July 27, 2015

Losing Weight Safely in Eating Disorder Recovery.

Michael Stern/Flickr

*Editor’s Note: No website is designed to, and can not be construed to, provide actual medical advice, professional diagnosis or treatment to you or anyone. Elephant is not intended as a substitute for medical or professional advice, care and treatment.


One of the only steadfast rules I have for Eating Disorder recovery is: no dieting. 

Putting ourselves in a restrictive mindset almost always sets us up to binge later, and we 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 percent 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 pounds 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 during recovery from an eating disorder, but if we’re in a situation where we need to slim down for a very good reason, it’s better to know how to do it safely. These four guidelines will help set us 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 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.)


1. 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.”

We 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 weight loss is to let our guard down after the goal has been met. That’s actually the time to be extra careful as we 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!

2. Eat large quantities of nutrient-dense food.

In other words, vegetables, vegetables, vegetables! Eat as many low-starch vegetables as possible. Broccoli, kale, zucchini, peppers, spinach and green beans are all good options. We don’t want to walk around hungry all day, because we’ll be much more likely to binge. So filling up on green veggies helps tremendously.

Dr. Joel Fuhrman wrote an entire book on this called Eat to Live, 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, although I personally do better with a little fish or free-range poultry), and very small amounts of healthy fats, like nuts and avocados for weight loss. Following these guidelines, we get tons of nutrients, we don’t starve, but we 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 much better than restricting food quantities or fasting. Fasting is literally the worst thing we can do to lose weight during recovery.

3. Up your exercise.

Unless you have a medical condition that prevents you from exercising, increasing exercise is always a better bet for eating disorder recovery than reducing 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 us lose weight without being triggered. I personally like to mix it up with yoga, cardio, resistance training and hiking. Variety keeps us from getting bored, or getting injured.

4. Cut out alcohol.

Alcohol in recovery is tricky to begin with, but it is straight up dangerous when we’re trying to lose weight. It reduces our inhibitions, which we normally think of as dancing on tables, or kissing a cute stranger. When we’re talking about eating disorder recovery, losing our inhibitions can mean eating healthfully all day, and then after a few drinks eating an entire large pizza, or several pints of ice cream (trust me, I’ve been there).

Once our guard is down, binges can happen quickly, and then chances are purging comes next. If we’re putting ourselves at risk by trying to lose weight in the first place, alcohol is a complication we 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 percent 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, and remember: recovery first!


Relephant Read:

Orthorexia: Healing From Disordered Eating.


Author: Iris McApin

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Michael Stern/Flickr

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