- Sara Mann
I love shopping…or should I say, loved shopping. I loved shopping so much that when I would travel abroad I would bring an empty suitcase along JUST for new clothes. (My husband loves that I do that...not!) I loved finding a cute boutique that had the most amazing clothes that I knew no one else had. I prided myself in my sense of style and loved to buy clothes that made me feel like ME! I would have described my style as grungy, bohemian chic. It suited me.
All of this changed when I entered treatment. Shopping for pleasure was out, shopping for necessity was in, and it completely lost its fabulousness. It slowly became something I dread and will do ONLY if I absolutely HAVE to. One of the things that no one ever talks about when entering treatment, is the amount of new clothes you have to buy. So, I’m going to talk about it.
Recently a friend, who is also in treatment and has also overshot her set point, asked me how many times I’ve had to size up, or buy a new wardrobe. FOUR. The answer is four. Four freaking times I’ve had to replace my entire wardrobe.
The first one was right when I entered treatment. Most of my clothes became tight right away and I was swelling a lot. The second round was about four months after that. I couldn’t squeeze into the first round anymore and I was traveling to Europe..so I bought another wardrobe. The third time was about four months after that. My weight within one month shot up at least thirty pounds and I now was looking pregnant and even more swollen. (sidetone - rapid weight gain is very normal in recovery). The fourth and last wardrobe I’ve purchased has been over the past nine months. My weight finally (I think) stopped gaining and has been sitting about the same place for the past nine months. Honestly, If I have to size up again I think I’ll punch someone in the face….
Some may think this is fabulous! A girl who loves to shop gets to buy a new wardrobe four times within a year! WRONG. First of all, I’m buying new wardrobes again and again because I keep gaining weight. I’ll go out on a limb here and say MOST woman (and men for that matter) don’t love sizing up. It’s engrained in our brains to be seriously frightened of a higher pant number, so upping it four times was and is brutal. Second of all, its EXPEN$IVE! Every time I would size out of my last round of shopping I would have to buy all new things. Literally, ALL new things. We are talking everything from undergarments to pajamas, to work out clothes, to church clothes, to clothes I could work in, hang out in and don’t even get me started on special occasions like weddings or parties. I literally had nothing to wear. Third, there are these things called seasons. I bought clothes for winter, but by the time summer came I had nothing that fit. That went for fall and spring too and then sizing up again the following winter, coats and all.
Recovery weight is necessary to heal my body from the damage of anorexia and exercise bulimia AND it is also very difficult when it comes to clothing. No one told me to put aside $1000+ dollars for clothing. For some reason this never crossed my mind until it happened. Leggings and loose clothing have become my best friends. They stretch when I swell and they are comfortable. I highly suggest wearing leggings and comfy dresses during recovery. When I finally gave up jeans and decided to be comfortable while my body recovers there was a huge sense of relief!
The second big question when it comes to clothing and sizing up is, did I get rid of my old clothes? This is tricky because recovery and recovery weight is different for every person. If you read ten blogs I can guarantee most of them talk about the day they donated or burned their anorexia jeans. If recovery happens, which is the point, they should never fit again, so typically you have to let go of them. Having old jeans that are too small around is triggering and not helpful. My situation is a little bit different and I’ll explain why..
(I just want to really drive home for a second, that this is MY recovery situation. Everyone is different and I am not and will not say anyone else will be like me. So if you are recovering from anorexia you need to do what is best for you.)
When I entered treatment I was my normal weight and body size. Thus the reason most people thought I was healthier and ok. There was a point during my eating disorder when I was severely underweight and wore clothing sizes that I could probably give my four year old niece now. My body, instead of dying, fought back and gained on very little food. Thus the reason I was my normal weight, but severely sick. When I started the re-feeding process my body shot up a substantial amount (like an I don’t even look like the same person amount) of weight above my normal set point. My genetics, body type and history leads all of my doctors and dietician to believe that once healed my body will lose the overshot weight and settle back into my normal weight range. This weight range is very similar to what I weighed when entering treatment, possibly 10-15 pounds heavier (which I’m totally fine with!). So, when I asked my treatment team if I should donate all of my clothing when I entered treatment, they actually told me to only throw away the clothes that when I entered treatment I wanted to lose weight to fit into, and pack away the others since they projected that I will return to a similar size once I am recovered.
I just want to reiterate again that anyone reading this should not assume this is what will happen to you. Nothing bothers me more then when people blog about recovery and don't clarify that what is happening to them does not always happen to another person. Heck, I don’t even know if it will still happen to me! It’s a waiting/healing game. Right now I’m so heavy it’s hard to even imagine my body will go back to that "normal" weight range! If you enter treatment underweight, you will most likely need to get rid of all your clothes as you should not return to that weight during recovery or recovered. So, if I entered treatment at my smallest, I would have had to get rid of all my clothes. If you are young and have had an eating disorder throughout your teens or twenties, its hard to know where your body will end up as an adult. No one can TRULY tell us where our bodies will end up once recovered. The effects of starvation on the human body are vast and sometimes it takes years to recover and return to normal. We simply have to wait it out, let our bodies heal and then we will know. In my case, I’m waiting to see where my body ends up after healing and the chances are it will be within my normal weight range, which is close to where I was when I started treatment.
The thing that is hard about all of this is, since I hadn’t gotten rid of all my old, beautiful, stylish clothes...they hung there. Staring at me and taunting me for months, now years. I didn't pack them away because I convinced myself that "I am strong and can handle it..." Every once in a while, however, I would try them on just to see if they fit or were even close to fitting. This always ended up with me laying in bed in tears swearing I would NOT eat another morsel of food so I could get my body back. Because I didn’t get rid of my clothes I also have had many people ask if they can borrow some of them. I mean I don’t blame them, they are fabulous! At first I said yes, having no idea how incredibly triggering it would be to see my amazing dresses or funky sweaters on someone else when I couldn’t wear them because of my current size and recovery status. I’ve since then said a very clear NO when asked. If I can’t wear it, you can’t wear it, and in the case I am never able to wear it again, it will go to Goodwill so I don’t have to see someone else wearing it!
For a while I actually lived out of a suitcase….
All of the clothes that I was currently wearing fit into a suitcase. So I shut my closet door, placed the suitcase on the floor in front of it and that was my dresser for a couple of months. I hated that. So I eventually went to the store and bought a wardrobe rack. I wheeled it in front of my closed closet and that is where my “new” clothes have hung ever since. It’s a pretty good fix except I still know my amazing clothes are hanging behind them in the closed closet. Since Eating Disorder voices are relentless, every once in a while I give in, and try something on…again, a big mistake.
My therapist and I finally decided it was a good idea for me to box up my clothes. I immediately thought she was tricking me and setting me up for donating them. (Eating Disorder mind games at their finest). This left me VERY distraught and panicked about my weight. Is she trying to tell me that this is my body now and nudging me towards the first step of accepting I will never be fit again?!?! After looking at the facts and calming my emotions, I realized, no, she isn’t trying to push me toward accepting being fat and saying I will never wear them again, she is just trying to protect me from being frantic as I recover. So, since then (which was a couple weeks ago) I have started to box up my old clothes. This way, I’m not tempted to try them on as I recover and they are still there for when my body is recovered.
Boxing up, or donating clothes that I wore during my eating disorder is very hard. I've chosen to do it by myself because I get very emotional and it is honestly mentally draining. The insults and insecurities that the E.D. hurls at me while packing up clothes I wish I could wear right now is pretty harsh. I ONLY do this when I am in my best and most positive place of mind. It's the days where I have accepted I am in recovery, know I'm doing ok, know this isn't the end and want freedom, that I allow myself to fold up a few more sweaters and dresses to pack. If you can't do it by yourself, I highly suggest bringing the clothes into your therapy session and doing it with your therapist, or asking some friends to come help or people from your support group. All the girls in my support group know what it is like to have a recovering body that is funneling through a bunch of different sizes, so supporting one another is crucial. Another option is to ask someone to do it for you. Whether you are packing them up to donate for good, or putting them on the shelf until your body has healed, it's hard. Make sure you have support when you do it.
I’ll save what it’s like to go shopping during treatment for another post :) but for now, just know that if you are in treatment and sizing up, you are not alone. It’s very hard. It’s very expensive. It’s also mentally and physically draining. The mental torture of constantly buying new and larger sizes is very real and don’t EVEN get me started on the lack of fashion for all sizes….. (like I said...another post..)
While sizing up I’ve had to keep reminding myself, (probably 30 times a day), that this is my recovering body. I am not done. This is temporary. It is just clothing and who I am on the inside is truly what matters. I know I want to wear my awesome clothes again, and right now I AM doing everything I can to do that and be healthy. Eventually, I hope to get to a place where my amazing clothes either fit again or I don’t care :) Either will be fine with me!