If you’re recovering from an eating disorder, you may have heard of a phenomenon called extreme hunger. People on TikTok talk about it, your friends in treatment may have mentioned it, and you may have even spoken to your dietitian about it.
First, it’s important to note that extreme hunger in eating disorder recovery ISN’T universal. Some people experience it and some people don’t. For those who do, it can look very different. And, just because you do or don’t go through periods of extreme hunger doesn’t mean your eating disorder is more or less severe, or that you’re more or less worthy of recovery.
If the idea of extreme hunger terrifies you, we get it! So many of our clients put off their recovery for years because they were afraid of feeling “out of control” around food. We’re always talking in sessions about what extreme hunger is, why it’s OK, and how to manage it.
Recovering from an eating disorder is hard, and at times it can be really scary. If extreme hunger is the thing you’re most afraid of, read on to learn a bit more about what it is, why it happens, and how you can get through it.
What is extreme hunger in eating disorder recovery?
Extreme hunger is a term often used in the context of eating disorder recovery, particularly in cases of restrictive eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and many types of OSFED. It refers to a phase of intense and insatiable hunger that some individuals experience as they begin to nourish their bodies adequately after a period of severe restriction.
When you start the eating disorder recovery process, you may have to deal with various physical and psychological challenges. One of these challenges is your body’s response to increased food intake. Eating enough food to restore your body to a healthy size and a nourished state is a GOOD THING. Once your body catches onto the fact you’re doing this, it may react by sending very strong hunger signals. Because it wants to keep this good thing going. This intense hunger can be overwhelming and may feel insatiable.
What causes extreme hunger in eating disorder recovery?
Several factors contribute to extreme hunger in eating disorder recovery:
1.Changes in your metabolism
If you restrict food for a long period of time, you body’s metabolism slows down. When you start eating more, your body may need extra energy to repair and restore physiological functions, leading to an increased appetite.
2. Malnutrition/nutrient deficiencies
Malnutrition from the eating disorder can lead to nutrient imbalances and deficiencies. Extreme hunger may be your body’s way of trying to replenish these missing nutrients.
3. Psychological factors
Emotional and psychological aspects play a major role in eating disorders. As you begin to challenge restrictive eating behaviors, you might experience anxiety, guilt, or fear around food. This can contribute to heightened hunger cues.
4. Hormone changes and fluctuations
Your endocrine system, including hormones related to hunger and satiety (such as ghrelin and leptin), is absolutely affected by restriction and other eating disorder behaviors (like purging and overexercise). As you start eating more, your hunger and fullness hormones start working properly again. This means that hunger cues may become more pronounced.
Is extreme hunger normal in eating disorder recovery?
Extreme hunger isn’t a clinical term. Again, not everyone will experience it, and those who do may experience it differently. The worst thing you can do is get caught up comparing your hunger (and your entire recovery journey) to what someone else is talking about on Instagram or TikTok.
That said, yes, extreme is a natural response to starvation and restriction and is a sign that your body is trying to heal.
That said, we know that it can be a challenging and distressing part of the recovery process.This is why it’s crucial to work closely with healthcare professionals, such as therapists, dietitians, and doctors, to navigate this phase safely and effectively. (You can learn more about our eating disorder dietitian services and request an appointment here.)
Recovery from an eating disorder is a complex and individualized process, and extreme hunger is just one aspect of it. Therapy, nutritional counseling, and medical monitoring are often necessary components of treatment to help you heal from disordered thoughts and patterns, and to create a healthy, sustainable relationship with food and your body.
10 Tips for Dealing With Extreme Hunger In Eating Disorder Recovery
Here are some strategies to help you cope with extreme hunger in a healthy and sustainable way:
1. Seek professional help
Work with a team of healthcare professionals, including a therapist, registered dietitian, and medical doctor, who specialize in eating disorders. They can provide guidance, support, and a tailored treatment plan for your specific needs.(Learn more about our eating disorder dietitian services for kids, teens, and adults.)
2. Normalize your eating patterns
Transition to regular, balanced meals and snacks. Establishing a structured eating routine can help regulate your appetite and stabilize your blood sugar levels.
3. Challenge your food rules
Recognize and challenge any rigid food rules or restrictions that may be contributing to your extreme hunger. Allow yourself to eat a variety of foods without judgment.
4. Practice mindful eating
Practice mindful eating by paying attention to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Learning to trust your body’s signals can help you reconnect with your natural appetite. Note that this might come much later in the recovery process, since the first step to recovery is to make sure you’re eating enough to restore your body to a size that’s healthy for you.
5. Gradually increase your food intake
If you’ve been significantly restricting your food intake, consider gradually increasing your caloric intake to give your body time to adjust to increased nourishment. It’s important to work with an eating disorder dietitian when you do this, since most people with eating disorders aren’t able to eat enough food for recovery on their own.
6. Monitor you physical and emotional symptoms
Keep track of any physical or emotional symptoms you experience as you increase your food intake. Share this information with your treatment team to ensure your safety and well-being.
7. Work on addressing feelings of guilt
Extreme hunger can trigger anxiety and guilt. It’s important to address these feelings with a therapist who can help you develop coping strategies and explore the underlying emotional issues.
8. When in doubt, distract yourself!
Engage in activities that can help distract you from constant thoughts of food. Pursue hobbies, exercise (in moderation and under professional guidance), or spend time with supportive friends and family.
9. Be patient, and be kind to yourself
Understand that extreme hunger is a natural response to deprivation, and it will subside over time as your body heals. Be patient with yourself and practice self-compassion throughout the process.
10. Have a good support system in place
Lean on your support system, such as friends and family, for emotional support. Open communication can help you feel less isolated and more understood.
Remember that recovery is a journey, and it’s essential to have professional guidance and support throughout the process. What works best may vary from person to person, so working closely with your treatment team will help you tailor these strategies to your specific needs and circumstances. Always prioritize your physical and emotional well-being as you work towards a healthier relationship with food and your body.