Disclaimer: Everyone’s needs are different, and seeking help for eating disorders is unique to each individual. What I did to be on the road to and find recovery from anorexia worked for me, but my actions may not work for another person in a similar situation. Always consult with professionals when determining what course of action to take with eating disorder recovery.
In three months, I’ve gained ten pounds.
And I couldn’t be happier.
But I still want more. A higher number on the scale. Meatier thighs so I can squat more weight and run faster with my daughter. Thicker arms so I can juggle the toddler, grocery bags, and my purse up the two flights of stairs to get from our garage to the kitchen. I want to take up more room, more space. It sounds cliched, but I want to be the healthiest version of myself possible–body, mind, spirit, and soul.
I was strategically aiming to reach the bodyweight number I am at now waaaay back in April when I saw a picture of myself at a wedding and internally cringed at how skinny my arms looked and how tired my face was. Ten pounds seemed like a doable goal in three months, but I knew I needed a plan of attack and a person to hold me accountable to the weight I wanted to put on my body. It was at that point when I sought out professional help to push me towards regaining those pounds. I went back to seeing the dietitian I used when I was first diagnosed with an eating disorder, and immediately started attending twice weekly food groups and individual sessions. Spending two nights aways from my family was very tough, as our dinnertime-bath-bed ritual was relegated to my husband, and I cried a little inside whenever I thought of my little toddler not getting his good night kiss from mommy.
But I stuck it out–being away from my family for three hours twice a week, getting substitutes to cover my classes when I had to go to appointments–because that was what I assumed needed to be done in order to gain weight and be at a healthy place physically and mentally. I enjoyed eating whatever food whenever I wanted to (Pick the highest calorie option!!! More cake!!! More ice cream!!!), but then there were the side effects.
I would get immediately drowsy after eating, which was a problem considering I was eating three meals and three snacks daily. The only time I ever felt alert was after a morning cup of coffee (Deathwish coffee, mind you), but then breakfast would happen, and I’d immediately want to curl up in bed for the remainder of the day.
I was still lifting weights, albeit not as intensely as before, yet every time I went to squat, bench, or deadlift, I felt physically weak. The weight on the barbell wasn’t increasing, and in fact, I strategically lowered the weight so as not to drain myself that much more. I assumed this action would help with my energy levels, yet I’d enter the gym feeling depleted, and leave even more drained. Ironically, I assumed that the body weight I was gaining would help me feel stronger when I trained. N-O. The fatigue I felt after eating gargantuan meals every 2-3 hours was impacting the time I spent trying to increase my Big 3.
I was getting less sleep at night because the food groups lasted until after the time I normally went to bed. Lack of sleep plus drowsiness after eating made me a walking zombie throughout the day. After my morning cup of joe, I’d sip on soda on the way to school, chug more coffee at work, down an energy drink before training, and inhale more soda after that to be awake so I could attend a food group at night. My blood flowed with caffeine.
I was missing instructing my students so I could meet with the dietitian during the week. This made me my heart break, as my English classes were wrapping up learning about the different American eras. I thoroughly enjoyed the unit we were on–Modernism and Contemporary literature–and I would normally pace around the room, reading Eliot and Hughes aloud to the class. Sadly, since I had to miss some instructional time due to individual dietitian appointments, my normal lesson plans had to be altered so it was sub-ready, which meant the usual interactive lecture-discussions were nixed.
I was beginning to feel like a failure in all areas of my life.
After a few weeks of this group-appointment-group cycle and enduring these side effects, I realized that the help I was seeking from this dietitian (while it may be good for those individuals who need a lot of structure and planning because they are at an extremely low weight and need constant monitoring) was in fact debilitating my REAL LIFE. I couldn’t be a mother because I was constantly tired from lack of sleep. I couldn’t teach because, well, I physically wasn’t in the classroom. I couldn’t be a wife because I wasn’t at home.
To give my former dietitian some credit, she is quite successful at helping adolescent gals and guys find a place of weight stability. Since there are not many eating disorder specialists in the state, she is one whom many turn to for advice and help, and during monthly family support groups I routinely hear parents say she was THE REASON their child was able to find a place of recovery. I know that what the dietitian does with her clients–twice weekly food groups, close monitoring of food logs, hour long individual appointments once (or maybe twice or three times) a week–produces results, namely weight gain. Her approach to how to handle eating disorder recovery is aggressive but is one widely accepted method of healing.
Although I was in need of some weight gain, I was in a different space mentally and emotionally than many of her adolescent patients. Yes, I still battled the eating disorder voice when the rules I had about food and exercise regurgitated itself through my consciousness, yet I was in a much more reasonable and sane place than in years past and could actually pinpoint that sinister voice and eradicate it from my thoughts through the power of prayer. Similarly, my outward actions were much different than the warped behavior patterns I participated in while at an extremely low weight. Case in point: prior to undergoing the barrage of food groups and individual appointments, I broke up with a weightlifting coach and his programming because the intensity of his training was wrecking havoc on my body. On the food front, I would buy for myself my favorite cookie from the Cookie Corner because I wanted to. Just because. And then I ate it. I knew that rest was just as important as work, and so I made myself a bedtime, and even if I had stairs to vacuum or papers to grade, I put everything aside to get in bed. Since healthy relationships are also key in helping a person be connected to others, I scheduled date nights with my husband so that we could bond without the children. Spiritually, I knew that Jesus was the one true healer and Lord of my life, and so I sought Him out daily in prayer.
I did all of these things prior to seeing the dietitian, and basically looked to her as another means of support in my weight gain journey. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually I was in a much better place than when I had majorly relapsed years and years ago. Was I perfect? No. But I was definitely in need of a different type of support than what the dietitian I was seeing offered. But then the bigger question remained: Where would I find this support? I still wanted to be bigger and gain more weight, but I needed someone to point me in the right direction so that when I did put more pounds on my body, I could do so without hampering my quality of life.
Low and behold, I eventually DID find that support. In my next post, I’ll share more about the steps I took to find that support, and how my life has positively changed as a result.