Weight Gain in Anorexics

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Weight Gain in Anorexics

For young people overcoming anorexia, setting goals to regain weight is a crucial part of the recovery process. Often, these goals change throughout treatment, especially since the individual’s body may still be growing. Because of this, it is important for people suffering from the illness to build a trusting relationship with their physician, where they can play an active role in determining their own healing process.

As Dr. William Davis from the Renfrew Center points out, “Ultimately, weight gain follows from or moves in step with the therapist’s ability to create a relationship that engages and then transforms the patient’s stagnant, self-protective anorectic experience.”

Establishing a target weight

Among the first goals set in the recovery process is the establishment of a target normal weight within an acceptable ideal weight range for the individual. Sometimes, reaching the target weight may be expected to take a long time, and smaller, intermediate goals can help recovering anorexics progress with more manageable steps. For instance, if weight gain is too difficult at the start of treatment, a first goal would be to stop weight loss and to maintain a constant weight.

A variety of factors go into deciding the target weight and range. Often, physicians will consult pediatric growth charts to determine a reasonable weight based on the individual’s height and age. These charts are important for revealing growth patterns and may show a tendency for the person suffering from the illness to be similar to a particular percentile within the population. Further consideration is given to lowest and highest weights the person has achieved within the last several months, as well as their growth and weight throughout their life. Also, they will look at the person’s body type, and the body types found within their family. “We note the height and size of her mother and the age at onset of menses in the mother and female siblings. We also note the patient’s growth and weight curve from the time of birth,” notes Dr. Katherine Halmi of Cornell University Medical College.

Participation by the individual suffering from the illness in setting a goal weight is an important way for them to understand how all these factors contribute to formulating reasonable and achievable goals.

Beyond weight goals

While the achievement of weight restoration is an important part of overcoming anorexia, other areas of treatment must be emphasized as well, and excessive focus on weight increase can interfere with recovery. People in recovery are encouraged to monitor their food intake and be mindful of the attitudes and feelings that accompany their eating.

A nutritionist or dietician can also lend invaluable support in creating an eating program to fit the preferences of the individual. Studies have shown that individuals well attuned to their experience, and to feelings of hunger and satisfaction, become less self-critical when dealing with stressful situations, and have greater success in overcoming their illness.

Reprinted with permission from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Summer 2003 Volume 1, Number 5
©2003 Gürze Books

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