calories, eating, food
Posted on / by Elisa Oras / in Article, Blog, Physical / 6 comments

Calories for Eating Disorder Recovery

Counting calories in eating disorder recovery can seem contradicting. Shouldn’t we learn to listen to our bodies instead of worrying about calories? Most likely, obsessing about calories was a major part of our eating disorder anyway. We should eliminate that bad habit instead! So what’s up with that counting BS?!

I started my recovery with intuitive eating after I read the e-book “Recover From Eating Disorders” by Nina V. It helped me to let go of the “good and bad foods” mindset. To listen to my body and let go of rules and restriction. This was a major step towards recovery.

But in intuitive eating they tell you to “be mindful”, “do not eat too much”, “stop eating at number 6” and so forth. I tried to do that, but it was not possible. I was hungry like a werewolf. I wanted to eat a whole potful of pasta, not just one plate.

The thing is that I had NO idea what I was doing or what was required for proper recovery. I did not know how many calories was needed or that bingeing in recovery is actually extreme hunger (and normal!) or that I probably should have stopped running 1 hour every day.

For me, the beginning of recovery was riddled with trial and error. I learned as I went through it. I relapsed a lot, I went back to “clean eating”, did some intermittent fasting to “help the healing” and exercised because “it’s sooo healthy for you”, yeah, right…

But after a while, I learned about the MinnieMaud calorie guidelines. Why eating a proper amount of calories helps to heal your body and restore normal hunger signals. Why extreme hunger in recovery is normal and why stopping all exercise is important. MinnieMaud was a good sense of direction in my recovery, something I could rely on, rather than just go through it blindfolded and just hope for the best.

After learning about MinnieMaud everything sped up. I did not follow the guidelines the entire length of recovery, but about a month or so, until I learned that whatever amount I am hungry for, whether it was physical or just “mental” hunger. And I did it, and now I am fully recovered.

I learned that whatever amount I am hungry for, whether it was physical or just “mental” hunger, I will eat it, no other option!

MinnieMaud Guidelines are science-based guidelines for recovery from restrictive eating disorders what have been developed on Your Eatopia website. The “Minnie” refers to the Minnesota Starvation Experiment and the “Maud” refers to the only evidence-based treatment program for eating disorders out there at the moment: Family Based Treatment, also known as the Maudsley protocol.

I take no credit for the guidelines, so please read the full post on Your Eatopia website. Click HERE.

The guidelines are actually set at what energy-balanced, non-eating-disordered people normally eat to maintain their health and weight. That means that the minimum intake guidelines are what you can expect to eat both during and post-recovery. And remember, the guidelines also mean eating more when extreme hunger strikes, stopping all exercise and resting as much as possible.

And please keep in mind that these are the MINIMUMS what you should eat, it is normal to eat way more than that. Remember, no restriction! I can say from personal experience that some days in recovery you will feel ravenous and you may consume way more calories than that. Some people consume 5000-10,000 calories a day in recovery. It all depends on your personal eating disorder background and there is no wrong number of calories you can consume! In time, your eating and episodes of extreme hunger will normalize and you will be eating more close to 2500-3000 calories a day.

Some people consume 5000-10,000 calories a day in recovery. It all depends on your personal eating disorder background and there is no wrong number of calories you can consume!

Here are the guidelines for when 2500 calories apply as a minimum daily intake for recovery:
  1. You are a 25-year-old female (or older) between 5’0” and 5’8” (152.4 to 173 cm) and,

  2. The regular menstrual cycle has stopped and/or,

  3. You have other symptoms of starvation: feeling the cold, fatigued, foggy headed, hair loss, brittle nails, dull skin and/or,

  4. Even if you were only underweight/dieted for a very short space of time (a few months) these guidelines apply. And remember “underweight” is relative to your body’s optimal weight and is not a clinical measurement.

Here are the guidelines for when 3000 calories apply as a minimum daily intake for recovery:
  1. You are an under 25-year-old female between 5’0” and 5’8” (152.4 to 173 cm) or an over 25-year-old male between 5’4” and 6’0” (162.5 and 183 cm) and,

  2. The regular menstrual cycle has stopped and/or,

  3. You have other symptoms of starvation: feeling the cold, fatigued, foggy headed, hair loss, brittle nails, dull skin and/or,

  4. Even if you were only underweight/dieted for a very short space of time (a few months) these guidelines apply. And remember “underweight” is relative to your body’s optimal weight and is not a clinical measurement.

Here are the guidelines for when 3500 calories apply as a minimum daily intake for recovery:
  1. You are an under 25-year-old male between 5’4” and 6’0” (162.5 and 183 cm) or female with young children or an equivalent and unavoidable level of activity.

  2. The regular menstrual cycle has stopped and/or,

  3. You have other symptoms of starvation: feeling the cold, fatigued, foggy headed, hair loss, brittle nails, dull skin and/or,

  4. Even if you were only underweight/dieted for a very short space of time (a few months) these guidelines apply. And remember “underweight” is relative to your body’s optimal weight and is not a clinical measurement.

If you are taller than the guidelines listed above, then add 200 calories to the guidelines that match your age and sex. If you are shorter than the guidelines listed above, then you may eat 200 calories less than what is suggested for your age and sex, however, these are all minimum guidelines and everyone is expected to eat well above them for a good portion of the recovery process in any case.

There is an exception. If you are severely underweight, have anorexia, have restricted calories blow 1000 for more than 5 days, you have to be very cautious when starting to eat these recommended amounts. Your body is not used to the amount of calories or food and it can be very dangerous to start eating larger portions all too quickly. It is called the refeeding syndrome. You can read more about it HERE.

Many people do not understand why something so “unnatural” as calorie counting can be beneficial in recovery to restore normal hunger signals. Some see it silly, triggering or unnecessary. But keep in mind that having an eating disorder is unnatural as well! To get back our normal hunger signals and to restore our body from all the damage, we need a period of recovery. And to do that we need a sense of direction, a proper recovery tools and conditions. If you undereat, you will not recover! Remember, you do it to make sure you eat enough, to make sure your body has all the energy to restore and rebuild, not for restrictive reasons.

I do not follow any calorie recommendations now after being fully recovered. I forgot all about calories and have no idea how many calories I eat in a day and I do not care. I eat whatever, whenever and however much I want.

But to get to this point, making sure I was eating enough, was a big stepping stone towards getting better and that is why I recommend it.

Photo by Ed Gregory


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6 thoughts

  • Its good to note that their is absolutely nothing wrong with emotional eating. I don’t know why people condemn it as something ‘evil’. Emotional eating is NOT bad at all. For instance, you are at a friend’s wedding, and its cake time. You get a huge piece, and even though you do not feel too physically hungry, you eat it anyway. That cake is not there to satisfy hunger or provide energy (even though it might do those things, it is not their for those reasons), that cake is a form of celebration. People eat it because they want to celebrate, because they are HAPPY, not because they are hungry. Another example is birthdays. We all eat cake on birthdays, not because we feel that we physically need cake, but because it is a means of celebrating the anniversary of someone’s entrance into the world.
    What about people who eat when they are angry or stressed? Eating out of anger or stress is very different from eating out of happiness. When someone is angry/stressed, they feel the need to release their anger/stress (this is not a bad thing when done correctly). The means of releasing this anger or stress usually comes in a form of revolt, or doing something you know you are not supposed to do (punching someone or something, causing harm, breaking rules, swearing, etc.). So the only reason as to why someone would eat when they are angry or stressed is that they consider eating to be ‘against the rules’. If a person thought of food as something good, then they would not eat out of anger/stress. Those who eat out of happiness consider food to be a good, whilst those who eat out of anger/stress eat because they consider food to be ‘bad’. In my opinion, I think that the only way for someone to stop eating out of stress/anger is to change that person thinking into a ‘food is good’ mindset.

    • Yes, I agree with you! I am also so over with the term “emotional eating”. Also, if person hunger/fullness signals are messed up then everything can easily turn her to “emotional eating”, people who diet are more prone to stress-related eating and eating when not hungry than people who do not have dieting background. I also sometimes eat something because of celebration, not when I am particularly hungry but just because it feels good at the moment, and the thing is I notice my body will do its corrections in terms of energy balance. I might experience decreased hunger for the next meal, for example, or I might have increased physical energy etc, the healthy body will make its corrections even if sometimes we eat when not physically hungry, but just out of celebration etc. and when I used to have ED I was much more of a stress eater, but now as I’m recovered and am a normal eater, I find I rather lose my hunger when I’m stressed, I instinctively lose my appetite and can’t even think about food.

  • Hi. You write that you followed MM guidelines for only a month. Why for a month only? What guidelines did you follow after that? I’m glad you have come so far and don’t care about calories anymore.

    • Hi! Because for me it was very easy to eat above 2500 cals every day, even without counting. I counted my calories for about a month (and sometimes would count just to see if im still getting enough) and i stopped because i always ate above without having to force myself or anything. after that i just followed my hunger.

  • I’m under 25 and weight restored but I think too much. I was put into recovery when I wasn’t underweight but still starving (honestly I don’t know how it’s possible either), about 120 pounds at 5’1 but eating under 1000 calories. Since then I’ve gained about 30 pounds and I can’t stand it. My BMI is technically overweight (even though I’m 5’2 now) and i don’t know how much to eat since I don’t fit into a proper category. Please help

    • Hi! the restriction lowers metabolic rate significantly, thats why you were before 120 pounds and only eating 1000 cal a day, your body desperately tries to fight back the weight loss. and this is also why you have gained weight so rapidly, its the common side-effect of coming straight from restricton. and most of it can also be waterweight/bloating, which is normal. are you eating unrestrictivly now or still trying to restrict? do you know how many cals? its important to not restrict so your metabolism can speed up. by restricting you only create more issues. based on your age, height and gender you should still eat 3000 cals a day to help your body heal and speed up metabolism until your hunger calms down.

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