If you are in recovery from an eating disorder and struggled with binging that led you to gain an unhealthy amount of weight, what is the best way to deal with the situation?
You’re certainly not alone in your situation, it’s a question I’ve heard many times and something I appreciate can be very difficult for people.
We sadly live in a very weight-focussed society which can make any weight gain feel horrible and suggests dieting as the only solution. It can be very tempting to set weight loss as a goal, whether for aesthetics or health reasons, however, there’s considerable evidence to suggest dieting is unhelpful at best and dangerous at worst.
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Dieting involves some level of restriction; whether this is cutting down on energy intake, excluding certain foods, or simply denying yourself foods that you find pleasurable. Whilst dieting may result in short-term weight loss, evidence suggests upwards of 95% of people will regain the weight lost, and likely gain more weight.
There is also a clear relationship between restriction, whether physical or psychological, and increased risk of binge eating behaviours. For those who are currently experiencing, in recovery from, or with a history of an eating disorder, dieting can be a very dangerous path leading to worsening behaviours or relapse.
So what’s the alternative?
I encourage you to shift your focus from weight loss to health, and when I say ‘health,’ that encompasses physical, mental, emotional, and social.
The Health at Every Size® (HAES) approach is a great paradigm that promotes healthy behaviours for all body shapes and sizes. These healthy behaviours have been shown to improve measures of health regardless of any change in weight.
As you are still in recovery, I highly recommend working with your treatment team to determine what health behaviours are appropriate for you to engage in at this point in your recovery. Two health behaviours I encourage, that also align with the HAES® approach, are intuitive eating and joyful movement.
Eating intuitively involves listening to and honouring your own needs and wants in respect to food and eating behaviours. It encourages you to consider what foods you feel like at a particular time, what foods make you feel the best, and to be in tune with your own signals of hunger, fullness, and satiety. By no means does intuitive eating suggest there is a ‘perfect’ way of eating, this will be different for everyone. Intuitive eating does take time and practice, however, it is well worth it and sustainable.
Joyful movement is a great way to look after your body and your mind as it’s associated with improved physical and mental health. There are no rules to joyful movement – find any sort of physical activity you enjoy and get involved. Aim to be respectful of your own needs, move often and allow yourself recovery too.
Addressing any body image difficulties can also be really important and I recommend you to do this with the support of a psychologist/therapist. I encourage you to buy some new clothes that you really love, that fit your body as it is right now and that you are comfortable in. Surrounding yourself with awesome body positive family, friends, and social media can also help to minimize the anxiety around weight gain and pressures to diet for weight loss.
These are some great resources:
- https://www.sizediversityandhealth.org/content.asp?id=19 https://daretonotdiet.wordpress.com/2015/09/07/even-if-theyre-fat
Intuitive Eating articles and websites:
- http://bodypositiveaustralia.com.au/2014/08/food-restriction-vs-restraint-whats-the-difference http://bodypositiveaustralia.com.au/2014/08/how-many-tim-tams-is-the-perfect-number https://honouringappetite.wordpress.com
- http://bodypositiveaustralia.com.au/2015/05/its-ok-if-you-dont-lurve-your-body https://liberomagazine.com/bodypositive/staying-body-positive
I hope this is helpful!
Jodie Mechielsen, BExSci&HM, MClinExPhys, GDipPsychSci
Disclaimer: This column is meant to serve as a safe place to ask questions and get opinions from educated professionals; but please always consult your own team before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process. Although our Experts are certified professionals in their area, their advice may not be suitable for your situation, and thus is not to be taken in place of that given by your recovery team and/or family doctor or personal therapist. Please use your own good judgment, and consult a licensed mental health practitioner for specific treatment. In the case of a crisis, please do not rely on this column, as answers may take several weeks to be published, and not all questions will be addressed. Please contact one of the Helplines listed in our Resources section if you feel you are a harm to yourself or in need of emergency support.
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