Fear of Weight Gain: When Push Comes to Shove in Recovery

The past couple of months have been easy.
Too easy.
I’ve been eating intuitively, no restrictions…but I wasn’t gaining weight.
And, for a bit here, I genuinely thought maybe my body was just going to stabilize at this lower-than-last-time weight. (And, of course, my eating disorder screamed “maybe if you lose even more, your body will stabilize even lower…”)

And then it happened.
1 pound.
“It’s just water,” I told myself. Fluctuations are totally normal. It’ll probably go away again.
But, it didn’t. Instead, the scale went up a second pound.
And, I panicked.
Why was it so sudden? So much so suddenly? What am I doing wrong?

And there it is: Weight Gain = I’m Doing Something Wrong (Bad); Not Gaining Weight/Losing Weight = I’m Doing Something Right…something good. Admirable.
The core belief.
And, unfortunately, it’s a core belief fueled by a whole lot of reality.

People look up to me because I’ve lost weight. They comment on it, ask for advice, want to follow in my footsteps. It used to be a badge I wore with pride; now, it’s a pain point.

What am I supposed to say? “Thanks! I starved myself!”
Awkward silence.

I hate that I “have to” say “Thanks” at all.
I don’t want to say thanks.
I don’t feel pride; I feel shame.
I feel fear.
The same fear I feel right now, seeing the scale moving up. “In the wrong direction.”
Because weight gain is wrong, and weight loss is right.
Right?

I got cocky. I thought I was “fully recovered,” but I’m not. I’m at a crossroads.
I’m gaining weight, and I have a choice to make — because recovery is all about choices.
I can restrict and try to keep from gaining or even try to lose weight.
Or
I can eat without restriction even if it means gaining weight.

I don’t know if my fear of weight gain will EVER go away. Honestly, I don’t think it will. I’ve never ever been in a place where I didn’t fear weight gain. And, if I can’t change that — the only thing I CAN control is what I do with it and whether I let it control my life.

To be honest, right now, I don’t feel strong enough to face weight gain and not restrict. So, for me, who wants to stubbornly choose recovery — that leaves one choice:

Don’t look.

Don’t look at the scale, don’t face the weight gain. Just eat and don’t look.
And, holy crap, that is the most terrifying thought… which is how I know I have to do it.

Ugh.
Even writing this, I am nauseated with fear.
But my daughter is playing in the next room, my son is sleeping in his crib, and we’re celebrating my husband’s birthday today with cake and burgers, and I want to recover so that I’m REALLY there, participating.

So, I know I have to do this.
Be afraid, feel sick, tremble…and choose recovery anyways.

Goodbye, scale. I choose life.

Macro Tracking, Veganism, Keto, Gluten-Free: An Eating Disorder’s Best Weapons

Recently, I’ve been running into quite a few social media posts from influencers in the weightloss community getting really pissed off by people implying that things like tracking macros, veganism, etc. are signs of an eating disorder or are disordered eating behaviors. The general response seems to be “plenty of people do these things and do not have eating disorders!” And, this is absolutely true. However, I feel the actual (and very important) message is getting lost:

Macro tracking, veganism, keto, etc. are not eating disorders; however, if you have an eating disorder, it could very well use these socially acceptable diet restrictions as weapons against you.

What a lot of people seem to forget is that an eating disorder is a mental disorder — it is not just a set of behaviors. It’s a bit like alcoholism: drinking socially is not alcoholism; but, if you are an alcoholic, your alcoholism will absolutely try to use social drinking as a weapon against you to get you back to or deeper into your addiction. “Everyone else is drinking; it would be awkward if you weren’t! It’s fine! You’re fine!”

Similarly, tracking macros or going vegan isn’t an eating disorder; but, if you have an eating disorder (or are prone to developing one), it can absolutely use socially acceptable restrictions to keep you in or get you further into your addiction (because, let’s face it, eating disorders are basically addictions). “You’re going vegan because you care about animal welfare! It has nothing to do with losing weight or avoiding fear foods! TONS of people are vegan or tracking macros or keto or…(the list goes on). It’s totally fine! You’re fine!”

And, many people may not even know that that addictive part of their brains is there: be that a part of their brains that has increased potential to be addicted to alcohol or to restricting calories, militant eating rules, tracking, purging, binging, etc. Or…to all of the above.

Up to 50% of individuals with eating disorders abused alcohol or illicit drugs, a rate five times higher than the general population. Up to 35% of individuals who abused or were dependent on alcohol or other drugs have also had eating disorders, a rate 11 times greater than the general population.

-National Eating Disorders Association

And, as I’ve shared before, if you’re prone to “food addiction,” chances are, you could be prone to other forms of food-related addiction. It just makes sense: if you’re used to turning to food to numb emotions, it makes sense that you could also become addicted to turning to restriction, food rules, purging, or even substance-consumption behaviors to numb, escape, and ignore emotions in the future.

Story time…

In 2014, I made the decision to become vegetarian. I was not in an active eating disorder at the time (I did not know I had an addiction-prone part of my brain back then). My choice had nothing to do with weight loss and everything to do with my moral beliefs. I knew I wanted to try veganism eventually, but I wanted to take it one step at a time and try vegetarianism first. At the time, I was also tracking my macros on MyFitnessPal as I had been doing for many years without it ever hindering my quality of life.

A couple of months later, triggered by an abusive relationship with my therapist, I fell into my eating disorder HARD. It had nothing to do with being vegetarian. Being vegetarian did not lead me to my eating disorder, but once that addictive part of my brain activated, it began looking for any and every excuse to get me to eat less and dive deeper into the addiction.

“I can’t eat meat” was a convenient excuse to skip out on the foods my family was eating or skip homemade meals when we visited relatives. Nobody could get mad at me for being vegetarian. Nobody could politely push me to break my moral code. “You should go vegan,” that little voice in my brain kept saying. “You wanted to go vegan for animal rights reasons! Look at you eating that food that hurts animals! Think of all of the animals you are hurting. Think of how much of a hypocrite you are being. You’ve SEEN the documentaries. How can you still eat that? You’re disgusting.”

So, I went vegan. The list of foods I could eat shrank exponentially. Thanksgiving came, and I conveniently couldn’t eat a single thing my husband’s family cooked because of one ingredient or another. Again, nobody could politely push me on this — it was my moral code to not eat animal products! Veganism is completely acceptable! We went on a family vacation with my inlaws, and I conveniently couldn’t eat anything on any restaurant menu except maybe a dressing-free vegetable-only salad. Moreover, I was tracking my macros, so I HAD to know the nutrition information for everything I ate. So, once again, I conveniently “couldn’t eat” food I didn’t cook or that didn’t come out of a package with nutrition information.

No holiday meals, no dinners at our parents houses, no eating out, no dates with my husband – “You can’t eat that!” was screamed in my head all. the. time. And “because it’s not vegan” or “because you don’t know the macros” was a convenient excuse and my eating disorder’s favorite weapon against me. My eating disorder used these socially acceptable dietary limitations to evoke FEAR and SHAME and keep me in the disorder.

And my story is not unique. Anyone who is a member of the eating disorder or recovery community can tell you — it is FULL of vegans, macro trackers, people who may or may not have to be gluten-free for clinical reasons… pretty much anything that can be used to control food, an eating disorder will use to keep you in the disorder.

Once again, that is not to say that veganism, tracking, being gluten-free, etc. are eating disorders; they are not. But, many people may not be aware of that addictive, eating disorder-prone part of their brain lying dormant…and, so it is so important to warn those entering these lifestyles that they are things that, should you have an addictive, obsessive part of your brain somewhere in there…veganism, tracking, etc. very well could turn into an eating disorder’s greatest weapon. And, what makes it so much more dangerous is that others may not see the red flags — they will take “I can’t eat that because I’m vegan” at face value without confronting you like they might if you were to admit to not eating, period….never realizing that it’s a weapon in an eating disorder’s arsenal.

Reflections on Losing 100 Pounds: What “After” Me Would Say to “Before” Me

If I could go back in time … go back to Before and talk to my young-20s self who was only a couple of years into her weight-loss journey, what would I tell her? What advice might I give this version of myself who was finally stepping into her life and learning to live out loud?

The first piece of advice I would give myself is to get into therapy.

You have been through trauma, and it is influencing you in ways you can’t see. You may not even be ready to call it trauma, but it is.

You need to learn to deal with these things instead of shoving them into a box in the back of your mind as if they will just disappear or stay out of sight, out of mind. Because, that box will never contain them. And, they won’t go away. Not with losing weight, not with binging or stopping binging, not with exercise, finding a new partner…not even with therapy. But, at least with therapy, you won’t be holding them alone.

cir. 2011

Next, I would tell myself to talk to a dietician. Not just any dietician, but one who specializes in eating disorders. Because, news flash young self, you have an eating disorder.

Not “you’ll develop one,” but you HAVE one. You’ve had one for a long time. And, while Weight Watchers has taught you how to control and track portions, you are doing absolutely nothing to get to the root of your already-decade-long eating disorder. And, if you don’t address anything but the manual steps to losing weight, you’re going to come out this on the other side just as unhealthy as you went in.

Then, I would tell her…find something, anything that is not weight- or diet-related, to be passionate about and then fully invest yourself in that thing. Nurture the ever-loving-sh*t out of that passion.

Knowing me, I’d say…ride horses. Ride ALL the horses. Learn to canter and jump and ride bareback – who cares that you’re still in a bigger body? Do it anyways! Find a way. Set aside money to make it something you do every single week. Make it a priority.

When you are sad, ride a horse; when you are angry, ride a horse; when you are happy, ride a horse; when you have overwhelming feelings in every direction and don’t know what to do, ride a horse… if you can’t afford to ride, find some way to be with horses… or walk dogs or paint or sing or maybe even learn to dance. ANYthing but starting a new diet.

One day, this journey will be over — the journey of weight loss. One day, you will be at After. And what will you do then? What will be your passion then?

Find it now. Nurture it now. Do it now so that when “after” gets here, you are not left without a life outside of weight loss to which to turn.

Which leads me to…this: don’t ever let your world shrink around any one thing.

Nothing is permanent.

I know it is your most desperate wish that something or someone will come into your life with a promise of forever that you can actually believe in, but start grieving now, because that doesn’t exist.

And if something or someone starts promising you otherwise, run as fast and far away as you can. Don’t cling to it in desperation for the false promise to be true.

The only constant is change.

Your body will change, the number on the scale will change, the people in your life will change, your life situation will change, everything will change. Forever and always. And no matter how hard you try to make that not happen — no matter how hard you try to control or avoid change, it will come just the same.

There is very little in life that you can actually control, and that is scary as fuck.

So, gather your resources. Build a team of support around you…a life full of support and passion.

That’s what I’d tell my young self. And I’d hope to god that I’d listen.

What Does Normal Bloating Look Like?

I recorded a video for my YouTube channel yesterday (I’ll post it below) that I thought would translate pretty well into a blog as well (plus, I’m going to add some bonus pictures that aren’t in the video just for my awesome blog readers). For those who would rather watch vs. read (or watch and read), here is the video:

Now…let’s talk about bloating.

This experiment was inspired by one of my favorite YouTubers, Natacha Océane, who recorded what a normal day of bloating and scale fluctuations look like for her. Now, there are a few differences between Natacha and myself…

Natacha and Me

…have you spotted them?

I’ll give you a minute.

Just in case you can’t tell from this photo, Natacha is in her 20s, has never been obese, and has never had a child — three pretty big differences between the two of us!

I loved her honest portrayal so much, though, that I wanted to provide my own showing my different body type. So, that’s what I did!

Now, if you watch the video, you’ll hear all about how difficult this day wound up being for me. I struggle pretty hard with watching the scale and my body fluctuate. I am hoping that this experiment will help to remind me that these are very fickle things that fluctuate wildly, and there’s no need or reason to change anything just because of minor fluctuations like this.

Now, the experiment…

Method!

I “measured” as soon as I woke up, after my run, after lunch, before bed, and when I woke up again this morning.

I took two sets of photos/video: my abs relaxed vs. my abs flexed (not that you can see them, haha).

I also weighed myself.

What I Ate

Pre-run: espresso with some creamer

Breakfast: protein pancakes w/ extra protein powder, peanut butter chips, coffee w/ creamer

Lunch: half of a buffalo ranch salad kit with a beef pattie on top, sweet potato chips, sour gummies

Dinner: a bowl of cereal with 2% milk, blueberries, and a yogurt

Snacks: lunch meat (turkey), crackers, pickles, protein bar, decaf coffee with creamer

How I Worked Out

5-mile short run

Results!

Here are the weights:

I was 140.2 when I woke up, 138.8 after my 5-mile run, 140.8 after lunch, and 140.8 before bed.

scale.jpg

I woke up at 139.6 this morning.

scale2.jpg

Abs Relaxed Photos

absrelaxed1.jpg

Absrelaxed2.jpg

This morning:

Absrelaxed4.jpg

Abs Flexed Photos!

Flex1.jpg

Flex2.jpg

This morning:

Flex4.jpg

Conclusion!

Bloat is normal, the scale fluctuates a lot throughout the day and day-to-day, and these things are not something to worry about. I thought, at first, that I bloat up “bigger” than others because of the elasticity in my stomach area, but I’m honestly not sure that’s true now. I think I’m just much more critical of myself!

Also, on a personal note, yes, I have legitimately gained a couple pounds in the last couple of months. I actually had lost about 4-5 pounds when I went on a short-term, idiotic diet, but my body composition test told me that all I’d managed to do was lose muscle & water & freak my body out so that it was holding onto fat for dear life. So, I stopped dieting, got back on the intuitive eating train, and re-gained the weight within 3 weeks. My next body composition test is next week, and I’m hoping to see that I have my muscle (water) back.

Personal Note

This was a really hard experiment for me, and I am feeling all sorts of anxious about putting it out there. I’m definitely struggling with body image a lot these days – more, I think, than I was even before I started exercising.

That said, the exercise is going amazingly well! I continue to see gains in my strength and endurance, and I want that to be all that matters — I at least want it to matter more than a stupid number on a scale. I hope, some day, this is true for me.

 

I Am a Fraud

I am a fraud.

Four months ago, I came on here and wrote that I was done caring about what the scale said. Fuck Thin; I Choose Fat was so easy to say, though, when the scale had been sitting eerily still for months on end. The truth is, the moment that scale moved again — even just a tiny bit — I freaked out and jumped right back on the diet train for the last month.

To be honest, guys, I’m kind of a fraud all around. I write in these blogs with all of the passion I have in a given moment, but then I immediately turn around to my real life of not actually knowing who I am or what I believe. I preach intuitive eating and “screw diets” while not-so-secretly still dieting myself. I say “I’d rather be fat than eating disordered” while secretly thinking to myself “but, I don’t want to give up my thin privilege now that I’ve finally gotten it.”

It is so easy to preach “be done with diets” when society, doctors, and everyone around you is no longer really telling you, personally, that you should be dieting. It is so easy to say “all foods are allowed” when people around you have finally determined that you are deserving of all foods now that you have lost the weight. When nobody is side-eyeing you for buying candy or for being in a store that doesn’t even carry your size.

The world is shitty to fat people.

Why wouldn’t I be afraid of being back in that place?

In any case, this post is mostly just me coming back, tail between my legs, and telling you that I totally did not do the thing I said I was going to do. That being said, I’m here to try again. A little humbler, and a little more honest.

 

Keep Your Diet Away From My Holidays

With Thanksgiving just a few days away, I’ve been reflecting a lot about past holidays. I remember sitting in Weight Watchers meetings around this time of year hearing the leaders talk about how to portion out your plate and comparing the different Points values for each of the traditional side dishes. If I remember correctly, Weight Watchers even had an interactive web page where you could build a Thanksgiving plate of food and see how many Points you would be using. Most of us hoarded our “extra weekly points” for this meal, and there was a lot of anxiety over leftovers as well.

I also remember always worrying about what my family would think of however I might look that year. I’ve been a lot of shapes and sizes, and I almost never look the same from one Thanksgiving to the next (and this year is no exception). I’d change outfits a half a dozen times trying to find the right combination of flattering and comfortable.

During my binge eating days, I remember sneaking a lot of food during and around the meal when I thought people were not looking. I remember eating until I was in pain and then doing it again and again with leftovers in the days that would follow Thanksgiving. I felt out of control around those leftovers and, to this day, Thanksgiving leftovers cause me a lot of anxiety, which is why I have always tried to “forget” my leftovers box when we leave my mother’s house (hi, mom! I know you’re reading…)

During my restrictive days, I have some pretty dark memories of how I handled the food during holidays – the details of which I’m too ashamed to share. There was also one Thanksgiving during which I used veganism to avoid eating pretty much anything. Instead, I brought along my own box of “safe” foods so that I could at least appear to be eating something.

Reflecting back on all of these holiday memories really makes me sad: why are so many of my holiday memories about food and weight anxieties? I LOVE the holidays…or, at least, I thought I did.

This Thanksgiving is going to be different. This Thanksgiving, I will not be tracking my food or calories; I will not be weighing or measuring my food; I won’t even be weighing myself. There’s not a single food I will avoid; in fact, if the little voice in my head says to avoid a certain food, I’m challenging myself to eat the thing its telling me not to eat — even if it’s just one bite.

This Thanksgiving, I will not starve all day to “reserve calories” for this one meal. I will eat when I am hungry, and I will eat until I am full. I will trust my body AND my hunger to guide me in how much I should consume. This is the challenge my nutritionist and I have agreed upon: I am to follow my hunger so that we can see what happens. So far, nothing catastrophic.

This Thanksgiving, I will happily and, with gratitude, take those leftovers home and actually eat them. Yes, even the stuffing and pecan pie.

And, when Christmas comes, I will have Christmas cookies, Christmas brunch, Christmas Eve AND Christmas dinners. I might eat past fullness — overeat, you might say. I might gain a little weight. The world will not end.

I’m talking as if this is all easy; it isn’t. But, I’m setting the intention anyways. I’m tired of worrying about calories during the holidays (and every other day too); I’m tired of centering my life around food and body shape. I thought that my life would no longer be all about food when I finally got thinner, but the opposite was actually true.

Food, diets, weightloss, “lifestyle changes” to be thinner, eating disorders, whatever you want to call it…have robbed me of enough time. They are not welcome at my holiday celebrations this year.

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