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Eating to Gain, Part 2: Eating “Healthy”

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a What I Ate Wednesday about what I ate in the weight gain phase of recovery.

Now, someone reading this post without context might think, “Wow. That doesn’t seem like a very healthy way to gain weight. Weren’t you eating a whole lot of sugar, processed carbs, and saturated fats?”

My short answer: Sure was.

My long answer: It’s actually really difficult to gain weight without eating sugar, processed carbs, and saturated fats. What’s more, if you are recovering from a restrictive eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia, you need to eat these things to help your mind recover from the irrational demonizing of these foods as much as to help your body recover from starvation.

I remember once, within the first couple of weeks after I committed to recovery, I made myself a pot of soup with full-fat coconut milk. I was counting up to a calorie minimum, and the coconut milk seemed like an efficient way to get extra energy in.

But after my soup, I suddenly felt the need to read up about coconut milk online. Isn’t coconut milk…unhealthy? Of course, my Google search greeted me with scores of advice from various credible sources explaining that coconut milk is high in saturated fat and should be enjoyed only in moderation, plus some not-so-credible sources suggesting it should be avoided entirely.

I went into a complete panic.

Coconut milk is high in saturated fat. And okay, for someone with no history of undereating who needs or chooses to watch their saturated fat intake, maybe that’s good to know.

But what I would say to former self is this:

You are XX pounds underf***ingweight. You have been literally starving for XX months. You sure as Hell better believe you need that coconut milk in your system!”

If you are trying to gain weight, you cannot do it on your safe, “healthy” foods alone. You need to eat fear foods. And I am not just talking about once in a while. You need to regularly be eating brownies, chips, cheese, ice cream, pizza, nachos, burgers, French fries, peanut butter, cinnamon rolls…

Your body has a ton of lost energy to recover, muscles and bones to rebuild, hormones to restore, vital systems to re-vitalize…

For crying out loud, do not use only the egg whites! Use the whole damn egg!

Do not use ground chicken or turkey or extra-lean beef. Use the stuff with a good amount of fat in it!

Do not put stevia or Splenda or whatever the hell else they’ve come up with now in your coffee. Use sugar!

Do not shun processed grains and only eat super-high-fiber whole grains. If you want to eat oatmeal, go for it, but also eat white bread and pizza crust and potato chips.

Do not use a “bagel slim” for your breakfast or sandwich. Use a bagel–and top it with real cream cheese, real avocado, real mayo, real cheese, real peanut butter, real egg….whatever.

Do not skip dessert! Eat dessert!

Drink water, but don’t shun other beverages. Drink juice, milk, lemonade, smoothies, lattes, hot chocolate, heck, real soda if that’s your jam.

Do not shun any food groups, like wheat or dairy (unless you have an allergy or intolerance.) Do not put unsweetened almond milk on your cereal. Use real milk!

Do not use reduced-fat versions of foods–coconut milk, powdered PB (ew!), salad dressing, mayonnaise. Use the real thing!

Do not buy lousy reduced-fat “butter” cut with chemicals and low-fat yogurt. Just…don’t do that ever.

Do not use vegetables as a base for things that traditionally have pasta or rice as a base. Eat pasta or rice!

Do not buy “baked” chips. Buy fried chips!

Do not eat your oatmeal plain. Put sweetener on it! (honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, raisins etc., not stevia, Splenda, etc.)

Do not make “pancakes” out of egg whites and mashed bananas. Eat real pancakes!

Do not air pop your popcorn. Pop it in butter or oil!

Do not buy low-fat frozen yogurt. Buy ice cream!

You get the idea.

Please note (Cora pointed this out in the comments and I think I should clarify): None of these foods are enough to make a person gain weight. I eat all of these foods as part of my regular diet, and I maintain a very consistent weight. Adding these foods back into your diet would only be a starting point.

None of these foods are, in fact, unhealthy; they are demonized as so by our food fear culture.

My point is that, if you want to recover from a restrictive eating disorder, confronting fear foods is not an option. It is a requirement. If you exclude many of the foods from your diet that get a bad rap in popular “health” media, you will never recover.

If you can’t eat a sugar cookie or a bag of potato chips while you are trying to gain weight, how will you ever be able to enjoy these foods as part of your normal, post-recovery life?

And if you can’t eat these foods as part of your post-recovery life, are you truly recovered?

Food for thought.


Linking up with Amanda to share these thoughts for Thinking Out Loud Thursday.

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  1. Cora says:

    To me most of this just screams, “Eat. Real. Food.” Its also amazing how, at some point, we can believe that those little things – like putting sugar vs stevia in our coffee – are enough to actually affect our weight. Womp. Wrong. Especciiallly if you are trying to gain a significant amount of weight, chances are those little (albeit scary at the time) changes won’t do a thing. There are so many ways to disguise real foods using something else (banana “pancakes” cauliflower “rice”) that can be so dangerous for anyone looking to gain weight. Its like we forget that the real food is actually still out there. And that IT IS healthy.

    1. Joyce says:

      You’re absolutely right, Cora. In the early stages of recovery, these changes can feel huge and scary. But even if you implemented all of these changes and didn’t increase your intake in any other way, it wouldn’t be anywhere near enough to gain on! And yes, real food *is* healthy.

  2. I’ve never had to gain weight, so I can’t even imagine how difficult some of these choices must be. We are surrounded by so many different diet trends it must be so hard to recover a healthy way and not fall into a trend. I am always telling people to find what works best for your body and what makes you feel good.

  3. Sarah says:

    Great tips! I remember how scary it was to get away from my “diet foods” but it was so necessary to gain the weight. Heck yes to no plain oats- have to eat them with nut butter 😉 I still eat very very similarly to how I did when I was gaining weight, probably because I am exercising now so I am just eating at maintenance. That being said, I think it is important for those in recovery not to get carried away with “diet food” like cauiliflower rice or those silly zero calorie salad dressings.

    1. Joyce says:

      That makes complete sense to me. What I’ve heard is that your body kind of settles at a certain optimum weight for it–so yeah, it’s quite possible to eat similar in the weight gain phase as in other phases of recovery and post-recovery.

  4. I love these tips, and I would have to say that it means eating a LOT of food too; I didn’t know how much food it would take until I started to re-feed my starving body. Wow, I was so hungry; some days it was hard to stop. But God made our bodies to need that food, so they tell us when we need to keep eating and eating. I stay away from diet food now a days; I don’t love low calorie or sugar free things, unless it’s drinks like Life Water.

    1. Joyce says:

      Oh my yes. So much hunger! It was so overwhelming!

  5. Love when you share your story on here! I can’t imagine how difficult that would be in this day and age where so many people are promoting certain types of eating as the only way. Also harder these days? How much info (credible and not credible) is right at our fingertips!

    1. Joyce says:

      Thanks, Heather. I do wonder about that–the ability to just go online and find cults of people who are dedicated to this diet and that diet. It’s hard to sort the useful from the not-useful or not-useful-for-me!

  6. I think these are great tips for someone who has struggled with this in the past. It sounds like you’ve come a really long way! BTW that veggie pizza is looking pretty delicious to me.

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