It’s the elephant in the room that no one likes to talk about.
It’s one of the things that TOTALLY FREAKED ME OUT.
It’s one of the things that has been the biggest hurdle for me in this (and all of my previous attempts at) recovery.
It is the “pregnant belly.”
If you are wondering, no, I’m not with child (and am not planning on it, ha ha). But there comes a time during the re-feeding stage of eating disorder recovery when the nutrition one eats seems to accumulate around one’s midsection–basically, the body is unsure if famine will happen again and so stores all of the pancakes and burgers and cookies around the belly to ensure that the vital organs get the energy needed to repair any damage that was done. Also, digestion is slowly ramping back to optimal levels, so in general, food takes longer to go through the system and ends up emptying from the digestive tract at a slower rate than normal. As a result, the meals that a person eats is held in reserve around the stomach.
It makes sense, if you think about it. I mean, if I was lost in the desert and not given any water for days on end, and then was handed a tall glass of ice cold Evian, I’d gulp that thing down and ask for more. Then the next time I go out for a trek in the Sahara, you’d bet that I’d be carrying around a Hydroflask the size of my head, filled to the brim with H20. Thus, the same can be said about someone in recovery from a restrictive eating disorder and food. The body starts eating all of the pies and cakes and donuts it craved while malnourished, and then starts holding on to all the calories eaten because it’s unsure if it will be fed again anytime soon. The body’s main goal is survival, and the nutrition acquired in recovery will initially need to be used to keep the main organs operating and running. The whole refeeding process is similar to animals who store food for winter, but in my instance, rather than horde across and nuts, the yummy bagels and ice cream and pizza I eat accumulates around my stomach so that my liver doesn’t die out and my body is prepared with nutrition in case I start restricting again.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Uh, Lauren, you are imagining this pregnant belly thing. You are still quite small.” There is truth in that the way I see/saw certain parts of my body is/was through the lens of an eating disorder (way back when, I imagined my almost nonexistent butt as incredibly large), but this “pregnant belly” idea is steeped in fact. There are a lot of great blog articles, scientific studies, and technically sound evidence as to why this physical phenomena happens, and me being the intellectual that I am, I love reading articles describing all of the “whys” and “hows” of the process. Although all of these write ups make perfect sense to my rational brain, this knowledge still dosen’t make living with the belly any easier. And for someone who has been hung up on getting “abs” for the past twenty-ish years of my life, seeing my once flat stomach suddenly balloon up over the past two weeks has greatly increased my anxiety.
The fact that I’m writing this post doesn’t mean I don’t want to continue recovery or that the “pregnant belly” will thwart my path to wellness like it did previously. My husband remarked that one of the reasons I was never FULLY recovered was for this very reason: I’d start getting the rounded belly, freak out, and then restrict food. And then exercise like a madwoman to whittle down the softness to return to a hardened physique.
I don’t want to go down this same road again.
Sin truth, this post is meant to say that yes, my stomach is getting rounder. It is protruding out more than normal. But rather than look at this change as disgusting or awful, it is instead a sign that I am healing, that I am becoming healthy and womanly and strong and the person God created me to be. It is a sign that I am taking the right steps towards recovery, and although I don’t know what my body will look like in the end, it’s ok.
I am quite positive right now. I am motivated and unabashedly letting my stomach go. But I know that there will be road blocks and obstacles.
I am anticipating people asking me if I’m pregnant or giving me a double-take when they see my once thin physique has given away to a much more softer, fuller, and rounder frame. The imagined stares and comments I may receive was one of the biggest pitfalls to me previously fully giving in to the rounded belly. How am I getting around this one? Well, basically IDGAF. Harsh, I know. But if someone judges me and doesn’t like me because I have a stomach, well, that’s just dumb. I know who my friends are. I know who loves me. And those people would actually applaud my “pregnant belly” instead of telling me to cinch my waist.
I am also anticipating the anxiety that is produced when I feel my clothing brushing up and around my stomach. I hate that waist bands of pants that were once loose are now cutting into the area by my belly button. When I sit, the elastic scrunches up and leaves red marks. It’s uncomfortable and makes me want to crawl out of my skin. The solution? I bought new flowy dresses and higher waisted pants so that there will be nothing constricting my belly.
Most importantly, I’m just letting go. I am physically letting it go. I didn’t realize that I would actually hold my stomach in all day. Similar to how some people clench their jaw when tense, I’d suck in my gut when I got up from sitting. I’d suck in my gut when I was walking around. I’d suck in my gut when I walked by a mirror. It’s not so much WHEN I was sucking in my gut–the question is when was I NOT sucking in my gut. Well, that is no longer. A few days ago, I decided to just let my belly go. It is just out there, a symbol of my commitment to full recovery. If it hangs, it hangs. If it’s free, it’s free. It just is.
Ultimately, I know that the belly weight will redistribute, but that will happen a long time from now and after my periods have normalized. And I’m ok with that. Because a few months of uncomfortableness with a “pregnant belly” is a heck of a lot better than spending more years steeped in food rituals, exercise rules, and an anorexic mind. Have you had to deal with the “pregnant belly” in recovery? How did you deal with it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!