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Learn more about the results we get at Within

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What is weight restoration?

Weight restoration refers to the process of returning to a healthier body weight after experiencing weight loss, and it can be an important part of eating disorder recovery.

Weight restoration aims to get your body weight to a place that improves your physical health, and overall emotional well-being. Weight restoration can be achieved through a number of means, including nutritional counseling and medical monitoring.

Last updated on 
October 10, 2023
Weight restoration
In this article

What is weight restoration in eating disorder treatment?

Restoring weight is a crucial step in the treatment of some restrictive types of eating disorders.1

There are a few different types of treatment options available for weight restoration, including:

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People experiencing severe weight loss while facing complications of malnutrition may also be fed intravenously at first, both to help a patient steadily put on weight and help them avoid refeeding syndrome, a potentially deadly complication.6

In any case, early weight gain has been linked to long-term recovery for people with eating disorders, making weight restoration an important part of any treatment plan.6 Though, for peak effectiveness, the method should be used alongside additional treatments to help address any underlying psychological and emotional causes of the eating disorder.2

Weight restoration

Which eating disorders require weight restoration?

While weight restoration is an important aspect of recovery for many people, it's not always necessary, and should be decided on a case-by-case basis with your healthcare provider. Here are some eating disorders that may be treated with weight restoration.

Anorexia nervosa
Atypical anorexia nervosa
ARFID

Benefits of weight restoration

Weight restoration can have a number of immediate and long-term benefits for those who have lost a significant amount of weight or who are struggling with malnutrition due to their eating disorder. 

Restoring weight can help improve many of the physical symptoms associated with restrictive eating disorders, including reducing the impact of osteoporosis and cardiac issues and returning regular menstruation in females.9,14 Dramatic weight loss associated with anorexia nervosa has been linked to a number of physical changes in the brain, including the loss of gray matter, but this too has been found to be reversible with weight restoration.10

In one study, patients who have had their weight restored reported psychological improvements, including reduced depressive symptoms. Those who had struggled with more severe eating disorder symptoms also reported more psychological benefits following weight restoration.11

Our patients have a 40% decrease in eating disorder symptoms after completing our program.
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What can you expect from the weight restoration process?

Weight restoration can be an involved process, requiring commitment and support from the individual going through treatment and their treatment team.

A weight restoration team may include licensed therapists, nutritionists, nurses, and doctors. During weight restoration you may also work with a registered dietitian to learn how to properly fuel your body moving forward.12

You can expect support and guidance from your healthcare team during the weight restoration process. Your team will likely work with you to develop a meal plan that meets your nutritional needs and supports weight gain. This plan may include regular meals, snacks, and nutrient-rich foods high in calories and protein.12

As you work toward weight restoration, monitoring your progress and making any necessary adjustments to your meal plan and physical activity is important. If you’re struggling with the meal or movement plans, speak directly with your care team to address your concerns. 

Weight restoration challenges

Extreme weight loss, malnutrition, and starvation can have a number of far-reaching impacts on the body, making it difficult to successfully regain weight.

Many patients with AN were found to be hypermetabolic or have a metabolism that works extremely fast. In these cases, patients required more calories in order to maintain weight gain.13

Weight restoration may also bring on some gastrointestinal discomfort, including constipation. And, at its most extreme, weight restoration at early stages of recovery can lead to refeeding syndrome, a potentially deadly complication brought about by electrolyte dysfunction.14

It's also possible for this process to bring on psychological discomfort, especially for those who are still working on the mental and emotional aspects of their eating disorders. Reverting to disordered eating patterns during or after treatment is an unfortunately common experience in recovery.13

Finding help for an eating disorder

The weight restoration process is an essential part of recovery from anorexia nervosa and other restrictive eating disorders. But it's not the only treatment most people require.

If you or a loved one are struggling with an eating disorder, it's important to seek out help. These behaviors don't go away on their own and often get worse without professional care.

Help is available

At Within, we strive to help. Our team of multidisciplinary experts will address the physical, emotional, and psychological aspects of your eating disorder, creating treatment plans that are specific to your history and your needs.

Learn more about our Within treatment program and how it can help you or your loved one today.

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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.

Resources

  1. Lebow, J., Sim, L. A., & Accurso, E. C. (2018). Is there clinical consensus in defining weight restoration for adolescents with anorexia nervosa?. Eating disorders, 26(3), 270–277.
  2. Halmi, K. A. (2009). Salient components of a comprehensive service for eating disorders. World Psychiatry, 8(3), 150–155. 
  3. Moore, C. A., & Bokor, B. R. (n.d.). Anorexia nervosa. StatPearls.
  4. Frostad, S., & Bentz, M. (2022). Anorexia nervosa: Outpatient treatment and medical management. World Journal of Psychiatry, 12(4), 558–579.
  5. Freizinger, M., Recto, M., Jhe, G., & Lin, J. (2022). Atypical Anorexia in Youth: Cautiously Bridging the Treatment Gap. Children (Basel, Switzerland), 9(6), 837.
  6. Bargiacchi, A., Clarke, J., Paulsen, A., Leger, J. (2019). Refeeding in anorexia nervosa. European Journal of Pediatrics, 178, 413-422.
  7. Nagata, J. M., Garber, A. K., & Buckelew, S. M. (2018). Weight restoration in atypical anorexia nervosa: A clinical conundrum. The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 51(11), 1290–1293.
  8. What is Arfid (avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder)? (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. 
  9. Steinman, J., & Shibli-Rahhal, A. (2019). Anorexia Nervosa and Osteoporosis: Pathophysiology and Treatment. Journal of Bone Metabolism, 26(3), 133–143.
  10. Dolan, R. J., Mitchell, J., & Wakeling, A. (1988). Structural brain changes in patients with anorexia nervosa. Psychological Medicine, 18(2), 349–353.
  11. Accurso, E. C., Ciao, A. C., Fitzsimmons-Craft, E. E., Lock, J. D., & Le Grange, D. (2014). Is weight gain really a catalyst for broader recovery?: The impact of weight gain on psychological symptoms in the treatment of adolescent anorexia nervosa. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 56, 1-6.
  12. Western, S. (2022, April 25). Weight restoration in eating disorder recovery: What to know. Nutritionist Resource. 
  13. Marzola, E., Nasser, J.A., Hashim, S.A., Shih, P., Kaye, W. (2013). Nutritional rehabilitation in anorexia nervosa: review of the literature and implications for treatment. BMC Psychiatry, 13, 290.
  14. Cass, K., McGuire, C., Bjork, I., Sobotka, N., Walsh, K., Mehler, P. (2020). Medical Complications of Anorexia Nervosa. Psychosomatics, 61(6), 625-631.

FAQs

How long does anorexia nervosa weight restoration take to occur?

The time required to restore weight and achieve stability varies from person to person. It depends on factors such as the severity of the eating disorder, medical history, overall health, and how quickly treatment was started. 

Is weight restoration a part of eating disorder recovery?

Yes, weight restoration can be a part of eating disorder treatment and recovery. Speak to your healthcare provider or contact Within to learn more about weight restoration, and how to make it a part of your treatment plan. 

Further reading

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Does anorexia cause parotid gland swelling?

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Does anorexia cause diabetes?

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Can eating disorders cause anemia?

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Can anorexia cause IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)?

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