Extreme Hunger and Bingeing in Recovery

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.

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28 thoughts on “Extreme Hunger and Bingeing in Recovery”

  1. Doesn’t MinnieMaud just mean eating 2500+ calories daily (25 yo female) and being sedentary? Just curious bc I hear people talk about it like it’s this big thing, but it seems that most recovery plans would have you eating that. But anyways, thank you for this post, I find it extremely encouraging and reassuring. What is your opinion about including “hyper-palatable” or very processed foods in recovery? Isn’t it super easy to overeat on these or do you think the body will more or less downregulate hunger to account for periodic high calorie intake from processed foods. I worry about eating these foods because I feel that they interfere with normal hunger and fullness responses (i.e. what Dr. Lysle discusses in The Pleasure Trap).

    1. For me i never followed any more traditional recovery plans, i recovered on my own using online recources. I have heard some suggest similar amounts yes, but also a lot of stories where people are urged to start eating less when they gain to normal weight, for example. some even say they gained to BMI 20 in recovery centre and they was suggested to try and “maintain”. so many traditional recovery treatments fear the weight gain as much as ED patients it seems, i love how the MinnieMaud and the creator of this approach on the EdInstitute have no fear of weight gain but instead urge to simply follow the hunger. and trust that the body knows what it needs. and say that 2500-3500 are actually even what normal people eat to maintain health, not only for recovery. not the traditional 2000 cals for women, 2500 for men idea. also some doctors say there is nothing wrong when an ED person exercises an hour a day or sees it even as healthy…and many other differences. but again it depeds on different treatment options of course. these are just stories i have heard from people who went to get a more traditional ED recovery help.

      And I personally through i was a junk food addict and overeat or binged in my ED becuase i was simply addicted to those hyper palatable foods…BUT i started to eat them in recovery, to give myself full permission, i came from orthorexia and those were my biggest fear foods, so i had to let that go and simply eat them…and now as being fully recovered i have NO sign of overeating, or being obsesseid with those foods. actually have much less interest in those foods simply becuase they are allowed all the time i want them. in my experience, the more you restrict on type of foods the more you crave them. to have no such issues with foods i think its best to allow everything. and the hunger will balance out, yes.

  2. i started recovering earlier this week and, because of this monster hunger madness, i’m already at a healthy weight again. today is a good day for my body image, thank god, but the problem now lies in that i can’t tell when i’m full. i dont feel the urge to binge–i get hungry, and i stop being actively hungry, but i can’t tell when i’m full! my instinct is to go back to somewhat-restricted eating–not by calories, but by time. breakfast, snack, lunch, dinner. “normal” portions. this only makes me afraid that i’m not letting my metabolism heal. i’m confused, and i don’t want to gain x pounds just because i don’t feel full when i’m already physically healthy! can someone please, please help?

    1. yes first the weight can come on very quickly becuase of the water retention. its ok to not know your fullness signals if you just started recovering again. the most important thing is to keep the recovery and do not relapse. only this way the hunger cues can normalize. if it helps you can eat every 2-3 hours, 3 meals, 3 snacks in a day, eat the normal portions if you feel it helps. if you feel you get more hungry, increase portions! and do not worry the hunger will go back to normal, but you must give it time. many months. also no exercise.

  3. What if you are a lot over weight. I am a little over 300 pounds. Do I still eat those amount of calories. I am scared of putting on more weight.

    1. If you come from restrictive background and want to recover the answer is not “keep on restricting” since this is part of the problem. 2500-3000 is what even normal people eat who are energy balanced, it’s not just for “gaining”. Read more here: https://www.edinstitute.org/blog/2011/9/14/i-need-how-many-calories Actually, people can gain weight by constantly dieting/restricting because it lowers their metabolism and increases hunger and being in this restrictive state can make your body go into a “starvation mode” or metabolic compensation where it slows down dramatically and actually starts to much more easily gain fat as a protective mechanism. I also recommend reading my book where all of this is explained: https://followtheintuition.com/book

  4. Hi I have just really badly started the binging now late recovery. I have reached bmi 20 and am probably about bmi 21/22 by now bc of a couple of weeks of binging. It isn’t like I eat a tonne in a small space of time I just constantly eat and I don’t even feel hungry. How can I stop over eating? I have read on line about people becoming obese after anorexia recovery! I still have no period. Do you think this is extreme hunger or just emotional/boredom eating

  5. Hi Elisa! I’m so glad I found you’re website (thanks to this girl Audra!), and you’ve been so helpful in preparing myself for recovery (officially started two days ago :D). I respected my body yesterday and let extreme hunger run its course, but I’ve woken up this morning with absolutely no desire to eat. It’s not that I’m trying to restrict, but I just don’t have an appetite, and thinking about eating makes me feel nauseous. Not to mention I still have food sitting in my stomach. Do I keep eating despite feeling this way? Or do I wait till I feel hungry? Thanks!

    1. Hi Janet 🙂 I think it’s perfectly ok to wait until hungry again, so no need to force it. But also, makes sure you don’t let it get into a routine where you maybe eat a huge meal a day and then don’t eat for hours and hours. So make sure you try to eat regularly as well, meaning breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks. Since this really helps to normalize hunger cues as well. For example, some people tell me they eat only 500 calories during the day and then wonder why at night time they have “extreme hunger”, so in this case it’s only logical to eat until stuffed during dinner since during a day they don’t have enough food. Just something to look out for.

  6. Will the exrteme hunger last longer if i exersice weekly. I dont want to stop going to gym because i think that if my muscles are not working i am gonna gain all weight on my stomack. What should i do? Also i still am afraid to becoming fat because my hunger levels are so high. Will this hunger never end?

    1. yes exercise will absolutely increase hunger. in recovery its ESSENTIAL to rest. it’s not recommended for no reason. rest and refeed – 2 most important things. yes, the hunger will be back to normal in time, but only when you are in full recovery mode, still exercising is not providing that rest your body needs so you keep on putting breaks on your recovery.

  7. I am a 16 year old male recovering from anorexia nervosa. After being released from the hospital it took roughly 2 months before extreme hunger started. It’s been 3 weeks and I’ve been eating between 5,000-10,000 calories every day! I’m weight restored now but it’s still happening! How much longer do you think this will go on?? I keep gaining weight even though I’m technically “healthy” now.

    1. “technically healthy weight” does not mean your actual healthy set point weight, very commonly in the hospital people are “weight restored” to a low healthy BMI what is not their body’s natural healthy weight so the extreme hunger continues and is needed. the only way to restore it is to continue recovery, respond to your full hunger, rest, and give it time. also to make sure you never relapse or restrict. only this way the body can recover.

  8. I’m a 22 years old male and I lost 48 pounds in a period of 3 months (restrictive diet). extreme hunger is still part of my recovery. I am now at a BMI of 23 and still have extreme hunger. Is it normal ? Will EH stop ?

    1. Hi! yes its very normal. you have to focus on never ever restricting or compensating, doing recovery FULLY (not going back and forth between extreme hunger and then restriction), eating regularly, responding to mental hunger and so forth. also making sure you are sleeping enough and resting! then you can be sure you are not sabotaging this process in any disordered ways and then, yes, the extreme hunger will end. if you haven’t yet read my book i recommend it to understand more and exactly what to focus on.

  9. Im 19 years old, and I have only suffered from anorexia for about a year or less. I have recovered and regained all my weight I have lost through the minnie maud method, and got back my period. However, recently, I have been having extreme mental hunger which has made me eat over 3500-5000 calories and im only 5’2. I have just started exercising but not alot. I’m always feeling physically full but still craving for “junk food” and I do honour my cravings as much as possible. However, I’m still fearful of the weight gain because I have gone back to my original weight before any restrictions. When will my mental hunger stop and should I never restrict or curb my cravings? Thank you.

    1. I was normal weight all throughout my eating disorder and had my period but still needed to go through recovery and had extreme hunger. There is so much more that goes into recovery than just gaining weight or getting your period, very often there is a bone loss, loss of organ tissue, loss of muscle tissue, slowed metabolism, nerve damage etc so all that needs to be restored as well and it takes time and a lot of fuel. so make sure you are honoring your hunger and responding, and not restricting between the extreme hunger, that just keeps the cycle going. be consistent.

  10. Hi Elisa,
    I have been battling with eating disorders and binge eating for a few years now. I fell into binge eating after years of restriction and now although I restrict much less (I still try to control my portions and am afraid of many foods still that I try to avoid) and I exercise everyday but I still battle with binge eating and mental restriction. I have put on weight since my early eating disorder and am at a normal weight if not slightly overweight. The thing is I feel the need to eat all the time! I don’t know if this is extreme hunger or binge eating? Some days I try to listen to my body even if it means eating more than I would like but most days I feel like I eat lots of food every few hours! I feel sick and wonder if it is binge eating or emotional eating and I should be trying to control it or if I should let my body get what it wants and it will eventually stop? I have tried to do this the past two weeks and I have since gained weight so I worry even more… I’m so confused? Thanks

    1. Hi! yes if you come from restriction you can gain weight not because of “eating too much” but because of the restriction you come from and the suppressed state your body was and still is in. So it will absolutely take time to recover from this and the hunger cues to balance. but you can’t correlate your eating to your weight as you can have an eating disorder at any size and a person can have a restriction problem at any size and just more restriction is not the answer to cure their eating problems. You are in this place BECAUSE of the restriction, so it can’t be part of the answer but is a big part of the problem. So yes no restriction is the answer and healing your relationship with food. If you focus on doing that, healing from restriction physically and mentally then the weight will end up taking care of itself naturally and find its best place for you. but you cant focus on the weight but focus on overcoming any restriction, physical and mental. Healing yourself and your mind. Looking recovery beyond weight because this is where most people get trapped in and distracted by. The weight is not the problem but the restriction is.

  11. Hi!

    I’ve been in full recovery for about a year and a half now. All through 2018 I was great with extreme hunger and let it run its course, which led to overshoot, plateau, and natural weight loss (while eating the same amount of food). Coming back to college, the past five months I’ve lost a bit of weight, intentionally and unintentionally. I’m nowhere near as thin or restrictive as before, But I feel like there was definitely some unconscious restriction that led to the extra weightloss this year. For the past week, I’ve been experiencing EH consistently, everyday. I can feel myself putting on weight, but I can’t stop myself from eating. A part of me really wants to lose all this excess weight again, but every time I try to restrict, I end up binging again. I keep thinking that I now have BED because I can’t control my hunger AT ALL. Is it normal that I am experiencing EH at this stage in recovery? Do you think it’s because I resorted to quasi-recovery for the past five months? Thanks

    1. Hi! As you said you partly intentionally lost weight the past five months and try to restrict even now to stop EH, this is not being in full recovery and yes it can lead to EH and other symptoms. For full recovery all restriction (whether physical or mental) have to go completely.

  12. Hi,
    I would like to ask for help. I have been suffering from anorexia for about seven years, past two years it was more like a binge-restrict cycle. I have started recovery six months ago but I am still underweight and really scared of weight gain. However the biggest problem for me is the feeling of fullness due to extreme hunger I am experiencing now. I don’t know how to cope with it. It ruins my life, I can’t focus on anything and sometimes it forced me to purge. Moreover it’s like the more I eat the more I feel tired and sleepy.
    Do you have any advice how to cope with the physical feeling itself and the guilt after eating? Answering to the hunger now seems like the worst thing ever while it makes me only tired, bloated and mentally so low.
    Thank you very much

    1. it is very normal, and the way recovery happens. recovery doesn’t feel good, it often makes you feel very uncomfortable and you can experience various symptoms like bloating, feeling very tired, too full etc. if recovery would feel easy and good more people would recover! but you must know that its normal phase, and it’s temporary, it will get better! but you must be consistent. and no purging or restriction that will only delay this process or stop recovery happening altogether. if you haven’t read my book I recommend it where I explain this and also about the symptoms.

  13. Hi!

    I did not go through an eating disorder but lost weight from a stomach virus, lost near 20 lbs last october of 2018, started feeling extreme hunger since november, is there phases where you can tell its less, if so what are they, first 5 months i had stomach growling from hunger every 10 mins that has gone then felt empty. Now i can get somewhat satisfied, and i’m well past recovered weight. Is there a phase where I’ll know im on the right path?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi! if you are getting more and more satisfied its a good sign. I would say focus on that, to get satisfied with meals, not just full but also satisfied. Also respond to mental hunger, food thoughts, not just physically stomach feeling empty. I would also recommend reading my book to understand more about recovery and the phases and what to expect. its hard for me to say more without knowing more of you and exactly what you are doing. wish you the best!

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