“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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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“)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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“)
- 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)
- 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:
- Higher body temperature, warm hands and feet
- More energy
- Better mood
- Better concentration
- Higher sex drive
- Night sweats (uncomfortable symptom in recovery but a good sign of raising metabolism)
- Possible weight loss (if above set point) or/and loss of bloating and water retention
- 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!