Why do I have Extreme Hunger even though I’m already weight restored?
Do you feel like you can’t have extreme hunger because you’re already weight restored? I GET IT. I’ve been exactly where you are. In fact, my extreme hunger didn’t start UNTIL I was deemed weight restored! I thought there was something wrong with my body, that I had somehow gained weight incorrectly, that my body was broken, and I was just going to gain weight forever if I gave into my extreme hunger.
Rest assured that did NOT happen and honoring my extreme hunger actually gave me the ultimate ticket to finally reach full recovery from my eating disorder. It was scary as hell, and that’s why I’m sharing this post with you today: to explain why you have extreme hunger right now, and what you can do to fix it.
What does weight restored mean?
In order to understand anything related to extreme hunger while being weight restored, it is critical we define the term "weight restored"! The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines restore as "to bring back to or put back into a former or original state". According to this definition, weight restored thus means that the former or original weight has been achieved.
However, when it comes to eating disorder recovery (or recovery from any illness, for that matter), restoring weight (i.e. returning to the weight prior to your eating disorder) is often not enough. Aside from the fact that the disorder often starts at a younger age and your weight as a child should be nowhere near your weight as an adult (in most cases), there are countless other factors that are overlooked when it comes to defining an individual's "target weight".
First of all, there is absolutely NO WAY for any doctor or health professional to determine what weight is healthy and optimal for YOUR specific body. I highly recommend reading my post The Simple Truth About BMI if you are using BMI as a metric to deem yourself weight restored. Furthermore, the human body is one of the most complex biological systems that even the most advanced researchers and scientists cannot fully understand. So, how on Earth can we expect a single doctor, or even worse - a simple math formula - to define what that system is supposed to look like? We cannot! Period!
Now that we've gotten the basics out of the way and know that weight gives no accurate representation of health, let's dive a little deeper into why returning to your original, pre-ED weight, is not enough. Say, you are someone who developed an eating disorder later on in life, and you maintained weight x for decades before losing weight and spiralling into an eating disorder. If you were then to return to weight x in recovery, that would mean you're weight restored, right?
Not quite. Technically, if you were looking at the dictionary term of the word "restored", sure. But as we just learned, weight is no measure of health, ESPECIALLY when you’re looking at the impact that an eating disorder has on your body. Your "weight" may be restored, but what about everything you cannot see? Your bones, your organs, your hormones, your thoughts...if you're still experiencing mental or physical extreme hunger, clearly there are parts of your body that are *not* restored!
So this whole worry that "weight restored" should equal an absence of mental or physical extreme hunger is ridiculous, because the two are completely unrelated. I prefer to use the term "health restored" instead, because similar to the approach I take on in 1:1 Coaching, the term health restored takes on a holistic perspective and encompasses ALL parts of recovery--not just an arbitrary number on a scale. So, if we cannot "solve" our extreme (physical or mental) hunger by reaching a certain weight, how do we get rid of extreme hunger? That's where the terms energy deficit and energy debt come in.
Energy Deficit & Energy Debt
If you have not yet enrolled in my course Extremely Hungry to Completely Satisfied, I highly recommend you do because I go in depth in explaining these terms and how they relate to recovery and extreme hunger. For now, I’ll give you my basic definitions and an example to understand the concepts better.
Energy deficit is when your body is receiving less food than it needs to function optimally. You are not in energy balance, which will result in metabolism adjustments. This is also when the body will start to utilize its own tissues and organs for fuel, as there is not enough energy coming in. Energy debt is the result of prolonged energy deficit, causing a negative energy balance in the body.
When it comes to understanding complex processes that we cannot see, I LOVE using metaphors that most people are familiar with. In this case, it can be helpful to compare energy debt to financial debt...here's an example:
Imagine, a pandemic hits and you unexpectedly lose your job. You have no idea how long this will last, so you continue your day-to-day activities in the hopes that the world will open up again and you will get your job back. Then months start to pass, and you realize you have to be a lot more cautious with spending. Yet, you still have to pay your monthly rent, your taxes, your electric bill...meaning other, non-essential costs must be cut. You must economize, just like your body does when it shuts or slows down bodily systems. Your heart rate will slow, your metabolism will adapt, and you will likely lose your period (if you’re a female). Your body is doing everything it can to conserve energy.
For a while, you can sustain this...but there will come a point where the low estrogen levels due to Hypothalamic Amenorrhea start to cause bone loss, and the slow heart rate leaves you at risk for death. In the example of finances, you will have to start using your credit card and start to build up credit card debt. The longer you have insufficient income, the deeper and deeper you will fall into debt and the more money you will have to pay off in the long run.
Then FINALLY, there is a vaccine for the virus that caused your job loss in the first place and you get offered a new opportunity. You jump at it and you have income again...so you can start EATING again. The money coming in, is now just enough to stop using your credit card, but that doesn't mean you're not still elbow-deep in debt. For however long you were in energy deficit, you have to make up for...in recovery terms, with food. You now not only have to continue paying your day-to-day expenses (fueling your body to support bodily functions such as breathing and digesting for example), but you now have years and years of credit card debt to pay off. So what do you do? You start saving. Now isn't yet the time to buy luxury items (i.e. repair bodily processes that are non-essential to life), as that would be silly considering all this money you still have to pay back to the bank.
After months of saving, you start to feel more relaxed around food, and you no longer feel like you are living pay-check to pay-check. Yet, you still have to be careful with expenses and you need to save more money than you are spending in order to pay off the build-up of debt. In recovery terms, this means eating more than you are spending. In order for your body to trust you again, you must prove that there is an energy SURPLUS, which is why you should aim to overshoot your pre-eating disorder weight. The importance of weight overshoot is another topic that I have an entire presentation on in my Extreme Hunger Course, so my friend, you are SERIOUSLY missing out if you’re not yet a course student!
With that out of the way, let’s talk about why the onset of extreme hunger occurs only after you have already gained a significant amount of weight.
Extreme Hunger AFTER gaining weight
Like I said at the beginning of this post, this was one of the most confusing parts of Extreme Hunger for me. I was "within the normal BMI range" and was told by my doctor that it was okay for me to maintain my weight, so I thought there was surely something wrong with me if I wanted more food! Well, let me tell you again: there was absolutely NOTHING wrong with me and there’s also nothing wrong with you. The very fact that you ARE experiencing extreme hunger right now, and not when you were at a lower weight, actually makes COMPLETE SENSE! Let me explain:
Just like in the financial example I shared where one will only start buying luxury items again when they can TRUST there are enough savings in the bank, the body will only send out hunger signals when it TRUSTS there is a reason to. When you are in chronic energy deficit, the body believes you are in a famine environment and will not waste its precious reserves on sending out hunger signals if it believes these will not be reacted upon. But when you start to eat adequately and gain weight, your body learns that it is in fact NOT at all in a famine environment, yay! It’s finally safe to send out hunger cues because your body now trusts that you will honor them.
Unfortunately, it is often during this time that people in recovery try and suppress physical hunger or distract themselves from mental hunger, falling into common diet culture traps that you’re “just bored” and you should “just drink some water”. Let me tell you now, DO NOT GIVE IN TO THESE TRAPS! Ignoring your extreme hunger is INCREDIBLY confusing to your poor body that believed there was food around, because now, it is once again convinced that there is a famine. And just like anyone would do in a famine, you start obsessing over all the food that you hope to one day eat when the famine ends.
In order for your body to fully trust you again, and ultimately fully recover from your eating disorder, it is CRITICAL that you respond to ALL of your hunger – physical, mental, and the other two forms of hunger I teach in my course. Now you may be asking yourself, WHAT IF I NEVER STOP EATING? I know that’s a huge fear I had during my own period of extreme hunger. But ask yourself this instead: you think your body is doing this for fun? Is just playing games with you to make you miserable? Stop bullsh*tting yourself. You have a TON of internal repair work that needs to be done, and this repair work requires a TON of food, literally!
If you are constantly thinking about food, there is a reason for it, and that reason is that you are NOT at a healthy weight...because a healthy weight is a weight at which you are not restricting yourself in any way. So, let's STOP using the term weight restored to measure the validity of your extreme hunger, or your place in recovery at all for that matter. Full recovery is NOT about weight; it's about a shift in overall well-being and ultimately, a shift in mental state.
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