The focus on eating disorders in terms of diagnosis, severity and whether a person is recovered or not is still all too often based on a person’s weight, above and beyond all else.
This has so much detriment, most importantly to the way those of us with the illness think… for if we are not ‘low weight’ then are we really sick or if we gain weight are we better?? Beyond this, the focus on weight also impacts on the treatment we are offered and how seriously our illness is taken by health professionals, care givers and the wider public when we are not dangerously underweight by a BMI chart.
The main issue I have with using weight as the main marker of illness and health in an eating disorder is that it ignores what an eating disorder really is and it’s bollocks.
Yes, people with an eating disorder frequently lose weight and some may even be drastically underweight by a BMI chart but weight gain alone is not recovery… although it is an essential part.
In order to recover from an eating disorder we need to eat a lot more food and rest and we need to allow our bodies to get to their natural weight, without our manipulating what that weight is and even if it is above and beyond what any BMI chart might say is ‘normal’.
To recover we need to stop restricting our intake, remove all the weird rules we have around food, activity and little rituals etc and stop compensating for eating.
We need to rewire our brains to learn that food is not to be feared and weight gain won’t kill us, even if we are not overly comfortable in a bigger body.
But to address our illness we really need to stop putting our focus on weight alone and we need those around us to do the same.
Most of us are terrified of weight gain and how we might feel if we gain more weight but it is something we have to tolerate if we want to recover. We need to be supported and reassured to gain as much as is necessary to fully heal in life terms, not weight terms.
When we start seeing weight gain alone though as us being recovered or when other people or health professionals mark our recovery by our weight then we are doing our recovery and ourselves a massive disservice and it will likely merely perpetuate the illness.
When I started this recovery journey at a much lower weight, I was scared to gain weight, be seen as better and yet still be mentally screwed.
I realised then that to jump into recovery, I had to accept weight gain to fix my brain for as long as that took, no matter what I thought about my current weight and whether I felt that my weight was already high enough or not.
There were many days when I would look at my body and think that I was already an adequate weight and could not accept I needed to gain so much… and I still have those days now.
But to start getting better, it took radically accepting that I had to keep going with the eating unrestrictedly, with the resting and breaking all the weird eating disordered behaviours, letting my brain heal no matter what my weight did, how high it went or how I felt about that (my recovery mantra demonstrates this!!).
At that early point in recovery I realised that to use an underweight body as my main motivation in recovery would only get me so far. Because it’s all well and good knowing that you have to gain weight when you’re very underweight but what happens when you’re starting to reach a normal weight or you’re branching into that very very healthy BMI category??
If you are not yet mentally healed but bigger in body, you either stop the weight gain and stay sick as you continue to suppress your natural body weight and don’t rewire the eating disordered thoughts or you accept that weight gain alone is not recovery and to really heal, much more is needed.
Using weight as a diagnostic tool or recovery marker in eating disorders is also completely invalidating all the people who have eating disorders in what would be classed ‘normal size’ or even bigger bodies by a BMI chart.
Those people who never get as low as a ‘underweight by BMI’ point, yet do still have dangerous and severe eating disorders.
No matter our weight, the treatment for a restrictive eating disorder is the same.
Eating with no restriction (which usually means a shit ton of food), resting, breaking other weird ED rules and letting the brain fully and completely rewire.
And that’s where I’m at now.
I’ve gained weight, I’ve got through the early and traumatic part of recovery and although mentally I am better than I was, I know I still have a long way to go with fixing my brain and rewiring.
I’m having to accept that in order to do that and to reach a full recovery and all that that will mean for my life in the future, I must accept that my body weight and shape will have to remain out of my control and become as big as it needs to be.
Life is opening up for me now as I slowly heal, but it is not as wide as the world yet and that is my marker of recovery – when I can do all that I want in the world with no eating disordered generated fears or anxieties, no matter how big a body I live that life of freedom in….
I want to be recovered by mental state and I want to be recovered by life state. I do not want to be recovered by weight alone and nor should anybody because that is not mental freedom and that is not recovery.