It’s been a while since my last eating disorder insight post; I only tend to write them when issues or new developments arise or someone brings a question to the table. I’ve noticed of late there are more people blogging about the struggle to gain weight after having suffered from an eating disorder, not only due to the psychological contraindications but also the mass amount of food that is usually required.
Going from eating nothing or the bare minimum, to eating anywhere between 2,000 and 3,000 calories a day is a little intimidating to say the least. Through the various stages of my eating disorder I’ve lost, regained, lost again, and remained steady for quite some time. I have at times managed to find a balance between calories taken in and those burned in order to prevent me losing weight whilst slowly managing to gain a few pounds here and there. The problem is falling in to a routine, eating a certain amount resulting in a plateau below your target weight.
The most important thing I’ve learned to date, come to recognise and truly appreciate is that it really isn’t about food, it isn’t about weight and that rather than forcing that element of recovery you need to work on your mind first and foremost. There are obviously cases were a person’s weight has dropped so low that an initial weight gain has to become priority but in general I would be of the opinion that weight gain and increased food intake will happen relatively naturally through the recovery process. The day will come when you can have that ice cream and not feel guilty!
My initial weight regain way back when I was 15 was achieved through using supplements which I must admit was easier but in the long term not really a solution as they inevitably had to be replaced by food and my body and mind found it difficult to adjust to eating such large quantities of solids having depended on the meal replacements for so long.
It’s not just about eating to gain weight, it’s about learning to love food again, allowing yourself to enjoy food, recognising the qualities it possesses and the nourishment it provides to the different parts of your body. Letting go of my control over food and slowly gaining weight has been most successful for me when I don’t put any pressure on myself. I’m still underweight and I don’t profess to have all the knowledge when it comes to the most ideal way to tackle weight gain but I do know what has worked and is still working for me.
Over the last few months I’ve made a few changes to my own diet and it’s only been over the last month or so that it’s started to make a difference and I’ve managed to put on a few pounds. One thing about the weight going on slowly which I can compare to when the whole process was accelerated on the shakes is that it’s much easier to cope with, to accept and be grateful for. You’re not depending on a food substitute and you’ve managed to make inroads by simple eating a healthy balanced diet.
Here are a few of my top tips for weight gain during and post recovery (as I believe your mind can have recovered long before your body, though ideally the two should go hand in hand).
- Plan meals at least a day in advance; you won’t have to make any last minute decisions and you’ll be mentally prepared for and eventually start looking forward to mealtimes.
- Eat 5-6 smaller meals a day as opposed to three main large main meals. The smaller amounts of food will be easier to digest and should help prevent you feeling overly full/bloated.
- Cut back on the fruit and veg; you’re more than likely eating copious amounts of fruit and veg. to give yourself that full feeling which will only lead to bloating.
- Introduce one new food every day; take that mental list of unsafe foods and change the title to “new foods to try”. Question what you believe about them and find information to contradict your theories and irrational thought. I don’t necessarily mean starting eating chips, cake and chocolate, but try and make sure your meals are more balanced; include a protein, a carbohydrate, a fat and fruit or veg.
- Sprinkle smoothies, oats, cereal and salad with nuts, seeds and dried fruit. Such an easy way to add extra calories without having to consume a large amount of extra food. I remember when the likes of nuts never passed my lips, now I’m a nutaholic!
- Don’t skip meals; it might sound obvious, but making sure to eat every meal, every day is so important. Skipping one or two on occasion will have an impact; all your hard efforts may not pay off and there’s great potential for it to quickly become a bad habit.
- Drink peppermint tea; it will help ease any initial stomach cramps you may experience from the sudden increase in food.
- Have something planned for after meal times; you want to avoid over analysing what you have and haven’t eaten. If you really can’t avoid it, quickly write down your feelings, as opposed to your thoughts, dig a little deeper, but limit the time you spend doing so.
- Eat in company where possible; rather than eating alone try and eat with family or friends environment who will hopefully be able to provide a good deal of support and also distraction. Eating alone makes it too easy for you to analyse what your eating as opposed to enjoying it.
- Weigh yourself no more than once a week, at the same time, on the same day; any mid week fluctuations may through you off your game!
- If your going to exercise your going to have to eat more…
- Absolve yourself from conversations around dieting; there are always going to be women/men on a “diet”, you can’t completely remove yourself from situations but have to learn to let it wash over you.
- Go easy on yourself, the goal isn’t to wake up tomorrow and feel what you might describe as “normal” or to have suddenly gained a stone; its a slow process and it’s as much about rekindling your relationship with food as it is about weight gain.