By: Jennifer L. Gaudiani, MD, CEDS

Many patients with eating disorders are highly intelligent and very emotionally intuitive...great traits, and ones often accompanied by a truly sensitive soul. Many of my patients glow a little too much when praised, and can withdraw like a closing sea anemone when criticized or corrected. I think of this sensitivity as the darker or more difficult side of a two-sided coin – the other side being incredibly bright and representative of a patient’s intelligence, work ethic, and thoughtfulness.

Frequently, folks who have this very bright/dark sided coin start experiencing belly pain, nausea, or other digestive issues very early in life – sometimes as early as elementary school. Although these symptoms feel very, very real, doctors keep telling them that they are “fine” - something they have been repetitively told their entire lives. This unexplained digestive discomfort/dysfunction is often diagnosed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or attributed to food allergies or symptom somatization. Regardless of what we choose to call it, it must be understood that the pain and discomfort arises from emotions being made physical – a prime example of the mind/body connection.

So often I hear stories where my sensitive patients are constantly questioned about their concerns. They are asked, “Why is this bothering you so much?” and are told to “Stop worrying” and to “Just be fine!”. Guess what? No one is fine all the time! Especially if you were born a highly-sensitive and empathetic, people-pleaser.

We know that when negative experiences and emotions aren’t appropriately expressed and dealt with, that they become trapped in the body on a cellular level. These emotional issues manifest themselves by creating real pain within your body, most often in your abdomen . From this perspective, IBS should NOT be treated with elimination diets or fancy tests. What is truly needed is a greater focus on self-care, compassion, rest and recovery, supported by an experienced team who can provide professional support and encouragement along the way. It is when these important factors are neglected that true and chronic body pain is experienced.

Take care of yourself, and your body will thank you for it.