Often the brave decision to enter recovery from an eating disorder is accompanied by a dark shadow… the fear of weight gain. “What if my body changes too much? And I lose all control and can’t stop eating? What if I end up even more unhappy than I am now?”
For some, this fear is so strong and consuming that it halts any progress altogether. This is why learning to navigate through this fear is often an essential part of the recovery journey.
Wanting to look good is nothing to be ashamed of. But when this starts to tip over into depriving yourself of critical nutrients, cutting calories and extreme exercising it is an extremely dangerous health game. One of which I played for ten years. I came to a point of realization that I could not hide from my fear of weight gain and I had to courageously lean into the discomfort and face it head on.
Here are four ways to help you work through the fear of weight gain so you can keep making progress in your recovery.
1. Explore the actual truths of your current situation
I spent ten years of my life trying to hold onto a weight where I thought I would be happy. However, the reality was much different. My relationships suffered, I was lonely, isolated, anxious and lost sense of who I was.
To face the fear of weight gain, you must start questioning the truths of where you are and how your life is living with an eating disorder.
Ask yourself these four questions:
- “What is this fear costing me in my school/work, relationships, health and happiness?”
- If I don’t let go of this fear, what will happen?”
- “What will happen if I let go of this fear? What will this allow me to do that I can’t do now?”
- “If this fear were to disappear what would become really important to me?”
2. Move towards body acceptance over body positivity
In times of real struggle with my body I told myself,
Even though I don’t like how I feel about my body right now, I can accept it.
Coming to that neutral place of acceptance in those moments is often a more realistic goal than aiming for body positivity. To help you on
this path of acceptance there are some small commitments you can make to yourself everyday:
- Thank your body daily for everything is does for you, from allowing you to go for that nice walk, to sticking with you even when you were punishing yourself
- Every day name one thing you like about your body. It doesn’t matter how big or small. It could be your right little finger or the mole you have on your neck
- Every day name one thing you like about yourself. If you find this difficult then ask yourself what would a friend say is one of your best qualities (or even ask them!)
- Choose a positive cue word or create a statement to use whenever you notice yourself falling back into the fear of weight gain. Mine was:
My body is the least interesting thing about me. I have so much more to offer the world.
3. Choose what you are focusing on
How much time do you spend focusing on your body and your weight? This is important to be aware of because you feed what you focus on. The more time you spend worrying about your body, weight, or appearance, the more you will tune your brain to bring more of its kind to your attention.
You do have a choice. In those moments, where will you place your focus? Think about all the reasons why you decided to enter recovery. Shift your attention off your body and onto something positive which is in alignment with your future recovered self. What would she be doing, thinking, feeling and valuing?
4. Take your time and your body will work with you
I know how scary it is to actually put these steps into practice and challenge this fear head on. At the start of my recovery I believed if I relaxed my food rules even the slightest, then I would gain weight. Therefore I started with incredibly small steps forward. This included:
- Choosing one meal to focus on
- Choosing one food group to focus on
- Changing a regular meal to something different
- Adding something extra to that meal
Taking this slow allows you the time to rebuild your trust with food and your body. With every little win, every positive step forward and every time you challenge your old ways, you are building your confidence that you can do this. The stronger you become the less power the fear of weight gain will hold over you.
If this feels overwhelming, that is OK. You are not alone in these fears. But just by reading this article you have already started. Exploring these four ways to challenge the fear of weight gain is already a big commitment to yourself and your recovery.