It’s been nearly 4 months since I started recovering and I am now thankfully past all the uncomfortable and distressing effects of initial weight restoration, and my body is now adjusting to its natural weight and fat distribution (yay!)
I thought I would take the time to reflect on the past few months and share my story about how I went about recovery and also how it compared to previous recovery attempts.
In the past when I have relapsed, I have either been under the care of CAMHS (Children and Adult Mental Health Service) or in a psychiatric hospital. This time round though, I had been discharged from the adult mental health services for nearly a year and had to wait several months before I could be seen to. At first, the idea of recovering without any professional medical help seemed so daunting and at the time impossible, however, this was the key to my success in recovery.
Usually when recovering under the guidance of mental health professionals, there is still a lot of focus around weight and calories. During my time in hospital, I was put on a strict meal plan which consisted of 3 meals and 3 snacks split evenly throughout the day. Understandably, most patients would start on 1/4 portions and slowly increase onto full portions to avoid re-feeding syndrome, however from the very beginning, I found the method of a meal plan and set times very restrictive and controlling – two things that anorexia loves! It became even worse when I began to experience extreme hunger as I wasn’t able to follow through with my hunger cues and had to stick to the (little) food I was given.
Due to this experience, I knew that if I wanted to fully recover, I needed to let go of all control and restriction by eating WHATEVER I wanted, WHENEVER I wanted. Yes this was the scariest decision I had ever made but I now believe that this is the method that all recovery processes should follow. Yes meal plans can be helpful when you don’t know what to eat or cannot deal with decisions about food, but they can fast become restrictive. A meal plan should be the minimum amount that you eat and it should be understood that you must respond to any urge to eat by eating. If you do not, you are still actively restricting food and the eating disorder will still be very much active throughout the recovery process. If a person with an ED is made to feel like there are limits in the amount of food that they are allowed to eat in recovery, then they will continue to obsess about food long after weight restoration is reached. You are restricting if you are not responding to what your body wants to eat.
Another change I made was to stop weighing myself. Early on in my recovery, I made the mistake of weighing myself thinking it would be a good way of checking my progress and to see how I was getting on. I remember that in hospital we were weighed every Thursday and Monday morning without fail. The rate of weight gain we had to aim for was 0.5-1kg a week and our weights were closely recorded and monitored by the psychiatrist and dietician. After stepping on the scales at home, I found out that I had put on 5.8kg in ten days!! Naturally I went into an absolute meltdown and started panicking that I had re-feeding syndrome, that I needed to stop eating again, that I was going to become obese etc., so later that day I went to visit my GP who helped rationalise my mind.
The guided weight gain of 0.5-1kg is for people on controlled re-feeding programmes. This would be when they start on very small portions and increase their intake by about 200 calories every couple of days to build themselves up to 2,000-2,500 calories. I however had been eating about 6,000-7,000 calories a day, therefore in respect to how much I had been eating, my weight gain rate was completely normal!
If you think about it, whether you go on a meal plan or eat to your hearts content, you are going to get back to your natural BMI; period. I feel like trying to stick to a strict number of 1kg of weight gain a week is only going to make you more focussed on the numbers, potentially slow down recovery if you restrict your intake to match your weight gain and could end up triggering a relapse.
Obviously recovery is different for everyone but I do unfortunately think that being an inpatient or listening to the advice of dieticians/psychiatrists can be detrimental to the recovery process. I believe that the way I went about recovery is the most positive and helpful way to recover. It involves letting go of all anorexic traits and tendencies so you can fully embrace and commit towards recovery. Stop obsessing over the numbers and stop counting the calories. Listen to your body, listen to your mind and the rest will fall in place. I am always here if anyone wants to talk; don’t be afraid to drop me a message or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Things WILL get better. Choose recovery and embrace life.