Eating Disorders & Disordered Eating

Is weight loss safe after an eating disorder?

February 5, 2024

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Medically reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

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Contents
Contents

Key Points

  • Weight loss after an eating disorder can be tricky
  • You may want to achieve a healthy weight but worry about eating disorder triggers
  • Realistic goals and mindful eating can help you lose weight and maintain a healthy relationship with food
  • A Registered Dietitian can build you a personalized nutrition plan to help you achieve your goals, avoid triggers, and watch for early signs of relapse. 

Weight loss is a sensitive topic if you are in eating disorder recovery. 

Thinking about losing weight can trigger intense fear and emotional distress. After all, it is a delicate balance trying to achieve healthy weight loss while avoiding a relapse.

But you may want to achieve a healthy weight after pregnancy, manage weight gain from a chronic condition, or lower your blood pressure or blood sugar levels. Or, you may have had an eating disorder as a kid but now, as an adult, would like to lose some body weight, safely.

Rita Faycurry, RD, Licensed Registered Dietitian has years of experience guiding people with eating disorders or a history of eating disorders through new goals for weight and nutrition.

Faycurry offers her expert tips to get you started.

1. Get the right team to support you from the start

Navigating nutritional advice on your own can feel like a landmine when you are trying not to trigger disordered eating patterns.

Social media is flooded with "experts" and "influencers" who often offer conflicting and unqualified advice. There are even medical professionals online who advocate cutting out entire food groups or restricting calories-advice that may not work for someone with a history of disordered eating.

A Licensed Registered Dietitian can help you follow a personalized nutrition plan to help you achieve your goals, monitor your progress along the way, and make changes or tweaks as needed.

Similarly, if you would like to achieve new fitness goals, a trainer who understands your concerns can help develop personalized exercise plans.

This step can help minimize the risk of triggering past disordered eating habits.

2. Set goals that do not involve numbers

If you have been through the eating disorder recovery process, you may already avoid weighing scales, stop calorie counting or exercising in front of mirrors, and other such potential triggers.

But how do you build a healthy relationship with food without reverting to old behaviors?

One way is to set goals that do not involve calorie counting or reaching a target weight.

Faycurry says, "I urge my clients to think about why they want to lose weight in the first place. Some may want to lower their blood pressure or climb a flight of stairs without getting tired. Some may like to shed pregnancy weight. There are many reasons why. Focusing on how your new weight can help you improve your quality of life is a great way forward."

3. Set realistic goals, not extreme ones

Setting realistic weight goals upfront can help you manage your expectations and minimize the risk of triggering eating disorder behaviors.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), the strongest risk factor for an eating disorder is self-oriented perfectionism. This type of perfectionism is associated with setting highly unrealistic goals, fear of failure, strong self-criticism, and negative self-talk.

NEDA notes that another risk factor is behavioral inflexibility, which means extreme rule-following and belief that there is always one 'right' way to do things.

Some studies suggest that self-oriented perfectionism is linked to mental health disorders. And when things do not go as planned, self-oriented perfectionists may experience high anxiety and depression; some may even experience suicidal thoughts.

So, do not expect dramatic weight loss or aim for perfection. Instead, shoot for sustaining healthy eating patterns over a longer period of time.

Setting normal weight loss goals after an eating disorder can be difficult. You do not have to do it alone. A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist can help you take a healthy approach to weight loss. 

Fay can connect you to a Registered Dietitian near you, covered by your insurance.

4. Learn about intuitive eating or mindful eating habits

Intuitive eating or the "anti-diet" way of eating is designed to help you relax and make peace with your food.

There are 10 principles, the first of which involves not dieting, at all. Intuitive eating teaches you to honor your hunger cues by feeding your body what it really needs. They also help you eliminate guilt and shame associated with food, the constant companions of disordered eating.

Faycurry adds, "With the principles of intuitive eating, you may learn to get satisfaction from your meals, and not anxiety, and cater to your hunger cues with more self-love than self-criticism. This type of mindful eating helps my clients build a healthy relationship with food."

5. Watch for signs that you may be slipping back into old habits

Note: Eating disorder triggers and signs vary from person to person. NEDA states that someone struggling with an eating disorder will not have all the signs and symptoms listed on their website. But, there are general behaviors and thought patterns to watch out for.

Faycurry lists a few early warning signs of an eating disorder relapse:

  • Obsessing about food, weight, calories, and dieting: This can include weighing yourself often, calorie counting, and thinking about food more than before, irrespective of your natural hunger cues.
  • Growing secrecy around your food habits: Disordered eating thrives in isolation. Pay attention to whether you are getting more stressed out about eating in public, with your family, or at social gatherings. If you binge on large amounts of food alone, hoard empty wrappers or food packaging in secret hideaways, consider diet pills or laxatives to lose weight, or avoid eating with others, it could be a sign of relapse.
  • Making excuses or creating loopholes for disordered eating: If you find yourself justifying disordered eating behavior like cutting out food groups, eating very small amounts of food, or avoiding your usual social interactions due to anxiety around food, you may want to reach out for help.
  • Over-exercising: or being extremely concerned with eating 'clean': If you find yourself trying to "game" your weight loss by ignoring hunger cues, or feel anxious if you cannot exercise or continue to exercise even when tired, it may be advisable to talk to an eating disorder expert for help. If you restrict entire food groups (unless advised by your dietitian for a specific medical condition) or become concerned about eating 'clean' all the time, it may be a sign of orthorexia.

If these early signs are ignored, eventually, there may also be medical complications that stem from your eating disorder.

Fay can help you find a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist near you, covered by your insurance. You can achieve normal weight goals, even if you are in eating disorder recovery.


The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.


Sources

Fay Nutrition has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

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Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Chandana Balasubramanian is an experienced healthcare executive who writes on the intersection of healthcare and technology. She is the President of Global Insight Advisory Network and has a Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

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Rita Faycurry, RD

Medically Reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

Rita Faycurry, RD is a board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in clinical nutrition for chronic conditions. Her approach to health is centered around the idea that the mind and body are intimately connected, and that true healing requires an evidence-based and integrative approach that addresses the root cause of disease. In her books and articles, Rita offers practical tips and insights on how to care for your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and wellness.

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