Going through extreme hunger can be one of the scariest and most uncomfortable things in eating disorder recovery – you just eat and eat and never seem to get full. You feel physically stuffed but still want more food. You may start to think that there is something seriously wrong with you and you now just have a binge eating disorder.
But know that extreme hunger is a very normal part of recovery from a restrictive eating disorder. And I have talked more about it HERE.
But HOW to go through extreme hunger and what are my best tips and recommendations to make this process easier? This is everything we will cover in today’s post. I will give you 7 tips for going through extreme hunger.
1. Know why it happens
When I was going through extreme hunger in my recovery from bulimia and orthorexia then for quite a few months I didn’t know anything about extreme hunger. It freaked me out and I tried everything to control it and didn’t fully respond to it because I thought it was just “bingeing”. But once I understood what it was, why it happens, and that it’s normal and I should just respond it made it easier. At least it lessens the mental stress of thinking that something is wrong with me.
I have a whole other post about extreme hunger where I talk about it more, what it is, why it happens and I will address many other common questions and concerns about it. Read that post HERE.
2. Don’t label it as “bingeing”
When I was recovering from bulimia and I had been dealing with bingeing for so many years already. So it really freaked me out that in recovery the “binges” didn’t stop overnight but they kept on happening. But luckily I learned that it’s actually extreme hunger and very normal. And this mental shift from not labeling it anymore as “beingeing” (that has such a negative connotation to many people) was very important for me. I think it’s more helpful to call it what it is – extreme hunger, feasting, recovery hunger…whatever else that doesn’t demonize your hunger. If you keep calling it “bingeing” it may still feel like you are doing something “bad”. Calling it “bingeing” will mentally and emotionally just increase the anxiety and fear and signal to the body that your hunger is wrong and you shouldn’t trust it. So stop labeling or calling it “bingeing”.
2. Make your body trust that food truly is abundant
When you have gone through an eating disorder it means you have experienced restriction, deprivation, starvation, not having enough food around for maybe weeks, months, years, or even decades. It’s been a very traumatic experience for you and your body. So to fully recover from it your body really needs to see and trust that food truly is abundant now. You don’t want your body to have any fear that maybe there isn’t enough food or it might be taken away again.
- This is why things like regular eating is so important. Feed your body regularly – 3 meals and 2-3 snacks in between meals. Consistent food intake is very healthy, therapeutic, and healing after an eating disorder.
- Also, it’s very important to prevent getting overly hungry before you eat. Never let yourself get overly hungry, it can be a very stressful experience for your body, especially after an eating disorder. If you go overly hungry in recovery (intentionally or unintentionally) it will just trigger more extreme hunger because your body can’t trust that there is enough food. Food restriction is a big stress for the body so in recovery you don’t want to trigger that stress again by going overly hungry.
- Always have plenty of food available around you – do grocery shopping more often so you have food available at home, buy more snacks that you can keep at your house, in your car, in the drawer of your workplace, in your purse. So you always have food available to you and around you whenever you need.
- And also, you should never compensate for your extreme hunger. Never try to “make up for it” by “eating clean” or skipping meals or “exercising it off”. This is all very restrictive and disordered and you must stop doing it.
- Eat calorie-dense foods. Don’t try to respond to extreme hunger by only eating your safe foods or fill yourself up with low-calorie meals or fruits and veggies. This way you are just wasting your time and will make this process much longer than it has to be. Rather eat calorie-dense foods, eat high-carb, high-fat foods, more processed foods that are easier to digest and will make you feel full and satisfied much longer.
- And you should absolutely stay consistent in responding to your hunger. Very often I hear about people who tell me they have been in recovery for a long time and wonder why things are not improving or getting better, but on a closer look, they haven’t been consistent in responding to their hunger. They maybe respond one day and then hold back the next day. This way your body can never trust that all the restriction and starvation is truly over and it just further confuses and stresses out the body. Consistency is key!.
4. Eat to mental hunger
If you are responding to extreme hunger then there are no specific calories what to aim for. You are the only person who truly knows how much food your body needs to be full and satisfied. And be ready that extreme hunger will most likely take more than just physical comfortable fullness. Rather aim for getting satisfied mentally and this means responding to your mental hunger. When you can’t stop thinking about food, you daydream about food, when you are maybe physically full but mentally want more food then it’s your mental hunger and you should respond.
5. Healthy coping
Going through extreme hunger can be very hard emotionally and mentally. You may feel fear and anxiety, the weight gain process is hard to deal with, and it can all feel overwhelming. So having some healthy ways to cope and healthy distraction is essential.
Some ways to cope could be:
- Calling or talking to someone
- Doing a guided meditation (see my guided meditations here)
- Listening to a podcast or audiobook
- Writing or drawing
- Reading a book
- Taking a nap
- Watching TV series
- …or any other healthy distraction you can think of
6. Get rid of triggers
Another very important thing is to get rid of as many triggers as you can.
- You should definitely stop weighing yourself. Throw out the scales, you don’t need it, it’s only a diet culture torture tool to keep you brainwashed.
- Also, get rid of any measuring tape or food scales.
- If you follow any triggering accounts then unfollow all of them. And instead, you could follow some recovery or body positive accounts or even accounts that have nothing to do with food or our bodies. Find other interests like DIY, travel, books, movies, and so on.
- Organize your closet and get rid of triggering clothes. And get some comfortable clothes – some stretchy pants or shirts, flowy dresses or skirts…anything that doesn’t feel too tight or constricted.
- And stop body checking. Become aware of the behavior and stop yourself from doing it and instead turn your focus somewhere else or find a healthy distraction.
7. Ask for support and set boundaries
This really depends on you what you feel is best for you and what you need, but for many people, it can be helpful to ask for support from friends and family. Or find a coach, therapist, or someone who can help you go through this.
Sometimes it can be very helpful to let your family or roommates know what you are going through and why you need to eat a lot of food right now so you can feel you can do it out in the open rather than feeling like you need to hide it or sneak around.
Also, you can tell others what you need and how exactly they can best support you. Often people want to help but they just don’t know what is the right thing to do or say – you can tell them. Say that you need them to not talk about food or discuss diets or numbers with you. Or tell them that if you speak to them about this you just need them to listen and not offer advice or try to fix it for you.
And if someone is triggering you must set boundaries with them. Tell them what you need and what is ok or is not ok. They don’t have to completely understand everything you are going through but they should honor the boundaries you set.
And sometimes you even have to cut people completely out of your life if they are very triggering and toxic for you and your recovery. Or if it’s a person you can’t stop seeing (like your family member) you have to set very clear and hard boundaries with them. You are the most important person in your life so you deserve good people around you who support and love you!
If you want to learn more about recovery and how to do it step by step then please read my book “BrainwashED”
You can check out my recovery online courses HERE.
Or you can book a one-off coaching call with me HERE.