Refeeding Edema

My doctor says the swelling in my ankles is “refeeding edema.”  This was seen in Holocaust survivors especially, who were starved, and then ate again.  Their bodies, my doctor explained, soaked up the nutrients, and swelled up.  That is what is happening to me.  But she said it is nothing to be alarmed about and that it is not dangerous because I have a strong heart.  She said if I was 85 and had congestive heart failure, then ankle swelling would be something to worry about, but I do not have to worry.  She said the refeeding edema will go away if I keep eating and drinking.  She said that starving myself again will make it worse.  She said that it is actually a sign that I am doing all the right things, and that I should keep it up, and not be alarmed about the weight gain.  It is actually “water weight” and not “fat,” she explained, just water in my tissues.

Later, I cried on the bus.  This is another way to make water in tissues.  You know, I have heard many women use the line, “It’s just ‘water weight’!” to explain weight gain.  Well, now it’s a true thing for me and I have never experienced this before.  I gained five and a half pounds in a week on my doctor’s scale.  I cried in her office and told her I’ve been crying over this for two days.

Actually, I’ve been practically non-functional for two days because of my feelings about my weight going up.  I cannot tolerate these feelings.  I cannot accept myself, my self-loathing, my hatred toward my body that has cheated me so much.

Yet it begs to be fed–all the time.  I cannot simply stop eating.  I can’t just feed it once and then say, “That’s a done deal.”  It’s like laundry.  Neverending.  It’s like a cycle of input and output all day long and all night long, too.  It’s what I have to do–fuel up–to keep this engine running 24 hours a day until someday–I don’t know when–it decides it’s time to sputter and crumble and roll into its final parking place.

2 thoughts on “Refeeding Edema”

  1. hi julie, i am not sure where you are in your recovery right now, but i hope that you are doing better, seeing as how this post is 2 years old. i am in recovery myself, with horrible water retention, even after 13 months of full-fledged recovery with no relapses. mine is not pitting and it has been the biggest challenge in my recovery, at present.

    i have read a few of your posts about the never ending hunger and binges. i hope that you are now realizing that this is normal when you first begin recovering. it is scary for sure, but it is your body begging you for food to help it heal. one of the best websites i have come across that talks about this, is gwyneth olwyn’s: she has amazing articles on her site that explain so much of recovery, that no one else ever explained to me.

    good luck as you continue your journey. eating disorders are so hard, but i believe with all my heart that they can be overcome.

    1. Heather,

      Thank you so much for your comment. Gweneth’s site is amazing. I have just now approved of your comment and have gone over to her site and am exploring it. Her article comparing research on breast cancer and research on obesity as compared to research on restrictive eating is amazing. Of course, we folks with eating disorders have always been aware intuitively that binge eating is not “poor coping” and is not “addiction,” but arises out of past and perhaps current long-term restrictive eating and resulting severe malnutrition.

      Heather, I am so sorry that you are suffering from water retention. Yes, it is a challenge dealing with this. It is a challenge both to the body to carry extra weight in the legs and feet and psychologically and socially, too. Others, including health care professionals, do not understand our frustration with this condition. I am quite fortunate. Yes, you are correct that the post you are commenting on is a couple of years old. When I went against my doctor’s orders and stopped antipsychotics cold turkey, I ended up benefiting more than I anticipated. I knew she would be pissed off, of course, but I did it anyway. I had to, because the drug (called Abilify here in the US) was causing terrible insomnia. For a few days, the world was a little off-kilter, but I knew this was withdrawal symptoms, and I went on with my life (I don’t drive a motor vehicle so this was not an issue), then after a week, the drug was out of my system. Then, suddenly, I noticed I no longer had edema. I have not had edema since.

      I do agree with you that eating disorders can be overcome. I’ve been doing a lot better since that post. I am free of the therapist I had at the time, who had me wrapped around her finger. I do know that I am not the only one this therapist abused. Freeing myself from her was so liberating and empowering for me. But when you leave an oppressive situation, it’s very difficult to get your bearings for a while and learn to stand up on your own two feet. But I did it.

      Take care of yourself,


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