Forget the scales, gaining weight as a person is the real marker in eating disorder recovery
‘Gaining weight in my life is giving me life’
By Karyn Braveheart
Gaining weight is something l have struggled to do for a very long time. Now, after a lot of hard work and many hospital admissions, I am experiencing the positives in gaining weight.
For sure, my everyday fear remains of clothing not fitting me. Eating disorders love numbers, and clothing is another number. However I am learning that, like weight on a scale, a clothing size is just a number. l am learning that every shop, or brand of clothing, has their own version of sizes. I try to remember this when trying on clothes. Just because the size number has gone up doesn’t mean that my weight has gone soaring up.
Clothes aside, I am in an exciting stage of recovery. I am prepared to get to a healthy goal weight. My goal weight is higher than any weight I have aimed for previously. My treatment team is amazed at my determination.
I am actually excited about having a body I can accept and like.
I’m not there yet but l am well on my way. In fact the first number I chose as a healthy goal weight was a trigger to something painful. I thought: “No, I don’t want to get to that number. It is a reminder of a lot of pain for me.”
I wondered what to do, and then the answer came. Simple. Change the number. So I went up one. “One won’t make much difference,” my healthy self said. I look forward to the day when the numbers will not affect me at all, but for now I am accepting advice and reassurance that no matter how long it takes me to believe it, the most important thing is to think of the number as a healthy weight.
Looking at food through healthy-self lens
l am also discovering a lot about food. My long-term eating disorder had caused me to forget, had robbed me of the ability to know, how much food I needed to eat and how to cook it.
Now I am learning. Again, l have had support to do this. Encouragement has come from patient people who do not judge me for things l should know at age 61. Some people say it will all come back to me, but this is not my experience. It is like a big surprise when someone tells me how to cook something healthy.
Discovering food through the lens of my healthy self is a constant surprise, with new sensations of taste and texture and the confidence to make it all happen.
“So how long do l cook it for?”
“Then what do I do?”
“How much do l serve up?”
So many questions again about sizes, portion sizes and knowing what my body needs. Knowing that when l am still hungry after a meal that I probably need more.
“l am allowed to have dessert as well? Really?”
“Oh. So that is why I was so hungry. I thought I was being really greedy.”
Having someone listen and explain: “No, dear Karyn, your body just needs a bit extra.”
A time of enlightenment in the kitchen
This latest stage on my healing journey has been a time of discovery, buying different foods and realizing I have never had ingredients to make things so l didn’t need a big space in my cupboard. Looking in someone else’s pantry l am always amazed at how much food is in there. Now l know this is normal and it is practical. Having food in the pantry means you don’t have to go to the supermarket all of the time because you have backup food.
I am learning about recipes and different ways of cooking. Ways of adding flavour and texture. Flavour is another thing l am discovering. For many years I have numbed myself to being able to taste anything. The food I have been eating is very bland. Dry food. Food that I wouldn’t serve up to anyone else and, if I did, they would still be very hungry.
I am not embarrassed to ask: ”How do I do this?” in learning how to do even simple things like making scrambled eggs.
A baking tray for a gift
Recently, a friend came for dinner. Uncertain of serving sizes, when we had eaten, I asked if she was still hungry? I also asked her to be very honest because l had no idea, and she said: “Yes, l am a bit hungry.” I said: “So let’s have something else!”
Entertaining for the first time in years with food as a part of the evening is fun. I know the people who l am safe to eat with. They do not judge or make a big deal at the time. Later, when it is over, I can accept their praise and now l find that l want to brag about the meal I have not only prepared and also have eaten. This is a big turnaround for me. For many years my illness would not allow me to eat, or feel worthy of praise, and I struggled to speak above a whisper.
This new freedom to enjoy food, not only with myself but also with others, is giving me happiness and l want to share this with the people who know the difficulty, but also the victory. It is so good. I was given a baking tray and a steamer for my recent birthday. Never would anyone consider such a gift for me before, but now they know that I am developing a healthy relationship with food.
Food no longer makes me feel I should be ashamed if I eat. I want to celebrate this freedom.
It sounds like this is all about the food and the weight, but my amazing discovery is that not only have I gained weight on the outside but l have gained weight as a person.
Personal growth. It is a lovely feeling to know that l can smile at someone. I can thank someone. I can have a conversation with someone. I could never do this before. I could not attend a special occasion if there was food there. If l had to go, I would wish for the event to be over before I had arrived. It was excruciatingly painful and l punished myself for not being like everyone else.
They were free to be themselves. All I wanted was to be real like them. And now this freedom has begun for me. I am learning to have fun and I am enjoying less worry and stress about what others think of me.
The only person who needs to like me is myself, and being kind to myself is also being kind to others who witness the changes.
I always have wanted to help others, but l knew I had to help myself first. That has involved a lot of healing. It is ongoing, but it is all in the right direction. I can walk away if I am feeling uncomfortable in a situation and not feel guilty. I know that l don’t have to put up with behavior that triggers and upsets me.
I know that not everybody is going to commend me for my good work because an eating disorder is a mental illness they don’t want to know about. But the people who do know are loyal and understand and they don’t need to speak — l just hear them in my heart and l know they are cheering me on.
Feeding the little one inside
Yes, l have gained weight and l am on my way to a healthy weight. I feel uncomfortable, but need to grow into my own skin. I need to keep on feeding the little one inside because she has missed out on so much, and l would never treat a child that way.
Child abuse does not have a say with me, l protest and detest it, and so it makes me sad for my little one within, but it is not too late to give her the treats and the rewards and the discipline and guidance she needs as she is starting to grow as well, and is now allowed to grow up too.
Gaining weight in my life is giving me life, and is helping me to give up perfection and black and white thinking of all being perfect or all being amazing or all being terrible. This is life. This is what we all have to deal with and lean on each other, and also stand on our own two feet to survive.
I am determined to do more than just survive. I am determined to ride the roller coaster and be daring and let go with both hands, with the wind blowing through my hair and my screams of joy and excitement, along with the times of solitude and finding out what it is like to be quiet in my mind, and know that right in this moment, in my own presence, all is well.
I am a mother and a grandmother, a friend, an aunt, a sister and a daughter. I have struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and anorexia for too many years. Through this battle l have found beautiful people who have touched my heart when l needed help the most. I have moved from State to State in Australia searching for the right treatment over four decades, so understand the worst and the best. For me, being loved back to life has saved me up to this point. I have found my creative streak and have learnt how to believe that l can do things and they don’t need to be perfect. My passion is writing poetry and telling stories and getting them onto paper to help others wearing the shoes l once walked in. I am continuing to learn, most recently, by learning cooking skills. I fight the fears as they come up and try to live by my faith, believing in small miracles and determination to help me get through each day.