I have been trying to gain weight for my own health. Look at me, being a good example of eating disorder recovery!
But now I have put on a few pounds, and I am freaking the fuck out. So yeah, look at me, the worst-ever face of eating disorder recovery.
Let me tell you a little story.
About a year ago, I decided that I needed to change my relationship with food, because I felt that my website CakeSpy had in fact been keeping me in a disordered eating state of mind. And you know what…it was. I was basically surviving on sugar, but still restricting enough so that my body maintained a certain weight and look.
So I toned down sugar big time, and began eating an extremely high fat diet. At that time, fat was all I seemed to want. I was putting butter in coffee. Eating the separated oil on top of the peanut butter jar with a spoon. Cooking eggs in lard, with pork belly. I called it my “reverse cleanse”. Where most people “eat clean” and drink juice on a cleanse, I was replenishing the fat and protein my body so clearly and so badly wanted.
God, I felt amazing at first. I felt strong, I felt healthy, I was eating so many good nourishing calories. I was eating more calories than I had since…probably ever. I started to get a regular period for the first time in years.
But then something happened. As you may have heard, a lot of people who go on high fat diets such as the ketogenic diet will lose weight.
I lost weight eating a high fat diet. And I liked it. Probably a little too much. And that’s where things started to go wrong.
I started to have an active fear and aversion to carbohydrates. If I ordered a burger and took it out of the bun before eating, even the smallest crumb that stuck to the meat would scare me. The idea of ever taking a bite of a brownie again seemed impossible, the worst thing ever. Obviously carbs had been the problem the whole time!
Then my hair started falling out. Not in alarming clumps, but when I would brush my hair, I would see lots of strands coming out. Then I lost my period again. Sorry if it’s TMI, but I haven’t had a period since last March or so.
I realized that what had started as a good thing—replenishing the fats and protein I needed—had quickly morphed into an eating disorder relapse. Because while I was eating enough technically, I was restricting entire food groups.
I realized that once again, I would need to make a change.
I humbly began to incorporate more foods.
I cried the first time I ate ice cream again. Not out of happiness. Out of fear.
I cried the first time I ate bread again. Once again. Fear. Pizza, ditto.
But I kept on incorporating foods again. It got easier. I gained a little weight, but it was ok because I still fit into a “safe” size of clothing.
That’s when I discovered a variety of recovery resources including Tabitha Farrar and Kayla Rose Kotecki . If you are in recovery and you haven’t heard of them, I highly suggest them.
In watching their videos and reading their blog posts, I felt like they were directly calling me out on my shit.
What I realized is that for years and years, I have been living in a state of quasi-recovery or half-assed recovery. Basically, I was letting myself eat, but really, secretly, I was most comfortable if I just kind of stayed right at this weight that was just above alarmingly underweight but still on the low side of normal weight.
I found a facebook group dedicated to Hypothalamic Amenorrhea support. That’s a long and serious sounding name but basically it’s a group of women who have lost their period due to restricting food, over-exercising, or a combination. Basically, a group of women just like me.
Joining the group was a powerful sort of reinforcement and gave me the courage to actually begin to eat more. I post in the group a lot, and often it’s things like “is this ok?”. Is it ok that I want to eat the separated oil on top of the peanut butter jar with a spoon? Is it ok that I’m hungry for a cookie even though I had bread for breakfast? Is it ok that I don’t want to hang out with people who are thinner than me?
I feel silly asking things like that, but often enough, I find out I am not the only one.
Still, gaining weight. Actually gaining weight, to the point that my clothes are tight. That part is hard.
To tell you the truth, I am kind of freaking out.
Because I have to face so many things. Including:
Not being special. I hate admitting this, but being the smallest person in the room is something that for some reason feels important to me. It makes me feel special. If I am not the smallest person in the room. If I don’t automatically order the smallest size. Am I still special?
The pain of being a woman. Since I don’t get my period, it’s easy to kind of shrug and say “I can’t have babies, I don’t get my period”. If I gain weight and get my period again, it opens up an emotional minefield. If I can actually physically have a baby, what if the problem is that I am not good or lovable enough for someone to want to have a baby with me? That really hurt to write, but it’s a real fear.
Loss of control. The world is a fucking scary place that feels totally insane and out of control sometimes. People that you love can leave you. Jobs can go away. You can break bones or die in car accidents. An eating disorder gives you a false sense of security in that it tricks you into thinking you can control things. And quite frankly, you can have a degree of control over your body. By limiting what you eat and exercising a ton, you can keep your body at a certain shape. But it’s not without its high price in terms of isolation, rules, and potential for bodily harm and health and emotional issues. By giving up this control, I have to face and accept the idea that sometimes life doesn’t seem to have a rhyme or reason.
Fear of being judged. This feels so stupid to write. But I have had this constant fear lately that people are looking at me and thinking that I got fat. I have noticed that I have been tending to do yoga at home, alone, because I feel ashamed. I also get very triggered when I hear people in yoga talking about how they haven’t eaten yet that day or things of that nature.
Yet there are also so many benefits. Including:
Better sleep. When I am underweight, I have a real problem with sleep. I can get to sleep, but I wake up at like 4am with this weird wired energy. Now that I am eating more, I am sleeping til a leisurely 6:30 or sometimes even later. It makes me feel so much more normal.
Not so cold. If you’ve never suffered from anorexia (and I hope you have not) then you probably don’t quite understand the true awfulness of being cold while being underweight. It’s not just about not liking the cold. The cold physically causes pain in your bones. It is unbearable. Gaining weight, I still don’t like the cold very much at all. But I can tolerate it better.
Not in jail. When I restrict, I feel like I am in jail. I can only eat at certain times. I am limited in what I can eat and how much of it I can eat. I might be starving, but I will literally wait for the clock to click over to certain “safe” times when I can eat. Now, I am challenging that. Hungry at 11:51? No way am I going to wait til 12:01 to eat. I am going to eat now.
Also, in eating a sufficient amount, I am aware that there are entire hours where I don’t even think of food. As it turns out, when you’re chronically malnourished, you tend to think about food ALL. THE. TIME. And not in a pleasant way.
Not that it matters, but the amount of weight I have gained isn’t much. Actually, I’m pretty sure that most people probably wouldn’t even notice a difference. But to me it feels immense. My body is foreign to me. It jiggles. I need to wear a bra, otherwise my boobs feel strange and swing-y. It feels like there is too much of me.
A friend of mine emailed me and said something so beautiful recently. Here’s what she said.
“You’re a huge woman. Take up your space. The space you deserve.”
I try to hold on to this, like a mantra.
You’ve heard the adage “you are what you eat”. Literally, this is true. But emotionally, we are a whole fucking lot more than what we eat. And I want the freedom to be the true me, but free of the emotional chains that come with restricted eating.
OK, it’s 11:51 am and I’m hungry now, not ten minutes from now. Gotta eat.