This is what went through my head constantly in the early days of recovery. I thought I could just magically go from restricting to being a normal eater. That was not the case. I would try so hard to serve myself and eat normal portions of food like I saw the people around me eat. Although these portions were far more than I would have ever allowed myself prior to recovery, I was never satisfied. I just couldn’t stop at a normal portion.
It was the oddest feeling. My stomach might feel full, but I feel an innate calling to keep eating. And eating. And eating. I would consume huge amounts of foods at once and still be scrounging for more. I felt like I was some sort of poor child who had been locked away for years without enough food. In a sense, I kind of had been.
This would happen over and over again, day after day. I would wake up and tell myself that I was going to be normal. “I’m not going to restrict, but I won’t keep shoving insane amounts of food into my mouth for half the day. I’m not going to spend 95% of my day eating again. Nope. Not today”
But I just couldn’t uphold that. My body was screaming for more food. And even though giving in to it’s demands to eat large amounts of nutrient-dense food was scary and uncomfortable, I couldn’t fight it anymore. I felt defeated; like a failure. What was wrong with me? Why did I just go from one extreme to another? Then one day, I stumbled upon the logical reason for my self-diagnosis of “crazy” – extreme hunger.
Essentially, extreme hunger is your body trying to heal itself.
Extreme hunger is characterized by eating large quantities of food in a relatively short amount of time. You might be thinking, “so, it’s bingeing“, but it’s not! That’s what my first thoughts were too.
Extreme hunger is not something everyone recovering from a restrictive eating disorder will experience. However, most will. When you’ll experience it and for how long differs, but it is usually a (scary) part of the recovery process.
Why is this happening?
Let’s just think of this hypothetically. Your body needs a certain amount of calories every day to live, allow your body to function properly, and give you energy. Say you’ve only been giving your body 1/3 the amount of calories it truly needs for two years. When you finally start fueling it properly, it’s going to try to make up for lost time. Your body has been in starvation mode for so long.
Even if your brain knows there is plenty of food available, your body might not.
Tabitha Farrar has another great analogy for this. What if you owed someone $730,000,000. You decide to pay $1,000. Would you be surprised when the person was constantly asking for more money? This is kind of the way your body is working. It has a major deficit of energy from however long you’ve restricted it for. So, your body may be demanding way more calories than the average person for a while.
This Girl Audra also has a great video explaining her take on extreme hunger, which can help you understand some of the causes of extreme hunger.
It’s scary and uncomfortable, but your hunger is something you need to honor. When your body is hungry, give it more.
Will it ever stop?
Yes, it will. However, it may take quite awhile for your hunger levels to go back to “normal”. There’s no way of knowing how long extreme hunger will last. For some people, they may only experience it for a few weeks. Other people may find themselves in a state of extreme hunger for months on end. Or, you may never experience extreme hunger.
I don’t know how long you’ll feel extreme hunger for, but I can tell you that it will come to an end. That said, you must honor it for however long it sticks around for. Holding onto restriction will never help you heal. It will only prolong the process and send you backwards.
So, do your best to honor those hunger signals, however crazy, wrong, or scary it seems. Your body has a lot of healing to do, and food it fuel.