Weight is but one data point to assess medical progress during recovery from an eating disorder. When any person eats regularly for over a year, weight can still fluctuate quite a bit due to several factors such as fluid shifts, hormonal shifts, changing seasons and changes in daily routine. The body attempts to keep weight within a range, but that range is much wider than what many people can accept psychologically.
Weight reflects part of the natural state of balance the body seeks in order to maintain stability called homeostasis. The human body works to stay in a range of weight to promote health but a specific weight is not important.
People with eating disorders and many people focused on food and weight believe otherwise. They think they can control weight within a pound or even less, with the advent of scales that measure to the tenth of a pound. The psychological and emotional effort expended to maintain a specific number dominates many people's lives and completely takes over the mind of most people with an eating disorder.
During eating disorder recovery, one's body often needs to switch into a healing mode which can have a significant effect on weight, albeit temporarily. For instance, many people become constipated as their gastrointestinal system heals which leads to bloating, fluid retention and increased weight. Metabolism can slow down to adjust to periods of starvation in all eating disorders which can result in a temporarily higher weight. Normalizing of fluid maintenance, how the body stores water, often leads to fluid retention and weight gain as well.
These changes are short-term but cloud the use of weight as a marker of health.
In addition to weight, there are many other ways to assess improvement in health. Regular food intake is the first and foremost sign of recovery. No matter the other factors, improvement in daily eating is a sign of health. People often experience increased energy, higher stamina, normalization in gastrointestinal function, ability to withstand temperature changes and improved circulation, to name a few. These markers of health take more time to follow and assess but give a much more thorough picture of health and recovery.
The next post will take these thoughts about weight a step further. What are some reasons for our obsession with weight for people with eating disorders and for our society?