Do you feel like you could just eat, eat, eat, and never seem to get full in your recovery? Do you feel like you have lost all control with food and are now just bingeing? Do you fear that letting go of restriction has now resulted in you having a binge eating disorder?
This is exactly how I felt when I was recovering from bulimia. I felt like no matter how much I ate I never seemed to get full and satisfied. I had stopped purging and was trying to eat all the foods I wanted but I always ended up bingeing and feeling completely out of control with foods. I feared that it will never stop and my weight will spiral out of control. How can this be healthy? How can this be recovery?
In today’s video, I will talk about what is happening with your hunger when you are trying to recover from a restrictive eating disorder like bulimia, anorexia, orthorexia or if you come from a past of dieting or any other type of restriction.
And why you are not simply “bingeing” but are actually going through extreme hunger that is a very normal and natural phase of recovery.
In today’s post I will talk about:
✔️ What is extreme hunger and why it happens?
✔️ How extreme hunger feels like?
✔️ How your eating looks like when you have extreme hunger?
✔️ Why our hunger cues are so confusing in recovery?
✔️ How long extreme hunger lasts?
✔️ Is it the same as binge eating disorder?
✔️ Should you follow extreme hunger when not underweight?
What I talk about in this video is for information purposes only. And you should not recover without medical advice and supervision.
Before you start to increase your food intake then please be aware of the refeeding syndrome. It is a rare condition but its always better to know about these things and be informed beforehand.
Read more about the refeeding syndrome HERE.
What is extreme hunger and why it happens?
Extreme hunger is a biological response to food deprivation.
If you have been through any type of restriction, dieting, compensating calories (like with overexercising or purging) or if you have an eating disorder you will very likely go through a phase of extreme hunger once you stop all the restriction and allow your body to start full recovery.
Some people don’t experience extreme hunger in recovery but most people do on some level and it’s a normal reaction after starvation. Because restriction and dieting are forms of starvation for the body.
And no, you don’t need to come from years of eating disorders or even have been restricting your calories drastically because even a short restriction can lead to experiencing extreme hunger.
And keep in mind that extreme hunger is not just there to restore your weight, but all the damage restriction has done to your body internally.
Restriction causes your body to slow down your metabolism and digestion in order to conserve energy. It also messes up your hormones and many woman can lose their period because their body is starving.
Restriction also doesn’t cause your body to just burn energy from your fat stores but it borrows energy from ALL of your body. Restriction makes your body literally eat itself to get energy. It will cannibalize your organ tissue, muscle tissue, bone mass, even your brain can shrink in size if you are malnourished. This takes a huge toll on your mental health, causing anxiety, OCD symptoms, loss of concentration, poor memory, and even depression because a malnourished brain is a malfunctioning organ. And these are just some of the examples of the effects of malnutrition.
So can you see how it’s impossible to expect that in recovery you could just recover by eating “normal amounts” of food? People often say “but my husband is eating less than me”, or “nobody in my family is eating that much so I MUST be overeating” but they also fail to realize that those people didn’t go through eating disorders and restriction. Those people don’t have culminated massive amounts of caloric dept and all the damage to their bodies internally.
In recovery, you can’t just expect to eat like a “normal person” because the situation you are in is not normal.
In recovery, you can’t just expect to eat like a “normal person” because the situation you are in is not normal. Your body needs more food in recovery because the energy you take in doesn’t go just for normal daily function, but it goes into reversing all the damage restriction has done to your body. You are not on the same energy requirement as a normal healthy individual who’s body is not compromised because of restriction, you are way behind them. In terms of having adequate energy, you are totally broke right now. And extreme hunger helps you get back to energy balance.
How extreme hunger feels like?
Most people are so terrified of extreme hunger because it can feel like you are “bingeing”.
Extreme hunger feels almost like an out of body experience where you just eat, eat, and eat and never seem to get full. You may feel physically stuffed and painfully full but still want more food. And you just can’t get satisfied.
Or you can feel like you just ate a large meal and half an hour later you are extremely hungry again.
And for some people, their physical hunger cues are suppressed so their extreme hunger feels like constant mental hunger in a form of food thoughts. They feel like they are thinking about food all day long. And this is where many people incorrectly think that “this is just emotional eating” or “I’m addicted to food” or “I’m eating out of boredom”. But none of that is true. You are just very very hungry and you need to eat.
Why are my hunger cues so confusing in recovery?
Your hunger cues in recovery can seem very confusing. Extreme hunger feels confusing. And that’s because our hunger and fullness cues in recovery are not yet synchronized.
Because for a normal healthy person: they get hungry, they eat, and then they feel full. Because they don’t have to recover the internal damage of malnutrition.
But for someone recovering from an eating disorder where their body has literally survived on caloric deficit they don’t need to just eat “normal amounts” of food to feel physically full in their stomach but they need more food on top to reverse the damage of malnutrition that is created internally. And you can be malnourished at any size, it’s not about your weight number. A person can be “overweight” but actually starving.
Very simply explained, your stomach is sending the signal to the brain that we are full, but your brain and central nervous system that sees you still need to repair all this internal damage send the signal we still need more food. This is why the hunger feels confusing or you feel, “full but not full” at the same time. In recovery, you can feel gut full but still be body empty.
In recovery, you can feel gut full but still be body empty.
This is why just eating to “comfortable fullness” in recovery is not enough and why the body sends signals like mental hunger or this extreme need for food even when your stomach can feel very full physically. But as your recovery progresses the hunger cues will start to normalize and synchronize as the malnutrition is reversed.
And keep in mind the hunger cues can start to go out of whack just in a few weeks of restriction, so imagine what will happen after many years of restriction and eating disorders. But it’s a misconception that you need to be “extremely malnourished” to have extreme hunger. And I would say having extreme hunger is a positive sign that your body is functioning the way it should.
How does eating with extreme hunger looks like?
With extreme hunger, you most likely don’t want to eat salads and veggies (of course, unless your eating disorder convinces you otherwise) but you want to eat calorie-dense foods. Normally foods high in carbs and fats, also processed foods because they provide the quickest source of calories.
When your body has been through starvation it will not want to waste time trying to recover with food that has a low energy value. Of course it wants to get to the dense caloric source so you can recover quicker.
You may want to eat things like pasta, pizza, ice cream, lots of bread with Nutella or peanut butter…it’s very normal that you likely want the exact foods you have been trying to restrict the most.
And extreme hunger will lead you to eat more food than the recovery minimums. If you don’t know yet then minimum calorie requirements for someone recovering from an eating disorder are 2500-3500 cal per day. But if you experience extreme hunger you maybe want to eat a lot more than that amounts, like 5000, 6000…even 10,000 calories per day.
In my book, I talk about the Minnesota Starvation Experiment where men were starved on 1570 calories per day for 6 months. And after they started their recovery period some of them ate up to 11,500 calories per day. Most of these men reported that they felt like they were “bingeing” and felt totally out of control. They ate so much food but couldn’t get full, they were just so hungry.
They weren’t “bingeing”, they just had extreme hunger after being on this starvation diet of 1570 cal per day. And by the way, so many people eat 1500 calories or less when they are dieting and restricting. Many won’t even consider it a “starvation” but it is!
And those previously healthy and strong men developed all the most common eating disorder physical and mental symptoms. Food restriction can lead to eating disorders.
While the extreme hunger feels very extreme…remember that restricting your food intake, doing fasts, dieting, overexercising, purging, eating less food than you are hungry for is also very extreme for your body.
How long will extreme hunger last?
Extreme hunger can last differently for everybody.
- For some people, it’s there just a few weeks or a few months.
- For some, it will show up at the start of their recovery, for some at the end parts of their recovery.
- For some people, it can last a while and then stop completely. For some, it can last the entire length of their recovery. Or it can come and go unexpectedly.
- And if you can think of any other variation then yes, even that is possible and normal.
How is extreme hunger different from binge eating disorder?
Even though extreme hunger and binge eating disorder seem to have the same exact symptoms they actually do NOT have the same symptoms. There is one major difference.
Extreme hunger is associated with food restriction, compensating calories, and coming from a past of eating disorders like bulimia, anorexia, orthorexia, or other types of restrictive eating disorders.
But binge eating is NOT associated with those behaviors.
Meaning, that you cannot be diagnosed with binge eating disorder when you come from a past of restriction or restrictive eating disorders because that makes the issue entirely different.
To put it simply – when you come from a restrictive past you ARE simply experiencing extreme hunger that is normal in recovery and it will pass and it is not just “binge eating”.
Should I follow extreme hunger when I am not underweight?
As we talked about before that extreme hunger doesn’t only come because you are underweight but it comes because of your restrictive past.
You can be “normal weight” or “overweight” and still be malnourished because you come from a restrictive eating disorder and, yes, you also need to respond to extreme hunger to fully recover.
No matter your weight, if you come from any type of restriction, no matter how severe or “less severe”, you can have extreme hunger in recovery and it’s normal. And the only way through it is to fully respond and eat!
Need more help with your recovery?
If you want to learn more about recovery and how to do it step by step then please read my book “BrainwashED”
If you wish to work with me one on one, then I offer 12-Week Recovery Coaching where I can help you go through your recovery step by step and offer support and accountability. Read more and apply HERE.