The Nitty-Gritty on Metabolism & All The Deets About Getting It Back In Check Throughout Recovery (& YES, It Will Go Back To Normal – All In Due Time!)
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like “metabolism” is a concept that we all think we have mastered – I mean, how many times have you heard the saying: “OMG, I have such a slow metabolism, FML!!” or “OMG, her metabolism is so fast, she can eat anything she wants & not gain weight!” But, WHAT DOES ALL OF THAT REALLY MEAN?
First things first, WHAT IS METABOLISM?
Your metabolism basically means the energy your cells require to thrive & the energy you need to consume (a.k.a. food) in order to keep a steady supply of fuel to the furnace of your cells & body systems and for your body to function at its optimal level!
We all have a BMR (basal metabolic rate), which is the amount of energy our bodies use in a day for digestion, hormone balance, fighting bad bacteria & pathogens, sleeping, focusing, concentrating & more. Basically, the amount of energy our bodies need to perform all our living functions at rest. YES, these are all things that your body is doing for YOU while at rest, but believe it or not: your body actually REQUIRES FUEL to do those things!
When your body doesn’t get the energy it needs, due to behaviours associated with eating disorders, such as restriction, purging, binging, starvation, etc., your metabolism needs are reduced greatly. This can, in turn, lead to a series of other medical issues, such as slower than normal heart rate (bradycardia), reduced body temperature, associated with an obvious feeling of ALWAYS being cold (THIS ONE IS THE WORST – In the depths of my ED, I was literally layering on sweaters & blankets in the MIDDLE OF SUMMER!) or slower than normal digestion. These are all a result of your metabolism slowing down.
BUT, REST ASSURED: When your body starts to get adequate levels of what it needs to function biologically (& this is different for everybody!) & thrive through regular & normal nutrition, your metabolism will respond proportionally.
ALL THINGS SAID & DONE: FOOD REALLY IS YOUR MEDICINE.
Eating adequately & nourishing your body with the proper balance of macronutrients, vitamins & minerals NEEDS to happen first in order to stimulate your metabolism to use the energy it receives to build healthy muscle tissue, which is a driving force for your metabolism. This will allow you to stabilize your metabolism (& fix all of the things that your eating disorder did to your body) & in turn, your body will re-learn to function at its optimal level & pace!
KEEP IN MIND THAT THE DAMAGE TO YOUR BODY DID NOT HAPPEN OVER NIGHT. Although you may not be able to see it externally, internally, your body is coming out of a very traumatic event (in the same way that you & your mind is). In order to support this part of recovery, your body needs MORE FUEL TO PICK ITSELF UP, regain all the functions it would’ve had normally had it not gone through the ED with you & will continue to require GREATER THAN NORMAL caloric intake in order to maintain a healthy, stable weight & elevated levels of activity.
Truth is, at the beginning of recovery, you will feel like you CONSTANTLY need to eat & sometimes, it’s true, it can get overwhelming. BUT, think of recovery as the process by which your body, having been deprived of NUTRITION for so long, needs to become re-adapted to the idea & act of EATING all over again. Think of it as a spark that needs to be reignited. In order to reignite that spark, you need to CONSTANTLY FEED YOUR BODY, RESPOND TO ITS NEEDS FOR ENERGY & CALORIES!
Your body speaks to you. LISTEN TO IT.
Once again, rest assured that your caloric needs will eventually normalize & stabilize. But, you have to keep in mind, throughout the difficulties associated with re-feeding, that your body is NOT THE SAME as the body of someone who did not go through an ED. Your body is working ten times harder to repair all your insides that were damaged as a result of your illness.
Throughout the re-feeding process & recovery, your body is basically repairing muscles, bones, organs & deep essential fat tissues that have been damaged during the illness. This process uses A LOT OF ENERGY, more than the average person. AND THAT’S COMPLETELY NORMAL!
Put it this way: With its wonderful abilities to adapt, particularly for survival, when one suffers from an eating disorder, the body learns to survive off very little nutrition for quite some time. Most people can “get by” & maintain their weight. However, when recovery begins, and you begin reintroducing adequate fuel to your body, it will literally soak up said fuel like a SPONGE & keep going, literally, energizer bunny style, fast & furious! This is your body telling you that its putting all your bodily functions back into place. It’s your body telling you that it’s readapting to this fuel that is ALMOST FOREIGN!
Unfortunately, you may find yourself unsure of just how much you should be eating. Of course, like all bodily functions, metabolism is highly individualized from person to person & this is why I cannot stress enough the importance of LISTENING TO YOUR BODY & that it should NEVER BE ABOUT NUMBERS OR CALORIES!
Throughout recovery, my meal plan was NEVER about calories. Ever since the first day I began implementing my meal plan & until today, I still have no idea what number my nutritionist had in mind as she built the plan for me. All I know is that IT WORKED!
Especially in recovery, I do believe that it is CRUCIAL to get away from the numbers. You should not be aware of how many calories you are consuming on a daily basis, because given everything I’ve mentioned thus far, I think it’s pretty clear that you will be EATING A LOT & those numbers could be overwhelming & even scary, to someone with a disordered mind / perception & someone who is coming out of an unhealthy relationship with food.
It really needs to be about HOW YOU FEEL – Do you feel energized? Weak? You really have to judge & gage your own situation & then GIVE YOUR BODY WHAT IT’S ASKING FOR, based on your assessment of YOUR feelings!
In doing so, you will also come to know & realize just how much you have to eat in order to actually start gaining weight, maintain the gains & keep them on (& not just have them fluctuate). (My therapist kept telling me that & I literally did not believe him one bit – I always thought, just like the stereotype has always taught us – I could go to McDonald’s tomorrow, eat five Big Macs & BAM, the scale will go up).
And this will be shocking: You will go from needing very little food to get by to needing upwards of 3,000 calories per day, in treatment, to barely gain or maintain your weight! A NIGHT & DAY DIFFERENCE, right?
Throughout recovery & in general, in order to develop a healthy relationship with food & for your body to maintain its optimal weight, the goal should be to focus on the necessity of eating balanced quantities of HIGH QUALITY FOODS containing essential macronutrients (proteins, healthy fats, good-for-you carbs), fruits & vegetables.
It is such a myth to assume that if we eat more than usual, we will automatically gain weight. There is a common misconception that if we eat more than our body needs at a given time, the energy automatically gets stored as fat. BUT, I DID SAY THIS IS A MYTH & it’s a fear that we ALL HAVE TO OVERCOME. Our bodies have many storage sites & receptacles that serve as temporary places to store energy be used for later, i.e. our liver & muscles store carbohydrates, ingested through nutrition, so that we can use them to keep our blood sugar regulated throughout the day.
Basically, our bodies all strive to maintain this state of homeostasis, which is a balanced state of equilibrium & this is why said processes, “temporary storage sites” & bodily functions exist, with the ultimate goal of the body maintaining its optimal healthy weight! All this to say: It’s not because you eat a set amount of calories per day that you will necessarily gain X amount of weight the next day & this is one of the reasons why I strongly believe that calorie counting is SO DETRIMENTAL, especially to your mental well-being.
SO YES, IT’S POSSIBLE TO GET YOUR METABOLISM BACK TO NORMAL THROUGHOUT RECOVERY.
But, it’s a process. It takes time. Everyone’s situation is different. UI will depend how low your weight got & just how many of your bodily functions shut down during your illness. But, at the end of the day, the only way to solve any of the issues going on internally is to fuel your body, give it the fuel that it needs & eventually, you will see that your caloric needs have stabilized. You will come to realize that your body needs about the same amount of energy to function optimally on a daily basis, unless of course, some days, you are exerting more energy than usual, for example: If you usually work out once a day, but then one day, you work out twice, you will realize that your body will ASK you for MORE FUEL & that’ completely normal. LISTEN TO IT! FEED IT!).
LASTLY, if you’ve been in recovery for a few months & you see that your metabolism is still out of whack or that your appetite has not been fully restored, there could be other contributing factors:
It could be possible that you are deficient in certain nutrients & vitamins. If find your appxist etite does not recover fully, it could mean you are low in Zinc. Vitamin D & Omega Fatty Acid deficiencies may also have an effect on making your metabolism more sluggish.
It’s not a one size-fits-all situation.The effects on your metabolism could be because of the ED itself, but could also be due to vitamin & mineral deficiencies. And truth is, those deficiencies may be a result of the behaviours that drove your ED & made it thrive in the first place. You have to be the judge. BUT, EVENTUALLY, it could be a good idea to start taking a Zinc, Vitamin D or Omega Fatty Acid supplement (or omega-3 rich foods, such as salmon & mackerel) into your daily routine!
You cannot pinpoint one specific set issue that is causing your metabolism to be sluggish or out of whack because so much happened internally as your body suffered through that traumatic experience.
IT REALLY IS JUST ABOUT HONOURING YOUR BODY.
TAKING YOUR BODY AS IT IS.
TAKING IT DAY BY DAY.
MEET YOUR BODY WHERE IT’S AT TODAY.
LISTENING TO YOUR BODY.
YOU CHOSE LIFE.
EMBRACE IT EVERY SINGLE DAY.
YOUR BODY WILL FOLLOW. FEED IT. FUEL IT.
FOOD IS YOUR MEDICINE!