A few days ago I did a post about the night sweats that I experienced from November through until February. As I changed into my 70th bed shirt of the night, I thought, what hell is going on? what’s wrong with me?
Anyway, turns out, yet again, nothing was broken. There was nothing wrong with me. Others had experienced the exact same phenomenon. I wasn’t the first, and won’t be the last, to wake up with my clothes drenched.
Reading about other people’s experiences with strange, uncomfortable recovery phenomenon, including night sweats, normalised them for me. As well as this, the explanation (that night sweats were down to the body being ineffective at dealing with energy) gave me hope. I thought if I push through this, and my body becomes effective, it won’t happen anymore. And guess what? It doesn’t. Ever.
There are loads of things which happen in recovery which are pretty scary, awkward and uncomfortable. I’m writing this to reassure you that you aren’t experiencing and struggling with something that countless others have not also been through and come out the other side of. Preparedness of the probable can help prevent a freakout, and perhaps a full-blown relapse.
If anybody reads this and said “oh few, I thought I was the only one”, I’ll be so pleased. Tolerating the uncertainty is a critically important recovery tool, and I think for me, understanding the processes and knowing it would pass helped a lot.
Just for ease, this blog post is just going to be about the physical aspects. There’s so much to say about the psychological aspects of recovery that aren’t often spoken about, that it probably deserves its own post entirely.
I hate blog posts which have a massive introduction and don’t just get on with it, whoops, but I just want to clarify I’m no doctor, so all the info below is from evidence within sources I trust and have found to be accurate to my experiences.
Anyway, here we go, finally…
“Weight restoring superfast. It feels like it takes months or years for everybody else.”
When I drive around, literally nobody seems to use their indicators. They turn at the last minute without warning. Does that mean that I should too? Is that safe?
Now, if I put that unmetaphorically and bluntly: drop the comparison. It does not matter what everybody else is doing. After all, the people you are comparing yourself are still struggling, and ‘in recovery’. At the start of recovery, it is common for weight gain to be fast, this is predominantly due to suppressed metabolism and the fact that your body is holding onto anything it can (including water- which I’ll talk about later).
Weight restoration can be be a very quick process. It is only your ED and the fear it motivates that makes the dragged out, slow approach option seen better. Regardless of your judgement about that, it is the best way as according to science.
If I had followed methods ‘everybody else’ seems to on Instagram, for example having 2 Weetabix with soya milk for breakfast, I would not be where I am right now. I’d be starving, still scared of all food and trapped in the illness. Remember: being ‘in recovery’ for eternity is not desirable. As soon as any risk of refeeding syndrome is cleared, ‘superfast’ is good.
The ‘Low and slow’ approach used to be the recommended treatment advice. Now, this has been turned on its head. Countless studies, (e.g Garber, 2013), strongly recommend a more aggressive and faster-refeeding protocol. This has been proven time and time again to lead to faster recovery and better overall outcomes. Although weight restoration is not recovered, it allows significantly improved brain function and receptiveness to any treatment. Weight restoration is the number one goal, and full neural rewiring will follow.
You cannot recover too fast, despite what your eating disorder says. You cannot recover to fast, despite what it seems like everybody else is doing.
“Rock hard stomach and swollen legs”
Edema (fluid retention) is due to previous dehydration. Dehydration occurs for many reasons: laxative or diuretic abuse; decreased intake of glucose, protein, and electrolytes; refusal to drink water; as well as excess consumption of protein or caffeine intake.
In recovery, the priority and so first step for the body to gain water weight to achieve normal hydration. This can occur suddenly and can be severely uncomfortable because the change is pretty immediate.
Of course, your eating disorder will use this as a weapon. For me, it felt like the confirmation of all of my fears. “See, this is what happens when I begin to eat!” However, I continued to allow my body to do its thing and sat through mental and physical discomfort. Slowly but surely, the puffiness and swelling seemed to go.
Although water weight is impermanent and disappears, ultimately, weight gain is not and should not be seen as a maladaptive response to increasing intake. Weight gain is a normal process and correct response to the reintroduction of food. No attempt should be made to micromanage or investigate why it’s happening. It must be accepted.
“IBS type symptoms/bloating/gas”
It is extremely common to suffer from gas, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, acid reflux, frequent bowel movements, ingestion in recovery. The solution to all of them: continuing to eat through the discomfort and allowing rest. Cutting out foods is not the answer.
There are loads of explanations for IBS type symptoms, here are some:
When you have been eating limited types of foods, your stomach seems to almost forget how to process them. This can create temporary intolerances. Do not take an at-home intolerance test. They are absolute bullshit on a stick. Solution: eat.
Your cells constantly make general repair work on your entire body. This is less of a priority compared to keeping your heart beating. Therefore, your stomach and intestines don’t receive as much maintenance during the restrictive phase. Before this system is going to work well again, repairs will have to be undertaken. Delayed gastric emptying means that you may feel food sitting in the stomach a long time after eating. As soon as your body receives enough energy for regular repairs, such intense pain is less frequent. Solution: keep eating.
For many, a restricted, low-volume of food gradually leads to the shrinking of the stomach. When you start to eat again, you might feel uncomfortably full until your stomach expands and adapts to the new quantity of food. Solution: keep eating.
Restriction leads to a reduction in gut bacteria. The decrease in diversity of (good) bacteria can be reversed by: eating more.
Eating creates anxiety more most people with an Eating disorder. This places you in your sympathetic nervous system. When we are preparing for a fight or flight response, we are not designed to digest food. The body thinks, I’m going to run from that tiger (or any perceived threat, perhaps a doughnut), rather than, I’m going to get to work breaking down that pesto pasta.
Short-term, you can reaccess your parasympathetic nervous system with breathing techniques (Here’s a blog post about that #51: And Breathe)
Long-term, overall anxiety will reduce as your brain rewires. This means that your digestion will automatically happen in your parasympathetic nervous state (the rest and digest one).
If you skim read all of that and just want a quick answer, its EAT MORE despite the discomfort.
(I’ve got a whole blog post about the GI issues in case you wanted to know more! #66: GI issues and stress)
“Low sex drive”
This is due to Energy Reallocation. When there is not enough energy to properly run the body, energy gets allocated from less important processes and structures to the most important ones. Energy is delivered to muscles, organs, and tissues only as they relate to surviving, not toward optimal function.
Low libido, therefore, has a completely reasonable explanation biologically. You’re fighting to survive pal, the last thing you have the energy for is raising a child. The body stops using ‘non-essential’ energy. Sex hormones are in this category.
To get all of these non-essential things back running to their full potential, you must eat in abundance. If you want your body to do more than the bare minimum, you must eat a lot more than the bare minimum.
When energy can be spared, you will be attracted to other things than food. You’ll achieve this by unrestricted eating.
Anorexia causes muscle wastage. Degradation of the muscles used for the urinary system will make it harder to hold in wee. Muscles rebuild with adequate nutrition.
“Waking up hungry in the middle of the night”
Your body doesn’t care what time it is. Your body just wants food. It is your responsibility, as an adult in a committed recovery, to haul yourself out of bed, and go and make yourself a substantial snack. I did this several times and eventually, it stopped.
Whatever, how-much-ever, whenever = unrestricted eating. Don’t judge or question.
Xerosis, (dry skin), is due to deficiencies of vitamins and trace elements. It is also possibly linked to impaired thyroid function. The solution, as before, do your best to eat a range of nutrient-dense foods.
“Being restless and feeling like I have loads of energy makes me feel like I am eating enough…”
When you are underweight (under your bodies optimal weight) hormone levels that regulate tissue growth are decreased. The result of this is that more glucose becomes available for vital organs and vital movement. A malnourished body assumes that this movement is aimed toward getting food to eat – not with the goal of doing a home work out or purposely moving with the intent to burn calories.
The reason you may feel as you have more energy is due to the energy that has been allocated to those limbs to get them to work for hunting and gathering food. NOT FUCKING HOME WORK-OUTS. The fact that these activities are perhaps physically possible, does not mean they are advisable.
“Uneven weight gain”
Weight gain going to the trunk (tum) is an adaptive process occurs in order for body fat to protect and separate vital organs. Within one week of beginning fully committing, I noticed it and it terrified me. But, because I expected it this time around, it ploughed on.
This, alongside body dysmorphia and water retention, can feel excruciating. All the advice I can give here is that YOU can do hard things. You can endure discomfort. You must continue to eat.
“Wacky hunger cues”
During the weight gain phase of recovery, it’s really common for appetite to be a bit all over the place. Mine varied dramatically, with wild swings between insatiable hunger and uncomfortable fullness. Experiencing both ends of the hunger spectrum during the course of an hour isn’t just something I found to occur, it’s happened to loads of others. Many people report feeling mentally hungry and unsatisfied, despite extreme physical fullness. This all happens as the body does its best to promote eating to get out of energy deficit.
These swings are thought to be down to the body doing it’s best to ensure as much food is coming in as possible and due to the fact that food is quickly put to use.
I really hope that helped provide you with a little bit of comfort and reassurance that your body isn’t broken, or damaged, or doing something ‘wrong’. To get rid of the symptoms, or force them to pass quicker, the solution is to eat and rest. Simple in concept, but admittedly harder in practice with an active ED brain.
Here are 3 last points worth mentioning:
- What I write about it from my own experience. As always. If a particular symptom is persisting, online help, advice or guidance is no replacement for proper medical opinion. The last thing I would want you to do is avoiding seeking professional medical advice if there is an underlying cause.
- Your body tailors its response to its environment depending on what it deems safest and most appropriate for you. No recovery looks the same. You’ll have noticed that some of the symptoms directly contrast each other. This just proves the point that everybody’s bodies respond in different ways and are at varying stages. Not having a particularly common symptom is a good thing. It doesn’t invalidate you or bare any reflection on how ill you were or how desperately you need to recover.
- Overanalysing is never good. Personally, I respond and find peace in reading scientific evidence and explanations. If you don’t, that’s cool. Just as a reassuring rule of thumb, your body doesn’t do stuff frivolously. It is smart and has your best interests at heart.
2 thoughts on “#69: Taboo”
Thank you for this- just what I need to read today!
This was so helpful. I really love your approach and honesty, it has motivated me so much. Thank you x