Tag Archives: eating disorder recovery

Calories: Why You Need More Than They Tell You

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I’ve written about this before, but it’s so important that I decided that it is time for a refresher. It’s important because if you are following the recommended daily allowance of calories, or advice you’ve read on the internet, or used a calorie calculator to try and work out how much your body needs, then you are almost certainly not getting enough energy for your body.

So we all know that currently the RDA is 2000 calories for women, and 2500 for men, but what most people don’t know is that number is too low. Especially if you are under 25. For people in recovery from restrictive eating disorders, it’s wayyyyyy too low. Under-eating is damaging to our bodies and to our minds. People who do not diet and eat by listening to their hunger and fullness cues do not eat the RDA when it comes to calorie intake.

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So let me tell you a story.

In 2009 the calorie guidelines were reconsidered when a study found that energy requirements had been underestimated by 16% (around 400cals). What is telling is how the guidelines weren’t changed to accommodate these new findings. On the NHS website is written

“This news does not mean that everyone can, or should, now eat an extra cheeseburger or its equivalent in calories a day. The advisory committee makes it clear that the revised energy intake recommendations do not mean that people should increase the amount they eat and that, if people do eat more, they will need to do more exercise to avoid being overweight or obese.”

What we have here is science telling us that the current calorie guidelines underestimate the energy REQUIREMENTS, yet we are being told by our medical community and our government to not eat the amount that our bodies need. Regardless of the fact that studies found that we need more energy, the government put this on its website in 2017:

“The new campaign, due to launch in the spring of 2018, aims to help people be more aware of and reduce how many calories they consume from the 3 main meals of the day, in particular when eating on the go. There will be a simple rule of thumb to help them do this: 400:600:600 – people should aim for 400 calories from breakfast and 600 each from lunch and dinner.”

There the government are advising 1600 calories as a rule of thumb, and cited obesity as the reason for this. “As we are the sixth most overweight nation on the planet, we believe it is a sensible thing to do.” A sensible thing to do? To deny scientific findings, which have, by the way, repeatedly shown that the calorie guidelines are inadequate? To me that sounds like irrational fatphobia, and a complete misunderstanding about health, which is a pretty scary thought since this information comes from the government itself, not to mention our health physicians. It shows very clearly how our entire society including the medical community and our government is indoctrinated in diet culture and fatphobia, so much so that they will dismiss actual science in favour of advising that people restrict to stay thin. Even when this is unhealthy. Even when it harms us. How can we accept this?

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So what do we do about providing our bodies with enough energy? As stated above, evidence shows that adult women need around 2400 calories and adult men 2900 calories. This is extremely similar to the calorie guidelines shown on The ED Institute website run by Gwyneth Olwyn, who developed the Homeodynamic Recovery Method (formerly known as the MinneMaud Guidelines). Olwyn has always promoted 3000 calories for men over 25 and 2500 calories for women over 25. Under 25 the recommendations are 3500 and 3000 calories respectively, due to the fact that our bodies continue to grow and develop until around that age. Those who exercise or have children need more energy to cover this. On her website you can read an extremely detailed blog post on why the government approved calories guidelines are entirely inadequate, with far more scientific evidence than this simple refresher.

In remission you will have learnt how to listen and respond to hunger and fullness cues and your body will give you signals in order for you to provide it with the right amount of energy, without counting calories. Until then, it is advised that you keep track of calories in order to ensure that you are getting enough energy for your body (I wrote an entire post on this here). I urge you with all my heart to take note of the science, and take care of your body accordingly. Nourish your body. Respect it. Listen to it. Provide it with what it needs.

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On that note, it is also totally normal for someone in recovery from a restrictive eating disorder to eat far more than the calorie guidelines. This has been coined “extreme hunger” in restrictive eating disorder recovery. Extreme hunger is where you are eating above and beyond the calorie guidelines by quite a bit (e.g. over 4,000 calories). Eating between your guidelines and 4,000 calories is additional hunger but not classed as “extreme”, however the following explanation also applies. The reason you might find yourself eating an extreme amount of calories is because your body has acquired significant damages during your restriction and engagement with disordered and harmful behaviours. Your body needs energy for the day (actual daily guideline amounts – NOT the inaccurate government approved guidelines) but it also needs energy on top of that in order to heal the internal damage done to your body. Some people need more, and some people need less. Some people will find their bodies are calling for a more extreme amount for a shorter period, and some people may find that their bodies are calling for a less extreme amount but over a shorter period. This is something that will taper down in time to settle more around the guidelines, but whilst your body is damaged, it often will need more, and whilst it can be terrifying, it is normal. I always compare it to when burns victims are in hospital and put on a high-calorie diet in order to give the body enough energy to heal the damaged skin and flesh. It is a similar concept in that your body will need more energy on top of daily energy expenditure to restore itself to good health internally. You can read several of my blog posts about extreme hunger that include much more detail here and here. also I have my very own YouTube video on the subject, which you can watch here.

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It is a sad, and frankly terrifying fact that we can not always trust our own government or medical communities to ensure our good health. It is frightening how diet culture and fatphobia are so prevalent in every single area of our society, so much so that we can’t even escape it even when we turn to those whose responsibility is to provide us with accurate information in order for us to be as healthy as possible. What we must do is look for ourselves. Research for ourselves. Critical review the information that is given to us, and then take care of ourselves, and if we can, take care of others by enabling the science to be available to others. And most of all, heal the relationship between ourselves and our bodies, and then listen to them – our bodies have the most reliable information on how much we need to eat, and they share that information with us via hunger and fullness cues. Listen.

You can read my original and more detailed blog post on why we need more calories here.

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5 Tips For Coping With January’s Diet and Weight Loss Talk

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It’s January, and we all know what that means: a total inundation of diet talk. It’s EVERYWHERE. TV advertising is filled with diet promotions, “healthy” eating, exercise equipment, gym memberships, and low fat yogurts (although hell, when do those NOT appear in the ad breaks?!). Friends, family, and colleagues are on a mission to lose weight, tone up, or get super heallllltthhyyyyyyy (god, pleeeeeease make it stop). “Lifestyle changes” are being broadcast from the rooftops (it’s still a diet, Susan, don’t kid yourself). It’s really difficult trying to deal with all this talk when you are trying to recover from an eating disorder or dieting, and/or are on a journey towards body acceptance. It can be downright triggering. So here are some tips on how to deal with the diet culture disaster that is January:

1. Set boundaries

I know that this can be really tough for a lot of people, but it is so important. If someone is talking to you about their diet/lifestyle change/new workout routine/how many pounds they’ve lost since only eating lettuce for the past two weeks, or god forbid are trying to offer you “advice”, tell them that it is making you uncomfortable. Hell, tell them that it downright harms you when you are trying so hard to explore a different path. Let them know that diet and exercise talk is not appropriate or helpful for you and that you would appreciate if you engaged in conversation about other topics instead. If they are commenting on your own body or eating habits, let them know it’s entirely not their business.

2. Use facts as a weapon against disordered thoughts

When you are feeling the insidious pull of temptation leading you towards to some sort of restriction, consider the facts:
* Diets don’t work. 95-97% of people who lose weight on diets regain the weight within 2-5 years (if not sooner). They also often end up gaining more weight due to the body trying to protect itself against “famine”.
* Chronic restriction can push people’s set points (their natural, healthy weight that is individual to each person) higher, because the body becomes damaged by getting less energy that it need, and can alter its set point in order to protect itself from harm.
* The metabolism slows as a response to not getting enough energy, and this makes it harder and harder to lose weight – which if you have an eating disorder or have ever been on a diet, you know already.  Leptin levels also drop when our fat levels decrease. Leptin is a hormone produced by the fat cells in our bodies. It exists in the body in proportionate amounts to our weight. Our bodies want to compensate for this loss in leptin and respond by increasing hunger urges, which makes not eating enough super unpleasant – as you know already. Your body does not want to lose weight, and it is going to fight to keep it at its set point.
* Studies show that weight cycling (losing/gaining/losing/gaining) is much more unhealthy than just staying at a higher weight. It increases the risk of developing major illnesses such as cardiovascular disease.
* Restricting often leads to binging, and that’s a signal from your body that you are not getting enough energy on a regular basis. Binging also leads to emotions that are really not fun to experience, and can lead to even more unhealthy behaviours as compensation.  Restriction also leads to obsessing over food, and that means less time for doing things that are important, productive, and enjoyable. In addition, restriction leads to increased cravings – again, not fun to feel, and again, often leads to binging.
* Any type of restriction is a slippery slope. It could easily turn into a full-blown relapse. Don’t risk it.
* Losing weight won’t make you happier. It won’t. We’ve all been there before, ladies and gentlemen. Who’s life was super awesome with an eating disorder/chronic dieting? I’m betting no one at all.
* Did I mention diets don’t work?

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3. Unfollow or mute people on social media who are triggering you

This is advice for anytime of the year, but if people are going on about losing weight, cutting out certain foods, restricting their intake, or exercising then unfollow them. If anyone is making you feel bad about yourself, triggered, or is causing you to compare yourself to them, then unfollow them. If they are a friend or family member that you want to keep on your social media, you can mute their posts, or you can let the know that their posts are negatively impacting on your wellbeing (see tip number 1).

4. Fill your social media feeds with body positive and food positive people

This has helped me so much in the past few years, and is definitely one of the things that gives me ongoing support and a sense of community, hope, and positivity. Start following people who are body positive. Start following people who love food and have a healthy relationship with it. Start following people who are fat, trans, disabled, of other races than your own, etc. Fill your feed with people who are diverse. Fill your feed with people who look like YOU, and people who don’t. Just stop filling it with thin white women (or if you are a guy, muscly white men). Stop looking at people who you want to look like or be like, just because our diet culture told you that’s who you should look like or be like, and start looking at people who celebrate who they are. Start celebrating who you are.

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5. Write down reminders of why you made the choice to try something other than dieting/restricting

There’s a reason that you are in recovery for an eating disorder or chronic dieting. There’s a reason you chose to try going down a new pathway; why you decided to give another option a try. I bet there are quite a few reasons. Write them down somewhere where you can always see them if you need to. If you need any help with thinking of reasons not to relapse, you can check out my blog post ‘Repel the Relapse: 8 Tips for Staying on Track in Recovery from an Eating Disorder‘ or watch my video ‘Reasons to Recover and Reasons Not To Relapse‘ on YouTube.

I know that it sucks to hear the constant chatter about diets, weightloss, exercise, and the body-shaming that comes with it, but you know it’s all for nothing. You know that diets don’t work. You know that it is extremely bad for your physical and mental health. You know it won’t improve your life, or make you happier. Remember remember remember. Grit your teeth, and do your best. You can do this.

A Balanced Diet: What Do Those Words Really Mean?

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We hear it everywhere: in order to be healthy, you need to eat a balanced diet. But what does that really mean? I’m scrolling through Google images right now trying to find an appropriate picture to go with this article, and at least half of the images only show “healthy” foods. You know what I mean: your greens; your grains; your fish; your eggs; your cheese; your meats (the latter four tiny splodges at the top compared to the large array of fruits and breads). A large percentage of the pictures are only of fruit and veg. I mean, come on: I have my own “cheese corner” in my fridge, and no one is ever taking that away from me. Especially not a food chart.

For the most part, the food triangle often used to demonstrate balanced eating is a fairly accurate rough guide, and looks something like this:
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It is a rough guide to the way our diet will look if we listen to our bodies (when energy-balanced and healthy in themselves – not in a state of recovery or beforehand) and follow its cues – and we do not have to do any counting or checking or weighing or recording to trust that this is what our bodies will naturally lead us to do. Our bodies are extremely intelligent and I urge you to listen to them over most external influences.

I also like this pie chart, apart from the wording of “treats”, as these types of foods should just be another part of the pie chart rather than being labelled with a word that holds so many negative connotations.

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What I do like about this pie chart is that it shows that 10% of your diet in a day should include foods deemed “unhealthy” by society. Foods like cookies, sweets, chocolate, cake, biscuits etc. Now this chart shows a representation of your daily diet. If you start to think about it, that means that you can eat these foods every day – something that I have seen demonised in countless magazines and online articles. I have often seen or heard advice that you should only eat “treats” a few times a week, and no way am I giving up my daily dose of baked goods, however much you tell me it’s not good for me, Karen.

The thing is, a lot of us believe the words “balanced diet ” to exclude those yummy foods that are so often seen as the devil. The thing is, these foods are an important part of a varied, balanced diet. They are part of our mental health – because we should not deprive ourselves of anything. They are a good, quick energy source for our bodies, and they are especially helpful to our bodies in recovery because of this. Eating a balanced diet means eating bits of everything. It means not restricting any food types or specific food items, unless you have a food allergy, food intolerance, or you have an illness that requires you to cut out certain foods or monitor them. It means varying what you eat and not eating the exact same thing every day (yeah, I’m talking to you, ED). It means eating foods and consuming liquids that you enjoy. It means getting in those nutrient dense fruit and vegetables. It means providing yourself with an adequate amount of carbohydrates so that you have enough energy for the day. It means having that coffee and cake with Ann, and getting takeaway with Heather, and digging into ice cream and popcorn in front of a movie with Sam. It means changing up your routine. It means being flexible. It means trying out new things. It means going back to old favourites. It means hearty meals, light bites, snacks, and puddings. It means not overthinking it and letting your body lead the way.

So often these wonderful foods like crisps, pizza, and cake are associated with feelings of shame, greed, and overindulgence, and there can be judgement from others when eating them. However, this is only because they also have been made to feel those negative emotions when eating those foods themselves. The thing is, food is not a moral issue (and you can read my article on that here). You are free to eat what you want, when you want. You are free to be as healthy or unhealthy as you want – and that is not anyone’s business. And if you want to be healthy, follow the lead of your body (yes, I will repeat that until my death). If you want to check that you are eating a varied, balanced diet, do a quick valuation of what you eat on an average day or an average week, but don’t overthink it, as this can very quickly descend into a spiral of obsession. As long as every food group is incorporated into your diet, that’s a good sign. And when you’re uhmming and aahing in the cafe with Susan, just get the damn cake.

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Are You Listening? How We Hear the Things that People Say About Our Bodies When We Have An Eating Disorder

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My partner and I are lying in bed. He’s got his arms around me and we are a tangle of limbs beneath the sheets. Then he speaks.
“You’re so soft,” he says.
He says this a lot. He also says things like “you’re so huggable” and “you’re so squeezable”.

I wonder what your reaction was reading those words. Imagine hearing them said to you. How would you feel? What would you hear? I know what my reaction would have been a few years ago. I know that I would have heard “you’re fat”.

The thing is, we listen to what people are saying and then we apply our own filters to the words; filters which have been created from a whole myriad of experiences. That is what our minds do, and when it is someone with an eating disorder, that filter is especially pervasive, vehement, and antagonistic in the most negative of ways when it comes to comments about our bodies. People’s words go through this filter and it gets translated, so that what we hear is not necessarily what was said.

In this instance, I did a little laugh as I realised that his words went through my “ED translator”, and then carried on through my “recovered translator”, meaning that it went through two stages: “you’re so soft” turned into “you’re fat” and then into “he means your skin is soft or maybe he does mean your body is soft and so what Sarah, a lot of it is, and that’s nice, and it is nice to hug soft things that’s fine stop acting like he told you that you look like a naked mole rat that went through a blender.”

Sometimes my partner even puts his hand on my stomach and gently squeezes the squishy bit. Yeah, you can see my face now:

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If it was me three years ago I would have had a meltdown and engaged in some drastic and incredibly harmful behaviours, and it would be something I would probably remember forever as a trigger point for self-loathing. However, I am not that person anymore and I am – thankfully – now not in that torturous place. Instead I asked (slightly incredulously):
“Are you squeezing my fat?!” to which he replied: “Yeah, sorry.” Again, three years ago I would have heard that answer as “yes you remind me of a beached whale and I am poking fun at your fatness and reminding you that you should probably do something about it because it is gross.”  But instead the translation that finally came out of my little two-staged system was “You have fat on your body and he squished it because he had his hand there and it is a part of you and it it something that squishes and that’s okay; he still finds you attractive and wants you to be naked 100% of the time.” Because I suffered from an eating disorder for ten years, and because I live in a society that highly values diet culture and thinness, my brain will always automatically put the words through a negative filter. But because I was able to fight tooth and nail for my life and succeed in claiming it back from my powerful and evil mental illness, and because I then went on to reject diet culture and embrace body positivity, I have a wonderful second filter in place that allows me to pause, rationalise, and try to really hear what people are saying when it comes to my body (and everything else).

The important thing in these situations is that the outcome is totally different depending on where your head is at and on your ability to hear what is really being said rather than putting it through your own personal filter. You want to be able to really hear what the speaker of the words means rather than ending up reflecting back your own insecurities as a response. If we hear things through a negative filter of our own, it can then lead to negative situations with that person or people, because we think that they are insulting or hurting us. It also leads to a spiral of negative thoughts and possibly subsequent harmful behaviours. It is important not to hear the words that people say as confirmation of our own insecurities. Your eating disorder is always looking out for ways in which to validate itself. Don’t let it cause distance and destruction towards others or yourself.

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If you are struggling with something someone is repeatedly saying, or even a one-off comment that affected you, then talk about it. Be calm; be open; be honest; and try not to use accusatory language. Instead use “I feel” or “my eating disorder hears it like x” as opposed to “you are doing x/you are making me feel x”. People’s defensive barriers go up when they feel that they are being attacked. Often what is being said is actually okay to say and is not intended harmfully, but it is the eating disorder that translates it into something else and then causes harm. Because of this it is more productive to talk about how the eating disorder is at fault rather than them, or you. Of course I am perfectly well aware that there are those who are disrespectful, insensitive, and malicious and do intend to cause damage or do not care enough not to, but I am for now talking about those who we assume are not saying the wrong thing per se, but are saying things that are triggers for the eating disorder, which then rears it’s ugly head and translates for us.

It is not an easy thing to change the patterns within our brains, but it is possible. It takes time, and patience, and perseverance. It takes determination. It takes persistence. It means having to challenge negative thoughts every damn minute of every damn day. It means working towards liking and respecting yourself as a person. It means taking steps towards accepting your body as it is at its individual natural and healthy weight. It means screaming “NO” to the eating disorder and fighting for your health and happiness. It means recognising that the people who love you are not out to hurt you. It means remembering that you might at this point in your life feel hatred towards your body and self-loathing towards who you are, but that that is not how other people feel about you. It means recovery, and it means going on a journey to the place you want to be; to the life you want to live; to being the person that has been suppressed by the eating disorder. It means taking the path that leads to being free.

It’s Summer Soon and Surprisingly, Fat People Get Hot Too

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Art by Jovanna Radic Eriksson

The summer is fast approaching and that means that the weather is cranking up and sweat patches are about to become a lot more common. It also is the season of self-consciousness as those with bodies that do not fit societal ideals feel unable to wear less clothes and therefore sweat in silence as their smaller counterparts breathe a little easier in mini shorts and tank tops.

There are many reasons someone who has more fat on their body than is deemed socially acceptable (or is only deemed acceptable when wearing less revealing clothes) will feel uncomfortable wearing less clothes. It could be the cellulite on their legs; the way their thighs rub together; the way parts of their body jiggle; the belly folds when they sit down; the softness around the tops of their arms; the back fat creasing around their bra strap; the curves of their hips…and the judgement they might receive for having a body that does those normal, natural, absolutely okay things.

This is a perfect time to point out that everyone of any weight, shape, or size, is allowed to feel physically and mentally comfortable in their bodies and in whatever clothing they choose to wear this summer (and any other season). Everyone deserves to feel safe from humiliation and judgement, and everyone deserves respect and consideration, regardless of what their body looks like. If you feel uncomfortable looking at someone else’s body, then you may want to have a good hard think about what makes you feel a certain aspect of someone’s natural body is unacceptable and why it is affecting you personally. If you are someone who makes comments about or towards other people in regards to their weight, shape, or size, you might want to take a moment to reflect on why you think that someone else’s physical appearance is any of your business and why you are treating that person with less respect just because of how their body looks.

If you are someone who does not fit society’s idea of the “perfect” body, and are struggling to know what to do this summer in regards to clothing, then I urge you strongly to…do whatever the fuck you want. If that means that you want to rock a short little number or feel more comfortable covering your curves in a floaty summer dress, then you do what feels good for you. If you want to strut your stuff in a crop top and leggings, or if you prefer to don a baggy t-shirt and harem pants, then you dress yourself in what feels right. If you want to strip down but aren’t at the stage where you feel confident doing so, then it is perfectly okay to cover yourself up, but please start/continue to work towards accepting and loving your (beautiful) body, because you deserve to feel comfortable in your own skin. Whether you want to get your body out or keep the layers on, you deserve to feel good about yourself.

Top tip: if you’re getting your legs out this summer and have issues with chub rub (those gorgeous thighs loving each other so much that it gives you friction burns), then pop some baby oil on your inner thighs before you stride down the street.

Enjoy your summer. It’s going to be beautiful, and you are too.

 

Extreme Hunger in Eating Disorder Recovery: Why You Are Not Binging and Other Fears Explained

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Recently I have been inundated with questions about extreme hunger. This is not unexpected, as extreme hunger is one of the most terrifying aspects of recovery, and one that the eating disorder will latch onto; screaming all of your/its fears into your brain and how they have/are about to come true. Extreme hunger is probably the most common topic that comes up in messages to me asking for information and advice, alongside digestive issues. Recently though, the questions have become even more unrelenting: I could answer five questions in a row about extreme hunger and then within hours receive five more, even though their question was answered in the previous messages. Either the senders of these messages did not take the time to read them (or my FAQ), or, as is understandable, they see themselves as the exception to the recovery process (the “I am a magical unicorn” thinking process).

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Our anxieties and our eating disorders tell us that what we are experiencing isn’t the normal symptoms of recovery; that we are different; that our experiences with an eating disorder do not warrant the symptoms of recovery; that we were not sick enough for this; that somehow we need less food; that somehow our weight gain is not normal; that unlike everyone else the numbers on the scale will increase forever more and we will gain into infinity. And I get this entirely, because I was the same, but there is only so many times that I can repeat the same things over and over again, especially when they are in messages that come directly after one another. And so I decided to create this article to address the fears and doubts that are the most common: the ones that come up in those messages time and time again. The first part of this issue is to talk about the main fears of those with extreme hunger. The second part is a collection of experiences from those who have gone through extreme hunger and come out the other side.

Without further ado:

You can experience extreme hunger regardless of what weight you are or how much weight you lost.
If you restricted your intake, your body experienced an energy deficit. This energy deficit causes damage. This can result in extreme hunger.

Extreme hunger varies in severity and length of time.
It often lasts longer, or is more extreme, in those who have restricted for long periods of time, or those who have restricted very severely. Combining the two is therefore likely to double the chances of this. However, everyone is different, and the severity of extreme hunger is down to how much the damage the body has to repair. If you have extreme hunger, you have it for a reason.

Extreme hunger can come at any time.
Extreme hunger can come and go, be constant, start on Day 1 of recovery (or even during your ED, hence “binging” episodes), come during the middle of the recovery, or the end, or not at all, and it can last for varying periods of time.

It is totally normal to crave what you may call “unhealthy” or “junk” food.
High carb, high fat, and high sugar foods are foods that you are likely to have restricted during your eating disorder, which is why your body craves them now. It is deficient in those things and also in energy, and these foods tend to be high in energy and are easier to process by the body. Basically, this food is easy energy for a starved body. Your cravings for these types of foods will calm down in time as your body gets healthier and your mind recognises that you will not deprive it of these foods again. As a side note, just remember, that there is no “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods; “good” or “bad”, there are just foods that have different nutritional and energy values. Food is food, and also food is not a moral issue.

Extreme hunger is normal, natural, and expected.
If you starve your body, it is going to need more calories than a healthy, energy-balanced body, in order to get back to its balanced state. You can read more information about extreme hunger, why it happens, and how to cope with it here. I also have a video on the topic here. You are not alone in this experience.

Extreme hunger will not lead you to gain forever.
If you starve and lose weight, you will gain that weight back when you start eating more (and possibly more if your body is still growing and developing as your natural weight is not static until around 25ish when you have grown fully  into your adult body). However, extreme hunger is more about internal repairs. So yes, some energy will go towards gaining weight, but lots of energy also goes into healing the damage done to your insides, which means it is used up doing this and is not part of weight gain. When your body is not so severely damaged, your appetite will taper down.

Extreme hunger will stop.
Extreme hunger is there for a very good reason: because your body is severely damaged and needs energy in order to repair this damage. When the body is healthier and not in need of so much energy, it will stop giving you signals for so much energy. Trust the body. It wants to heal you. It wants you to be happy and healthy. Your eating disorder wants to kill you. Put your faith in the right one, even though handing over control feels so scary. Remember that the illusion of control is scarier, and that with your ED you were never in control at all. You were controlled by something that wanted you as miserable and as sick as possible. It’s ultimate goal is your death. Take back control by working with your body, not against it. By giving over control to your body, you will be more in control than you ever have been, because you are reclaiming your health and happiness.

Your eating disorder will try and tell you that you are using extreme hunger as an excuse to eat, but that you were “not sick enough”, “didn’t restrict enough”, “didn’t lose enough weight” to warrant experiencing extreme hunger in recovery.
This is manipulation and bullying by your eating disorder. It can feel that it is losing, and it will try anything to have total control over you again. P.s. you never need an excuse to eat whatever you want, and if you can eat amounts that are “extreme hunger amounts”, then there’s a very good reason for it, and that reason is that the body needs it.

What you think is extreme hunger might not be extreme hunger.
2,500-3,500 calories is a very normal appetite. 3,500-4,000ish is more of a grey area. It is a larger appetite than most people with a healthy, energy-balanced body (although can be reached by energy-balanced people, usually by eating lots at a restaurant, or a buffet, or a night out drinking lots of alcohol and mixers), but it is not exactly extreme. 4,000-4,500+ is when it would start to be more in the extreme hunger range. All of these ranges can be experienced by a person in recovery from a restrictive eating disorder.

You are not binging and you do not have BED.
It feels very very much like binging, but it is not BED, and here we can look at the criteria for Binge Eating Disorder:

DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria
  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating. An episode of binge eating is characterized by both of the following:
    • eating, in a discrete period of time (for example, within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances
    • a sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (for example, a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating)
  • The binge-eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:
    • eating much more rapidly than normal
    • eating until feeling uncomfortably full
    • eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
    • eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating
    • feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterwards
  • Marked distress regarding binge eating is present.
  • The binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for three months.
  • The binge eating is not associated with the recurrent use of inappropriate compensatory behavior (for example, purging) and does not occur exclusively during the course Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, or Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.

You will probably read these and think but this is what I am experiencing! Let’s go through it point by point:

  • Yes, you will eat food that is larger than most people would eat in that time because you have a starved body that needs loads more energy than most people.
    You will absolutely feel a lack of control because your eating disorder (which gives you the illusion of being in control) is not driving this: your body is, and therefore your ED will feel out of control.
  • Yes, you will probably eat rapidly because your body wants to get energy is as fast as it can because it is desperate for it.
  • Yes, you will feel uncomfortably full because a) your stomach is shrunken and b) this is an amount of food that your stomach is not used to at all.
  • You may not feel physically hungry because extreme hunger can be experienced in many different ways. Extreme hunger can be the feeling of hunger and tummy rumblings etc, but for the most part, from talking to people and experiencing it myself, it comes in the form of feeling empty and/or intense urges to eat/mental hunger.
  • Feeling embarrassed, disgusted, depressed, and guilt, along with marked distress, whilst and/or after eating a large amount of food, is quite obviously going to be experienced by someone with a restrictive eating disorder.
  • Again, it can be experienced every day, or on and off on some days and some not, or once a week, or not for a week and then constantly for weeks, etc etc.
  • Now if we take a look at the last in that category, I want to draw your attention to “does not occur exclusively during the course Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, or Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder“. You are in recovery from one of these eating disorders (or OSFED/EDNOS). This means that you still have that eating disorder, because even though you are moving forwards from it, it is still active for you, until it is inactive and you are in remission. Meaning that you do not have BED. You have anorexia, bulimia, OSFED, or ARFID, and your body is trying to recover from the physical effects that this has had on you.

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Personal Experiences With Extreme Hunger : Those Who Have Come Out The Other Side

Extreme hunger was definitely the most daunting part of the recovery process for me. Mine began about 1 week into recovery and lasted non stop for approximately 3 months and then fairly regularly for the next 9 months with only the odd day here and there after that. It was emotionally traumatic and I was, like many people who go through it, certain that I had developed a binge eating food addiction. I had not… it was exactly what my body was screaming out for and all I had to do was listen to it and respond appropriately without compensating through exercise or attempts to restrict afterwards. I would eat thousands of calories in single sittings, often after a meal is when it would hit me. For example I’d have a normal lunch and would then suddenly feel like a bottomless pit, like my insides were desperate for more. I’d eat several family packs of biscuits, boxes of cereal, whole boxes of magnum ice-creams, share bags of salted nuts, loaves of bread, you name it. It was terrifying but I battled through the fear and the hatred my ED would scream at me and allowed my body to do the healing it so desperately needed to do. Over time the episodes of EH would become fewer and further between and now I simply couldn’t eat as much food as that in a single sitting- now I look back on it and know with confidence and experience that it was essential for my recovery and pivotal in my battle of overcoming my eating disorder. – Emily, 22

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I developed an eating disorder when I began restricting calories in order to lose weight. It got out of hand and I then developed bulimia. I wish I had known that my binging (extreme hunger) was a normal reaction to the restriction. Eventually I realised the only way to end the bulimia cycle was to just go all in and let my extreme hunger run its course. It was really really REALLY hard, and scary, with many slip ups, and I recommend building a good support system around yourself. I didn’t count my calories at the time, but I’m sure they went to at least 4000-5000 most days. I think on average I would have hit 4000 calories a day. But there were definite days where it could have easily been 8000 calories. What I remember most is eating entire loafs of bread with butter in one sitting. Definitely entire large icecream tubs were in there. Just complete freedom. It was the best decision I have ever made. It meant I could enrol into university and study. It took the better part of a year for the extreme hunger to completely subside, and then another year for me to be completely rid of disordered thoughts around food. I know I’m so lucky to have gotten through it. I’ve tapered down to a weight that has stayed stable for months without any effort. I now have the brain space to focus on things I actually love doing. I wouldn’t have gotten here if I didn’t let extreme hunger run its course. – Ira, 24

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Before I experienced extreme hunger, I had tricked myself into thinking I wasn’t sick anymore, because while I was eating the minimum amount of calories recommended for me for my body weight (which turns out is less than half what I should have been eating to live a normal life) and experiencing extreme orthorexia, I was still, in my mind, eating. I thought that I was well enough to go back to work as a chef. In the six months that followed the years and years of starving myself overwhelmed me and extreme hunger kicked in. I had no idea what it was and was terrified I had developed BED. I would eat cake until I felt sick, throw it away in tears, and then feel the need to eat it so badly that I’d get it out of the bin again. I would eat entire loaves of bread and cheese and all of the food I’d told myself I wasn’t allowed to eat, and panic until I had anxiety attacks. I was terrified and felt so wildly out of control that I started making myself sick again. After months of this, although it was incredibly difficult, I stopped being sick, I stopped counting calories, and I tried really hard to eat what my body was telling me to eat. I threw away my scales. I didn’t look in a mirror for months. I just told myself that it was going to be okay, and that I had to let my body do this so that I could live my life without spending every waking moment thinking about fat and weight and diet plans. I just wanted to be able to live like normal people lived. Obviously I put on weight, because my body was starved and was desperate to hold on to the calories I was putting in to it, but after a few months of extreme hunger, my body began to calm down. My appetite lessened, and my weight evened out. I learned how to eat normal food again, how to eat without calorie counting, and how to eat meals like normal people at normal times. Extreme hunger terrified me because I didn’t know what it was, but I needed to go through it not only to let my body recover from all of the awful things I’d put it through, but also to learn how to eat again.  Anonymous, 24

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My experience with extreme hunger was a scary one. Going from eating so little to so much in such little time was a shock both mentally and physically… and was actually kind of terrifying at times. My extreme hunger began very soon after embarking on a ‘3000 calories a day’ meal plan. After a few days of this plan, it was as if my body completely took over my mind and wouldn’t rest unless it was well fed. For the first few days of extreme hunger, there was actually very little fear or hesitation involved when it came to eating. I felt FREE. I ate pretty much everything I’d been restricting by the bucket load. If an award could be won for the most chocolate consumption in one sitting I’d definitely win them all (are these awards a thing? I hope so). I’d say that my consumption started at around 5000-6000 at the beginning for around 2 weeks and then crept up to around 10,000 calories a day which I’d say lasted for around 4-5 weeks. Can I just add that it sounds WAY more terrifying than it actually is. Yes – it is scary, but it is also the most freeing thing you could ever experience. After eating around 10,000 calories a day for 4-5 weeks, my hunger began to taper a little; week by week my intake lessened slightly until I was eating 3000-4000 calories naturally and comfortably a day.
Body wise, I gained weight quickly. I had the whole puffy face, slightly pregnant belly thing going on. At the time, I honestly didn’t concentrate much on how I was looking. The feeling of freedom was completely overwhelming and overshadowed the physical effects of what I was going through. That being said, extreme hunger didn’t come without its discomfort. My body was obviously not accustomed to digesting this volume of food, which meant that I experienced fairly severe stomach cramps. I ensured that I stuck to easily digestible food at this time and after a couple of weeks, they passed.
My extreme hunger diminished completely at around 7 months into recovery and I am now 3 years in! Extreme hunger helped me break down so many barriers in recovery and it has enabled me to build a far healthier relationship with food. – Emmy, 22

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I was meeting with a nutritionist about once a week at the beginning of my recovery. She would give me a meal plan, calorie goal, etc. It was extremely difficult at first because I had to not only eat, but keep in, the calories I was consuming. Once I was on this meal plan for a few weeks the extreme hunger started to kick in. The biggest issue I had with extreme hunger is that in the beginning you don’t trust your body or think that it’s accurately telling you the things that you want. But one day I just said “fuck it” and tried a different approach. Whatever I was craving I ate, no matter the amount I wanted. The extreme hunger lasted for six months, and was one of the more difficult parts of the recovery process but it is so, so worth it, and is exactly why I can be typing this right now while enjoying ramen with my roommates and knowing that yes, this can be overcome. – Natalia, 21

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Last year, I used MinnieMaud to recover from anorexia. Extreme hunger hit me like a truck, and I was a ravenous beast for a solid 4 months. I went from about 90 lbs to 150 lbs, and once I hit that weight, my appetite normalized, which was pretty awesome and relieving. It was a rough and scary road, but having confidence in the principles of MM, and especially the Minnesota starvation study, and TRUSTING my body, helped immensely. – Anonymous, 30

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During the early parts of recovery my hunger was huge. I was CONSTANTLY hungry/craving large amounts of food. I would eat blocks of cheese, chips, sandwich after sandwich and still feel hungry even though my stomach felt so full and bloated. It was scary to think the hunger would never end and I’d just keep on eating and eating. BUT, I trusted the process and resigned myself to allowing myself grace during this period knowing many other people had experienced the exact same thing with good results in the end. I knew the key was to not limit myself when it came to food and cravings. It took awhile but slowly I started noticing myself eating and craving smaller portions and feeling satisfied with those portions. The body just needs all those calories and nutrients after being in the negatives for so long. Give yourself time to make up some of the deficits without freaking out too much! You can do it! – Shannon, 34

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My extreme hunger started before I even chose to recover. My body eventually decided that after seven years of restriction that varied from minor to severe during that time span, and one year of severe, unrelenting starvation, it was going to have to do something about it. My body would put me in what I can only call “trances”, where I would go to the kitchen and eat loads of porridge oats, then “wake up”, and chaos would ensue, both in my mind and my reactions to what I had eaten. A month or so of this ensued: with my body taking over, and then my eating disorder reacting to it and making me compensate. Then I chose recovery, and tentatively gave myself permission to respond to the hunger and cravings that I was experiencing. During extreme hunger I would eat whole cheesecakes; pints of Ben and Jerry’s; bowls of cereal; whole big Thornton’s chocolate boxes…I was terrified that I had developed BED; that I was using recovery as an excuse to binge; that I would never stop eating so much…but it did. It stopped when I was healthier. My appetite tapered down. It stopped demanding so many high carb and high fat foods. My days of experiencing extreme hunger lessened and grew farther apart. During the second year of my recovery, my appetite was generally normal, with a couple of days of eat around 4,000 calories (in the grey area between normal appetite and extreme hunger, but then again some days I probably didn’t eat enough for my body and therefore ate more on other days). Now my weight is stable, my appetite has normalised, and I haven’t experienced extreme hunger for years. It was terrifying to go through, but it is not endless. It does stop. And it is so important to trust that your body is that hungry for a reason. – Myself (Sarah Young), 25

I hope that this article answers most of the questions related to extreme hunger and gives some reassurance that this is normal and does end.

 

Extreme Hunger – What Is It, Why Is It Happening, and How Do I Handle It?

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It has come to my attention that I have not yet addressed one of the biggest topics of recovery from a restrictive eating disorder in any of my articles on this website (shame on me!). I’m not sure how I managed to miss it but it may be because I have a comprehensive video on the subject, and also refer to Your Eatopia’s articles about it. It was, after all, Gwyneth Olwyn who did coin the term “extreme hunger” (as far as I am aware). But let’s get started.

Extreme hunger is a rather controversial subject in the recovery world. It is rarely recognised by professionals regardless of the clear logic that shows us that it is totally normal and expected to experience a surge in hunger after a period of starvation, not to mention the sheer amount of people that talk about extreme hunger being part of their recovery (or “binging”, which is actually the same thing, but we will get to that later).

Extreme hunger is a very rational experience when you look at the facts. A body that has been starved has a large energy deficit, and therefore calories that are needed for daily expenditure are not going to be enough to get an energy-deficient body back to its energy-balanced state. This is because it will need calories for daily expenditure and calories to make up for the energy deficit. This energy deficit in itself will have resulted in damages to the body, and it can also result in weight loss which also causes harm to the body – and frequently the more extreme the weight loss the more severe the damage. Damages like that require energy to heal, and that has to be energy on top of daily energy needs, as that is expended in – you guessed it – the energy that you use up in your daily life.

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So if you imagine that energy-balanced is the number 0 – a neutral place with a healthy body, and let’s say you need around 2,750 calories to stay in this energy-balanced place. Then starvation brings you to -10 on that scale, which means that you are in an energy-deficient place. Let’s say you now enter recovery and bring your calories up to 2,750 again (after increasing gradually because of the risk of refeeding syndrome). Your metabolism is probably very suppressed, so for a while, 2,750 may cause weight gain either slowly or rapidly as your body will store as much energy as it can rather than burning it, to get you to a healthier weight. The metabolism will then speed up and you might a) experience hypermetabolism and end up dropping weight or maintaining a fairly low to low BMI (or a BMI too low for your personal body), which will mean that you will need to increase your calories until you are gaining again or you may b) find that you maintain a certain weight or that your weight gain slows down. This does not mean that you need fewer calories. This means that your body is now able to maintain its weight on those calories. It does not mean that it is done healing the many internal damages done through starvation, so if you experience hunger or cravings for more than the 2,750 your body (theoretically) needs, then it is really important to respond to those signals and eat. Your body is your team mate; your best friend; your rescuer. Listen to it. It if it telling you that it is hungry, then it is hungry. I know – this is ridiculously difficult, and I will talk about that in a moment.

Now let’s say you are recovering on a sub-optimal amount of calories and have stopped gaining weight. My body must be recovered! I hear you say. It must only need this amount of calories! Wrong. Let’s say that you are recovering on 1500 calories. Your body is maintaining a weight that is not its natural or healthy weight because it needs more energy to repair and gain weight. In order for it to gain to its set point and heal the internal damages done to your body, it needs adequate and consistent energy, and that is much more than 1,500 calories (or whatever your sub-optimal is). Let’s say you are recovering on a sub-optimal amount of calories and are gaining weight. Well clearly I don’t need any more calories if I am gaining weight on this! I hear you shout. Wrong. Giving your body an inadequate amount of energy means that it is extremely likely to keep your metabolism suppressed and therefore will continue to store more energy as fat rather than burning it like it would if it had a normal-speed metabolism. To find out how many calories you need (base level, without extreme hunger), check out my recovery guidelines here. Remember that activity level also factors into being energy-balanced, and that if you are engaging in excessive exercise, this will put you in an energy-deficient state too. It is also important to note that whilst your body is healing, any energy put into exercise will put a strain on a body that is desperately trying to heal a multitude of damages, and exercise will eat into much-needed energy for repairs. This is why it is important to rest during recovery (and for more on that  herehere, and here are my videos on exercise).

You may be experiencing extreme hunger right now. It may be something that you will experience in the future. It is something that most likely makes you feel terrified beforehand, and extremely guilty after. It is something that may be heavily weighing on your mind (excuse the pun). You may think that you have lost control; that you are spiralling into a different eating disorder; that this is binging and you are never going to eat like a normal person ever again! You are not alone in those fears. I had them too. Extreme hunger is utterly anxiety-provoking. It feels as if it will never end, and it evokes a multitude of negative emotions and thoughts, including shame, terror, and disgust. The eating disorder will scream and scream and scream at you inside your head. It will do anything to stop you eating what you need to eat, and the more you eat, the louder it will usually scream.

This is an extremely chaotic time inside the mind of someone recovering, and you are not alone if you feel completely overwhelmed by your hunger and your eating disorder’s reaction to it. The eating disorder hates anything that goes against its cruel, life-threatening rules, so for something like extreme hunger to hit and be responded to is something that will enrage it. People also have fears that it is binge eating disorder – and these fears are understandable, given the volume of food that might be consumed. Yes, you will be consuming a large amount of energy. You might eat anywhere from 4,000 calories to 10,000+ (although the latter seems to be quite rare – but again, not unheard of and if you are experiencing this you are not the only one). This would be a lot of food for an energy-balanced body. But you do not have an energy-balanced body. You have a starved, damaged, energy-deficient, nutrient-deficient body that needs far more energy than a healthy, energy-balanced body, to get it back to that state of equilibrium again. This is okay. This is necessary for your body. You are not alone.

You may experience extreme hunger at the beginning of your recovery. You may experience it in the middle, or near the end. You may find that it comes and goes throughout your recovery. You may never experience it at all – and that is okay too. This could be because you may need less energy to repair internally – this does not negate your need to recover. It may be that you may have repressed hunger cues and find that you struggle to even eat your calorie guidelines let alone have any desire for more. Extreme hunger may come to you later, or it may not come at all. It may be that you are someone that finds that you eat a little more than what your body needs as an energy-balanced body for a long time and your healing is done more slowly.

It can also be that during extreme hunger you find that you are eating a certain type of food: sugar, carbs, and fats are generally the types of foods that are most highly restricted, and because of that, the body needs and craves foods high in these things. It is also easier for the body to quickly process and get energy from these types of foods. Those who are highly lacking in fats may find themselves eating jars of peanut butter – this seems to be quite common so don’t freak out if you are eating whole jars of peanut butter, nutella etc, and strange combinations also seem quite frequent during extreme hunger or recovery in general. You may find yourself chomping on lots of meat or iron rich foods. You may find yourself digging into ice cream, milk, cream, and cheese because you are deficient in fats or calcium. There is a reason for the foods you crave. Listen to your body and respond to it.

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The message that I want to get across is that if you have been through a period of restriction, experiencing a raging hunger is totally, absolutely, 100% normal. I want you to know that it is not forever, even though it feels like it could be, and even though that is your greatest fear. Your body will become energy-balanced (or close to energy-balanced) and the intense hunger will dissipate as your body gets healthier. Your extreme hunger may taper down, or it may vanish from one day to the next, but you will not have extreme hunger forever. Everyone I know who has gone through the entire recovery process has experienced extreme hunger, and they have come through it and out the other side. They have eaten whole cakes for breakfast, or pints and pints of ice cream, or whole cheesecakes, or whole large Thortons chocolate boxes (that one was me), and they have all been horrified; ashamed; fearful. They have all been scared witless that it would never end. They have all questioned whether they had gone from one extreme to the other and developed Binge Eating Disorder. And they have all, in one way or another, either come across information on the topic and been a little soothed until the hunger calmed down, or have freaked out and then, in time, found that the hunger normalised. If you (unsurprisingly) need help with anxiety management, check out my article on it here.

Why more research has not been done into this topic, I don’t know. I have talked to thousands of people in recovery since I began my journey over four years ago; on the Your Eatopia forums, on my blog, on this website, on my Youtube channel, and on my Instagram account, and one of the most frequent topics is extreme hunger. I don’t know why it has not been researched or recognised by many health professionals, and it is one of the most frustrating and saddening things for me when people are told not to respond to these very natural, obvious signals from the body. But I can say with conviction that if you are experiencing this, you are far from alone. You are okay. You are healing. Work with your body, not against it. Be strong, and patient, and kind to your body and your soul. What you are experiencing is normal, and expected, and you can get through this.