Basset Hound Stage of Recovery Explained

Gas and flatulence are one of the unpleasant (and fragrant!) aspects of refeeding and re-introducing your body to the digestion process. I always referred to it as the Basset Hound Stage, because I always wanted a dog to blame the smell on. Thankfully, this past summer wasn't nearly as bad as the other times- at least in that respect. As for the reasons why I turned into a veritable gas-passing machine, I just assumed that my digestive tract was a wee bit confused and things weren't being processed as efficiently.

But now I know exactly why.

This probably marks me as a total geek--though what about me doesn't, besides my love of trashy true crime shows--but I was so thrilled to see this research article titled "Monitoring Bacterial Community of Human Gut Microbiota Reveals an Increase in Lactobacillus in Obese Patients and Methanogens in Anorexic Patients."

I know, I know--huh? Well, stand back, kids. I'm a professional!
::insert trumpets here::

What are "methanogens"? They're bacteria that live in your gut and, as they break down your undigested food, they release methane. What is methane? You guessed it- methane is fart gas. Well, okay, it's more than that, 'cuz my organic chemistry professor told me so, but it's also the major gaseous component of farts. (Why am I getting the feeling that this post is going to greatly increase the popularity of "ED Bites" amongst pre-pubescent boys?)

In the study, anorexics had higher numbers of methanogens than normal weight controls. The particular bacterial species that the authors found to be increased in the guts of anorexia patients was Methanobrevibacter smithii, of which Wikipedia says this:

"[M. smithii] is important for the efficient digestion of polysaccharides (complex sugars) because it consumes end products of bacterial fermentation."

Anorexia results in a negative energy balance (by definition), through decreased intake, increased exercise, or both. As such, there will likely be fewer complex carbohydrates available in the gut. The authors of the study concluded the "increase might represent an adaptive use of nutrients in this population." Translation: methanogens help extract more calories from an already limited intake, thus getting more bang for your calorie buck.

The authors didn't subtype the AN patients, which may have made a difference in the composition of bacteria. I would imagine this would be especially so in those who abuse laxatives. It would also be interesting to see how gut bacteria changes during recovery. I think this is an under-explored area, and I would love to see more of this research.

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FuguSushi said...

So, does this mean, if I'm constantly trying to recover and constantly failing, I'll be in this "stage" for a very long time?

I get so extremely bloated on my "binge" days where I eat roughly 2,000 calories (like today), that my stomach literally hurts. Sometimes I couldn't even walk.

I'm also really embarrassed with my gas problem and my constipation problem. Yogurt and fiber supplements don't seem to help.

If you happened to know what I'm doing wrong please tell me.

Libby said...

Me and the intestinal bacterial are like *this* (I'm crossing my fingers even if you can't see it.) Probiotics are my savior these days. Luckily, they're keeping it largely under control. Hopefully I won't need any more antibiotics!

Cammy said...

Hey, methanogens are also a greenhouse gas, so...recovery can help reduce global warming! Save yourself and the world in one swoop! :)
I also found the study fascinating, thanks for the link. I am so glad we are nerdfriends. ;)

Carrie Arnold said...


The thing is, no one really knows how quickly the GI system will reset itself after an eating disorder. I'm guessing that it does, because the body is remarkably resilient like that. Your best bet is to start eating regularly (I know how 2000 calories can seem like a "binge day," but I can also assure you that I eat about half again as much just to maintain, and I'm not exactly all that active), and that will start the process. It takes time- several times, it took almost a year to fully normalize. I would talk to a gastroenterologist- they probably know of some better ways to help.

You're not failing at treatment. Treatment is failing YOU. If what you've tried so far hasn't worked, then I would hope your treatment team would try something new.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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