Coping with Weight Gain: Part 1
Ever since opening up about my recovery, I have received countless messages from others in recovery, or trying to gain weight, asking how I deal with the weight gain. Because it's damn hard. Instead of spending hours and hours trying to answer every message privately, I thought I would write a blog post instead, that way everyone can benefit from it, instead of just one person!
For me, there were two main parts to coping with weight gain. One is the physical side, and the other is the mental side. Because both are very complex, and I tend to write a lot, I thought I would split them up into two separate posts, and in this one, we will be covering the physical aspects of coping with weight gain.
It's a fact that weight re-gain after disordered eating is physically challenging and causes A LOT of discomfort.
Well, to start with, our stomach is an organ that is surround with smooth muscle tissue. And just like any muscle, the stomach becomes weaker when you don't 'train' it enough through not eating enough. You know what they say: "If you don't use it, you lose it."
Research shows that starvation actually causes a loss of muscle cells in the stomach which are responsible for its contraction, meaning it's ability to stretch, hold food, contract and relax are all reduced. When we then begin to eat normally and regularly, this often results in a great deal of discomfort, bloating and even pain, because of these physiological, adaptations leaving the stomach unable to accommodate increased quantities and frequencies of food intake.
In order to gain weight, you generally have to eat MORE than what the average person eats, which totally makes sense when you think about! But this can be a huge physical challenge, especially for those who are used to eating very small quantities of food. But I can assure you that it does get much much easier over time, and with consistency. The body is absolutely amazing at adapting, and once you start eating more, while you may feel very uncomfortable at first, stick with it and over time your stomach will be able to tolerate more food and begin to strengthen and heal from the damage!
Personally, some things that helped me, and have helped others I've worked with too, in dealing with the physical discomfort of gaining weight and eating more food are:
- Eating smaller portions more frequently. For example, having 3 meals and 3-4 snacks per day, instead of trying to fit everything into three main meals
- Focusing on calorie dense foods, instead of filling up on low calorie foods and having to eat a crazy amount of volume. I speak much more about this on my post on gaining weight! (also, I think it's so funny how high calorie foods used to be a huge fear for me, but overtime, I began to truly love and appreciate them, and even consciously seek them out so I wouldn't have to eat such huge portions that they would make me feel sick. During recovery, these are life saving!)
- Sipping on herbal tea that help ease digestive discomfort. My favourites are peppermint and fennel tea.
- Placing a hot water bottle or heat pack on your tum. Trust me, best thing ever!
- Drinking a glass of warm water with lemon juice or a little apple cider vinegar in the morning to help stimulate those digestive enzymes. Just make sure you drink it through a straw to protect the enamel on your teeth from the acidity!
- Doing some relaxing, low impact movement such as a walk, stretching or gentle yoga in the evening can also really help calm the body down and reduce the discomfort.
- Make sure you are drinking enough water to allow your body to properly digest all the extra food and fibre you are eating. Don't go overboard though, just be mindful of your water intake! I recommend around 2 litres per day for most people.
- Try to stress less! Which also includes getting enough sleep. This is so important not just for digestion but also every aspect of health and wellbeing!
Apart form the digestive discomfort, another physically (and mentally) challenging thing during the weight gain process can be that most of the weight tends to go to your stomach first. It's a fact and it happens to almost everyone in recovery from an eating disorder. It makes you look slightly pregnant and rather unproportional, and it's really uncomfortable too.
Why is this the case, you ask?
Well, your stomach area also happens to be where all of your most important organs are kept. That's where your body is going to insulate and protect with extra layering first. Holding onto everything it gets. To keep you ALIVE.
As I mentioned earlier, just like any muscles in your body, the stomach muscle takes time to build up and grow strong again. Of course having a weaker stomach muscle means its contents can't be held in place quite like they should, making it appear bigger. Not to mention, as we talked about, all the bloating and that years of not eating enough lead to food taking much longer to digest than normal (this is called gastroparesis by the way!).
So how long does this all last?
I can't tell you. This is going to be different for every person. But it does take time, and a lot of it. I know all too well just how damn frustrating it is to feel like your stomach is huge, while your legs and arms remain skinny. But I like to think of it as a little payback for all that damage I did to my body. And remember that this too shall pass. Also, wearing loose and comfortable clothing helps!
The most important thing to regulating your digestion and allowing your weight to redistribute around the body is consistency. Trusting the process. Once you've maintained a healthy weight for some time, and your body can begin to trust you again that it will keep receiving adequate fuel and nourishment, then it will give that sigh of relief and begin to heal.
Let's learn to EMBRACE whatever stage we are at.
I hope that was helpful and gave you some tips and comfort on dealing with the physical side of weight gain. Don't hesitate to leave a comment or reach out to me if you have any questions, and stay tuned for Part 2, where I'll talk about the mental part of coping with weight gain! xx