling with an eating disorder, or you’ve recovered from an eating disorder, or you have any level of disordered eating, this episode is for you. So we’re just going to jump straight in. And I want to tell you a story. So a couple years ago, or probably a decade ago, now, I had this client and she was seeing me for her eating disorder. And she had worked previously with several other dieticians. And the reason she was referred to me was because she had digestive issues. And at that time, I was slowly pivoting into digestive health. And she sat down on my couch. And for she even fully sat down, she just started crying. And she was like Heather, I just don’t think I can do this anymore. My symptoms are so terrible. I’m so bloated, I can’t button my pants. By the end of the day, I’m having terrible acid reflux. I haven’t had a bowel movement in a week. And every time I talk to my doctor about it, all they say is it’s just your eating disorder, you just need to push past it, and it’s gonna go away. And she told me she’s like, I just don’t think that this is the whole picture. She was very self aware. She was also very motivated to address her disordered eating, and she wanted to help. So as we had our session, we were talking about a lot of different things. But the thing that kept coming up, as she just said, I just have a gut feeling that something’s wrong. And I’ve always believed that we have to trust our guts, and that our gut instinct is there for a reason. And so over the next couple of months, we were working together. And I’m so glad that she trusted her gut and that she was honest with me about what was going on. And I’m so glad that she was referred to me because as we were working together, what we discovered is yes, she was on this journey to recover from her eating disorder, but she also had SIBO, which is small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, if you’re not familiar, and SIBO can be super debilitating. If you’ve ever had SIBO you know that it can lead to really chronic constipation, really chronic bloating, really terrible symptoms. And this is what was going on with her. And the more that I started to really look into this, I realized this is not a single solution, or this is not a single situation. I knew I had many other clients in this situation as well. And that story, and many others just like hers is the reason why I do what I do now is bridging the gap. So many of the women that we work with have been chronic dieters their whole lives, they’ve struggled with maybe not a full blown eating disorder, but they have struggled with disordered eating at many times in their lives. And we also work with clients that have been seen for an eating disorder, they’ve maybe been in treatment before, or they’ve done outpatient counseling for their eating disorder. So I want to talk about this on this episode. Because if you can relate at all to that woman’s story, I know that it can be super frustrating, you’re wondering, okay, am I ever going to be able to move past these thoughts and these feelings that I have about food, when I’m so uncomfortable, because you have people telling you that all foods fit and that you should be eating a wide variety of foods, and you need to be feeling yourself and you need to be eating enough calories and all these things yet you physically can’t, because you’re so so uncomfortable. So if you’re in that situation, I see you and I hear you. And I hope that this episode, gives you some hope, and gives you some solutions to the problem that you’re having. So this lesson that I learned from this client was really transformational. Because I think initially, the instinct as an eating disorder professional at the time was to write it off as it is, is just your eating disorder saying you know that you don’t want to expand your diet or that there’s, this is all psychological. But the reality is that it wasn’t so all psychological, there was physiological things that were going on. And she had actual data from the SIBO testing to prove it. And like I said earlier, I really wish that this story was a single incident. But it happens all the time. And whether you’re a practitioner, or whether you are a non practitioner listening to this episode, I think that it’s valuable to just hear a different perspective, because I can help you to just have compassion for people along the way and to maybe think about things a little bit differently. So I want to talk about three things today. First is when to look beyond just disordered eating, and look more into the gut. Secondly, I want to talk about what some common symptoms are. And then thirdly, I want to talk about how to actually address the symptoms. So I know a lot of times it can kind of feel like you are just throwing darts at the wall. When you’re working with clients. Or if you are a client, it can feel like you’re just trying random things. Maybe you saw some elimination diet that someone on Instagram did or some blowed supplement, or you read a blog or whatever it was. And so you’re just desperate to feel better that you kind of feel like you’re playing darts with a blindfold on and it feels like a new adventure every single time you are hopeful that something might work. But the the solution doesn’t provide the relief that you are wanting. And so especially when there’s disordered eating happening, there’s a lot of pieces here, there’s not only maybe the food, fear and the psychological pieces that I was speaking about earlier, but there are these underlying physiological consequences that can happen as a result of disordered eating. And so I think the standard in eating disorder treatment is to refeed and to get someone eating enough calories and in the hopes that their gut turns back on and that everything starts working again. And this certainly can work for some people and and has for years. But when your client or you are getting so stuck, because you’re so bloated, and you’re so uncomfortable that you physically cannot eat the required amount of food, because you’re so uncomfortable. We have a problem. So I think it’s helpful to know all the pieces of the puzzle, know when to intervene when your digestive symptoms are causing you to stall in progress. So I think sometimes or oftentimes digestive health, especially just in the Instagram world is really portrayed as what you shouldn’t eat. It’s this restrictive Oh, I’m, I’m starting to work on my gut health. So therefore I’m not eating X, Y and Z food. But in the love your gut podcast world. It’s the opposite. gut health is about abundance and what you should include and not even just in your diet, but in your life. We know so much now about the gut brain connection and how connection and joy and relationships and fun and pleasure play into To this gut brain connection, and without these abundant things in our life, whether it’s food or an experience, or relationship, or whatever it is, we know that things don’t work. And things don’t function optimally. The largest study that we have to date on gut health shows that the widest variety of foods that you can consume equals the wider variety of bacteria that you have in your gut. There’s so many organisms in and on your body and your, these bacteria and organisms need food for survival. So if we’re restricting our diet to five foods, maybe out of fear or discomfort, or maybe both, then it’s really hard for everything to flourish. And I know, this is easier said than done. Because a lot of times the clients that we work with come to us eating five foods, and they’re really scared to add foods in because they already don’t feel well. And the mindset shift here is, actually maybe the reason you don’t feel well, is because you’re only eating five foods. And I have a whole nother episode on variety and why it’s important, you can look back to a couple episodes prior to this one, and you can find it, it’s actually our most listened to episode which is kind of cool. But there’s there’s a piece here with disordered eating, as it relates to the nervous system and food fear. So if food is a threat to you, maybe you perceive food as a threat, because you’re worried about what it’s going to do to your body, what it’s going to do to your symptoms, how it’s going to affect you, then the body perceives any threat as a threat. So your body thinks that there’s a tiger sitting right next to you, every time you are about to eat. So no wonder you’re having symptoms, no wonder that it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. You’re sitting there, you’re thinking, This is gonna make me bloated, and your body immediately goes into a fight or flight state, it decreases salivation decreases digestive enzymes, it decreases the whole digestive process, and blood flow and everything else. And then there you are with the symptoms. So there’s a significant nervous system piece that we have to consider when there is a level of disordered eating, or an eating disorder present. And I’ll talk about some strategies that we use with our clients later in the episode. But we also want to talk about the gut imbalances that can happen when someone has struggled with disordered eating or an eating disorder for an extended period of time, we have to think about their gut microbiota. I see this all the time on testing that we do on our clients. But even without the testing, it’s pretty safe to assume if someone has a really restricted diet, we know that they probably don’t have adequate levels of good bacteria. And remember, gut health is about abundance. We want an abundance of bacteria. Because when we have an abundance of bacteria, our gut thrives. So if we’re not providing our gut with the fuel source, it needs to fuel these bacteria, aka feeding them fibrous foods, prebiotic fibers, specifically, then we have a lack of diversity. So this lack of diversity can cause this cascade of symptoms. They it can cause constipation, it can cause a gut brain imbalances related to mood, it can cause slow gut motility, and the whole system can spiral when this happens, and this can also be a result of other upstream issues. So with a restricted diet with restricted caloric intake, with restrictions and food, or even inconsistencies in food if someone is Binging at night and not eating throughout the day. This can affect stomach acid production and digestive enzyme availability, and can affect the body’s ability to fully inadequately digest food. And when you can’t fully and adequately digest food. It affects the small and the large intestine downstream. And in the case of this client that I shared about earlier, if someone has SIBO, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, that causes a significant issue because the primary area in which you absorb nutrients from your food is your small intestine. So if you have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, this can cause not only downstream effects as far as absorption and nutrients are concerned, and large intestinal bacterial overgrowth, but it can also affect things then upstream because we need to be able to absorb Minar roles and vitamins and nutrients from the food that we eat. And so it can cause just a crazy cascade of symptoms. So it can be somewhat hard to figure out what’s causing what if you the more you dig into gut health, the more you realize what an interconnected web it is, if someone has dysbiosis, or an imbalance of bacteria, whether it’s from restricted eating, or from only eating a certain amount of foods, or even just under eating, this can affect things as I mentioned. But there’s other pieces of the pie as well. If you are in a starvation state, or if you are under fueling or under eating, this can cause a cascade of symptoms as well. So our gut is a muscle and it needs energy, just like any other muscle in the body. So if it lacks energy, your body is basically doing an energy equation all day long, it’s looking at how much energy is being inputted and how much energy it can output. So at the end of the day, if you are under fueling or under eating, then it’s going to affect the bodies or the guts ability to contract so that you can have an adequate bowel movement. Because that requires energy, your body would rather prioritize your heart, your lungs, your brain, and the essential organs before it prioritizes, your thyroid or the gut, or some of these other non essential organs, which you might be thinking, well, the gut is definitely essential. And it is, but it’s not essential compared to keeping the brain online, keeping the lungs breathing, keeping the heart pumping, etc.

Dr. Heather Finley  16:53

Then we want to think about some of the other sources of stress on the body. That can happen when disordered eating or an eating disorder is present as well. Over exercising is a common one that we see with our clients. This is a stress on the body. Again, it’s an energy equation at the end of the day. Even dehydration can be a stress on the body. You we work with clients on both ends of the spectrum, either clients that drink so much water, that they’re super mineral depleted, or clients that don’t drink enough water and they’re dehydrated. And then stress from either too much or too little fiber, we definitely have clients on both ends of the spectrum of this as well. If a client is eating no carbs, and is only eating proteins, then that’s going to cause stress on the body as well, just from a macronutrient standpoint, and an adequacy standpoint. So there’s a lot of pieces here. And it’s important to assess what’s going on. And if you really want to get nerdy and dig into some of the research that’s present it, there’s tons of research. But what we know from a lot of the research that’s going on related to eating disorders and the gut, what we’re finding is that there is a lack of diversity in the gut ecosystem for the reasons that I mentioned earlier. And there’s also a lack of short chain fatty acid production, which is a result of fermentation in the gut. So when you feed your gut bacteria fiber, they produce something called short chain fatty acids. So we have the fiber that feeds the probiotics that then produces the short chain fatty acids, these are anti inflammatory to the gut, to the brain and to the body. And when you have a lack of butyrate, or appropriate, or acetate, those are short chain fatty acids. This affects the entire body. And we see this with disordered eating is a lack of short chain fatty acid production. So not only does this affect the gut, but as I mentioned, it also affects the brain. So it can be a really vicious cycle as far as even mood issues are concerned as well, increasing anxiety and increasing any kind of gut brain issue that could be present. So there’s a lot of pieces here, and you’re probably thinking, okay, where the heck do I start? If this is something that I’m struggling with? And, you know, it sounds like there’s this disordered eating present, but it’s also could be causing some of these downstream gut issues. So do I start with a disordered eating? Or do I start with the gut? Or do I start with both? And the answer is both. Because if you’re having such severe digestive symptoms, that it’s affecting your ability to even just maintain adequate calorie intake throughout the day. And it’s important to support your digestive health. So that that’s possible. So that then everything else comes back online. And as I mentioned earlier, a lot of times when people are refeeding, or they’re working on improving their calorie intake, they’re able to do that with ease. But there are many clients. And maybe you’re in this situation where it’s just not possible. The symptoms are so severe, that you’re so uncomfortable that you can’t and maybe you’re in this situation like the client I described earlier that has SIBO, or some other underlying gut issue present. Hey there, I know you are absolutely loving this episode. But I have to jump in really quick and remind you that I have a quick, free quiz that will help you finally figure out why you’re bloated. In order to live a life free of discomfort, you need to figure out what the root causes that’s making you experience these uncomfortable symptoms. The easiest and fastest way to do this is by visiting Dr. Heather finley.co. Backslash quiz,

Dr. Heather Finley  21:10

take the quiz as soon as you can. So you can transform your gut issues and lead a happier, more vibrant life. Now, let’s get back to the episode. So there’s an order of events that we want to consider when we are working to not only improve disordered eating, but also the GI symptoms that could be present. Maybe you’re struggling with slow motility, constipation, burping, early fullness, maybe you feel like you eat a couple of bites and you’re already full or food is sitting in your stomach like a brick. Maybe you have lots of cramping or pain. Even slow thyroid can be a result here as well. So there’s some steps that we want to take. And the first step is adequate calories. Easier said than done, of course. But we have to get the body out of a state of stress before we do anything fancy. And there’s ways that we can support the body in doing that, in supporting digestion, maybe that’s utilizing digestive bitters or enzymes, you need to consult your healthcare provider about this, this is not medical advice. But there are things that you can do to make digestion more comfortable and easier. And some of that even involves how you eat, not necessarily what you eat. So there’s a stress management and a meal hygiene component that can be coupled into this. And meal hygiene is really the concept of how you eat not necessarily what you eat. So it’s the making sure that you to making sure that you take your time to eat a meal, and working on some of the food fear and the thoughts that you have about the food so that you can eat the amount of calories that you need to. There’s also a piece here about blood sugar balance. Because if you’re restricting your intake so much that your blood sugar is super dysregulated or you’re getting hypoglycemic episodes, or your blood sugar’s all over the place all over the day, that is a stress on the body as well. So you want to make sure that you are consuming adequate proteins, adequate fats, carbohydrates at each meal, so that you can keep your blood sugar balanced, then we want to work on getting the bowels moving and optimizing digestion and absorption. So if that’s constipation, working to soften the stools that might involve some magnesium that might involve hydration that might involve some additional supplements, maybe drinking ginger tea in between meals to help with gut motility, something that’s going to help get the bowels moving. Then you want to work on food variety. So you can see you’re not going to just all of a sudden say okay, I’m eating five foods. And now I’m just gonna go from eating five foods to eating all the foods and just it’s going to be a comfortable process. If you set yourself up for success by first getting your calorie intake up, working on the meal hygiene piece, balancing your blood sugar and utilizing some of those simple tools to support your constipation and your gut motility or if diarrhea is present, then supporting that like I mentioned the magnesium or the ginger tea, even like a little prebiotic fiber can be helpful here as well. Then it’s easier to add these foods in and some of that also involves the nervous system. So we have to work on calming your nervous system while eating because as I mentioned earlier, if you are seeing food as The threat every time you sit down, then you’re pulling your body out of that parasympathetic state, and you’re in a fight or flight state. So humming Happy Birthday twice before you eat is going to activate the vagus nerve and activate the parasympathetic system, taking some deep breaths, focusing on getting to a place of neutrality around food. Instead of seeing it as something that’s going to cause symptoms, just this food is going to provide me energy or this food is providing me with the nutrients that I need. So that you can stop seeing food as a threat and start seeing it as the vehicle for which is going to help improve some of the symptoms that you’re having. Alright, so here’s where you might want to grab a pen and paper or pause this if you’re on a walk or not able to take notes. But here’s the actionable steps that I want you to walk through. So and I’ll break it down by the top three symptoms that we see holding our clients back from finding relief and being able to move past this on a disordered eating or an eating disorder recovery journey.

Dr. Heather Finley  26:13

So the first one is bloating, the painful bloating, the persistent bloating, the chronic bloating, if you’re chronically bloated, especially if you’re waking up loaded, that’s really showing that there’s probably a gut motility issue. If you’re getting progressively more bloated throughout the day, that could be related to the bacteria in your small or large intestine. But if you’re bloated, we’ve also want to assess for constipation, which I’ll talk about in a second. But some things that you can do to relieve the bloating would be fennel. Fennel is really helpful for relieving gas. You can chew on fennel seeds and then spit them out. You could drink fennel tea, there’s a couple products that I’ll link in the show notes. Heather’s tummy Tamers I did not invent that product, but it is my name. Those are great products to use, or even using digestive bitters. Those are really helpful for relieving symptoms. And again, consult your healthcare practitioner on these things if you’re going to try something new. If you’re constipated, we want to get your bowels moving and softened if you’re having chronically really pebbly stools, or you have the situation where you don’t go to the bathroom, and then all of a sudden, you go to the bathroom every three days and it’s diarrhea, you’re actually probably constipated. So we want to ensure that you’re drinking plenty of water 80 to 100 ounces is ideal, plus electrolytes to make sure that you’re staying hydrated, I have other episodes on minerals and electrolytes, so you can check those out. And you probably are going to need some form of magnesium, maybe that’s Epsom salt baths a couple times a week to improve your magnesium status. Maybe it’s trying some pumpkin seeds or magnesium rich foods to help improve it. If you can’t tolerate other foods. Maybe you do need a magnesium supplement, citrate or glycinate can be helpful. Again, this is not medical advice. So consult your healthcare practitioner about this. But one of our Go twos for constipation, and just getting more complete bowel movements is ginger tea. You can drink ginger tea in between meals and it can really help. And lastly, for constipation, you can stimulate the vagus nerve. As I mentioned earlier, humming Happy birthday before you eat, you can gargle you can hum you can sing. That’s all going to stimulate the vagus nerve and be really helpful for constipation. And then lastly, diarrhea. So first, I want you to rule out if it’s overflow, the most, the most severe form of constipation, where it’s happening every three days. In that case, listen to the previous piece of this. But if it’s truly diarrhea, and it’s happening every single day, you really want to look at the nervous system. It’s a distress response. Is there a trauma present that you need to work through and get support on? Is it a pelvic floor issue? Is it a food intolerance? Which I know I talk a lot about adding foods back in but if you truly do have lactose intolerance or something, and that’s causing the diarrhea, then it’s definitely worth looking at. Also, is it the consumption of diet products? are you consuming a lot of products that have sugar alcohols in them that would be like a wreath retile or something that ends in Oh, well, those can definitely cause more loose stools. So you want to look at stress levels, and then you want to look at potentially if it’s related to a diet product or something that you’re consuming, but all of these things are going to be helpful in creating more comfort on your journey and getting you started to be able to consume more calories and more of what you need each day so that you can move past the disordered eating and the eating disorder. But what I want you to remember here is that your food mindset is going to continue to put your nervous system into a fight or flight state if you don’t address this. So if you’re doing all the things, but yet you still see food as a threat, this is going to send you on a spiraling circle of symptoms. So you have to work on the mindset piece, and you have to work on the stress piece. And this is often the thing that people don’t want to work on, because it takes work. And it takes commitment, and it takes time. And this is where having support and accountability can be really powerful. I believe that no one heals in isolation.

Dr. Heather Finley  30:59

I think the reason that our clients are so successful is because of the support and the accountability. So wherever you’re getting support on your journey, is going to be helpful for that lack of isolation piece, if you have people present, they’re going to challenge you and push you, it’s going to help keep you accountable. So just to kind of summarize what we talked about here. And just to point out some key points. One is, we want your nervous system to not feel like every meal, you’re being chased by a bear. We want to slowly incorporate variety. And we want to make sure that we’re focusing on gut health from an abundance standpoint, versus a restrictive standpoint, the way that you will continue to heal. And the way that you will continue to feel better and find relief for the long term is if you focus on addressing the underlying issues, and you focus on slowly adding to your diet versus taking things out. So I really hope that this episode was helpful. I would love it if you would send me a DM, tell me what was the most helpful piece of this episode or what stuck out to you share it with a friend that might be struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder, to give them some actionable steps of what they can do to move past the discomfort. And just know that you are not alone. It is really common for, like I said earlier, our clients to struggle with both digestive issues and disordered eating because it’s normal to want to feel like the only reason that you’re having digestive symptoms is because of food. But the reality is there’s so many things going on under the surface. So my encouragement to you is as you continue to heal your relationship with food and your relationship with your body, the digestive symptoms become a lot easier. And vice versa, as you’re able to tune in to what’s going on more on a cellular level from a gut perspective, and tend to that then everything else hops back online. So thanks again for tuning in. 

Please note that this episode is not a substitute for medical advice. And you should always consult your healthcare provider prior to making any changes.

I’m giving your gut a thumbs up because you just finished another episode of the love your gut podcast. Thanks so much for listening in to this episode. I hope it was helpful.

If you are a health practitioner or a registered dietician and you are interested in expanding your knowledge of gut health, or growing a sustainable and profitable business, I invite you to apply to the next cohorts of gutPractitioner. 

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Hi, I’m Dr. Heather

Registered dietitian and helps people struggling with bloating, constipation, and IBS find relief from their symptoms and feel excited about food again.

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