On Eating Disorder Recovery and Weight Gain

As I mentioned last week, I’m writing these words in response to emails and questions I have received following the post: An illustration: Eating Disorder to Intuitive Eating.  Last week I addressed mindset in recovery (The Mindset for Recovery: How I Started The Process), and today I want to address weight gain in recovery.

Disclaimer: Of course, what I’m about to say is all inspired from my own experience and what worked for me. Everyone’s situation is completely different and unique to them based on their specific disorder, weight, BMR, where they are mentally etc. What worked for me might not work for you. It may take time, but if you’re sick of living a slave to food- it is possible. 

Let’s get to it!

So…. there is honestly no way of sugar coating this: if you were like me and your metabolism is absolute garbage, you will most likely gain weight during recovery. (Which may actually be a good thing if you are like me and underweight for your body… but more on this later.) This is obviously the hardest part of the process because it’s not something you just learn to be okay with overnight. This is the beginning of teaching yourself to rewire your brain COMPLETELY. Forcing yourself to overcome your desire to restrict and to actually EAT MORE FOOD while simultaneously knowingly gaining weight goes against EVERYTHING we have told ourselves regarding food and our bodies. It goes against every part of our nature. If you are in the same place that I was— it SUCKS.

Will there be mental breakdowns? Yes.

Will there be times you feel like you can’t do it? Yes.

Will there be times you want to quit and revert back and restrict again? YES.

Will you gain weight? You may. I did.

But here are a few things to keep in mind if you are fighting with this or about to start this process:

#1 There is no better time to start than NOW. It’s not going to get any easier, friends. If you ever want to eat “normally”, if you ever want to eat “intuitively” and have complete freedom in food without worrying about what it was going to do to your body- then it’s time to make the jump. This is the part where we have to learn to give a big f*** you to society’s standards and heck—even our own! We need to have grace with ourselves and our bodies and stop holding ourselves to any sort of internal or external expectation. When your body starts to gain weight—reminder yourself over and over—it is because it is finally being NOURSIHED. At last, it is receiving the food it requires. Say words of affirmation to yourself whenever negative thoughts come to your mind such as, “My physical appearance does not define my worth”, “I love my body and the things it does for me”, “I am strong and capable”, “I will not let the world define my worth”, “I love myself today. I don't want to be anyone else.”, “I am creative and calm”, “I am beautiful.”

At the end of the day, your desire to eat “normally” again and to actually nourish and respect your body has to overcome and overpower your tendency to use and abuse it.

I know it’s hard-- believe me-- I know. But it is possible. You are stronger than you think. 

#2 You must let go of the need to control your body with your mind. If you are anything like I use to be, you have completely detached the two. Like I mentioned earlier, there is no longer a fluid, mutually respectful communication here. There is only the brain telling the body what to do. When you let go the need to control everything, you open up the opportunity for communication and instinctual eating. Your body is incredibly intuitive- if only you will listen. When you are done, you will not have to rely on calories and formulas for wellness- or even to loose, gain, or maintain weight. You will eat according to your cravings. You will honor them and respect that your body knows best. IN this way, your body guides the way to wellness. Whatever the reasons for this control, let them go.  

#3 You have to acknowledge that restriction DOES NOT work. At this point in my recovery, it kind of baffles me that dieting is an encouraged and accepted way to achieve weight loss. Our culture teaches us that restriction and food manipulation are the way to achieve a desired body aesthetic/composition. On the contrary… do you want to feel strong? Empowered? Do you want to maximize your body’s potential and accentuate your natural and beautiful features? WEIGHTS AND FOODS. That’s it ladies. We need to rewire our brains, get out of the cardio room, and pick up some weights and some tacos. THAT is where the money is. Learning to weight lift was what I saw as a crucial step in my recovery. It taught me to appreciate my body for how strong it was and see my body and food in a completely different light. I was not longer working out to burn calories- I was working out because it made me feel good and strong and I ate to fuel my muscles. My body composition didn’t start to truly change and morph to be what it was designed to be until I got into the weight room. I began to rebuild the muscle I literally starved off myself in my previous years. Remember this:

Restriction DOES NOT WORK-- neither physically or mentally.

Physically: Your body does not know the difference between starvation and self restriction. It’s biological reaction is the same: Store fat… slow down the metabolism… break down muscle mass to use as fuel. All of these are natural protective mechanisms the body has. It does not know when its next meal will be!!

Emotionally: With continued restriction, the body’s cravings only increase. (And thus, you may struggle with binge eating during times of deprivation.) Your body KNOWS it needs nutrition! And thus, it creates intense food cravings. Or perhaps you are at the point where you don’t even have food cravings anymore. In this case, you hunger and satiety cues have completely atrophied.

#4: What goals are you trying to achieve? If you are like me, you think: “Once I reach a certain weight, then I will be radiant and confident and I will go to the pool and wear tight dresses without worry.” FALSE. If you are already insecure, no arbitrary number on a scale will fix this. This is when you need to look for confidence in things outside of yourself and realize your worth outside of your body. YOU ARE MORE THAN YOUR BODY! Why are you letting it rule you? Rock whatever the good Lord gave you. You are unique and perfect exactly the way you are. There is no “perfect” body, because who is to say what that is? Find confidence in that.

#5 And finally, lets talk about the weight- will it stay? Will it go? This all depends. It depends on where you are at in your disorder- what your body composition currently is and what it is suppose to be. But what is true—YOUR BODY WILL BEGIN TO CHANGE FOR THE BETTER. From the outside maybe- but from the inside—CERTAINLY. When you begin to nourish yourself, you are giving your body the building blocks it needs in order to function correctly. In my experience, I gained weight. (I am not going to say how much.) But I did eventually loose some of it and settle at my body’s “happy weight”. So while I currently weigh (way) more than I use to, my body composition is completely different. (You can see proof of this in my previous post.) So in my experience, I gained weight, but then some of it came off when my metabolism increased. I have grown to embrace my body exactly how it is. Will I ever be as “thin” as I was? Hell no. But I no longer want that. I have new goals- goals to be strong and fit and nourished and HAPPY.

But regardless, the whole point of this is that IT IS NOT ABOUT THE WEIGHT. My hope is to get you to that point of peace with yourself so that you can let your body do its thing without any judgment from your mind or societal expectation. Have grace with yourself and give yourself time. Learn to love your body unconditionally. Just have peace in this, friends—the weight gain truly is temporary in that you won’t keep gaining weight forever. As your body starts to adjust to being nourished, your metabolism will increase and your body will adjust. 

#6 And finally—if you are anything like me, you need accountability.  You need that person who you can text when you are having a mental break down and want to quit and revert back to your old ways. You need someone who can encourage you in all these things and speak truth into your life- that things will get better. Things will get easier. That it will be worth it. Preferably someone who has been through the process before, but any good friend will do.

In closing, it is my privilege to work with women and get them out of the clutches of an eating disorder and to that place of freedom in food. If you want to work with someone to learn how to eat intuitively - please email me @ hello@rootforfood.net. I work with clients in person and virtually via Nourishing Minds Nutrition.

Email me with any questions!