First off, I know this post will add a lot of confusion to your recovery. I know how the ED fears work and this can be a trigger for the ED to flare up and say “You see! You WERE just bingeing! You don’t need to eat so much!” Especially when the ED fear of “gaining too much” is in the forefront of your mind and the true extreme hunger is freaking you out.
I have thought a lot about how to explain this so you don’t get a wrong idea and don’t use it as a way to restrict! This is what I don’t want. Especially, if you start to view it this way too soon, when your body is simply not ready!
I have talked a lot about how our body can go through a phase of extreme hunger after coming from a restrictive eating disorder. For example, the men in the Minnesota Starvation Experiment binged on up to 11,000 calories a day after going through a semi-starvation of 1570 calories a day. Most needed around 4000 cal a day to recover. They did not develop a binge eating disorder but this “bingeing” was their bodies physical response to starvation. A natural response.
After they restored their normal weight and recovered physically their hunger went back to normal. No men had any lifelong side-effects from this experience nor did they continue “bingeing”. BUT it took time! Their hunger cues didn’t went back to normal overnight. It took a lot of non-restrictive eating for this to happen!
So firstly you have to eliminate all possibility of restriction. Your hunger can’t go back to normal if you still restrict little bit here and there. If you purge even “just once a week”. If you just went through a relapse. If you still exercise an hour a day. If you just started your recovery. If you still need to restore weight. If you avoid the foods you truly crave. All of this can make it impossible to recover normal hunger cues since your body cannot yet feel 100 % safe. So you must be sure that you have been in full recovery for a good while to successfully reprogram your brain. Remember – an undernourished brain is a malfunctioning organ and cannot just “think” itself better when it’s still physically deprived. So be sure to rule out this ever being a possibility.
But, let’s say, you are now physically recovered and there should not be any reason for you to overeat anymore. You have stopped restricting, compensating and you haven’t relapsed for months. You have been eating enough and regularly, you are not underweight and have a normal weight, you have a regular menstruation, you eat everything you want and physically you know there should not be any reason for you to binge or overeat anymore. But it still persist. Some days you feel like you have normal hunger cues only to find yourself overeating the next day. What is going on?
The Constant Feeling Of Deprivation
I always love to talk about my own experience so I can be sure to share something that has worked for me. This way I can also make the best sense of things and remember how I overcome my ED.
As I said before, the men in the Minnesota Starvation Experiment had no long-term side effects after going through starvation and then recovery…Despite one little thing they mentioned – for many years after the experiment had ended they were haunted by a fear that food might be taken away from them again.
I mention this here because this was exactly how I felt in my eating disorder and also in my recovery – like there was never enough, like I would still feel deprived if I leave some food for later. Like I HAD TO finish the entire pan of pasta to be sure I feel satisfied. Like I could not stop eating before I was overly full to make sure I absolutely had no space left in me – hence no chance of restriction.
I felt like by eating as much as I can I’m making sure I never have to feel this uncomfortable feeling of deprivation. I absolutely could not tolerate that feeling! The feeling that had been with me since my first diet, long before my ED started. It felt like my body did not “trust me” that I won’t restrict later – purge, overexercise, skip meals, diet – so it made sure I was eating to compensate for any future restriction. Eating in case of next famine. Even thought the famine was long over and it was not gonna happen ever again.
Now, this feeling of deprivation is also how extreme hunger feels like and this is why this post can get very confusing. This is why I thought long before making this so you won’t use it as a way to restrict, as I said earlier.
These are some of the signs why I knew it can’t be extreme hunger anymore:
- I had a normal weight, the set point weight range I had been for a looong time. Bit more because of the water weight/bloating/more food in my belly.
- I had a regular menstruation. (I never lost my period).
- I hadn’t been restricting calories for a long time. Ate 2500-3000+ cals easily.
- Didn’t compensate my cals for months (no purging, no overexercising, no intermittent fasting)
- I ate what I craved. Regularly ate all of my previous fear foods. Didn’t restrict any type of foods.
- I was quite sedentary.
- Had a stress free life besides recovery.
- I had accepted my weight so I wasn’t trying to control it anymore.
- I NEVER wanted to restrict again, I knew it’s just not an option!
By this point it didn’t feel like “bingeing” anymore as well. This was the biggest difference, I would say. It felt more like overeating, but not bingeing. For me, extreme hunger felt very urgent. Like you gonna die if you don’t respond to it. What I was experiencing wasn’t like this anymore. It felt more like: “I don’t even want all of this but I somehow need to finish it anyway”. And by that point I was also about 8 months or so into my recovery. I felt ready to start practicing intuitive eating and normal hunger cues. I knew I was “safe” and not ever gonna relapse again.
Tuning In To My Body And Intuition
So I asked my body “What’s wrong? Why do you need to eat until uncomfortable? What can I do?” I tried to tune in and listen to my intuition and not my ego. The ego would say “It’s because you are a binge eater and a worthless pig! You need to have more willpower or your weight will spiral out of control!” The ego is very superficial, it mostly focuses on the weight gain and “need more control”.
But the intuition is more open for various ideas, responds from self-love and care. Is non-judgemental and has an unconditional love no matter what the answer is. And I felt my intuition responded with “I never wanna feel deprived again so I make sure to eat more just in case!”
This is how I tried to make sense of my body and hunger cues. This is the only way I know to connect with my inner wisdom. Not to ask “How can I lose this weight ASAP!?” but more like “I’ll do whatever you need, I will love you regardless”.
I started to understand that after going through years of feeling deprived, restricted, like there was never enough food, it must have left a mark in my subconscious brain. Something that was still lingering even though I was not restricting, never wanted to diet again and felt physically there was no need to eat until stuffed. I understood that I need to work on my mind, to reprogram my brain. To assure my brain that the starvation was over and there was no future threat of restriction coming ever again. I had to make sure my brain fully understood that there is really no need to protect me from feeling deprived again since I was fully committed to eating enough for the rest of my life.
[post continues next week…]