5 Ways To Deal With Weight Gain When You Are In Recovery From An Eating Disorder

If I had a penguin for every time I have heard someone say or have said myself “I want to recover from anorexia but I don’t want to gain weight”, I would have more penguins than exist on this planet and would therefore have to get the existing penguins to rapidly reproduce in order to make up numbers (which is why all the penguins of the world are probably grateful to hear that I don’t have to have a penguin for every time I have heard that sentence or else they would have a lot of egg hatching to do).
Admittedly, there are many sides to the Rubix cube confusing madness that is recovery from anorexia, both mental and physical, and there are a lot of fears revolving around all of them, but I think when it comes to recovery, probably one of the top three things most people worry about is the weight gain side of it all. Personally at least, I know that the fear of weight gain is certainly a big thing for me and is particularly relevant right now as in my current admission to hospital it is the forced and rapid weight gain that has ended up distressing me most of all to the point that I haven’t even been able to focus on any of the more long term mental health sides of the illness as I am too focused on the scales.
I know that to other people, my weight does not define me as a person and that the number that flashes up when I step on a little machine should not dictate the way I live my life but when you have an eating disorder, those thoughts are often automatic and knowing they are irrational doesn’t take them away.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that the weight gain side is incredibly hard, if you really want to recover from your eating disorder, the fear of weight gain is an unavoidable thing that will need to be tackled and that, if neglected, will never truly allow you to get back to a healthy mind and body again.
So how do you manage it? If you want to recover from your eating disorder (or even if you don’t and are in forced treatment at the moment…ahem), how are you supposed to deal with one of the most frightening challenges to face someone struggling with anorexia: weight gain. Well, if that question has been on your mind at all then welcome to a blog post containing some possible answers, because today I am here (wearing a bow tie no less because I am fancy and have dressed smartly for you on this occasion), with 5 thoughts to help you deal with weight gain when you are in recovery from anorexia. So without further ado, lets get into it *straightens bow tie and gets down to serious business*…

1. Weight redistributes – When you start the re-feeding process after depriving yourself of adequate nutrition for a long period of time, your body will have no idea what the hell is going on or what the hell to do (something I explain a little more in this post here: Five Things You Need To know About Re-feeding During Eating Disorder Recovery). Because of this confusion and deprivation, when your body first starts gaining weight, it will want to prioritise on life saving things first (handy that) and for this reason a lot of people find that weight gain in the early days primarily goes to the tummy area so that the body can focus on repairing things like a dodgy liver or an out of whack kidney. This has happened to me multiple times (including right now) and understandably it can be quite distressing as your body can start feeling out of proportion, but what I want to emphasise with this point is that even though weight may initially go to life saving organ places, it WILL redistribute and spread out eventually as long as you hang in there and give it time. Restricting your intake to lose the weight again will only make this process more dramatic, so the key is to stick with it and always remember that redistribution will happen!

2. You are gaining weight you shouldn’t have lost in the first place – Whenever you see or hear an advert for a weight loss diet club, the people will emphasise how good it is to have lost the weight they did with whatever weird low carb eat upside down with a pineapple up your nose (difficult task, would not recommend) diet they have been following and therefore the idea of gaining any weight back is automatically “bad”. Culturally this has then created this false idea that the act of gaining weight is a bad thing in itself however this is not always the case, especially when it comes to recovery. Thing is, when you are regaining weight you have lost through an eating disorder, you are actually not gaining weight but are regaining parts of your body that you should not have lost in the first place, so whenever you see that number go up on the scale remember, it is not weight gain in the negative way that the diet clubs claim it to be, it is just re-finding a little puzzle piece of the wonderful you that may have been lost to this terrible illness.

3. The alternative is worse – I will hold my hands up and admit it: weight gain is scary. Then again, if you think about it, isn’t the alternative, aka death (for anorexia is the mental illness with the highest mortality rate of all), even scarier? “I am not that bad” I hear you cry, “I am not going to die of anorexia”, but hey, that’s what they all say and in a lot of cases, it turns out not to be true. Anyway, even if you are one of the fortunate souls whose body somehow manages to survive the abusive nature of an eating disorder and live, what kind of a “life” is it to spend your days tortured and tormented by a beast in your head? Weighing things up then (no pun intended…actually screw it…with me the pun is ALWAYS intended), although weight gain is scary, when you are going through the process it is important to think of the alternative, and remember that that alternative is a hell of a lot worse.

4. Weight gain is not as visible as you think – If you are like me, when you stand on the scales and see that the number has gone up, you can immediately see where that extra weight has gone to. This however, in the nicest possible way, is utter nonsense because in actual fact changes in body weight are no where near as visible as we might think. I remember one week when I gained one pound and instantly I saw my physical appearance change into something unrecognisable to the person I had been before that pound. Know what everyone else saw? Nothing. I would be lying to say that no weight gain is ever visible (as someone who has just spent 5 months in hospital I can guarantee I do look very different now), but my point here is that weight that you gain every week at weigh ins is not as visible as you might think and if you think you can see that pound or two of extra weight then it is simply proof that your eating disorder is distorting your vision. Don’t listen to its lies I say!

5. Getting bigger doesn’t mean you are big – If I ran a banana farm and after the harvest found that I had 1000 bananas, that would be a lot of bananas (and I would clearly be one hell of a good banana farmer). In that circumstance then, 1000 banana would be the definition of a lot of bananas. If the next year I then had 100 bananas would I think that I had hardly any bananas (trust me I do have a point here and am not just trying to send subliminal messages to you all about my secret dream to become a banana farmer). If however I had 0 bananas one year and then the next had 100, 100 bananas would be my definition of “loads of bananas” and that is what it is like with weight: aka all relative. Just because you are gaining weight and getting “bigger” it does not mean that you are big. You might think “I am huge” because the number on the scales has gone up but what I am saying is that just because the number has got higher it doesn’t mean that number is big. 100 bananas only looks like a lot of bananas if you previously had no bananas, just as a certain number of kilos only seems “huge” because it is bigger than the nothing you had previously and every “high” number you fear only seems high because you are looking at a lower one first. Getting bigger does not mean getting big therefore and if it was the other way round (aka the 1000 banana situation first) then your “high” number would be someone else’s low in a different situation. Whenever you see you have gained weight and feel like your weight is high, remember the bananas and the fact that a high number only seems big because it is bigger than the previous number and it is not that the number is big in itself.

SO there you have it! 5 thoughts to help you manage the fear and stress that is the weight gain side to recovery from an eating disorder! As always I am not saying that this blog post is going to solve the problem, nor will it probably make gaining weight any easier, but these thoughts are at least important and sometimes helpful/comforting things to bear in mind when the voices are getting a bit too loud for comfort and you have no arguments to fight against them. These thoughts are therefore your arguments against all of those bad thoughts, your weapons for the recovery battle, so take them brave soldier and use them wisely to outwit that cunning eating disorder who is trying to fool you into making weight gain seem like a bad thing.
In the meantime, if you are someone struggling with the anxiety ridden process that is gaining weight, please know that I really do feel for you as someone who has gone through the process multiple times myself (and is still going through it today), and I hope that this blog post has perhaps helped a little bit. Remember, recovery and weight gain is hard but losing your life to a cruel demon in your mind is far worse.

Take care everyone x

WeightGainFear

Should The Government Be Teaching Children To Count Calories?

When it comes to the government, they are always coming up with handy suggestions as to how people should live their lives. You know the stuff, “eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day”, “don’t drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week” and “drive on the left hand side of the road” (actually that one might be a rule rather than a suggestion…I wouldn’t know. I failed my driving test and every time I asked my instructor for more driving tips after that, he ran away screaming which really did not help with answering any of my questions…)
Always ready to tell the population what to do then, for 2018, the government in the UK have come up with a new suggestion, complete with its very own catchy advert, where play-dough people morph around the screen and a happy jingle plays advising parents to teach their children to restrict themselves to “100 calorie snacks, two a day max”. Now I am not one to turn down advice from our dear Theresa May who is doing such a wonderful job of running the United Kingdom without any trouble whatsoever (pause for laughter), and even I can admit that it is a catchy slogan with a tune that isn’t bad either, but in my opinion this “handy lifestyle suggestion” is a terrible thing that should cease being taught to children immediately.

Obviously for someone (aka me) who is in hospital trying to recover from anorexia and is following a meal plan where snacks exceed 100 calories and are more frequent than twice a day, this kind of thing is unhelpful and triggering. On one hand I have dieticians and psychiatrists coming out of my ears (I really don’t know how they got in there in the first place), telling me that I need to eat this far higher meal plan than the one Theresa May suggests and on the other hand I have play dough people telling me to restrict my intake, which as I have said is obviously confusing and not particularly useful, but it is not just to people with eating disorders that I think this advert is detrimental, rather it is bad for the entire population (far worse for your health in fact than, dare I say, more than two snacks a day comprised of over 100 calories each).

The problem I think with any lifestyle suggestion or diet tip from any source, is that people hear it and immediately take it as gospel. In the real world however, nutrition isn’t governed by blanket black and white, one size fits all rules like that, and there is no such thing as a “diet expert”, only people who have done a lot of research about food and have opinions about it, a point highlighted to me during my brief stint working in a bookshop.
Unsurprisingly, this job involved various tasks including book shelving, and one day I was in the self help department (insert joke about how I need to spend a lot more of my time in such a section here), which was helpfully next to all the diet books. Therefore whilst shelving, I couldn’t help but get a good look at all the titles and diets being advocated.
Now generally, when it comes to reading about a topic, one would assume the more books you read, the more educated you become. For instance say you read 30 books about penguins, it is then likely that you will be more intelligent on that topic than someone who has only read one and that you would do better on any quiz regarding penguins. Alas, when it comes to nutrition, things are not like that, for as I shelved those diet books (working very hard I might add just incase my former boss is reading this…), I realised something ridiculous. Turned out if I were to read all of the diet books, take all of the information, all the “no carb”, “no protein”, “no fat” nonsense and I were to mush it together to make one overall diet plan (which you would think would be the best and most informed having been the culmination of so many books’ worth of information), I wouldn’t be able to eat anything. All the health advice added up together in the world and the conclusion from it? No food is safe, which I think is fairly unhealthy considering such a thing would lead to death, and, were we all to follow that advice, the extinction of all human life on earth. Marvellous. Therefore when it comes to rules like this “twice daily 100 calorie snacks” thing dolled out by nutritionists, taking them as gospel is never a good idea as they are merely opinions rather than facts.

“But for some people limiting snacks to twice daily amounts of 100 calories might be a good, healthier idea than their current lifestyle choices” I hear you cry and I am not going to disagree with you on that, but another thing I want to point out when it comes to guidelines is that they are not universal and are actually only helpful or beneficial to SOME people, which is why it is not helpful to have them rolled out as rules for the general population. As I have already said, this advert is obviously not applicable to people who are in recovery from eating disorders, but neither is it applicable to a large number of the population who all vary in height, weight, activity levels and nutritional needs. What about athletes for example. Is this rule supposed to apply to them too because I am pretty sure that that Mo Farah and Usain Bolt wouldn’t get very far nor would they get any more gold medals were they to restrict themselves to two 100 calorie snacks a day…
Okay I get it, there does need to be some kind of suggestion out there as to how to live a healthy lifestyle and it is important to teach children about food and nutrition but whatever happened to “general education” and suggestions like “eat your vegetables”, “everything in moderation” and try to have a “balanced diet” as opposed to these rigid rules and guidelines ridden with fixed numbers. Where pray did these numbers come from because last time I checked people don’t eat numbers, they eat food (and for good reason too. I once tried to eat a number nine and it was terrible. Tasted purely of pepper.)

It is just somewhat ironic that the whole focus of this campaign is to encourage health but encouraging children to see food in terms of calories and numbers really is a disordered habit struggled with by many people with eating disorders. If healthy snacking is the priority then advising healthy snack foods and providing possible examples would be a far better way to go about it because this focus on calories isn’t healthy at all. When numbers are brought up things start to get obsessive and this is where I think the problem lies. By specifying 100 calorie snacks they are labelling a strict limit to adhere to, but how ridiculously close are people supposed to stick to it? Is a 101 calorie snack ok? What if it is a really healthy snack that is slightly over? Should an “unhealthier” food be chosen instead simply because it fits the amount? Should we weigh already healthy fruit to check that they are “safe” in this new government scheme? Should children be taught how to count calories from the moment they exit the womb? Is that a normal healthy attitude to food? Seriously, think about it, does all of this sound healthy and worth advocating or more akin to rigid disordered behaviour seen in people with eating disorders aka a mental health condition needing treatment?

Overall then, if I had any say or control in any of this government malarky, I would say the whole “100 calorie snacks” with “two a day max” idea needs to be binned and for calculating numbers to be kept in children’s maths lessons in schools rather than in their lunch boxes or at the dining table at home. If you want to educate and give healthy food guidelines from the government then fine, go ahead, but when this advice is given it should be just that, GUIDELINES like the old “eat more fruit and veg” rather than strict, prescribed, rigid calorie counted rules that must be followed exactly and are carved in stone and sung over the breakfast table like some terrible national anthem.

If you have or even if you don’t have an eating disorder but are finding these adverts unhelpful, as hard as it is, my advice would be to do your very best to ignore them. Remember, just because it is prescribed by the government it doesn’t mean it is automatically healthy and it doesn’t mean that its obsession with numbers is not disordered. Nobody is the authority on rules regarding food and diet, it is all opinion, and strict rules, hell even general guidelines, are not applicable to everyone.

Take care everyone x

GovernmentFood

Five Things You Need To know About Re-feeding During Eating Disorder Recovery

Whenever you enter treatment for any kind of eating disorder, you will often be given about a million worksheets, pamphlets and photocopied passages from text books, about the mysterious topic of “re-feeding”.
Indeed, over the years I myself have been handed many of these scientific attempts to explain the various processes the body goes through during re-introduction of food after periods of starvation, and having been through those various processes multiple times, I thought I knew it all. I thought that when it came to re-feeding a patient with anorexia, I was an expert, an oracle of knowledge when combining my scientific genius (aka facts I memorised in text books) and personal experience. So arrogant and confident was I in my “know it all” attitude, that had I been asked to take part in the UK gameshow Mastermind, I would have chosen “the re-feeding process in treatment from an eating disorder” as my specialist subject and would have had a cabinet built for the trophy in my living room before I had even answered the first question. Luckily, nobody has ever asked me to be a contestant on Mastermind because if that had happened, I would have looked like a fool and would have had a very sad and lonely, empty of trophies, trophy cabinet.

Today then, rather than sit and mope with regard to my lack of trophies (and whopping great useless cabinet in my living room), I thought I would use my current situation as “person attempting re-feeding” to share with you the five things everyone needs to know about the re-feeding process when in recovery from an eating disorder.
This is not just the explanations that you get from the science books, this is the Born Without Marbles, real life, honest guide to get you through all the surprises that can happen during the re-feeding experience, even if you have been through it before and think you already know it all…

1. Taking it slow is important: I think there is often this misconception that the more food you can get into a person who has been starving for a long time the better, when really, that can be quite dangerous. When your body isn’t used to being given food, it sort of turns off and goes into a stand-by mode, so booting it up again is a process that needs to happen gradually. It is like if you had an out of work clown, to get them back into juggling you need to start again with 3 soft balls rather than going straight in with 10 flaming knives and a live alligator riding a chainsaw. When coming into hospital for example, people are often started off on half portions to build up from gradually over the space of a few days, to avoid the body going into too much shock and sending your electrolytes and cardiac functions all berserk. Now, this is not an excuse to let your eating disorder sneak in with “well, if it is dangerous to eat much even though you are in recovery, you should probably just eat a little bit of lettuce” because NO. All I am saying is that when you are getting back into the habit of giving your body food, you need to be gentle and start off slowly, preferably under medical supervision/working with a dietician to keep you both physically safe and to make certain you are gradually building up to the amount of food you need rather than sticking to the initial “half portions” of the first stage.

2. Any weight changes on the scales are not going to make any sense: In life, I think we treat scales a lot like calculators, machines that give us logical results and answers to various calculations of input and output made over the week. Unfortunately this is not the case, especially during the re-feeding process of recovery from an eating disorder, and instead of giant body calculators, I would encourage you to treat scales like a very drunk friend following a night out at the pub. This is not to say I advise taking your set of scales to the local takeaway for some cheesy chips and a lamb kebab (scales prefer pizza with a side of garlic bread), rather it is to say you should take everything they say not as fact, more as a vague approximation of reality/what is going on. I am not going into specific numbers here, but when I was admitted to hospital almost three weeks ago (my how time flies when you are in a mental institution!), I ate less than I had been eating at home, due to anxiety and because everything served to me was different and none of it was what I considered one of my safe foods. After a week of eating less than half I had been previously, I stepped on the scales expecting to lose weight. To my horror, I gained. A lot.
“Oh my goodness” I cried out dramatically fainting on the clinic floor. “What is this? My body is broken! Everyone says that when you eat more food you gain and when you eat less you lose weight but I am defying medical science. Someone send me to a laboratory for experimentation!”
When the doctors increased my meal plan, I was even more terrified than I had been before, figuring that if I was already gaining when I wasn’t eating, were I to eat more, my weight would spiral up and out of control. Therefore I continued to restrict in an attempt to lose the weight I had gained…and I gained again.
Soon enough, I had no choice but to start complying a bit and eating a little more, so on the next weigh day, I braced myself for another increase in kilos. You can imagine my surprise then, when I actually lost all the weight I had gained over the previous week despite having eaten double the calories. Logically, that made no sense to me, but, bodies and weights do not make sense during the re-feeding process. As food is reintroduced, chemical reactions explode like fireworks throughout the body, electrolytes get confused, the fluid levels go all over the place so when you get on the scales, any shifts you see are likely to be “false” weights due to all the internal changes going on. Thus, going back to the drunk friend comparison, when they show you a number aka tell you a story summarising the night before, though they will be able to give you a vague idea of what is going on/what your body weighs, they will not provide a logical accurate explanation of your situation/true body weight that you can gain any real knowledge or conclusions from.

3. Your body is going to do some very weird things: When people talk about the re-feeding process they will often whip out phrases like “nourish to flourish”, as if the second you start eating again, sunlight will start shining from your eyes and you will find yourself skipping gaily in a field of daisies. Admittedly, one does need to nourish in order to “flourish” and become physically well, but again this is a gradual process, and at the beginning it is likely your body will do less flourishing and more random weird things that you never expected or understand.
You will probably get tummy aches and indigestion, feel full one minute and ravenous with hunger the next, your bowels may go to sleep or into overdrive, you may fall asleep all the time or even be unable to sleep at all, night sweats and drastic changes in temperature may occur, blood sugar levels will be unpredictably random (recently mine were highest after a day of very little food and then too low after the biggest meal of my admission so far – another reason why medical supervision in re-feeding is vital), and you may experience abdominal bloating as well as this weird thing called Edema. Edema is basically when your body goes through dynamic fluid shifts and parts of your body (mainly your feet and legs) may puff up.
This Edema thing has been especially bad for me this time and my legs and feet swelled up as if someone had thought I was a bouncy castle and plugged me into one of those air machines (during this time I learnt that life is hard when you are a bouncy castle as children are constantly jumping all over you. On the positive side, if you are business savvy you can charge them a few quid a time and make a tidy profit to buy yourself something nice/ice packs to soothe all the bruises made by violently jumping feet all over you).
I think the Edema one had me especially scared because naturally your mind will convince you that rather than water retention your legs are swelling with actual weight and fat, and as someone who is currently managing Edema I can hand on heart promise that is not true. Like I said, I swelled up like a bouncy castle, but after keeping my feet elevated for the past fortnight my legs and feet have started to deflate a little. It feels as if it is a disaster and going to last forever, but it DOESN’T. Me warning you of all these things is not to put you off the re-feeding process, far from it, as it is far more dangerous to remain undernourished with no chance of flourishing in the near future. Instead what I am trying to do here is let you know what might happen so that if it does, you are prepared and know that this kind of thing is totally normal and it is not an excuse for your eating disorder to convince you that it is your body and yours alone being weird and “rejecting food”.

4. Your mind is also going to do some very weird things: You would think that with your body off galavanting and causing mayhem, your mind might perhaps wait to kick up a fuss until after all the physical stuff is over, but no, your mind is going to go a galavanting as well and will also be doing some very weird things. The re-feeding process is very much like the descriptions of puberty I was given in a lesson by my primary school teacher (good Lord was that a terrifying conversation), in that your emotions are going to go all over the place. Like I said, when you are not eating, your mind and body go into standby mode and occasionally emotions shut down. When you start eating again however, the emotions turn back on at weird and unpredictably inappropriate moments. One minute you will be numb and feeling nothing at all, the next you could be laughing hysterically at your shoe, then you will be filled with rage for no particular reason before being overwhelmed with sadness and crying yourself to sleep…It is a lot more fun than it sounds…actually it is not, but again this is not to put you off the process, rather so that you know what to expect!

5. It is different every time: This is probably the most important lesson I am currently learning as I go through the re-feeding process and I imagine it will also be the most important one for people who, like me, have been through it several times before and may be reading this thinking “this is not new information, I know what to expect” much as I may have two weeks ago. I thought that because I knew how my body had reacted to re-feeding before, I would be able to predict how it would be this time round, but that was not the case. Every time you go through re-feeding it will be a different experience and your body will react differently. The longer you have been ill or the more trauma your body has been through, the weirder the experience may be. Like I said, I have really struggled with Edema this time round, and the reason I mentally struggled with it so much is because it has never happened to me before.
I knew all about it and had seen it happen to other people, but when my legs swelled up I was convinced that it was real weight rather than water retention, because my body hadn’t reacted like that on any previous occasion and therefore I thought that kind of problem could never affect me. Had I had Edema before I think I would have coped better with it, as well as the weird things I have noticed this time round on the scales, but it was the fact that “my body doesn’t do this usually” that had me frightened that something was going on and I was actually gaining and swelling with actual weight. Just because your body hasn’t done something before it doesn’t mean it won’t give it a whirl this time and if there is one thing I would want you to take away from this post it is that for all the preparations you make, this is still going to feel very random and very unpredictable…

…What a great final point to end on! Basically I have just told you a list of things to expect during re-feeding and then told you to go into it with no expectations because you cannot predict what will happen…hmm…Great advice…Good one Katie…

To be perfectly honest with you all, I have no idea what is currently going on with my body, what it will do tomorrow and quite frankly I don’t understand a damn word or second of this re-feeding malarky right now.
All I know is that it is scary, it doesn’t feel necessary to me, and I am still doubting the words of every doctor I come into contact with/struggling to accept or trust any of this.
Regardless of any of the mental rationale behind this admission or eating however, this is an honest account of what is and what can happen physically during the re-feeding process as I am trying to get through it, so if you have ever wanted to know what to expect or are going through similar things and are scared, you know that it is not just “your” body being weird and that there is someone else out there with swollen legs covered in the bruises of toddlers who have mistaken you for a bouncy castle.

Take care everyone x

Refeeding