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5 Unexpected Symptoms of Eating Disorder Recovery

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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 741741.

When I started treatment for my eating disorder, I had to come to terms with the fact that recovery wasn’t going to be comfortable. However, I wasn’t physically or emotionally prepared for a few things. Here are five symptoms of eating disorder recovery that people don’t talk about: 

1. Hot flashes.

A couple nights out of each week, I would wake up with a dripping wet shirt, no matter what the temperature control was set to in my house. My doctor reassured me that this was just my body’s way of returning my temperature back to normal, but it was a surprise none the less.

2. Preoccupation with food.

From the moment I woke up in the morning, I was thinking about food. The body doesn’t easily forget the trauma that comes with chronic starvation. It felt as though appetite could never be satisfied after restricting for so long. Throughout the day, I would often get intruding thoughts about what I wanted to eat next. I would daydream about cookies, cakes, pizza and french fries, yet it took months for me to actually allow myself to have them.

3. Night terrors.

Sometimes, even during the night, I was unable to escape the intrusive thoughts about food. More than once, I woke up panting in the middle of the night, terrified because I had a nightmare related to binging. Nightmares about weight changes, exercise and body comments were also not uncommon.

4. Childhood cravings.

During my recovery, there was a period of time I wanted to try any and all foods I used to enjoy during my childhood that had become fear foods due to my eating disorder. It didn’t matter what it was or what my current taste preferences were at the time — if I remembered enjoying it as a child, I wanted to experience it again. Out of nowhere, I would have strong cravings for foods I hadn’t allowed myself to have for years. There is something about the chronic restriction of food that just makes you want it more than you would without the deprivation. Allowing myself to return to my childhood and relive positive memories through food made me feel safe and gave me a sense of security. In many ways, my meals often looked similar to the ones of the children I babysit, from frosted animal crackers to bagel bites, and everything in-between.
5. Early satiety.

This is perhaps the most difficult part of eating disorder recovery. When your body isn’t used to proper nourishment, everything slows to a halt, including your digestive system. Consequently, it is very normal to feel “full” on a very small amount of food. This is one reason why being told to “just eat” isn’t always the most helpful or compassionate piece of advice. For many months, eating hurt, and I constantly felt bloated. In the beginning, I would become full from only a few bites of food. But I kept pushing through, often using any distraction I could to get the food down and meet my meal plan. The pain that comes with early satiety only goes away with consistent, adequate nutrition. As excruciating as it can feel, the only way to make it go away is to keep eating.

All of these symptoms went away after several months of solid recovery, consistent nutrition and hard work in therapy. If you are currently in recovery and are experiencing any of these symptoms, you are not alone. I know your pain, and I am proud of you for not giving up. You will get through this.

Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash

Originally published: January 17, 2019
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