Although not the sole purpose, gaining weight is a crucial part of recovery from an eating disorder and despite the rational part of your brain knowing that it’s necessary, that often doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.
When I first entered recovery 3 years ago, I didn’t want to gain weight. And in all honesty, I did anything that I could to avoid it. I refused snacks, was suffering from Orthorexia in combition with Anorexia and had a compulsive and obsessive relationship with exercise. I never properly recovered and it resulted in me relapsing.
Since I fully committed myself to recovery earlier this year my mindset has completely changed. The difference 3 years later is that I’m open to gaining weight because I recognize all of the positives that accompany it. The best way to describe it is that my head got there before my body, and as a result I’m more accepting of weight gain than I ever thought that I could be.
I’m not just gaining weight, I’m gaining life.
There are so many goals that I have for the future that I’m unable to achieve as long as I stay in a smaller body. Things such as going to Uni and travelling more are impossible unless I gain weight and recover. So the way that I see it, not only am I gaining weight, but I’m gaining life.
I wanted to share ways that help me to cope with bad body image, weight gain and how I stay motivated to not only accept the weight that I’ve already put on, but to keep gaining more. I’ve also included the truth about weight gain in recovery, the best support system to surround yourself with, how I deal with growing out of and in to clothes and my general approach to tackling weight gain with a positive mind set.
This post is in no away intended to replace the advice of a medical professional – I’m speaking simply from experience and what has been beneficial for me. If you are suffering from, in recovery, or think that you have a disordered relationship with food then please visit your GP. You can also find advice and resources on the following websites: Beat, Mind and the NHS.
Seeing your body change and the number on the scales going up is never going to be easy – it goes against everything that your eating disorder has told you for what more often than not has been years. Not to the mention the fact that it goes against everything that society and diet culture is trying to tell us, but 2 things that really help me are
- To remind myself that it’s weight that I never should have lost.
- I make a list in my Recovery Journal of reasons why it’s OK to gain weight.
The Truth About Weight Gain in Recovery
My previous treatment team set me a weight gain target per week – anything above or below that and I was criticized, not to mention the fact that gaining over their set amount only left me feeling guilty and led to a cycle of restriction.
Whilst in an ideal world, weight gain in recovery would be slow and steady, and we’d gain the same amount each week, that’s not the reality of it. Our bodies aren’t robots and they’re not pre-programmed. The truth is that after years of starvation we have no idea how they’re going to react to an increase in calories.
1. It’s not always linear
In a normal ‘healthy’ person, it’s natural for weight to fluctuate from day to day and it’s the same in recovery. Some weeks you might have a ‘big’ gain, other’s it will be smaller and sometimes you’ll even stay the same or lose weight.
It’s scary and I’ve definitely been in the position where I thought that it was never going to stop, but as long as you’re moving in the right direction, you have to trust your body and resist any temptation to restrict – recovery is all about opposite actions.
2. It’s Often Quick, Not Steady
There’s often a portrayal of I would call ‘Unicorn recovery’ – slow and steady weight gain coupled with a high metabolism, but that’s the reality for very few people. I’ve had huge jumps in my weight – but I’m learning to trust my body and accept that if that’s what is chooses to do after years of starvation, then I have to be OK with that.
This time round, I gained the same amount of weight in a month that 3 years ago it took me 6 months to gain. Yes the weight went on quicker, but in a way for me that actually made it easier to deal with, because I had less time to think about it or sit and dwell on certain numbers.
3. The Recovery Body and Weight Distribution
You may have heard the term ‘recovery belly’ or seen people complaining of weight gain being held predominantly on their stomach and thighs. Your body holds on to weight the places that it needs it most – think about it, your torso needs fat to protect your organs, more so than your arms do.
Seeing your body change isn’t easy and it can definitely bring up feeling of anxiety when you’ve had an ED throughout your teenage years, and don’t quite know what your adult body looks like either.
I’ve completely let my body do it’s thing this time round, whereas before I was compulsively exercising and my overall activity level was a lot higher. At times it’s been hard to resist the temptation to ‘tone up’ or ‘gain muscle’. but your recovery body isn’t necessarily the body that you’re going to have for the rest of your life – weight distribution comes with time, when your body trusts that it’s got a stable and regular intake of food.
4. Provides You With Mental Freedom
I never used to believe it, but eating more really does make you feel a million times better. It frees up your thoughts, improves your mood, sleep and trust me, with weight gain every other aspect of your life gets better too.
How I Stay Motivated To Gain Weight
- Remind myself of the reasons why I’m recovering (for me my biggest motivation is uni)
- Make a list of reasons why it’s OK to gain weight
- Set non-weight related goals
- Focus on the other things that I’ve gained along with weight
Don’t focus on a specific number
For me in the past having a set target weight or BMI did nothing but damage my mental health. I was scared to be that number – let alone go over it. Whilst the BMI chart is widely used, it’s not something that I personally agree with – it can’t gaurantee a healthy weight for you or your body so it’s not something that I focus on.
Whilst I will discuss my BMI with my treatment team, we’re in agreement that instead my focus is on getting my body to it’s set point – where it’s healthiest and happiest. Not focusing on a specific number is so freeing. I want my body to fall where it’s meant to be – a Yasmin sized Yasmin.
You’re more than a number
Whilst weight gain is an essential and necessary part of recovery, what’s even more important is your mental health. I don’t place the sole focus of my recovery on weight gain – instead I see it as a bi product of healing my relationship with food. Besides, you’re more than a weight or clothes size and your self worth should never be placed on either of those.
I’m happier now than I ever thought that I would be again
The people that you surround yourself with
I’ve found that having a treatment team that focus on my mental health first and foremost has been so beneficial for me too. I know that sometimes there can be even more emphasis put on weight in recovery which can make you feel as if you’re being treated as a number, rather than a person.
Growing Out Of and In To Clothes
Possibly one of the hardest parts about gaining weight, is your clothes not fitting you anymore and from my own experience, it’s something that can definitely be triggering.
Our eating disorder’s can want us to cling on to a certain size, but what’s helped me is to accept that naturally, that’s not the right size for my body. I remind myself that to fit in to that smaller size – I have to starve myself, I’m miserable, certain foods are off limits and I have to exercise compulsively.
Buy clothes in bigger sizes, that feel comfortable, so that you have things ready to grow in to. And whilst I don’t advocate body checking, I would also say don’t shy away and hide your body either in oversized clothes all the time either – learn to see, accept and maybe even love it, for what it is.
What’s the best part about gaining weight? The amount of LIFE that you gain with it. I may have gained 30kg in the past few months, but more importantly I’ve gained so much more life and happiness.
I’m happier now than I ever thought that I would be again – there was a time when I wanted to end it all and I really thought that things were never going to get better, but now my smile is so much more genuine, the sparkle in my eyes is back and so is my personality and sense of humour. I’ve felt genuine happiness and finally feel like I’m restoring the part of myself that Anorexia stole.
I’m more accepting of weight gain than I ever thought that I could be and with all of the other positives that have been accompanied it, I can honestly say that not one part of me regrets it or has the desire to lose weight.
Here’s to gaining weight but more importantly, FOOD AND LIFE FREEDOM.
If you are suffering from, in recovery, or think that you have a disordered relationship with food then please visit your GP. You can also find advice and resources on the following websites: Beat, Mind and the NHS.