Weight Restoration. The crux of recovery. Where the rubber meets the road. Where the physical healing takes place. Where the mental healing is tested. Weight restoration in eating disorder recovery takes many forms, methods, strategies, and sizes.
Typically, once the body starts receiving consistent nutrition and adequate calories, your metabolism kicks in and you begin to feel hunger cues again. This makes the weight restoration process a bit easier and smoother, because your body is speaking to you.
But what about when you don’t have an appetite?
What do you do when you’re just not hungry? What do you do when nothing sounds good? How do you weight restore without an appetite?
Well, this is a tricky topic, because frankly, you need to really look at the motivation as to why you don’t have an appetite. You need to examine what’s really going on: Is your lack of appetite an ED thing? Is ED trying to sneak back into your mind and tell you that you’re not hungry, even though you are? Does nothing sound good because you’re experiencing fear with certain foods? Are you just saying you’re not hungry in an effort to avoid eating and to avoid the actual weight restoration process? Take a good hard look at what’s driving the lack of appetite.
When you’re restoring weight, hunger does come and go. More often you will experience hunger, but sometimes, especially as your metabolism and your digestive system is still in “catch up mode,” hunger isn’t always experienced.
When I was weight restoring the second time around, after my relapse, I was doing it from home. And it was really hard for me to “get up in the bit” for restoring my weight. There was still a lot of fear around certain foods and I had trouble getting out of the rut I was in when it came to food preparation. I just wasn’t able to cook in a way that would actually restore my weight. So even though I truly wanted recovery, I was terrified of the steps I needed to take to actually get there physically.
And I’ve mentioned this before, but I thought I’d reiterate it. I recently had a conversation with a sweet girl who was experiencing something similar. She’s weight restoring, and didn’t have an appetite for anything. So she’d just end up eating a pint of ice cream at the end of the day just to get the calories that she knew she needed.
My advice to her, and what helped me restore my weight, were Buffet Restaurants.
It sounds so incredibly silly.
But Chinese buffets, breakfast buffets, cafeteria-style restaurants…these were really helpful for me when I was restoring weight. I would go with my father, bless his heart. And these restaurants were helpful for several reasons.
First, it helped spark my appetite when I had none, or when food seemed scary. Now, this sounds a bit backwards: if there’s fear surrounding food, why would going to, literally, a buffet of food options help to overcome this? Well, I think it’s safe to say that everyone suffering from anorexia is a bit of a foodie at heart. They love food, they just deny themselves the joy of eating it. So, by going to a buffet, and seeing all the different options right there in front of me, and smelling them, and being able to take a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, it allowed me to try different things. Being swept up in the all consuming sensory atmosphere, for whatever reason, made eating easier. It was like my “fight or flight” mentality took over. Here I was, willingly and knowing walking into the “lion’s den” and saying, “Alright, bring it on.” I was able to “get up in the bit” for having a substantial weight-restoring meal. It was kind of like entering a boxing ring: “OK, ED. We’re going to do this.” It was a stage for a one-two-punch.
Next, it was a different environment. Being out of the house was particularly helpful. I found the kitchen and dining area at home were painfully triggering. There were horrible memories attached to that part of the house that would just punch me in the gut with reminders of huge blow ups I had with my parents, or where I had thrown food, or thrown a tantrum. Having to sort through my measuring tools, or using cups and bowls that I had used religiously during my eating disorder, put me in a bad head space that made eating a weight-restoring meal especially difficult. A new environment fostered not only the needed courage, but a fresh, clean slate.
Additionally, I was able to fall in love with food again. By eating things that weren’t fat free yogurts, rice cakes, string cheese, and tuna, I began to experience truly delicious food. For example, crab rangoons. Who’da thought that I’d love those little guys!? — A Chinese buffet, that’s who. By being able to try different things a little bit at a time, I was able to remember what it felt like to enjoy food and not be controlled by fear. At a buffet, you’re able to try a spattering of different little things. Being able to have a few bites of fried rice, and a few bites of french toast, etc. etc. was less scary than having an entire entrée in front of me. And further, in those few bites, I was conquering the fear associated with the food, and learning to enjoy the flavor on my own terms.
Next, it helped me to give up control. By eating at a restaurant, I had no say in the preparation of the foods. At home, I could skip adding the butter, or the oil, or the cream. Or more accurately, I could pretend to add them when I really didn’t. But at a restaurant, I was literally out of the kitchen. If sautéing in a healthy glug of olive oil still is frightful, try a restaurant: they do that for you. All you have to do is simply enjoy the finished product.
Further, it gave me practice eating in public. That sounds rather silly, but there is so much secrecy and isolation around eating when you’re in the disease. You’re afraid of eating in front of people for fear of judgement, or because of shame in your disordered habits. Eating out at a restaurant helps to “condition” you that, “Yes, it’s okay to eat in front of other people. It will be okay.”
Lastly, it helped me to just sit with myself after I ate. One of the things that a lot of girls -myself included- struggle with, is the intense anxiety felt after meals. For me, I would always want to take a walk or exercise. I could never just sit. There was so much fear and anxiety around that stillness. Around that act of being sedentary. So eating at a restaurant was really helpful to deal with this. You see, my dad drove a convertible. So on the drive home, we’d ride with the top down, and there was something really therapeutic about the wind in my face that would calm my anxiety after the meal.
Weight restoration is difficult. Period. Especially if your appetite is nonexistent. The important thing to remember is that your body so desperately needs the nutrients and calories in order to restore and rebuild your organs and your bones. And you may feel full, or you may just not feel hungry, but that doesn’t mean your body doesn’t need the sustenance. Your body’s digestive system is still just limping along, and so your “hunger cues” are still playing catch up. Your metabolism was so used to being in starvation mode that it is just now beginning to learn to trust you to feed it consistently again. But don’t worry, because it too, will soon get in order and restore. But in order to do that, you need to keep eating. Consistency is key to getting your metabolism up and running, as well as reducing any bloating.
You’re a warrior and are doing great. The process of weight restoration can be scary, but you’re reclaiming your life. You’re loving yourself with every bite you take. You’re pushing ED out of your life, once and for all.
“For God has not given you a spirit of fear and timidity, but of POWER, love and a sound mind.” 2 Tim 1:7
15 responses to “Weight Restoration Without an Appetite”
[…] things that my perfectionist side of me always holds tight to. Relaxing about having an extra snack or an extra drink with people I […]
No comments? But this is a fantastic post. Honestly, I think everyone should have a healthy love for food. I’m a sucker for steak with red potatoes, a patty melt (God’s gift to man), and Pad Thai. I could live off that.
It wouldn’t be a diverse life, but it would be a good one!
Thank you so much. Haha yes pad Thai!
This is such a great post. Practical advice like this is what is so often missing from eating disorder recovery programs. I love the idea of using buffets as a way of kickstarting the appetite when you have literally lost all sense of taste and appreciation for food! Thank you 🙂
Thank you so much Phoebe. Hugs and love xox
Thank you for this post. I’ve been reading your blog, and it’s inspiring how you recovered, and have so much faith in God. I’m kind of in a similar state and this post exactly encapsulates what I’m going through. I went on a pretty extreme diet in a bid to lose 10 pounds that I didn’t need to lose, and now my hunger cues and fullness cues are totally gone. I feel like I’m not even human. I’m virtually weight restored (I went from a healthy weight to a still healthy, but low, weight). I’m a man too so I’m not even sure if the same process will happen to me. It’s really scary and it’s the worst decision I’ve ever made, so I’m dealing with lots of regret. My dietician told me I’m on the ED spectrum, and it made me scared and cry. I never in a million years thought I would have an ED. I guess it’s a bit reassuring to know that I didn’t consciously choose to have one. It’s so hard, but I’m going.
Thank you so much for your posts. They are so inspiring and you really are a beautiful, strong, courageous person. I’ll be reading, and I wish you the best 🙂
Thanks so much Tom for sharing your story. Know that I’m in your corner, cheering you on. Hang in there friend. I believe in you. Hugs and love xox
Honestly one of the best posts I have ever read. This situation is extremely relatable for me and I’m struggling a lot with my non-existent appetite as I have to increase my intake with a new diet plan to gain weight. I now have increased motivation to eat and restore my body with my newly discovered eating plan, even when I feel as though I am ‘extremely full.’ Thanks to this post!
Thank you so much Elizabeth, I really appreciate your kind words. I’m cheering for you in your recovery! You’re reclaiming your life and that is amazing. Keep fighting, warrior. That’sa huge hurdle in the recovery process but yes cling to that motivation to continue to nourish your body. You taking back everything that ED stole from you, one bite at a time. I believe in you!! Hugs and love xox
Thank you so much for this post… I have also relied massively on buffet restaurants during recovery which I thought must seem so odd, but everything you said above makes sense. It allows me to ease myself into eating, and normally encourages my appetite to come which means I can eat more and more and I start feeling comfortable. Thank you again!
Thank you so much Emily for sharing your experience. So glad you can relate! Big hugs warrior! Xox
It’s so strange — l still don’t have much of an appetite. I think I actually broke that part of my brain. I have more than I had, which finally allowed me to restore to healthy, but I also had to take medication known to stimulate appetite in order to find my natural hunger again. It works in part as an antianxiety agent, so I guess that’s a possibility? That anxiety was killing my hunger? [shrug]
I still take a low dose of the med. I’m not as ravenous as I used to be, which I guess could be a sign that I’m in the right place weightwise. It’s just weird. All of it. When does recovered life stop feeling so weird?
Hi Mari, thank you for your response. yeah, recovery is a journey that takes a lot of patience and perseverance. hang in there. know that i’m cheering for you! Hugs and love xox
My daughter is still recovering from an ED. She continues with the battle of not being hungry. I continuously feed her more even though she is the heaviest she has ever been. Weight gain now is stopping but we are getting pushed for more weight gain.I keep feeding her more and less activities. Is she however not recovered because she is not hungry.
I will definitely keep her in my prayers. It is a long process but her hunger cues will slowly return with continued consistent adequate nutrition! Keep fighting the good fight!! Hugs and love xox