The Truth About Weight Restoration & Distribution & Learning To Eat Intuitively In Eating Disorder Recovery.
Today, I’m coming at you with a spontaneous & unplanned post because just as I was about to answer another message, I realized just how often this question comes up. AND RIGHTFULLY SO! I felt it would be a good idea to get a permanent post up on the blog to refer you guys back to if ever you have similar concerns.
So many of you ED WARRIORS message me asking:
- Will the weight gain in recovery eventually stop & if so, when it will stop?
- When will the weight start distributing evenly?
- When on earth will you be able to get back into the string of things when it comes to balancing hunger cues & fullness signals, a.k.a. when will you be able to eat intuitively & without feeling like you always have to think about it?
These are all SUPER valid questions & questions that I too had when I started recovery & a couple months in. I always say that one of the primary motivations & reasons for which I do what I do & share many personal details about my life & my recovery journey with you guys is because I want to be the person FOR YOU that I wish I had when I was struggling. One of the many things that makes eating disorders & recovery so difficult is that it’s often hard to find people who understand what we are going through & who can relate, especially if they haven’t experienced it firsthand or with one of their loved ones or close friends.
First things first, YES, rest assured that the weight gain in recovery will eventually stop. Believe it or not, you can actually play a role in how soon it does & in how efficiently your body is able to reach its optimal, stable & healthy weight.
But first & foremost, you need to accept that recovery will inevitably entail WEIGHT GAIN. This is definitely the hardest part of the process because it’s not something you can learn, embrace or be okay with overnight. It’s the beginning of teaching yourself to rewire your brain completely. It’s about forcing yourself to overcome your desire to restrict & to actually eat more food, while simultaneously knowing that this will lead to weight gain. I won’t sugar coat it, this acceptance stage SUCKS.
YES, there will be mental breakdowns. There will be times you feel like you don’t have the strength in you to do it. There will be times where you want to quit & revert back to your eating disorder. But all of these things need to happen in order for you to fully embrace recovery, to learn to eat normally, intuitively & to have complete food freedom. Your desire to eat normally gain & to actually nourish, fuel & respect your body must overcome & overpower the tendency to use & abuse it by restricting & starving yourself. You must let go of the need to control your body with your mind. I know, it’s hard. But you’re stronger than you think.
Once you overcome that, when you enter recovery, you must enter with the mindset that you need to move away from labelling certain foods as “good”, “bad”, “safe” or “comforting”. As soon as you begin to place moral value on foods, you will begin to feel guilty when you eat something that you may have previously considered “bad” or “unsafe” (when you were suffering from ED). Feeling uneasy or crappy about eating one of the foods you may have labelled that way in the past can actually trigger a cycle of binge eating & restriction.
BINGE EATING & RESTRICTION WILL NOT HELP WITH MAINTAINING A HEALTHY WEIGHT. It’ll perpetuate feelings of discomfort, sadness, frustration & anger & will make your weight fluctuate drastically & cause both physical, emotional & mental stress on your body & mind. All this to say: You must give yourself permission to eat & if it just so happens that you have a day where you overate, under-ate or even binged, SO BE IT. Just keep eating normally, as though nothing happened, so that you could further encourage your body & mind to get back into the swing of eating intuitively.
To read more about binge-eating & to understand why it happens & how you can prevent it, click here: KITK’s Guide To Understanding Binging, Why It Happens & How To Stop Mr. & Mrs. Binge In Their Tracks
By continuing to pursue recovery & commit to your meal plan, EVEN WHEN YOU EXPERIENCE SETBACKS, you will teach your body & help it understand that you will NOT let it down again & that there will be no more starvation period (a.k.a. dieting, restriction, deprivation). The truth of the matter is that as your eating disorder spiralled out of control, your body lost trust in you. When you start to re-feed it, it might hold on to every little bit of nourishment it gets because it’s preparing for the next time you betray it & let it down, a.k.a. the next famine, cut or starvation splurge you go on.
Think of your relationship with your body at the beginning of recovery as an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend that you are trying to get back together with after a huge let down (say, you cheated on your significant other but you guys are trying to make things work a second time around). Odds are, in the beginning of this “trying to get back together” period, your ex most probably won’t have much trust in you. Your ex may act in ways that he or she would’ve never acted in the past as a way to protect themselves from getting hurt again. They might be overly curious, jealous or overbearing, even if they are not that type of person to begin with.
THE SAME GOES FOR YOUR BODY WHEN YOU START RE-FEEDING IT. You starved your body for weeks, months & years & unfortunately, your body LOST trust in you. Yes, your body wants to get back together with you too. BUT, YOUR BODY IS GOING TO PLAY HARD TO GET. Your body is going to hold on to every little bit of fuel & food you give it at first because your body has no idea when the mood will strike you to let it down again. YOU HAVE TO BE PATIENT DURING THIS PERIOD. Show your body some compassion, the same way you would show it to your ex.
When your body finally learns to trust you again & realizes that you’re no longer wishy washy & that you’re in it for the long haul & want to make “things right” again, it will release any excess weight it may have held onto naturally & find a middle ground, a.k.a. your body’s optimal healthy weight.
Our bodies are actually designed in such a way that they have a weight set point, a.k.a. a weight they are comfortable at & a weight at which they will be able to function to their full ability & capacity. This is why I always say that your body’s metabolism has a natural way of adjusting over time & balancing out. It’s just that you have to keep at it & tough it out while it makes its way to that adjustment. Easier said than done, I know. But it will happen. I promise.
In a nutshell, this is what happens when you suffer from an eating disorder… When you’re so depleted & so severely underweight, your body activates its “fight or flight” system & feeds off its own muscle to make up for the lack of nourishment. This is why the arms & legs get very skeletal… your muscles literally deteriorate. But… YOUR ORGANS ARE ALSO MUSCLES. If you notice your arms & legs are wasting away, odds are your organs are too. This is why so many women who suffer from EDs lose their period: the reproductive organs shut down. That’s why the digestive system gets messed up, why circulation is poor & why you’re always cold. This is why eating disorders kill. The heart is a muscle & eventually, it shuts down.
In the first few weeks of re-feeding, the nourishment rebuilds the most important muscles first: the majority of the nutrients will go to the organs. This is why at first it seems like you aren’t gaining weight & why you’re still okay & comfortable with embracing recovery. Eventually, as weight is slowly restored, you begin to see gradual changes in your body & you slowly ease into them. This feels good & you will love the fact that you are starting to feel better & have more energy.
But then, YOU FREAK OUT. You start to notice more & more changes. Sometimes, you get really bloated. Sometimes, you get really constipated. Sometimes, you can’t stop running to the bathroom. Sometimes, you feel like a sumo wrestler. Sometimes, you just want to give up. Sometimes, you feel afraid to go any further in recovery because you don’t want to get fat. Sometimes, you question why the weight isn’t distributing as evenly as you would like. Sometimes, you miss your sick body. Sometimes, you want to go back to it. Sometimes, you wish you never chose recovery. But YOU HAVE TO CONTROL THESE FREAK OUTS & COMMIT TO RECOVERY. ALWAYS. You have to wake up & choose it everyday.
REST ASSURED: The bloating will pass. It lasted about 2-3 months for me during recovery & then I realized that my metabolism began to work more efficiently. I was able to stop relying on digestive enzymes before every meal & I found I needed my natural bloating remedies less & less. To read more about some of the ways that worked for me to fight the bloat, click here: My Tips & Tricks To Fight The Bloat!
To read more about metabolism & eating disorder recovery, click here: 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!)
To read more about how to gain & maintain weight the healthy way, click here: How To Gain & Maintain Weight The Right Way, Ergo The Healthy Way!
To see a sample of my recovery meal plan & to read all about some of the most common questions I get regarding the re-feeding process, click here: My Recovery Meal Plan & A Few Tips/Tricks On How To Get It Done, Implement It, Get Healthy & Not Despair When Times Get Hard!
Last but not least, is there an average time or set point for the body to balance out hunger & fullness signals & to fully learn to eat intuitively?
Unfortunately, this is a tough one to answer because it’s different for EVERYONE! For me, it took a good 8 months before I could understand my hunger & fullness signals. Usually, hunger signals come back faster than fullness ones. And sometimes, they come back so fast that it can be overwhelming. How fast & how intense they come on will depend largely on how long you restricted for, how long you suffered, etc. If you restricted for years, your body will drive up hunger signals big time. THAT’S TOTALLY NORMAL. It wants & most importantly, NEEDS to be fed. Those hunger signals are NOT something you should ignore (despite how much your ED tells you to) & they are NOT something you should feel bad about. They are normal & natural.
The fullness signals are harder to understand, especially at the beginning. Keep in mind that your body forgot what it feels like to be satisfied & full. You might be so starved that you’ll actually feel uncomfortable with feeling “comfortably full” because you don’t really know what full means anymore. So, a year or two ago, you may have experienced the same level of fullness & been perfectly okay with it, but after a year or two of starvation, your body is LOST & CONFUSED. It will take time for your body to readapt & to reteach itself to understand when it needs fuel, when it doesn’t, when it feels full, when it’s still hungry, etc.
For the first 8 months of recovery, I made a conscious effort to follow my meal plan but also to eat whenever I felt hungry. Sometimes, I over-ate. Sometimes, I under-ate. Sometimes, I didn’t feel well. Sometimes, I went to bed feeling like a sumo wrestler. Sometimes, I went to bed with heart palpitations. In hindsight, I now know that those feelings & experiences were all a part of recovery & of re-building trust with my body.
Today, a bit more than a year into recovery, I am 100% at a point where I eat intuitively. I know what it feels like to be hungry, to need fuel, to have a craving, to be full, to be satisfied. I eat when I’m hungry & I stop when I’m not. I know how to listen to my body & I understand it when it communicates with me & sends me hints or signs. I didn’t get here easily. I didn’t get here without time & patience. I didn’t get here without effort. I didn’t get here without struggle. I didn’t get here without doubting that my body knew what it was doing & without fearing that I couldn’t trust it. But I fought really hard to make it to this point & if I did it, you can too.
To read more about how I healed my relationship with food, click here: How I Healed My Relationship With Food & In Turn, Learned To Love My Body.
To read more about how food fears go away, click here: Trust Me, Food Fears Do Go Away. & How To Get Over Your Fear Foods & Turn Them Into JUST FOOD!
At the end of the day, weight restoration is at the crux of eating disorder recovery. You can be SO WHOLEHEARTEDLY committed to recovery & mentally want it SO BADLY, but putting on the weight is still terrifying. SHIT WILL GET REAL. I am not here to sugar coat it. Everything will be okay, but NOT EVERY SECOND OF EVERY DAY. There will be set backs. Be ready for those moments. Expect them.
But, know that those freak outs, those moments where you realize your body is going to fill out, THEY ARE NOT BAD. THEY ARE BEAUTIFUL. They are a symbol of your strength & your resilience. Your sense of purpose. Your following your dreams. Your building a brighter future for yourself. Your realization that there is life beyond your eating disorder. Your determination to FIGHT FOR YOUR HEALTH & FOR YOUR LIFE. And really, what’s more beautiful than health & being alive?