A few nights ago I shared an Instagram post about my little recovery wins, the ones that tend to get overshadowed by the major changes that the process brings. Shortly after I polled my followers, asking their favorite little recovery wins. I shared a handful on stories, but I’m dropping even more here…because they moved me, and they will 100% move you too.
in a society that praises weight loss, weight restoration in eating disorder recovery is nothing short of complicated. it’s one of the most daunting tasks you’ll take on because it challenges you in so many ways. it feels impossible until it’s done. there’s so much irrational fear that rises at the beginning, but staying mindful of the long-term goal is necessary for quieting that voice of doubt!
in case you needed to hear it, remember…the weight will distribute, the bloating and pain and discomfort will subside, the hunger cues will regulate. food will become less of a chore and more of a pleasure. the way you look will stop dictating your life, and you’ll find validation and happiness in the feats you accomplish that are beyond visual perception. you are strong, you will endure this process, and i promise you, you’ll find your way.
please note that it’s SO important to work closely with a medical professional during this time. your weight and your health are a serious issue and need to be addressed in a manner that matches this. i weight restored under an inpatient hospitalization program led by a team of doctors, and later i continued outpatient with my parents and an outpatient team monitoring my intake. i am NOT a medical professional and am not providing medical advice. i’m simply sharing my experience and what i learned from the process after going through it myself.
some tips for dealing with weight restoration;
power through the first two weeks.
this is arguably the scariest part of the process. it’s also the most vulnerable time to slip back, so support during these days needs to be at an all-time time. whether that support comes from your family, friends, a treatment team…anyone, anything. something to hold you accountable.
*fun fact: @healthfulradiance actually began as an eating disorder recovery food diary to hold myself accountable during weight restoration. yep! way back in the day (any OG followers remember @seekingstrongerwings? yep, that happened too). i used the instagram recovery community as a means of support. i would post my breakfast because once it was out there in the world, i felt i had to stick to it. i exposed my meals because it stripped me of my ability to hide and lie, say i ate something without ever being accountable to actually do so.
anyway, make sure you hold yourself accountable, however that looks for you. this isn’t your norm, the whole eating 4,000 calories a day thing. (i want to note here that you should be working with a medical professional to increase caloric intake in a safe and methodical way. going from eating restricted amounts of food to doubling or tripling that amount overnight can be SO harmful to your body, please take caution!!!!). but it won’t be your norm forever, you can’t see it that way. it’s your norm for right now, so the quicker you get over the shock factor that comes with it and the more you normalize it, it will get easier.
okay, so your body is changing…don’t. fixate. on. it. i know what you’re thinking, “ALL of the weight is going to my ______, what’s going on!?”. THE WEIGHT WILL DISTRIBUTE. please be patient, please trust your body, please believe in the process. when i was weight restoring i was paranoid that my stomach would just grow and grow until it quite literally exploded. the weight will find its way to the right places but it won’t be able to do that if you stand in its way. give things time.
during that grace period, move on with your life. during this time i spent a lot of time with others, as focusing on socializing kept my mind occupied. my sisters and i would take silly little day trips on weekends. i would run pointless errands with my mom, help my dad with housework, call my grandma and chat for hours (something i still do, because IMPORTANT). the more time i spent investing in my relationships and making memories, the less time i had to pick myself apart. i spent less time with myself because my judgement and attention weren’t what my body needed. my body needed food, rest, and everything else would fall into place.
no body checking!
i didn’t even know what the phrase meant until my roommate at the hospital warned me about it when i went home for thanksgiving. i remember so vividly her sitting on her bed, wishing me a safe trip to my cousin’s house, “oh, and whatever you do, don’t body check. avoid full length mirrors!”. we didn’t have any of these at the hospital. seeing one for the first time after a month would surely be triggering.
while you’re weight restoring, your body will change shape and size. this is inevitable and shouldn’t come as a surprise. this is also rationally speaking. eating disorders are irrational, and it will convince you that you’re doing the wrong thing. NOT TRUE. the best way to avoid having to confront this irrational fear is to avoid seeing it. for some time, it’s going to be DAMN HARD to look at yourself in the mirror. you’ll feel out of place, foreign, confused. this is natural and it’s okay.
i weight restored in the summer in NJ, where most days are spent in bathing suits and not much else. i knew i couldn’t spend those months holed up in my room alone. i needed to go on those beach trips, have my friends over swimming, grab ice cream for lunch. these were challenges in my recovery that would make me better. what made them manageable for me was doing them all in a baggy t shirt, aka avoiding tight clothing. when i found myself in a bathing suit, i never, ever looked in a full length mirror. body checking, no thanks!
swimming with others was extra hard because i found myself wanting to compare my body with theirs. i was always envious of so-and-so’s this or that, never happy with my own body. but what helped me work through this was constant positive self-talk. when i found my mind slipping into comparison, i made a point to step back and say, “does this matter at all to me? is this going to help me get through this recovery?”. the answer was always no. and so i was able to move on rationally knowing that i was on the better path.
use this time to really push your palate. try EVERYTHING and ANYTHING. you gotta eat, you might as well enjoy it! this time was when i really began to pick up cooking. i figured, i have to eat, why not make it fun? i cooked a lot with my parents and broke nearly all of my food rules in the process. nothing was off limits anymore. i was free to gain the weight however i wanted to. and while i initially didn’t WANT to, knowing that i HAD to gave me that extra push to try it all.
today i eat *mostly* plant-based. i don’t eat much meat (except for my dad’s sunday meat sauce and my mom’s meatballs!), i don’t eat dairy, but i do eat fish and eggs. hard to put a label on all that! nevertheless, one thing i want to make super clear is that while i was weight restoring, I HAD NO LIMITATIONS ON MY DIET. i believe i earned the right to eat the way i do today. while recovering i ate everything. i made it a point to restore my relationship with ALL foods, no limits, no restrictions. the way i eat today reflects what i’ve found to leave me feeling and functioning my best. this is because these are my CURRENT goals. while weight restoring, your only goal is to restore your health and put on however much weight is needed to do so.
again, i’m not a medical professional in any way, but i love to chime into this recovery conversation when i can. if you’re currently weight restoring, i hope these tips can prove useful to your journey! remember, all discomfort is temporary, but the rewards that come from that pain are timeless.
now what’s for dinner!?
i got my first period a week after i graduated eighth grade. i was late, but i was relieved. my two best friends at the time had been rolling up to homeroom with tampons spilling out of their backpacks since the summer before sixth grade. i always felt out of place when they’d insist we all make a trip to the bathroom during recess to “clean up”. i’d always just brush my hair and wait outside the stall. feeling young, ignorant.
so when it happened, i was over the moon. i felt like i had finally caught up, finally got it right.
only to get it wrong.
a few weeks passed and it didn’t come back. my mom wasn’t alarmed. i just got it, it’s normal not to be regular. right. normal. okay, good. it was reassuring to know that everything was fine.
but, it wasn’t.
now we’re a few weeks out following my first period. we’re also rapidly approaching the eerie beginnings of my eating disorder. at this point i’ve just began “dieting”. what did this mean for me? religiously keeping track of every morsel that went into my body, and then religiously burning every morsel away. i was restricting and exercising twice a day. i was losing weight and getting smaller. my friends and family were commending my hard work.
this became my life until my senior year of high school. throw in a few near death experiences, inpatient stays, refeeding pursuits…you get the picture. for over four years i put my body through absolute hell. i deprived it. i burned it out. it could barely support me breathing, walking. it couldn’t have been bothered with my period.
a stable menstrual cycle is an indication of a happy and healthy body. i remember reading once that if you haven’t gotten a period in 3 months, you should see a doctor. what did that mean for me, who, at the time of reading, was years beyond this warning. 3 months? try 3 years.
when i finally committed to recovery, i had a lot on my plate (literally and figuratively)! the absence of my period constantly lingered in the back of my mind. i knew i needed to fix it. i had no idea where to began. the doctors on my outpatient team consistently promised that once i returned to a healthy weight and body fat percentage and maintained that, then my period would return.
i trusted them. but their hypothesis proved false.
in my years spent in good, stable health, i was luckily able to alleviate various physical and mental health problems that were triggered by my restrictive habits. but my period, that was stubborn.
last year, i realized i could no longer rely on a faint hope that “it’ll come back soon”. i needed to act. fast. this had gone on for far too long. my body needed me.
i spent hours every night after a full day of classes and homework, burying myself deeper and deeper in research. i joined forums, signed up for email subscriptions, read books. i was determined to naturally and lovingly call my cycle home. i had read plenty about the pill and decided it wasn’t for me. my body didn’t need a pill to mimic my cycle. my body needed MY CYCLE. and i was going to get it just that.
below are a few steps i took toward restoring my cycle. to note, i am at a healthy weight and body fat percentage for my height (confirmed by medical professionals). after implanting this routine for about 4 months, i saw the results i was looking for.
**it’s EXTREMELY crucial to note that i am in no way a medical professional qualified to diagnose or provide medical advice. i’m simply sharing my experience and what worked for me. i also don’t believe that these few things alone helped restore my period, but i can never know for sure, so i’m sharing them here!**
Supplements and Herbs:
- Vitamin C: this one has very little scientific research. it’s more of an “urban legend” type of thing, but i began adding it to my supplement routine. it is thought to possibly elevate estrogen levels while lowering progesterone levels. ive been taking this one!
- Chaste Tree Berry (aka Vitex Berry): i’ve taken vitex berry in pill form in the past but wasn’t consistent with it. i actually came across this Hormone Balancing Elixir while doing research and was so intrigued that i ordered a bottle right there. every morning i drink a glass of warm water with apple cider vinegar, lemon, cinnamon, and about 10-12 drops of this elixir. i also use it in my nightlight tea (more on that below)
- Ginger and Cinnamon: again, not tons of scientific evidence for these, but these two are believed to induce blood flow in the uterine area and, well, get things moving. they’re also great for digestion and bloating. every night before bed i have a hot mug (okay, usually 2) of ginger tea with a tablespoon of honey and a splash of lemon. i use cinnamon in my morning ACV drink (above, also great for digestion!) and in my oatmeal.
- Gelatinized Maca Powder: of all the supplements i’ve learned about, maca seems to be the most promising for period help. of course this one product alone won’t cure anything, but i strongly believe incorporating it daily has helped me among other things. this adaptogen supports the endocrine system and regulates/balances hormones, which is key to regular periods. i prefer the gelatinized powder because this form is easiest for the body to digest. my favorite way to enjoy this adaptogen is to add one tablespoon of the powder to my oatmeal each morning. it has a maple, caramel-like flavor that makes eating it actually enjoyable. if i don’t have oatmeal that day, i’ll use it in a mug of hot chocolate or other blended hot drink of choice.
- Rhodiola Rosea and Ashwaghanda: more adaptogens. i take these two because they are said to have relaxing qualities. they are best known for reducing stress and alleviating anxiety. since putting any kind of stress on the body can create difficulties in regulating a period, it’s important to take care of your hormones and reduce stress as much as you can manage! i use the vita cost brand for these two.
- More strength training, less cardio: in recent months, i’ve actively focused on more body weight and weighted workouts. i adore my cycle classes and runs, but in hindsight i believe them to have been deterring my cycle. over the past 4 months i’ve taken more rest days while taking on more low-intensity workouts on the days i am active. i feel stronger and no longer burnt out. oh, and my period’s back, so i think that speaks volumes on that end.
- Tracking: i recently read Woman Code by Alisa Viti and it was extremely insightful in terms of what steps to take in order to maintain a regular cycle. i downloaded the app MyFlo in order to track my cycle in it’s 4 stages (i highly recommend reading the book or at least googling a bit to gather a better understanding of all 4 stages of the menstrual cycle)! at each point, there are different foods to eat, exercises to do, and overall tips to follow to function to the highest degree at that point in time. tracking my cycle in the app has granted me feedback at each point that has been very helpful.
again, i am in no way a medical professional qualified to grant advice on a medical level. this is just a look into my recent experience in restoring and regulating my cycle after losing it for FOUR YEARS to my eating disorder. no one thing listed will magically solve your problems. the best thing you can do is seek medical help and guidance as well as educate yourself about what you can do right now. this routine seems to have worked for me, but i believe the best thing i have done for myself is never giving up hope. keep strong, keep believing you can, and keep loving your body so that it can love you back. our faith is healing!
**Written August 26th, 2018**
Invest in a large reusable water bottle.Having a large water bottle on hand at all times has given me the incentive of drinking more water throughout the day. Personally I set some goals for myself (such as finishing an entire bottle before 11 AM, finishing one by the end of my workout, etc). I honestly feel accomplished every time I finish a bottle!
Invest in portable water filters.Drinking filtered water is like eating organic foods in that the quality of the product really can influence the benefit you reap from it. Unlike organic foods, however, a portable filter is less pricey in the long run! I change mine every 3-4 months. Tap water can potentially contain pollutants and metals (such as arsenic and aluminum- this one has been linked with skin problems). That’s not to say all tap water is completely tainted. You can get your water tested at Home Depot by getting a testing kit and sending in a sample!
Include hydrating foods in your diet.Fruit tends to be shamed to an extent in the health and wellness Instagram space, but if it works for you and your body, go for it! My favorites are cantaloupe and strawberries. Snacking on these is not only tasty but also super hydrating! Same goes for veggies (cucumbers and celery are two favorites).
Drink more green juice. It’s funny, I didn’t actually start drinking green juice until early this summer. I was pretty sick and couldn’t taste/smell anything for days because I was so congested. I figured it was the perfect time to get into the habit of juicing because I wouldn’t die from the taste. Turns out I kept it up after I got better and I (surprisingly) really enjoyed it! I’ve made my own juice in my VitaMix (I don’t have a juicer) but sometimes I’ll treat myself to a green juice at my local natural foods market. My go-to is usually a combination of celery, parsley, lemon, apple, and cucumber. Super hydrating and my skin and body always feel great after!
Water bottle – I use this Healthy Human 40 oz bottle! (https://healthyhumanlife.com/collections/stein-water-bottles/products/stein-40-oz-vacuum-insulated-stainless-steel-bottles)
Portable filters – I use these Go Pure Pods. have one at school and one at home for my family as well. Plus extras for travel! (https://www.gopurepod.com/product/gopure-pod/)
Glass jug – I fill up this glass jug and drop a filter in each night for filtered fresh water the next day! (https://www.amazon.com/Bormioli-Rocco-Hermetic-Pitcher-Homemade/dp/B0131EKHO0/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_79_img_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=THM991S2YRMK2BM8KNVN)
**Written August 3rd, 2018**