minor weight loss for someone with history of ED
August 20, 2014 5:58 PM   Subscribe

I want to lose ten to fifteen pounds. I was bulimic for five years. How do I accomplish the former without revisiting the latter?

I'm in my early 20s. 5'2" and about 120 lbs. I know that doesn't sound like too much, but I just don't carry the weight well at all. I have thin limbs and small breasts, so when I'm outfitted in well-fitting clothes, I look quite petite. However, I've gained about ten to fifteen pounds (I don't weight myself so this is a guess) in the last few months and all of it has gone to my stomach and hips. The weight gain isn't just in my head because clothes that fit me in November don't fit me now. It makes me unhappy, I don't like it, and I want it gone.

I gained weight because I had two guests staying with me for two months. They were two dudes in their early 20s who are over 6', so they would eat constantly, and they would drink constantly, and it was the drinking that was my downfall. I stopped drinking a month ago. I don't drink soda. I don't have desserts. So what's the problem with a healthy diet?

The language and behavior around dieting is so triggering that I don't know how to continue without reverting back into a version of myself where I throw up after every meal. It has taken me years to get to a place where I don't have an emotional crisis if I eat a donut and god forbid, let myself digest it. (And really, I'm not eating donuts constantly. I'll have one when I visit my dad, which is like, once every two months.) So when I hear advice like "no carbs, no refined sugar, no this, no that", I understand the science behind it and I understand why it's necessary but a part of me recoils, because I spent five years of my life living with that mindset to the point where I cried ater my dad's birthday dinner because I had to eat pasta and didn't have time to purge. I don't want to hate myself for enjoying food and alcohol because in the grand scheme of things, on my deathbed, I'd rather remember enjoying a good dinner with close friends than crying in the bathroom because I feel "forced" into eating.

I exercise, but either way I slice it, calorie restriction has to happen for me to lose weight. I also know that after losing the weight, healthy and consistent eating habits are integral to not gaining the weight back. For me, "no carbs, no sugar, no beer or wine, no junk ever" is unsustainable because it will crescendo into a full-blown fear or avoidance of food. I haaaaaate terms like "clean eating" because it divides food into good and bad camps, and that also aggravate my disordered tendencies.

I've seen this very similar recent thread, but the advice is either of the "no carbs, no snacks, no bad fats" variety or assumes that I'm baking and going out to restaurants all the time (which are totally fine things to do, but I don't do that, so the advice to stop doing that doesn't help me.)

So basically, considering all of the above, how do I lose weight without relapsing into the awful disordered eating habits?

(Our favorite answer, therapy, will happen in September once I switch over to insurance that covers it.)
posted by apophenia to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You're well in the healthy BMI range and a healthy weight for your height. I highly, highly suggest you waiting until you get back in therapy before making a decision.
posted by lpcxa0 at 6:04 PM on August 20, 2014 [16 favorites]

Although, reading the answer to lpcxa0, I do wonder whether maybe this is a decision that you should wait to make until after therapy. It sounds like this is an issue that is really tangled emotionally for you, and it might be wiser to sit on it until you're working with a professional, especially if you think it might trigger a return of disordered eating habits.
posted by ClaireBear at 6:09 PM on August 20, 2014

Here's what I'd do: go back to the way you ate and drank and exercised before your friends came to visit. It may be that getting back to your usual habits will naturally bring you back towards your usual body. Do it for at least a month, maybe two. Then, if that's not working, by then it will be September, and you can work with a therapist who specializes in eating disorders to either come up with a way to change your habits without hurting your mental health, or to come to a place where you can accept and love your body at whatever size it happens to be right now.

But first, just accept that you went through a temporary weird period, and wait to see whether you'll feel better now that you're back to your regular lifestyle. If it took you two months to gain it, it's totally reasonable to focus on spending the next two months letting yourself get settled back into your routine, and seeing if that makes you feel happier and healthier.
posted by decathecting at 6:18 PM on August 20, 2014 [19 favorites]

I have a serious medical condition and it made cutting calories an impossibility. What did work for me was to focus on eating nutritionally dense foods and to learn a whole lot about what kinds of nutrients my body might be needing based on symptoms and cravings and the like. So I learned to listen to my body in a way that informs me what kinds of nutritionally dense foods work for me.

I do not count calories and I do not restrict intake (which may be specific to my condition -- I have high calorie needs) but eating nutritionally dense foods which take good care of my body has resulted in me being less hungry and in growing smaller over time. I used to be a size 24-26. Now, I am about "normal" for someone my height though I still have some belly bloat (common with my condition) but even that has begun to shrink further in recent weeks with me focusing on eating certain specific things to address my body's tendency to retain fluids,
posted by Michele in California at 6:26 PM on August 20, 2014

Best answer: First - if you gained because you started drinking a lot of calories and have cut that out without adding anything else, you will probably settle back to a lower weight. It's only been a month, it takes time. Be patient.

And yes of course therapy BUT. You don't say how much you exercise or how effective it is? I found cardio (specifically for me, training for distance running races) to be so, so helpful when trying to recover and also not gain a ton of weight/lose 5-10 pounds (also at 5'2"). It was helpful because 1) it calmed the BUT CALORIES panic I used to feel after eating a normal meal, since I knew I was going to use them; and 2) it helped me reframe food as necessary fuel. Like, I knew I couldn't train hard to get faster if I didn't eat and digest properly.

I know exercise can take on bulimic features for a lot of people, so only you can say what is comfortable for you. I found that with a reasonably full life I could not dedicate enough time to exercising for it to become a problem or for me to rely on it as way to purge. Exercise as a tool for weight loss/maintenance is pretty slow but overall it feels more sustainable for me to have a (pretty focused) habit of lifting and running 5-7 hours a week and not worry too much about diet.

Last - it can take a long time to untangle portion size/habits for nutrition and healthy pleasure and satiety if you used to eat primarily for other reasons. Like, I struggled for years with it; the difference between the old and new normal is astonishing, and I never even really binged, just was a habitual keep-up and clean-the-plate eater. Again something therapy and time will help you with.
posted by peachfuzz at 6:29 PM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I highly, highly suggest you waiting until you get back in therapy before making a decision.

This is my first suggestion.

My second suggestion, as someone who is roughly your size and also gets sort of grumpy when I've gained seven pounds and it makes me look lumpy is concentrate on eating better, not necessarily less. I pay attention to what I'm eating using MyFitnessPal. I like it because I can keep an eye on the balance of basic food areas (fats, proteins, salt, potassium is something I have to keep an eye on) and the water I drink. It encourages good eating habits but if you're not eating enough it bugs you about it. It's a good reminder that the path to being healthy is to eat not too much and not too little because your body does all sorts of weird/bad things. I found it helpful. That said, I'd check in with a therapist just to have someone keeping you on a good path. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 6:36 PM on August 20, 2014

Best answer: Some framing I should have added to my last comment - you have to approach this knowing that between being mentally healthy and being a little smaller, you will choose being healthy. Sounds like you're already there, but you have also to realize that some weeks or months or years there isn't a way to do both. Learning to care less about ten pounds up or down can be a big feature of really getting better. You're at a good weight/size by all objective measures - so make your own measures kinder.
posted by peachfuzz at 6:42 PM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Agree with decathecting and others; you've ditched the alcohol, it's just going to take a while for that weight to come off.

As jessamyn said, maybe instead of thinking in terms of deprivation and excluding foods that some might judge as 'bad', you could focus on building positive associations with foods that you know will help you meet your goals, concentrating on how they are contributing to your health and strength, and maybe approaching them on the aesthetic front, too.

Like, rather than penalizing yourself for having a croissant for breakfast, think about getting your five a day in, or on how that amazing roasted chicken you had for lunch is going to fuel you through the day, or on what new and delightful things you could do to lentils (which are nutty and hearty, and have fed people since biblical times, and taste fantastic with goat's cheese and tomatoes, imo).
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:45 PM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Babe, you don't need to lose weight. You just need to figure out an exercise plan to help you get toned. You also don't need a diet -- you need a dietician to help you organize disordered eating and a CBT trained therapist who can help you quell the destructive thinking that led to the place you're in now. You are not unhealthy. You are not in a bad place. You've just got a differently shaped body than you want right now and you can impact that through exercise and patience.

And trust me, I've been there. I've had anorexia and disordered eating for almost 8 years. I got over my battle with food for the most part in the past year or so, but now I'm struggling with the exercise component because of my baggage with being forced to work out in order to be worthy to people I was dating or friends with. We have made it this far -- we will both of us succeed in getting over the mental block preventing us from doing what we need to do in a healthy, body-positive way. I promise.

Good luck.
posted by Hermione Granger at 6:53 PM on August 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Hug. Diet language makes me crazy too - it basically ensures I will binge. But I also acknowledge the need to eat healthily - I just wish "healthy" hadn't been co-opted by diet ads, body shame and restrictive diets. So I feel you.
A few suggestions:
-Do you have a therapist already that you are waiting to see in Sept., or is Sept. the time you will start looking for therapists? Most therapists do a free informational interview beforehand. If you don't already have one it would be good to start looking now and potentially get some good insights now rather than next month.
-Overeaters Anonymous is modeled on AA, is free and is for people healing from all types of eating disorders, not just compulsive overeating (bulimia, anorexia, compulsive overexercising...) If there is a meeting in your community it could be helpful to go - they're free and you'd be around other people with issues around food who are committed to healing. With the caveat that this is in no way a replacement for therapy.
- It takes longer to lose weight than to gain weight - *especially* if you are a woman and especially if you are losing weight in a slow, gradual way instead of a highly restricted diet. It's our bodies doing the best they can to protect us from famine and make sure we can have babies.
- Not sure what types of exercise you do but strength training is super good for you and will help your clothes fit better. Remember your clothes fitting has less to do with "weight" than with your overall body composition. As someone with a background of disordered eating, strength training is very therapeutic for me because I'm actively trying to get *stronger* not *smaller* (although fat loss can happen too).
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 6:54 PM on August 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Take the clothes that don't fit you for now and put them away so you're not looking at them every day and feeli unhappily reminded. Keep what does fit, or buy a flattering wrap/knit dress that will adjust to now and later even. Seconding the fill your fridge with yummy healthy snacks and drinks - maybe reframe this as a chance to learn some new dishes and snacks that are superfoods, like blueberry smoothies and snacking on sweet potato baked crisps?
posted by viggorlijah at 6:57 PM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Even though I can really relate to the terrible feeling of looking/feeling strange to yourself because of weight gain, in reality you're at a healthy weight and this is more of a psychological and cosmetic concern than it is a health concern. That doesn't mean it's not important (it is! your feelings and sense of self are important, too!) but it means that your focus doesn't have to be and maybe shouldn't be about losing the literal pounds, it can and maybe should be about feeling better in your body.

Something that has really helped me is to learn new, previously daunting physical skills. For me right now, that has meant taking swimming lessons all summer and signing up to take them all fall. I haven't lost any weight from the lessons, though the unfamiliar and additional swimming workouts have changed my body composition somewhat. The much more important and fulfilling thing that the swimming lessons do is make me *feel* better in my body (as opposed to making me look better but still feel quasi-crappy/ugly/out-of-control).

I'm learning to do things with my body that I never thought that I could, and that makes me feel a lot of pride in my body and physical ability/strength, and so it feels *good* to treat my body well. Meaning, it feels good to eat real meals and nutritious food, to go to sleep relatively early, to make sure that I'm all cleaned up including flossing -- things that tangentially and slowly are also making me look better, but that are important and that I do now because they physically feel good to me now. I guess all the physical care that I'm putting into my body feels fulfilling also because it's a kind of meditation on the "your body is a temple" idea?

Another upside of learning a new and daunting skill, rather than sticking to the same workouts but going harder or longer, is that you *can't* take the amount that you're exercising or punishing your body in that new sport/physical-task to extremes, because you're still a beginner and there's only so much you can do as such.

Aside from swimming, some suggestions for physical skills that friends have found really rewarding to learn and practice over the long term: rock climbing, singing, horseback riding, and hiking/camping.
posted by rue72 at 7:10 PM on August 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I exercise, but either way I slice it, calorie restriction has to happen for me to lose weight.

Not if you gained only a small amount of weight due to a previous over-consumption that you've already corrected. You're already "restricting" compared to the period when you were drinking a lot. If you're eating reasonably well and moving regularly, it'll drift back down a bit. You're fine. Go get different clothes that fit right now and make you feel good, and if they start being loose, get new clothes then that fit better then.

I also have an ED and a lot of trouble with the fact that my eating habits need to be better but doing things to improve them is triggering. If you're already categorically denying yourself dessert, you're already edging towards the sorts of things where you start acting like deprivation is more laudable than consumption. I have learned over time that this is a very, very bad sign. Depriving yourself more is not going to make you feel better. The most important things, and the hardest to learn, are patience and acceptance. Your problem is not your weight, your problem is your unhappiness. Keep working on that part. (And so will I.)
posted by Sequence at 7:27 PM on August 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

You note that you exercise, but what exercises do you do? Is it mostly cardio, and if so, would it make sense to instead lift weights? Could that be a way to stay at a constant caloric intake/ weight while changing your body composition to be more what you want?
posted by lewedswiver at 7:53 PM on August 20, 2014

Response by poster: Wow! These responses are wonderful and have already done a lot to soothe my nerves.

Before my friends visited, my exercise was brisk walking (1 hour, 4-5 days a week) and ballet (barre and choreography, 1 hr, twice a week). It's not too intensive, but I was maintaining my weight while eating a decent amount and drinking socially. I'm slowly making the transition from walking to jogging. (I've avoided jogging post-middle school. The timed runs we did in gym class made me feel awkward and embarrassed, but I jogged recently. I didn't hate it! So that's something I'm going to continue doing.)

Truthfully, I've avoided strength training because I hate the idea of people being close to me while I work out, but I'm getting a gym membership in September* to attend the gym's yoga classes. I might as well use their weights if I'm paying for it every month, and they have a women's only gym which takes care of a lot of the anxiety issues I have around working out in public.

(*If you're curious, everything seems to be happening in September because I'm in the middle of moving.)
posted by apophenia at 10:52 PM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: TIME, woman, TIME! Sounds like you're amping up your excercise slightly and going to your pre-guest eating habits so you'll bounce back to your pre-guest body, just after another few weeks.
posted by WeekendJen at 5:12 AM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Truthfully, I've avoided strength training because I hate the idea of people being close to me while I work out, but I'm getting a gym membership in September* to attend the gym's yoga classes. I might as well use their weights if I'm paying for it every month, and they have a women's only gym which takes care of a lot of the anxiety issues I have around working out in public.

I have similar anxiety issues and I've been pretty successful with doing a regular bodyweight routine at home every other day. No dramatic muscle gain, but I feel (and maybe look) stronger and healthier than I did a few months ago. There's lots of programs out there - one I've been liking recently is fitloop. Just a thought if you find anxiety keeping you away from the gym, like it did for me. If not, the yoga and weights at the gym sound like a great idea.
posted by randomnity at 8:28 AM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: One more thing - if you end up doing any kind of strength training (even yoga), it might be good for you to (continue to?) avoid weighing yourself entirely, because heavier muscle will replace fat and this can sometimes make the scale can go up instead of down even as you get more fit. Just something to keep in mind and/or discuss with your therapist in case it might be triggering for you.
posted by randomnity at 4:11 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

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