8 Tips To Restore Your Metabolism After an Eating Disorder

 

“Restricting, dieting, overexercising and calorie compensating is a recipe for a metabolic slow-down. Your metabolism is not “broken” or “damaged” but what has happened is that your metabolism has adapted to the low-calorie consumption to protect you from losing too much weight. It’s what the “starvation mode” is all about. It doesn’t mean one can’t lose any weight when they eat less (yes, you can lose weight by restricting until you starve to death) but your metabolism just compensates for the lack of fuel coming in as a protection mechanism.

If you get anything out of this article, it’s that to restore your metabolism after an eating disorder you need to be doing kinda the opposite you have done in your eating disorder. If you have been restricting calories, you need to start eating more, if you have been overexercising, you need to completely stop all exercise, if you have been purging, using laxatives, skipping meals, you need to stop all that. You need to REST and REFEED. If you just focus on these two tips, your are on your way to metabolic recovery.

You need to REST and REFEED.

Some people ask me: “But I like how I look, I don’t want to gain any more weight by eating more!”

Your body doesn’t care what you “like” or “don’t like”, it only cares about the best possible functioning and if you gonna try and maintain a lower weight than your natural set point, this optimal functioning can’t happen. You cannot restore your healthy hormonal and metabolic functioning when you are below your healthy set point weight.

And then there is another group of people who say: “But I’m overweight and I need to lose the excess weight. I don’t want to eat more and risk gaining even more weight. I need to watch my calories and exercise more!”

Go ahead! But you won’t lose weight healthfully or sustainably. Yes, you can starve yourself skinny but eventually, your body’s survival response will win – you can’t restrict forever without starting to binge eat soon again, and your metabolism will be even slower to make sure you then gain all the weight back ASAP, plus more for the extra protection. This is an endless cycle.

Yes, you can starve yourself skinny but eventually, your body’s survival response will win.

Or even when you are normal weight, as I was all throughout my bulimia and orthorexia, you have still done a lot of diet behaviors that slow down your metabolism – skipping meals, purging, overexercising, intermittent fasting, you name it. You STILL need to be refeeding and resting to restore the metabolism.

So for a complete list of things you need to change about your habits and behaviors in order to heal your metabolism you need to be focusing on these:

8 Tips To Restore Your Metabolism After an Eating Disorder

  1. Eat more. Calorie restriction is a #1 cause for a slow metabolism, especially after coming from an eating disorder and extreme diet behaviors. You need to get in sufficient calories to reverse all damage calorie restriction has done to your body. Eat until full and satisfied. Period. (If you are unsure how many calories to eat you can read THIS post) Eating more will fuel the metabolic fire. At the same time you need to STOP all calorie compensation behaviors, otherwise, you are just shooting yourself in the foot – no overexercising, no purging, no using laxatives or diuretics, no skipping meals.
  2. Eat regularly. If your eating pattern is not consistent and regular the metabolism can’t speed up. Eat your breakfast, lunch and dinner and snacks in between. Eating every 2-3 hours. Do not skip meals. Many people have the tendency in eating disorder to eat rather little in some parts of the day only to binge out later. For example, starting “from tomorrow” – eating a low-calorie breakfast and lunch hoping to lose weight but by dinner time being absolutely ravenous so they have the “last supper” type of binge only to promise to “start again from tomorrow”. It’s an endless cycle of metabolic suppression.
  3. Eat more warming foods. Eat things with high-calorie concentration – high carb, high-fat foods. Ideally combining something with sugar, starch, fat, and salt together in a meal or snack for the most satisfying and fulfilling experience. The more yummy and tasty is the food the better. For example, crackers with cream cheese, potatoes with butter and salt, pasta with cheese, ice cream with peanut butter and chocolate. Yup! All these foods actually HELP you in recovery! Your body desperately needs them for restoration. Do not focus on eating high water content fruits and veggies right now. No big raw salads or smoothies as a main meal. Eat them more as a side dish, as a snack or even more as a condiment. They are very cooling foods and therefore will not help you to ramp up your metabolism. (See video “5 Reasons to Not Worry About “Unhealthy” Eating In Recovery“)
  4. Add more salt. I come from low salt or even salt-free dieting. Eating lots of tasteless salads, veggie dishes, and smoothies. All it did was to leave my feeling extremely cold even in summertime, made me dizzy, fatigued and having monster cravings for salty foods. If you feel too cold, especially in your hands and feet it’s a sign to eat something salty to warm up – cheese crackers, bread with peanut butter and jelly, potato chips or salted nuts.
  5. Don’t drink too much water. Signs of drinking too much water can be frequent and sudden need to pee. Peeing clear, needing to go to the toilet during night time. Feeling overly cold, especially in your hands and feet. Drinking lots of water to increase your metabolism is an outdated information and doing so can actually have the exact opposite effect. Do not force drink water. Drink only when thirsty. In warmer climates or if more active it’s ok to drink more but your pee should still be yellow and you should not need to urinate every half an hour.
  6. Stop exercise. Many people with eating disorders come from an overexercise background. Even if you exercised just a little bit it can still be way too much if combined with low-calorie consumption and other calorie compensating behaviors. The least you need is to add exercise to “boost metabolism” in an eating disorder recovery. Unfortunately, many eating disorder recovery “experts” do not see a big deal with exercise and actually recommend it to people who are recovering from ED as a “healthy habit” but I disagree with that. Some walking, stretching and light yoga should be fine but that’s it. Yes, exercise is healthy for a healthy person, but for someone recovering from an eating disorder exercise is like adding more pressure and stress to a broken leg. You need to recover your leg before going back to running, not continue putting more pressure on it because “exercise is healthy”. The situation is VERY different here. (See videos about exercise: “Exercise In Eating Disorder Recovery“, “Is Some Type Of Exercise OK In Recovery?“, “How To Find A Healthy Balance With Exercise After Eating Disorder“)
  7. Sleep more – As mentioned earlier the most important aspects of eating disorder recovery and also metabolic recovery is to rest and refeed. Sleep is the most crucial time for your body’s restoration. When we sleep more we let our body put the most effort and energy into healing. The best is to make sure you go to sleep around 10 pm and get at least 8 hrs of sleep, the more the better. Most people need to take naps even during daytime in recovery, which is great. You will feel more tired and exhausted in recovery so listen to your body and make sure you rest and sleep more. (See THIS video and THIS article about sleeping in recovery)
  8. Deal with stress. Everybody knows stress is bad for your hormonal functioning, so of course, it will affect your metabolic functioning as well. If you start to do all of the above – eat more, no exercise, sleep more, stop all dieting behaviors – you are already eliminating a great deal of stress from your life and it will help to recover and restore your body. But also try to eliminate or minimize everyday stress as well – work or school stress, stressors in relationships and so forth. Develop some self-care practices and heal your mindset about your body and food. Deal with the mental aspects of recovery along with the physical recovery.

In contrast, if you start to implement all of the above suggestions into your recovery and daily life you will see loads of positive improvements:

Signs your metabolism is speeding up:

  1. Higher body temperature, warm hands and feet
  2. More energy
  3. Better mood
  4. Better concentration
  5. Higher sex drive
  6. Night sweats (uncomfortable symptom in recovery but a good sign of raising metabolism)
  7. Possible weight loss (if above set point) or/and loss of bloating and water retention
  8. Better digestion, regular bowel movements

By following all the above tips you will experience positive improvements in your metabolism along with all the other changes mentioned. The most important is to be very consistent with implementing all of the new habits and give it time to work! You did not have your eating disorder just a few months (in most cases) so recovery will also not take just a few months. But I can promise you will start seeing positive results! So stick with this and see your body healing and restoring it’s metabolism and all other functions as well!

39 thoughts on “8 Tips To Restore Your Metabolism After an Eating Disorder”

  1. I have a friend who is trying to overcome an eating disorder, so thanks for these helpful tips on how to restore your metabolism. I like that you suggest exercising less so you can control your calorie intake better. I can see how working out too much and not eating enough can be a harmful combination.

  2. Thank you! This is a really interesting, clear and true article about recovering after eating disorders, helps a lot and confirm some feelings I had (I’m now recovering (or trying very hard) from anorexia…).

  3. Thank you for writing this article. It is truly a blessing to have people to relate to and take advice from on how they were able to overcome their disorder. Very much appreciated and very helpful! 🙂

  4. Thank you so much for this article. I have always been a normal weight and am almost in an “overweight” category, but I’ve been reluctant to eat more in fear of gaining more weight. This helped me realize that I can’t do this forever! My body needs to feel safe again!

  5. What if your eating disorder was only for a few months? I started a weight loss goal in May this year during lockdown, restricting my calorie intake and exercising excessively. This all led to me loosing a lot of weight and not knowing went to stop fearful of gaining any weight while also restricting my calorie intake even more heavily. I am one week into recovery and don’t know if I’m doing the right thing because the time I’ve been like this has only been less than a year. Am I right to go all in? I’ve already gained a lot of weight back in one week and I don’t know if this is the right thing to be doing.

  6. I’ve been in recovery for 2 months trying to follow these principles and mostly sticking with it. I have been restricting (sometimes fasting) for 20 years. I have always been pretty overweight despite restricting calories for long periods of time. I’ve gained a noticeable amount of weight in recovery, and it feels like the wrong thing to do. My recovery team is saying I’m doing the right thing, but how can I be if I’m already in a large body and I’m gaining weight?

    1. restriction does not teach the body how to lose weight, it only teaches the body how to keep weight on more effectively, it reduces metabolism to prevent you from losing weight and when you start to recover the body wants to put on weight to protect your from starvation (your body thinks dieting is starvation, it doesn’t know the difference) but over time when the body recovers it will also speed up the metabolism and other things so you won’t keep gaining forever either. but right now its needs food and to put on weight to come out of this suppressed state and to trust that you are no longer in any restriction or starvation. you gain weight because you have been restricting and trying to control your weight, not because you had too much food available, but because you had lack of food available. and that is extreme stress to your body that you now need to recover from. and food is essential fuel for that, no matter your weight or size. recovery is not about a weight number. a person can be at any body size and been restricting and having an ED. unrestricted eating still applies.

    2. Hi Chelsea

      I’m in the same position, trying to recover but I’m not underweight (closer to being overweight) I know if I keep going I will be overweight.
      There seems to be little guidance on how to recover when your atypical anorexic

      Just wanted to see how everything is going now? Hope you’re ok! X

  7. I’m trying my best to recover but its extremely difficult. As much as I don’t wanna live with anorexia anymore, whenever I eat literally anything I bloat and it makes me fall back into old habits:(, how do you reduce the bloat? Is there a way to avoid it in some way?

  8. Hi there! I’m currently trying to rebuild my metabolism so that I can eat more and life a more sustainable lifestyle. I’m just stuck on figuring out how much I need to be eating. I worry I’m not eating enough even though I do feel satisfied after my meals. Should I be seeing a dietician or are there resources?

  9. Hello,
    I am currently revovering from anorexia and am still underweight . I have a question concerning eating the day after extreme hunger. Yesterday i ate very much due to my extreme hunger. Today I struggle with eating. But it is absolutely necessary to eat my normal intake right? Otherwise i will never restore my metabolism and get my hunger cues back, right? I absolutely will not be stuck with a slow metabolism once i reached a healthy weight. Could need some reassurance that even after overeating you need zu eat normal the next day.

    1. yes you need to keep eating regardless. in recovery the hunger cues are not fully normal, many people cant eat “intuitively” in recovery, as hunger cues can be suppressed thanks to malnourishment. also, follow your mental hunger. mental hunger, the constant food thoughts, and obsession is also extreme hunger!

  10. Hi, thanks for this article it’s very helpful. I just have a question. When we begin to eat normally again do we go back to the recommended 2000 or so calories a day or do we start lower and work our way up? Also I was only doing extreme dieting for about 2 months, how long do you think it will take for my metabolism to make a turn around? Thanks!

  11. Thanks for all the great info. Def good to have it reiterated all the things my reg. dietician and therapist have been telling me. There is hope just have to push thru!
    🙂

  12. So i’ve had anorexia/orthorexia for a few years now and in december i really tried to recover from anorexia and just started listening to my hunger, but after a while i started restricting again, im at a healthier weight now but ik my metabolism is still suppressed, so i’ve been trying to eat more again and eat more warming foods and not be so strict on my diet. is it good to eat a lot more calories then i have been? and not very healthy foods? or should i be eating a recommended amount for my age/height/body weight thing and healthier foods?

    1. you should eat to YOUR full hunger, do not follow any caloric limits as that’s restrictive. and eat what you crave, it the best food for you, helps to increase metabolism and also to get satisfied.

      1. What if u used to binge and you crave a bunch of foods at once I don’t want to recover and then fall in to old binge habits

  13. Hi, I am slightly underweight due to an obsession of weight loss and calorie counting. I typically eat around 600-700 calories in a day in a very restrictive diet, and I get extremely bloated and guilty if I eat more. This has been going on for a few months and I am worried, so how can I eat normally without ballooning back to the way I was? Thank you.

    1. Hi! If you have been restricting calories below 1000 for more than 5 days you need to rule out refeeding syndrome and start to increase calories gradually, always do it under medical supervision. But here you can read more: https://followtheintuition.com/refeeding_syndrome/

      some bloating and stomach discomfort will be part of recovery regardless because your digestion is compromised because of restriction and it cannot be healed without adequate fuel and rest. You can read more about bloating and digestion in these posts:
      https://followtheintuition.com/bloating-and-digestion-issues-part-1/
      https://followtheintuition.com/key-steps-to-overcome-bloating-digestion-issues-part-2/
      https://followtheintuition.com/how-to-deal-with-bloating-and-digestion-issues-part-3/

  14. I did a doctor supervised protein sparing modified fast, restricting calories to 350 a day long enough to lose 70lbs, but my blood pressure bottomed out, heart almost stopped, I almost died and it took months to recover. When returning to normal eating, I have regained the weight plus 30 pounds more! I have lost and gained large amounts of weight over the years with various diets. Now I cannot lose weight eating 1200 calories a day. I’ve been diagnosed with an atypical ED. The dietician has put me on 1750 calories a day and I struggle to eat it all. I feel sick and bloated and nauseous. She said I must eat regularly and not ever drop below this number of calories. So far, I am not gaining weight, but how will I ever lose the extra 100 pounds and keep it off? Must I be obese forever?

    1. I recommend looking into the Health At Every Size (HAES) approach (a non-diet approach) which focuses on developing better health behaviors, focusing on things like enjoyable body movement, intuitive eating, body acceptance etc. The approach has been scientifically proven to help with improving health markers compared to traditional dieting for weight loss. And there are many dietitians who specialize in HAES who could help.

  15. Hey Elisa,

    this is my first comment during my ED travel… I like your idea and have been following along other resources about letting go restrictions, restoring metabolism etc. I am a 29 old male anorexic/bulimic struggling for about 5 years now with several inpatient treatments incl. structured eating programs. I usually find this every helpful and easy and restore weight fast, do not binge or purge. But as soon as I am out, I struggle with organizing my own eating/exercising habits without “outer” (social) control….
    I am not really seeing how I restrict myself. I am now slightly underweight and having 3 normal sized meals a day. I am feeling good so far but then during late evening, I always have this compulsive “snacking” (first only vegetables) without being really hungry. I do this for like an hour and most often also “fall” into bingeing on other available foods (oats, cheese, Müsli) until I am that full (due to all this bingeing/purging in my history, my stomach does actually tolerate huuuge volumes of food) that I almost have to purge. I give myself permission to “hear” to that “extreme hunger” (is this really extreme hunger?) but it can’t be normal to physically suffer so much from that. I do not find the point to stop eating. Afterwards, I cannot sleep well and stay “full” until afternoon of next day… I have to force myself to stick to regular meals the next day’s as I am still loaded with lots of binge foods from the night before.

    I am trying to stick to regular eating behaviors but I cannot really deal with this “extreme hunger” bingeing that kind of overshoots into pain. I think, I might increase my daily intake but it feels difficult for me to do this. I am usually very active but have myself limited for a time of recovery currently…
    I tend to feel super good after a series of good day’s but I also tend to relapse fast. I am not good at managing my energy (in vs. out, like an always overheating machine that does not recognize/”feel” the need for pauses and refueling). Well, I am not sure if there is a real question in here. Maybe – what do your recommend for the day after an (extreme hunger) binge? I would not really eat anything until next evening because I am literally not hungry at all…

    Thanks. The point of caring for one’s own metabolism through resting, sleeping and (re)fueling is motivating. Though, easier said than done.

    Matt

    1. maybe you are not intentionally restricting but as you said you are still underweight so this will still cause issues. you need to gain more weight. also, regular eating 3 meals a day is not enough, regular eating in ED recovery means more like 3 meals + 3 snacks a day (focusing more on calorie-dense foods, not snacking on veggies), so you will be eating something every 2-3 hours. the compulsive night snacking and bingeing also shows you are not eating enough during the day, it doesn’t matter if it’s not intentional. and yes at first you may feel uncomfortable eating in the morning if you are very full from last night but you need to start eating more and more frequently during the day to get this night eating more normal – otherwise if you don’t eat much until the next evening the cycle just continues.

  16. Hi Elisa, i have a specific problem. So my eating disorder started 2 years ago when i lost a lot of weight since then i am slightly underweight. What started as me restricting and being afraid of a bunch of food ended up on quite a different end of the spectrum – binge eating. At the start of my recovery i would eat my meal plan normaly (still dealing with guilt but i would eat it anyways) (also when i did this – ate more and was gaining weight i was a lot more tired then when i restricted and exercised, is this normal? if so when does it stop, if not what was i doing wrong? i stopped exercising also) but then i sort of relapsed when i reached a healthy weight. Then i tried to gain the weight again but i would do it by only eating in the evenings (all of the calories i needed to consume acording to a meal plan i would consume at one sitting, so it wasn’t really binging just planned overeating). After a period of doing that i decided to stop counting calories and eat three meals and three snacks but that quickly backfired and i started binge eating quite regularly and then heavily restricted until i got back to the weight i was before the binge (because to me it is unexceptable to gain so much weight so fast, i need to recover healthly not using binge eating). This is where i am at now, except that i am no longer able to restrict like before and would gain some weight from the binge anyways. So i no longer have trouble with compulsions to restrict, i just binge a lot. Also now i don’t exercise and i am wondering when can you reintroduce exercising, when i reach a healthy bmi or before? (i don’t exercise for compensation anymore, i just like training with my brother) Do you have any advice how should i act after binging? If i binge in the middle of the day should i still have dinner? If i binge in the evening should i still have breakfast? Won’t i just continue to endlessly gain weight if i don’t compensate somehow after binging? At this point i sort of crave that overly full feeling binging gives me and i am fraid that i will still have the desire to binge even after i reach a healthy weight only i won’t be able to control myself the next day to restrict to manage the weight gain if i get used to eating normaly after binging. Sorry for the long post and a bunch of questions, but i have been strugling with this for a really long time and i don’t really have money for a recovery support so i hope you can say a few helpful words
    P.S. i am now a bit underweight if that is relevant

  17. I recently restored two and half stone in a daycare unit. I am 49 and my eating disorder started at 17. I am now a bmi of just over 18. I was eating around 2500 cal to restore weight. I seemed to maintain on around 2300 at one stage but panicked when I had a holiday and reduced calories just before the holiday. I maintained my weight though rather than losing. I exercise an hour a day plus lots of walking. I was maintaining at the end of daycare on around 2000 kcal. Then on leaving I sometimes had 1700 – 2000. I only lost one kg and then was maintaining. However, I know I wasn’t eating what I had been eating in daycare and now I am having trouble sleeping. I think my metabolism was repairing as I had night sweats and got very hot and sweaty when I ate. I am unsure whether my metabolism has stalled or repaired and now I just need 1850 calories (that seems to be my maintenance now) due to metabolic adaptation or whether I need to restore more weight to sort my mental health out and sleeping issues. Have I totally messed up my metabolism by stopping the input of higher calories? This last week I have increased my calorie intake having over 2000 every day and I’ve restored some weight as I have read the best thing to do is eat to help boost metabolism. Am I doing the right thing?

    1. BMI of over 18 is still very low weight, it might be in a “normal” range but it doesnt mean its your bodies optimal set point weight. Set point weight is what really matters in terms of reaching full recovery physically and mentally and this is the weight you must get to by eating to your full hunger, not by counting calories to “maintain”. if you are trying to “maintain” to not going over some weight you are still restricting and this is not good for recovery or metabolism. I recommend you to start by reading my book to see what I recommend for reaching full recovery as well as get back a healthy metabolism.

  18. Many thanks for all of your extremely helpful information. You’re giving me some courage to add more healthy protein and calories to my diet. I’m a 73 yr old female 5’3”, small frame (bone structure), bmi 22.6 and weigh 123. My “happy” weight is 112. And I’ve been gaining weight for the last year on 1200-1300 calories/day. Unable to lose weight at 1000 calories/day. My diet is all healthy plant based plus Greek yogurt and eggs, tea & 2 cups coffee/day. No alcohol. Also, my sodium count is low. My thyroid is good thanks to Levothyroxine. I’ll confess, I am scared about Any more weight gain. Worried my cloths won’t fit and my face will look like a chipmunk. I’m so glad I found your website.

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