In this episode, we dive deep into the challenges of responding to hunger in eating disorder and hypothalamic amenorrhea recovery. We explore the various reasons why people may struggle to respond to hunger, such as body image concerns, fear of losing control, fear of judgement, fear of weight gain, negative self-talk, and comparison to others.
Host Sarah Liz King also provides five practical tips that can be implemented right away to help overcome these challenges and respond to hunger in a healthy and sustainable way. Tune in to gain a better understanding of how to navigate the complexities of hunger in recovery.
Eating disorders and disordered eating affect millions of people worldwide, and responding to hunger can be one of the most challenging aspects of recovery. The fear of responding to hunger is often pervasive and can be overwhelming, making it difficult to develop a healthy relationship with food, exercise and your body. In this podcast, we will delve into the complexities of responding to hunger in eating disorder recovery, explore the factors that contribute to this fear, and offer insights and strategies to help overcome it. You’ll also get to hear some of my own personal experiences with hunger in recovery to give you a little extra insight into this often hidden struggle.
Now before we dive into the main part of the podcast, it’s probably useful to understand that people’s experiences of hunger vary widely in recovery. Some people have zero hunger signals for some time, others experience extreme or elevated hunger, and some have a blend of both experiences. This is why following a more structured approach to eating such as following a meal plan or a general pattern of 3, meals, 3 snacks every 2 – 3 hours, is so important in the initial stages of recovery.
The kind of hunger I’m referring to in this podcast specifically is the additional hunger you may experience between meals or earlier than you anticipate. It might be the hunger that also happens after you’ve had what you thought is a sufficient meal or snack. This is the kind of hunger that might be perplexing you and you hear the voice in your head which says “I can’t possibly need any more food, I’ve already eaten so much!” This is the kind of hunger I’m talking about today – the hunger you feel as though you simply can’t trust for one reason or another.
If you’re wondering why this deep distrust exists or if you’re the only one who’s experiencing it, I want you to know that:
- There are many many reasons why we feel hunger can’t be trusted which I’ll go through in a moment and
- You’re not alone – so many people struggle repairing their relationship and trust towards their hunger signals, including myself when I was going through recovery.
So let’s first discuss why this distrust and fear around responding to hunger exists.
The first factor is body image concerns. If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, body image concerns can make it difficult to respond to hunger in several ways. You may have a distorted body image, leading you to perceive your body size and shape inaccurately. This distorted perception can cause an intense fear of weight gain, even in response to the normal, healthy hunger cues that your body sends.
As a result, this fear may cause you to ignore your hunger signals, thus perpetuating the cycle of disordered eating.
Additionally, you may believe that responding to hunger will result in a loss of control over your body. You may feel that giving into hunger cues means that you are “letting yourself go” or “losing your willpower.” This fear of losing control can be especially difficult to overcome for individuals with eating disorders, as they often use food and eating habits as a way to exert control over their lives.
Negative self-talk is another common factor that can make it difficult for you to respond to your body’s hunger cues, especially if you struggle with an eating disorder. You may have an internal dialogue that tells you that you are weak or bad if you eat, which can lead to a lot of guilt and shame around food. This negative self-talk can create a vicious cycle where you feel like you can’t respond to your body’s hunger cues without feeling guilty or like you’ve failed in some way.
It’s important to recognise that negative self-talk is a symptom of your eating disorder, and it doesn’t reflect the truth about you or your worth as a person. You deserve to nourish your body and respond to your natural hunger cues without feeling guilty or ashamed.
Another factor that can make it really difficult to respond to hunger is the fear of judgement. It’s common to feel afraid of being judged or criticised by others, particularly when it comes to something as personal as eating. This fear of judgement can make it difficult to respond to hunger cues in a healthy way, especially for those in eating disorder recovery. People may worry that others will think they’re weak or undisciplined if they eat when they’re hungry, or that they’ll be judged for their food choices or body size. Sometimes, people may even be afraid to eat in public or around others because they fear being scrutinised or misunderstood. It’s important to remember that these fears are valid, but they shouldn’t hold you back from responding to your body’s needs.
Lastly, I wanted to touch on how comparison can make it hard to respond to hunger in recovery. One of the most frequent comments I hear from clients is “I don’t understand why I’m hungry or how my body can need more food given how much more I’m eating!” While it’s true that you may be eating a whole lot more than you were before, remember that you’re comparing your current intake to a previous intake which was highly inadequate for your body’s needs. You might also be witnessing other people in recovery or in the health and fitness world sharing what they eat in a day which might be a lot less than what your body needs. This can make you feel like a failure for your body needing more.
But your body’s needs are so unique and your hunger signals really aren’t tricking you! Embrace the fact that your body needs more right now at this moment. Stop thinking about the future or comparing it to the past. Nourishing your body to thrive in this present moment is what you absolutely must focus on if you want to recover and regain confidence in responding to your hunger signals.
Now that you have a more clear understanding of why responding to hunger can be so challenging, you can actually do something about it. And of course, I have some super practical tips to help you:
1. Say it out loud
You probably let the thought of being hungry swirl around in your head and then your eating disorder voice chimes in to deny it. It tells you that you couldn’t possibly be hungry or that you need to wait. It’s like this internal mental ping pong match and the only one losing is your body because you spend so long going back and forth that you miss your moment of opportunity to act and respond. So say it out loud. Say to yourself “hey I’m hungry” or say it to someone around you so they can hold you accountable to going and eating something.
There is nothing wrong with being hungry, and owning it by saying it out loud can help you act.
2. Keep extra snacks on hand
In recovery, hunger can show up at really weird times. One of the traps people fall into is ONLY having enough food around that aligns with their meal plan. Which is setting yourself up for failure. Take extra snacks with you to work, have a tupperware container of trail mix with you in your bag, chuck a protein bar in your purse even if you’re only going out for a few hours and plan to be back for your next meal. Be prepared for extra hunger so you can actually respond to it. And if you don’t want what you’ve packed, buy something different.
Unless you live in the middle of nowhere, you’re probably going to be close to some shops, a gas station, or a cafe. It’s not a waste of money buying food if your body is HUNGRY so stop sitting there convincing yourself you can wait because you have food at home. This just perpetuates the same cycle of ignoring your body’s signals. If you’re hungry you need to EAT so be prepared or go buy something and feed yourself.
3. Stop worrying about the time
Your body is not a clock. It doesn’t care that it’s not the time you’re “supposed to eat” or that you only had lunch an hour ago. If you’re hungry, in your body’s mind, it’s the perfect time to eat. This might mean you have a few more eating occasions one day compared to another, or eating something earlier or later. Your body literally doesn’t care. It just wants and needs food so go and eat!
I remember there were certain times in my recovery where I’d get really hungry in the middle of the night and have to get up and eat. Or I’d just have finished a really wholesome lunch and then an hour later was ravenously hungry and knew I would probably need a few snacks to tide me over until dinner. I kept reminding myself that my body knew best and this hunger was simply a way of my body getting what it needed.
4. Recognise you can’t have two opposing things at the same time
I know a whole bunch of you listening to this episode are going “yeah I know you’re right, but I can’t respond to hunger because it just means I’m going to gain weight.” Well yes that’s probably true. If you’ve been living in an underfuelled state and now you’re actually giving your body what it needs, then your body will, can and probably should change. You cannot heal your relationship with food and your hunger signals whilst also trying to micromanage your body and prevent weight gain. Two opposing forces at the same time and it just doesn’t work. I’m not saying that seeing your body change is comfortable or easy, but most of the time it’s necessary if you want that freedom, peace and relaxation around food that comes with recovery.
5. Act before you can think
The longer you procrastinate and dwell on whether to respond to your hunger, the more space you allow for indecision and rumination. Give yourself less time to think before you act. Set a timer if you need to and then when that time is up, go eat something! Trust your body’s instincts and stop giving your disordered eating brain the time to take over and chime in. Recovery requires repeated action in opposition to whatever the disordered eating voice is telling you to do.
Now I’m giving you all of these tips with the assumption that your meals and snacks are already adequate. But for a lot of you, that might not be the case. A big big mistake I see people make is that they eat just enough to not be hungry or to stave off hunger, but not enough to actually fuel their body or support their recovery. Also it’s worth noting that as you move through recovery what is “enough” at any given eating occasion will change.
If you notice hunger is always there, it’s worth considering whether your intake is actually adequate for your body’s needs. For example, if you’re having a lot of hunger show up between a lot of your meals and snacks it’s a pretty solid indication that you need to adjust what your day to day nutrition looks like so you feel more satisfied.
Hopefully this podcast has been helpful to you and you’re feeling more confident in responding to your hunger signals and understanding that they are nothing to be ashamed of or afraid of.
As always, if you have any questions or you’re looking for extra support in your recovery journey myself and my team are here to help. You can get in touch by emailing email@example.com to find out more about our recovery coaching services or book a discovery call on the Recover & Thrive program page using the link below.
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