Recovery from an eating disorder is no easy feat.
And no one’s process is the exact same.
For some, it takes years to get sick and tired of being sick and tired. Eating disorders are stubborn little boogers that don’t like to go away over night, and it can take many trials-and-errors to come to terms with the fact that: life is not very much fun living under the dictatorship of ED. To really want—really really want—a way out.
For others, the decision (while not easy) comes faster.
(Perhaps the realization that missing out on time spent with friends in order to binge, counting almonds one by one, or working out for hours every day really stinks and that you simply want something different).
No matter your timeline with recovery, there is ONE common theme amongst those who do recover: Choice.
One day, if and when you decide you really want something different than the life your eating disorder has been giving you, the power of choosing to play an active role in your own healing journey is the biggest separator in living a “managed recovery” versus walking in freedom.
Realizing that you have the choice to make “healthy” decisions out of your healthy-recovered-thriving self, rather than listening to the noise and orders of your former unhealthy ways (restriction, binging, overexercising, etc.) will get you far.
MAKING CHANGE HAPPEN
So…here you are…you’ve decided you’re ready. Or perhaps you’ve already made the choice to recover…Woo hoo! Freedom here you come!
While there are PLENTY of “hard times” and fiery hoops to go through (face it: change is hard, no matter what you’re changing), you keep your eyes on the prize: No longer bound to chains of StairMasters, FitBits, isolation and late-night ice-cream dates with Ben & Jerry’s.
And slowly but surely, you “just do it”—you go through the motions, following the scripts of recovery.
In my own inpatient and outpatient treatment experiences this often looked like:
- Processing why you keep running back to ED
- Identifying the triggers for my eating disorder behaviors
- Unplugging from social media
- Eating the Egg McMuffins, takeout pizza, Oreos, double-bagels, Little Debbie Snack Cakes—and whatever other “challenge” food the dietitians told me I should do
- Ordering the French fries and chicken nuggets on a fast-food challenge
- Throwing out the scale
- Refraining from my 4-6 hour “marathon training” sessions in the gym
- Sleeping in instead of waking up at 4 a.m. to fit my workout in before a 6 a.m. flight
It is ALOT of work and mental effort…but I did it…and perhaps you are doing it too—or you’re thinking about doing it.
Eventually…things get easier (like way easier).
- Your mind becomes less obsessed with food, fitness or your body
- You’re able to actually be PRESENT in your own surroundings and with other people
- You stop saying “no”—isolating—and start saying “yes,” bringing people back into you life
- You can think without all that noise going on in your head
- You laugh at the silly old rules you once kept for yourself
- You accept yourself and your body more and more—even on the days you’re not 100% happy, you recognize you are good enough
- You stop striving so hard to be someone else
- You seek self-care rather than self-hate
However, one thing that no one educates you on in recovery (especially recovery from years of struggle or damage to your body)?
Post-recovery recovery—recovering from the aftermath of struggling with an eating disorder long after your mindset has changed and freedom and peace has come in your heart.
The physical side of recovery, long after weight has been restored, or physical behaviors (binging, overexercise, restriction, etc.) have ceased.
Real things like:
- Hyper or Hypo-Metabolism (Super fast or Super Slow)
- Wonky Digestion
- Still Not Having Your Period
- Osteoporosis (Bone health and restoration)
- Body Image Struggles (“even though you are in recovery”)
Eating disorders take a toll on the body, and while your mind can be in a completely different place, sometimes it takes a minute (or years) for your body to catch up.
Today, as a clinician, I see these 5 “struggles” in particular areas no one is really talking about after the thick of recovery—and treatment—is “done.”
This week, we are diving deeper into each of these 5 areas, and I am giving you a plan for beginning to heal and recover in “post eating disorder recovery” recovery.
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Hyper or Hypo-Metabolism (Super fast or Super Slow)
(Healing Your Metabolism in Eating Disorder Recovery: A plan for restoring your hormones)
It’s a search term on Google that yields nearly 700-800,000 search results.
Why is my metabolism so slow?
Why am I hyper metabolic? (fast metabolism)
Why am I still gaining weight?
Why can’t I hold on to my weight?
Metabolism is no easy undertaking—and there are multiple forces and factors that can play a role in the state of your own metabolism post-recovery.
Simply put: Your metabolism basically means the energy your cells require to thrive.
There’s no denying that eating disorders take a toll on your body—metabolism included.
Eating disorders don’t give your body—and cells—the appropriate amounts of energy, or a steady state of energy—and over time, your “metabolic function” and use of energy gets thrown off.
When we force our body to go into “reserve” mode—or starvation mode—with erratic eating habits and patterns (such as severe restriction, to restriction-binging-purging, to simply not eating enough or avoiding certain food groups all together), our body (and metabolism) becomes stressed (like super stressed).
Over time, chronic stress promotes “HPA-Axis dysfunction”—an imbalance that wreaks havoc on the regions and glands of your body that govern your hormones, especially cortisol levels (stress hormones, and consequently, your metabolism).
Unlike “normal stress”—wherein your body REACTS (such as kicking in adrenaline to run from the bear chasing you) and then recovers from that stress, a long-time spent stressed out eventually gets you whole HPA-Axis out of whack, and sooner or later, the HPA-Axis “catches up” to you.
For some, this looks like hypo-metabolism (a slowed metabolism).
Long-term dieting and stress lowers your metabolism in most people.
This is the reason 99% of diets fail!
After an extended period of time in “reserve” mode (i.e. restriction, binging, purging and lack of self-care), your cortisol levels learn to function in a subpar state. Consequently, even as you begin to recover mentally—your body is still playing catch-up after taking a hit through all that stress in your eating disorder days, resulting in what seems like a slow metabolism.
For others, this looks like hypermetabolism (a fast metabolism).
After an extended period of time of restriction and/or inadequate intake of nutrients, once self care and, often times, weight restoration begins, the body says, “Thankyou! Finally I can eat!” and no matter what you eat…it seems like it goes into a hollow leg.
Weight is difficult to maintain no matter what you do, and it seems like your body can’t hold on to what you’ve worked so hard to get.
Whatever the case, neither extreme is easy, or fun, but contrary to popular belief that you “just have to deal” with a “slow” or “fast” metabolism—your body CAN recover and get back to a place of balance.
A huge piece of re-setting the HPA-Axis involves addressing both stress and gut health (discussed next).
Yes, believe it or not when gut health and digestion is “off” our hormones will continue to be off. In addition, stress is the underlying driver in 99% of all disease and imbalance.
And addressing stress DOESN’T just mean doing yoga and saying “om” (although these are both great tactics). Mind, body, soul “stress management” involves addressing stress holistically, from:
- Getting 7-9 hours of sleep most nights
- Not overbooking your schedule
- Incorporating play into your daily life
- Taking 1-2 days of rest or active rest from your usual workouts (and mixing it up)
- Adding variety to your diet (even different fruits and veggies)
- Eating enough—and eating balanced (carbs, fats and proteins)
- Eating real, whole foods—rather than fake, processed, diet foods
- Living with an 80/20 mindset (i.e. balanced)
- Unplugging from screens
- Getting 1 hour of fresh air/sunshine most days
- Starting your day off with a morning routine
…Just to name a few.
In addition, depending on your condition, lab work to assess thyroid function as well as your sex hormones and adrenal-cortisol levels can shed insight into specific targeted supplemental and nutritional supports that can begin to help you “get your metabolism” back.
Contact Thrive to book an in-person or Online consult with Dr. Lauryn today to address the stress in your health, and stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on Healing Your Digestion.