Extreme Hunger, Weight Gain, and How I'm Dealing With it All
Oh my gosh, I don’t even know where to start. I guess I can start off by saying these past few months have been HARD.
It all started after school one day, when I came home with the loudest growling stomach and the biggest cravings. I knew I hadn’t brought enough food with me that day, so I figured I would just eat a bit extra to satisfy my hunger and compensate for some missed cals. I had eaten my usual snack: yogurt with fruit and a chocolate mug cake, but still, I was absolutely STARVING. I then made some peanut butter toast, but that still did not satisfy me. Before I knew it, I had eaten my snack, the toast, the entire jar of peanut butter, a bag of cookies, a chocolate bar, and loads more that I cannot recall. And that was just the start.
Desperate, I shared this on my instagram story, asking for advice, suggestions, and H.E.L.P. I felt so lost, so out of control, and so scared. I had never eaten this much in one sitting IN MY LIFE. I didn’t know where to turn or where to look. Thanks to the amazing community I have found via instagram, I felt okay. I reached out for help, and got the most amazing advice from some of the most amazing people.
I got loads and loads of different thoughts and ideas, but the main culprit was the fact that I probably was not eating enough, and that my body was actually just needing more food. Furthermore, I was repeatedly advised to NOT restrict after this episode of overeating, as it would just lead to my body feeling more deprived, thus causing a ‘binge’ to happen again. I say binge in quotes, because up until last night, I thought I had been bingeing for weeks. Turns out, I was just hungry.
If you have gone through (or are still going through) recovery from a restrictive eating disorder, chances are you’ve experienced extreme hunger. Your body has been operating at a deficit, which continues for as long as you’re completely recovered. No matter if you’ve been ‘weight restored’ or you’ve ‘gotten your period back’ or anything that doctors will use as an excuse to say ‘you’re done with gaining weight’, there is loads of repair work to be done. Yes, it is possible, and often necessary, to gain weight after you’ve reached your ‘goal weight’. I’m living proof!
I had gotten my period for the first time, I had been declared ‘weight restored’ by doctors, and I was told that I didn’t need to gain any more weight. I was so happy about everything, and thought I was completely recovered! Yet, something still didn’t feel right. I was constantly thinking about my next meal, I was tired, and my hunger cues were all over the place. Just like that one day when I got home from school and practically ate my entire kitchen. After that event, I knew I had to change something. That’s when I bought animal products for the first time again, and stopped being vegan. From this day forward, I had decided that I was not going to restrict myself anymore.
That same day, I had salmon for dinner, and had a big night snack. I went to bed feeling the most full I had in a long time, yet it was also the first time that I felt truly satisfied. One of the biggest ED fears I have, is that I will not be hungry the next morning if I’ve eaten ‘too much’ the night before. But this fear was completely proven WRONG when I woke up that next morning—I was absolutely STARVING!
This was when my extreme hunger kicked in. For weeks, my days consisted of eating, eating, and more eating, and still feeling constantly hungry. I could not stop thinking about food, and all my body wanted at every moment was, well, FOOD!
Why does this happen after a restrictive eating disorder? When you start feeding your body again, it starts to get excited. It thinks ‘Maybe my body is finally listening to my needs, again!’ So it starts asking a little more loudly for what it needs.
Honoring that hunger…
is weird when your body is used to denying it for 6+ years. But I truly believe my body had reached it MAX after starving it for so long, because when I’m hungry now, I’m hungry.
The past month or so, I’ve been eating on the hour, and I’m not just talking an apple or a handful of nuts. I’m talking loads of ‘junk food’ AKA food that is not ‘acceptable’ to eat if you are a ‘healthy eater’. On the daily, I would consume whole packages of cookies, nutella, cookie butter, chips, and crackers. I was overeating on foods I had denied myself for years.
When you finally start fueling your body properly, it’s going to try to make up for lost time. It has been starving for so long. Even if you’re at a healthy weight, your body still has so much internal repair work to do. THIS is exactly why you will start craving high fat, high sugar, or ‘unhealthy’ foods. Your body will try to eat as much energy as possible. And where do you get this from? Calorie-dense foods. So yes, foods that may be on your ‘bad’ list.
But this, too, is SO important to break. Conquering your fears around these foods is ESSENTIAL if you truly want to recover from your eating disorder. As long as you’re restricting yourself of certain foods, your body will continue to think it is at a deficit, and will thus not fully recover.
So there I was, scrambling around in the kitchen for weeks in a row, stuffing my face with food. Even though I would feel physically full, my body kept screaming for more food. I had constant cravings, and would continue shoving cookies and granola and chips into my mouth. I could not stop eating, even if I felt like I was literally going to explode. I was like a poor child who had been locked away for years without enough food. In a sense, I kinda had been.
I remember telling my mom, crying, that I thought I had now turned into a binge eater. I couldn’t control myself around food anymore, and would end up on my bed, in tears, feeling like a failure for eating so much. If you recognize any or all of this, you are NOT a binge eater! You are simply feeding your body. And lemme tell ya, your body is incredibly grateful for it.
Weight gain + body image
This is probably the hardest part in all of this. Eating more than you’re used to is weird, but actually seeing your body change is downright scary.
Ever since my extreme hunger started, I started also gaining weight…quickly. No wonder, as I was eating roughly double of my usual caloric intake, and was eating foods that I had not eaten for a very long time. Along with the number on the scale, I could really feel I was gaining weight. I was bloated constantly, my jeans felt tighter, and I started to get nauseous after my episodes of overeating.
For the first couple weeks of gaining weight, I tried to get rid of it. I told myself everyday, ‘Today, I am going to control myself. I am not going to eat everything in sight’. Yet, this restrictive mindset led to me overeating even more, and gaining even more weight. I am currently at my highest weight ever, and I can truly feel that. But wanna know something? Yesterday, I realized, that for the first time in I don’t even know how long, I wasn’t thinking about my next meal. For some people that’s normal, but for me, that was just HUGE.
And something else? I’m no longer scared of myself when I’m in the kitchen. I’ve told myself it’s okay and I’m allowed to eat WHATEVER I want WHENEVER I want. Giving myself this FREEDOM has made me feel much more relaxed around the food.
You’re probably dying to know, but what about the weight gain? How I am actually dealing with it? Well, I’ll tell ya how. First of all, I’m looking at what I have gained BESIDES weight. Firstly, not thinking about food All. The. Time. This is something I’ve wanted ever since I’ve started recovery, and now I finally have it! Sure, I look forward to when I can eat again, but the thoughts of food no longer interrupt my other activities. I can now fully focus on the task at hand, rather than be distracted by some stupid thought about what I’m going to eat for my meal in x hours.
Also, I have learned to trust my body. I no longer feel I have to exercise or restrict to keep my weight stable. I can eat literally whatever I want, and trust that my body will handle it.
Lastly, I’m keeping in mind that I’m in a very important phase of my life. I am almost 19 years old, and still have never had a growth spurt or a period for the second time. My body needs to gain weight and extra fat in order to grow and prepare for all the hormonal changes that your body needs to go through.
Even though I feel so much more stable and happy mentally, the rapid weight gain and bloating have definitely affected my body image. I felt very ‘fat’ the first couple pounds I gained, contributing to negative body image. However, instead of focusing on loving my body, I am trying to accept it, and love what it does for me.
And I’m not talking about being able to lift x amount of weight or do x amount of reps at the gym. I’m talking about what your body can do for you in a different kind of way. Like how cool it is to hear your tummy grumble when you’re hungry, or wake up in the middle of the night because you have to go pee? These two examples seem so simple and obvious, but I’ve really grown to appreciate them through my recovery. When I was underweight, I was NEVER hungry. And no, I did not wake up during the night if I had to go pee. My organs were shutting down. I had to wear a frickin’ diaper.
What’s it like now?
As scary as it is to share all of this to so many of you, it feels SO good to be able to share my story with others who may be struggling with something similar. What I’m trying to say with all of this, is that even though it’s hard—having extreme hunger, eating fear foods, gaining weight, and SO much more—it’s the most ‘worth it’ thing you will ever do.
Yes, I am almost 8lbs heavier than I was just a month ago. But honestly, WHO FRICKING GIVES? I am so much happier, energetic, and more full of life than I ever have felt. And that’s truly all that matters to me anymore.