“Why Can’t I Stop Eating!?”: The Truth About Extreme Hunger

extreme hunger - image of woman biting into burger with smile on face, sand in background

I‘m crazy. Completely insane. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just eat normally? This is what went through my head constantly in the early days of recovery. Extreme hunger had taken over.

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’d consume huge amounts of foods at once and still scrounge for more. I felt like some sort of poor child who’d been locked away for years without enough food. In a sense, I kind of had been.

This happened 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.

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 when it comes to extreme hunger. 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 extreme hunger 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.

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  1. says: Shaimaa

    And what does constant hunger in the recovery of binge eating mean?
    I mean it can’t be extreme hunger because one hasn’t restricted but overeaten the whole time.

  2. says: Lisette

    What a great article! Thank you!! For me- one thing that helped was giving myself mental permission to eat enough and telling myself “I can have as much as I want” but it was so hard.

  3. says: Laura Schmuck

    This definitely explains why I was having extreme hunger in recovery. I was really scared and couldn’t figure out why it was happening even though I was eating more. Thanks for sharing this article!!!!

  4. says: Maria

    Oh my goodness! This explains so much. I have found recovery so difficult. It has been so hard to give myself ‘permission’ to listen to my body. To discover that this behaviour is a normal part of the process has really really helped. Thank you so much.

  5. says: Debbie Wightman

    Our 32 year old son is going through recover after 6 years of severe restriction diet. His. Mi is now 30 14 months since eating. He has not found a mens recovery group. He continues to be very hungry and eats when he is. Is there a mens group for this? He lives with us.

    1. says: Gabija

      Please please make sure he is honouring all physical and mental hunger!! Trust me, I’ve been through it before and it really does come to an end as long as you NEVER restrict!! I was even waking up at night to eat because I was so hungry. Best of luck 🙂

  6. says: laura birnbaum

    I have been recovered for years and I still struggle with extreme hunger… over 3000 calories a day, and I’m 5’1 and 34 years old, and exercise moderately. Is that normal? Will that ever go away? I still wake up hungry and have to eat in the middle of the night… it’s torturous.

    1. Thanks for reading Laura. In my own experience, as long as I was waking up in the middle of the night hungry, I actually was not eating enough during the day. When I finally let go and allowed myself to eat until I was FULL and satisfied 3 times a day plus any other times I was hungry, then I stopped waking up in the middle of the night hungry. Most of us need WAY more calories a day than we realize. Your need for calories will never go away 🙂 Counting them, on the other hand, can go away. Best wishes in your recovery. <3

    2. says: Lauren

      Hi Laura! I’m in a very similar position; I began recovery from a relapse approximately 2 years ago, and still suffer from really intense hunger most days (I continue to eat LOTS, and have gained almost 100 pounds). Does your extreme hunger only surface at night, or is it also present during the day?

      Like you, I’m often afraid that the hunger won’t end––that I’ve somehow broken my metabolism. It seems the only thing to do is to keep eating (much, much more than seems “normal”), and hope that everything evens out in the end. I completely empathize with your use of the word “tortuous,” though; it’s really disheartening to have put in so much effort, and to still feel so far from a normal relationship to hunger/satiety cues.

      If ever you feel like sharing more of your experience, I’d love to hear from you; there doesn’t seem to be a lot of testimony from people in our particular predicament.

      Wishing you all the best!

      1. says: Tina

        Hi Lauren, i’ve just started recovery myself. Do you mind me asking whether your extreme hunger has subsided? Or has it stayed the same over its’ course?

  7. says: Steph

    My hunger is at night- I haven’t slept but 2.5 hours a night for weeks due to extreme hunger happening ONLY at night. I spend all day trying to force enough food down only to have knawing hunger pains wake me up and if I try to ignore I get so nauseous that I throw up. Please please help- I don’t know what to do and my doctors either don’t believe me or don’t care.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting Steph. I am so sorry to hear you are struggling with eating enough during the day and as a result- the extreme hunger at night. It can be so hard in recovery. In my own experience, the only way I could improve the waking up with extreme hunger was by getting in enough calories during the day. For some, that means concentrating on eating calorie dense food, processed food, etc… whatever can really fill you up during the day. I know it is extremely difficult- but for me, the best way to get through the other side was to push myself during the day. It is possible! Keep going. ❤️💪

  8. says: Sahil Kumar

    My name is Sahil and am 17 yo. I was a chubby kid since my childhood and due to this i was getting taunts from the girls of my class. So i decided for a change. I started with my XXX calories from December 2020 and reduced it to XXX calories per day for 3 months. i decided to get back to my normal diet but i failed doing this. Whenever i tried to cross XXX calories, i was compelled to eat more and more. Am still okay with XX calories but the moment i tried XX+, i faced extreme hungerness. Am afraid i would regain my old weight. Any solution??
    Thanks in advance mam.

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