When I began my journey in recovery it all felt very scary and overwhelming. There were a lot of changes and a very unexpected one was extreme hunger.
It felt as though overnight my body had turned the cravings dial to full power and I went from very restrictive to eating everything in sight. Of course, it wasn’t as simple or black and white as that but to me during that period of time I felt so out of control. So many thoughts were spiralling around my head; have I failed? Am I just going to the other extreme? And so much more. Therefore, I decided to tell my therapist what was going on and that’s when I first heard the term ‘extreme hunger’.
So what is it?
Extreme hunger is defined as eating a large amount of food in a somewhat short space of time. Now hold on, I know you might be thinking isn’t that just binging? (and don’t worry if that’s your initial thought, it’s what I thought when I was going through it) but it is not, the two are very different.
I hope you take some solace in knowing that it is happening for a reason and your body knows what it’s doing.
Also, it is not experienced the same by everyone, it can differ on when it happens, how long for and for some if it even happens at all. But for most when it does occur it is usually quite a daunting time.
I hope you take some solace in knowing that it is happening for a reason and your body knows what it’s doing. Your body needs a certain level of fuel to be able to function and provide energy daily. So, if you restrict this fuel your body enters a deficit and starvation mode kicks in. The way this deficit works can be understood by some great analogies. For example, lets say hypothetically you push a ball down under the surface of water, as you push it down further the more pressure you’re putting on it. So, when you let that ball go, it comes back to the surface rapidly. The same goes for your body, the more you restrict the further into the deficit you push your body, so when that restriction is over it will be grasping quickly for all intake it can get.
So ultimately extreme hunger is caused from the deficit in energy from however long you have been restricting for. Therefore, your body’s going to require quite a bit more fuel than those around you so try not to compare what you’re having to others as tricky as that is. Something that helped me was thinking you can’t treat all plants the same because they have different requirements; human bodies are the same. Your body will need more input than someone who hasn’t restricted or doesn’t have an eating disorder so when it feels tough to eat more than others around you in fear of their judgment or your own, try to remind yourself of that.
It can be tempting to try hold onto a few food rules and restrictive behaviours or ‘make up’ for what you’re having, but doing this will only prolong the process
The next question I know you are burning to find out is: will it ever stop?
Great new is that it will! However, there is no set time period for extreme hunger. For some it can last a few days or weeks, others it can be a few months. It can be tempting to try hold onto a few food rules and restrictive behaviours or ‘make up’ for what you’re having, but doing this will only prolong the process and make you feel more stuck in your eating disorder. My best advice to get through this period in recovery is that your body has been through quite a lot and is now just trying to help you get back to a stable place so try your best to trust in it.
For me, extreme hunger became an unexpected hero. It was very challenging, and I struggled at the beginning to allow it to happen, but once I did the process went much quicker and I managed to overcome most of my food rules and restrictive thoughts during that time period. It really gave me the chance to go all in against my eating disorder.
So as scary as it may seem, it is actually a very natural response to the ‘extreme’ challenges of an eating disorder, and you absolutely can overcome it.
-Contributed by Sophie
If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in this story, or are concerned for yourself or a loved one, you can find support and guidance on the help pages of our website.
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My daughter became unwell in her teens with what we now know was OSFED: Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder.
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