real talk tuesday: why you feel worse when you first start recovery

when I first started recovery, I naively expected to feel better instantly. I thought within a week of eating minimums and resting, I would have boundless energy like I used to. but I didn't.

because it gets worse before it gets better.

two weeks in and I still couldn't concentrate on anything other than food. I was still never full. I slept even less. I felt even more tired and fatigued and low energy. I endlessly searched the Internet for an explanation. I couldn't understand why I didn't feel better. Was I doing recovery wrong? Why would something that was supposedly good for me make me feel so awful??

if you're having the same "problem" and if it seems like recovery isn't working, this is for you. I promise you aren't alone, we all go through that stage!

here's why you feel even worse when you start recovering:

1) you still aren't eating enough.

probably 90% of the time, this is why people don't feel better in recovery. I know it was definitely true for me. when I was discharged from inpatient and tried to eat intuitively, I thought I was eating enough. I actually thought I was eating too much!

one day I decided to actually count my calories to see and turns out I was WAY under eating. Nowhere near the 2500 minimum I needed! So for the next few days I tracked my food to make sure I was eating at least the minimum amount and surprise surprise, I felt infinitely more energetic and less foggy-headed.

I don't ever recommend counting calories EXCEPT in this situation. If you aren't following any specific meal plan or being monitored by a dietitian/parent, please please please make sure you are eating the minimum amount (see Minnie Maud guidelines here). As people who have suffered from eating disorders, we often have skewed perceptions of what "enough" is so tracking for a few days can help you learn how much you truly need. 

It's a lot more than you think, I bet!


2) you're still exercising.

yep you need to rest. trust me. you won't gain all fat. you WILL gain muscle without exercise just by eating. I know it can be scary to let go of exercise but you need to.

because when you exercise at the beginning of recovery, your body is using the food you eat to balance out the exercise instead of using it for necessary repairs. so exercising keeps you stuck in a quasi recovery that is absolutely miserable and equally damaging to your body as your ED!


3) your body is doing repairs.

most likely you have a lot of damage to your internal organs and body in general if you've been dealing with an eating disorder. and that means it's going to take a lot to fix that.

when you first start recovery, your body sucks up all the energy (aka food) you are giving it and directs it towards repairs. that's why you don't have as much energy anymore. because it's being used to heal you! that's a great thing, and more reason to keep eating and eating :)


4) your body is adjusting to receiving adequate food.

when you've restricted and denied your body proper food for awhile, your digestive system and all other systems (like metabolism) slow down. so when you begin feeding it again, at first it's completely overwhelmed. it's a shock to the system!

while it's trying to adjust to the amount of food it's now getting, you'll feel like crap probably to be honest. but trust that this will fade as long as you continue to feed your body. it will get used to it and normalize.

I know feeling worse during recovery is a bummer. and, more than just being a pain, it can also be a trigger to relapse. you might question why you should even recover if it's just going to make you worse.

don't listen to that voice. don't let the ED voice win this time. not again.

the only way out is through.

i mean that. the only way you will ever feel better is if you push through the feeling worse stage. your body needs to learn to trust you again and to adjust to the new healthy you. give it time. be patient.

as cliche as it sounds, recovery is very much a marathon, not a sprint!