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