Friday, June 28, 2013

The Dreaded Weight Gain Process


One of the most common questions I get about my recovery is how I forced myself to gain the weight. Without a better answer, I usually just tell people I was in treatment and did not have a choice. With my treatment team watching my every move, I felt as though I had to gain the weight or there would be serious consequences.

If I am being honest here, the weight gain was the absolute worst part of my recovery. I hated every second of it. Gaining the 2-3 pounds per week prescribed by my treatment team was torturous at times. Each day after we finished dinner, I would have to sprawl out on the floor, lay there with my protruding belly, and pray I would not feel that full forever.

Without supervised meals and support from the other patients, I would not have been able to gain the weight. When I hear about people recovering and gaining weight on their own, I am blown away by the amount of courage and willpower that must take. Not only was the weight gain process scary, but the body also goes through some drastic changes that I was not expecting. If my treatment team had not been there to constantly remind me that these changes were normal, I would have easily fallen off the wagon.

First, after a long period of depletion and dehydration, the body begins to retain water. Some patients experience 7-20 pound weight gains within the first week alone, all of which is water weight. After the body realizes it will not be in dehydration mode any longer, it can then properly digest those liquids, relieving the initial bloat. 

Before the true weight gain process begins, however, the body uses the first calories it receives to begin repairing the heart, skin, nails, kidneys, brain, ext. After the initial water weight shock, it is actually quite difficult for some patients to gain weight due to excess number of calories needed. Many patients believe that if they up their caloric intake to 1500-2000 then they will start to gain weight, but that isn't necessarily true.

 The body goes into what is called hyperactive metabolic state, which means the metabolism works in overdrive around the clock. During this stage I remember having really bad night sweats (actually I was sweaty all the time ha) and I was always hungry no matter how much food I was forced to eat. Although I did not understand what was going on with my body at the time, both the sweating and the return of the appetite are both signs the metabolism is working again - which is a very good thing. 

However, it is important to keep in mind that in order to actually gain weight, calories need to be quite high. In my experience, the closer I got to my goal weight, the harder it was to keep gaining. I had continuous calorie increases throughout the weight gain process.

Also, those trying to gain weight on their own go through a period where they experience 'extreme hunger.' No matter how many calories are consumed, thanks to the hyper-metabolic state, feelings of hunger are incredibly persistent. Patients are often unfamiliar with hunger pangs, which can lead to guilt, anxiety, and then binging. It is not uncommon for anorexia patients to go through a period of bulimia during recovery.

The worst part of the weight gain process for me was the uneven distribution of weight. When eating disorder patients begin gaining weight, it all goes to the stomach and face. We always joked about our 'pregnant bellies' in treatment; we all had these tiny little bodies with protruding bellies. With time and consistent eating habits, thankfully, the weight does redistribute more evenly.

Digestive problems are another huge complaint of those in the early stages of recovery. Without going into too much detail of my own digestive issues, let's just say things don't move very quickly - if you catch my drift. Patients experience significant intestinal discomfort and often do not regulate for weeks or even months. 

A few other complications I have not mentioned are "refeeding" syndrome, sleep disturbances, nausea, zero energy, and an endless list of psychological disturbances. Again, it is difficult for me to fathom gaining this weight and going through all of these bodily changes without my treatment team. I cannot put into words the level of respect I have for those of you recovering on your own. Hopefully this list won't scare you away from weight gain, but help prepare you. 

The good news is, this weight gain process does not last forever. I always reminded myself that if I could get through that phase, I knew I was strong enough to get through the rest of it. My thought processes and mental functions have improved immensely since reaching my maintenance weight. Eventually I began to see the number of positives that came along with the weight gain outweighed the negatives.

It's hard for me to believe that I have been at my goal weight for nine months now. Yes, I do struggle with body image some days, but I know that losing weight is simply not worth it because I would have to go through the dreaded weight gain process all over again.

Progress.

41 comments:

  1. This is EXACTLY what I needed to read today <3

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  2. Kelsi,
    I stumbled across your blog and I must say, this post really resonated with me. I am going to be going into treatment soon, and the idea of weight gain terrifies me. I completely agree with what you said about going through the process without having the reassurance and support of a treatment team. Yes, it is hard to think that in the moment, one will constantly be gaining weight, but on the other hand, going through an uncomfortable process is the road towards living a happy, healthy life.

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    1. Julia,
      It is a scary time, but it is so worth it in the long run. Best of luck with treatment. My parents dropped me off kicking and screaming, but I was ready to move in by the time I was discharged. I hope you find that entering treatment was the best decision you ever made. It sure was for me! xx

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  3. oh man I can relate. I am so happy I did it within a treatment center, even though my treatment center was quite unique in their approach - it honestly was the only way I could do it. for so long I said i want to gain weight my way. that got me no where. treatment was hard to commit to but in the end saved me and gave me the true path to recovery, weight gain and all

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    1. Yes! I always thought I could do it 'my way' too, but the changes were never made. No matter what weight gain approach is taken, chances are we won't like it, so it's best to trust the pros.

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  4. I am one of those who asked you about this common question :) And, time to time, you gave me pieces of your story, and you don't know how much comfort you gave me. As I have tried to gain weight without going to any treatment center (I don't think my weight was low enough to be diagnosed to be anorexia, and I kind of refused to go), your words have helped me so much. I am at a stage of "I don't want to gain more...". I believe that I am at a border of "minimum healthy weight" for my height. The thing is that my anorexia period was after 30 years old, I kind of know what would be my normal weight as an adult considering my gene and nationality. Or, NOT! That's where my mind goes. I don't really know if my disease is telling me that this is enough... I think that you did absolutely the right thing that you let the treatment center handle the situation, because they know better. It's hard to trust. You are my role model! xoxo

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    1. I think I was in that "I don't want to gain anymore" phase for like 5 months haha. It's just one of those things that you have to push through, which is what you have been doing whether you see it or not! Keep it up, Kyoko. And role model? hahaha that's a scary thought! :)

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  5. Kelsi - You are awesome. I love how you can get our thoughts/worries on paper. You inspire me so much. Love you!

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    1. Thank so much, Hils. Miss & love you, too! Hope you're doing great <3

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  6. Thank you for writing this. I am currently going through the whole weight gain thing, however by myself. I hate it. I feel horrible most of time (hence my lack of work on my blog) and feel like crying. I am also nearly back at my starting weight which panicked me and my clothing getting tighter really sends me into hysterics. But I know I need to work on my mental attitude for this to eventually be okay.

    I just need to power through it and knowing others have gone / are going through it oddly makes me feel better.

    Kelsi, I may not always comment but I always read your blogs and you are a true inspiration and save me from a lot of nights crying about how far I have come / have left to go!

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    1. Chloe - don't beat yourself up for not being able to focus on much else right now. When I was gaining the only thing I had energy to do (mentally and physically) was eat. Take all the time you need. Like I said in this post, I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to gain the weight on your own. You are such an inspiration to me and to many others I'm sure. Getting close to your goal weight is scary, but your body and mind will adjust. Be patient with yourself and the process.

      It's almost unreal for me to read the nice things you said about reading my blog. I am not different than you. We are in this together. The recovery process is awful at times, but I really do mean it when I say it is possible and it is worth it. Keep up the good work! <3

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  7. Thank you so much for this post. I am one of those trying to regain on my own after many years of AN. I've been weight-restored three times in the past but have never made any progress mentally, so I am scared that that will happen again this time...but this is the first time I am truly motivated to get better, so hopefully it will be different?...eek. I've been through so many bad experiences with therapists and hospitalizations that I completely lack trust in any health professional, and have pretty much run out of options (I'm not from the US and there aren't that many clinicians that specialize in EDs where I am). In a way I'm excited about doing this on my own because I feel like I'm taking control of my recovery in a way I never have before. But it is so hard, and I wish I could have a treatment team or even one therapist or dietitian that I could trust. I get so scared that I'll do this 'wrong' somehow and completely screw myself up (even more!). Anyway sorry for the long comment - I've never commented before but I check your blog every few days because I find your posts wise and reassuring and I really look up to you. So thank you!

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    1. You're very welcome and thank you so much for your kind words! Everyone's recovery process is different. Take what you have learned from the past 3 times you have been weight restored and use it to fight your ED this time around. I think it's AMAZING that you are doing this on your own and continuing to fight without much professional help. Regardless of your treatment team (or lack there of), recovery is about YOU. There is no right or wrong way to recover, so if you do slip up, learn from it and keep going. Best of luck to you!! <3 xx

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  8. Hi! I needed to read this. Explains so much as I'm trying to gain weight alone. Initially I gained 15 lbs. I was so scared but now I know its just water weight especially since that number has evened out. But I wanted to ask is it common to be nauseous after eating anything other than veggies and most fruits? If I eat anything else my tummy hurts for hours, not to mention the slow digestion. I never went through bulimia phase but I do struggle with bingeing some now. Is that normal? Will it go away? I feel like I couldn't be anorexic if I binge sometimes. And my "binges" aren't technically extreme binges. They seem that way to me who restricts, but sometimes I'm hungry and tell myself "just a piece of fruit" and then I get to the kitchen and without thinking I've eaten salad, and cereal, and peanut butter and chocolate. Not HUGE quantities but enough to feel very full and so so very guilty and ashamed. Is that normal? I feel like I can't get treatment because of it. Because any doctor would just laugh at me for thinking I need help when I do that.
    Also, I never had the hyper-metabolism thing. Is that uncommon? Although just thought of this...maybe that's what the bingeing is? I don't know...
    Anyway, sorry this is so long. Thank you for sharing your story!!!

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  9. Hi there!
    Lots of good questions, thanks for asking. I'm not a professional, so I can only speak from my experiences but I will do my best. Feeling nauseous is something many ED patients deal with once they begin eating different foods/higher quantities but your body will adjust. Slow digestion is the WORST. It takes time for your metabolism to work itself out and unfortunately you just have to be patient until things start moving along again.

    Binging is a difficult one. When you start feeding you body again, you will feel hungry more often. I know it seems like it should be the opposite way around, but your metabolism does start working once you begin eating, which causes that hunger. Your body is so starved that your brain will tell you to binge. I know that guilty feeling is no fun, but just remember that it does take quite a few more calories to actually gain weight. What you are experiencing with the binges is very normal. It breaks my heart to think your doctor would laugh at you for something like that.

    The hyper-metabolism thing only happened to me when I was on higher calories and in the middle of my weight gain. It might have to do with the speed in which you are trying to gain weight. I was trying to gain 2-3lbs a week so I was constantly eating, leading to the hyper metabolic rate.

    I found this website to be really helpful. It's a little lengthy, but it's full of great info. http://www.youreatopia.com/blog/2012/11/23/phases-of-recovery-from-a-restrictive-eating-disorder.html

    Congrats on gaining 15lbs on your own! That's AMAZING and takes so much strength. Keep it up! Now it's my turn to apologize for such a long response. :) xx

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  10. Hi Kelsi !

    I'm a big fan of your blog and you're definitey my #1 recovery inspiration. I've been following you for months now, but I've never dared to leave you a comment till today (I don't even know why, because usually I'm not shy ... maybe I'm just impressed, haha !).

    I've been fighting AN for the last 18 years (since I was 9/10 years old). Since last month I have been trying to gain weight for the second time in my life and I'm on my own because unfortunately there isn't any ED-specialized facilities in the country where I live. So this post really hit home for me !

    Do you have an email adress where I can write you and ask for some advice ? If you don't mind of course, I don't want to bother you.

    Anyway, keep going, you're such an inspiration and reading your blog always cheers me up ! :D

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    1. Hi Sonia!

      Goodness, thank you so much for your kind words. I can't even imagine how difficult it is to be fighting this without ED-specialized facilities in your area, but I'm glad that's not stopping you from getting better! I would love for you to email me - kelsibelle6@hotmail.com. Looking forward to hearing from you! :)

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    2. Thank you so much Kelsi ! I've just sent you an email :)
      Hope to hear from you soon !

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  11. Somehow i managed to gain about 15lbs on my own and now i´m at a healthy weight. my biggest fear is gaining more weight because i dont know where it will go. how did you get to your personal ideal weight so that you could maintain it and how did you do that ? do you eat intuitively ? And now i know where that night sweat came from :D
    xx

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    1. Great job on gaining 15lbs, Manyara! That could not have been easy. My treatment team set my goal weight for me based on my pediatric charts. While I was in treatment, we used the calorie counting system (which I know is different than most). I'm still in the process of getting myself away from that, but learning to trust my hunger/fullness cues has been tricky. Not knowing where the weight is going to go is one the scariest parts of the weight gain, but just keep in mind that it will redistribute over time. At first my weight went straight to my stomach and my cheeks. Over the past 6-9 months it has evened out and is much more proportional. Everyone is different, so whatever method you finds works for you is the best one! Best of luck. <3

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    2. Of course it wasnt easy but i wasnt as horrible as i imagined it. most of the time my body image is better than i thought it would be.i was pretty lucky when it came to weight redistribution. i was surprised when after 4 weeks when i had gained half of the weight it started to even out and went from my stomach to the other parts of my body. the rest of the weight i gained so far was pretty proportional and matching my body type. now my stomach is not perfectly flat but "normal" . but i think its not common the redistribution is so fast. <3

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    3. That is great! I'm very happy to hear it worked out that way for you. :)

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  12. Is it normal to be eating well over 3000 calories a day? I'm 3 weeks into recovery, female, 17 years old. The weight gain is quite visible but i havent weighed myself. And must i cut down to maintainence calories after being weight restored, but with no return of my menstrual periods?

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    1. Yes, I would say 3000+ calories is normal. And yes, you will most likely cut down on calories once you hit maintenance. Everyone is different, so it's hard for me to predict where you maintenance calories would be. Your period will return when your body is ready. Often patients get their period back when they are weight restored, but sometimes it takes longer than that for the body to regulate. Have patience with yourself - you will get there! xx

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  13. I think all of the weight gain went to my upper arms and stomach. I am trying not to panic, but is it possible to really gain so much visible weight in my arms just after 2 weeks into recovery? I eat around 4000kcals a day, and not exercising. I just feel so horrible! Or is this simply water weight?

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    1. There is a good chance it is just water weight because you are only 2 weeks in, but it's also important to keep in mind that your brain is still HIGHLY distorted. During the entire weight gain process you will see yourself as being larger than you actually are. As you continue to recover, you will be able to see things more clearly. Just give it time and remember that what you see in the mirror isn't always real. Those unhealthy voices tell you they are, but with time you will learn not to listen to them. Give it time and keep fighting! <3

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    2. Alright, thank you so much!! I never really thought that I would be suffering from body dysmorphia or something, but i will do my best to keep eating and gain back the weight. Thank you once again!!! <3

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    3. And the weight will redistribute over time. I also gained weight in my stomach first, but after about 6-8 months at my maintenance weight I noticed a huge difference. Give it time, give it time, give it time. :)

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  14. when were you able to stop the 3,000+ calories?

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  15. Hi there. I was just wondering... Does everyone go into the hyper-metabolic state? And what amount of calories per day initiates it?

    Also, how much weight did you gain in your first 2 weeks of recovery? I've gained like 5 lbs, and while I WANT to gain weight, I don't know if I can keep doing 5 lbs. a week! It's a little much for my psyche honestly. Still not used to/comfortable with recovery.

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    1. I did go into hyper-metabolic state. At my highest I was at 5800 per day lol. But I know a lot of girls start out at 3000 and then move their weight up. My metabolism is just super high, so don't worry! So sorry for the late response!!

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  16. Please help. I'm suffering from anorexia and trying to recover but I'm in a similar situation were I've gained 2lbs in 2 days. I was wondering if you keep eating does the water weight come of and you go back to your original weight and then start gaing 'real' fat or does it stay ,thank you so much

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  17. hey there, sorry for the late response...
    yes, the immediate weight does go away. that is totally water weight. please keep up the good work! you might not get back down to your original weight, but you will even out at a healthier weight. pleeeeeaseee hang in there!!!

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  18. This was beautiful and well written. I just found your blog today. Thank you for sharing all of this about your recovery. It truly is inspiring to read about people who are overcoming eating disorders. you are an inspiration and your story can help change lives. thank you for being so courageous. Stay strong gorgeous!<3

    riseaboveitmissions.weebly.com

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    1. Thanks so much!!! And so sorry for the super late response. Hope you are well!

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  19. This is an awesome blog! I was looking for resources on weight redistribution, because as a recovering anorexic, I am a bit freaked out about my "food baby." This blog really helped! You are an inspiration, I am going to follow your blog as I continue my recovery. :) <3

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    1. Aww, thanks so much! Keep up the good work. I know its hard while you are gaining weight, but it does get easier with time. Thank you for inspiring me to keep writing! <3

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