How to Deal With Extreme Hunger in Eating Disorder Recovery


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. (As a group of eating disorder dietitians, we talk to clients who worry about extreme hunger all the time!)

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.

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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 a therapist, a dietitian, and a doctor — 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. And if you’re shopping around for an eating disorder dietitian, here are some questions to ask to make sure you find the right fit.)

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.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, let us help!

We’re a group of anti-diet dietitians who specialize in eating disorders, disordered eating, perinatal nutrition, intuitive eating, and general health concerns. We pride ourselves in our collaborative, compassionate approach to nutrition counseling. Our clients feel heard and validated by our work together, and they get the support they need to make lasting changes to their habits and their relationship with food. Learn more about eating disorder nutrition counseling here.

If you’re not ready to commit to counseling but want more information about the anti-diet approach, subscribe to my weekly newsletter.

You might also like:

Binge Eating When You Start Intuitive Eating? It’s OK.

What is Family-Based Treatment for Eating Disorders?

What Is Anorexia Nervosa? How Can a Dietitian Help?

What Is Disordered Eating? How Do I Know if I Have It?

18 Dietitian-Recommended Snacks for Eating Disorder Recovery

Free Intuitive Eating Course

Looking for a free intuitive eating course? Whether you’re new to the anti-diet approach or you’ve been trying to work towards intuitive eating for a while, our 5-Day Intuitive Eating Starter Course is a great start for anyone who’s tired of obsessing over “wellness” and constantly struggling with food and body acceptance.


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