Perils of Losing Weight When You’ve Had an Eating Disorder
Weight and weight loss can be extremely difficult to navigate for someone who has suffered with an eating disorder in the past. For many people, the recovery process involves avoiding scales altogether, and with them any numbers concerned with weight loss and weight management, such as calorie counting.
However, sometimes people with a history of disordered eating find themselves in the position of needing to lose weight in order to improve their health. Weight gain can happen for a variety of reasons that are difficult to control, including medications, pregnancy or lifestyle changes as we get older. This can leave some people feeling stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place, because the decision to lose weight and the decision not to both involve certain risks.
Nevertheless, it is not impossible for people who have recovered from eating disorders to engage in healthy weight loss. These folks may want to talk to a doctor, nutritionist or other professional about their history and their concerns before beginning a weight loss plan. Peer support groups may also be helpful for people who are worried about encountering old triggers and settling into disordered eating habits again.
Staying Away From the Numbers
Relatively nonrestrictive diet and exercise plans are often the best choice for people in this situation. Diets that focus on counting every calorie consumed and every exercise calorie burned can feed into the obsessive behavior that characterizes eating disorders. Plans that focus less on “negative energy balance” and more on developing a positive relationship with healthy foods and exercise can help to avoid triggering dangerous habits.
The physical experience of expending more energy that you are consuming is uncomfortable for most people. You feel hungry, and hunger can be accompanied by irritability, headaches, light-headedness or nausea. However, this experience can actually feel good to people with a history of anorexia nervosa, and they can begin to prefer that feeling to the feeling of fullness that most people prefer.
Fortunately, not all weight loss plans involve extremely restricted calorie intakes and portion sizes that leave people feeling hungry most of the time. Nor is it absolutely necessary to step on a scale every week, a practice that can be a major trigger. Some approaches to physical health and wellness discourage people from using scales at all, on the principle that establishing healthy food and exercise habits will improve overall health and allow people to naturally settle into a healthy weight.
If necessary, you can also ask someone else to help you track your weight. You might make regular visits to your physician or a nutritionist, who can help you determine if you are making positive changes and progress without actually letting you know the numbers.
Losing Weight After Binge Eating Disorder
These challenges generally apply to people with a history of anorexia, and sometimes bulimia, who restrict the calories that their bodies process in order to lose drastic amounts of weight. However, people who lived with binge eating disorder can face different challenges when it comes to weight loss.
Because people with binge eating disorder do not purge the calories they consume—as people with bulimia do—being overweight or obese is a frequent result. It is often important for these individuals to lose a little or a lot of weight, but this can sometimes prolong the inability to manage food in a healthy way. Some people go straight from regular binges to restrictive eating and may even use diet shakes or similar concoctions to avoid eating.
Unfortunately, this means that these individuals are not learning healthy eating habits and often return to binge eating once they have lost weight and begin to eat real or palatable foods again. The healthier approach is to begin the process of learning to eat normally right away; weight loss happens much more slowly this way, which can be frustrating, but it is also much more likely to be permanent rather than temporary weight loss.