One of the most uncomfortable, frustrating, challenging, and counter-cultural parts of recovery is intentionally gaining weight until you are the size that God created you to be. The only people that I know who intentionally want to gain weight are my guy friends that want to “get big” and put on muscle. As difficult as it is, weight restoration is one of the most important components of recovery.
Weight restoration is much more than gaining weight; It’s the first step to restoring your physiological, emotional, and psychological health. When your body has been deprived of vital nutrients for a significant amount of time it doesn’t just affect your size. Under nutrition alters brain function, specifically dopamine pathways, which can have a great impact on how a person with an eating disorder interacts with their environment.¹ Put bluntly, when you aren’t eating enough your body starts to shut down, even your brain. Alterations in brain function for me included increased anxiety and depression, OCD, irrational and illogical thinking, irritability, alterations in sleeping patterns, and the inability to concentrate.
The pain of recovery pushed me to get better. I was sick of being in the world but not really living. I didn’t like it, but I knew that the first step to getting better was to pull back on exercising and to eat higher calorie foods. It wasn’t until I agreed to the process of restoring my weight that I truly began to heal and my brain chemistry began to heal. My concentration gradually became better and better; my anxiety and depression lifted; I began to experience true joy and life with the people that I love. It’s a really humbling and incredible experience being able to “come back to life”. Each day I am more and more thankful for the live that God has given me, my beloved friends and family, and the opportunity to use what God has entrusted me with to bring him glory.
That being said….weight restoration is hard. Your body fights hard to stay at the place it is comfortable and used to. It was physically painful and psychologically exhausting…but I knew I needed to do it. I knew I needed to listen to my recovery team, and I knew that I was sick, and I desperately wanted to recover.
With weight restoration, there is always usually a body image component. Like I mentioned before, I don’t know any person who really desires to gain weight in a culture that tells you that if you work hard enough and restrict enough food you will be able to get the body that you want. That may be true to an extent…but what the media doesn’t tell you is that for many people it would be living hell for them in they actually became the size that they desired.
Despite my commitment to recovery and the decision to get better, I still do struggle with body image at times. There are days when I don’t think about it or I am just to grateful and thankful that I am healthy (these days are great), and there are days when I am anxious or down because I think that I am gaining too much weight or that don’t look pretty.
Last week after class I walked by one of my professors and they commented, “Wow you look beautiful today! I love your outfit!” I politely said thank you, and in the back of my mind I thought, “That’s weird that she said that to me…this whole day I have been self-conscious about this outfit and I have felt ugly. Does she really think I look beautiful or was she just saying that? What am I to believe?”
When we hear the lies in our head that say that we are, “ugly, out of shape, untoned, disproportionate, thick, bony, chunky, chubby, over weight, under weight, too fat, too skinny”, we must know that those voices are completely and 100 percent not true. More and more I am able to identify truth when compared to a lie in my head. I know that when I think negatively about my body that I am just believing the lies that Satan plants in my head. Most girls that I know don’t have eating disorders….yet almost every girl I know struggles with body image or would like to change something about their body, fitness, level, hair, or shape. Many of my friends and family have criticized themselves, saying that they are flabby, big, out of shape, gross, etc. It truly is hard living in a world that constantly tells us that there is something wrong with the way that God made us.
When I catch myself getting upset about my body or comparing myself to other people I try to do a few things to ease that anxiety and remind myself of what is true:
- I remind myself of who God says I am (Precious, righteous, pure, saved, redeemed, a beautiful daughter, & his masterpiece).
- I remember the advice from my mom at the beginning of recovery, “It doesn’t matter if are never able to wear the same pair of pants again; you have to gain weight to be healthy. You are more than a size, you are a child of God! I am doing battle with you and I love you!”
- I thank for what my body can help me do (walk, talk, run, hug, love, write, study, laugh).
- I fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith.
- I find something that is productive to do that takes my mind off of myself (draw, paint, write, study, hangout with friends, clean, read, etc.)
- I identify lies in my head and cover them with truth through prayer and scripture memory.
- I think about the younger girls in my life, and how I want to be a role model to them.
Right now I am a few sizes different than what I was at the beginning of recovery and that is a really good thing. Some of my clothing still fits, and that’s great. Some of it fits me the way it should rather than just hang from my body, which makes me nervous. Some of my clothing is too small for me to even attempt to put on… and that’s okay. I went shopping the other weekend and I purchased clothes that were smalls, mediums, and larges. I looked in the mirror and I was genuinely happy with what I saw because God has given me the beautiful opportunity to develop a biblical body image so that maybe I can inspire some of my friends, family, and strangers to put in the work to start loving their bodies for how God treated it to be.
As a sister in Christ, I want to challenge you to join the fight against negative body image with me. What if we spent all of the time that we wasted criticizing ourselves in the mirror praying for our friends and family, getting into God’s word, listening to some worship music, encouraging a friend, or thanking God for the beauty in each day? The world has enough women who are hyper focused on working out and their appearance. Each day, I am working to become a daughter of the king who is not shaken by the pressure of this world to conform myself into something that I am not. I pray and ask God to help me see myself the way that He sees me, and to enable me to fix my eyes on him and the needs of other people. I desperately don’t want to waste my time here on earth pursuing something that is so small in light of eternity. Please join with me…please fight with me. It isn’t easy, but God has prepared us to engage in battle with everything that the world throws at us. His armor is more powerful than anything in this universe.
- Frank GKW. The Perfect Storm- A Bio-Psycho-Social Risk Model for Developing and Maintaining Eating Disorders. Front Behav Neurosci. March 2016:1-4.