Extreme hunger in Recovery
For my first proper post I wanted to open a discussion on something I see talked about a lot in the ED community - extreme hunger. This is an aspect of restrictive eating recovery I have personally dealt with before, and recently have started to feel again. The best way I can describe extreme hunger as I know it, is an uncontrollable desire to eat everything and to eat it all at once, immediately! I believe that for most people it tends to mainly surround the foods they've restricted the most such as cakes, chocolates, fats etc... and whilst this is partly true for me, when I'm hit with extreme hunger, my body does not discriminate with what it craves. It is both mental and physical, as even when our stomachs may be full we can keep on going because whilst yes it may be uncomfortable, our bodies and minds have been obsessing over food for so long that they just don't care.
Extreme hunger can be terrifying. For me it often results in what some would describe as 'a binge' which is something I plan to discuss in much greater depth at a later point, however for the sake of clarity, this is defined as a period of excessive indulgence in food. I have previously struggled with ending up in a binge and restrict cycle whereby I would go crazy, eating x amount of calories, usually at night, then wake up feeling guilty as hell and restrict my intake the next or following days, resulting in another binge before long. It is harder than one may imagine to break this cycle, especially when your ED voice is so ridiculously loud that you can't access your rational thoughts telling you to 'GET OUT', and so in my recovery I have had to assess how I deal with extreme hunger to prevent me from ending up in these situations.
There are a few different things I do that I find help manage my extreme hunger, the first and potentially most obvious being increasing my intake during the day.
As I said, my extreme hunger tends to hit at night and so I try to prevent this by adding in extra calories throughout my day so that by the time I go to bed, I have at the very least, mostly satisfied my physical hunger. This however, is massively challenging for me for several reasons... For starters if you are like me and perhaps in early recovery still, you may be on a set meal plan, and even though we are trying to learn to trust our bodies in order to enable them to one day trust us, it can seem horrifying to eat over the minimum amount you have been set, especially if it is by a professional or a member of your ED team. One of my biggest fears is always that I will execute this technique and then still face extreme hunger resulting in an even greater intake in the end, and do you want the bad new first? Yes. This sometimes does happen... but... it's okay! For one regardless of how long you've restricted for or how far you are from your bodies set point, many of us are in a calorie or energy deficit that plainly speaking can only be fixed by eating. Furthermore, even if this is not the case, we still suffer from mental hunger as our bodies may not be able to rely on us yet to provide them with regular food, and in addition to this they will have been fixated on your 'fear foods' for however long, and so it is only natural that they crave them.
I have recently read a great analogy that I believe was inspired by Tabitha Farrar, that said If you owed someone £100,000,000 and only payed them back £100, then you wouldn't be surprised if they kept asking for more, even if £100 was still a lot by your standards. For me this really put it into perspective and it is something I repeat to myself to help settle the anxiety I feel when extreme hunger hits, as it just shows you how completely normal it is for you to want and NEED this large quantity of food, even if you're plagued with thoughts telling you otherwise. Just because your friend, or someone at work, or your partner isn't consuming these large volumes, does not mean you can't. Your body has been starving for however long and so by honouring these feelings you are allowing it to heal. As MegsyRecovery often says, 'different bodies, different needs', and besides, your body will not gain weight based on what someone else is or isn't eating. Your body doesn't care what it looks like, or what anyone else looks like, it just wants to be healthy and keep you alive.
Another technique I use in order to combat extreme hunger and consequently my desire to binge, is to identify fear foods/ cravings and introduce them regularly into my meal plan/ diet.
This is something I have picked up recently and am still in the process of trying to accomplish, because you guessed it - it's scary. It does however make a lot of sense as in order to overcome mental hunger,we need to listen to what our bodies want and give them it, and not just as a treat, but frequently! They are never going to unlearn the fear if we continue to treat certain foods as 'bad' or reserve them for special occasions. We need to normalise these foods to stop ourselves from craving them so intensely, and the only way to do this is through our actions. That means eating them, and not just once, but accepting the challenge and then repeating it until our anxieties around the food start to level out and we can become more comfortable with them. This is another concept I want to explore in more detail, but in the context of extreme hunger, this method can help us deal with it as it gives us the chance to prove to our body that it is safe and that it does not need to eat absolutely everything there is whilst it's on offer, because it will always be there - we're not going to take it away again.
Another method I use to deal with extreme hunger, is simply to honour it, and to do this properly.
By that I mean giving your body the nutrient dense foods it wants, not just trying to fill up by drinking lots, or eating excessive amounts of salad or other low calorie foods. Whilst the latter may seem like an easier option, as in the short term you will feel better as you may experience physical satisfaction with less guilt... often the mental hunger will remain, and in the long run it is this mentality that will keep you trapped in your ED. Extreme hunger can last for a different length of time for everyone, and it may come, disappear and then return for seemingly no reason, but IT IS NOT FOREVER. If we continue to listen to our bodies requirements and do so without compensating after, be it through restriction, purging, or exercise, then eventually it will go away. We will not just keep gaining weight forever. Our bodies have a set point - something again, that I will delve further into in later posts, but this is the weight range in which they naturally sit. You are recovering, and no matter what a BMI chart tells you, if you are still getting ED thoughts and experiencing extreme hunger then you must trust your body. Yes it may seem like you're pushing forward with blind faith, but that's what you need to do, and there is evidence from thousands of recovered individuals who can confirm it. The way I see it, we may not know for sure what our recovered bodies will look or feel like, but we do know that stuck in 'ED land' is no fun place to be, so whilst we may not love the way we look, recovering will give us the opportunity to actually engage in the real world again, and love the life our 'healthy body' allows us to live.
More from me soon!
Feel free to share any other thoughts or coping mechanisms you have on Extreme hunger in the comments!
Mais// The Recovery Bean <3