This is a topic that I get asked about often. This is something I’ve helped many clients with. This is something I’ve gone through and experienced myself.
Eating to gain weight, specifically weight restoration in eating disorder recovery, is NOT easy. It’s uncomfortable, time consuming, and exhausting. But, it’s also 100% necessary.
I’m not going to get into the science or data behind why complete weight restoration is so important for recovery, but I will say this:
If you are not fully weight restored, your chance of relapse is increased significantly.
You’re also far more likely to have serious medical complications that may or may not be reversible with weight restoration.
A few things before I get started:
Not everybody that struggles with an eating disorder will have to complete weight restoration. Eating disorders do not have a “look”, and you cannot always identify somebody struggling based only on their appearance. However, regulating eating patterns and creating a healthy relationship with food is always a part of recovery.
This advice does NOT take the place of or override working with a professional. If you are struggling, I strongly suggest working closely with a team (therapist, registered dietitian, doctor, etc.) to monitor and guide your recovery.
If you’re in need of a dietitian, I’m happy to chat and see if working together might be a good fit! I am accepting new clients, and I can work virtually with individuals nationwide. Contact me here!
Though this post is geared toward eating disorder recovery, these suggestions are applicable to anybody in need of weight gain, if other medical conditions do not cause contraindication.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to business!
Like I said, restoring weight in recovery is HARD. There are a few key concepts to practice during this time, and then I’ll discuss some ways to apply them.
It’s tough to list all of the possible options for increasing your intake and applying the concepts below in a single blog post. SO, I put a lot of time into creating guide to go along with this post that discusses each point further and lists more tips, food swaps, and meal and snack ideas.
Your eating disorder probably tends to choose foods that are very voluminous (i.e. low calorie; vegetables, fruit, rice cakes, etc.). This is the opposite of what you need during a period of weight gain. Choosing foods that are more dense might be scary, but your body will appreciate having less volume to digest. You’ll feel less full and bloated, and you’ll probably begin to expose yourself to some different foods inevitably.
I’m not saying that you need to eliminate fruits and vegetables from your diet, because you don’t. Just be mindful of how much you’re consuming. 1-2 servings of each per day is more than enough to get the nutrients you need during this time if you’re eating adequately from the rest of the food groups.
Picture a jar filled with golf balls. This is your stomach after you eat food. Now, pour some juice into the jar, and it’s going to fill in all the little cracks and crevices. This is how liquid calories can help to increase your intake, so utilize them!
Eat frequently, and incorporate multiple snacks throughout the day. I’m not talking about eating yogurt at 8am, a salad at 12pm, an apple at 3pm, dinner at 6pm, and popcorn at 8pm. Three hefty meals and three nutrient-dense snacks, minimum.
When you’re not use to eating this much, it can feel like you’re eating all day. Your body really will start to get used to this type of schedule, and it won’t feel so difficult. Just be consistent, and remember that weight restoration doesn’t last forever.
MORE, not less
Rather than the restriction, deprivation, “less” mindset, think MORE. Yes, more food, more snacks, larger portions, that extra cookie, more toppings, but also just more LIFE. Your eating disorder wants to keep you trapped in this cycle of feeling not good enough, but you are worthy of recovery and you deserve MORE.
So how can you start to apply these things?
The best way to debulk is to utilize the most dense foods: fats. Always cook with oil. Use dips with fruits and vegetables, such as hummus, nut butter, or ranch dressing. If you eat a salad, use a generous amount of full-fat or oil-based dressing. Use half of a large avocado on your toast instead of a quarter.
Another part of debulking— think COMBINING. Put a lot of items into one thing. For example, make a big shake with frozen fruit, milk, oats, nut butter, flax seed, protein powder, and honey. Put a sauce and sunflower seeds in your stir-fry. Never eat anything ‘plain’. Add, add, add, because every little bit can help make a difference to reach your goal.
Really try to stay away from extra voluminous foods during this period of high caloric intake. Pick the more DENSE foods. For example, have rice instead of cauliflower rice. Use bagels instead of English muffins or rice cakes. Instead of fresh fruit, have dried fruit.
Other than water, try not to drink things with zero calories. These will provide extra fullness that you want to try and avoid. Also, yes you should drink water, but only as much as you need. The rest of your liquids should come from caloric beverages.
Add milk, cream, sugar, and/or honey to coffee or tea. Drink fruit juice and milk with meals. Select the regular sodas or beverages rather than the ‘diet’ versions.
Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve found 3 meals and 3 snacks to be the most effective meal structure during weight restoration. This could look something like breakfast at 8am, snack at 10am, lunch at 12pm, snack at 3pm, dinner at 6pm, snack at 9pm. Whatever your schedule looks like, make sure you’re not waiting longer than 3-4 hours between meals and snacks.
try new things!
Expanding the kinds of foods that you eat is another really important part of recovery and creating a healthy relationship with food. Buy foods that are scary or “off-limits”, go out to eat, eat things that aren’t prepared by you, whether that’s something at a social gathering or purchasing a prepared item. It can be helpful to plan these things with intention. For example, go out to eat with a friend or family member for support and accountability. Set manageable goals for buying and eating fear foods, such as purchasing 1-2 new things each week to incorporate into meals or snacks.
I know that all of these things are much easier said than done, and more than the physical discomfort is the mental strength needed to actually DO IT. This is somewhere that having a professional team and a strong support system can really make a difference.
Don’t forget to download the more comprehensive guide I’ve created with all of this information, plus further tips, meals, snacks, and ideas.
If you are currently in the process of or needing to begin weight restoration, I hope that this post was helpful. I hope that you can begin to apply some of these concepts and move forward in your journey. It’s hard, but you’re strong. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it.
Please never hesitate to reach out to me for any reason!