The Dangers Of Drinking Too Much Water When You Have An Eating Disorder

So in last week’s blog, I talked about a recent lesson I had learnt about the importance of familiar surroundings when you struggle with OCD, and funnily enough I have learnt something else in the past week too.
I am learning a lot of things lately. It is like being back in pre-school only Daniel Jones hasn’t stolen my green crayon (if you are reading this Daniel then yes I know it was you and I still want it back), and the topics of these recent lessons have been far more focused on mental health and less on how messy one can get whilst finger painting/what noise a cow makes (hint: it is moo).

In life, we are constantly being told to drink more water. If you have ever sat in a doctors’ waiting room you will have no doubt seen several posters about how drinking a lot of water is very important, how kidneys love the stuff, how dangerous it is to get dehydrated, and from all of these posters and health warnings you may assume that the more water you drink the healthier you are, which…well… isn’t exactly true, especially if you are someone who is struggling with an eating disorder.

Drinking too much fluid is by no means something common to all people with eating disorders however, and in my years of experience getting to know fellow sufferers, there seem to be three camps of people and how their disorders manage fluids.
In one camp we have the people with eating disorders who struggle to drink enough water and end up extremely dehydrated, then there is a second camp of people who could drink a whole swimming pool if they had a big enough straw, and then finally in the third camp there are the people with eating disorders who do not have a problem with maintaining safe fluid levels and would therefore like to leave the camp I have just put them in and go back home to a habitat that is slightly less tent like.

As it happens, I am in the second aforementioned camp (ours has a lovely log fire and on Saturdays we roast marshmallows), and I struggle with drinking too much water even if I am not at all thirsty.
It is odd because I have always known that drinking too much liquid isn’t good for you, but when it comes down to it, me gulping down glass after glass of water is like some uncontrollable compulsion, a kind of outer body experience.
Many a time I have been pouring myself another litre and in my head have been thinking “NO. STOP! THIS IS DANGEROUS NOW” but my body won’t listen and carries on filling up my glass anyway. It doesn’t matter how ill I feel, drinking the water feels like an urgent and necessary task as if I need to dowse a fireball that is burning somewhere in my stomach, no matter how much water it takes.

Even in the camp of people with eating disorders who struggle with drinking too much water, it is likely that everyone will do so for a variety of reasons and it is rare for two sufferers with the same disordered behaviours to have the same reasons for carrying them out.
When it comes to me though, my compulsion to drink a lot of fluid is partly because of posters I used to see at my local gym telling me that if I didn’t drink enough my body would hold onto water (leading me to fear that the number on the scales would go higher), but mainly it is because no matter how many doctors or dieticians talk to me about the science of the intestine, I am convinced that if I do not drink ridiculous amounts, any food I eat will get stuck in me forever.

Technically I know all about stomach acids and the body’s ability to break down solid foods via various muscle contractions and other clever things that go on behind one’s belly button, but in my head, eating anything solid conjures up an image of that solid thing getting stuck in a tube. Say for example I eat an apple, it doesn’t matter how much I chew it, when it is in my stomach I still picture it as a big red cartoon like shiny apple with the stalk attached, a lump that will stay there unless I am able to create enough waves to erode and wash it away.

For this reason, to try and keep my drinking under some form of control, I have been on a fluid chart for years where I write down everything I drink to try and keep an eye on things so that it doesn’t get out of hand. If I don’t write my fluids down my brain tends to trick me and convince me that I haven’t had a mouthful of water in days (even if I am surrounded by empty bottles of Evian and have been peeing every five seconds), so it is safer for me to keep a record of it so that when the compulsion to drink a lot comes, I can remind myself that I have already drunk more than enough and need to distract myself elsewhere. Last week however, this fluid chart thing went a little bit off plan with the disappearance of my parents on holiday.

I have had several people message me asking what on earth happened after the mass break down described last week, whether my parents ended up cancelling the holiday or whether we gave it a go despite plan A being a rather sizeable fail.

Well, after people had realised that I couldn’t stay at my parents’ friends’ house for the duration of the holiday, the immediate conclusion was that the holiday would be cancelled, but eventually we managed to come up with an alternative plan wherein mum and dad would go off to Malaysia as planned and I would stay at home with my sister and my most legendary friend of all time alternating sleeping over to try and help me stay safe.

It was going rather well for the first few days (or at least better than the disaster that had been plan A), but as time went on I started to get more and more anxious about my parents being away and consequently the urge to drink increased in order to wash all of that anxiety and stress away. I know it sounds pathetic but without my mum there to verify how much I was drinking and suddenly in total control of my fluid intake myself, things started to get out of hand. People who stayed over would be able to support me in the day time but when up late at night I couldn’t help but manically gulp glass after glass of water over the sink. All the people who write those “yay kidneys like water, stay hydrated” posters would probably be thinking that is great but as with most things in life, moderation is key and you can have too much of a “good thing”.
Drinking too much water can cause problems for anyone who has been hitting it hard on the old H20 because your kidneys cannot process it and consequently the water stays in you where it can dilute the salt/sodium level in your blood and cause a condition called hyponatremia, which doesn’t sound particularly exciting but in general language this is known as water intoxication, and I am pretty sure that phrases containing the word “toxic” are never good phrases to hear describe someones physical health.

In healthy adults eating and maintaining a healthy diet, a few extra glasses of water will not cause this kind of thing, but the risks when it comes to people with eating disorders is often greater purely because they may not have been consuming enough salt/sodium in the first place, and essentially there is a risk of drowning your cells on the inside. This then leads to things like heart problems, fainting, water on the brain, seizures, psychotic episodes, death, and basically a lot of things that mean you “aren’t very well” which is exactly what happened to me a few days after my parents flew off to Malaysia and is exactly why my poor sleepy friend had to call an ambulance at 2am on a Saturday morning having been woken by me banging around, generally delirious and spouting nonsense (and a little bit of water. I was like a living water feature. Delightful).

The reason I stayed in hospital for so long however is a slightly more complicated story which I will have to get around to next week, just so that we are all up to date and clear as to why I was so rude as miss a blog post two Mondays ago (Oh the shame. And I was raised in a house with such good manners!), but as an initial explanation, the problem was that I was hospitalised for drinking too much water, and it is now after some severe tellings off from several health professionals that I feel the need to write this post about it so that people realise just how dangerous drinking too much water can be when you have an eating disorder, in case it is something other people struggle with themselves and seriously need to seek support for. If you are one of those people who struggles with drinking too much water I know you are probably doing what I used to do upon hearing these kind of things, the whole “surely it can’t be that bad” and “it would never happen to me” but trust me when I say that water intoxication is extremely dangerous and potentially fatal so if you struggle with it, even if your head tells you “you will be fine”, it is vital you get regular blood tests to check your sodium balance.

Luckily after a few days of being on a water restriction in hospital (good lord was I thirsty), my sodium levels returned to a more acceptable level…it is just that other things started to go wrong after that but again, patience dear friends! All in good time!

Now what I don’t want is for someone who already struggles with drinking enough to read this blog and suddenly panic and start restricting their fluids more than they already were because that is NOT what I am saying you should do and that is dangerous for a different bunch of reasons all on their own. I am just saying it is dangerous to go ridiculously overboard when it comes to fluid consumption even if your eating disorder tries to force you in that direction, and that instead of not drinking anything, just do it all in moderation. Water isn’t dangerous, everyone loves a good paddle or dip in the swimming pool, you just have to keep it at a safe level and be careful not to drown.

Take care everyone x

Kidney

P.s I am sorry if this blog is a little bit all over the place. Physically I am still not in the best place right now and my ability to write is somewhat affected but please bear with me! I am sure recovery will hurry up soon!

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12 thoughts on “The Dangers Of Drinking Too Much Water When You Have An Eating Disorder

  1. Great post Katie! I’m in the first camp. I absolutely hate water! It’s weird I know but I really don’t like it. It makes me feel sick so I rarely drink water. My mother has to buy flavored water to keep me hydrated.
    I hope you feel better soon.
    Kisses from Portugal ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! It is so interesting to me to hear from people in camp one. Just shows how complicated this disorder is when two people with the same label have such different experiences of things! If you could mush the two of us together we would be the perfectly hydrated 😛 Hope you are taking care and promise I will email soon. Much love and kisses from England xxx

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  2. I think I’m in the second camp kind of. Water helps me to stay “full”, so instead of eating something when I feel hungry and it is not time to eat yet, I drink a glass of water or a cup of tea. But I think it is still healthy amount of water. Still I’m quite pleased that I’m not alone in this camp, because most of the people with ED I know restrict water intake. So I’ve always thought I’m just not sick enough (which is super silly).
    Anyways, I hope you will recover soon.

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    • YAY SOMEONE ELSE IN CAMP TWO!..I mean not yay…I don’t want you to struggle with this because it is dangerous but it is nice to hear from a camp two person! Everyone I know seems to be camp one so much like you said I have always felt weird or “not really ill”. I guess people just experience this ridiculous illness differently rather than “more” or “less”. Hope you are taking care of yourself and are able to stay safe with me in camp two. Team healthy amount of water is go! Much love xxx

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  3. I really don’t consider myself to have an ED anymore (but yet I’m not even really “normal”)… and I’ve always been in the first camp. I’ve always just been a terrible hydrator. It’s actually something I’m still seeing as a big problem now. I’m VERY bad at eating or drinking if I’m not feeling hungry or thirsty. And so therefore I don’t push myself on either. And that usually means I under-eat and end up eating before bed and definitely not getting enough fluids. The fluids thing is def. something I need to work on now. I think it would help me feel better (just to be more hydrated). So, your post absolutely didn’t freak me out about water toxicity. I still realize I need to drink more water.

    Glad you’re on the road to recovery, Katie! That’s very scary. Pls. take it very seriously, don’t beat yourself up. Work on what you know are the real issues, challenge all those illogical thoughts, and keep moving forward. Remember that thoughts are just thoughts. Challenge them. CBT model, thought challenging. I know you’re familiar! But it doesn’t work if you don’t practice it. If you have any notes from previous treatment experiences (esp. skill-based notes), I encourage you to whip those out and refresh the ol’ memory. Perfection doesn’t exist but practice always helps move you towards making progress!

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    • That is so interesting! It seems like most of the people I know are in camp one! I think I only know one or two fellow camp two people and actually more in camp three! Thank you so much for your support, I promise I have taken this all very seriously and funnily enough the health conditions that came after the water intoxication have made drinking water hard all of a sudden…I actually had to force down my 2 litres yesterday 😛 Oh good lord I might have to move camp! Hope you are ok xx

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  4. It’s great that you’re raising awareness of this, Katie. I, too, was hospitalised with the same thing and had no idea it could be so dangerous until it was too late. I don’t know if you got this, but I got terrible oedema in my legs because all the electrolytes in my body were so messed up and all the fluid was going downwards. The water restriction afterwards absolute torture – I hid a bottle of water in my room in the hospital but my mum found it and thew it away and I have never felt so betrayed in my life! I began drinking water for ‘health’ after seeing posters similar to the ones you describe, but also found it staved off hunger which of course my anorexia loved and abused. I’m sorry you had such a horrible experience but I’m glad you’re back home and safe now. I hope you’re back to filling in your fluid chart – it sounds like a very good tool to keep you safe xx

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    • Oh my MOST RELATABLE COMMENT EVER! I did indeed have the oedema thing and I also REALLY struggled with the water restriction! One night a nurse had to cuddle me to sleep because I was so thirsty and I was so desperate for fluid that I was sucking the water out of my toothbrush! Thank you for making me feel less alone with this problem as in my life the majority of people I know are camp one! I can promise you that I am keeping a very close eye on my fluid chart now I am back home and so far I haven’t had anything over my limit for days! Hoorah! Hope you are keeping safe and at a healthy level of hydration! Much love xxx

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  5. I don’t know if this will help give hope but I was firmly in camp one for a good 23 years. Then suddenly I flipped into camp 2. Almost overnight. I’d say now I’m in camp 3 most of the time; I still sometimes panic if I calculate how much (little) I’ve had and that’s it’s too much (not enough) but it IS possible to move camps. And I still smile when I realise that I am mostly now in camp 3 after 25 years of torture. Now to transfer that to food….

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    • Thank you so much for this comment, it is certainly VERY reassuring to hear that it is possible to move camps. Hopefully we will both be firm occupants of camp three soon…I hear they have very nice tents…Wishing you lots of luck with all of the food transferring and please know that you are not alone in this fight! Always here if you need! Have a fabulous day xx

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  6. Holla from camp three! It is definitely possible everyone – and yes, I know no one WINS in this situation, EVER, but we can all somehow work on things and be compulsion free from all levels of liquid mis/use. all camps join forces and march to recovery freedom! Katie, love you xxxx

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    • When I join camp three can we tell stories by the camp fire and build a massive tent with indoor cinema for Sabrina viewage? That will definitely give me something to look forward too and a little extra motivation :p Love you too xx

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