*******I want to start by giving a trigger warning! This blog will be talking about overshooting and weight loss and I use numbers.
If these subjects cause you to be triggered, I suggest you take care of yourself and pass on todays blog!
I’ve had a lot of readers ask about my overshoot and I want to address it over the next few weeks,
but also don’t want to cause others to stumble! When it comes to recovery, take care of yourself first!*****
“But what if I gain 100 pounds?!”
This was the question I asked myself literally a million times before I entered treatment, after I entered treatment, when I started the re-feeding process, as I gained weight, when the weight gain never seemed to stop......you get the idea.
Weight gain in treatment was my BIGGEST fear. I didn’t care about my heart, my bone density, my suicidal thoughts or being controlled by an Eating Disorder. I cared MOST about how much weight I would gain, would this really work, how fat would I get, what people would say about me, and if I gained weight would I be stuck that way forever?
Here is the problem.
In order to recover from anorexia, you must gain weight.
I have never heard of someone TRULY recovering from anorexia without weight gain.
Overshoot happens when you gain past your normal set point while recovering. In order to overshoot, you must GAIN WEIGHT. It all goes hand in hand, and it is one of THE hardest parts of recovering from anorexia. Not only are you gaining lots of L.B.’s but you gain PAST even your normal weight. It is NOT FUN.
Why is it so hard? To be real, as an anorexic I was literally afraid of food and frightened of weight gain. If there was a way to recover from anorexia without any weight gain I would have done it that way. But, there isn’t.
My case was especially interesting because I started recovery near my normal weight. (I’ve said it a hundred times, not all people struggling with anorexia look skeletal). There was a time that I did look extremely thin and was scarily underweight. It’s a longer story for another time, but the gist of it is that my body shut down and I gained weight while eating less then 400 calories and exercising for at least an hour a day. I stopped having periods, my metabolism didn’t work, my endocrine system was damaged, I was in the beginning stages of osteoporosis, I had migraines, I would black out, my heart would hurt like I was having a heart attack, I had constipation and fissures, it was bad. Any amount of food I gave my body was immediately stored and used slowly to keep me alive. By the time I entered treatment I was only 20 pounds underweight. That was still a lot to be underweight, but considering at one point I was about 50 pounds underweight many people thought I was doing a lot better.
When I started the weight gain and re-feeding process I lost complete control of my body. Once the gain started, I couldn’t stop it no matter how much I tried. The weight came and it came on FAST. This was difficult because a lot of people are passing judgement on the weight gain, how much I'm eating or not eating, why I'm no longer exercising. Recovering in a culture that is keto and whole thirty obsessed is like hell.
It actually seemed like when I fought the weight gain, it made it worse! I would try to restrict to make it slow down, it didn’t work. I would try to exercise to lose it, it didn’t work. If I ate, I gained, if I restricted, I gained, if I exercised, I gained and if I just sat there I gained. I was no longer in control of my body, it was in control of me and that is a very scary place to be.
The weight gain was painful. Not just mentally, but physically painful. My skin hurt. I couldn’t even hug someone without wincing. My legs would swell, my stomach would look pregnant. I had pitting edema. I didn't just look "fat," I looked puffy. I couldn’t kneel because my legs were just too swollen. I felt extremely exhausted, had no energy, and just wanted to sleep all the time.
The weight gain did not come on evenly. It all went to my stomach area first. I had read that this would happen. They say it's because the body wants to protect your vital organs as they heal. I had skinny legs and arms and this bulging tummy. I cannot tell you how many times I was congratulated on my “pregnancy.” People would stare at me or ask what was wrong. I literally saw people talking behind my back about it. It got so bad that I became a bit of a hermit. I hated to leave the house and avoided it at all costs. I had no clothes that fit and buying clothes was difficult because I was rocketing up sizes at a rate my wallet couldn’t handle, not to mention shopping left me sitting in dressing rooms in tears and horror from the size I was becoming and waiting for the redness in my face to go away before leaving the store empty handed. Once I finally summoned the courage to walk out of the store with my head down, I would have to call someone, most often my husband, sister-in-law or brother to help talk me off my suicidal ledge.
I would have to lay down every afternoon to get the swelling in my body to go down. I kid you not, we bought a bed with hydraulics, like a freaking hospital bed, that would help me put my legs up to get the swelling down. I would lay there and cry and cry. How did this happen? Why is this happening? How do I get it to stop?!?!!?
Getting weighed was a nightmare. At my treatment center we did blind weigh-ins. This meant going into a room, taking off your shoes, and standing on a scale, but the number popped up on a device only the dietician could see. This caused extreme anxiety and panic attacks. No matter how I tried to manipulate them, my team would NOT tell me my weight. My body dysmorphia was in overdrive and at times I literally felt crazy. If I did find out my weight, because I went to someones house that had a scale or I saw a record at the doctors office, I would also have a panic attack and my thoughts would turn suicidal. It was a lose lose situation.
Following meal plans was hard. Pretty much every food at that point was a “fear food” and I was gaining weight so fast while eating them that it only reinforced my thoughts that these foods were “bad” and caused people to get “fat.” I couldn’t grasp the concept that I wasn’t gaining because I was overeating or eating “bad” foods, I was gaining because my body was desperate and trying to protect me in case another “famine” came. I heard stories of people eating 5000 calories in recovery. That wasn’t me. It took a LONG time to even get to a place where I was eating what you might consider a normal amount of food. I was gaining without over eating. That's just how depleted my body was. The assumption was I was pounding a large amount of food and gaining weight fast. The reality was I had barely mustered up the courage to add more then a tablespoon of peanut butter to my sandwich.
Eating was painful. I would throw up a lot from the reflux. I would get full almost immediately and eating more felt like torture. My stomach couldn’t handle it all. The constipation was unbearable. I had to take medication because I would get nauseous and my stomach and intestines literally couldn’t process the food. Eating was a foreign concept to my body at this point and I think it just had no idea how to handle it.
Following my meal plans was extremely difficult. I did intensive outpatient (another story for another time) so it was on me and me alone to follow the meal plan and eat. I can’t tell you how many times I sat on the kitchen floor and cried, fighting with my eating disorder over a slice of toast. If it were not for my faith in God, support from my team and family and my own stubborn willful nature I would not have been able to do it. Eating and gaining rapidly is and was terrifying.
Since I was only 20 pounds underweight when I entered treatment I overshot my normal weight within the first couple months of re-feeding. My fear of becoming fat was now a reality and the shame that came with it was all encompassing. I didn’t have to be afraid of becoming overweight, I now WAS overweight, and the weight gain didn’t seem to be stopping any time soon.
My team (therapist, doctor, dietician, support group) would ensure me that this was normal. It’s how the body recovers. The weight will eventually go back down when my body is healed. That was great an all but the questions for me were how much would I gain? When would it stop? When would it go back down? No one could tell me.
I would spend hours googling overshoot, anorexia recovery, swelling in recovery, etc. I would get back the Minnesota Starvation Study. Which, honestly, is only slightly what it is like to be anorexic. Yes, they starved, but did they really have anorexia? I would read things like, "it is normal to overshoot by 10% of your normal body weight, and then in a few months it will return back to normal!" UMMMMM I was overshooting far past 10% of my body weight, still under-eating and the weight was not coming down in a month, let alone a year or two. I would read stories of girls that were very young, or had anorexia for a semester of collage. I had been anorexic for seven years and am in my 30s! I could find only two people, Tabatha Farrar and Brittany Burgundar who had stories like mine. (sidenote - this is why I started my blog. Stories like mine need to be out there so people going through the same thing know that they are not weird or alone.)
During this time I even went to one of the best recovery centers in the world and met with the the head of the department at John Hopkins because my case was so strange. After a four hour, $800.00, not covered by insurance, assessment of me, the doctor said I was lying and thinks I was a binge eater. $%&!@#!!!!! I cried over eating a bagel that morning! I had no idea what the heck my body was doing and I felt very stuck, very alone and very confused.
One example that I heard on a recovery podcast that REALLY helped me understand the overshoot and what was going on was this.... Let’s say you have a leaky roof but you have no money to pay to have it fixed. You need to save up money before you fix it! You also save a little more because something during the fixing could go wrong and you find out that the leaky roof had also caused floor damage and mold. Once you have saved up all your money, you call the contractors in to fix (heal) the roof and all the other damage. This takes time and never goes as expected! Finally, after a lot of work, your roof is fixed AND you have some left over money because you saved up more in case something bad happened. Now you can use that money to go on vacation and relax!
Overshoot is similar. We have a broken body. It needs healing. Our body stores fat and nutrients so that it can heal the body. When I overshot it was because my body needed to save up a LOT in order to heal and make sure it felt safe in case I decided to restrict again. If I’m using the analogy above, my roof was damaged REALLY bad and it took a LOT of saving nutrients to fix it and ensure I had enough to make healing happen.
Another example is a dried out sponge. Have you ever seen and old dried out sponge? If you just give it a normal amount of water it doesn’t really become a bouncy fully sponge again. It takes a LOT of water to get a dried out sponge to fill up and become soft and healthy again. Our bodies are the same. We re-feed and overshoot so our body can heal and work again!
So I’ve shared a lot about why and how my weight gain and overshoot happened. It would take an entire novel to share the meal plans and the therapy sessions and every story of my weigh-ins. Just know that it was hard, painful, draining, and a nightmare.
I needed a LOT of therapy and support to get through it. I was going to therapy and to a dietician multiple times a week. I checked in with a doctor so much to monitor my blood work and healing process that it felt like I was at a doctor every other day. I cannot even count the amount of medication and vitamins I was on to help my body heal. I joined Rock Recovery, which is an ED support group in Washington DC, that helped me tremendously. I had a husband that never even blinked at my weight gain and accepted me as my body transformed into something he never signed up for. I had a sister-in-law that I would sit with me many many nights with a glass of wine listening to me cry as I shared my fears and pain. I had a brother who prayed me through a lot of suicidal moments. I had a God that said He would be there for me and walk with me through every horrific moment until I was whole again.
Every day I made the choice to keep going. To eat the food. To rest. It was awful. I did it anyway. My desire to heal from anorexia was greater then the shame of the weight gain and the pain the healing process brought. Plus, my body was doing this now whether I liked it or not. My choice was relapse and die from a heart attack, or keep going and hope to God that this process works.
You want to know whats ironic?
In recovery I gained EXACTLY one hundred pounds. (I know. Holy $#@!) Literally, on the dot. Isn’t that crazy?! It was my biggest fear and it happened. I gained 100 pounds and 80 of it was overshoot.
THERE, I SAID IT. IT’S OUT THERE! (My heart is pumping a bit knowing I just shared the thing that has caused me such an incredible amount of shame.)
But guess what? I’m still alive! I’m healthier than ever! I’m happier than ever! I’m serious! I overshot my normal weight by 80 pounds and I’m ok! Actually, I’m better than ok! I have more friends, I’m no longer a hermit, I’m not about to drop dead, I serve ON STAGE in front of people at church, I’m doing GREAT! I am no longer fully controlled by my anorexia. I have a freedom I NEVER thought I would have! It has take a LOT of hard work, but i has been worth it.
When I say I am no longer fully controlled by my anorexia I also need to say it’s still hard. Some days I look in the mirror and just cry. I didn’t even recognize myself for a long time. The weight gain made me not even feel like myself let alone look like myself. I was always fit and on the lean side. I had to completely re-find myself outside of the terms of being thin, exercising and my anorexia. I still wake up in the morning and can get attacked by my eating disorder when I remember I'm not back to my normal weight yet. The difference is, I still get up and eat my breakfast instead of putting it off and skipping it instead.
Ok, this blog has gone on too long and if you are still reading it, you rock! There are so many things I’m sure I’m leaving out, but give me grace, I’m trying my best to share my overshoot process. If you want to know about something I've missed, please don't hesitate to reach out or ask! I'll try and answer!
Next week I will share about the plateau time of my overshoot. The time where I had gained the 100 and my body just stayed there....for a long time....as it was healing, I felt stuck during this time and wondered if my overshoot would ever come off or if I was stuck over-weight forever!!
I want to leave you with two thoughts.
1. This is MY story. I said it in my last blog and I’m going to say it again. My recovery is not your recovery. Yes, I gained 100 pounds and overshot by 80 of it. That does not mean that you will too. I had a VERY damaged body, I’m in my 30s and was anorexic for a very long time. You may overshoot by 10 pounds or 20 pounds or 80 like me. You may not overshoot at all (which to be honest, I have never heard of anyone truly recovering and having NO overshoot, but hey, I haven't met everyone!) The point I am making is that overshoot in recovery is normal, even BIG overshoots like mine. Lets support one another as we go through it. Let’s reframe how we view it, not as “getting fat” but as healing and necessary.
2. This blog may have placed a lot of fear in your mind about recovery so I want to reassure you and give you hope and strength to keep going. Spoiler alert!!!! My body DID stop gaining weight and it IS losing the overshoot weight. I’ve already lost almost half of it. The big question is have I had to relapse, diet, restrict or “work” it off. I will blog about that in the coming weeks. It is a long and painful process but it is 100% worth it.
KEEP GOING! DO IT! RECOVER! I know today is the Fourth of July! There are parties today. Food. Drinks. Lots of people. Be present today. Have fun! Eat the food! You got this!!!
- Sara -
p.s. Again, I ask for prayer for myself and my readers as I blog about my overshoot experience. This is a VERY triggering subject for those in recovery or contemplating recovery. Even for me it is hard because I get slammed with a lot of what ifs and insecurity. My intentions are to share my story with the hope that it encourages others to keep going and fully recover to live fulfilling lives free from an ED, NOT to trigger them. I’m praying for each person that reads this blog too. If you need support or want to chat, just message me! I’d love to talk to you! If you have any questions about what I wrote or my overshoot experience, send them my way! I’m happy to answer them!!
2 Corinthians 4:16-18