To someone who was starving, the hospital tray full of food probably looked like a feast. But to me, the tray—with a rapidly cooling slice of pizza, side salad, carton of milk, and some sort of pudding thing for dessert—represented everything I feared. I had been hospitalized for anorexia, and the only medicine for my shriveled heart muscle and shutting down organs was food. I had to eat.Eating, however, was the most terrifying thing anyone could have asked me to do. If the ninth-floor hospital windows would have opened, I would have been less scared about jumping than about taking a bite of pizza. I was terrified of weight gain, terrified of anything that would shatter the iron grip I (thought) I had on my eating and my life.There was another reason I avoided eating: It was really uncomfortable. I’m not talking psychic discomfort, although that was plenty real. I’m talking severe bloating, constipation (there’s a reason everyone on eating disorder units talks about pooping), gas, cramping, and never-ending stomachaches. I had been hospitalized before, and as much as knowing the drill gave me some small amount of comfort, I also knew what was coming. Learning that I was right gave me little comfort.My psychiatrist calmly explained why the process was so miserable for me. Deprived of food for so long, my digestive system started to atrophy. In some sense, it forgot how to process food. My stomach had shrunk, which made me feel full on a tiny amount of calories. All of these were technically correct, but what neither of us knew almost 15 years ago was that another factor could have been at play. . .
Gut microbes have been studied as cause (and cure) for bacterial infections and bowel disease, but not eating disorders. New studies explore the tiny bugs’ huge potential.