This afternoon, as I was cooking lunch, I had a phone conversation with my sister about, among other things, weight gain and how it makes us feel.
My sister rowed crew in college, and as she only graduated in May, she still misses the daily exercise routine that defined her life as an undergraduate. Women's rowing -- like gymnastics, running, and dance -- is notorious for breeding eating disorders, especially among women who row in the "light-weight" category. If you row light-weight, you have to weigh at or under 135 pounds at every race, or you cannot race that day. Given the penalty for being overweight, you can expect that there are a lot of women who go to extreme efforts to shed a few extra pounds before weigh-in. I consider it somewhat miraculous that my sister did not develop an eating disorder in the course of her college career, given my (and our family's) history of eating problems. The misgivings that she has about food and her body fall into the "normal" realm more often than not, and she is a comforting source of reassurance that what I am going through, right now, is thoroughly normal.
I am referring, of course, to my recent weight gain. Although I am more bummed about the fact that my favorite jeans no longer fit me than upset by the notion of "gaining weight," it does disturb me in more ways than I would like to admit. As my sister pointed out, it is especially hard for me because, during recovery from bulimia, I actually lost weight -- which makes sense, as I stopped binging and developed some serious food sensitivities and digestive problems, which limited the amount and types of food that I could have. Thus I associate recovery and being healthy with having a lower weight than what I had when I was fully symptomatic, and now that I am creeping back towards the weight that I had as a bulimic, I am not sure what to make of it. I remember, when I realized that I was actually losing weight and not gaining weight in recovery, thinking that I must have been victim to a divine prank: as soon as I stopped hating my body, as soon as I stopped hurting myself, I lost weight! It seemed so contrary to what I had believed about needing to purge and exercise relentlessly to remain even moderately slim, and it ran counter to everything that I had heard about recovering from eating disorders (which mostly emphasized the fact that people with anorexia need to restore their weight in order to get better). At the time, my weight loss also seemed like a gift, in the sense that I really was much thinner than I had been during the eating disorder, and because I knew that I was thinner, I didn't worry about my weight for the first few years of recovery. It became a non-issue, because I was thin enough.
Which makes me wonder now: what would recovery have been like for me if I had gained 15 pounds instead of lost 15 pounds? Would it have taken me longer to feel better psychologically, or to develop normal eating habits, if I weighed more than I was comfortable with? Was this period of low weight a sort of "grace period," or did it set me up for unrealistic expectations of recovery? (As in -- "Things are hunky-dory: I am recovered from an eating disorder and thinner than I ever was!") I am not sure, but as my body is now undeniably changing in that direction, it has given me more to ponder about the nature of recovery, and the depth (or sincerity) of my love for my own (post-ED) body.
This I do know: my weight is fine right now. More than fine: completely within the realm of normal for a 26-year-old woman. If anything, as my sister was so kind as to remind me, this is just a normal fluctuation in weight accompanying the winter season, and might reverse itself as soon as the warm weather comes around. Or, as I think, it could be the fact that I am in my mid-twenties, and my body has finally decided to shape itself according to its evolutionary purpose (i.e. reproduction).
I also know that I am at a total loss to account for the recent weight gain -- I can't see any real changes in the amount or type of food that I have been eating in recent months, or in the quantity of exercise that I get. I think that this failure to pinpoint a cause to the weight gain is actually a good thing, because it means that I am not tempted to "fix" anything that I am doing. I eat healthily and abundantly, and I indulge in sweets and goodies almost every day. No change from this time last year. I don't get as much exercise as makes me happy (in the endorphin sense), but still, that's no change from last year.
My plans for dealing with this recent blip are to continue on the same path that I have been on: a combination of good home cooking, moderate exercise, and lots of self-love. These are the habits that steared me out of my eating disorders, and in these I place my trust as my body changes in unexpected ways. These are the things that I don't want to lose by gaining.