My name is Lucas, and I suffer from stomach problems. For many people,
their gut issues are a mystery, and they only find the root cause after many trials
and tribulations. For me, it was always pretty clear where my problems stemmed
I developed bulimia when I was 15 years old. In my head, it started as an excuse to eat more. At least that was the rationalization I gave myself at the time. I could eat my favorite foods… and once I got full, I could essentially hit a “restart button,” allowing me to fully enjoy that food again, and gorge out endlessly with “no consequences.”
As things progressed, it became less and less about eating foods I liked, and more and more about just eating without the repercussions of gaining weight. Mind you, I’ve always been very self-conscious about my weight, and have almost never been satisfied with it. In addition to bulimia, I also suffer from body dysmorphia, which sounds a lot cooler than it is. It doesn’t mean I can change shapes– it means that when I look in the mirror, I always feel like I should be skinnier than I am. In some ways, I deeply, but falsely, believed that people would probably like me better if I was skinnier. And, full disclosure, I thought I’d like me better too.
As time went on, the sensation of feeling full occurred faster and faster. Eventually, I stopped feeling like I was full, but in its place, I started feeling an immense psychological and bodily discomfort. It’s hard to explain, but it was this creeping need to release; something I just couldn’t sit with. Like a pressure building in me, making it uncomfortable to be in my own skin until I did something to finally relieve that pressure: purge.
By the time I was 17, it had become pretty clear this wasn’t a life hack. I was definitely dealing with something that was compulsive, and I had no control over. I was aware of bulimia through movies and TV, but didn’t know anyone who actually had it… or who I could talk to about it. Also, eating disorders are gendered… right? I had never heard of a man experiencing an eating disorder. Which isn’t very surprising considering very few studies on eating disorders include men and, statistically, men are less likely to seek treatment for eating disorders because of the perception that they are “woman’s diseases.” Fortunately, I matured past high school and eventually came to understand that judging anything based on the perception of it “being gendered” is dangerously ignorant. But as a teenager, that was exactly how I thought about it. What would my friends think? Would they think less of me or be disgusted? So, naturally, I did what any 17 year old would do, I hid it completely – from my friends, family and even my doctor.
I ended up living with bulimia for over 10 years. It became an escape. When I binged on food, I felt a brief reprieve from the weight of the world around me. But as it worsened over the years, a residual effect occurred: I started having massive stomach and esophageal issues. I developed the need to carry antacids everywhere I went because at that point, stomach acid had regularly made a home for itself in my esophagus. I was essentially self-inducing acid reflux every time I engaged in my bulimia, creating an awful gastric cycle.
Eventually I developed GERD. GERD is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. It basically means that the mechanisms in my body meant to keep food and stomach acid in my stomach no longer worked. I began having constant heartburn, even when I wasn’t purging. I accepted this side effect as a necessary evil of my coping strategy: it was the cost I’d have to pay to not gain weight.
Eventually it got so bad, I started having to go to the hospital due to crippling, unbearable digestive pains. I told the doctor that I had no idea what was causing it… but come on, who are we kidding? So, of course, I decided to stop my bulimia altogether. Just like that. It was just that easy. Except… it wasn’t easy, and I couldn’t stop. The compulsion was too strong. Even when I promised myself I wouldn't do it, somehow I found myself in the bathroom 30 minutes later asking, “how did this happen… again?!”
At 25 years old, I found myself getting into a relationship with someone really special. I was right about her being special… because that person is now my wife. I felt like I could be my truest, most vulnerable self with her, and yet I still felt that I needed to hide my bulimia, out of shame. I started making excuses about why I had to go to the bathroom during and after every meal. I even found myself wiping down toilet seats in public restaurants with tissue paper, so no one would suspect anything. Bulimia had truly taken over my life. I had hit rock bottom.
I finally built up the courage and told my then girlfriend (now wife). She made me promise her that I’d start taking action toward recovery, and make a real effort to stop for good. She also convinced me to tell my doctor. So I did. I got into a twelve-step program, started meeting with a therapist, and got honest about it with my friends and family, as well as my GI.
And guess what? No one I told was disgusted or thought less of me. They weren’t necessarily thrilled about what I had been doing to myself, but they loved me and wanted me to get better. So over the course of the next year, I worked really hard, writing in journals, meeting with my sponsor and staying accountable with my support system. I’m happy to say that I have fully recovered. It wasn’t perfect – and admittedly there were relapses – but eventually I made it through.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for my digestive system… Even though I had quit binging and purging, my body had wrought a lot of damage over the course of those 10 tumultuous years. In the years following recovery, I found myself frequently at the Gastroenterologist’s office, because I just couldn’t get rid of my heartburn. Per their recommendations, I started relying on medications like Zantac and name-brand, chalky antacids to manage my symptoms on a daily basis – becoming one of the 33 million Americans purchasing antacids on a regular basis to alleviate my symptoms. Soon taking a Zantac or two in the morning and always having antacids in my pocket would become the norm. I tried almost every type of alternative remedy, holistic treatment and supplement. I also tried adjusting my lifestyle: taking out caffeine, trigger foods, and sleeping with an elevated upper body, etc., but heartburn always seemed to rear its head.
Cut to 2020. The pandemic hits. Things are pretty stressful. And as anyone who suffers from heartburn knows, stress is a big trigger. I found myself using more and more of my daily medication until April 2020, when a news story came out that the manufacturers of Zantac had recalled their product because it contained a cancer-causing chemical called N-Nitrosodimethylamine. When I heard this, I luckily stayed level headed. Just kidding. I totally freaked out.
I immediately threw out all of my digestive health meds and became extremely skeptical of all of my heartburn medication. I found myself reading the back of all my digestive health products, looking up the ingredients that went into them. I specifically noticed that my over-the-counter, chalky but effective, antacid products contained talc. Talc – the same ingredient that one of the largest healthcare companies is being sued over for $30 Billion, due to claims that its talc-filled powder causes cancer. Granted, talc used in medication and supplements has been cleared by the FDA to be generally recognized as safe. But it wasn’t just the talc. There were chemicals, artificial dyes, preservatives… and the list goes on.
I had lost faith in the bureaucratic institutions that I had been relying on, and their ability to make sure I was ingesting safe and healthy ingredients. The last thing I wanted was to solve one health problem while potentially creating another. So I started looking for new alternatives that had the credibility of pharmaceutical products, but used good, clean ingredients. I found one product and used it for a while but unfortunately it tasted a lot like dirt and mold. And like many of you, those aren’t flavors I particularly enjoy.
I asked myself: if no one else is willing to make what I want, can I figure out how to make it, or find someone who can? So I started doing some research. I had three very defined goals. I wanted something that I can trust is better for me than what is available, is just as effective as the antacids I relied on, but with a taste I can actually enjoy. “Healthier for you” usually means a compromise. Either it's not as effective or it tastes bad. That’s when I teamed up with my brother, and quit my job. We spent months researching, calling pharmaceutical scientists and ingredient suppliers. We were going to make a better antacid, and that’s how Wonderbelly was born.
We were lucky enough to find some unbelievably smart and highly regarded people early on, who also shared our vision. So, with the help of our amazing team, pharmaceutical experts and top gastroenterologists, we successfully developed a flavorful, pharmaceutical-grade antacid, using the same active ingredient as the leading brand but with only clean, non-GMO, vegan, allergen and dye-free ingredients. To top it all off, we realized in the process that for all of the talk about fighting climate change and limiting pollution, none of these old pharmaceutical companies were making any significant effort toward sustainability at all. They were all still producing billions of plastic bottles annually. So we decided to take on another hard but worthy task: being truly sustainable. We make our OTC digestive health medication in 100% plastic free packaging, offer carbon neutral shipping, and ship using boxes made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper.
I’m happy to say, as I’m sitting here writing this, that I’m fully recovered from bulimia and launching my dream product. My 15-year-old self would have never believed that my darkest moments would somehow lead to some of my brightest. That’s why at Wonderbelly, we’re not only committed to provide good, clean digestive health medication, but to also start conversation around the hard-to-talk-about issues that lead to gut health problems. It’s not just eating disorders… alcoholism, anxiety disorders, obesity and nicotine dependency all have massive impacts on our gut health. Not to mention the general stress and sedentary lifestyle caused by the pandemic, that we’ve all had to live with the past few years.
I would have never imagined I would ever be able to, or want to, share my story and do it proudly. I hope I can help you do the same. And I hope you’ll join us in this journey.
If you or someone you know struggles with an eating disorder, there are many resources that can provide support. Below are a few options. We encourage you to find the one that’s right for you:
Center for Discovery as well as Discovery Mood & Anxiety offer free online support groups for anyone who has been impacted by an eating disorder or mental health. Visit their site linked above to find the support group that’s right for you.
Chat: NEDA Click-to-Chat
Crisis Text Line: text “NEDA” to 741741
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) helpline is available to provide support Monday–Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST, and Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. If no one is available when you call, leave a message and your call will be returned as soon as possible. They are closed to observe some holidays.
NEDA’s helpline is a free and confidential service. Volunteers have extensive training and are prepared to help you find information, support, and treatment options.
Overeaters Anonymous (OA) is a community of people who through shared experiences, strength and hope are recovering from unhealthy relationships with food and body image.
OA is not exclusive to overeating but addresses all types of disordered eating including anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating.
All OA meetings are anonymous and free. You do not have to register to attend an OA meeting. You can find in-person, online or telephone meetings listed on their website.