I‘m crazy. Completely insane. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just eat normally? This is what went through my head constantly in the early days of recovery. Extreme hunger had taken over.
I thought I could just magically go from restricting to being a normal eater. That was not the case. I would try so hard to serve myself and eat normal portions of food like I saw the people around me eat. Although these portions were far more than I would have ever allowed myself prior to recovery, I was never satisfied. I just couldn’t stop at a “normal” portion.
It was the oddest feeling. My stomach might feel full, but I feel an innate calling to keep eating. And eating. And eating. I’d consume huge amounts of foods at once and still scrounge for more. I felt like some sort of impoverished child who’d been locked away for years without enough food. In a sense, I kind of had been.
This happened over and over again, day after day. I would wake up and tell myself that I was going to be “normal”. “I’m not going to restrict, but I won’t keep shoving insane amounts of food into my mouth for half the day. I’m not going to spend 95% of my day eating again. Nope. Not today”
But I just couldn’t uphold that. My body was screaming for more food. And even though giving in to it’s demands to eat large amounts of nutrient-dense food was scary and uncomfortable, I couldn’t fight it anymore. I felt defeated; like a failure. What was wrong with me? Why did I just go from one extreme to another? Then one day, I stumbled upon the logical reason for my self-diagnosis of “crazy” – extreme hunger.
Essentially, extreme hunger is your body trying to heal itself.
Extreme hunger is characterized by eating large quantities of food in a relatively short amount of time. You might be thinking, “so, it’s bingeing”, but it’s not! That’s what my first thoughts were too.
Extreme hunger is not something everyone recovering from a restrictive eating disorder will experience. However, most will. When you’ll experience it and for how long differs, but it is usually a (scary) part of the recovery process.
Why is this happening?
Let’s just think of this hypothetically. Your body needs a certain amount of calories every day to live, allow your body to function properly, and give you energy. Say you’ve only been giving your body 1/3 of the number of calories it truly needs for two years. When you finally start fueling it properly, it’s going to try to make up for the lost time. Your body has been in starvation mode for so long.
Even if your brain knows there is plenty of food available, your body might not.
Tabitha Farrar has another great analogy for this. What if you owed someone $730,000,000. You decide to pay $1,000. Would you be surprised when the person was constantly asking for more money? This is kind of the way your body is working when it comes to extreme hunger. It has a major deficit of energy from however long you’ve restricted. So, your body may be demanding way more calories than the average person for a while.
Will extreme hunger ever stop?
Yes, it will. However, it may take quite a while for your hunger levels to go back to “normal”. There’s no way of knowing how long extreme hunger will last. For some people, they may only experience it for a few weeks. Other people may find themselves in a state of extreme hunger for months on end. Or, you may never experience extreme hunger.
I don’t know how long you’ll feel extreme hunger, but I can tell you that it will come to an end. That said, you must honor it for however long it sticks around.
Holding onto restricting will never help you heal.
It will only prolong the process and send you backward.
So, do your best to honor those hunger signals, however crazy, wrong, or scary it seems. Your body has a lot of healing to do, and food it fuel.
(Last Updated: April 18, 2022)
And what does constant hunger in the recovery of binge eating mean?
I mean it can’t be extreme hunger because one hasn’t restricted but overeaten the whole time.
What a great article! Thank you!! For me- one thing that helped was giving myself mental permission to eat enough and telling myself “I can have as much as I want” but it was so hard.
This definitely explains why I was having extreme hunger in recovery. I was really scared and couldn’t figure out why it was happening even though I was eating more. Thanks for sharing this article!!!!
Oh my goodness! This explains so much. I have found recovery so difficult. It has been so hard to give myself ‘permission’ to listen to my body. To discover that this behaviour is a normal part of the process has really really helped. Thank you so much.
What if it’s only at night is that still extreme hunger if ur anorexic or binge eating?
Our 32 year old son is going through recover after 6 years of severe restriction diet. His. Mi is now 30 14 months since eating. He has not found a mens recovery group. He continues to be very hungry and eats when he is. Is there a mens group for this? He lives with us.
Please please make sure he is honouring all physical and mental hunger!! Trust me, I’ve been through it before and it really does come to an end as long as you NEVER restrict!! I was even waking up at night to eat because I was so hungry. Best of luck 🙂
I have been recovered for years and I still struggle with extreme hunger… over 3000 calories a day, and I’m 5’1 and 34 years old, and exercise moderately. Is that normal? Will that ever go away? I still wake up hungry and have to eat in the middle of the night… it’s torturous.
Thanks for reading Laura. In my own experience, as long as I was waking up in the middle of the night hungry, I actually was not eating enough during the day. When I finally let go and allowed myself to eat until I was FULL and satisfied 3 times a day plus any other times I was hungry, then I stopped waking up in the middle of the night hungry. Most of us need WAY more calories a day than we realize. Your need for calories will never go away 🙂 Counting them, on the other hand, can go away. Best wishes in your recovery. <3
My hunger is at night- I haven’t slept but 2.5 hours a night for weeks due to extreme hunger happening ONLY at night. I spend all day trying to force enough food down only to have knawing hunger pains wake me up and if I try to ignore I get so nauseous that I throw up. Please please help- I don’t know what to do and my doctors either don’t believe me or don’t care.
Thank you for reading and commenting Steph. I am so sorry to hear you are struggling with eating enough during the day and as a result- the extreme hunger at night. It can be so hard in recovery. In my own experience, the only way I could improve the waking up with extreme hunger was by getting in enough calories during the day. For some, that means concentrating on eating calorie dense food, processed food, etc… whatever can really fill you up during the day. I know it is extremely difficult- but for me, the best way to get through the other side was to push myself during the day. It is possible! Keep going. ❤️?
Hi Laura! I’m in a very similar position; I began recovery from a relapse approximately 2 years ago, and still suffer from really intense hunger most days (I continue to eat LOTS, and have gained almost 100 pounds). Does your extreme hunger only surface at night, or is it also present during the day?
Like you, I’m often afraid that the hunger won’t end––that I’ve somehow broken my metabolism. It seems the only thing to do is to keep eating (much, much more than seems “normal”), and hope that everything evens out in the end. I completely empathize with your use of the word “tortuous,” though; it’s really disheartening to have put in so much effort, and to still feel so far from a normal relationship to hunger/satiety cues.
If ever you feel like sharing more of your experience, I’d love to hear from you; there doesn’t seem to be a lot of testimony from people in our particular predicament.
Wishing you all the best!
My name is Sahil and am 17 yo. I was a chubby kid since my childhood and due to this i was getting taunts from the girls of my class. So i decided for a change. I started with my XXX calories from December 2020 and reduced it to XXX calories per day for 3 months. i decided to get back to my normal diet but i failed doing this. Whenever i tried to cross XXX calories, i was compelled to eat more and more. Am still okay with XX calories but the moment i tried XX+, i faced extreme hungerness. Am afraid i would regain my old weight. Any solution??
Thanks in advance mam.
I am sorry to hear you are struggling so much. Please seek out professional help to get personalized care for your circumstance. To find resources, please visit https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/ or https://www.theprojectheal.org/
Hi Lauren, i’ve just started recovery myself. Do you mind me asking whether your extreme hunger has subsided? Or has it stayed the same over its’ course?
Wow… looking back at this article now after reading and commenting on it back in 2017 when I was living with extreme hunger. It seems like a life time ago. I was so scared, but I needn’t have been. My body just reset itself. “This too shall pass.” Thank you Recovery Warriors ❤️
im currently in recovry but im so afraid to gain weight but my extreme hunger does not stop what should i do?
Me too! I’m 5’1″ too and eat so much after almost a year into recovery. It sucks doesn’t it? I haven’t found anyone else like us before so this is great. Hopefully it will go away. Are restricting in any way? ‘Cause maybe that’s the problem??
I have had a relapse but not from restricted eating but from bulimia. I feel that I’m the only one who can’t say no to eating uncontrollably.
Hi. This article has really helped. I also used the app to help track my food/behaviours/emotions as part of my treatment. I found the journal/emotions section really useful, I used it so much my actual journal nearly got forgotten about! I am currently in recovery for AN (2 months) and experiencing extreme hunger but I only seem to binge in the evening. Even when I have a good day and I’ve spaced my food out through out the day, I still end up cramming myself with food later in the evening, sometimes to point where it physically hurts. This isn’t an every day thing but it does happen more often than not recently. The guilt and shame the next day coupled with the food hangover is crippling me, my only coping mechanisms just now are to exercise and self harm, which I know isn’t good. In fact, I’m exercising more than ever now, I used to purge with laxatives and diuretics but stopped. I’m now at a good weight and really don’t see the need to put any on more on. How can I control this urge to overeat?
My extreme hunger seems to happen at night too, even when I’ve made a big effort to eat enough during the day. While I can’t offer you any advice as I’m struggling to make it stop too, I wanted to let you know that you are not alone and there is help out there. As survivors of this storm we can help each other though and keep each other on the right path. Sending love and my good wishes to you.
So… I’m experiencing exstreme hunger lately, and it’s so f annoying…the fear of gaining weight is real, but i’m just so hungry all the time, and only on high calorie food! I’ve been in a restrictive Ed for 5/6 years… im so scared.
I have read different articles at times and have truly appreciated the candid comments and poignant responses – but most notably, the truth that resonates from what often I thought only I suffered with. I have been in treatment two times and so I know that I am not alone, that others also struggle with disordered thinking, but then I forget and I carry around my own private hell inside my mind, wondering when I will stop being so crazy. I have been hungry lately and eat my meals, then an hour later, feel like I want to eat again. I tell myself this is insane and that I am fine. But after wrestling with my hunger pains I finally eat the food my body needs. Today I was asking myself after once again feeling like I never even ate lunch, even though it was only an hour before, perhaps I’m sick, am I sick? Maybe I just need to rest and my body is trying to recover from a bug? Then I saw this post in my inbox — and I realized, yes, I am sick and yes, I am recovering, from a different kind of virus, one that I have had and wrestled with since I was 14 — and I am now almost 50. I breathed a sigh of relief; I am not crazy, I am okay, and I will be okay, I will continue to eat, and one day, yes, I will recover.
My issue is telling the difference in between gi discomfort and hunger because sometimes if I let out gas or have a bowel movement it goes away and then sometimes I’m bloated after . Or I feel like I need to go to the bathroom and cant fill my stomache anymore yet I have acid in my stomache churning and it’s really annoying
this was so relieving!! i’m basically at the beggining of another attempt at recovery and actually the reason for my most recent relapse was the guilt from how much i ate due to listening to extreme hunger… but now i know it’s perfectly ok and a process of recovery; it’ll be scary but i can’t back down, I have to give my body what it needs and fuck what it looks like, this is the body i’ll have for the rest of my entire life so i have to treat it carefully and well!!
I am a bit stuck in this place right now. It’s hard to trust. Did you all just go back to a normal body weight or gain a lot of weight in this process?