Many individuals who have experienced an eating disorder, myself included, may have encountered the distressing situation of needing to gain weight. To onlookers, this seems like a sought after dream - food with no restrictions with endless supplies of chocolate, cakes, donuts and sweets in sight.
But for the person recovering, weight gain can feel such a scary prospect. The idea of eating more and looking different seems like jumping off a cliff with a bottomless pit. There is also the nerve wracking fear that gaining weight will prevent you from being ‘worthy’ of support, and also feeling like a ‘fraud’. Not to mention, breaking away from an identity that might have felt part of you for several months or years may feel like losing a best friend or relationship rather than the real enemy and abusive partner that any eating disorder usually is.
That being said, weight gain from restrictive eating disorders is usually an essential component of any treatment plan, but one that so many people struggle through with seemingly no end in sight.
Thoughts about guilt, shame, feeling fat and being gluttonous plague the mind that longs to be nourished again. It is not uncommon for individuals to set sights on simply gaining weight or being able to restore periods or optimal hormone function as the main symbol of recovery.
And, to tell the truth, those things are usually positive symbols of recovery. But, they are not the whole picture, and don’t always reflect the psychological healing that needs to take place in terms of nourishing the soul. also, you can attain a healthy weight, and yet parts of your body (e.g. vital organs) still require further nourishment.
There are also cases where you may need to exceed your expected healthy weight because that is your natural ‘set point’, or because your body needs to feel safe for a while before it regains its trust
One of the hardest parts also comes with continuing to eat, even though a healthy weight is nearly in sight or has already been achieved (according to clinical standards of BMI). Suddenly, food may appear an unnecessary evil :
"Why do I need to continue to eat if my body has already had ‘enough"
“I don’t need to put on any more weight, or I may become Overweight. Fat. Disgusting".
The last EVIL attempt of the eating disorder voices try to savage us once more - beckoning us into the ‘safety’ of its lethal grips...
But these thoughts are merely there to distract us from nourishing our soul in the way they crave. Weight gain and recovery is never just about the weight itself. In fact, its perfectly normal to be at a ‘healthy weight’ and continue to eat, yet still have an eating disorder due to the way you perceive and think about food.
Recovery and weight restoration is about rekindling a positive relationship with food, without guilt and shame, while also learning to eat in line with your psychological and social needs - not just the physical ones …
From my own personal experiences, in order for ‘real recovery’ to happen, I needed to see beyond the numbers on a scale, or even how my body felt as it gained weight. I had to look within - noticing how my thoughts around myself, food, body and life as a whole was transforming.
Instead of having a BMI goal, my aim became being able to see food in a way I had never saw before. To see food as being a positive element of living, that allowed me to connect with other people, memories, friends, family and new life experiences.
By doing this, I could see the greater meaning of food beyond its nutritional value, and also its impact on my weight. If anything, weight became more and more insignificant compared to the weight I placed on finally being able to live life to the full after so many years of restriction and mental torment.
It wasn’t an easy battle to get to the point where my relationship with food was about nourishment of the soul, but it was an incredible and strengthening journey. Even when reaching a healthy weight, I continued to eat because there were still challenges i needed to face - previous fear foods, meals out, spontaneity around food, eating out in different cultures, overcoming negative thoughts about eating even when full or not hungry. There are a long list of battles I had to face along the road, but boy were they worth all the effort!
This brings me to another key point. Even if you are currently at a ‘healthy weight’ or not severely underweight, by no means should this undermine your deservingness of getting support for an eating disorder. Eating disorders happen at all different weights, shapes and sizes, and just because you don’t fit a certain stereotype, doesn’t mean that you can’t reach out for help.
Everyone deserves to be able to develop life long positive relationships with food, and this means seeing recovery beyond numbers, weights and ideals.
The real routes to recovery arise when we look within ourselves, and use food to nourish our souls on many different levels. For that reason alone, it is 100% ok - essential even - to continue eating and challenging yourself well into the weight gain process, and even after you have gained a ‘healthy’ amount of weight.
Let recovery be defined by the nourishment of your soul, where re-feeding it with love and enjoyment around food is the essential nutrients and vitamins required.