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Learn more about the results we get at Within

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Normalizing weight gain after anorexia recovery

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Many individuals with anorexia nervosa (AN) struggle with an intense fear of gaining weight. And yet, anorexia recovery weight gain may be a medically necessary aspect of recovering from the eating disorder.

It might feel uncomfortable to experience changes in body shape and size, but these physical changes can be an important part of the healing process. And learning to accept—and, one day, hopefully embrace—these differences is the key to a peaceful and lasting recovery.

 minutes read
Last updated on 
October 16, 2023
In this article

Weight gain during anorexia recovery

Knowing why something is important doesn’t always make it easier.

The process of recovering from AN can involve significant physical, psychological, and hormonal shifts, which may feel quite jarring and overwhelming at times. Many important physiological processes, such as digestion, cellular repair, and cognitive functions, may be slowed down or stopped completely when the body is not receiving adequate nutrition. Healing these functions through nutritional rehabilitation can be a slow, frustrating, and non-linear process which may be physically and emotionally uncomfortable at times. 

And for some people, gaining weight can feel frightening or threatening, as many people struggling with anorexia nervosa tie their restrictive diets to a sense of control over their lives. 

But despite the difficulties, it’s important to trust the process, and understand that all the complicated feelings around weight and body shape changes are a necessary part of healing and repairing. Without them, invisible yet essential rebuilding of organ function and resilience cannot occur.

Accepting weight gain after recovering from anorexia nervosa

It is not just returning the body to a healthier state that’s needed in anorexia nervosa recovery. Getting the mind to a place of acceptance is equally or even more important. Additionally it is helpful to challenge one’s own thoughts around weight, bodies, and anti-fat bias. It is important to understand the origins of anti-fat bias in society as well as where one’s own personal fears and bias originate from.

Therapy can be a great place to start this process. Most therapeutic methods used with people recovering from AN teach patients different tools and techniques to find a sense of clarity, confidence, and purpose, and offer them strategies to overcome the negative body image and low self-esteem that mislead people into thinking that their weight determines their self-worth.

Support groups are another great place to help foster feelings of acceptance and assurance. Hearing other people’s stories and helping them through the same process can help provide invaluable insight into the healing process.

And maintaining a perspective that comes from a place of healing and self-compassion, is one of the most important parts of a successful recovery. 

Instead of thinking about how your body may have changed during anorexia nervosa recovery, try reminding yourself that your body and mind are healing. It could be helpful to shift your focus from the negative feelings that may surface around your body, to all of the positive changes you are making in your life, and how they are benefiting you. True happiness and self-worth will never come from the number on a scale. A person’s weight and size are the least important and least interesting thing about them and says nothing about their character and how they show up in the world. 

If you’re feeling insecure about the way you look or feel, a strong support group can help remind you of these truths in times when it may be difficult to see it yourself.

What to do if you feel at risk of relapse

Acceptance may feel like hard work and hardly ever follows a straight or predictable path. People can offer help, but the journey is ultimately yours to take. 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, angry, or pessimistic about your recovery, practicing mindfulness or other types of meditation can help you stay calm and cognizant, allowing yourself a moment to breathe, recenter, and reevaluate your perspective.

Journaling is another great tool to help organize your thoughts during this difficult transition. You can use this technique to help develop boundaries you want to set, and dictate things you want or need to say to others. Writing positive messages to yourself or jotting down something every day you’re grateful for can also help you stay positive and train your brain to look for the good in things.

A number of other outlets can also help channel negative energy that would otherwise fuel feelings like fear or insecurity. Activities like dancing, yoga, drawing, singing, playing an instrument, and social gatherings like going to a house of worship or seeing a friend can both boost your mood and get that energy flowing in a better direction. 

No one knows you better than you, and the most important thing is to listen to your inner voice. If you feel overwhelmed or fearful about weight gain during anorexia nervosa recovery or concerned you may be at risk of relapse, you should seek help. Talk to your therapist, doctor, or trusted friend or family member, and let them know your concerns.

And remember, even if you’re feeling unsure at this moment, the most important thing is to not give up. Recovery may not always be an easy process, but it is possible—and the reward on the other side is a peaceful and more balanced relationship with yourself. Our Care Team at Within Health is here for you every step of the way in treatment, and recovery.

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Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.



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