The Reason Why Your Extreme Hunger is NOT Binge Eating Disorder

Eating Disorder

What's the difference between Extreme Hunger and Binge Eating Disorder? A very common fear in recovery from a restrictive eating disorder is that one is "swinging to the other side" now that they are eating a lot of food. In this post, I unpack this fear and explain why you are probably NOT developing Binge Eating Disorder.

Hello again, my friend! On my podcast last week, I announced that I wanted to dive deep into more Extreme Hunger content, which many of you on Instagram seemed to be very grateful for! I know it can be SO incredibly scary to experience what almost seems like mental or physical TORTURE when you’ve gotten so used to ignoring your hunger or distracting yourself from thoughts about food, but as I explained in my episode on The Biological Importance of Honoring your Extreme Hunger, extreme hunger is simply our body’s way of getting us out of energy deficit as quickly & efficiently as possible. Recording that episode was definitely a labor of love, but the result is your quick & dirty extreme hunger 101 that is just JAM PACKED with value! So if you have not yet listened, I highly recommend you stop reading this post right now, go listen (or read!) the previous podcast episode first, and meet me back when you’re ready!

Speaking of jam packed with value and labors of love, my brand new course Extremely Hungry to Completely Satisfied is HERE! It’s your step-by-step guide to overcoming extreme hunger and finding true satisfaction. Consisting of video presentations, lessons, worksheets, scientific resources, and TANGIBLE action steps, my course is the all-in-one resource I wish I had while navigating this terrifying part of recovery.

In today's post, I am diving into another extreme hunger topic. I will be answering the question: What is the difference between Extreme Hunger and Binge Eating Disorder? It’s yet again, a question I get asked about almost DAILY, so I figured I must make a dedicated podcast episode (+ blog post!) on it! I figured I’d share just a recent DM someone sent me:

Dear Livia,

I have been eating SO much food recently after deciding I was going to commit to full recovery from anorexia. I can eat the entire kitchen and feel like nothing satisfies me, and I am only craving unhealthy junk food! I feel so disgusting and have been gaining weight so quickly and I am afraid I am now developing Binge Eating Disorder. Even when I am SO full, I cannot stop thinking about food so I keep eating until I feel super nauseous…surely, this cannot be normal? I am not sure if you will read this, but I am just in need of some guidance and hope you can give me advice on what I should do!



First of all, if you’re reading this and have ever contemplated sending me a DM on Instagram, but then didn’t out of fear that I would never read it, I want to tell you that I read ALL OF MY DM’s and will always respond as best I can, because my community means more than anything to me! YOU are the reason I do what I do! Of course, every DM and everyone's situation is different, but when it comes to the topic of extreme hunger, a very common fear is that you are developing Binge Eating Disorder and “swinging to the other side” after a period of being in energy deficit as a result of restrictive eating.

I myself, had this exact same fear when I was going through extreme hunger, and it’s completely understandable! I mean, stuffing food in your face in a rapid tempo, downing sugary, high-fat foods until you feel nauseous, and consuming thousands of calories in one sitting is just the definition of Binge Eating, right? Well here’s where I’d like to open up the DSM-5 which is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders. This book is basically what all healthcare providers use to diagnose mental health issues. The reason I want to pull this book out, is because I want to go over the definition of BED together so we can establish or rather, relieve you of this fear that you are most likely NOT developing BED.

There are 5 specific criteria that one has to meet to be diagnosed with BED.

Criterion 1

An episode of binge eating must be characterized by both of the following:

  1. Eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances.

  2. The sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (e.g., a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating)

Criterion 2

Binge-eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:

  • Eating much more rapidly than normal

  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full

  • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry

  • Eating alone because of being embarrassed by how much one is eating

  • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty after overeating

Criterion 3

One presents with distress regarding binge eating.

Criterion 4

The binge eating occurs, on average, at least 1 day a week for 3 months (DSM-5 frequency and duration criteria)

Criterion 5

The binge eating is NOT associated with the regular use of inappropriate compensatory behavior (e.g., purging, fasting, excessive exercise) and does NOT occur exclusively during the course of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa..

There’s a lot to unpack here, but the 5th criteria is actually the only one you need to differentiate Extreme Hunger from BED! Criterion 5 basically states if there is any form of restriction or compensation involved (this also means leading up to the “overeating”), it does NOT qualify as Binge Eating Disorder!

To elaborate, someone who truly has diagnosable BED does NOT need to come out of energy deficit like you do. You may be wondering about the remaining 4 criteria that specify "eating more than what is considered a normal amount of food, feeling a lack of control around food, eating really fast, eating when not physically hungry, feeling guilty after eating", and all the other symptoms and emotions that are mentioned in the first 4 criteria. Considering those, you may now be thinking, "Well, I match the first 4 criteria, so Livia, you haven’t convinced me yet!" Like I said, I don’t need to convince you...that’s exactly what the 5th criteria is for! It was actually ADDED to the DSM because there was a very blurry line between real BED and someone who displays symptoms of it during or after a restrictive ED.

I know I said I wasn’t needing to convince you, but before we move on, I do really want to stress that WHATEVER is considered a normal amount of food (whatever that even means!), someone with extreme hunger will need to eat WAY more than that anyways, because THAT is the only way you can pay off the energy debt you’ve been building up. Again, if you don’t know what I mean, be sure that you’ve listened to the podcast episode on the Biological Importance of Honoring your Extreme Hunger, because I really do explain it all there :) In regards to eating really fast, remember that this is your body being SUPER clever and trying to ensure that you take advantage of the food while it’s there, as it still can’t trust that another perceived is right around the corner! This is the same reason you crave really high-calorie, nutrient dense food, because your body is trying to acquire calories as quickly and efficiently as possible.

To give a tangible example of this...

Imagine a child who has been kidnapped and locked in a room and is only given a couple slices of bread to eat per day. This goes on for weeks, months, however long you want this example to be (perhaps fill in the time you have been restricting), so the child is literally STARVING...his brain now perceives a famine. Then, one day, he is able to escape through the window of the room he has been locked up in! He runs away as fast as his little legs can carry him and what do you think he’ll do first? He’ll probably eat a SHIT TON of food until he feels super nauseous and stuffed to the brim! Even though he feels super full, he continues eating because his survival brain has no idea that he’s ACTUALLY safe now. It will take a while of him being free and back at home with his parents, to feel safe around food again and TRUST that he won’t be deprived of it anymore. So now that he is back home, he continues eating whatever his mom gives him, super fast and with incredibly urgency! Why? Because for his body, getting out of energy deficit IS really urgent! All the body wants--all the body is PRIMED to do--is to ensure proper functioning. And to ensure proper functioning, one must have adequate fuel!

Now, I have a question for you after hearing this story: would you tell this poor child he was developing Binge Eating Disorder? No, of course not! So why would YOU be developing eating disorder? Just like the child, you are simply hungry and in need of nutrients. And when I say hungry, this of course includes mental hunger! This child needs to make up for all the restriction, even if that was completely unintentional on his part. And the exact same goes for YOU! It’s not your fault that you fell into disordered eating or developed an eating disorder, but it IS your responsibility to nourish yourself back to health. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: it’s SO much easier to take on a victim role and not take the hard, fearful actions in recovery. But NO ONE can do this for you. No one can tell your body that food is abundant, not even your own eyes! Your survival brain has to understand that food is abundant, and it can only do this if you prove to it, that food is abundant. So, now go prove to your body there is no famine! Go prove to your body that all the food it is asking for, whether this be physically or mentally, that you’ll feed that to it! Your body is your friend, so please start treating it like you would a friend.

With that said, my friend, I hope this post helped put into perspective that honoring your Extreme Hunger does NOT make you a binge eater and has provided you with the reminder you need to continue honoring your extreme hunger. As always, I would SO appreciate it if you could share this post with someone who could benefit from it! If you want even MORE guidance on coming to peace with your hunger and making this process easier, inquire about 1:1 Coaching or enroll in my Extreme Hunger Course! I’ve been where you are my friend, so I can ASSURE you that you’re not alone!

Link to the DSM-5 Criteria for Binge Eating Disorder HERE

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