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

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Things You Will Need When You Are Admitted Into A Psychiatric Hospital

Before you move house, you need to pack your life into a van. Before you go on holiday, you need to pack suncream and the inflatable dolphin into a suitcase, and before you go out rambling in the wilderness, you need to pack a picnic in a picnic basket (preferably one of those wicker ones with a gingham tablecloth and lots of little boxes inside…one must never go out rambling unless one is accompanied by a picnic).
There are however some things that are a little less fun to pack for, those being admissions to a hospital or inpatient psychiatric unit, which is nowhere near as much fun as a picnic (and involves 100% fewer wicker baskets…By God I love a wicker basket).

When I decided to write a blog about this topic I was therefore going to call it “Things you will need to pack for an inpatient admission” but as I have started writing I realised that sometimes when it comes to mental health hospital admissions, they are not planned like a two week cruise around the Mediterranean, and there is seldom time to “pack”. Even when an admission to a unit has been planned, you are going to be so nervous about it the night before that you forget to pack anyway, so instead here I thought I would offer a little help to all those who find themselves in that situation by providing a list of things that you will need during an admission to a mental health hospital.
It doesn’t matter if you are making a list of things to pack the night before or simply things you now need to start begging family/friends/online delivery people to bring to you because you were not prepared and only came onto the ward with a one way train ticket to Exeter (trust me, it happens…). Whatever the situation, this blog post is here for you, so lets get on and start this fabulous list of things you will need during an inpatient admission to a mental health hospital (things you will need if you have fabulous taste like me that is…)

BASIC LIFE THINGS: You may think that this is a rather obvious logical point to make but remember, mental health admissions are stressful times where “obvious logical things” turn into “I like ducks”, and you would be surprised by the number of people who turn up to hospital without a toothbrush (warning, this may make teeth angry and cause them to phone the tooth fairy emergency helpline for immediate assistance. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.) So yeah…I am not going to list all the miscellaneous nonsense you may use every day, but as a general note to start off with, when you are in hospital, you are probably going to need a lot of the general nonsense you use everyday (toothbrush/toothpaste/underwear etc.)

MOTIVATION: Of course I mean this point in the emotional sense of the word, but when you are isolated in hospital it can be easy to forget why you are there and what you are doing in this inpatient bubble, so practical pieces of motivation to get you through are also essential. Things in this category can include photos of friends or family, motivational books about people who have been through recovery for your disorder, quotes or even little prompts to give you a little boost when your brain refuses to do the boosting for you (e.g taking something like a list of things you want out of life to have at your place at the table on an eating disorder ward to help at meal times). I have known a lot of people to go all out with motivation and to bring enough cards/quotes/photos to decorate their entire room into a cave of inspiration (if that is allowed on your unit and you are not in a stripped room that is), so if that would help you, do that. Personally though, I prefer not to put up too many decorations because I am always so hopeful about leaving that I refuse to accept the idea that I should settle because I may be there a while…

THINGS TO DO: When you are in a psychiatric hospital it is likely that there will be things going on. On the week days there may be things like therapy groups, 1:1 sessions and opportunities for visitors, but aside from all of those things and the “spare hours” that will be taken up by things like crying hysterically, you are still going to end up with a fair bit of free time, especially on weekends when it is quieter and a lot of patients may have leave. Keeping yourself occupied therefore is going to make time pass quicker and distract you (a bit) from what is going on. For example on my ward there is a current craze with origami and people are making paper cranes faster than I can count (I tried to get into Origami too and managed to unfold one of these aforementioned cranes into a normal square piece of paper again but apparently that “isn’t the point”). There are also patients who knit and live in giant balls of wool, people who colour with crayons, draw, and there are patients like me who get through the day either by writing or by tossing reality out of the window and reading to get lost into alternative fictional worlds (This week I read “The Secret Garden” a book I highly recommend for times in hospital when you cant go outside and see a real garden yourself.)

COMFY CLOTHES: The first time I ever packed for an inpatient stay, I put all of my nice going out clothes into my suitcase and took them to the hospital ready to co-ordinate my outfits every day so that I would “look nice” for the other patients. I also wore mascara to a place I was highly likely to start crying in upon arrival. I was an idiot.
Listen, I get it, people like to look nice both for themselves and for other people but let’s be real, a psychiatric hospital is not a fashion shoot (cameras are not allowed), and after five minutes neither you nor anybody else is going to care what anyone looks like because you are all too busy being caught up in fighting your head demons and managing general anxiety. Even if you are not worried about what you look like or what people are thinking of your sense of style, “nice clothes” are simply not practical. When you are in hospital you are going to want to be comfy. Imagine you need to curl up on your bed for a good sob or find that you are so anxious that you start having panic attacks and problems breathing. Maybe things have got a little bit out of hand and staff need to carry you somewhere, carry out a quick blood test or give you an injection to calm you down. All of those things are going to be a hell of a lot more pleasant (as fun/pleasant as being injected in the rear can be at least), and a lot easier/more comfortable if you are wearing comfortable clothes rather than a corset and, skinny jeans.
Don’t get me wrong, if you want to dress up because it makes you feel better/more human then feel free to do so. I know a lot of patients who still like to wake up, wear a fancy skirt and put make up on in the mornings because that is what works for them, makes them feel less “mental hospitally”, more normal and lifts their mood (I am not one of those people…) However, even the people with the nicest most fashionable clothes will need a onesie and a lot of baggy trousers for “those days”. I would also add slippers to this both because they are comfy footwear and make a nice slip slop sound as you walk down the corridors. Trust me, stiletto heels are not a good idea (they tear the evacuation slide…or am I getting psychiatric hospital attire confused with ideal footwear for planes…)

TACTILE/FIDGETTY DISTRACTION THINGS: When people get anxious, their bodies get filled with adrenaline, and to calm down, that adrenaline needs to be released. Often this can happen via what the professionals call “unhealthy coping mechanisms” and that is not ideal because…well…it is unhealthy, and therefore you need other practical tools you can use to keep your hands busy releasing adrenaline whilst the rest of you remains safe. These things are different from the “things to do” category because they are not things that require any particular concentration, brain power or coherent thinking, these are for the times when your head is so loud that you cannot remember the alphabet and just need something to cling onto. I personally have what is called a “Tangle” (this weird thing that can be bent into all different kinds of shapes), and a fidget cube. Other things people may use include stress balls, squeezable spikey rubber balls, fidget spinners and putty. Sometimes things like a pebble to hold or little pebbles to pass from one hand to the other can also be helpful, but I will leave that up to you to decide because some people may not find those items to be safe to be around in a stressful situation.

And now to the final category, the most important thing you will need for an inpatient admission to a psychiatric hospital…

SOMETHING TO CUDDLE: Enough said. I don’t care how old or cool you are, everyone needs a cuddle once in a while/all the time so pack a damn teddy bear for the love of God.

So there you go! All the things you could possibly need to survive an inpatient admission in a psychiatric hospital. Obviously feel free to take other things as well, but as a basic guide I would say this list is a good one to start with.
I should point out before I finish here that as well as a list of things you will need to take to an inpatient unit there is usually a list of things that you should not take (like sledge hammers…mallets are ok though), so on the whole as a final tip, when you are packing, stick to things that are softer and squishier than a pick axe. If you are currently in an inpatient admission or are approaching one I hope this list helps, and if you are not then thank you for coming along for the ride anyway! I am thinking of and supporting you all, wherever you are, you are not alone in your fight.

Take care everyone x

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Birthdays And Mental Health Problems

When I was younger and heard adults saying things like “I just want to forget about my birthday this year”, I thought that adults were crazy and needed to seriously reconsider the way in which they were living their lives. Why on earth would anyone ever want to forget about their birthday?

For me, birthdays were something to look forward to and something I couldn’t forget about if I tried. Birthdays were about choosing which soft play area you were going to take all of your friends to for the party, buying rainbow coloured bouncy balls to fill party bags with and deciding whether you wanted a Thomas the tank engine or Spice Girls birthday cake ready to decorate with a flaming beacon of candles. Birthdays were about unwrapping incredibly exciting and complicated plastic contraptions that you would then spend the rest of your day watching your mum struggle to assemble amidst an encyclopedia of instructions in every language but English, before finally making it look like the thing on the box, only to realise that batteries were not included, causing your mother to curse the creators of Toys R Us and howl at the moon until the early hours of the morning, Barbie’s camper van standing motionless and taunting you from the corner. Birthdays were about wearing a badge with your age on it to school so that everyone would know how very mature you were and how much respect they should bestow upon you, and no birthday was complete without a trip to TGI Fridays where you would stand on your chair like a king whilst a chorus of red and white striped waiters belted out “Happy Birthday”, the performance concluding with rapturous applause from all around and, if you were lucky, an extra gummy worm in your Mississippi mud pie. With all that to look forward to, how could anyone dread a birthday?

I was sure that I would always look forward to my birthday and would never be one of these fools who looked upon the occasion with anything other than spine tingling excitement. I was wrong.
For the past few years, despite little Katie’s best intentions, I have become one of those people who wants to forget about their birthday, and I think it is because as you get older, birthdays don’t mean the same things as they used to. They become less about gummy worms and birthday cakes and more about time passing you by, life passing you by, which isn’t something you really care about when you are younger and your main focus is getting the bit of icing on the cake that has your favourite cartoon character on it. On top of that however, when you are mentally ill, I think they are especially hard because for me at least, a birthday can feel like a reminder that you have wasted another year drowning in anxiety and the older you get, the longer you have been stuck with this mental illness bothering you all the time.

That said, I guess you can sort of see birthdays and that marker of time passing as a positive thing. This year for example, I turned 25 (I did it last Thursday as a matter of fact and luckily, despite all the dreading and worrying about it talked about in this post, I really did have a lovely birthday, so if you sent me a birthday message or said hello to me at all on the 22nd June then thank you for being someone who made it special. I really appreciate you all so much). Alas! I must get back to the point!
So, turning 25 means I will have been unwell for 14 years. On the plus side, whilst a depressingly long time, it is an improvement in the sense that I can say the number 14 because it is a safe number, unlike the number I used to have to say, (the one that comes between 12 and 14), which is a somewhat difficult number for me to handle in terms of OCD (YAY SILVER LININGS).
Also there is something rather motivating about birthdays in that they often inspire you to make goals of things you are unhappy about and want to change before the next one.
Indeed, I think that as the number of years I have been ill has gone up, the more motivated I have become to fight my illnesses and push as hard as I can for recovery even when it involves doing something scary.

During the first years of my illness when I had to go back a year in school and take time out of education to go into hospital, I was motivated to fight purely because my illnesses were making me unhappy, but not so much because I realised what I was missing out on whilst stuck in my head. Ok I often couldn’t leave the house and I missed out on a few sleepovers with friends, a couple of school trips and several opportunities to share a pizza and watch a movie on a Saturday night, but to begin with, missing the odd pizza isn’t that big a deal. Obviously I would have liked to have done all the things like going bowling with friends and eating popcorn at the cinema, but for me being safe at home not having to touch or eat anything, felt a lot more comfortable. I would have rather stayed in my little bubble avoiding as much anxiety as I could, even if that meant being a little bit lonely, than go out of my bubble and cause myself a lot of distress trying to wear a pair of bowling shoes or eating a mouthful of popcorn. Staying safe was my priority, and if that meant missing out on a few sleepovers/meant less terror, that was a necessary sacrifice I would take. Why terrify yourself for weeks and weeks just trying to get the courage to see a friend for an hour? Better just to avoid it.

However the longer you live with mental illness, the more those little things add up over the years, and suddenly you find you have not just missed the odd sleepover, you have missed hundreds of sleepovers, hundreds of moments in which people took photos and made memories that they reminisce about and fondly recall with sentences beginning “Oh my goodness do you remember when…”. After several years, you haven’t missed one bucket of popcorn, you have missed an entire swimming pool worth of popcorn (not that I advise you put popcorn into a swimming pool…just trying to get the image of how much popcorn we are talking about across), and that amount of popcorn can’t be caught up on as easily as the one bucket you missed in the first place. As the days become months and the months become years, you realise just how much of your life you have missed out on because you were too scared to take part in it, and suddenly the motivation to work even harder to stop the years passing by without you noticing increases, because you finally understand how rubbish it feels to be left so far behind everyone else.

However at the same time, whilst the longer you live with a mental illness the more anger and frustration you have at it to motivate your recovery, the further entrenched you are in that illness and thus the harder it feels to get better. It is a catch 22 situation, the most vicious of all the vicious circles.

Time passes, you get angrier at all the time wasted, you become more motivated to fight but then find it is harder to fight than the first day you tried to challenge yourself because the illness has used the time wasted to dig its claws into you even further. Odd things that started out as little quirks to keep yourself safe become engrained habits and habits are a lot harder to break than things you only did a few times. I have smoked only one cigarette in my life and I will be honest, I hated it. It was like swallowing a smelly smokey fire. Therefore deciding to “give up” on the idea of smoking after that cigarette was not a challenge at all. I had spent longer as someone who didn’t smoke than I had spent as someone who did, it wasn’t a habit and I was not addicted or used to the comfort or feeling of a cigarette in my hand. Now however, I have officially been mentally ill for longer than I have ever been not mentally ill and I have dug myself into a hole so deep that it is far harder to get out of. Years ago I didn’t go to a meal out with friends because it made me uncomfortable, but that uncomfortable feeling has built over the years, and now I don’t go because I am terrified. Eating out doesn’t make me anxious, it makes me feel like I am dying on the inside. The longer you are ill, the more set in your ways you are and the harder it is to get better.

This year then, as always, though I dreaded my birthday as it scares me to think how long I have been trapped in my own mind, I am trying to see it as a positive motivation for change, an opportunity to say “this past 14 years has been hell and I am determined to fight as hard as I can to make sure that number doesn’t go up by one every time my age does”. I am fed up, truly angry every year as I see the growing list of all the opportunities I have missed out on and I really do want things to be different. It is just difficult, ageing with mental illness. As the years pass you may feel more motivated, but at the same time, you just feel more trapped.

Take care everyone x

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