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 below 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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27 thoughts on “Calories for Eating Disorder Recovery”

  1. 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.

    1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

  3. 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

    1. 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.

  4. I don’t know if you can give advice I’m currently trying to recover from anorexia I was nearly sectioned under the mental health act unless I increased my calories which I did. However my physiatrist told me to eat 2500 calories. I’ve not managed to do that but have been eating around 2200. But I seem to be gaining so quickly. This is my second time in recovery and the previous time I was eating 3000 and was increasing weight slowly why is it this time eating less I’m gaining quicker. I want to increase my calories as still so hungry but just worried I will gain even faster and all ready feel like it’s spirialing out of control all ready. I’ve read some where that a recovering anorexia esting 2200 is still classed as starvation mode and the body clings on to everything ands that’s why I’m gaining so fast but I don’t know how true that is. Any advice would be great please can you help xxx

    1. you need to eat enough calories so the metabolism can also speed up. eating lower cal yes you will gain weight but the metabolism will stay suppressed.

        1. Eating enough is key to let your body heal and find the best healthy weight for you. people can gain weight on low calories because the metabolism is suppressed, but increasing calories to eat enough will actually help your body restore your set point weight and health as well. so it doesn’t mean if you are nearly at target weight or not you do need to keep eating enough. I was normal weight when I ate these calories, nothing bad happened but my body balanced out at my set point.

    1. there is nothing wrong with eating what you want and crave, it’s very important to respond to your body’s needs. the guilt comes from the eating disorder which you cant trust.

  5. I’m under 25 and normal weight, but I haven’t been getting my period for the past 10 months. I was on 1000 calories for 3 months and slightly underweight. Is it necessary to have 2000 calories a day? And would weight gain be necessary in order to get my period back?

    1. Hey! yes you need enough calories for recovery, as said in this article minimum is 2500-3500, and they are only minimums, not maximums, your body may need way more, also you can have extreme hunger that is very normal. and yes the weight gain is needed, your body will decide how much weight is needed, you just have to eat enough and follow recovery.

  6. Hi! I am 20yrs old, 5’7″, around 125 pounds and currently eat around 2000-2200 calories, (I used to eat around 1700/1800 and Macro counted but have slowly increased over the last couple of months) I heavily restrict, overexercise and haven’t gotten my period in 6 months. I live in London and end up walking at least 20,000 steps a day just to get to and from classes! I have been trying to recover. Im afraid of increasing calories because, although im thin, im not “skeleton” thin (I hope thats not offensive to anyone!) But i feel like I don’t classify as someone who should be eating 3500 calories like the MM guidelines say! I don’t want to use ED as an excuse to eat that much but I think about food 24/7 and don’t know what to do-help!

  7. I’m weight restored, but I gained my weight back in low calories, I stopped exercise for 2-3 months and when I gained weight.. I started to lift again, 4-5 days a week and I have to walk too much everyday for school.. aiming for 10000-14000 steps a day, I gained my weight in low calories and everytime I try to eat more I gain.. not to quickly but yeah, feel bloated all the time so I restrict my intake and I only eat like 1400-1500 calories a day, I don’t have my period, I still have fear of certain foods, i isolate myself, I dont feel hungry at all.. but i started to feel weak, sleepy and fatigue, I don’t know if I need to eat that amount of calories even when I’m at a healthy weight, but I really want to get my period back, to enjoy the food I want when I want and stop restricting ):

  8. I was AN for only a few months when I was 13 and was quickly put in IOP, weight restored, and now I need to gain a couple pounds to get to my goal weight. I’m 4′ 9″ and eating roughly 1500 to 1700 a day, which is extremely hard already to get in. I don’t think abt food NEARLY as much as I did a month ago, I’m gaining rn and not scared to do so. During IOP treatment, I was eating maybe around 2000 ~ 2200 a day, high fat/protein and now am on a whole food/moderate carb and around 20% fat. I don’t count calories anymore and am intuitively eating. I’m wondering if I should be eating more to restore my metabolism/if my metabolism is restored yet.

  9. Hi, Elisa! Could You tell me, how gradually I should increase my calories to minimus recomended calories in recovery? At the moment I eat 1700 calories and i’m not underweight. Is it ok to increase calories, for example, 100 calories per week until i reach minimums calories?

  10. Hi, I’ve been counting calories as you did to make sure I get a minimum of 2500. Mostly I reach that fairly easily for about 4/5 weeks now. I’ve gained quite a bit but I’m not weighing this time around as I was triggered at around this point last time I attempted full weight restoration.
    I have had some extreme hunger which would have taken me over 2500 but not a great deal.
    My question is how do I know when I can eat more to hunger? Today I felt like it was harder to reach 2500 and feel stuffed.
    When you stopped counting do you think some days you may have eaten over and then others under 2500 so it balanced out over the week?
    Thanks!

  11. Hello, I have watched a couple of your videos and had a few questions.
    I’ve been restrictive dieting (under 1000 cal.) and “clean eating” for almost a year. I’m not underweight (I’m 120 lbs, 5’6″, and 20 years old), but I lost about 35 lbs during that time due to the restrictions and clean eating. I’ve been reading what you said about the recovery process and wanted to know…. do I really have to eat 3000 calories a day? I am eating very little in terms of variety and portion size right now, and I can only manage to maintain weight. In the past, I once tried eating a normal meal and gained 3 lbs as a result, and going through that again terrifies me. I’m scared eating so much more will cause me to gain weight uncontrollably. Should I really be gaining more even if I’m at a normal weight?
    Also, do you suggest medical/professional advice before starting the recovery process?

    Thank you

    1. Hi! you are NOT at a healthy weight and your body is not healthy when its all maintained by restriction. its not about the weight number, its about what is the condition of your body. if you are starving at 1000 cals and start to eat more you gain weight because your body is suppressed, this is what happens when its starved. its a survival mechanism. the only way is to eat enough, to your full hunger and satisfaction, yes 2500-3000 is just minimum, and let the body restore itself, then it can speed up your metabolism over time as well. i was never underweight but still ate 2500-3000 cals or more.

      and yes, of course, get medical help. The content of this website is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical, psychological and/or nutritional advice.

  12. Hi again! Thanks for replying, it really means a lot. Sorry to bother you, but I really wanted to ask….. how do you know when your body is restored and your metabolism is back to normal? I’ve been trying to eat more by adding back in 100 cals a week….. but I read somewhere that this could cause weight gain and will not repair the metabolism??? I’m terrified to eat 2500 cal. and gain weight uncontrollably. I thought building up to it might be better for maintaining my weight, but will that just slow down/disrupt the recovery process later on?

  13. Hi!
    I’m 20 years old and I weight 47.4-47.6kg and have a BMI of 17.6-18, I just started treatment but they don’t work on a calorie based treatment, and I keep feeling so lost. 4 times over the past 3 weeks, I have eaten less the 400 calories throughout the day, and then it comes to evening time, and iv just eaten SO SO SO SO much food, iv just let myself have what I’m craving, and it’s been such bad food, like pizza, chocolate, cookies, cereal , peanut butter etc, I almost don’t believe I actually have an eating disorder because no one with an eating disorder would be able to eat that much food?!? No one with an eating disorder would be able to eat those fear foods 4 times in 3 weeks?!? I almost want the people in my treatment centre to tell me to eat these foods and that it’s normal, but they have not mentioned extreme hunger once, which I think is what I have sometimes. Im just so much hungrier now then I was when I was eating less then 1000 calories a day, and I don’t know what to do. I haven’t had my period in 7 months, which I know is a sign of an eating disorder. But I don’t believe that someone with an eating disorder could possibly eat that much food. I’m scared that I will just use extreme hunger, and “ minimum guidelines” as an excuse to eat loads of bad foods.

    1. extreme hunger is real. its very true that many clinics and treatment centers don’t talk about it and it’s a huge problem. i hear it so so many times from my clients who have been through multiple treatments and never recover because they weren’t aware of extreme hunger. and then we start working together and they fully allow food, let go all restriction and they recover! so you have to know that you are not doing anything wrong by eating and responding to your hunger. and eating 400 cal for a day will most surely make you so hungry in the evening, its a very unhealthy cycle. you have to eat regularly and consistently. as much as you want. i wonder why they even let you eat 400 cals for a day? its clearly not enough. its a starvation. use any help you can get but also know to step up for yourself and support your recovery process! you can take charge over your recovery, nobody else will. there is so much misconception about recovery treatment unfortunately so you have to take a lead in your own recovery ❤

  14. Hey Elisa,
    does this guidlines apply to me even I am weight resored?
    I have a lot of mental hunger and restriced a lot in my mind. so maybe this guidelines will help me to lose the fear of calories and let me breakfree from qusi recovery.
    looking forward to hearing from you.

    1. yes these apply to you as well. in my recovery I was normal weight and still ate the guidelines and above. the guidelines are only minimums, not maximums so everybody should eat more and especially to their mental hunger. if you have food thoughts then this is also hunger!

  15. Hello! I desperately need help as I am very confused and mentally drained from all of this thinking about food and obsessions. I am a teenager, 5’3″ and dieted to lose weight (consuming from 800 to 1200 calories for two to three months.) I developed an eating disorder,
    but was never technically underweight. However, my period stopped (I am on a hormonal therapy for that now). I am not sure, but I may have been a little underweight with a weight of under 48,6 kg, which is BMI under 18.5, but I don’t know if I should count it as BMI for children is measured differently.
    I really want to recover and stop thinking about food and if I am eating too much and what I am eating. My hunger signals are pretty messed up and I can go on without feeling hunger for over 8 hours after breakfast (which I usually am not hungry for either, but eat it anyway). Even If I feel hunger in these 8 hours it quickly passes away and doesn’t come back until much later. I am scared, because I am at a healthy weight (BMI over 18.5) and I don’t want to gain. I freak out because I think I am eating too much and having too many desserts. I would really really appreciate some advice or at least a guide number to follow. Thanks in advance!

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