Anorexia Recovery: The Silence of Water Retention

by Amy Wilde

We’ve seen the films… After the anorexia sufferer and their loved ones endure their perspective of the illness, eventually, the monumental choice is made to begin their journey to recovery. The credits roll on an uplifting high. We leave with no more than a positive assumption of their glowing transition back to health. The reason why we no longer see the rest of recovery is most likely because it would be an entirely new film altogether.

If you are in the grips of an eating disorder, you are already fully aware that recovery will only ever begin under your jurisdiction. Once you have had your realisations, fears and epiphanies that led you to this choice. I can’t express enough how much recovery you have already undertaken.

The singular choice to recover is not to be belittled – it is an immense example of strength.

This is an insight into my own experience of water retention and recovery. And an attempt to help bring one symptom of the body’s reaction to nutrition after starvation to the wider media. The lack of coverage is somewhat understandable due to the complexities of body dysmorphia. But I want a chance to reassure you. To tell you that this symptom is temporary, as long as you pursue recovery’s progression.

I started experiencing water retention when I increased my food intake. What we have to understand about starvation, is that once the body has finished consuming any food left for it, it starts fundamentally eating itself. Muscles, tissue and fat have been wasted down. The body reacts immediately with the nutrition it is now receiving to begin regenerating itself. I saw retention as my own personal mechanic, surrounding each area of damage until it had been restored. I have since learnt that it is a symptom that isn’t necessarily experienced by everyone. And is relative to the dietary approach. But if you are experiencing it, don’t be scared. It is a natural healing process that will take time. Once its function has been filled, your body will remove it. Remember: it is not body fat.

However, it is a body dysmorphic’s worst nightmare. Retention moved and settled around every nook of my body. I spent months not recognising myself in the mirror. My face had lost its definition. When I raised my eyebrows I had no forehead lines due to the water weight packed behind them. Whenever it would affect my face, I described it as two hosepipes under each ear slowly filling up my jaw and cheeks. I was claustrophobic in my own body. The extent of retention I had was a startling insight into the extent of the damage  that anorexia had caused. Water retention will move, spike up and calm down within hours and days. A maddening truth about this symptom is that others are highly likely to not notice it. 

Keep listening to your body. Retention is soft, numb, and (naturally) feels fluid filled.

Here are a few tips:

* REST: so much of your body has to be restored and the food you eat is best saved for recovery, so take care with the amount of exercise you push yourself to do.

* SEE A NUTRITIONIST: this is the most important advice I can stress. I found a nutritionist, above doctors, the most knowledgeable about weight restoration. They can also direct your recovery tailored for your personal experience, and ways to recover the quickest and most effectively. If there was one thing I would change with my approach to recovery, it would be to have seen a nutritionist sooner.

* REMEMBER PROGRESS: recovery symptoms are only a bridge to full restoration to your healthiest self. Character, skin and hair replenishment, energy, and most drastically with the gradual decline of retention: the return to your natural shape and strength.

There is so much more to say in terms of the complexity of recovery.

I have written and spoken about my experience more on my blog and YouTube Channel.

If we continue to raise awareness, anorexia recovery will continue to lose its taboo and become more understood. And remember – every day through recovery counts down the days out of it. And with every effort, you make to heal yourself, you will see the amazing results week by week.

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1 comment

Gabriela Rodriguez September 29, 2018 - 4:20 pm

Hello I had read a lot about water retention and bloating and I am struggling with it right now, I have a month into inpatient treatment and I am so scared of my appearance at this point I want to know if its gonna get worse? and when it will get better, how long it took to you?


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