Losing Weight Safely in Eating Disorder Recovery

One of the only steadfast rules I have for Eating Disorder recovery is NO DIETING!  Putting yourself in a restrictive mindset almost always sets you up to binge later, and ultimately you often end up gaining weight when all is said and done.  In an ideal world, we would have lots of time to allow for the natural fluctuations that occur in our weight as we go through recovery, and eventually our weight would stabilize.  99.9% of the time, that is how I operate, and I can guarantee you that if you stick it out, it works.  Sometimes, however, life isn’t that simple.  You’re recovering from Binge Eating Disorder (BED), and your doctor tells you that you need to lose weight, or your health will be at risk.  Your brother is getting married and you can’t fit into your bridesmaids dress two weeks before the wedding.  You gained 70 lbs while you were pregnant, and now you’re too lethargic to keep up with your other kids….you get the idea.  Things do come up sometimes, and while dieting used to always be a one way ticket to binge/purgeville for me, thankfully I’ve picked up some helpful tools to prevent relapse along the way.

Again, I do not recommend dieting if you’re recovering from an eating disorder, but if you’re in a situation where you need to slim down for a very good reason, it’s better to do it safely.  These 4 tips will set you up for success, rather than relapse.

(NOTE: If you are still underweight, DO NOT attempt to lose more weight, even if it’s for a very special event.  It could cause long-term health problems.  If you’re in a situation where you need to fit into something for a very specific reason, communicate with the other people involved, and let them know you need to wear something else.  You’d be surprised how understanding people are when you’re open about what you’re dealing with.)


Support1. Enlist a Support Person –  
This is the most important thing on this list.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again (and probably 100 more times), recovery does not happen alone.  It’s like that Albert Einstein quote “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”  You can’t expect the same thinking that created the eating disorder to be able to heal it all by itself, especially at the beginning.  Ask someone you trust to support you as you go through this process.  Let them know what your likely difficulties will be.  Tell them what to look out for if they’re around you on a regular basis.  Ask their permission to reach out when you’re feeling triggered.  This is critical, especially in the days/weeks following successful weight loss.  One of the most common causes for relapse with dieting is to let your guard down after the goal has been met.  That’s actually the time to be extra careful as you transition back to more normal eating habits.  Stay in touch with your support person even more during that time, and you can save yourself from a relapse spiral.  If you don’t have a support person in your life, I highly recommend finding an eating disorder recovery support group.  If you live in a small town where there aren’t any, or don’t have transportation, there are even online groups.  No one has to go through this alone!

Farmer's Market Vegetables2. Eat Large Quantities of Nutrient Dense Food –  In other words, vegetables, vegetables, vegetables!  Eat as many low-starch vegetables as you can stomach.  Broccoli, kale, zucchini, peppers, spinach, and green beans are all good options. You don’t want to walk around hungry all day, because you’ll be much more likely to binge.  So fill yourself up on green veggies.  Dr. Joel Fuhrman wrote an entire book on this if you’re interested.  He recommends fresh greens, beans, some fruit, some starchy vegetables and whole grains, lean protein (he advocates as little animal protein as possible), and very small amounts of healthy fats, like nuts and avocados for weight loss.  You get tons of nutrients, you don’t starve, but you still lose weight.  I don’t recommend following this diet for longer than a month at a time while in recovery, even though it is healthy. It can still create a deprivation mindset after a while.  In the short-term, however, it’s WAY better than restricting food quantities or fasting.

3. Up Your Exercise  Unless you have a medical condition that prevents you from exercising, increasing your exercise is always a better bet for eating disorder recovery than reducing your food intake.  For us, restricting food triggers all kinds of chain reactions in our brain that lead to binging.  Maybe not right away, but chances are it will happen eventually.  Reduce calories by burning more, not eating less.  Increased exercise paired with the dietary guidelines above will help you lose weight without being triggered.

Yoga at Lightning in a Bottle4. Cut out Alcohol – Alcohol in recovery is tricky to begin with, but it is straight up dangerous when you’re dieting.  It reduces your inhibitions, which we normally think of as dancing on tables, or kissing a cute stranger.  When we’re talking about eating disorder recovery, losing your inhibitions can mean eating healthfully all day, and then after a few drinks eating an entire large pizza, or several pints of ice cream.  Once your guard is down, binges can happen very quickly, and then chances are purging comes next.  If you’re putting yourself at risk by trying to lose weight in the first place, alcohol is a complication you don’t need.  Now that marijuana is legal in more and more places, the same rules apply for all you stoners out there.  Unless you’re 100% sure you’re not going to be facing munchies–which can also lead to binging and purging–cut it out.  Let’s not make this more challenging than it needs to be.

I am curious to hear how you do with this, so if you try these tools and have any feedback, please comment below.  Best of luck to you, and remember: recovery first!!!

(All photos by Daryl Henderson)

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