My weight is going up, albeit slowly, each week. And no, I haven’t “let myself go”, whatever that even means. What I am letting go of is my eating disorder and all it’s rules, before it steals anymore of my precious life from me.
Gaining weight is hard. Not only in the context of eating disorders, whereby my head feels like it could explode with the constant mixed messaging going on, but also in terms of the media. Weight loss promotion has been rife during lockdown, and combined with the inevitable “new year new me” columns, the fear of weight gain is being made to feel as prominent as the fear of the pandemic, which is totally not okay.
By actively trying to gain weight, I am going against everything society is telling me I should be doing, especially as a woman.
Although at times the constant narrative that we should all be trying to “loose a bit of weight” does get to me, I am largely able to block it out as a message that isn’t aimed at me (though saying that, it shouldn’t be aimed at anyone. No one else but you has the right to comment on your body and it’s needs.)
Having read the statistics for eating disorder diagnoses during the pandemic, I know that many people are struggling, either with a new eating disorder or a relapse in their previous struggles. For me, it is the latter. Whilst weight is certainly no determining factor for whether you have an eating disorder (ED’s present themselves in many different ways), the increase in Anorexia patients will undoubtedly mean there are a lot of underweight people who need to gain weight, for both their physical and mental health. As such, the weight loss focused messaging in the media is likely to be incredibly harmful for many people’s recovery journeys. I hope today’s post can serve as some kind of reassurance in these tested times.
5 Reminders/tips for when weight gain feels too hard:
- Instead of referring to this process as “weight gain”, try referring to it as “getting stronger.” Unfortunately, as touched upon already, weight gain has lots of negative connotations attached to it. As a result of the media coverage we are blindingly exposed to every day, gaining weight is portrayed as being something that should be avoided at all costs (which is a load of rubbish, by the way.) “Getting stronger”, however, is empowering- something we are actively encouraged to strive for, in all aspects of our lives.
- Avoid looking at the calorie content and portion sizes on food packets. It’s not exactly news that portion sizes are reducing for everything, from cereal bars to packets of crisps. Everything is getting smaller. Why? Because; 1) it saves costs so businesses make more profit and, 2) it means the calorie content can be reduced, making it more appealing to the fear induced society the media has created concerning weight gain. Think about it, what will sell more to a weight obsessed society- a traditional sized 200 calorie chocolate bar, or a smaller 100 calorie bar? The 100 calorie bar, even if it is priced the same as, or even more than, the larger 200 calorie bar will sell more. For people trying to gain weight, this makes the weight gain process 10x harder because we are made to feel ‘greedy’ for consuming more than the recommended amount. But the question is, who is reccomending these portion sizes and for whom are they reccomended? Everyone is different with different needs. There is no blanket, ‘one size fits all’, approach to food.
- Try to understand the root cause of your fear of weight gain. What is it that stops you from cutting a second slice of cake when you’re still hungry after eating the first slither? Whilst an eating disorder is the umbrella term, ultimately it is due to a fear of weight gain. But what is the driving force behind that? Is it a fear of not being accepted by society? A fear of being perceived as greedy, lazy, or any of the other negatively loaded words? Recognising what triggers your uncomfortable feelings is so helpful in guiding you through all stages of recovery. A good step forward would be to enquire about setting up some one-to-one therapy sessions to enable you to explore your feelings further with a trained professional. It can also be incredibly beneficial to consider what else you will gain, aside from weight. The absence of your eating disorder will gain you your life back. Surely the long-term happiness of being able to live not merely survive is worth putting up with the temporary discomfort weight gain may bring?
- Have a structured plan to follow. I know there is some debate in the recovery community regarding the effectiveness of meal plans in recovery, so I want to start off by saying; do what’s right for you. Personally, I need to follow a plan because when I’m effected by my eating disorder, my hunger signals are all over the place. If I were to eat intuitively (start eating when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full), it just wouldn’t work because I rarely feel hunger whereas fullness is a consistent feeling at the minute. I’m confident that as I get further along in my recovery, I will be able to trust my body more and be more flexible around food, but right now following a meal plan is working for me. A general guideline for weight gain is to have 3 meals and 3 snacks a day, though there are various factors to consider here. To ensure your meals and snacks are an adequate size to encourage weight gain, it might be useful to consult a dietician who can help you create a tailored plan for your body and healthy weight goal. If you can’t afford professional input, I would reccomend gradually increasing your food consumption whilst tracking your weight once a week. This will allow you to determine whether your current diet is facilitating weight gain. If its not, increase your meal plan.
- Aim for body acceptance/neutrality, not total body love/confidence. This might sound like a strange one. Surely we should all be striving for self-love and maximum body confidence? Whilst it is great if you are in this position, if you are recovering from a disordered relationship with your body, it is quite a farfetched vision to go from hating your body to loving every part of it wholeheartedly. Instead, a more realistic and, in my opinion, sustainable, view is to strive for body acceptance- that is looking at yourself and being satisfied with what you see. The problem with aiming for total body confidence is, although it is the opposite of hating your body, it still feeds into an obsession with your body fuelled by diet culture. The reality is that your body is actually the least interesting thing about you. Instead of focusing so much of your time and energy on one extreme (hating or loving your body), aim for the middle ground. You are worth so much more than a life spent thinking about your body. Put your precious time to better use. With all the time you will save thinking about your body you could literally change the world.