When You Go From ‘Underweight’ to ‘Overweight’ While in Treatment for Anorexia

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By: Lizzie Janniello

This is a topic that I don’t think is discussed as much as it should be. I also know that this is a very touchy topic. I will tread lightly and only explain things from my perspective and my personal journal towards recovery.

When I started treatment for anorexia 17 months ago, I was in a really bad place. I was depressed, suicidal, and very underweight. My eating disorder had a full grasp on my otherwise happy and successful life. But it tormented me and convinced me that I needed to lose weight in order to be happy, successful, and pretty. And I listened to it. With the weight loss that I so desired, I lost everything that was important to me. My relationships were strained, I couldn’t succeed at my job, and I fell into a deep depression.

Fast forward 17 months, to today. I am still in treatment. But only this time, according to my BMI, I am considered overweight. I don’t feel like myself and I’m embarrassed. All I want to do is hide. I am embarrassed and sad. So I texted a two close friends and my therapist for some support, and they gave me a few interesting things to think about.

My therapist said that the BMI doesn’t actually measure anything important.

So true. But oh, so hard to believe. How am I supposed to be confident in my recovery when I look like this? When I am, literally, overweight. I’ve struggled my whole life, always being underweight yet feeling obese and fat. But now the problem is that I actually am overweight. I’m sure some of you can understand what that feels like. I feel like a balloon, like all my clothes are busting at the seems. My friend described it as feeling like a Telly tubbie. It’s so true. I feel disproportionate, pudgey, and whalelike. This is not me. I entered treatment to help me with body image, but how is this helping me? How is taking me from one extreme to another going to help?! I simply did not understand.

My therapist said I needed to work on “radical acceptance”. I know, I know, DBT is the key. But it’s so hard. I so desperately want to look like all those models in magazines- my friend describes them as “clothes hangers” because of their lack of curves and skeletal structure. I don’t know who’s to blame, maybe it’s the media, maybe it’s how I was raised. But no matter the reason, that’s what I want to look like. And so I took my body through the extremes of restricting, and managed to change the way I looked, so that I would resemble the ideal image I had in my head. But yet my body image still told me I was fat and overweight and that I should just keep losing a little more. Even when extremely underweight, I would body check and grab and pinch all the areas where I thought I was “too fat.” I was very sick.

Well I tried to do the right thing- three times in the past year and a half, I have entered treatment. And now, I am overweight because of it. It makes me wonder what I’ve gained, besides weight. Did I make the right decision, entering treatment? According to my values, yes. According to my eating disorder, no. Is this all my eating disorder getting louder and louder? Telling me I need to lose weight? Or is that the normal voice of a girl, any girl, just striving to feel confident in her own skin?

What I’ve learned, is that no matter what size I’ve been, I’ve yet to be confident. So what does that mean? I think that means that confidence has nothing to do with our appearance. I think it’s all about the way we perceive ourself. Our smiles. Our laugh. I want to feel confident. But I know that weight loss isn’t the answer anymore (even though that means I have to fight every urge, everyday, not to lose weight). It’s about learning to love yourself and truly embracing health at every size. I know that my body needs time to heal… lots and lots of time. I’ve put it through a lot, and overshooting is just it’s way of healing. But knowing that doesn’t make it any easier. It’s hard, especially during summer. If you are in this situation, or can relate to anything I’m going through, go follow some body positive models on Facebook and instagram. Find people who are confident in themselves and try to emulate that in yourself. Embrace your curves! Love your body! Treat it with kindness and respect- after all, we will only ever have one body. But I can tell you one thing that I’ve learned- our appearance is the least interesting thing about us. This quote always sticks with me:

“We get so worried about being pretty. Let’s be pretty kind. Pretty funny. Pretty smart. Pretty strong.”

Go on that date, take the adventure, live life. And stop apologizing for taking up space. Stop hiding because you are embarrassed of your appearance. I can guarantee that you are beautiful. You are loved. You are worthy of happiness, confidence (no matter what your size), and joy. Don’t miss out on life because you’re too worried about what others think about you. Love yourself and that will draw people to you! I know you can do this. I’m trying my best, and I hope that you are too.


About the Author: Lizzie studied psychology at Hillsdale College, a small liberal arts school in Michigan. She currently works as a research assistant in Washington, D.C. She is in recovery and hopes to one day use her experiences to help others struggling with eating disorders. Lots of love and please stay strong! You’ve got this.

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