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When You Go From 'Underweight' to 'Overweight' in Treatment for Anorexia

Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

This is a topic that I don’t think is discussed as much as it should be. I also know that this is a very touchy topic. I will tread lightly and only explain things from my perspective and my personal journal towards recovery.

When I started treatment for anorexia 17 months ago, I was in a really bad place. I was depressed, suicidal and very underweight. My eating disorder had a full grasp on my otherwise happy and successful life. But it tormented me and convinced me that I needed to lose weight in order to be happy, successful and pretty. And I listened to it. With the weight loss that I so desired, I lost everything that was important to me. My relationships were strained, I couldn’t succeed at my job and I fell into a deep depression.

Fast forward 17 months, to today. I am still in treatment. But only this time, according to my BMI (body mass index), I am considered overweight. I don’t feel like myself and I’m embarrassed. I’ve gained three times what I lost. All I want to do is hide. I am embarrassed and sad. So I texted two close friends and my therapist for some support who gave me a few interesting things to think about.

My therapist said that the BMI doesn’t actually measure anything important. She sent me this lovely image that said BMI stands for (excuse my French) “bullshit measuring index.” It says that the BMI was invented by the pharmaceutical industry and that it has been “of great financial benefit to them.”

So true. But oh, so hard to believe. How am I supposed to be confident in my recovery when I look like this? When I am, literally, “overweight.” I’ve struggled my whole life, always being underweight yet feeling obese and fat. But now the problem is that I actually am. I’m sure some of you can understand what that feels like. I feel like a balloon, like all my clothes are busting at the seams. My friend described it as feeling like a telly tubbie. It’s so true. I feel disproportionate, pudgey and whale-like. This is not me. I entered treatment to help me with body image, but how is this helping me? How is taking me from one extreme to another going to help?! I simply did not understand.

My therapist said I needed to work on “radical acceptance.” I know, I know, DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) is the key. But it’s so hard. I so desperately want to look like all those models in magazines. I don’t know who is to blame; maybe it’s the media, maybe it’s how I was raised. But no matter the reason, that’s what I want to look like. And so I took my body through the extremes of restricting and managed to change the way I looked so that I would resemble the ideal image I had in my head. But yet my body image still told me I was fat and overweight and that I should just keep losing a little more. Even when extremely underweight, I would body check and grab and pinch all the areas where I thought I was “too fat.” I was very sick.

Well, I tried to do the right thing — three times in the past year and a half I have entered treatment. And now, I am “overweight” because of it. It makes me wonder what I’ve gained besides weight. Did I make the right decision, entering treatment? According to my values, yes. According to my eating disorder, no. Is this all my eating disorder getting louder and louder? Telling me I need to lose weight? Or is that the “normal” voice of a girl, any girl, just striving to feel confident in her own skin?

What I’ve learned is that no matter what size I’ve been, I’ve yet to be confident. So what does that mean? I think that means that confidence has nothing to do with our appearance. I think it’s all about the way we perceive ourself. Our smiles. Our laugh. I want to feel confident. But I know that weight loss isn’t the answer anymore (even though that means I have to fight every urge, every day, not to listen to my eating disorder). It’s about learning to love yourself and truly embracing health at every size. I know that my body needs time to heal (lots and lots of time). I’ve put it through a lot, and overshooting is just its way of healing. But knowing that doesn’t make it any easier. It’s hard, especially during summer.

If you are in this situation or can relate to anything I’m going through, I suggest following some body positive models on Facebook and Instagram. Find people who are confident in themselves and try to emulate that in yourself. Embrace your curves! Love your body! Treat it with kindness and respect, after all, we will only ever have one body. But I can tell you one thing that I’ve learned: Our appearance is the least interesting thing about us.

This quote always sticks with me: “We get so worried about being pretty. Let’s be pretty kind. Pretty funny. Pretty smart. Pretty strong.”

Go on that date, take the adventure, live life. And stop apologizing for taking up space. Stop hiding because you are embarrassed of your appearance. I can guarantee that you are beautiful. You are loved. You are worthy of happiness, confidence (no matter what your size) and joy. Don’t miss out on life because you’re too worried about what others think about you. Love yourself and that will draw people to you! I know you can do this. I’m trying my best, and I hope you are too.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo via Any_Li