How to cope with weight gain in recovery (a.k.a accepting the bloat)
Let me begin by saying this: without any sugar coating, weight gain in the initial stages of anorexia recovery is difficult. It won’t be one easy linear journey. There will be trials, tribulations, lows and highs. And it won’t happen overnight. Gaining weight after a prolonged period of starvation takes time; and a lot of mental effort.
So, let me explain. The body is a very clever thing. When you are severely under-weight, your body will feed off of the muscles you have as a way of gaining energy that it is not getting from food. This is why anorexics legs and arms look so skeletal as all the muscle has deteriorated. However, the chances are, once your body is using you muscles as a form of energy, it is also feeding off of your organs- which are also a muscle. Therefore, in the first few months or weeks of re-feeding, you don’t notice any physical differences as your body is restoring your organs first. This can make recovery seem very easy.
Then eventually, as you nourish yourself more and more, you will see more and more changes. You will begin to bloat in your stomach. You will question why the weight isn’t distributing into other areas of your body. You may feel constipated. You may miss your sick body. You may wish that you have never chosen recovery.
Let me explain why this happens. When you want to lose weight, the last place that fat will be taken from is your stomach. Reason being, this is where your vital organs are. So, this is the area where most of your weight and fat should be stored in order to protect these organs. So, when you begin the gain weight again, the first place the weight goes to is your stomach. While this process is absolutely amazing because it is your body restoring and re-nourishing itself, this can be a very scary and upsetting period to go through.
But, do not worry. This is only a stage. After a few months, depending on how emaciated you were, the weight stored in your stomach will distribute itself out again. Out to your legs, your arms, your bum, chest even fingers. And, you will start to re-build your muscles again.
All you have to do it keep pushing on forward. If you stop and regress during this period, you will only stay stuck here and I don’t think that is where you want to be. So, if you keep trucking forward and keep on nourishing yourself, your body will re-proportion itself and distribute the weight away from your stomach to the rest of your body. But first, your stomach needs to know that food is not going anywhere. It needs to know that it will get 3 meals and 3 snacks a day before it can distribute its weight.
I like to think of it like a child getting toys after a really long time. Once they get one, they want to hold onto it forever as they cannot trust they will get another one. However, when they learn that they CAN get toys, they will let go. This is like your stomach, but with food. It is hanging onto it until they can trust that it will get continuous nourishment.
So, for now, get used to the bloat. It’s only natural.
You will get your pre-ED body back. It will just take a bit of time. Even though you are nourishing yourself again, it will take a while for your body to recuperate as it took a hard core beating before.
So, you need to trust that your body will figure itself out in its own time. Take comfort in knowing that everything will return to normal again. Even if your stomach looks bigger than it should now, eventually this will go away. The consistent bloating after every meal will stop and you will gain normality again. Eventually your metabolism will work efficiently, and the natural bloat will occur less and less.
Recovery does not happen over-night. It took you a while to get to where you are so it will take a while to get back. The storage of weight in your stomach may be there for now, but if you keep pushing through and keep on nourishing yourself, that weight will move. For some this process may take a month, for others it may take five. Just know that if a pair of jeans that you used to be able to fit into, pre ED, fit again, just know in a few months they may be loose again. Because at this time, the weight is all in your stomach therefore old clothes may fit again. However, when the weight spreads out, your stomach will resume normality again.
Just please don’t stop here. As they say, good things take time.
3. Use affirmations
· With every meal I get closer to recovery
· With every meal I get closer to my body before ED
· With every meal I get closer to having a drink with my friends.
· I don’t need by eating disorder to be good enough.
· My body knows what it is doing, it will recover how it should.
· I am MORE than my body.
Write these around your mirror. Write them on your fridge door. Write them on your head. You need to keep on affirming these to yourself that your body is doing what it should. Even if you are not happy with it now, soon you will be. You will get to a point where you feel happy with yourself again. Your body just needs to go through this stage to make sure that your vital organs are protected.
4. Get a new wardrobe.
For me, this is the hardest part of recovery. I love fashion, always have. But during this bloat stage, I feel uncomfortable in everything I wear. All I want to wear are tracksuit bottoms and my dressing gown because I can’t ‘feel myself’.
Some of my biggest triggers have stemmed from wearing tight clothes were I feel uncomfortable in. Where my stomach feels trapped and possibly ‘normal’ feeling.
So, try to find clothes that you equally feel comfortable in, but are also stylish and make you feel like you. Floaty dressing and draw string trousers are my go too’s. Clothing where you can be free to bloat.
5. Find a distraction
When I’m going through a phase of discomfort or having a large bloat, I try to turn my energy into something. Whether that’s writing on my blog, painting my nails, taking the dog for a walk. Find something that you enjoy doing so that you forget why you were feeling anxious in the first place. Trust me, you will be able to accomplish some amazing things.
6. Do NOT body check.
Constantly body checking, looking in the mirror or feeling your body will not help your journey of self-acceptance. So, stick to the loose, comfortable clothes and minimal mirrors around your house to help you appreciate that your body is recovering. Doing what it should.