Weight and Recovery

What Effect Will Recovery Have On My Weight?

Recovery from an eating disorder is stressful. A person in the first stages of the recovery process often feels that their world is turned upside down, and everything familiar is being taken away. Hunger signals, emotions, and feelings that have been silenced start to come back all at once. This can cause a great deal of confusion, anxiety, and inner turmoil. Many who have restricted for years will find themselves dealing with constant hunger. Others may find that foods that were once appetizing no longer seem appetizing. Some may stop using one behavior but pick up another. We’ve found that some of that anxiety can be alleviated if the person who is recovering has at least some idea of what to expect throughout the recovery process.

(The following information is taken from the book Overcoming Binge Eating by Dr. Christopher Fairburn. Despite the book’s name, it is relevant to anyone with any eating disorder)

A recent treatment study conducted at Oxford indicated that those who were fully recovered had, on average, virtually no change in weight between starting treatment and follow-up sixteen months later. These patients average weight was 137 pounds before treatment and 134 pounds sixteen months later. During the first six months of recovery, the patients tended to gain weight. From the seventh month on, almost all patients tended to lose weight, eventually settling in at a weight that was slightly lower than their starting treatment weight.

So hey, if you can make it past the first few months (which is not fun, but very, very doable!) you will most likely end up weighing a few pounds less than you do now, AND you’ll be able to eat normally and be free of the obsession of your eating disorder!

And if the first six months seems a little daunting, imagine yourself as an old person, sitting in your rocking chair, and reflecting on your life. How big will those six months look then? Especially when you compare six months to the lifetime of years that you can enjoy when you are freed from your eating disorder! What will you WISH you would have chosen to do right now?

In a study conducted at Columbia University Department of Psychiatry by Mayer, Walsh, et al., bodyfat distribution among subjects before, during, and after treatment for their eating disorder was studied. The results of the study showed that during the initial stages of refeeding, bodyfat distribution differed from typical bodyfat distribution seen in the “average” human. The subjects tended to store bodyfat more in the trunk region — abdominals, hips, etc, while their extremities were “normal” or slightly smaller than average.

This information may seem frightening to the eating-disordered individual, who is likely to fear weight gain, especially around the abs, hips, and thighs. However, research also shows that with time, the body fat which at first is centered around the midsection tends to eventually drift to other parts of the body, which results once again in a ‘normal’ body shape. Other research studies have shown that particularly in anorectics, though, the upper arms and other related areas persist in being smaller than the norm, even years after refeeding.

The most important thing to understand here is that it is common during recovery to feel that your body is weirdly-shaped. Expect it. Prepare for it. But also remember that this is a temporary phase. It does NOT last. While you may temporarily feel uncomfortable because of weight gain in the midsection, the weight will NOT remain there for long! Just keep reminding yourself that it IS temporary.