Learning How To Accept Weight Gain During Recovery

My mum would come home from work and see a saucepan, a plate, a knife, a fork, a cutting board and a potato masher sitting in the dish rack, drying. In the bin, she would see scrunched up foil, an empty can of peas and a pile of peeled potato skin. 

I hadn’t eaten a thing. But I made it look like I had. 

I squished the peas down the sink and lobbed the peeled potatoes over the back fence into the neighbour’s yard. I took the grill tray out of the oven, filled it with hot soapy water and left it soaking on the kitchen bench.

“What did you have for dinner?” Mum asked me, while cleaning the already clean grill tray. 

“I had lamp chops with mash and peas”, I told her.

Why did I behave like this? Was it purely a symptom of having Anorexia Nervosa?

It was a question I continued to ask myself throughout recovery. Why was I turning up to an outpatient treatment facility, asking for help, yet come Monday morning weigh-ins, I’d tape batteries to my body underneath my hospital gown?

Eating disorders are a complex mental illness. Even with the awareness that my vital organs were shutting down, that my bones were becoming brittle, that the doctors were telling me I might not survive the night, I still didn’t want to address the elephant in the room – weight restoration

How do you address the elephant in the room and learn to accept weight gain in recovery?

Though there is no one size fits all, here are some things that worked for me.

1. Return to inherent worth – learning that self-worth can’t be measured was an absolute game changer for me.

For years I based my worth on how I was perceived by others, what I looked like and what I achieved in life. Knowing that we are all born with intrinsic value and that nothing external can change that helped me to accept what I perceived to be my ‘flaws’ and to truly embrace my differences. Over time, I even found reasons to even appreciate them.

2. Find the gifts of recovery – recognising that some of the best gifts in life come badly wrapped helped me to find beauty within the pain.

I refer to my eating disorder recovery journey as a gift wrapped in shit. Having an eating disorder made my life unmanageable and I hit rock bottom – this was the shit. Reaching out for help was the gift as it led me on the path of self-discovery.

It was wrestling with my own pain where I came to a place of self-acceptance and that gave me the gifts of compassion, kindness, forgiveness, resilience and genuine human connection. 

3. Take imperfect action daily and embrace uncertainty – I stopped taking any form of action in my life when I was in the grips of my eating disorder as I struggled to sit with uncertainty and imperfection. My eating disorder allowed me to play it safe as it gave me a false sense of control. It also meant my world became very small and I essentially stopped living.

Being brave in recovery and allowing the unexpected to happen gave me the confidence to handle situations that I feared and this gave me the opportunity to learn and grow as a person.

Living courageously and taking imperfect action daily was the foundation for building momentum in recovery. I learned that if I didn’t risk anything, I risked so much more.

4. Connect with your inner world – during recovery, I had an identity crisis. I realised that I was so painfully disconnected from my inner life because I was listening to all the messages out there telling me who to be, how to look, what to eat, what to wear, how to move my body, etc.

Recovery is a time to reflect on who you are without all the labels or societal masks and connect with your own inner experience. I realised that it’s okay to want what your heart desires. I learned to trust myself and find what connects for me and what doesn’t.

What we look like is the least interesting thing about us. True magic is found in self-expression and embracing our authentic selves. Connect with the things that light your soul on fire. 

5. Live freestyle – recovery enabled me to spread my wings and fly. My eating disorder wanted to cut my wings off and remain on the ground with everyone else.

Breaking away from the status quo is freeing. Not buying into social pressures to attain unrealistic body ideals and following your own path in life gives you a sense of empowerment. It might set you apart from the majority but not fitting in forces you to figure out who you are.

Not fitting in is uncomfortable and when you are uncomfortable you grow.

6. Stay connected to your own definition of recovery – recovery looks different for everyone. I learned to trust that I was the best judge of my own recovery and if something wasn’t serving me anymore, I would let it go and move towards what was.

For me, staying connected to recovery wasn’t always what was suggested to me. It might have been simple like making time to be still and reflect, or listening to a podcast or reading a book. Joining a music program was my form of therapy.

I redefined recovery from a mental health perspective (where something was wrong with me and needed to be fixed) and saw it as a travelling perspective where the journey became about the experience itself along the way as much as it was about getting to a destination.

7. Reach out for support – you aren’t alone in your pain. Reaching out for help keeps you grounded and focused. Connecting with others in recovery gave me a sense of hope.

8. Self-care – caring for myself is now a non-negotiable in my life. I describe it like hacking through weeds: self-care enables me to stay grounded and on my path. If I’ve neglected my self-care then I have to struggle my way through the weeds to find the path again.

Life still has its challenges, but it’s no longer unmanageable because on those days I just add a little extra self-care. It’s okay to not be okay. Go gentle and be kind to yourself.

Reece Georgas (he/him)

 Eating Disorder Peer Mentor – Butterfly Foundation Australia

 Speaker, writer and passionate advocate for mental health and social inclusion.

Reece Georgas (Linkedin)

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