Today I wanted to talk a bit about Reactive Hunger in Eating Disorder recovery. Reactive hunger is when an individual experiences higher levels of hunger following eating. For example, prior to lunch they may not feel hungry at all, but then suddenly, half way through their meal they become ravenous and are not satisfied once finished.
This is something I experienced in my own recovery, and to a certain extent still deal with today. In fact I think a lot of people, even those who have never struggled with disordered eating, experience reactive hunger, especially if they haven’t been maintaining a regular pattern of eating.
Reactive hunger can be triggered by any food/ drink, however it can be felt more so in Eating Disorder recovery following the consumption of a fear food. In my experience, this occurs because my brain recognises I’m breaking one food rule and defying my Eating Disorder, so it thinks “Screw it! Let’s eat everything we want!”. This response is completely normal, and falls under the umbrella of Extreme Hunger. In recovery your body is still learning to trust that food is not scarce whilst simultaneously preparing in case it is forced into another famine. Consequently, it requires greater quantities of food to replenish your energy deficit if one was caused by your eating disorder, as well as to stockpile in an attempt to protect your health if food is restricted again. Therefore, if for example I challenged a different breakfast in recovery, my body would take this opportunity to eat more as it recognises that food is available at that moment.
Reactive hunger can consequently be very scary and hard to deal with, and it can easily deter you from challenging new foods. Unfortunately though, the only way out is through. For me this meant breaking my routine and eating different foods at different times of the day. This starts with breakfast, and so in order to combat your reactive hunger, you need to switch out your usual meal for something different/ scarier! It may or may not be the case that this triggers an increased hunger response, however it is important you listen to your body and honour all mental and physical hunger. You will likely experience increased anxiety as a result, and the physical side effects such as bloating may be uncomfortable, but this is something we just have to sit with and wait until it passes. It can be eased by using distractions such as talking to a friend, watching TV, playing a game, doing a puzzle, anything that occupies your mind really... but ultimately you just have to deal with it!
As with any challenge in Eating Disorder recovery, it is key that we repeat it in order to rewire our neural pathways. This means honouring your reactive hunger and putting yourself in positions that could potentially trigger it multiple times everyday. Eventually it will feel easier, and there is a good chance it will reduce the further along in recovery you get.
As with nearly every challenge you will face in your recovery from a restrictive Eating Disorder, there is a real possibility that this will result in weight gain. This is what can hold many of us back, as regardless of where your illness is routed, you may fear an existence in a larger body. This is not something you can fix overnight - it requires a lot of work to undo any internalised fat phobia or fat phobic beliefs you possess, however it is possible and necessary. Educate yourself on Health at every size (HAES). Question the route of your beliefs. Disengage from diet culture. Remember that you are more than a body, and consider what you value most in others.
More from me soon,
Mais// The Recovery Bean <3