Let’s talk about how to gain weight… because not everyone is trying to lose it. Now that most of my eating disorder story is out in the open, I wanted to share some of the steps I took to regain the weight I lost. I also want to touch on period loss, since the two are closely related. Some other posts that may be helpful are Why I Broke Up With My FitBit and How I Stopped Counting Calories.
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I lost my period for 2+ years, but this wasn’t totally out of the norm for me. I didn’t start my period until I was 17, so I’d always been irregular when it came to this topic.
My family has always been incredibly active, which contributed to my low body fat and inability to start my period in the first place. Instead of watching movies together after dinner or in the afternoon, we would go out and rollerblade, scooter, walk, play tennis, etc. Every night after dinner my mom would make sure we were somewhat active instead of lounging around. I also played just about every sport growing up, and played basketball since the day I could walk.
Flash forward to Junior year of college when my eating disorder decided to enter my life. I was fit, happy, active + extremely “healthy”. I was at an acceptable BMI (eye roll), but my period went missing. It’s hard to know the exact reason it went missing, but I do know I was putting my body under a LOT of stress with my workouts, regimented lifestyle + I was dealing with a lot of deep, emotional issues.
Things got worse when I started losing more weight. I dropped about 20+ lbs and my BMI went below a “healthy” range… PLUS I was still working out TONS and couldn’t sit still.
Once I came to terms with my eating disorder, I knew things had to change. I knew I needed to gain weight ASAP.
First things first: Ladies, we NEED fat on our bodies!
We are supposed to carry babies for goodness sake! My body was in starvation mode and holding onto every ounce of fat it had. It definitely was not giving me the green light to carry a child. Maybe that was fine when I was in high school or college… but I was engaged now. I had to start thinking about the long term repercussions of not having a cycle.
So I decided to take things seriously and add on some pounds.
How To Gain Weight The Healthy Way and The Steps I Took:
Step One: Eat Calorie Dense Foods:
Basically, I started doing the reverse of whatever I did to lose the weight. I had been eating low-calorie, high-water content, high-fiber foods to make me FEEL extremely full (aka make my stomach expand), but these foods weren’t nourishing or satisfying at all. The foods I avoided (hello, peanut butter, whole milk, and olive oil!) were now my BFF.
To gain weight, you need to eat calorie-dense foods that take up little room in your stomach. Since you’ve been eating so little, your stomach has shrunk and you’ll feel like a bloated whale once you start eating normal portions again.
Plot Twist: you won’t just be eating “normal” portions though.
You’ll need larger than normal portions to add the weight back on. Which can make you feel really uncomfortable at first. But you have to keep pushing through.
I love to give the visual of a fishbowl when it comes to our stomachs and weight gain or weight loss. Imagine that a glass fishbowl is your stomach. Now, place 3 cups of broccoli in it. How full does that bowl look? Ok. Now, place 2 tbsp of olive oil in it. How full does the fishbowl look now?
3 cups of broccoli contains WAY fewer calories than the 2 tbsp of olive oil, takes up WAY less space in your stomach than the broccoli. The broccoli makes you feel full (aka expands your stomach) which can feel uncomfortable. When you’re working on gaining weight, you need foods that pack in the calories without making your stomach expand much at all.
Some of my favorite calorie-dense + nutrient-dense foods To Help Gain Weight are:
- Nut butters
- Coconut Oil
- Whole Milk Yogurt
- 4% Cottage Cheese
- Dried Fruits
- Raw Nuts
- Dark Chocolate
- High Calorie Whole Grain Breads
- Nuts + Seeds
- Milk + Juices
A lot of men and women get nervous about re-gaining or gaining weight because they think this means they’ll have to eat fried chicken, mac and cheese or whatever “unhealthy” foods come to mind. This isn’t true, but you should also challenge yourself to eat some of these fear foods because it’s part of your recovery journey.
Living in fear of any kind of food is no way to live!
I started sneaking in these calorie-dense foods wherever I could. I added tons of peanut butter to my normal morning oats, would snack on dried fruit or trail mix throughout the day, cooked everything in olive oil, swapped my normal non-fat yogurt for the full-fat stuff and upped all my portions.
Step Two: Replace Your Old Foods with Higher Calorie Versions
One trick is to replace the foods you normally ate with higher calorie versions. If you loved having a fat-free yogurt bowl with plain cereal, fruit + PB2, try making a whole milk yogurt bowl with granola, peanut butter, and chia seeds! Your stomach won’t feel much different than it did when you had your previous yogurt bowl and this will help you mentally.
This is also easy to do with slices of bread or grains.
Replace your 50 calorie slice of bread with a hearty, seedy 110 calorie slice or swap out that cauliflower rice you’ve been using for the real stuff! These simple swaps take little effort and are a great way to sneak in more calories without noticing it or feeling it.
Step Three: Eat… Even When You’re Not Hungry
Since you’re adding so many calories into your diet, it’s likely you won’t be hungry for your next meal (or that your mind will tell you you aren’t because you know you’re at a higher calorie count than normal).
Listen up: you still have to eat!
During the time of my eating disorder, I would wait until I was STARVING to have my meal. It was part of the mental trap I was living in. You have to shut that ED voice up and eat anyways.
Make breakfast/lunch/dinner plans with friends that will keep you accountable. It’s a lot more fun to eat in the company of others and it will distract you from your food thoughts.
Step Four: Take Rest Days or Skip Working Out Altogether
I know how scary this can sound, but it’s absolutely necessary. I was working out way past the point of “healthy”. I was exhausted at the end of every day and unless I felt like my legs would crumble to the floor, I didn’t feel like the day was a success.
I switched to low-intensity workouts. I would walk around 3 miles three times a week. I had the mentality that if I didn’t work out this made me “lazy”, but that’s simply not true and something I had to learn. My body craves movement, but I found that staying busy with other tasks kept me from feeling “lazy”.
I would paint, write, go shopping, hang out with friends, etc. Not working out doesn’t equal laziness. I know PLENTY of people who are extremely ambitious and hard-working that never hit the gym.
And again, as women, our bodies are not designed to be hard as rocks and completely ripped. Unless you’re a bodybuilder and your career depends on having 6% body fat… this is not necessary.
Step Five: Drink Your Calories
This was a big fear of mine. Drinking calories was terrifying. Why waste my calories on drinks of any sort when I so desperately needed to save them for my food? That was my thought process because I was restricting so much. I couldn’t possibly waste my calories on drinks.
Again, we are reverse engineering here. Drinking calories is one of the easiest ways to add calories! I drink water all day long, so swapping a couple of glasses of water with a calorie-filled drink was a great way to pack in a few hundred more calories.
This doesn’t mean you have to reach for a coke or two. What about swapping your morning coffee for a latte or coffee banana smoothie? What about instead of using sugar-free sweeteners in your tea or coffee using the real thing?
It’s an easy swap that you won’t even notice you’re doing that will go a long way.
Step Six: Find Someone to Keep You Accountable
It’s really, REALLY hard to accomplish anything in life on your own. I opened up to a couple of close friends, family members and Michael about what was going on. Eventually, I was opening up to total strangers.
I remember picking out my wedding dress and asking the woman how much room I had in the dress because I was trying to gain weight before the wedding. I was willing to buy a size up if I had to. That’s how committed I was.
You need someone who is going to give you some tough love and hold you accountable for your actions.
Step Seven: Take Responsibility and Commit to Healing
Excuse my language, but you can’t half-ass this. It’s just like anyone going into rehab for an addiction. They have to be willing to do the work and committed to healing or else it simply won’t work. It doesn’t matter how much your husband, mom, dad, best friend, teacher, counselor, etc want you to get better, YOU have to take responsibility. You have to be committed to pushing through the uncomfortable process.
I hope you all can find some valuable takeaways in this blog post and know that you’re absolutely not alone on your journey to weight gain or period restoration. Once I got my body and hormones in check (through weight-gain, rest, and allowing myself to eat ALL foods) my period restored itself and has been regular since! Deep down you know what you need to do, you just need to commit to doing it.
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Got questions? Shoot me a DM. Eating disorders are scary and you don’t have to go through it alone.