Have My Muscles Depleted from Anorexia?

By January 24, 2013

I am recovering from anorexia. I am 25 and have been struggling with anorexia for about a year and a half. I started really restricting not quite a year ago. On top of my restriction I was also working out excessively – lifting weights. Since I’ve started my recovery process, I have noticed my legs look slimmer with little definition than when I was at my lowest point in Anorexia. I eat better and still work out, just not as intense. I lift weights occasionally, but now I rely on bicycling, walking, or yoga for strength, plus I want to get back into a healthy mindset of exercise. My questions are: have my muscles depleted? And if so, will they come back? Will I gain fat where the muscles should be? And finally, as I gain weight, will it even out across my body? – Abby

Dear Abby,

Congratulations on your road back to recovery. Sounds like you are working very hard, keep up the great work.

My first question is, how accurate do you believe your perception is of how your legs and body look? You know very well that body image distortion can be quite a problem in eating disorders. A healthy reality check in that department might be a good starting point.

Second, on a very practical level, there is no way of knowing exactly how your body will replete body tissue. That depends primarily on your genetics and the propensity or likelihood that your body builds muscle mass versus body fat. You may have artificially “seen” more muscle on your body with reduced body fat and extreme exercise while you were practicing the eating disorder behaviors. With much more effective, healthy behaviors your body will restore the body fat and muscle mass exactly where it needs to be.

It sounds like you have returned to doing activities that you truly enjoy and not just for burning calories. Continue to explore ways of taking good care of your body and eating with balance, variety and moderation. Having a “perfect body image” may never happen, meaning these thoughts may pop up for a long time. What you can do is to combat them with the truth: what defines my worth? Who says what is beautiful? Am I not more than my body? What can my body do for me (run, dance, laugh, hug, skip, etc.)? Embrace – don’t battle – the natural body that is yours. Stay focused on what really matters and be true.

Juliet N. Zuercher, RD