Thinning Hair Is an Eating Disorder Effect That Recovery Can Overcome 42


Anorexia really wreaked my hair.

When I was a child, my hair was thick and long. When I was a teenager, my hair was thick and long. When I suffered from anorexia, by hair was thin and scraggly.

It didn’t happen overnight. I had anorexia for eight years before I even began on the path of recovery. My hair did pretty well for the first year or so, then the deterioration became bleedingly obvious. It became so thin that if looked at from the top, my scalp could be seen; luckily I am so tall that many people never see the crown on my head.

Hair thinning is a really nasty side effect of malnutrition.

Hair thinning is a really nasty side effect of malnutrition.

Except for when I am sitting down; I began to get rather paranoid that people would see my thinning hair when I sat down, so opted to stand more often than not.

I remember once, in a desperate attempt to make my hair look better, I dyed it. I dyed it dark, and that looked even worse, so I bought a pack of blonde dye in the hope that I could simply return to my natural color. Apparently one cannot put blonde hair dye directly onto black. 

No, it turned me ginger. As I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror in despair, my younger sister, Beth, came in to grab her make-up bag.

“What have you done to your hair?” she shrieked.

“I just wanted it to go back to my normal color!” I wailed.

“You idiot! You can’t put blonde dye straight on dark dye! That’s it, I’m calling my hairdresser and  booking you an appointment!”

Before I could protest she had done just that; I was booked in that very afternoon to a hair salon in town. To her, and my, surprise, I went.

The hairdresser was very sweet really. She said nothing about the thinness of my hair and only addressed the color issues. Ultimately, she explained to me that the best thing to do for the quality of my hair would be to chop it all off. I simply nodded. I had heard somewhere that cutting hair makes it grow thicker anyway, so maybe this was a good thing all around.

With short hair and no feminine curves, I looked like a man. I remember once that I entered a women’s toilet in the town shopping center and a woman looked at me and said: “Excuse me Sir, the men’s toilets are the next door down… ” and then, upon looking more closely at me, noticed her mistake and scurried away red-faced. I could not blame her for thinking I was a guy, but I was sad all the same.

Ironically, when the hair on my head started to thin, the hair on my body began to thicken. Lanugo. That’s the soft, downy hair which grows on ones body when one has a bodyweight so low that the body cannot sustain an adequate temperature. The hair on my arms and legs grew thick. Embarrassed by it, I covered them at all times.

In recovery, I wondered if my hair would ever be thick like it used to be, and if the lanugo would go. I am happy to say that both those things have happened. The body is an amazing organism and I am stunned at the extent to which mine rebuilt itself after years and years of malnutrition and misuse. Never underestimate the human body’s ability to recover!

The hair on my head is beautiful again, and my arms are bare; but I worked for it. I ate the foods I knew would help with hair growth, which were also, unfortunately, the very foods that my eating disorder ordered me to avoid. Namely, protein and fat. That was one heck of a challenge, but one that I was motivated to accept. Every mealtime, every snack, every time my eating disorder tried to convince me to skip, I reminded myself why I had to eat:

I eating for my hair. I am eating for my bones. I am eating for my muscles. I am eating for my body. I am eating for my brain. I am eating for my mum. I am eating for my dad. I am eating for my sisters. I am eating for my life.  

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About Tabitha Farrar

I work as Head of Marketing for a software startup in Boulder. As a recovered Anorexia sufferer, I advocate for proper understanding of eating disorders in my spare time. On that note, I wrote a book about my own journey into eating again called Love Fat.


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42 thoughts on “Thinning Hair Is an Eating Disorder Effect That Recovery Can Overcome

  • Hannah

    Thank you for this! Getting my hair back is one of the primary reasons I recently committed to recovery. If you don’t mind me asking, what BMI did you have to get to and how long did you maintain it before you started noticing a difference in your hair?

    • Tabitha Farrar Post author

      Hi Hannah

      I stopped looking at what my BMI was a long long time ago. I found that BMI is utterly useless actually and not a good measure of health. Most health professionals now agree that BMI can be very misleading and should not be used. I just used how I felt, and how my clothes felt on me as a guide. I think that deep down, we all know what our ideal body weight it without having to weigh or measure. Once I was there, I stayed there and gradually my hair improved.

  • Grace

    My hair thinned terribly (but very gradually) during the 4+ years that I was underweight. One of the main reasons I decided to recover was because of my hair. But about a month into my recovery, I started losing hair at a faster rate than ever before. I am now at a healthy weight and eating well and feel great, and I can see some baby hairs growing in, but the long ones keep falling at an alarming rate. I am considering buying a wig. Do you have any advice?

  • Rachel

    This post has given me unbelieveable hope for my hair!! I’m so worried it will never grow back or get thick again & I’ve never seen anyone’s hair get the state mine has reached! I was just wondering how long it took before it actually had actual thickness and length back too it?! I’m guessing about sixth months from now? I’ve already been eating again (via hospital inpatient) for 4 months now! And it’s just started getting thicker on the top!! Thank you so much for this post and you’ve done amazingly!!!

    • Tabitha Farrar Post author

      Hey Rachel

      It may take a while, but you just have to keep going. We are all different in terms of how long our bodies take to recover, and which parts recover fastest. Just keep going, your recovery is for the rest of your life 🙂

  • Bulimia Recovery Coach

    You’re right One of the negative effects of eating disorders is thinning of hair. People who suffer from it must now that there are a lot of physical and emotional effects an eating disorder can bring to them. As an advice. If you really want to be beautiful and healthy exert more effort in recovery. Eating disorders can be overcome. Don’t allow it to control your life forever and stop allowing it to turn your life miserable.

  • Need help

    Hi, how long did it take for your hair to recover. I know that it s not the same for everyone, but my hair grow fairly fast, so if you could please tell me so I could get an estimate? thank you! This really gave me hope!

    • Tabitha Farrar Post author

      Hi,
      My hair has always been rather thin and flyaway, so it was never really “thick” even when I was a child, so when I had anorexia it was really sparse. I think that in recovery from Anorexia, I started to notice a difference after I had been at a recovered weight for about a year. I hope that helps.

  • Janet

    My 15 yr old daughter is going through this same devastating disease…as I see it. It is killing her body her mind and her spirit. I sometimes don’t know what to do. I feel lost and desperate. Glad you made it. Each day is a wonderful accomplishment. Good for you and continue to be kind to yourself

    • Tabitha Farrar Post author

      Hey Janet. I feel for you. It must be unbearable to watch a loved one go through this. It is a truly devastating disease. Do you have enough support? I know of some pretty amazing parent support groups. FEAST is one that is great for resources.

  • Mary chapman

    You have given me hope. I was anorexic for a year and have been battling bulimia for 11 years. My hair has been so thin through all this, my boyfriend brought up the issue and were trying so hard to get through this. Your mantra at the end is very inspiring. Thank you so much

  • kdixon589@centurylink.net

    I have Anorexia I have to stop this NY hair is so thin! I have always had pretty hair not now it looks terrible its not worth all this torture I want my body &life back ,

  • Anonymous

    Thank you have just read your page, my granddaughter is suffering from anorexia & is losing her beautiful thick hair, so I can now tell her that she can grow it again.P

  • Kristen

    Aren’t you lucky. My eating disorder ended in 2013 and here I am 2016 still no hair regrowth. All my hair pulled together is not even half the thickness of what it used to be. And I definitely eat enough.

  • Kirsten

    Hi Tabitha

    I appreciate you writing this article. I’ve had anorexia for about a decade. I got down to about 40 pounds underweight and then maintained that bc of metabolic halt. Without any change (i.e. Increase) in diet, I am retaining about 30-40 pounds of what a close friend who is a doctor says is water due to starvation. I am panicked that this is not the case and it’s real weight. Have you heard of this?

    Also, my hair looks almost like yours did except it has come out in patches. It looks thin and patchy. What do I eat to get it to grow back, and how long did it take for yours to come back? I’m crying every time I see it, for real. I’m so scared.

    Thanks for your time,

    Kirsten

  • Andrea

    Hi Tabitha! I am a 14 year old girl and went through a small 4 month time period of anorexia. I used to have really long and EXTREMELY thick hair my whole entire life, until I made the horrible decision of not eating. My hair became really thin as well and I really hated it. I didn’t dye it, but I just dealt with it. Now being less than a month until my one-year-recovered, my hair is still thin and I don’t know what to do! It makes me really upset just thinking about how my hair used to be before, and I really want to know what to do. Please help me with some tips/advice to my situation, I’d really appreciate it. Thank you! 🙂

    • Tabitha Farrar Post author

      Hi Andrea,

      I’m not a doctor or anything, so I can only tell you what worked for me. I found that eating animal fats helped a lot for me in terms of skin, nails and hair. Drinking full fat milk, eating butter on toast, and full fat yoghurt and cheese were really the things that helped me the most I think. I do really well with dairy, and I explain that a lot in my book as I do think that for many of us the foods that we ate a lot of as a growing child are the ones that help us most in our recovery periods.

      Hope that helps and be sure to reach out and keep me updated on how you are doing or ask any other questions.

      • Andrea

        I really believe that; I always eat full fat dairy products because I don’t believe the whole ‘low fat or non fat is healthier!’ situation. I’m trying this week to change my breakfasts from eggs to cereal and see how that goes. Thank you so very much for your advice and I will definitely let you know later on how I’ll be doing. You’re very strong and helpful; I’m having hope for the future! 😀

        • Sehun

          Same thing!I’m 14yrs ,bulimic for 6 months and anorexic for about 1month ?I start recovery by myself, I’m eating almonds and dairy and use vitamin E shampoo, my hair stop falling a little bit and get taller by 3cm in 2 months ((after cut it in September)).mare you seeing any changes in Ur hair?

  • Marie

    This is one of the only hopeful posts I’ve seen about hair loss from EDs and recocery. It makes me feel like I have a reason to keep trying to overcome this and do more to get my hair back, the thing that I used to get compliments on too many times to count. Thank you

  • Salina

    I’m a sixteen year old girl who is nine months into recovery. I was bulimic since I was twelve and stopped about a month before my sixteenth birthday. The hair on top of my head near my forehead is so thin that if I don’t constantly adjust or brush it you can see my scalp. I was never under weight but I had lost a large amount of weight during the process. The rest of my hair is just as thick as it use to be but I’m scared the top part won’t ever grow back. My hair grows about an inch a month but I can’t tell if the small hairs I see on top are just ones the broke off or regrowing hairs. I’ve noticed a significant change in my health since I started recovery, I use to be anemic but about four to five months ago my blood charts came back completely normal and I no longer have to take iron pills.

    I guess what I’m trying to ask is should I be so worried? I have no one else to ask since no one knows about my bulimia and it scares me to think of how much hair I’ve lost at such a young age.

    Please reply.

    • Tabitha Farrar Post author

      Hiya

      Okay, first off you really should tell someone about your eating disorder so that you can get support in your recovery.

      If you keep eating well and include enough fat in your diet then give it time and you should find that your hair comes back to as it was before you got sick with Bulimia

      Hope that helps and feel free to reach out at any time.

  • Jman

    Thanks Tabitha for this article – very encouraging! I’m a man suffering from anorexia for around 5 years. My hair has thinned and it does seem very weak compared to my hair previously. I’ve been at a stable body weight for over 2 years now but my hair still seems to be thin. My weight isn’t that high but I’m well within my BMI so I do look fairly skinny still. I exercise almost everyday eat plenty of protein and fat and take multivitamins . Do you think my hair will return to its original form, I understand there may be a difference in male vs female hair loss but in your experience do men also recover ?

  • Jman

    Thanks for the article- very encouraging!

    I’m a male anorexic suffering for 5 years. I have been ata stable body weight for 2.5 years but my hair still is thin all around my head. I exercise daily for 15 minutes, eat plenty of protein, fat and taken multivitamins. I’m still within my bmi but I look fairly skinny as my weight is not as high as it used to be pre-anorexia. Does hair thickness recover in men as well and do you think there’s any supplements that I should be taking? Also do you think that perhaps my exercise could be a problem ?

    Thanks for your advice !

    J

    • Tabitha Farrar Post author

      Heya

      So, If you are still skinny that is probably the clue. Being within “a normal BMI” means nothing. If I had stayed at a BMI of 19 in recovery I would never had reached full recovery. You really need to achieve your pre-ED weight plus 10 percent to really renew all free fat mass and get your body to a place where it has a surplus of resources it can then dedicate some of those to things like hair and nails.

      • Jman

        Thanks Tabitha for your prompt reply !

        That makes a lot of sense and I’ll do my best to get back to my pre-ED weight.

        I have another related issue to my anorexia I was wondering if you encountered or perhaps you know of others who encountered this- ever since I got anorexia my skin has become far worse I.e major breakouts and quite a bit of acne in particular cystic type (painful tender ones with no white or black heads). It’s left hyper pigmentation all over my cheeks 🙁 I read that hormones can be a major cause – I’m 21 and had perfect skin throughout my teen years before anorexia. Do you think the spots/acne will go once I restore my weight to the pre-ED weight ? Did this happen to you by any chance ?

        Thanks so much again Tabitha – really really appreciate it!

        J

  • Sabrina

    i have been suffering with anorexia for roughly one year now. my hair is falling out by the clumps and i wanted it to stop. i stumbled upon this article after researching how to fix all of the hair loss. i am happy to say that it is this article that has led me to begin my recovery journey. the words have moved me in such a way, i couldnt even begin to explain how much it has touched me. though it has only been 10 days since i began my recovery journey, yet i am fully commited & ready to be healthy again. thank you from the bottom of my heart. this has changed my life for the better.

  • Barbabra

    I was wondering how long did it take for you to see an improvement in your hair during recovery…I am going through a similar issue except mine isnt an eating disorder its a time constraint issue..single mom 4 kids (no help- my x is a loser and I have no family), work and fulltime college..I am almost done with my degree (May 7 semester ends) and I have found that everything on my plate has just been too much and when I needed more hours in the day due to school work I skipped meals..alot of them to the point I am eating about 4 meals a week and do not eat at all on work day due to college pit stop at home feed kids and then right to work…as my semester rolls to an end and I graduate I am strongly aware I need to eat normally again which is its own challenge as I just do not have an appetite anymore (I am sure my stomach has just shrunk so much I eat a little and feel full very quickly)

    • Tabitha Farrar Post author

      Hi there
      Eating disorders are not about wanting to be thin! Accidental weight loss leading to lack of appetite and often fear of eating more/ anxiety around eating is an eating disorder. If you didn’t have an eating disorder you would be able to easily eat more food and gain the weight immediately. It sounds to me like you have an eating disorder and if you are underweight I think that you should seek help in restoring. Feel free to email me if you have any other questions about this. I too was not a typical eating disorder presentation and never “wanted” to be thin

  • Lori

    Hi..i stumbled on your blog about your thinning hair.
    My sister has had an eating disorder for about 14 yrs. We both have or, had thick curly hair.
    I’m going to a salon that specializes in cutting curly hair and when I told her, she said she goes there too.
    I got a little worried because I think her hair looks lousy…but then I thought it’s because of her illness.
    How did you finally get better? She has given up.
    Now I have trouble talking to her because she gets
    Things all mixed up. And when I confront her she just twists everything all around to make me the bad one.
    We are only 19 mos. Apart , I’m turning 56 and she is 54….i feel as though I have no sister.