How to Deal With (Extreme) Hunger in Eating Disorder Recovery
Kelly Boaz, CNP
Last week, Kim Kardashian came under fire (rightfully so) for promoting appetite suppressants on her Instagram feed. Instagram has since removed the post, but the damage had already been done. It’s no secret that Hollywood meal plans are often a variation on a starvation diet, and that many celebs are regularly engaging in weight-control measures, but promoting an #ad like that is dangerous.
One of the most terrifying things for many of my clients is hunger. They do whatever they can to avoid feeling it. No matter what Instagram and Kim K. may say, however, the only true way to deal with hunger is to actually eat.
Why am I SO hungry?
Often, after battling an eating disorder, hunger signals can be intense and confusing. Some people stop feeling hunger at all, when actively engaging in eating disordered symptoms. Then, in the recovery process, feeling hunger again can be overwhelming and scary.
“Why am I SO hungry?”
“Because your body needs more nutrients.”
“But I’m eating!”
“Not enough, yet.”
When you’ve been battling an eating disorder that includes restrictive or compensatory symptoms, chances are your body is operating at a deficit. No matter what you weigh, and no matter what your blood work may say, your body is missing a lot of nutrients it needs to function. When you start feeding your body again, it starts to get excited. Maybe my human is finally listening to my needs, again! So it starts asking a little more loudly for what it needs.
See also: cravings
I think a lot of people would be thrilled if their bodies only ever craved kale and quinoa ever again. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. When your body is starving (again, you can be starving at any weight), it will ask for more nutrient-dense foods. It will ask for foods with sugar and fat in them, because those are two of your brain’s favorite nutrients: glucose and fat.
It may also crave certain foods that don’t seem to make any sense. But, if your body knows it’s low in manganese, a nutrient that many people aren’t even aware exists, you may have cravings for pancakes, because your body knows it can get its daily manganese requirement from 3 Tbsp of maple syrup. (Yes, I’m Canadian. We know all the maple facts.)
And sometimes, you’ll crave a food just because it’s delicious. Or maybe you and your grandfather always had toast with strawberry jam for breakfast, so you crave that because it connects you to your grandfather. Maybe you’ll want pizza because you always had pizza after winning soccer games, and pizza makes you feel like a winner. None of these are bad or wrong reasons to eat a food. Emotional eating is only a problem if it’s your ONLY source of comfort or dealing with emotions.
So, long story short, hunger and cravings are not the enemy. They are clues, bits of information from your body as to what it needs. The more you try to ignore or suppress this information, the louder your body will yell. A cauliflower crust won’t stop your cravings for actual bread if your body is low in certain B vitamins. Your body knows what it needs, and it’s asking for things for a reason.
Yes, it can be scary feeling hunger again. When hunger is new and overwhelming, it can feel like it will never end. The solution, however, is not to suppress the hunger, but to feed it. Give your body the things it needs. It’s not trying to trick you; it’s trying to rebuild a trusting relationship with you.
Feel the fear, and feed yourself anyway.
Kelly Boaz, CNP is a Toronto-based Holistic Nutritionist (CNP), specializing in eating disorder recovery and food freedom. After winning her 17-year battle with anorexia, Kelly Boaz turned her life’s focus to helping others do the same. She is also a writer and speaker (TEDx, TDSB), raising eating disorder awareness, and helping people heal their relationship with food and their bodies. You can find out more about Kelly, or get in touch via her website.