Hunger Disregulation in Recovery

“The ebb and flow of hunger and satiety which my body had known as a child had been damaged by dangerous habits of starving and bingeing, leaving me feeling constantly hungry during recovery.”

Today I want to talk for just a minute about the disregulation of hunger. When you’ve been bingeing, starving, purging, or engaging in any other disordered eating behaviors over a period of time, your body gets confused. It enters starvation mode, metabolism slows or becomes irregular, and so on– it’s a familiar concept for most folks who study or who suffer from disordered eating. Even “typical” dieters probably are familiar with the diet-devastating fact that eating less slows your metabolism and can (maybe obviously) make you more hungry, more often.

A lesser known fact is that once you make a concerted effort towards recovery, despite the lessening of disordered behaviors, the disregulation of hunger and metabolism lingers. In my own experience, I’ve had to eat upwards of 3,000 calories per day (I know, I know, no counting) just to stave of painful hunger cravings. Most low-activity bodies don’t experience that level of hunger. For months on end, I would eat massive meals (eggs, sausages, toast, oatmeal, pancakes, fruit, cereal…) and would find my stomach growling only an hour later.

I thought something was “wrong” with my body. I tested my thyroid, I questioned my doctor about my blood sugar levels, and I tried eliminating different low glycemic foods from my diet. Nothing worked. Some of my doctors told me that the roaring hunger pangs were psychological rather than physical.

Then, I noticed a presence online of recovering edfolks who complain about the same symptoms. Despite eating larger than typical meals, eating many times per day, and taking precautionary measures, many were still driven mad by an insatiable hunger which was definitively not psychological in nature. Their bodies were processing their food in an atypical way, causing an increase in hunger and insatiability.

After reading about other recoverer’s experiences, it made perfect sense. Of course my body was physically hungry regardless of the amount I ate. I was experiencing the disregulation of hunger from my eating disorders.  The ebb and flow of hunger and satiety which my body had known as a child had been damaged by dangerous habits of starving and bingeing, leaving me feeling constantly hungry during recovery.

Spoiler: this excess, uncontrollable hunger did not last forever. It look many months, but after eating consistent, balanced meals, my body was able to restabilize and my hunger cues began to feel more typical. After a large meal I felt subtle fullness rather than the sensation of an empty stomach.

Obviously, this is not something that happens for every recoverer. However, it is something that seems to happen for many, including myself, although it is a phenomenon seldom acknowledged. Excess hunger as an eating disorder recoverer can be terrifying, overwhelming, and can feel out-of-control. It is also a natural method by which the body is making sense of being fed in a non-disordered way. The mantra here, then, is patience.



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