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!
Read more about extreme hunger in the post “7 Tips For Going Through EXTREME HUNGER”
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”
And also please check out my recovery courses: Kickstart Your Eating Disorder Recovery and How To Get Back Your Period
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.
18 thoughts on “Extreme Hunger And Binge Eating In Recovery”
Is this still true if I’ve had my extreme MENTAL HUNGER FOR OVER A YEAR, and you had emotional hunger for the first time yesterday.
I always want more food even if I’m full, I just want food for fun…. No physical hunger just mental.
I have such a hard time with life now, especially since I’m sure my anorexia turned into a binge eating disorder.
I turned my anorexia into a binge Ed.
I asked the NEDIC and they sent me sites fo Binge Eating sites.
What should I do, I hate my life right now and have for a year because of food.
Im not sure what you did in that one year in terms of recovery, like if you are truly giving yourself unconditional permission to eat, it sounds like you don’t, so this can just prolong extreme hunger. it doesn’t matter the length of time you have been going through something but what matters more is what changes or steps you implemented during that time. I recommend starting by reading my book and implementing the steps outlined there: https://followtheintuition.com/book/
First of all, thank you for putting all of this content out for people like me. You have helped me immensely! I’ve had ED (binging, bulimia, restrictive dieting…etc) for nearly 30 years. In February I started my “All In” recovery journey and I am hopeful for the first time that I can truly recover. While it is very difficult for me to let go of my normal controlling nature around food, exercise, body and so forth, it is giving me a lot of relief as well.
What I really wanted to ask you is – I have been honoring all of my extreme mental hunger for a few months and suddenly I find myself with a much lower (sometimes nonexistent) appetite. Should I listen to my body and eat less or should I continue to eat at least 2500-3500 calories a day even if I am not hungry? I genuinely cannot remember ever not being hungry and I am worried about ignoring my body at this point… but should I?
Thank you SO much for your advice on this matter.
Generally, yes, continue to eat the minimums and eat regularly. It can feel like quite a big contrast from coming from binge eating and then having a reduced appetite, I went through something similar I believe. I don’t know much about your recovery so I would say keep on eating the minimums and eat regularly. For me, I just went with my hunger, but I did keep eating normal amounts, I wouldn’t say my appetite was nonexistent but it was definitely lower or more “normal” compared to before (the overeating and bingeing for years previously).
Hi Elisa, I have found this so helpful, thank you! I started my recovery about 8 months ago after 2 years of restriction/bulimia. For the first 6 months I didn’t experience extreme hunger, but now I am and it really threw me as it felt like I was having a major relapse in my eating disorder! I feel so much better now that I know what it is, however, I do find it very hard when it happens. I know everyone is different and there isn’t an exact time scale, but I’m so worried that it will never stop and I don’t know what to do about it. I’m worried that if I completely honour it then it’ll be happening every day!!
Well done with your recovery! And extreme hunger is very normal and it WILL stop as you keep on honoring it. See my latest video where I share more tips on going through extreme hunger: https://followtheintuition.com/7-tips-for-extreme-hunger/
Hi Elisa, this has been super useful so thank you so much! I just have one question as recently I feel like I have had this quite a bit. For like three days or so about a week ago, I was restricting again and eating much below the recommended daily calories, and then for the following few days up to today I have been what feels like binging as I will get physically full and continue to eat if there is food that seems nice. Is this mental hunger that I need to listen to or should I stop eating when I do feel physically full and ignore the mental hunger? I can’t tell if honouring the mental hunger and feeling almost out of control is binging or not. I really don’t want this feeling to keep happening but I don’t know how to make it stop, and I really don’t want to develop BED if there is any chance of that!!
this hunger is very normal and you should definitely respond. our hunger in recovery is not “normal” because what we have been through (the restriction) was not normal either, and it takes a lot of food and *consistency* (not going back and forth with recovery and resriction) to restore normal hunger. You can also check out my post about how to restore normal hunger cues: https://followtheintuition.com/restore-normal-hunger-cues/
Dear Elisa, thank you for your work. I have been following you since I first heard of the all in recovery méthod and started following several valuable blogs and coaches. This was back in 2016. I think that I am recovered from AN, weight restored (healthy, through a bit on the low side but still appropriate and good) no symptoms of starvation, regular periods, etc. Problem is, the extrême hunger is not gone. I eat all of the fear foods, eat dessert every day etc but i still get these cravings that I can not resist. I haven’t found any information about extrême hunger AFTER recovery. Do you have any thought that could help? Thanks xxoo
Extreme hunger is actually one of the starvation symptoms. you might feel better physically and mentally but you actually don’t know if this is your bodys optimal healthy weight. being at BMI “normal” range does not say what is the healthiest weight for your body. also some people need to overshoot to fully recover and restore their body. i say you need to eat more and follow your extreme hunger, let it guide to the amounts you really need to be eating.
Elisa, your work is amazing and so much help to people like me. I’m going through extreme hunger episodes quite often but when the hunger is over I’m unable to lose control over what and how much I eat and I don’t trust my body with it. I’m just afraid that if I let myself experience such episodes it could wrack my metabolism, lead to insulin resistance and ruin my digestive system. I don’t want to starve, I just don’t want to do more harm to my body with food, I want to use food my heal my body. In what direction should I drive my thoughts?
food deprivation leads to extreme hunger, which is nature’s way to compensate for the lack of food. it’s designed to be this way with a purpose, its helping you, not wrecking your body. its intuitive to eat a lot of food when you have been starving.
genuinely, thank you. one of the few truly recovery positive articles, and sometimes I need that more than I know
thank you! 🙂
Thank you so much. I’m struggling with extreme hunger as a result of a relapse with binging and purging at night time. I’m in the overweight category. Is it possible to experience extreme hunger for someone like me? I also have struggled with binge eating then anorexia then bulimia. Thanks
yes, you can still experience extreme hunger no matter your weight, it’s the restriction that causes it, not only weight.
So I know this was written two years ago and so I probably won’t get a reply,but four days ago I was 5’10 and 77 pounds.i struggled with severe bulimia and I wasn’t even eating any calories, in fact I was having negative calories a day because I would throw up anything I ate but then made sure I threw up more than what I ate so I would lose more.and then I decided to start eating again because I was fed up.the issue is,the term eating the whole fridge doesn’t even begin to describe me.for instance,I’ll eat eight slices of pizza with dip then have three plates of dinner two hours later and then eat three pounds of grapes and still be hungry.i ate so much that i already feel ive gained more than the majority of my weight back,and my body proves that’s true.i swear I’ve gone from one e.d to another.this feels like binge eating disorder in its finest.when will this madness end?my stomach is so distended it could have its own area code and it hurts so bad but I feel like i can’t stop my mind is always on food to the point I can’t even sleep anymore.when does this emotional hunger stop?
4 days is a very short time to overcome the past of restriction and to restore your body. this is extreme hunger, not binge eating. you can also read my post about 7 tips to deal with extreme hunger: https://followtheintuition.com/7-tips-for-extreme-hunger/