I don’t think anybody really likes gaining weight. You hear it all the time – people moaning about the fact that they have gained weight. People generally feel a bit crappy if they gain weight. But in anorexia recovery weight gain feels horrific. There is no way to flower this up or make it seem not as bad as it is. Because it is absolutely awful. The crappy feelings of weight gain are heightened infinitely during anorexia recovery.
Even during anorexia recovery when you are trying to gain weight, it doesn’t make it any easier. Most people wouldn’t be aware, or really care that much if they gained 0.1kg, or even 0.5kg. We’re talking about a pound or less here. I have literally spent days sobbing, full of anxiety, wanting to rip my stomach out, wanting to give up on life because of half a kilo/one pound (or less) of weight gain. It feels utterly unbearable. But is it? Is it actually unbearable?
Seeing the numbers on the scale go up, feeling your body change, seeing your body change – it is all such a difficult thing to go through. When you start to notice that your bones aren’t as visible, when your body feels more fleshy, it feels repulsive. When sitting down no longer hurts your bottom, when you can no longer fit certain parts of your body between your thumb and index finger – it all feels too much to cope with. You are too much. There is too much of you and you just can’t cope. These are feelings and experiences I have gone through on a weekly, daily, hourly, secondly basis. And that’s before we even start talking about the numbers.
When you have anorexia your life revolves around numbers. Calories, exercise time, weight, BMI – you name it, we have a number for it. Standing on the scales and seeing the numbers go up is like having your world crumble at your feet. Everything you know, everything that makes you feel safe, everything that helps control your anxiety, everything that gives you worth and an identity, is stripped away from you every time you stand on the scales and see the numbers go up.
Some weight gains are worse than others. The weight gain in anorexia recovery where you enter a new kilo, or a new “decade” (e.g. 49.9kg to 50kg), or, god forbid, a new BMI number, is the absolute worst. I’ve been there, I’ve done it, I’ve felt the worst of the worst. Now I’m not writing this to try and scare you and put you off weight gain in anorexia recovery. The opposite in fact. Because although I have felt all those things, although I have felt that I would rather be dead than gain weight, although I have felt like I can’t cope and I can’t bare the weight gain, the reality is that when it happens and I have felt all of those things, I have survived. I have got through it.
When I have gained weight my instinctive reaction is that I can’t cope, that it is horrific and that I MUST lose the weight I have gained. I was in doubt that I could not cope with the feelings or with being that repulsive weight. The urge to try and lose the weight and vow to never gain weight again was overwhelming. It seemed like the only way to not feel so horrendous. But I didn’t give into those feelings.
As awful as it was (and I really don’t have the words to describe how awful it felt), I stuck with it. I knew that if I tried to restrict and lose weight, I would stay eternally trapped by the eating disorder. Restriction and losing weight would continue to seem like the answer to relieve my anxiety, to make me feel better and to enable me to cope. But the reality is, is that you can cope without trying to lose the weight. You can cope with the weight gain. Anxiety and feeling really awful, although feeling very overwhelming at the time, do not continue and increase forever. And the only solution is to stick it out until the feelings eventually flatten out and reduce on their own, without you trying to lose weight or stop yourself gaining.
When I gained weight, that new number felt horrific. There was no way I could cope at that weight. But actually, several weeks later, when I hadn’t lost any weight and I was still at that new weight (or even higher), it didn’t feel quite as bad. I had survived several weeks at that weight (or gaining even more) and I realised that actually I could cope with it. It never felt good, but I realised I could cope. And with sticking it out and gaining weight in anorexia recovery, I didn’t just gain weight. I gained freedom. And I gained life.
Yes, I still have anorexia and I think I always will. But I also have quite a good life. I am often (not always) able to make choices and do things because I want to, not because anorexia is making me. And it is gaining weight, and gaining life that has allowed that to happen. If I had continued to resort to restriction and weight loss every time I gained weight then nothing would ever have changed. I would have stayed stuck, restricted and utterly miserable.
No one ever said that weight gain was easy. It is one of the hardest things you will ever have to do. But you CAN do it. I used to think that I would rather stay miserable and completely controlled by anorexia, than have to endure weight gain. God how wrong was I. The weight I have gained has been so incredibly difficult. So difficult that I thought I would rather die. But rather than die, I started to live. And the life and freedom I have gained has made it so worth it.