You will most likely experience extreme hunger in eating disorder recovery. You eat, eat, eat and never seem to get full. You may be physically full but still feel you want to eat more! You feel like a crazy Foodzilla who is about to make an end to the world’s food supply.
The normal amount of food seems to not satisfy you (even the 2500-3000 calorie recovery recommendations) and you think you just have a binge eating disorder! You feel hungry, but not hungry. You feel “empty”, but you know that you are physically full. You feel like a bottomless bit. Ready to inhale all food at once! BAM! – it’s gone! Next!
If you start recovery from any kind of eating disorder or just past of dieting and restriction, having extreme hunger is normal and it will pass! It is your body’s response to the previous restriction. Sometimes, when we have gone through extreme restriction like eating disorders and dieting we might temporarily need to go to the other extreme and eat in large amounts to actually restore balance!
Think about it this way: when you dive underwater and hold your breath you will slowly get deprived of oxygen. When you finally come up to the surface you might start gulping for air and be hyperventilating for a while. Now imagine if something extreme happened. You got 3 big ocean waves coming over your head in a row and you got into some serious trouble. You get to the surface for a brief second but the next wave is coming smashing over your head again. Your body desperately needs air to come out of this alive. When you finally get out of this scary situation and are pulled to the shore you might even need emergency CPR. If oxygen levels are not restored quickly you may suffer from brain damage or even die. That is what oxygen deprivation does to your body, it is very dangerous. It might take quite a while to come out of the initial shock and be able to breathe normally again.
This is similar to eating disorder recovery. Extreme hunger is like hyperventilating after oxygen deprivation. You need to follow this hunger signal to restore health and balance. It is there for a reason. It is not your body working against you. It is doing all it can to save you from further damage.
Extreme hunger is like hyperventilating after oxygen deprivation. You need to follow this hunger signal to restore health and balance. It is there for a reason.
Extreme hunger will pass as long as you will keep eating an adequate amount of food and skip any form of calorie compensation (purging, dieting, skipping meals, exercising, using diuretics or laxatives etc).
Note: read my post about Refeeding Syndrome before you start eating more just to be safe.
How long will extreme hunger last?
This varies for people. It can last a few weeks to several months. It can be present during a certain time period and then end completely or it can come and go in recovery and then come back again for a while. Some people do not experience extreme hunger at all. It can also vary in the intensity and be different to how many calories people consume in their extreme hunger periods.
Should I follow extreme hunger when I am not underweight?
Extreme hunger may cause panic for pretty much everyone in the restrictive eating disorder and they lock down on the incorrect thoughts that they will “just keep going” and are “bingeing”.
People who are underweight (anorexia) need to follow their extreme hunger in order to gain weight and come out of the starvation mode. But what about people who are not underweight, maybe they are even overweight? Do they also need to eat that much?
This is especially a concern for people who have had bulimia because “bingeing” was the hardest part to overcome in their eating disorder so they do not see how following extreme hunger or this “bingeing” in recovery is necessary?
You have to understand that during your bulimia you were also purging or did some form of restriction in between those binges. That’s why you are bingeing in the first place – you were restricting beforehand. “Binge” is our body’s response to compensate the restriction. Not only calorie restriction but also food restriction (like we see in orthorexia).
If you stop restricting and start to eat normal amounts of foods bingeing won’t stop overnight because your body does not trust you and your brain is also strongly wired to your eating disorder habits. Plus, your body actually needs a lot of calories to restore all physical damage eating disorder has done to your body.
In order to break these habits, it’s firstly important to let go of restriction and then follow your hunger. If some days your hunger leads you to 4000+ calories (extreme hunger) then so be it. But if you start to resist this hunger, your body just gets assured that famine is not over.
In order to break these habits, it’s firstly important to let go of restriction and then follow your hunger.
Eventually, extreme hunger will come less and less as you eat enough and regularly. Slowly but surely it will fade away, just like the hyperventilating will go away when our body’s oxygen balance is restored.
In all recovery stories, I have never read about recovery without any initial bingeing episodes (extreme hunger). Every single one of them still “binged” in the beginning of recovery. No matter if they did MinnieMaud or not (most of them did not!). But as time passed they binged less and less and they also stopped all compensation after those “binges” and in time their body accepted that there was no restriction coming, hence, no binge signal needed, famine was over.
So my point is that I do not want you to see this extreme hunger as a threat, as something abnormal or something you want to suppress anxiously. But rather see it as your body’s way to come out of the restriction – just the same way as it is normal to gasp for air after oxygen deprivation.
Photo from HERE.