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How I'm Learning to Love Weight Gain in 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 741-741.

Gaining weight has been a big part in my ongoing journey to recovery. Not only does it play a major role when looking at my life in the past four years, but it’s also been my biggest enemy in trying to get better. Because, let’s be honest. Someone with a disordered mind coming from an extensive period of restrictive eating and focusing on losing weight will most likely not want to gain it all back. Being forced into doing that exact task may seem like the most terrifying thing in the world, and that is exactly what I thought. Now, as some time has passed, I want to talk about the upsides of gaining weight back — the things I wish I had thought about more when I was struggling the most.

A big obstacle in me getting myself motivated to recover has always been the fact my body never “switched off.” I’m somehow capable of pushing myself to extreme limits. Even at my lowest point, I went to school, worked two jobs and went about my life — shocking my doctors and dietician. For me, on the other hand, it was the most normal part of my everyday life. Of course, I felt tired, and somewhere, I knew, I looked exactly that way. I never saw how my disorder limited me, how it took parts of my life away from me. I wish I could show myself how wrong I was.

The thing with being deprived of food for so long is your body typically “switches off,” as many doctors explained to me with “the heater theory.” They showed me drawings of a house. The house was my body. There were heaters in every room of the house. When the electricity supply gets cut, some heaters will start switching off, only leaving the most important ones to function for as long as they still can. Can you see where this is going? The only heaters that stay on are the ones that keep you alive, running at their maximum power to keep you from freezing, to keep you alive. This takes all the leftover power away from those that keep you energized, focused and even those that account for emotions.

I can’t say much of the heaters that keep me functioning on a day-to-day basis, but I’d like to talk about the ones for emotions. To me, this is a relatively ignored symptom of eating disorders that still has such a big effect on a person’s life. What I’m talking about is the numbness that being underweight causes. As much as I got used to it, as much as I started to think I’ve always felt like this, my emotions became numb. This didn’t mean I couldn’t get sad, angry or happy — it just meant I couldn’t feel things to the fullest. If you notice your favorite activities losing their appeal, don’t be surprised. It might be your “emotional heaters” switching off. I’ve never noticed how this affected me up until a week ago.

Going to concerts has always been one of my favorite things to do. The atmosphere, the music — I can go on about it for hours. Ever since my eating disorder came to peak, I’d lost this love. Going to gigs seemed more of a necessity, a “I-used-to-love-this-so-I-probably-love-it-now” thing. I knew how amazing I used to find it, but with my lack of feeling (or ability to identify it), I just had to assume I still did. I was fine with it, it was how I was living my life all along. Last week, this changed.

Now, relatively weight restored, I went to a concert once again. This time, after all these years, I was able to feel my real love for it again. Midway through, I had to take a second, look around me, see the people, hear the music, feel the rush. It hit me — the fact I’ve gone to so many gigs in these years and have never been able to fully experience any of them, the way I can experience them now. I’ve been deprived of these moments of reality as a result of me being underweight — and for me, that has now become a major motivation.

Eating disorders steal life away from people struggling with them. Not only the ability to function physically, but also the capability of experiencing life to the fullest. The little voice puts all focus on food, control, losing weight, and when I was told I had to put weight on, it alienated the concept and I associated only negative outcomes with it. I’ve learned I need to consider the positives. No, I’m not going to be “fat.” I’m going to be able to live my life, go out and do what I wish to do — and be able to feel. I’ll be able to enjoy the best moments of my life without the numbing sense of my eating disorder and its symptoms. Most importantly, I’ll be able to live.

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 Coffeee.

Originally published: April 21, 2017
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