If you’re recovering from an eating disorder and are underweight, you really can’t get away from the fact that weight gain is an inevitable part of the process. It’s definitely the most ‘visible’ part, and often the element that people focus on most. At the same time, we often hear that it’s really not about the weight. It’s true that weight gain alone definitely won’t fix everything, although it may shift some of the rigidity that is secondary to ‘starvation’. But the uncomfortable truth is that for me at least, gaining weight may make some things worse, before they improve. This may not be the case for everyone, and I’m definitely not saying it isn’t worth it.
Logically, weight matters. I completely accept that the first step towards a free mind involves reaching at least the bottom end of a healthy weight range. Ideally, I’d be eating ‘normally’ (intuitively) and allow my weight to settled wherever, naturally (terrifying). At the moment, my goal is to reach the ‘target weight’ I agreed at the start of this journey. The chance of me naturally being less than that is ‘slim’. Of course part of me would like to set this target just above the cut off for an ‘anorexic’ weight range. More than this is ‘unnecessary’, right? But artificially maintaining at a too low weight, as much as it may be more comfortable, isn’t freedom to me. I know perfectly well that when you try to appease your eating disorder, however subtly, the goal posts will gradually move, until before you know it, you’re back at the beginning. I’ve spent years stuck at a bmi I wouldn’t wish on anyone I love, yet it’s felt impossible to get myself past it. I can’t argue with all the research about how the effects of starvation trap a person into a vicious cycle. So in some ways, it absolutely is about weight.
Most days, weight gain still feels completely wrong. I hate everything about the process. I hate that numbers matter, yet the idea of allowing them not to feels irresponsible and undisciplined, like I’m letting my standards slip. I struggle with the fact that my weight is now significantly higher than it’s been for years, my body has changed, yet I’m still actively working to gain more. It feels needless, greedy. I’m convinced that I will look larger at a ‘healthy’ BMI than other people, and that as I continue to gain, those around me will realise they’ve made a mistake in encouraging me. These anxieties are a tiny facet of the problem. There are other issues tied up with this too. So you see, it’s definitely not just about the weight.
I think I also feel guilty for wanting more than ‘functioning’. Some people with eating difficulties dream of being able to function to the level I do. Why should I think it’s ok to want more than that? But I also know that ‘functioning’ with anorexia really isn’t sustainable. And I’ve been pushing my luck for years. It isn’t just about physical health either, although that matters. It’s the emotional impact. I’d like to be more flexible, cope with change, freedom from the routines and anxiety around food and meal preparation. I’d like to be less drawn into the detail. I’d like freedom from the feeling of wanting to crawl out of my skin, which some days is manageable and other days feels overwhelming. Unfortunately that’s something I suspect weight gain alone won’t fix.
I’ve tried to anticipate the changes as much as I can, giving away clothes I worry will become too small or uncomfortable. I’ve bought a few items to ‘grow into’. I’ve ‘prepared’ the people around me that I’ll look different (though I definitely use less neutral terms). Being honest, I’m probably preparing myself more than them.
What I do know, is that to get to where I am now I had to take risks I didn’t really want to take. Some, I didn’t even anticipate until I started to unpick all this. If I stop now, that will all have been for nothing. I feel as though I’ve walked too far down a particular track to stop, because it will take more energy to turn back than to keep going. So if I’m honest I don’t know whether I can cope with gaining more weight. Psychologically, it feels like a nightmare. But I do know that if I don’t keep trying, I’m not even giving myself the chance. So I will.