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How I'm Coping With Gaining Weight in Eating Disorder Recovery

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I’ve gained weight.

I would hazard a guess that most people don’t want to gain weight, but when you’re recovering from an eating disorder it’s especially hard. The eating disorder wasn’t entirely about weight, but it was a big part of it. For me at least. I have an intense fear of gaining weight and being overweight and now both have happened.

It’s Part of the Recovery Process

And I fucking hate it. Nobody around me would be so indelicate as to comment on my weight – they know how hard I’m working at recovery. But I feel like I’m a big ballooning ball of neon lights just saying, look at me I’m fat now. Despite the fact probably nobody cares, I have a little paranoia that everyone is talking about my weight behind my back. I’m sure it’s not true, but paranoia is not rational.

Initially, I had rapid weight gain as a side effect of lithium. Unfortunately going off lithium did not cause rapid weight loss – I have to lose it the old fashioned way. Trouble is, there is no safe way for me to lose weight and maintain psychological recovery. I’ve tried. The moment I decide on some kind of perfectly sensible dietary modification that might lead to slow weight loss, I go all eating disordered. It’s like an enormous switch in my brain is instantaneously switched on and I start restricting – big time. And then after I restrict I start binging. And if I don’t stop the roller coaster at that point I’ll end up back at square one.

So I’ve Made the Decision to Not Lose Weight

Not on purpose at any rate. Now don’t get me wrong – if I mysteriously lost a ton of kilos for no apparent reason I would be tickled pink. But I’m not going to actively pursue weight loss, because psychologically I can’t afford to.

I suspect you non-eating disordered folk find this very difficult to understand, but it is what it is. I’ve become very protective of the recovery I’ve made and I don’t want to lose it. I don’t have a specific date when I started getting well, but I came out of the clinic on 11 May 2020 and I’ve made pretty consistent positive progress since then. Not perfect progress and I have to be OK with that as well. A tendency to perfectionism is part of being eating disordered.

I’ve had so few slip-ups in the past 12 months. So, so few. But still, they exist. And when they happen it’s easy to just think it’s not worth continuing with recovery. Just give in and stop eating. Just purge and exercise it all away. Just crack out the razor blades. Just pop another pill. I’ve learned not to do those things though. Most of the time.

In the Interest of Full Disclosure, Here Are My Recovery Pitfalls

I’ve gone through two short periods of restriction – once last year and once this year. Both times in response to despair about weight gain. I have periodic moments of binging – not over the top, but definitely not nice. Always an ill-informed response to emotional turmoil. But I never, ever compensate by purging or exercising. I do not remember the last time I purged. I think it happened once after I left the clinic? Sometime in the middle of last year.

It’s been a long, long time since I self-harmed. Nearly a year maybe? I don’t remember. It only happened a couple of times after I left the clinic.

I take my little cocktail of prescribed medications every night and I don’t over-medicate with extras. I feel I have developed a very healthy relationship with my prescription medications. Which is good, because for two years it became very unhealthy.

Part of My Weight Gain Is the Way I Eat

As time goes on, I’m hoping to become more and more attuned to how my body feels about food. To figure out exactly what this 55-year-old sedentary body needs from a nutritional perspective.

I don’t have an intuitively good understanding of portion sizes and healthy eating. I understand the theory – of course I do. But when it comes to choosing what to eat and how much, there is still a constant war in my head about the inherent “goodness” of the food and whether I’m “allowed” to eat it. The more I let myself eat whatever I want, the better my psychological response has become. In the meantime, I’ve gained weight because I eat a lot more than I used to and I don’t overdo it with exercise.

I barely exercise at all to be honest – still rehabilitating my ankle. I’m slowly increasing the amount of walking I do and I’m hoping that with time I will be able to climb mountains once more. I’m slowly becoming accustomed to how my body feels with food and what normal hunger and satiety signals are like. It’s a really, really slow process but I am getting there.

And while I’m trying to get there, I have decided to intellectually accept things as they are right now. I don’t have to like something in order to accept it. As part of this acceptance, I’m going shopping. For new clothes. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Getty image by Natalia Barliaeva

Originally published: October 12, 2021
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