There are some symptoms and side effects that come with recovery that aren’t talked about enough – because they’re kind of uncomfortable. And one of those symptoms is water retention. Edema in recovery is the norm rather than the exception, and it doesn’t necessarily make weight gain any easier to accept. But first, let’s look at what water retention actually is, why it’s so extreme in recovery, and how you can best take care of yourself now.
First a small disclaimer: I am not a doctor and do not know your individual case. I will only show you possible causes and solutions here – if in doubt, consult a doctor, because water retention can also be a sign of refeeding syndrome, which should best be treated in hospital.
Water retention or, in medical terms, edema, comes from the Greek: οιδημα (“oidema”) – swelling. Synonyms are also water retention, or “dropsy”.
Edema is when fluid builds up in an area of the body (outside the blood vessels in the tissues). Due to gravity, the fluid often collects in the legs, especially around the ankles. In general, edema is caused by excess pressure in the smallest blood or lymphatic vessels, which causes fluid to leak into the surrounding tissue.
They can have different causes – for example, summer/heat and long periods of standing, high salt consumption, allergies and infections, hypothyroidism, hormones and medication. Unfortunately, there can also be more serious causes, such as heart or kidney weakness, venous weakness, liver weakness or lymphoedema.
So if you are unsure, always consult a doctor!
Although the pathophysiology of edema in the refeeding phase of restrictive eating disorders is not fully understood, there is general agreement that water retention is a common symptom in recovery. According to studies, the following points can be considered as possible causes:
And what would be the problem if it’s not just water? In most cases it is important, right and necessary for the weight to stabilize and for you to reach your set point. (In the optimal case, the weight overshoot even occurs, as this can be associated with a lower relapse risk).
So, no matter how difficult it is for you right now – try not to fool yourself. You’ll probably need to gain weight anyway in the recovery process. Your body alone knows how much. In any case, I advise you to deal with your fear of gaining weight. What happens if you actually gained not only water but also body fat?
A coachee once summed it up nicely: I’ve gained 12 kg and I’m still alive. What the eating disorder once called “the end of the world” is actually not that bad and you will learn to accept your new body as it is. It’s not going to look the same every day for the rest of your life anyway. You don’t have to be afraid of gaining weight or Edema in recovery.