Alright, truth time.
There’s an elephant in the room, and it has to do with refeeding in recovery. And that, my friends, is bloating.
This is an uncomfortable topic to talk about, because it has to do with body image. During recovery, we’re working on accepting our new body and learning to love it. We’re overcoming body dysmorphia, and #realtalk: we’re working on weight restoration.
Frankly, bloating makes progress in those departments rather difficult.
My biggest fear during weight restoration was that I was going to wake up one morning and just be massive. I was afraid that my body would just balloon out of control. There was so much anxiety about that allusive “weight range.” I journaled about it a lot:
I am nervous and weary of how my body will be at the end of my stay [at inpatient]. I am scared that if it changes to a point beyond where I am comfortable, that when I get home I will be depressed and unhappy. Lord, please give me the strength, courage and endurance to get through today. I know You will protect me from anything that scares me.
So let’s have some #realtalk about bloating. Spoiler alert: it happens in recovery.
During your eating disorder, you’ve been in a state of starvation. Your body has been feeding off of its own muscles. That’s why you become skeletal: because your muscles are literally deteriorating in order to keep you alive. But here’s what we so often forget: your organs are muscles too. So they deteriorate and shut down too — all in an effort to keep you alive. That’s why your menstrual cycle stops – because your reproductive organs have failed. You’re cold all the time because your circulatory system is shutting down. You can’t sleep because the adrenal and hormonal levels are off, because they’re shutting down. Your digestive system and metabolism as slowed to a halt. Your organs are literally wasting away, day by day, to keep you alive. And that’s why girls die from anorexia: because your heart is a muscle too, and it shuts down. Let that sink in: 1 in 10 people die from eating disorders. It’s nothing to joke about.
But what does all this have to do with bloating?
Well, since your body has been in a state of starvation during your eating disorder, it doesn’t trust you to nourish it. So, when you finally do begin to feed it again, it still thinks you’re going to deprive it in the future. So it holds onto the nutrients. Just think of a cave man, or a prehistoric animal: they would stock up when they could, because they never knew when a famine would hit, or they’d have to hibernate for the winter. That’s what your body is doing. It just thinks that it’s a temporary “feast” period, and that it should hold on to all those nutrients because you’re heading into another famine.
So in an act of self-preservation, your body insulates the most vital organs first, again, in an effort to keep you alive. And where, might you ask, are those vital organs? Around the trunk of your body: your heart, your lungs, your liver, etc. So it initially stores the nutrients around your midsection.
Before you start panicking, “Oh goodness, it’s true. My worst fear is actually a reality. I’m going to get fat!”
NO. YOU’RE. NOT.
After a few weeks of getting consistent calories and adequate rest and restoration, your body will begin to trust you again to nourish it. Then, it will redistribute evenly. You will fill out beautifully, and in all the right places. I promise. 🙂
But here’s the kicker: In order to “beat the bloat,” you have to keep eating. You have to keep nourishing your body with adequate nutrients and sufficient calories consistently, or you body will stay in that starvation mode, and hold on to every nutrient that you consume.
This is very hard for a lot of girls in recovery, and is the moment where the “rubber meets the road,” and your recovery is tested. Your perseverance and will to fight are tested. Will you keep going or will you fall back into old ED habits because of poor body image? Will you continue to banish ED to the fires of hell, or will you let him creep into your mind because you are scared of a temporary bloating phase?
This is where the true warriors rise to the top.
This is where you become gold, refined by fire.
Finally, I’ll leave you with a few tips that I found helpful dealing with my bloating during recovery.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing. This really goes without saying, but tight clothing is very triggering in recovery. Stick with clothes that give you room to breathe. Yoga pants, hoodies, t-shirts. The stretchier the better.
- Avoid the mirrors. Again, this is something that is intuitive, but scrutinizing your body in the mirror is not going to make the process any easier. In fact, just the opposite. Your body is blooming into the woman you’re meant to be. Trust the process. Learn to love yourself.
- Take a gentle walk. This can be tricky, as a lot of women and girls abuse exercise as a way to purge calories, but I’m not talking about a power walk here. I’m talking about a gentle stroll — Something that will help to take your mind off of a bloated and triggering tummy. Talk a walk in your backyard and take pictures of flowers. Take a stroll through the park and look up the different plants on your phone as you mosey along. Be outside. Surround yourself in the beauty that God created. Remember that you’re also His creation, and are covered in His fingerprints:)
- Drink water! Another aspect of bloating is that your body is holding onto excess water, otherwise known as edema. It’s counterintuitive, but the more water you drink, the less your body will hold on to.
- Be with supportive people. It is so important to surround yourself with supportive people. In your recovery, you need people by your side who lift you up and support you in your recovery, not bring you down.
- Dwell on the Truth. Lastly and most importantly, keep your mind focused on the Truth. Otherwise, ED will find a way back into your head, and this time he’ll bring 7 friends with him. So remain centered on the Truth. These were some thoughts I found to be helpful in recovery.
Hang in there, sweet girl. Bloating comes with the territory, and is only temporary. You’re doing the right thing: you’re sticking with recovery, nourishing your body, and learning to love yourself. The bloating will pass. Keep doing the right thing. One day at a time. One meal at a time.
I believe in you.