Extreme Hunger can be one of the scariest parts of recovery. But it’s actually one of the most common and important “symptoms” in recovery from an restrictive eating disorder. If there’s ONE topic that I get the most Instagram DM’s and emails about, it is “bingeing” and how to heal extreme hunger.
In this article I am going to share with you, what extreme hunger is, why it happens, and five handy steps to navigate your extreme hunger. I am very passionate about this topic (and I have been hella scared of it myself some time!) and if you´re getting anything out of this post, it would mean the WORLD to me, if you´d share this in your IG story, with friends or family.
WHAT THE HECK is extreme hunger?
First things first, let´s clarify this term. There is not a dictionary entry for extreme hunger (yet 😉 ). So let´s have a look at these two terms separately:
- hunger: “a) a craving or urgent need for food or a specific nutrient, b) an uneasy sensation occasioned by the lack of food c) a weakened condition brought about by prolonged lack of food”
- extreme: “a) existing in a very high degree b) going to great or exaggerated lengths c) exceeding the ordinary, usual, or expected”
Put together extreme hunger the very urgent need for food or specific nutrients. Most people describe the feeling as “being a bottom loss pit” – Being gut full, but still belly empty. No amount of food or kind of food seem to satisfy your need of nutrients and you might feel like emptying the kitchen twice. Already constantly thinking about food, watching full day of eating, planning your next meal, reading recipes, … can be signs of extreme hunger. Also somehow feeling extremely excited by the thought of eating and/or somehow feeling shaky or dizzy.
WHY do we experience extreme hunger?
Extreme hunger usually occurs after a period of energy and/or nutrient restriction. Whether that´s after a prolonged time of dieting, disordered eating or just simply consuming an insufficient amount of food for longer than a couple of days. This puts our body into an energy deficit, which means that the amount of energy (calories) we are taking in, is insufficient for balancing the amount of energy we are putting out (existing, breathing, heart beating, moving, …). And this again perceives our brain (more specific the brain stem/ Reptilian brain) as a famine.
What is a famine? The absence of food. And since humans need food for survival this threatens the whole system and your brain doesn´t trust there is food in abundance. So, your body shuts down all “not so life essential body functions” such as your period, hair growth or hunger cues. That´s exactly the reason why you might not be experiencing extreme hunger when you are actively restricting, but when when you start eating more in recovery (which is very much needed to get back your life!). Also: your body can sense, that these hunger signals might just not be wasted energy, but that they actually might be honoured.
I am eating more than enough, but I am STILL having extreme hunger
A very common thought and question. There are two types of extreme hunger: Physical hunger and mental hunger. Shortly said:
- physical hunger, also hyperphagia – an autoregulatory phenomenom attempting to restore weight after a period of chronic energy deprivation. Some people experience this less before the meal but when they are already half way through it – because your body did not dare to waste some precious energy before it knew it´s actually going to be fed. It might feel like you´re never going to stop eating, but it is actually a very reasonable biological reaction.
- mental hunger – when you feel physically full, but you´re still thinking about food, dreaming about it, just anything cognitive that has to do with food. And mental hunger is a type of hunger as well and should be honoured.
Okay so, now that we know what extreme hunger is, how can you navigate yourself through this bottomloss pit and heal extreme hunger?
How to heal extreme hunger
To be honest – I am not a fan of saying “just honour your hunger”. Eat enough and a lot? Try to not overthink too much? Yes. But there is a fine difference between chaotic eating and structured eating. Eating all the fun foods? Yes. But the main focus should be nutrient dense foods. And not to forget about the mental and emotional part.
You ticked this step by reading this blog post and bonuses if you add these two:
Let go of any restriction
For that step it is important to identify restriction. You might want to look into these topics: Are you allowing yourself an unconditional amount of food at any time? Why are you working out? Are you still weighing yourself? What about your cloths? Any food rules?
The THREE meals
It might feel wring to eat for a whole family for breakfast and then still have lunch. Even when you´re actually not hungry by then, it is important to stick to this schedule in order to learn the structured eating again and to assure your body that is is going to get enough food by these times from now on. Skipping meals is a form of restriction and you just worked on giving yourself unconditional permission to eat.
Eating real meals is also important to make sure you´re getting enough nutrients – because as I mentioned earlier – your body is most likely to be lacking of nutrients. Eat those meals and snacks to heal extreme hunger!
Get to know yourself better. What are you afraid of, what do you need more of in your life? What is missing? What too much? Especially extreme hunger can be the result of being hungry for life.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST: body acceptance
Your weight might change by honouring your extreme hunger – and that´s absolutely okay. Your weight says nothing about you as a person. And you´re not born just to live a life suppressing your weight. Dig into your actual believes around body weight, sizes and shapes. What would happen when you gain weight? What´s the worst case scenario? What do you associate with weight gain?
PS: gaining weight is not your actual fear.
SENDING YOU LOT`S OF LOVE AND STRENGTH
I know how scary extreme hunger can be. But it is a temporary situation. You will make it out of there and you´ll be surprised by how strong hunger cues can actually be.
- Extreme Definition & Meaning – Merriam-Webster