The Recovery Process: Side Effect of Fluid Retention

Water retention is a common, oftentimes confronting side effect in people recovering from extreme weight loss. As the name suggests, water retention is the process by which the body retains excess water or fluid reserves. When water retention occurs within your tissues instead of the circulatory system, it can lead to visible swelling in the abdomen, hands, thighs, feet, and ankles.

Unfortunately, water retention is a frequently experienced side effect for people recovering from anorexia nervosa. Unsurprisingly, the swelling and temporary weight gain associated with water retention can be extremely challenging for people attempting to recover from severe weight and body image issues. In this article, we will explore the causes, side effects, and treatment options for fluid retention in people with eating disorders.

What Causes Water Retention in People with Eating Disorders?

Before getting started, we’d just like to emphasize that, in the majority of cases, water retention is a healthy and temporary condition. When water retention occurs in people with eating disorders, physical pockets of retained water are usually more visible, a sight that some people may find confronting if the person in question is recovering from severe malnutrition or emaciation.

Abnormal water retention in people with eating disorders is primarily triggered by the reintroduction of food following a period of extreme caloric restriction. Prior to refeeding, people with anorexia nervosa are often visibly gaunt and severely underweight. In addition to these visible effects, people with long-term anorexia nervosa are also likely suffering from serious muscular atrophy and critical nutritional deprivation.

Unsurprisingly, reintroducing food and fluids after such a long period of deprivation is fraught with side effects. In fact, weight restoration in people with anorexia nervosa generally begins with salted broth or soup. This is to reduce the chance of refeeding syndrome, a potentially fatal adverse reaction to the reintroduction of food in people with anorexia nervosa.

As refeeding progresses, the body will begin the urgent process of recovering from anorexia, diverting previously deprived nutrients and fluids to flush out and repair damaged areas of the body. Although this healing process typically leads to substantial water retention, try to remember that the extra water weight is actually helping you become healthier.

Treating Water Retention

As previously discussed, water retention and water swelling are usually excellent signs of recovery in people with anorexia nervosa. However, if areas of water retention are causing you discomfort or mental distress, please do not hesitate to reach out for support and advice from your doctor or counselor.

Sources: Eating Disorder Institute, Mental Movement UK, Body Matters Australia, Eating Disorders Review

Photo: Pixabay

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