Tuesday, 13 March 2018

How to Deal with Weight Gain // Eating Disorder Recovery #5

Hello lovely people,

Welcome to the 5th instalment in my Eating Disorder Recovery series. Today I want to talk about dealing with weight gain in recovery. This is not only applicable to those who have eating disorders that involve weight loss, or indeed solely people who are in eating disorder recovery. We are all subject to social conditioning that leads us to believe that weight loss is inherently good and that weight gain is inherently bad. Furthermore, weight gain is so often seen as a personal failure and a sign of negligence.

When I began my physical recovery, I didn't even think about weight gain, which sounds silly, but it's true. I suppose that I was so preoccupied with the relief (physically, emotionally) that came with eating more that my weight gain came as a complete shock. I thought I could recover without gaining weight. Moreover, I thought I could recover whilst still restricting i.e. whilst still following all the rules of my eating disorder.  I was convinced that I was eating far too much food anyway, so that when I began to gain weight, I didn't even realise that I had been restricting in the first place. That's what happens when you have an ED, you lose all sense of physical hunger, instead your mind is filled with what, when and how you should and shouldn't be eating.

At first, gaining weight felt like everything was spiralling out of control, like all my 'hard work' had gone to waste. However, in actuality, what was happening was that my ED was losing control and I was gaining power. 

You don't have to have an eating disorder to experience negative feelings about weight gain.

I experienced disordered thoughts about weight gain long before I had an eating disorder. We are conditioned to believe that slim bodies are the best bodies, the only bodies that are worthy of love, care and respect. Fear of weight gain stems from this belief and also from the immensely fatphobic Western culture in which we live.

Often, destructive and harmful ideas about our bodies are drilled into us from such a young age that we don't even recognise them when we come across them in our daily lives. The message that is screaming from every tabloid, billboard, television/radio programme, gym, spa, beauty clinic and social media platform is that obtaining the 'perfect' body is an act of self care, self love and self-respect.

I call bullshit. Intentionally manipulating the way that your body looks, with the accompanying belief that your body can be 'improved' upon is nothing short of self-harm. Companies like Weight Watchers and Slimming World promise confidence, health, happiness and crucially, desirability bundled into a neat weight loss plan (sounds pretty similar to the promises of an eating disorder) which instead creates nothing but self-loathing and (most importantly) guaranteed life-long memberships.

From a feminist perspective, there is a huge pressure on women, in particular, to be considered 'desirable'. So much of our culture is viewed through the heterosexual male gaze (including magazines and tabloids aimed at women). From music videos to perfume/car adverts to movies,page three and 'rape' pornography, the objectification of women is pervasive, to say the least. We learn that to be desirable is to be thin, white, able-bodied, cis-gendered and submissive. A culture fixated on both female submissiveness and weight loss is not a coincidence. Naomi Wolf refers to dieting as a 'political sedative' and I couldn't agree more. That's not to say that eating disorders belong to a specific gender - not at all. Eating disorders do not discriminate - they have no race, gender, sexuality, size, weight or level of ability. The point I am trying to make is that systematically speaking, women's appearances are scrutinised to such an extremely high degree that body-fixation and self loathing is the norm.

Perhaps even more disturbing is the fatphobia within the health service and exhibited by health professionals. I have actually been asked by a GP, who was well aware of my ED, if I thought I had gained 'too much' weight during my recovery. I have received similarly fatphobic comments from several other health professionals. It is important to note here that my body is not even considered 'fat' by mainstream standards; I don't have to shop in the plus size section, my BMI is still considered 'healthy'. I do not experience a fraction of the abuse that people with larger bodies do. Also, the fact that BMI is still considered a reliable way of measuring health would be laughable if it wasn't causing so much harm.

Recovering from a weight-loss centred illness into a weight-loss centred culture is a bit of a head-f*ck at the best of times.

However, I want to stress here that it is so, so possible. In fact, despite all the hardships, I am grateful for what my eating disorder taught me (or more specifically, for what eating disorder recovery has taught me). If I had never developed an eating disorder, I would probably still believe all the diet culture, fatphobic, highly profitable bullshit in the world. I would still be gulping back tears in changing rooms and shivering upon hearing the amount of calories in a KitKat. I would still believe that my worth as a human being lies solely in my appearance.

So, how can I deal with weight gain in a healthy way?

The number one thing that helps me when I feel the urge to lose weight is to remember this: I was not happy at a lower weight. Weight loss didn't work. I didn't feel more confident or more loved or more respected. I felt like a shell of myself.

No wonder I feel the urge to diet, to over-exercise, to lose weight in order to feel better about myself. All things considered, it's hardly surprising when weight-loss is being prescribed as the universal cure for everything. It's no wonder that I blame myself, and see myself as the problem - that's what sells. But guess what, I am not the problem and neither are you. Eating disorders do not occur within the vacuum of our personal lives and when we place them within a wider, cultural context, it is not difficult to see why we use eating behaviours as a coping mechanism.

Remember this:

You do not exist to be considered 'desirable' by warped cultural standards or by anyone at all.
You exist to desire - people, places, food, art, music, friendship, nature etc..
Your purpose in life is not, was not and will never be to lose weight.
You are a whole person with so much to give to the world. You are precious - remember that.

What can I do?

1) Diversify your social media feed - fill it with fat bodies, Black bodies, queer bodies, disabled bodies, unedited bodies, Asian bodies, bodies with scars, acne and stretch marks. Begin to undo the internalised fatphobia and desirability conditioning within yourself.

2) Detox your wardrobe - get rid of clothes that no longer fit you. Know that you are beautiful no matter what size(s) you are. You can gain weight and still be absolutely smoking hot - just sayin'.

3) Let yourself grieve your eating disorder - it's OK to miss your eating disorder sometimes and the illusion of control and validation it provided.

4) Create healthy coping mechanisms that make you feel loved, respected and cared for. It could be going to therapy, switching off your phone, lying down in a dark room, ringing a friend, having a bath or something as simple as forgiving yourself and understanding that none of this is your fault (for lots more self-care ideas click here).

5) Keep going -it gets easier, I promise.

And now, for your viewing pleasure: me, wearing clothes/smashing diet culture (and the patriarchy).

Crop Top: Topshop
Cardigan: Fatface
Trousers: TK Maxx

Chelsea Boots: Vintage
Necklace: Oliver Bonas
Velvet Scrunchie: Boots

I hope you have enjoyed this post and that you found it comforting - making peace with your body takes time - be sure to give yourself that time.

Remember to follow this blog on bloglovin and like the Facebook page - you know the drill.

Click here for more eating disorder recovery posts.

Until the next time,

Niamh xxx

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