The Truth about Bloating in Recovery

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.

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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!”

PAUSE. Breathe.

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.

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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.

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BBB: Because we're all recovering from something. // For speaking/business inquiries: beautybeyondbones@yahoo.com

511 thoughts on “The Truth about Bloating in Recovery

  1. Another thing I discovered if I consume bananas when I am hungry, it will cause bloating especially during pregnancy. So I moderate my consumption of bananas

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  2. I’ve been eating more these past two weeks almost and all I see is my face getting fatter and I don’t know if it’s only me

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    1. I think this is the same person, but again, just hang in there. everything is going to even out. refeeding takes some adjustment to the body. but hang in there. just do the next right thing 🙂 i believe in you xo

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  3. I’ve been eating more these past two weeks almost and all I see is my face getting fatter and I don’t know if it’s only me

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    1. Hang in there my friend. The process is gradual but over time, things normalize. the body takes a readjustment period where it has to get used to receiving adequate nutrients. You’re doing the right thing. Keep at it. Your courage is inspiring 🙂 big hugs xox

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    1. Hi Danielle, oh gosh, I’m so sorry to hear that! I would just say to stick with it. It can take several months as the body readjusts. just hang in there. you’re doing awesome! 🙂 big hugs xo

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      1. I haven’t b&p for 10 days now. Trying really hard to eat what I want and have the full fat version of foods. I’m really scared that once I start eating I’m not going to be able to stop and end up 4 times the size I am now.

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      2. thank you so much for sharing this, Tracy. way to go on your b/p sobriety!! I’m so sorry that you’ve been battling the b/p cycle. I’m going to be 100% honest with you: much of the bloating is coming from the binging and the purging. If you imagine a pendulum swinging super high one way during a binge, and then the opposite way during the restrictive period afterwards, your body doesn’t trust itself, and so it bloats, not knowing whether it will be “allowed” to use the nutrients and the fluids in the food. An even keel is what the body needs. And the funny thing is, if you allow yourself some of those “binge foods” in moderation, you won’t feel the need to binge on them. They’ll lose that “danger factor” of eating something “naughty.” Because food is food, and it’s amazing the ability the body has to process food. i just want to encourage you, friend. Because that cycle is tough, and you’re 10 days on the wagon and that is something to celebrate!! I believe that you can beat this! I went through a binge cycle – not a purge, but just binge eating, and there is more than just physical hunger at play. So hang in there. you can do it, and the bloating will subside as your body learns to trust that you are going to consistently nourish it with food and liquid. you got this 🙂 hugs xo

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  4. Your text is so motivating, it made me tear up. I’m in recovery and bloating is really hard for me to handle, but I’m trying to see it in a positive way, and be proud that I’m stronger than my ED.

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    1. Oh my gosh thank you so much Lea. I’m so glad this hit home with you. I’m sorry you’re going through that but amen to that! You ARE stronger than ed! I believe in you!! Hugs and love xox

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  5. The things worth doing start with a moment and build from there. Don’t try think to far ahead at first. Just keep it simple and take it one step at a time. I know it is often easy to say but harder to do… but remember a pearl starts out as a grain of sand in a clam shell and It isn’t finished in a day either. It to starts with a moment and builds from there.

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  6. if you should gain an extra pound, the world is not over. you just have more to love. Let your extra pounds melt away gradually, one pound at a time. While that happens, love those around you and give them healthy foods.

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  7. Caralyn, this is an area of life so unfamiliar to me. God is using you at so many levels – to create awareness for people like me, to strengthen those very familiar and struggling, and to give hope as you point to the hope you found in Christ. “Lord, bless Caralyn. Strengthen her. May her words reach those who need them. Fill and refresh those hurting and needing hope. In Jesus ‘ name, amen.

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  8. I had a hard time reading this not because it wasn’t good but because it brings you back to that time and feeling you almost relive it and it makes you sad you ever put yourself through that..:( you could only wish what you knew now you knew then so you didn’t do so much damage. It’s great to feel like your in your best place yet since recovery and overcoming something so difficult and to be healthy and happy along with actually feeling like you look the way you always wanted. However so hard to think back and still worry about future health problems it caused…I thought you gave some great trips especially with loose clothes I try to dress for comfort with how I am feeling each and every day which I think helps tremendously along with lots of water and being active but yea you really covered an important topic and gave great tips awesome job! Good luck to your friend in recovery I wish her the best ❤

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      1. Of course! It’s great to have people to relate to and understand what you went through and are able to support one another. Thank you for writing about these things so important not only for people going through it but people who have been and could go through. Hugs back 🙂

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  9. Thanks for taking up this subject. As a 68 year-old woman, I constantly fight ageism, which I hate. Beauty is about so much more than outward appearences.

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  10. There are so many people I know that I wish could hear you and understand the truth in the things you are saying. You are an inspiration to people on both sides of the spectrum. xoxo

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  11. My biggest fear was putting on weight during recovery. Just eating was such a struggle because my mind kept saying it was too much food. Using your support system to help you through is massive. Great post ❤️

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  12. I never got anorexia trying to lose weight on purpose, it just appeared over time by stressful events. i missed out on so many things in my school life, but thanks to supporting family and boyfriend i overcame it but am still struggling with the bloating. What foods causes bloating most?

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing this Abi. I’m so glad you were able to overcome it! It was so long ago for me that I don’t specifically remember. I am sorry I can’t be more helpful! Hugs and love xox

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  13. Hey, BBB, great post. Guess what? Guys deal with bloating too, and it’s just as distracting from our desire to feel good about ourselves. We feel fat, ugly, and lethargic. Love your opening page pic.

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  14. You make an excellent point. I’ve been wondering about something similar when it comes to artificial sweeteners. Recent results seem to show they are counter-productive for people trying to lose weight for people who actually are overweight. And, although the situation is quite different, there may be a similar feedback loop in play. I think it possible your body (in effect) says something like, “Gee, I ate all this sweet-tasting food and it wasn’t enough! I didn’t get any calories. I’d better eat a lot more in order to get enough.” Even doctors often fail to see that the body is a set of adaptive systems. It isn’t a “machine” at all but has many feedback loops.

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  15. Have you seen to ‘To the Bone’? on netflix?

    At my lowest I was 105 but I’m 5’4″, so whenever I have to go to the dr for my post-cancer medications I always keep my jacket on. My Dr hated when I was 160 but when I made it to 130 she said “don’t loose any more weight.”

    So now I wear my shoes and jacket when i do my weigh in. I know I am not underweight but i struggle with the fear of my Dr changing my meds.

    There was an article about how Drs look at weight before anything else.
    http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/fat-shaming-doctors-office-harm-patients-study-finds-49025799

    I guess all it takes is to be strong. You are an inspiration.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your journey. I’m sorry that your going through that. Just keep doing the next right thing. I believe in you. Keep nourishing and loving your body. I have seen it. I wrote a post called The Exploitation by To the Bone. Spoiler: I thought it was an awful movie. Sending big hugs xx

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  16. Such a heartwarming and beautiful list. Being on the “other side” of some issues, I struggle with losing weight. Weight loss journeys and personal improvement is such a deep, emotional process and you’ve put it into such wonderful words. Thank you for sharing your story. It helps me see things from another perspective.

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  17. Bloating can also be the body’s way to protect itself from threatening emotions, especially when you feel vulnerable in a ‘recovery mode’. Sometimes it’s impossible to figure out what is giving your tummy the heebie-jeebies – just trust your body’s reaction to what it perceives as a threat, it’s a healthy reaction! Give it love and say thank you to it for doing a great job of protecting you the only way it knows how. Also, the more you breathe deeply, whenever you face somthing difficult, whether your own emotions or ‘mind attacks’ or something or someone outside of you, the better off you’ll feel. Breathing is an incredible tool for healing and well-being! My hubby teaches breathing methods and he and I have both healed many things thanks to good old Air and Faith. This is a really nice blog! 🙂 https://pierreiieweraspage.wordpress.com/

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  18. It’s been a few months now since I started throwing up. I don’t like it but I feel so horrible eating. I feel fat and I have to somehow remember that this isn’t who God wants me to be. Great post. I didn’t know this was why my body was behaving funny this month.

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    1. Hi friend, thank you for sharing what you’ve been going through. I’m so sorry you’ve been struggling. Hang in there. Nourish your body. Follow your meal plan. By feeding your body consistently and giving it proper nutrition, the bloat will subside. You’re doing the right thing by sticking to your recovery. You’re a warrior and I believe in you. Hugs and love xox

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  19. I admire your courage. Recovery isn’t easy to say the least. The first step is acknowledging that you have a problem and then getting the help that you need. For some poor souls, this doesn’t happen. But you … you did it! Keep up the good work one day at a time. Remember, there is no obstacle that you cannot overcome with determination and the help of God. And always know that you are a terrific person in the eyes of God and in anyone who has eyes to see.

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  20. I just wanted to let you know I have been poking around your blog and I really admire your honesty. Good for you 🙂 God Bless! And you are absolutely right, we are all recovering from something and need to keep that in mind when dealing with our fellow human beings. Congrats on beating ED! Stay strong!

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  21. Way to be a voice for those struggling with eating disorders! Glad to know you are in recovery and proactive in your healing journey…

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  22. Pleased to pass your blog along on my Facebook account. I pray that anyone struggling with an eating disorder will stop by and read it. You are doing a great service for others. (And thank you for stopping by my blog, too.)

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  23. Thank you for sharing this. I’ve always had such a hard time feeling comfortable when eating as much as I actually need to be eating and struggle with body dysmorphia. Knowing I’m not alone in this makes me feel slightly at ease.

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