Tag Archives: mental wellness

5 Ways to Manage Exercise In Remission From An Eating Disorder

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So you’re in recovery from an eating disorder, or disordered eating, or compulsive exercise, and you’ve used and abused exercise as a form of punishment/weight-loss/distraction/control/etc – whatever reason you’ve used it for, it’s come from your eating disorder or disordered thoughts, and it’s well and truly messed up your relationship with exercise. To be fair, with the society that we live in, you don’t even need an eating disorder to have the idea of exercise completely screwed around with and made into something that is a torment. Thanks, society! But whatever has caused your negative relationship with exercise to develop, and whatever you are recovering from, you’re now wondering…am I ever going to be able to have a healthy relationship with exercise again? How will I keep fit and healthy once I am recovered if exercise has such negative connotations for me?

Moving your body in life is part of general well-being, both mentally and physically, but it’s a totally different experience to forcing yourself to the gym five times a week because you want to lose 10lbs or get a six pack. It’s not the same as stressing over being at peak fitness, or worrying that if you don’t do x amount of exercise, you won’t be the healthiest that you could be. It’s about exercise being an enjoyable addition to your life; something that isn’t rigid or absolute, but something to engage in as and when it fits around the rest of your life. Here are 5 things to think about when trying to establish a positive relationship with moving your body:

1. Go Cold Turkey

If you want to change your relationship with exercise so that it is a healthy one, you first have to break your addiction to it. That means stopping exercise entirely. It means totally breaking all your compulsive habits; it means managing the anxiety that goes with that, and it means overcoming that anxiety, in order to be able to develop a totally new relationship with moving your body. You can’t just flow from a disastrous and destructive relationship into a positive and beneficial one without stopping the former, unhealthy relationship, and leaving it behind you before starting to form a new relationship in a totally different way.

2. Traffic Light Your Exercise

The first thing I did when I really got to grips with the reality of my situation with exercise was to traffic light each individual type of exercise. I was in recovery and I was failing in my attempts to cold turkey exercise. I would stop and start, stop and start, and each time I started, I without fail fell back into the addiction. And so eventually I decided that if I was ever going to be able to move my body in a healthy way without the compulsive element creeping back in, I’d have to first recognise that going back to it wasn’t working and that I’d have to cease it entirely for a while, and secondly, that going back to the same type of exercise was setting me up to fail. I decided that I needed to categorise each type of exercise in an honest way in an attempt to recognise exactly when things were headed in the wrong direction. For example, badminton I green-lighted: it’s a sport that I did not play at all when sick and a sociable sport that I enjoy playing. I know that my risk of abusing this is almost nil as I play it for fun with my friends. Walking and swimming I orange-lighted: both had been abused during the time that I was ill with my eating disorder, but are also activities that I take pleasure in. These are activities to keep an eye on; to assess myself now and again to make sure that they are being used in a positive and healthy way. Aerobics I red-lighted. Aerobics is a form of activity that I do not enjoy and used purely as a way of losing weight. I know that if I find myself doing aerobics, then something is very wrong, and I need to address it ASAP. Traffic-lighting your exercise only works if you are completely and utterly honest with yourself, and then continue being honest with yourself when you have your traffic light system. There are no excuses for those red-lighted activities. Those orange-lighted ones are going to be the trickiest to keep an eye on, because it will be more difficult to distinguish when it’s being used in a positive or negative way, and again, that requires 100% honesty from you, to you.

3. Move Your Body in an Enjoyable Way

Find recreational activity that you actually like doing that involves moving your body. This could be taking your kids swimming, walking your dog, riding your horse, or playing footie with the guys. It could mean taking photographs on a country walk, taking a sunset stroll to the pub with a mate, playing rounders with a bunch of friends, or taking part in the annual cheese-rolling contest (no, seriously, we have that here). Find something that is actually about enjoying yourself, rather than about exercise. Find something that is another hobby. This is not about exercise – that is secondary. This is not about changing your body – that is no longer the aim. This is about moving your body and enjoying it whilst you do it. There are no reasons for doing this any more other than pleasure and recreation: this is not about guilt, or burning calories, or altering your appearance. This has to be just another thing in your life that you enjoy doing, that coincidentally involves moving.

4. Don’t Have Set Routines or Rules

Do not get caught in the trap of setting routines for yourself that you find yourself unable to break. You don’t have to play tennis every Thursday. You don’t have to walk to town every time you need to go to the shops. You don’t have to swim 25 lengths every single time you get in the pool. Switch it up. Fit these hobbies around the rest of your schedule rather than fitting the rest of your schedule around moving your body. Try not to make it a priority – because it’s not. There are more important things than physical activity. Do it as and when. Do it because you have a spare couple of hours and you need some fresh air, or to let off some steam. When it comes to making something a set routine, you know as well as I do that they can quickly become compulsive time slots where you feel that you have to do that certain activity, for that certain amount of time. Check in with yourself about how you feel before doing an activity and go with how you feel, not how long you feel you should be moving for. If you feel tired, skip it for today. If you’re sick, skip it for today. And if you are feeling that there is a certain amount of time that you should be exercising for, then you’re probably not ready yet to reintroduce movement back into your life, and should go back to resting, and working on your relationship with healthy movement. When it comes to rules, I’m talking about that little voice that says: “I can eat x if I do a pilates class” or “I can have a nap later if I have an hours walk” or “I can rest all day tomorrow if I do a run today”. No, no, no no no no. If that is what is going through your head, then you need to check out number 1 again and cold turkey your exercise. You need to separate everything from movement food; weight; rest; everything – nothing should be linked with exercise other than the fun of it. If you are setting rules for yourself, you need to continue working through your issues with exercise and how you use it.

5. Assess Yourself…Then Assess Yourself Again

This is so, so, so important to do, and again, requires being transparent with yourself – always. It means checking in with yourself over and over and over again to see how you are feeling about the movement that you are engaging in, and your reasons for taking part in the activity in your life. The more stable your remission, the less you may find that you need to check in with yourself, but this takes time, work and patience, and however firmly you are in remission, you still need to take the time to reflect on the movement in your life and how that is going for you. If you are feeling uncertain about any type of activity that you are doing, then you need to cease it. Challenge yourself now and again to test yourself: can you go a week or two being sedentary? Doing this is one of the easiest ways to see what anxieties arise for you when you take time out and rest up (or even think about doing it), and is one of the easiest ways to identify problem activity. It means acknowledging and working through whatever anxieties you feel if you should feel them.

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Really, this all comes down to getting to a place where you love yourself as you are and don’t see exercise as a way to change your body. It comes down to not feeling the need to compromise your health and happiness. It comes down to always being honest with yourself so that you stay within the boundaries of what is healthy for YOU. It means coming at recreational physical activity with a totally different mindset. It means finding what is right and healthy and positive for YOU, and going with that. It means being able to not exercise at all, in order to then exercise in a positive way. It means taking time out whenever you want/need to. It means not having any anxiety around moving your body. It means loving yourself, and loving your body, and it means being free.

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How To Cope At Christmas: A Rough Guide For Those With Eating Disorders

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We are just two days away from Christmas, and people are stocking up on food, wine, and last minute presents. This time of year is always filled with trepidation for those of you with eating disorders. It’s a holiday focused around alcohol, food, and family, and at least two of the former bring on that familiar rising panic for lots of people suffering or recovering from eating disorders, whereas for the rest of us, it’s generally just the one (family; I’m talking about family).

If you are someone with an eating disorder, and you are approaching Christmas Day with dread, you are not alone, and you can get through it. It is probably going to be a tough day, but there are steps you can take to make the most of it. Here are my suggestions on how to get through the day:

Focus on Family

Food is a big part of Christmas for most people, but you don’t have to let that be your main focus. Prioritise your family and/or friends and/or partner and enjoy their company. Catch up on the gossip, take part in the board games, and sing along to the carols with grandma. Spend time doing what is enjoyable for you. If your family can make this easier for you, let them know how. Maybe it means trying to keep the topic of conversation away from food. Maybe it means keeping food in the dining room and having the lounge as a food-free zone. Maybe it means going out for a walk with your siblings to get a bit of fresh air and space. Whatever you do, try to keep the focus on the company of those you love, and enjoying the time spent with them.

Set Boundaries with Loved Ones

This is a day that everyone should be able to enjoy to their very best, so do take the time to talk to the people that you will be spending your time with and set your boundaries for the day. This could mean asking them to refrain from talking about New Year’s diets, making food-moralising remarks, or reminding them not to comment on any of your eating habits. Do not be afraid to voice your needs. It is important to make clear what you need from them in order for you to enjoy the day.

Challenge Yourself…But Not Too Much

A huge part of the anxiety of the day is that there will be a lot of delicious food around that you will want to eat but also will not want to eat, and that’s the fight between you and your eating disorder. For a lot of people, this battle is going to go on all day, and that can make the day extremely stressful and anxiety-provoking (see Focus on Family for ways to minimise this). This is also a great time to challenge yourself, but a time to not push it too far: you don’t want to make the day even more stressful by pushing yourself to the limit. One way to go about using this day as a manageable challenge is to make rough plan of what you might eat that day. This will give you a guideline that might help you feel a little more contained, but could involve trying something new or facing a fear food. Try not to restrict yourself as much a you can, but it’s okay if you need to feel safe for a day that is so difficult already.

Take Care of Yourself 

You may be around people this Christmas that will not respect your boundaries or may be insensitive or ignorant to your recovery. They may talk about the triggering topics which I mentioned in the “Set Boundaries With Loved Ones” section above, such as complaining that they have put on weight/are going to put on weight, lamenting that they have eaten “too much”, are being “naughty” or “bad” because they are “indulging”, or moaning that they need to go on a diet because of that. Please ignore them. They are battling their own insecurities and are looking for reassurance that what they are doing is okay and that other people feel the same and that they are not alone. This is really, really sad, and something that no one should have to feel. Enjoying the Christmas food is part of the festivity, and no one should have to feel guilty for it. Know that other people’s worries are not a reflection on you, and you should keep in mind that it is not something positive that they are experiencing, but guilt, anxiety, and insecurity. So instead of letting their negativity impact on you, empathise with them, as guilt, anxiety, and insecurity are emotions that you are likely experiencing also (albeit on a much grander scale to those who do not have eating disorders). Keep moving forwards towards your goals. Keep moving forward on your journey towards health and happiness. Keep in mind your motivations, and remember that the way you respond to others affects you primarily.

Leave the room for a bit if you need to. Take yourself off for a relaxing bath or a nap or to read a book. Go for a stroll. Have a quiet word with that relative who keeps calling the chocolate yule log “bad”. Just take care of yourself and do what you need to do, for you, to have the best day that you can. Do not be afraid to speak up. You need this. You deserve this.

If you are someone who has an un-supportive, highly triggering family, do know that it is okay to decide not to see them at all. If you want to spend Christmas with yourself, your partner, your partner’s family, your friends, or your pets, do it. Do what is best for you. Do what you need to do to continue moving forwards. Do what you need and you deserve to continue working towards health and happiness. Make positive choices, and don’t feel guilty about them. This is what you need. This is what you deserve.

Move On

Christmas is unfortunately never going to be an easy time for those with eating disorders, and it often means that those people go into it with anxiety, and leave it with guilt. It is okay to experience those feelings: you are not alone and those feelings are not your fault. However, you have to keep remembering that these negative emotions are caused by your eating disorder and the control that it has over your life. Keep fighting the war against it, and don’t respond to those negative feelings. You are going to be okay and you can get through this. Christmas will be over in a blink of an eye, and then it is time to put it behind you and move on from that day. Don’t carry the stress from it with you. Let the day go. Remember that it is absolutely, 110%, super okay to eat more than usual, go outside your meal plan, eat “normally”, or respond to extreme hunger (this applies for always, of course). It is okay to put on weight. It is okay to enjoy yourself. The guilt of going against those eating disorder rules can be overwhelming, but it is important to remember that this is part of recovery. Going against your eating disorder and doing what you deserve is part of fighting the battle inside your head. Eating whatever you want, whenever you want, is the goal, and so if you were able to do that for a day, or two, or more, or even if you were able to eat a little more than normal, you are making small steps towards achieving that outcome. That is a wonderful thing.

If the anxiety is becoming overwhelming, check out my article on anxiety management here.

An Open Letter to the Girl I Saw at the Pool

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Dear girl that I saw at the pool,

I went to the pool a few weeks ago to mindlessly bang out some lengths and think about nothing as the water swirled around me. I got into a cubicle and changed into my swimming costume, and then emerged; towel slung around my hips, with my belongings gathered in my arms. As I stepped out from the cubicle, I saw you looking into the huge mirror at the end of the aisle with sad eyes.

“I hate how i look,” you said. The woman next to you – presumably your mother – said “don’t look then.”
I sighed.
You still looked sad.
“You’re doing something about it though,” the woman said.

I wanted to say something, but I hadn’t worked up the courage or formed the appropriate response in my head quick enough. I watched you walk past to the pool, and I went and found a locker. Then I got in the pool and swam. I decided that I would say something if I saw you after. However, you were long gone before I got the chance to say what I wanted you to hear.

I wanted to say that you deserve to love yourself whatever your body looks like; whatever your journey is. I wanted to tell you that you don’t need to not look into the mirror: you need your reflection not to define your worth. I wanted to tell you that you are inherently beautiful and that you worth is not determined by your weight. I wanted to tell you that I don’t know your story, but that you don’t have to lose weight to be happy.

I wanted to tell you not to use self-hatred as a motivation for weight loss. I wanted to tell you that I’ve been there and I’ve done that and it didn’t make me any happier. I wanted to tell you that it’s your choice what you do with your body but that weight loss is not necessary for self-love. I wanted to tell you that I wish your mum (if that was your mum) could say these things to you instead of telling you to hide from your own reflection. I wanted to tell you that you are worthy and you are beautiful and you are loved.

And to everyone ever – the same message applies. Your weight, shape, or size does not negative your self worth. It does not negate your strength. It does not negate your beauty. Never let anyone tell you otherwise, and know that you do not need to change your body in order to be happy.

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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.

 

Hidden Behind A Healthy Weight: The Eating Disorders You Can’t See

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Eating disorders are complex illnesses. They are a mental illness that often result in the deterioration of physical health, and there is not one recovery method that has a high success rate as of yet. They have a complicated entanglement of genetic and environmental causation that is entirely individual to each person. There are many different types of eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, EDNOS/OSFED, ARFID, BED, purging disorder, rumination disorder, pica), and people of all ages, genders, weights, ethnicity, sexual orientation (etc, etc) can develop one. And yet we are bombarded only with images of eating disorders in the form of extreme anorexia: the emaciated, skeletal bodies of those walking the fine line between life and death. The media blasts out the headlines that often scream something like “I WAS 4ST AND ONLY ATE A LETTUCE LEAF A DAY”. They plaster photos of bones protruding across the articles and present to us an “after” photo of the recovered victim: nearly always a slim, beautiful, white young woman.

And there we have it: the damaging stereotype of what an eating disorder looks like and who develops one. This stereotype harms everyone who deviates from the narrative of pretty young white girl who starves herself to within an inch of her life. I’ve never seen an article about anyone black with an eating disorder. Ever. I’m sure that there are one or two articles out there, but the media all but erases the existence of black men and women with eating disorders. It erases the existence of older adults with eating disorders. It erases the existence of men with eating disorders. In fact, the media erases nearly all eating disorders in themselves – the minority of people with eating disorders experience anorexia nervosa, and an even smaller amount have the chronic anorexia that the magazines depict. “Before the latest change in diagnostic criteria, it was estimated that of those with eating disorders, 10% were anorexic, 40% were bulimic and the rest fall into the EDNOS category” (from here). Most of the 90% of people with eating disorders that are not diagnosed as anorexic will be fit into the “healthy”, “overweight”, or “obese” BMI categories. That’s not to mention all the undiagnosed people who are not seeking help and are invisible because of their weight, who are not getting the help and support that they need and deserve.

There are also different types of “invisible people” with eating disorders at a “healthy” weight. Those who have lost lots of weight but come from a higher weight are one set of people. These people are often congratulated for their weight loss, even though it has been lost in exactly the same way  that someone going from a “healthy” BMI to an “underweight” one has – someone who would be diagnosed with anorexia rather than praised for their efforts. We offer treatment to those that lose weight and fall into the weight criteria for an anorexia diagnosis, and pat those on the back that lose the same amount of weight but come from a weight perceived as socially unacceptable (or a weight perceived as “acceptable” but not “desirable”). And what many people do not know, or forget, is that we all have our own natural healthy weights (that can be pretty much any weight, shape, or size), and if people are well below those weights, they are underweight for their own individual body. So if someone is naturally a BMI of 27 and they starve themselves to a BMI of 20, they are severely underweight for themselves, but their eating disorder are often dismissed as “healthy weight loss efforts”. Their illness can be not only hidden, but recognised as something positive, and therefore encouraged and reinforced. Included in this category are those who will never dip below a “healthy” BMI and could remain invisible for any amount of time, and those who will continue to lose weight. At this point society will go “woah, lose weight but not too much weight!” This is when their weight loss will be recognised as an issue, but as it was never noticed before, by now the person will likely be entrenched with their eating disorder.

Another group are people who have eating disorders but find that their weight doesn’t change much, or there are those that gain weight during their eating disorder. Weight is only a secondary symptom of some eating disorders, and it is important to understand that not everyone experiences a change in weight when suffering from an eating disorder. They are primarily mental illnesses.

Another group of “invisible people” at a “healthy” weight are those who are recovering from a low or lower weight and have gained weight to a weight that society deems “fine”. Peoples see them in the street and don’t suspect a thing. Friends stop worrying and family heave a sigh of relief. Those close to the person show less concern and more frustration: they think that the journey is over. You look fine therefore you must be fine. It’s important to remember that this is a mental illness, and that the physical symptoms are secondary. It is also important to remember that the person may still be at an unhealthy weight for their own personal body, and though they may be an acceptable size in terms of society’s standards, they may be underweight still regardless of BMI. Just because you can’t see their pain doesn’t mean that they are not experiencing it. The mental anguish that led them to rock bottom is still there and still needs to be addressed.

People who look fine but have expressed that they are not need to be taken seriously. They need to be supported, and they need to be encouraged to move towards being healthy and happy: whatever that looks like for them. It might not look like your idea of healthy and happy, but you have to put aside your biases, your judgements, and your prejudices in order to help that person achieve the best life that they can for them.

If you are someone who is living at what society says is a “healthy” weight, but you have engaged in disordered habits to get there, or you are regaining weight and are still unwell but people think you “look fine”, then sit those people down that are important to you and tell them. Set your boundaries, let them know what you need, and ask them to support you to get better. Be open and honest. Don’t downplay your struggles. Be assertive when telling them what is helpful and what is unhelpful.  Print off information on eating disorders to support what you are saying and to give them something to read later to help them to understand how pervasive and powerful an eating disorder is mentally. Write a letter if that is easier. Whatever you do, talk. Your voice needs to be heard.

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.

Fat Girls Can Wear Crop Tops Too

Yep, you heard me. Fat girls can wear crop tops too. Let me say it again for the people in the back:

Fat

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girls

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can

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wear

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crop tops

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too.

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But this article isn’t just about crop tops.

I understand that we live in a society that has brainwashed many of us into believing that fat bodies are worth less than thin bodies; that fat is synonymous with ugly; that there is nothing worse than being fat; that we cannot be fat AND happy (these are all lies by the way) but I still do not understand why anyone would feel that it is acceptable to attempt to police the clothing choices of any other human being, regardless of their weight, shape, or size.

Fat girls are told implicitly and explicitly that they should not wear leggings, or crop tops, or bikinis (or even go on the beach at all), or bear their legs in dresses, or wear mini shorts, or…the list goes on. There is even a hierarchy of privilege amongst fat bodies, depending on how fat you are or where your fat is stored or whether you have big enough boobs to even out your thick thighs and hips. And frankly, I find it all disgusting.

We are all people. We all lead different lives and have different values and passions and hobbies. And we all have different bodies. And the weight, shape, or size of our bodies does not alter our self worth or how beautiful we are. It also does not give anyone the right to dictate what we wear. Fat, slim, curvy, thin, chubby, muscular, pear-shaped, apple-shaped…you can be star-shaped for all I care and wear the same clothes as anyone else. Certain clothes are not reserved for certain body sizes or shapes, and whether you are a size 6 or a size 26, you are the only one who gets to choose what you wear. Don’t let ignorance get in the way of your clothing preference. If you want to rock a crop top, a mini skirt, and nine-inch heels, you do that. If you want to wear a cute summery dress to the beach and then whip it off to reveal an itsy, bitsy bikini, you do that. If you want to wear leggings and a bralet, you do that. And if you feel more comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt, you do that too. Because you should be able to wear whatever it is that you feel the most confident in. And if our fatphobic, asshole of a society has made you feel too uncomfortable to wear a crop-top even if you really like them, it doesn’t make you any less badass if you save the crop tops for another time, or even never.

You do not have to wear whatever society thinks is most “flattering”. I only recently took a real long hard look at this word, and saw it from a totally different angle to what I previously saw. People use it as a compliment towards each other all of the time, and it seems like a genuinely nice thing to say someone until you examine what it wearing something “flattering” really means. The word “flattering” in itself is oppressive: it implies that we should be aiming to look a certain way – and that certain way is “as thin as possible”. No one should feel that they have to disguise their hip fat or accentuate their waist or push up their breasts or flatten down their bellies. You do not have to hide any part of your body as if it is shameful. Not one part of your body is shameful, and you have the right to wear whatever you want, at all times. Everyone deserves to embrace the body that they have and everyone deserves to love it for what it does for them and for what it looks like.

It is summer time, and it is hot outside, and fat girls are entitled to dress in the clothes that make them feel coolest – both in temperature and in style. Don’t ever shame anyone for wearing what they want to wear. It is their right to do so and to feel confident in doing so. Respect everyone’s clothing choice. Respect everyone’s bodies. Respect everyone.

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(Here’s me and my crop top)