This is a post sharing my thoughts on gaining weight after orthorexia. It’s not the easiest topic to write about but I hope to share with you some of the key positive thoughts and ideas that really resonated with me as I gained weight and grew into a healthier body.
Over a period of about 3-4 years, I lost, and then gained, somewhere around 15 kilos. Looking in the mirror these days I can hardly imagine being so underweight. It was unhealthy, and I was living an unbalanced existence, constantly exercising and making sure I never strayed from my “healthy” diet.
I’ve written about my eating disorder before, but not specifically about gaining weight after orthorexia. It’s not a straightforward topic, but I believe I’ve got some positive words to share! If you’re ready to gain weight, then maybe this long, slightly jumbled blog post is for you.
Disordered eating and exercise patterns are often driven by fear. One of the big fears is a fear of the future – what might happen if we don’t stick to our diet/exercise routine. What will happen to our bodies? Will things all fall apart?
The thing is, no matter how hard you exercise or how much you try to control your food… the future is always going to be uncertain in some respect. What truly matters is your body NOW, and right now is the time you need to be gaining weight to improve your health.
Your body is probably showing you signs that it’s ready for change. When you are over-training, under-eating, and generally putting your body under chronic stress…you are going to feel it. Your immune system tanks, and you may feel cold all the time. You might get more skin breakouts, or limp, lank hair. Your digestion may become sluggish and/or congested, leaving you prone to bloating, gas and discomfort. You may feel constantly hungry, tired, anxious and/or irritable. (If you’re female, your menstrual cycle may become irregular, or disappear altogether. )
Tune in to your body, and focus on what is best to do right NOW to feel better. Put yourself in the best position to enjoy the future – whatever that may bring.
Trust that when you start making changes, your body is going to know what to do. When I first started gaining weight, I had a fear that once it started it would just never stop. I’d start eating all of the things and I’d just get fatter and fatter…because if I was eating enough calories to put on weight, wouldn’t I just keep piling it on?
I was fearing the future, and also refusing to place trust in my body. You need to let go of fear; believe me, your body is smart. Every second, internal feedback mechanisms are working keep it in a state of balance – how much energy you need, how much of a certain nutrient you need, how much water to keep and how much to wee out. Everything. Body weight is a part of that balance; and when we try to push ourselves to stay at a weight that’s too low we throw the balance of our body out.
When you start gaining weight, your body will work toward restoring itself, including restoring itself to a weight that is healthy. (Healthy for YOU – not some unhealthy “ideal”.) Your body knows what to do!
Please know that when your body is nourished, it will function better and you’re going to have no regrets about making these amazing changes.
As your weight returns to a healthy range, your body is going to shine. Once I started gaining weight by eating a more balanced and calorie-rich diet, my body improved inside and out. I developed a shape that is right for me. As well as more energy, improved sleep, stronger thicker hair, better skin and better digestion. Truly – gaining weight is going to make you feel SO good.
When you have orthorexia you like to feel in control, and I know that feeling that once you get into a routine it’s really hard to let go. On your good days, maybe you’re super proud of this “I schedule every aspect of my life” approach. On your bad days, it weighs you down with self-imposed guilt, shame and anxiety when you haven’t done “enough”.
But you ALWAYS have a choice about what you can do. You can eat whatever you want. You can go to the beach, go shopping, go to the movies. You can hang out with your mum. Whatever. We are not on this planet to cross things off a list; it may sound silly, but remind yourself that you are free.
Your mantra: I am free to love and nourish my beautiful body however I choose.
Eating certain foods, or exercising lots, doesn’t make you a better person. Taking care of yourself can make you feel good, but types of food or exercise don’t define who you are. And food and exercise should never be applied like punishment. Take yourself out of the mindset that you’re “lazy” or “pigging out” or however you might categorise what is actually just being bloody good to yourself, and respecting your body’s needs.
One of my favourite quotes relating to this comes from when I was interviewing body image guru Madelyn Moon a few years ago. This comment was made in the context of her answering a question of what people should first consider if they are about to embark on some kind of ‘cleanse’ or ‘detox’ program (I interviewed her in January, a popular month for people embarking on such programs!). I think her words are also relevant to recovering from a restrictive eating disorder:
“I would remind people to take time every morning to remind themselves not to identify with their bodies. No matter how much weight they lose, how much food they eat in a particular day, how many calories they eat, that doesn’t mean that they’re a good or bad person because food isn’t related to morality. …don’t become all high-and-mighty because you’re ‘eating cleaner’ or this and that, because that’s not true.”
You never really know what is going on with someone else but I do worry you can be misled about what “recovery” looks like these days. There people on social media who seem to talk about recovering from an eating disorder while also promoting their intense exercise regime, flashing abs, always posing in the gym, etc.
Maybe such people have put their disordered days well behind them and are truly okay, but I have concerns about the image this projects. If you are recovering, be careful about replacing one addiction with another. Maybe “strong is the new skinny” should NOT be your new mantra. Maybe you DON’T take up HIIT or do a Whole30 just now. You’re susceptible to overdoing things, so it’s important to schedule in more rest and self-care.
And also, can we just be REAL here. If you’re really underweight and it’s having a detrimental effect on your health and wellbeing, maybe for a while you don’t need the gym at all.
Remember – focus on the NOW. Maybe in five years, you’ll be (happily + healthily) training for a marathon, who knows. But for now don’t be afraid to DO NOTHING. Or, just go for a leisurely walk with a friend! And avoid social media content that is triggering for you. If you need to delete your accounts or at least get the apps off your phone, do it.
You are a fantastic, complex, unique jumble of DNA and experiences that have shaped you into you. No one is just like you. Beating orthorexia is a personal journey. I encourage you to take time to identify your priorities, and write a positive list of all the things you are going to enjoy as you nourish your beautiful body. It could be more travel (without packing your gym gear!!), it could be taking up a new hobby, it could be starting a monthly pasta night with your mates.
Gaining weight after orthorexia is a challenge, but your rewards for persevering are so immense. Sending you love and strength,
If something in this blog post has resonated with you, I strongly encourage you to seek help if you are unsure about anything, or you just want to talk it out. Talk to a family member, friend or a professional. Some useful contact/information points (Australia-based) are the National Eating Disorders Collaboration (nedc.com.au) and The Butterfly Foundation, an eating disorders support foundation (thebutterflyfoundation.org.au).
If you would like to read my earlier blog posts on orthorexia they are here: