As I’ve mentioned before, anorexia is not about the weight. It’s about the Lie that is feeding her eating disorder, and causing her such intense self-hatred, which manifests itself in eating disorder behaviors. And that true healing comes only when that Lie – that Voice of ED – is silenced and replaced with the Truth: that she is loved. That she is good. That she’s not worthless and not a burden. That’s where true recovery takes place.
But let’s get down to brass tacks: Weight Restoration. It’s a hush hush topic in the recovery community because it is so triggering and, let’s be honest, you don’t want to talk about weight gain with girls who are terrified of that notion, and that you’re trying to convince to get treatment. But let’s face it: treatment and recovery require weight restoration.
After truly adopting recovery, two things were very apparent in my journals:
- #1) I truly – on a conceptual level – understood that my Lie was false. I conceptually “got” that I was loved, that I was not a burden, that I was forgiven. And I truly did want freedom from being controlled by my anorexia.
- #2) I was petrified of the weight gain after a certain point. I was horrified of putting on all of the weight once I was approaching my weight range. I would do anything not to put on those last 15 pounds. I was paralyzed with fear.
So it’s a conundrum. I wanted recovery so badly. I had such a strong desire to kick the Eating Disorder. But even stronger than that desire, was my fear of the final weight gain.
You see, when you’re so depleted, and are so severely underweight, your body feeds off of its own muscle to make up for the lack of nourishment you’re giving it. That’s why your legs and arms get so skeletal: because your muscles are literally deteriorating. But here’s the thing that people forget: your organs are muscles too. So, yes, you notice your arms and legs wasting away – your organs are too. That’s why you lose your period: because your reproductive organs are shutting down. That’s why your digestive system gets messed up. That’s why your circulation is poor. And that’s why girls die from anorexia: Because her heart is a muscle, and it shuts down.
So, those first few weeks when you’re re-feeding your body, the nourishment rebuilds the most important muscles first: The majority of the nutrients are going to your organs. So the girl actually doesn’t see much in the way of physical bodily change for that first week or so. She’s gaining a few pounds, but doesn’t look as though she is. It’s not scary yet. Then, with slow weight restoration (which is best for a number of reasons), the changes in her body are gradual, and she’s able to start to accept the changes. I even liked the changes!
But then, there comes The Moment. It is The Moment when she begins to look at the progress she’s made, and the changes in her body, and freaks out. She is petrified of going any further in recovery for fear of getting fat.
You see, she suffers from such a distorted body image: literally all she’s seen and meticulously – obsessively – scrutinized in the mirror during her ED, were bones and an emaciated, skeletal frame. And she honestly saw her reflection as fat. You see, her inner self-hatred is projected onto how she sees herself in the mirror. She views her insides as so ugly and dark, that all she sees in the mirror is hideousness and a distorted image of herself. For me, it was the area under my belly button. That was literally all I could see when I looked in the mirror. I was a gaunt, skeletal, 78 pound shell of a girl, yet all I could see was a “pooch” on my gut. Those were my intestines. Not a pooch! But my brain couldn’t comprehend that. That was the degree of my body dysmorphia. So, going from that extreme, to having put on a little over 15 pounds, she feels huge, and internally (or externally) has a melt down.
That’s why it was good for me to be in inpatient: because I would have figured out a way to thwart the weight gain otherwise. But I digress. The Moment comes –and it will come- when she is terrified that she is going to get fat.
Well. I’d like to debunk a couple myths about weight restoration.
MYTH #1: You will be fat and disgusting when you hit your target weight range.
This is so false. The dietitians are not “out to get you” or make you fat. They’re not. They’ve figured out what your healthy range is for your height and body type, and are not going to let you get fat. You will still be very thin. You’re used to seeing an emaciated version of yourself. And #realtalk: that version is scary. Really scary. As in, it makes people uncomfortable. And oh yeah, you will die if you keep it up, so there’s that too. But in all seriousness, you will not be fat when you get in your weight range. It’s a range for a reason: the low end is lower and the high end is higher. You can choose.
MYTH #2: Once I get my weight restored, I have to stop eating all these delicious foods that I’ve now come to love, because I will balloon up to the size of a whale and keep gaining indefinitely.
Again, this is so false. So, so very false. The human body is an amazing machine. Truly incredible. It takes what you feed it, and uses the nutrients to repair your body, and the rest, it gets rid of! Your body has a “natural resting point” in weight. It’s what your body naturally wants to weigh when you are nourishing it and not restricting. And that natural resting point is not fat. Trust your body. It is amazing how it can process food. Even ice cream and dessert and other “fear” foods. Metabolism is a beautiful thing. Trust that it will keep your body in fine form.
Further to this, you have (hopefully) been restoring weight by eating a normal diet, with the addition of supplements for the weight gain. The actual food that you are digesting is not what is making you gain weight: the supplements are. Therefore, when you reach your weight range, all you have to do is stop the supplements and you’ll be golden. The normal diet is not what is making you gain weight – including dessert. Dessert is part of a part of a balanced diet where one maintains his or her weight. So no, you do not have to stop eating the foods you love simply because you’re in maintenance and not in restoration anymore. Just the supplements.
Weight restoration is the nitty gritty of eating disorder recovery. It is where the rubber meets the road. Even though she can whole-heartedly be committed to recovery, and mentally want recovery so badly, the fact is, actually putting on the weight is still terrifying, especially when she has severe body dysmorphia. So be ready for The Moment when shit gets real and she realizes that, yes, her body is going to fill out. Remind her that that’s not a bad thing – it’s a good thing! One of the most popular “hashtags” on prorecovery websites is “BoobsNotBones.” Remind her that being a woman is beautiful, curves and all. This is also a great time to help her remember what her dreams and goals were. Help her set up a goal or something that motivates her to work for and recover for: going to college, getting a job, following her dreams, finishing high school. Having a sense of purpose helps, as she begins to realize that there is life outside her eating disorder, and that being at a healthy weight – read: not emaciated – is an essential part of reaching those dreams or goals and moving on.
When facing The Moment it also is helpful to talk about what ED has robbed you of. But more on that, later this week.