Physical Recovery Process for a Binge Eater?

By October 18, 2012

After reading Ann’s response to “R” about the physical recovery process from an extremely low body weight, I would like to ask the same question, but from a binge-eater’s perspective. I have been a chronic dieter/binge-eater/over-exercising person for many years. After a knee injury last year during which I could not exercise at my usual levels, I became extremely depressed. A long phase of binge-eating/dieting resulted. I gained about 10 pounds. I am currently seeing both a counselor and nutritionist to find balance. Deep in my heart, I know my current weight is not where I would be naturally. I am simply uncomfortable here. My nutritionist says that I will likely lose this extra weight when my metabolism is re-established, and I achieve a “well-nourished state.” When I started seeing her several months ago, she started to help me add more complex carbohydrates. I have added 4 servings of bread a day over the last few months, and have not gained weight. While my binge eating has improved, the binges still occur, albeit with less frequency. I am a long distance runner and have a difficult time covering my exercise with sufficient food. I presume this is the physiological reason why I binge. I also realize that fear of being alone and anxiety over low self-esteem is the emotional reason I binge. What physical recovery process does a binge-eater go through to reach a natural weight? What is a “well-nourished state”? How can someone who is over-weight (like myself) be poorly nourished? Unlike R, I do not have low body weight. It would help a great deal to have some idea of what changes will happen to my body in the coming months. Thank you for a wonderful website. – Divorcing ED

Dear “Divorcing ED,”

Congratulations on recognizing your disordered eating and getting professional help. It sounds like you are making significant progress. You are beginning to identify your triggers for bingeing, are eating more healthfully, and are asking excellent questions. There is a lot more to the process of recovery, so keep at it and be patient; you will find that place of balance!

Very often, people assume that being under-nourished means being underweight but that’s not always the case. In fact, many people who are normal weight or overweight can still be undernourished when it comes to important nutrients our bodies need. No matter our weight, we need to get most of our calories from a variety of healthy foods that includes a combination of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. In addition, the body needs vitamins and minerals to meet all of its requirements, along with disease-fighting phyto-chemicals (found mainly in fruits and vegetables) and fiber. (Read “A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Weight” for more information than I can provide in this space.)

It’s important to be aware of this information because when we’re undernourished it can take a long period of time to replenish nutrient stores in the body. I can’t give you a specific time-line because it depends on the individual nutrient, as well as the length and extent of disordered eating. For example, if your iron levels are low, it can take months to build them back up, depending on what level you were at.

Similarly, it is hard to give a set answer to your question about the metabolism and weight recovery process for a binge eater. It is way more complex, varied and individualized than recovery from a low body weight (which has been studied longer, since it effects a broad range of ill or starving people—not just those with anorexia). I would like to refer you to another article at this site, “Heaviness and Weight Gain – Explained…” which may address some of your concerns regarding your weight. Keep in mind that the scale can be misleading.

As a long distance runner, you are definitely building muscle (which weighs more than fat), and you are improving your metabolism at this time. But because you were following a low calorie diet previously, that would have had the opposite effect—muscle loss and a slowed metabolism as the body protected itself against perceived starvation. In addition to encouraging a reasonable amount and level of exercise that is optimal for you, your nutritionist is trying to get your food intake to a healthier level, which will be beneficial to your metabolism.

I wish I could be more specific in telling you what to expect in terms of physical changes over the coming months, but especially without a full assessment, I can only give you generalities. I do know that you are doing all the right things, and can tell you that with each month, you will feel more energy, strength, stamina, confidence, and peace—and your weight will ultimately fall to what is healthiest for your body type. Keep at it!