With it being Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2016 (#EDAW2016) I thought it only right to post a blog on the subject. There has been little posted answering often the scariest and most personal of questions in regards to the physical aspects of recovery. Therefore, having gone through recovery from anorexia myself, I hope by being honest this may help those fighting through recovery at the moment to know that you are not alone and there is a light at the end of what seems like an eternal tunnel.
If you do not or have not suffered from an eating disorder, such as anorexia, you may be thinking that surely the physical side just means gaining weight and then everything will be fine again. To an extent this is true as to be healthy and achieve full recovery you have to achieve a healthy weight. However, there is more to the actual weight gain due to the complex, often irrational fears and unknowns that occupy the mind of sufferers.
So this is why firstly I am going to focus on weight despite this being a sensitive issue for sufferers and often shied away from when speaking about recovery – a standing on egg shells free zone…
The main question I used to worry about excessively as I was having to face the fear of eating and the fear of gaining weight everyday to achieve a healthy weight was what will I look like once I am at the correct weight?
The harsh truth is gaining weight is the most important thing, especially at extremely low weights and therefore it has to go on in the most efficient form. And yes, this does mean a bit of body fat. Yup, this is probably one of your biggest fears as a sufferer but it cannot be avoided, however much you or your anorexia may be thinking you are different, it is simple science. After five months in hospital and very little exercise, however much I had hoped and thought maybe once I was at the weight I needed to be I would be toned and have the perfect athletic figure – I didn’t. But I was in a position to start to lead a normal life as the imposed controls from being institutionalised, confined to doctors rules and parents started to be lifted. This was only the start of recovery for me but it was essential.
However scary gaining some body fat may be you have to remember once you are at a healthy weight there is no way you can be overweight or fat as by definition a healthy weight is a BMI 18.5-25 – which is not the FAT range (>25). Secondly, to gain muscle and create tone you need fat to convert and a fully functioning body to work with. Why do you think when trying to tone up and build muscles in the offseason bodybuilders, fitness models etc. go through bulking phases?
What helped me focus on gaining and maintaining the correct weight was remembering why I was trying and wanting to recover, this became a powerful tool to battle my anorexic thoughts. I (me, me) knew that I could not perform in my sport without the correct fuel and strength. Yes, sometimes I lost that fight in my head (to anorexic me), but more and more I (real me again) began to win and I started coming back stronger and stronger. Like any goal if you maximise the good days and minimise the bad you will win in the end (1+1-1= still equals a positive).
So however scary the thought is that you have to gain weight and not be how you thought remember nothing lasts forever, time will pass and boy will it be worth it. In time you will realise you look a whole lot better than you ever did when you were ill – even if your anorexia is denying that right now as you read this – I promise the real you, this is true.
The second thing I am going to write about is the harsh reality of still not having my period which I am actually having to face now. Despite having been recovered for over four years and living a great life as a triathlete, being a healthy weight with no food rules, I am scared that four years on something I have ignored will mean I have to face some consequences of my past all over again. To be honest this is bloody scary.
Once again this is a touchy subject and I guess a taboo but this probably why for so long I actually wasn’t that concerned. So that is why I am going to walk straight over all those egg shells again and blog away.
Everywhere I googled about the link with athletes and amenorrhea it didn’t really have much information if you are now a healthy weight, eating normally and recovered, just focused on the still suffering and restricting view in athletes. As it wasn’t talked about that much I just thought maybe it is normal as a female endurance athlete and therefore just ignored it. It wasn’t till I emailed someone recently about it as I once again scratched my head at another issue arising did I actually understand the true consequences that could arise of not having a real period for over seven years. And yes the doctors tell you about the link of weak bones etc. when suffering from and eating disorder however often your anorexia lets you believe it will not happen to you. I naively thought that once I was recovered and maintaining a healthy weight this concern was gone as everyone stopped discussing it.
This is all very new and I am still trying to understand how best to tackle this and ignore all the what-if questions. All I can do is remain positive, deal with the blood tests, scans and current injury. Luckily I have some amazing people helping me, keeping me together mentally and physically so in the end I know this will just be a short, hard ride in what will be an even better, healthier, athletic life.
Therefore, I really push current female sufferers or those who may mirror my experience to not ignore this, you are no different and this is a concern. Also why make the regrets and disappointments of your past come back with more worries and doubts. One thing I was told when recovering that has stayed with me and shaped many choices now is: Do it now to minimise the regret that comes with not having done it sooner.
As always I hope this not only brings reassurance and reality to those who are suffering but also awareness to others that it is never as simple as it seems.
The charity I am currently volunteering for, ABC, supports sufferers in recovery by being an ear to listen to concerns and worries, if you are needing more support at this time I recommend getting in touch with them. Alternatively, feel free to message me through my contact page if you have any questions – as always I will try and be as honest as I can be.
Lots of love,