Am I really scared of weight gain?
This is going to be more of a personal one for me I think, as over the last few days I have been thinking a lot about my relationship with weight gain and wanted to share what I've discovered. It focuses around my attitude towards my own body from both a healthy and disordered perspective, as well as exploring the role of weigh in's in ED treatment. I have tried my hardest not to make this post triggering, however please proceed with caution if you are sensitive to discussion around weighing behaviours.
A few weeks ago I made the decision to switch to blind weighing in my therapy appointments as I believed that watching the number increase was preventing me from fully committing to recovery. This is because I found it triggering, as in the depths of my ED, one of my fleeting anorexia kicks came from engaging in extreme restriction prior to a weigh in, in order to achieve the biggest loss possible. This is difficult for me to admit, as it is upsetting to see the things my ED made me do, and scary to think that it controlled me to the point whereby I didn't fight against it, even though it was hurting me and the people I love the most. There is a lot of guilt that comes with reflecting on your disordered behaviours and attitudes, however I won't discuss this now as I feel it's worthy of it's own post.
Anyway, due to the switch to online therapy sessions as a result of the lockdown, I have not ended up following through with this, as it is a requirement of my programme for my weight to be recorded weekly. Therefore, I have been stepping on the scales whilst on the phone to my therapist and reporting to her, simply because this was the most convenient option. This has been fine up until this week when I neglected to put the scales away after our session, and found myself stood back on them later that night, intrigued to see how much I'd 'gained' following eating my dinner and night snack. This shocked me as I genuinely believed I had overcome this disordered behaviour, and so to not only have the urge to do so, but to actually act on it was not something I was prepared for.
In the depths of my ED I would obsessively weigh myself multiple times a day, and even after I asked my mum to remove the scales from the house in a bid to stop, I would sneak around trying to find where they were hidden. I wouldn't stop there either... I would humilliate myself by 'trying out' the display scales in department stores, and part with money in order to weigh myself on the ones you find in the likes of service stations. I finally managed to stop and switch to being weighed clinically once a week when I made the decision to fully commit to recovery after my recent relapse. Whilst I have been doing well with this and experiencing less resulting anxiety than I had imagined, clearly I still cannot trust that my rational voice will always be stronger than my ED voice on this matter. Consequently, I shall be resuming blind weighing from this point.
This is not a decision I have made lightly, and my lack of immediate clarity around it made me question whether I was in a position to write this post. That said, I do think that my thoughts could be of some value to someone who may be in a similar position, be it in confronting their fear of weight gain, or in being taken off guard by an old ED thought.
Pre-ED Mais didn't care about weight, and asides from being unhappy about the odd bad photo, she didn't give much thought to how her body looked. For me, my ED wasn't predominantly triggered by bad body image, as whilst it did arguably come from a place of low self-esteem, this was not appearance related. My fixation with weight has only come about as a consequence of my anorexia, it was not a driving force. By this I mean that I only became aware of it, or thought to step on a scale following comments on my weight loss that resulted from my issues surrounding controlling food. That's not to say my relationship with it is not toxic now, for that is far from the truth as I've evidenced above. I just mean that none of the issues I now take with my looks, nor the fear I hold around weight gain was present when I was at a healthy weight and in a healthy mindset.
It has been upon this realisation that I have concluded that not knowing my weight will not for me, result in issues surrounding weight avoidance (something my therapist voiced as a potential concern), as from a non-disordered point of view, I simply have no interest in knowing. I think the distinction for me, is that I know I do not fear weight gain in the traditional sense, as I know that when I'm in my healthy body, I do not dislike it. Consequently, I am confident in the claim that if later in my recovery or simply later in life, I was exposed to a number on the scales, I would be okay. This is confirmed for me by the fact that even now I struggle to retain the value I see from one week to the next, and so whilst my ED might care what it sees, I simply do not. For clarity I mean that seeing the number increase does cause momentary anxiety as my ED voices the need to restrict to bring it back down, but once I have shut this thought down by applying opposite actions, I can quite easily forget the exact weight I saw. Therefore, I know it was exclusively an ED thought, and did not plague my rational mind.
A lot of ED therapies are centred around you reaching a certain BMI, which is typically 19 or 20, aka the very bottom of "healthy". I categorically disagree with this. It makes zero sense to assume that everyone suffering from an ED would naturally sit at this point as only a small percentage of the population do. BMI follows a normal distribution curve meaning that fewer people sit at the extremes: underweight and obese, and most people fall somewhere in the middle of healthy. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the goal of the minimum healthy weight would actually be a healthy weight for the majority of people undergoing ED treatment. This is why an increasing number of people are following set point theory in which you trust your body to settle within the range of weights that is natural for you.
This is something I prescribe to, as I want to be at a weight that is healthy for me and allows me to live the life I want to live, not one that is medically stable but that I'm still having to engage in restriction to maintain. Based on this, whilst I understand my weight must be monitored to keep me safe, I don't need to know it. I don't need to expose myself to the potential trigger of hitting a clinically healthy weight, causing my ED to freak out and slam the breaks on my recovery or send me into relapse. My body doesn't know about BMI and it doesn't know what a number on the scales means, it only knows when it is healthy and happy and able to do it's job. When I reach this weight my body will show me by no longer exhibiting extreme hunger, and no longer obsessing over food. The reason I'm scared of weight gain is because of how it might derail my recovery, and so if I have the option to remove that, I'm taking it.
Taking a step back I feel the need to acknowledge that due to my ED I do have anxieties around my weight that I won't be able to avoid just by not looking at the scales. My body is inevitably going to change and I know I'm going to struggle with this, as I already am. As a result of my battle with anorexia, I am not happy in my own skin, and that isn't going to magically change without me challenging the bad body image thoughts. I know I am going to have to do all the things I dread - buy new clothes to fit my recovering and eventually recovered body, watch as my underweight features disappear and stretch marks take their place, and deal with the psychological impact of no longer looking ill. None of this is going to be easy, but it is going to happen irrespective of me knowing I've gained X amount or am at Z BMI.
I genuinely believe that I am capable of resuming my body neutral if not body positive stance once I am recovered. This may seem naive, however as I know that the Mais part of my brain has no issues with my appearance, but that it's all my ED, I see no reason why I wouldn't be able to. I'm not saying by any means that my recovery will be straight forward for this reason, as in order to get to this place I am going first to have to kick my ED in it's entirety, and I don't even need to go into how difficult that will be. All I'm saying is that I feel I need to take advantage of this potential obscurity of my anorexia and use it to help tailor my recovery to me. Just because some people may benefit from knowing their weight in recovery or aiming for weight related goals, it doesn't mean everyone will, and so if any of what I've said has connected to you, maybe take a second to assess the role of weighing in your own recovery.
I hope this may have been of some use to someone out there, but whether it's something you relate to or not, I think it serves as a good reminder that your recovery journey is unique to you. I also feel that regardless of whether you chose to see your weight or not, you should bear in mind what I said about BMI. Your body knows itself better than any chart or numerical score we assign to it, so let it decide what healthy looks like for you.
More from me soon,
Mais// The Recovery Bean <3