Eating disorders are complex issues affecting people from all walks of life. They can be a manifestation of anxiety, social pressures, family dynamics, biochemistry, and unhealthy coping strategies. However, despite varying body types and behaviors, many eating disorder sufferers share one core fear – the fear of gaining weight.
For some, this fear is so intense and consuming that it halts progress. The fear of weight gain can lead people to stop recovery, continue suffering through painful behaviors, and hold tight to the illusion of control disordered eating behaviors provide.
One of the most common concerns amongst our clients working toward eating disorder recovery, particularly recovery from anorexia or a restrictive eating disorder, is “what if I gain too much weight?” and “What if I lose control and go to the total opposite end of the spectrum?”
While we understand where the fear comes from, we want to assure you that gaining weight when your body needs it is healthy.
Recovery often requires overcoming this fear, so learning to manage it is a crucial part of the process. In treatment, we can try to determine where your body’s “goal weight” should be. Based on calculations, we make the best estimation of your body’s natural set point. But it’s exactly that – an estimate.
Here’s the thing: your body has biological safeguards – which is pretty cool. They’re trying to get you to a place of homeostasis, where things are stable. Your body does this naturally. Part of the process of recovery is trusting that. Based on the data we’ve compiled, we can give you numbers, but we still ultimately have to trust where your body naturally wants to be.
In the process of recovery, a lot of physical healing must go on. If you’re someone severely restricting your intake, many things might or might not have happened. For example, you may have started to lose some bone density, lose a lot of your lean mass or muscle mass, your gut movement may have slowed down, your hair may be getting brittle, and your skin may look and feel dull. All of that is what your body will be working to repair while you’re eating more, gaining weight, and working through this process of recovery. This piece is critical. We want all of these things to come back to a baseline.
But you also have to remember your brain. When you’re restricting your intake and decreasing your calories – whether or not it’s intentional – your body doesn’t get enough carbohydrates and protein to make serotonin. Serotonin is the happy neurotransmitter, but your body isn’t making as much serotonin because of this restriction. Because of this, it can lead to obsessive thoughts, particularly around food, anxiety, depression, and an onset of negative behaviors.
Your body restores those serotonin levels as you gain more weight and balance those aspects. While your body is changing, your brain is also healing. Sometimes those hormones and the other essential parts of your brain, such as hunger cues, are slower to catch up than your body. Your body will heal and prioritize these things significantly, but we want to get you to a place where that anxiety and obsession over food decrease as well. And if that means you continue to gain a little weight during this process, that’s okay.
Now, we know that’s way easier said than done and can be extremely scary for some. But, again, you have to trust where your body naturally wants to be. In some cases, you may gain more weight than expected, but you have to consider that as part of the recovery process. You can’t start dictating recovery and say things like, “I’m only going to do this if,” or, “I’m only going to do it when I can say that this, this, and this is going to happen.” Understandably, that’s not how it works – that’s your eating disorder voice trying to take over and make it think that it has control over you when ultimately, the goal of recovery is to let go of that eating disorder voice and get back to a place where your body is happy and healthy.
Weight restoration is often daunting and associated with fear of the unknown. However, it is crucial to accept changing bodily proportions and focus on body positivity to overcome this fear. When you can work towards creating healthy habits that include nourishing meals and exercise tailored to meet your needs, you’ll remain committed to progress rather than perfection.
There’s not really such a thing as gaining too much weight in recovery because your body will gain the weight it needs to heal naturally. We understand that process can feel very challenging, but working with our clinicians, therapists, and dietitians will help you believe in your recovery, ensure you’re fueling your body well, and allow you to trust your process. Utilizing resources such as therapy can significantly aid in working through the fear of weight restoration, allowing you to navigate emotional challenges and ultimately accept the positive changes that come with recovery.
Benefits of Restorative Weight Gain:
- Your body and skin will become warmer. Going through an eating disorder, your body down-regulates, and your body temperature plummets, often making you feel freezing. This is very common and happens with those who are not eating enough to fuel their body and have energy deficiency.
- You’ll get your vitality back. You’ll begin to feel full of life again. You’ll look more youthful and vibrant and have the energy to do the things you’re passionate about.
- Your concentration will greatly improve. Sometimes, when dealing with an eating disorder, you can feel as if you’re having an out-of-body experience because of all the stress, angst, and worry surrounding your eating disorder. You may feel like you’re going through the motions of your day and tend to be forgetful. Once you gain more weight, you’ll become more grounded in your daily life because you’ll have enough fuel in your body to combat the fogginess that your brain has been slowed down by. You’ll no longer be preoccupied with thoughts of food, exercise, and counting calories. Your mind will begin to feel more open and free.
- You’ll be able to restore your relationships. In general, you become a happier person. You may have been feeling very lost and merely existing each day, but now you can make choices and decisions that are much better for you and your health. In the throes of an eating disorder, you may have lost friendships or relationships that meant a lot to you, but you couldn’t give them the priority, love, and attention they deserved. Once you become less anxious and less controlling of your situations, you can focus on healing those relationships. You’ll be able to connect with people at such a more profound level because they’ll be able to cook you food, you’ll be able to go out to dinner at restaurants, and you can partake in dinner parties with your friends because you’re not consumed with worries about food anymore.
- You’ll have improved digestion. Once you’ve begun to nourish your body and see weight gain, your body will re-establish your digestive system’s natural levels of healthy bacteria. Although each body is different, a healthy digestive system supports 300-1000 species of beneficial flora. Together, these species account for the approximately 100 trillion microorganisms in the GI system. When healthy digestive bacteria flourish, they provide the mechanism to break down the substances you eat into components your body can absorb and use. Likewise, digestive enzymes allow food to be broken down into its component parts for easy absorption and reduced intestinal bloating and gas.
- You’ll have better sleep. Insomnia is one of the most commonly reported symptoms of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Some symptoms include difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, reduced REM sleep, and increased day sleeping. However, after restorative weight gain, these symptoms will diminish as you recover.
When you are weight restored, all of this will come back. You will still start thinking correctly and notice you have so much more space in your brain to think about other things besides your body, food, and exercise. This will not only help you with concentration but with finding passions that you never knew you had before. Right now, you may not find joy in your passions because it feels like you have a one-track mind, and everything has to do with food. But once you’ve restored weight, you can begin daydreaming of bigger, better, and grander possibilities.
Ultimately, weight restoration is imperative for physical and emotional health for those suffering from eating disorders. Not only can weight restoration increase physical health, but it can also improve overall mental well-being, helping you create a life that thrives rather than survives. Weight gain is worth it. It’s a necessary part of this journey – that is, the journey itself – is learning to let go of the fear weight gain brings and allow your body to be the natural size and shape it wants.
Get Treatment Today
Whether you are just starting on your journey to recovery from an eating disorder or have been struggling for a long time, it can be difficult to stay hopeful. But there is something special about the power of hope — it’s a fuel that will keep you going when you feel like giving up. It is important to remember that recovery is not linear, and setbacks can and do happen. However, these moments don’t have to define you or hinder your ability to move forward. Instead, they should remind you how incredibly strong and resilient you are and as a source of inspiration as you continue toward self-discovery and healing.
Malnutrition’s effects must be reversed, and your brain and body must be returned online. Whenever you gain a pound, we help you understand that weight gain is a cause for celebration not concern, and that life is worth living regardless of size. Moreover, you can engage meaningfully in therapy once your weight has been restored. However, the goal of eating disorder treatment is not only weight restoration. Healing from an eating disorder requires extensive exploration with a therapist, and this process can begin as you become better nourished.
When you have an eating disorder, being thinner may seem like a triumph, and gaining weight may seem like a failure. But it’s not. When you restore your weight, you progress toward recovery and all the good things that go with it.
If you or a loved one suffers from an eating disorder, take the first step today and talk to someone about recovery. You no longer need to be held back by fear. Your health and healing are within reach, and we are here to help you.